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It is not sensible to define subversion only in terms of those who breach the criminal law. We must be able to know the plans and intentions of those who abuse the freedom that we provide under the law to infiltrate our institutions and structures. Under the definition, however, the Security Service can take an interest only in people who
Column 1107have a deliberate purpose and intent to undermine parliamentary democracy and who also represent a real threat to the security of the nation.
The definition is not as wide as some imagine. It is not enough that someone's actions may have the unintended effect of weakening parliamentary democracy. There must be a deliberate intention. It is not enough to have that intention if it presents no current substantial threat. Such people must represent a real threat to the security of the nation, and must intend to do so. That is a fairly narrow and precise definition.
The Security Service is not interested in the normal and proper conduct of the trade unions of this country ; it is not interested in thwarting those who seek to persuade others that Government policies--including this Government's policies--are wrong or that their priorities are wrong. It is not interested in those who join together to make their views heard on, for example, the environment or on our defence policies. It is interested in any who might collectively or individually, overtly or clandestinely, be planning the deliberate overthrow of our parliamentary democracy and in doing so present a real threat to our security and safety. Those who think that such people could not exist are ill-informed. Those who think that the Security Service imagines that such people are everywhere are plain wrong.
I ask the House to recognise that clauses 1 and 2 have been carefully drafted to ensure that the Security Service is able to continue to protect the nation as a whole, and to give Parliament a clear indication of its principal concerns. The Security Service cannot get involved in lesser objectives, nor can it obtain or disclose information for lesser objectives. Nor, under clause 2(2) from which I have already quoted, can it take action intended to further the interests of any political party, including the party of the Government of the day. Those are all strong safeguards, proposed for the first time in statute, against the Security Service seeking to act outside its functions or against any Government seeking to put improper pressure on the director-general to do so.
"undermine parliamentary democracy by political, industrial ... means",
since the final arbiter will be the Secretary of State reporting to the Prime Minister, not to any Committee of the House. We would do well to keep in mind when we use the words "political" or "industrial" the fact that the Prime Minister described the miners as enemies of the state. Given that kind of definition, what trust can we have in those words?
Mr. Hurd : The change that I am coming to is fundamental, and addresses the hon. Gentleman's point. The issue of warrants for entering property to obtain information, as with the issue of warrants for interception, will be under the scrutiny of a judge. That is a substantial change, which completely alters the basis on which the hon. Gentleman made his criticism.
I ask the House not to underestimate the effect of that. We already have experience of that in the arrangements that Parliament approved in the Interception of
Column 1108Communications Act 1985. Our experience of that shows the real impact that the Bill will have on the Security Service and on the work of the Home Secretary.
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) : Does the definition of national security continue to be that given in the White Paper on the interception of communications, which I think covered the Government's foreign and defence policies?
Mr. Hurd : Yes. If my hon. Friend reads what I said about the definition of national security earlier, he will see that I defined it rather carefully and at rather greater length than previously. He may wish to return to the point later, but I hope that he will study the words that I used at the beginning.
Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East) rose--
Mr. Nellist : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Without in any way wishing to repeat matters dealt with in April, is not one of the purposes of a debate such as this, particularly during the opening speech of a leading Minister, to give hon. Members the opportunity to ask factual questions? Is not the Home Secretary being selective in whom he is prepared to give way to?
Mr. Hurd : I sometimes think that I give way too much. I want to pursue this argument. Many other hon. Members wish to speak and I want to make some progress since I have already given way generously.
I was explaining the impact of the arrangements under the Interception of Communications Act 1985, which we propose to extend under the Security Service Bill to the work of the Security Service and to my own work.
The arrangements for authorising interception warrants under the 1985 Act ensure that the Home Secretary sees the way in which the concerns and priorities work out in practice. My predecessor will know, because it is a worry that he has expressed, that that was not so in his time. I have either to agree or disagree with them. If an application for a warrant in that area is submitted to me and I am not satisfied that it is necessary for the protection of national security, I shall not issue it.
In making my decision, I know that the interception commissioner is looking over my shoulder. He has access to all the warrants and has the right to call for any document or file relating to those warrants.
