|Previous Section||Home Page|
Mr. Hattersley : No, because I want to deal with the real world, and not with the world that is inhabited by the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) in one guise or another, or under one name or another.
I wish to explain why we insist on arguing for parliamentary control. I shall deal with the argument, which is inevitably and invariably made, that to allow a measure of parliamentary control will undermine the confidence of our partners and allies in the operation of the service. I know the Government's preoccupation with that subject. I vividly recall telling the Foreign Secretary that I would be very surprised if the Soviet Union did not know at least as much about the Zircon satellite as was to be published in the New Statesman the following day. The Foreign Secretary's reply was that that was all very well, but that the Americans were disturbed by the incidence of such leaks.
Of course, the Americans have a security system controlled by a Senate committee which publishes its budget. It has an operational head whose name appears in the papers and whose address appears in the telephone directory. I do not suggest for a moment, no matter what the Home Secretary may pretend, that we can take the American system and spatchcock it on ours. Experience in
Column 1118Washington suggests, however, that the sort of control that we propose is not invariably less efficient than a system that provides no parliamentary accountability. All the problems described by the Home Secretary--whether the few people allowed inside the net of secrecy would tell too much or tell too little ; whether it would produce less satisfaction ; whether it would produce intolerable pressure on the head of the service--all those problems are overcome in Washington, and I believe that with good will they could be overcome here.
From time to time the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary insist that as they are, between them and in a not very clearly defined fashion, Ministers responsible for the Civil Service, parliamentary accountability exists. It is there, manifested by them. It is provided through the answers that they give the House on the subject. It was, indeed, an answer by the Prime Minister that, as much as anything else, convinced me that we would not support the Bill. She told the House that there would still be accountability, because she would be accountable. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) asked in what form that accountability would be exercised, she replied :
"In precisely the same way as the Home Secretary and myself have always been accountable to the House".--[ Official Report, 22 November 1988 ; Vol. 141, c. 26.]
We know what that usual way is. All of us who have been Ministers dealing with such matters have given exactly the same answers to questions about security as the Prime Minister gave every time that she was asked. Her answer is that she does not answer. The Prime Minister is accountable in the sense that she is the Minister responsible for refusing to answer the questions. I think that even the Home Secretary will concede that that is a very limited definition of parliamentary accountability. The Bill should