In his report for 1987, the interception commissioner, the right hon. Lord Justice Lloyd, said :
"I have examined all the new warrants issued on the ground of major subversive activity, and I have selected other warrants for examination at random. I am satisfied that I have been given a complete list of all new warrants when making my random selection. As last year, I have not come across a single case where the Secretary of State has not been justified in regarding the issue of the warrant as being necessary in the interests of national security, or for the other purposes mentioned in Section 2(2) of the Act".
That is the commissioner, an independent judge, doing his job and reporting not in a secret document but in the 1987 report which was published in March this year, was laid before Parliament, and is in the Library.
If the House approves the Bill, it will have the assurance that similar rigorous procedures will also operate for the property warrant. The Security Service, the Secretary of State and Parliament will know that each and every warrant will be open to the commissioner's impartial and independent scrutiny. The hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) will have to take it from me that it is a formidable feeling to know, as I have known since 1986, that such an oversight exists under the Interception of Communications Act.
There are two major changes. First, for the first time, the decisions come from the Secretary of State, as they did not when the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) held office. Secondly, when dealing with them under the law, I know that I have the judge looking over my shoulder. Anyone who supposes that that is a comfortable, easy or platitudinous position is wrong. The commissioner's report will cover not only warrant matters but any other matters arising out of the work of the commissioner or the tribunal as a result of their investigating any complaint. There will be in place--I hope that the House will give full weight to this--a commissioner and a tribunal able to follow up the real practical concerns of people--organisations as well as individuals--who feel in some way aggrieved as a result of what they believe the Security Service has done against them. They do not need to provide any evidence for their views or give any basis for their belief.
Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland) : The Home Secretary seems to be couching his description of the commissioner's powers much more widely than the Bill. Clause 4(3) confines them to warrants--not, as he has suggested, to the whole range of security matters. That is a serious objection to the Bill.
Mr. Hurd : The hon. Gentleman may not have read far enough. He is right that the commissioner has the job of investigating the way in which the Home Secretary exercises his warrant powers. However, the tribunal may also, as I think that he will find in schedule 1, refer to the commissioner a wider range of matters if it is felt that there are grounds for doing so. The crucial point is that his report to Parliament can cover the whole range of his activities as authorised by the Bill.
Since November 1987, we have had an independent staff counsellor to consider anxieties from within the Security Service. Now, if Parliament agrees, once the tribunal and commissioner are in place to investigate the truth of concerns felt outside the service, the case for publishing rumour and allegations is undermined. We catered for the aggrieved insider when the staff counsellor was put in position a year ago. We cater for the aggrieved outsider, the citizen who feels that the Security Service has done something against him in the Bill, with its provisions for the tribunal and the commissioner. Of course, this is not the only possible model. Others have argued for a system of oversight and review. Some think that oversight should be by a Committee of Privy Councillors and others look for a body which draws more widely on Members of the House. Some appear to believe that all matters relating to national security, except
Column 1110perhaps a current operation, should be made publicly available across the Floor. Others look to the Security Commission and suggest its vote should be expanded. Those are serious proposals that deserve to be examined, but, having examined them, we do not favour them. Secrecy is at the heart of security. It is not the result--as one might read in fiction--of some paranoia by the Security Service or by Ministers. It is fundamental to the success of the protection of the public by the service. Most people accept the case for some secrecy and they accept that any oversight body would have to respect that. During the debate on the Loyal Address, the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) accepted that Ministers should not be obliged to tell the House, for example, that they believed an alleged bomber was staying in a particular hotel. I think everyone would accept that. The difference, therefore, is not over the need for secrecy, but whether it is possible to draw an effective line between what can be kept secret and what can run free.
I hope that the House understands that we ask the Security Service to work against people and organisations who are not amateur tip and runners, or anarchists with a rush of blood to the head. We ask them, particularly in counter-terrorism, to work against people and organisations who have become highly sophisticated in their methods. Those people work hard at identifying whether they have been spotted and are skilful in taking action to evade detection once they are alerted. One does not have to announce that one knows who they are, or what outrage they are planning, to put them on their guard. They are expert at piecing together and using strands of information and evidence much more cleverly than that.
In those circumstances, which are borne in upon us day by day, it is not possible to distinguish, as some have genuinely sought to do, between policy and operations, overall resources and how they are spent, or theory and practice. Those distinctions can be made on paper and can be beguiling, but they do not work in practice. An oversight body could not steer clear of secrets by confining itself to the generalities. A body which had no access to secrets would have access to very little of interest or importance to the work of the Security Service. A body that worked and reported in ignorance would not be of much appeal to the House.
If the body was inside the necessary ring of secrecy, it would have to report in monosyllables to those outside. People could not be expected to be content with that, whether they were members of the body or those who listened to the reports.
Mr. Hurd : I shall give way when I have finished the argument. I am grateful to the House, the Select Committee and the conventions of the House for helping to ensure that I, like my predecessors, am not placed in an intolerable position. Those conventions would not hold up against the pressures that would weigh on an oversight body that had to report to Parliament and the public on how it fulfilled its remit.
Mr. Campbell-Savours : In Congress and the Senate, the security services select committee examines the budget, oversees the service and has other responsibilities. If it works in America--I was told by the principal adviser to
Column 1111that committee in Washington that it has never leaked and that Congress and Senate were happy with its operations-- why could it not work here?
Mr. Ray Whitney (Wycombe) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that his point about the difficulty involved in taking a Select Committee inside the barrier was well illustrated by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) in the Zircon affair? The right hon. Member for Ashton- under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon), the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, was taken inside the barrier and told about expenditure. That decision was questioned and seriously challenged by Opposition Members, including the hon. Member for Workington.
Mr. Hurd : My hon. Friend's point is relevant in general, but not directly to the Security Service. The illustration he has given of the difficulty in which respected Members of Parliament can find themselves is valid, even when applied to the Security Service.
Mr. Nellist : That is highly unlikely, but I accept the comment with the graciousness with which it was made. Will the Home Secretary answer the question I wished to ask a few minutes ago about the basic and fundamental nature of the Security Service--its subjectivity? In his opening remarks, the Secretary of State mentioned overthrowing or weakening parliamentary democracy. If I and my hon. Friends, together with members of the Labour movement outside this place, were to campaign for something that we think would strengthen parliamentary democracy but which I suspect all Conservative Members would think would weaken it--the abolition of the House of Lords--is that something for which we could be investigated under the terms of the Bill?
Mr. Hurd : No. That would not be the case under the existing system and, under the safeguards we are proposing in the Bill, which hon. Gentlemen should welcome, that would not be so because the safeguards will state that in black and white.
We are not saying that no one can step inside the barrier of secrecy. I have mentioned the interception commissioner, who is a judge, and the staff counsellor, who is not a member of the Security Service, and they are both inside. I have also mentioned the Security Commission, which is chaired by a judge, and that has been inside on specific occasions. All those people have a clear and specific job with clear terms of reference and clear lines of reporting. I do not believe that one can read across from that responsibility to a general parliamentary oversight body. Review and oversight are incompatible with the specific or narrow terms of reference held by the people I have mentioned. Review and oversight could not be confined without creating a contradiction at the heart of our security, which we should all want to avoid.
Column 1112As the hon. Member for Workington said, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) is repeatedly saying, in other countries there are arrangements for oversight. In some cases it is carried out by Privy Councillors, committees of Congress or their equivalent. We should take account of that, but we should not feel that we need to follow automatically what has been proposed or put in place in other countries.
The hon. Member for Workington referred to the model in the United States. The FBI is the parallel organisation to our Security Service, but it represents an entirely different response, to a different constitutional framework. However effective the arrangements may be in America, they could not be directly implemented here. The crucial point is that the United States has no equivalent to the Prime Minister or Home Secretary. There is no person present in and responsible to the House who has to propose and defend legislation in the way that I am doing.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills then says, "What about Australia or Canada, where there are parliamentary systems which are more comparable to ours?" We need to examine that carefully. The provisions in Australia are recent, and the relevant parliamentary committee has not yet met formally. Australians would agree that it is too soon to be clear about how it will work out, but it is worth noting that, among other restrictions, the committee's terms of reference prevent it from reviewing anything said to be operationally sensitive. That may suit Australia well but, in our terms, it would beg many of the questions at issue in this discussion.
Similarly, the experience in Canada is recent--no more than four years old. It provides for two separate oversight bodies, an inspector-general and his staff and a review committee, and there is discussion in Canada about whether that leads to overlapping and difficult responsibilities. The system, which is very new, is to be reviewed next year.
Of course, this was a subject of debate in 1986, and we have thought long and hard about oversight and discussed it with others. I had a conversation recently with a Minister in another country who had experience of parliamentary oversight and who said that there was an inevitable tendency- -without imputing blame to anyone in particular--to draw party political advantage from the knowledge that the overseers obtained in confidence.
There is another danger that I must mention to the hon. Member for Workington : the creation of unofficial and subterranean channels of secrecy outside the framework of oversight. We are right to put aside this set of ideas and to concentrate instead on a clear statement of function, organisation and responsibility through Ministers to Parliament, and on a clear remedy for grievance--
Mr. Nellist rose --
I was very surprised to read in the newspapers that the Opposition had decided to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill. I clearly remember how the right hon. Member
Column 1113for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) and I went off contentedly to the "Newsnight" programme on the day the Bill was published. I remember him saying then that the Labour party would not oppose the Bill on Second Reading. It is sad to see what has happened since then, but it is not a mystery.
Last week, the right hon. Gentleman made a little foray in the direction of common sense over the handling of the Prevention of Terrorism Bill. It was not exactly a memorable foray : he was persuading his colleagues to vote for a destructive reasoned amendment and to vote against Third Reading, but in the middle he urged them to stage an heroic abstention on Second Reading. Even that distinctly mouselike movement was too much for the Labour party. There was tumult ; the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short), who is not in her place, wrote a rude letter to her leader. The party was again in disarray and the trumpet for retreat was sounded. So, on this Bill, the right hon. Gentleman, despite his clear statement on television and his personal acknowledgment in the House that it was a step forward, has now to slink back to the world of unreality over which he presides as deputy leader.
We have worked hard and soberly on the Bill for many months. We were not forced into it. We have fully taken into account the views and experiences of the Security Service. We have tried to analyse the present correctly and to look at the kinds of tasks which, as far as one can tell, the Security Service is likely to have to undertake in the years ahead.
After these months of cool consideration, we decided that the time had come to make the reform and take the step forward contained in the Bill. I hope that, whatever their criticisms, Opposition Members will acknowledge that it is a big step forward for the service, for Government and for Parliament. I hope the House will judge that this is a step which is well weighed, and I urge it to give the Bill a Second Reading.
Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook) : The Home Secretary was right to say that on the first day of this Parliament, when the House was told of the Government's intention to introduce a Security Service Bill, I said that I hoped that the Opposition would be able to give it at least qualified support. Not only did I say that on television when I had the pleasure of appearing with the Home Secretary, but I said it in the House. I said that we hoped to support it-- "subject to examination of the Bill".- -[ Official Report, 23 November 1988 ; Vol. 142, c. 137.]
We examined the Bill, we asked questions and I propose to tell the Home Secretary how inadequate were the answers that we received, and why, having examined the Bill as I said we would, our conclusion is, and must be in a free society, that the Opposition should vote against it.
Having said that, I wish to tell the right hon. Gentleman why I hoped we could vote for the Bill and why I still wish that that were possible. In our view, the work of the Security Service is best conducted free from political controversy. That is at least part of the reason why the Labour party proposed, and continues to propose, plans
Column 1114which I shall explain in a minute for the supervision of the Security Service by an all-party Committee of the House. But the Home Secretary must understand that to obtain all-party agreement, even on matters for which that is highly desirable, requires something more than the Government making unilateral announcements in the expectation that the Opposition parties will lamely and meekly accept whatever they recommend.
If, as they claim, the Government really want all-party agreement on security matters, they must make real attempts to accommodate some of the strongly held views of the Opposition parties. This Bill does not even recognise the problems that the Opposition have identified--problems concerning the accountability of the security services, and problems that affect the civil liberties of the nation and the efficiency of the Service. So much was shown again this afternoon by the Home Secretary's reply to my question. He said that the Bill specifically prohibited the service from operating with political bias. When I asked him to justify that from the Bill, he read from a clause that specifically prohibited the service from acting in the interests of a political party. If the Home Secretary cannot distinguish between those two things, he is not fit to be Home Secretary.
I have never suggested that the Security Service has burnt ballot boxes, forged ballot papers or acted on behalf of Conservative candidates to obtain their success. What I have suggested, and what we all know, is that the Security Service throughout the years has operated in a way that clearly shows a political bias of a much more general but equally damaging sort. We know, for instance, that in the 1970s two great patriots, Lord Scanlon and Mr. Jack Jones, were continually under the surveillance of the security services. I do not believe that even the Security Service of that period could have been so bone-headed as to tap their telephones if it had not been operating under the political bias that assumes that trade union leaders are likely to be subversive.
That is what we are discussing, not the interests of a political party. That the Home Secretary, with his abilities, should give such an inadequate answer to the question that I raised shows how flimsy is the ground on which he stands
Mr. Whitney : Is the right hon. Gentleman alleging that the Security Service tapped Mr. Jack Jones' telephone against the orders of the Home Secretary of the day, or deliberately obscured the knowledge of the Home Secretary of the day, who was a Labour Home Secretary?
Mr. Hattersley : I am making the allegation that Mr. Jack Jones' telephone was tapped, a matter of general knowledge and comment. I am making the assertion that it should not have been tapped, and that no one would have tapped it who was not so befuddled by political bias that he did not understand the real threat to the country and where the real duties of the Security Service lay.
Mr. Allason rose--
Mr. Allason : Without wanting to go specifically into the cases of Jack Jones and Hugh Scanlon, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is aware that leaders of the trade union movement have often been approached by hostile intelligence services and have reported these approaches to the Security Service, which has conducted operations with their consent?
Mr. Hattersley : I have no objection to that. What surprises me is that the hon. Gentleman might think that it was in any way relevant to the complaint that I was making about phones being tapped without the permission of the people who owned them.
I want to emphasise that the Government do not even get close to proposing a scheme of genuine accountability. The Home Secretary made that clear from the start. He said that he was not prepared to countenance the sort of accountability that the Opposition want. But the Bill does not even take a small step in that direction. Certainly, MI5 is to be given a statutory existence, which is progress of a sort. There were times when the Government of the day did not even acknowledge MI5's existence, let alone put it on a statutory basis. The Bill allows Parliament and the public to know no more about the security services than we know today.
The Bill's provisions will allow Parliament and the public to know nothing more about the Security Service, and it provides no more reassurance about the service's behaviour than we now possess. It is possible to argue, as I shall in a moment, that the Bill's provisions increase the Security Service's power to carry out operations that, in a free society, should be prohibited. The Bill could be used to legalise that which is presently illegal and to legitimise operations that are now wholly illegitimate and should be suppressed. Today, MI5 exists in a form that is most clearly set out in Lord Denning's report on the Profumo affair 25 years ago. Lord Denning wrote :
"The members of the services are, in the eye of the law, ordinary citizens with no powers greater than anyone else. They have no special powers of arrest such as the police have. No special powers of search are given to them. They cannot enter premises without the consent of the householder even though they may suspect a spy is there."
Despite that view being generally accepted by Governments and by the courts, we know from memoirs, prohibited and allowed, and from studies of the services both independent and Government-inspired, that for years MI5, in the immortal words of Peter Wright, "bugged and burgled its way all over London."
MI5 did so illegally, but in the knowledge that some Governments and some Home Secretaries preferred it to behave like a private army rather than cause the embarrassment that would result from the need for MI5 to obtain explicit ministerial permission to tap a trade union leader's home or to enter the premises of a private citizen, believing him to be assisting the Soviet Union. When the Home Secretary was courteous enough to discuss those matters with me, he agreed that one of the arguments had always been that it is best to keep the service outside the law, because that way, a Minister's hands are kept clean.
Under clause 1, it will be illegal for the service to take any of the actions that I have mentioned without obtaining the Home Secretary's explicit permission. That could have
Column 1116been a substantial step forward but for the inhibition that, for the Home Secretary's permission to have any force, three requirements must be met. First, the criteria against which the Home Secretary should measure warrant applications should be public, precise and limited. Secondly, Parliament should be empowered to impose a measure of control over the way in which the Home Secretary exercises his powers. Thirdly, a mechanism should be created to ensure that the Security Service does not continue with its old habits and defy the new law by acting without the Home Secretary's warrant.
Later, I shall examine each of those criteria but before I do so, I make it plain--if the Home Secretary needs that to be done, because he heard the murmurs of agreement from my right hon. and hon. Friends when he mentioned this point--that we accept without qualification that much of the Security Service's work must be kept secret from all except that small group of men and women who, in that famous phrase, need to know how the service conducts itself. What divides the parties is their interpretation of the concept of the need to know. We believe that there is a need for a small group of men and women of undoubted probity within Parliament at least to exercise a degree of general supervision of the service. We believe that that is necessary for the service's efficiency, as well as to ensure that it respects the obligations of a free society. Without that scrutiny, the secret service will be able still to act as a private army--the Prime Minister's private army, but a private army nevertheless. Without such scrutiny, the service will still be able to act improperly, without those who are aggrieved receiving proper recompense. Certainly the tribunal provisions in clause 5 will not provide anything like adequate redress.
In the past, the Government have inevitably chosen, as they have today, to conduct this debate as if MI5 was the best
counter-espionage organisation in the free world and that we would be rash to make any radical changes that might in any way tarnish its record of unparalleled efficiency. The implication is that any radical change in the governance of MI5 might put at risk its present levels of performance. In truth, since the the war MI5 has been one of the worst and most ridiculed security services in the western Alliance. It has a long history of recruiting and promoting Soviet agents, and of wasting its own time and public money pursuing individuals who, by any rational analysis, constituted no threat whatsoever to national security.
MI5's errors are the errors of inbreeding. Its mistakes are the mistakes of a closed society that does not have to account for the legality or efficiency of its operations. It has often made itself ridiculous, believing that it was above scrutiny. The story of MI5 does not justify acceptance of the suggestion that it will be dangerous to tamper with its record of unequivocal success. When the Minister replies, perhaps he will respond to just one example that I can give. It is not from the work of the bitter and discredited Peter Wright, for whom none of us has very much time, but from a monograph produced one year ago by Mr. Anthony Cavendish-- a man neither embittered not vindictive, neither impoverished nor prejudiced. It is a monograph written not about the 1950s, which the Home Secretary said were days behind us, but about the 1970s. In that monograph, which was suppressed by the Government, Anthony Cavendish wrote
Column 1117that the Security Service was engaged in plots to destabilise the Government of the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath).
One can look at Mr. Cavendish's story in two ways. If it is true, then MI5 was engaged in treason. If it is not true, then in Mr. Cavendish, it employed and promoted a man who, by making that allegation, demonstrates himself to be at best a liar, and at worst a lunatic. I am inclined to accept the first explanation--that what he wrote was true. Whichever alternative we choose, it does not redound to the credit of MI5's employment and promotion policies.
Mr. Hattersley : If the Government will allow publication of Mr. Cavendish's little book, we shall be a position to contest Mr. Cavendish's judgment on his employment with the judgments of others. Unfortunately, that book is suppressed. Since that was done without Mr. Cavendish ever being a member of the Security Service, it raises considerable questions about the justification for suppressing it in the first place.
I emphasise that making the Security Service more accountable would improve its efficiency, as well as ensuring that it plays a role consistent with existing democracy. From time to time, we are told that parliamentary control of the kind that we seek will undermine-- Mr. Heffer ; How does the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) know who is employed by the Security Service? Is he a member of the Security Service? Does he have more information than any other right hon. or hon. Member? We are entitled to know from where his information comes.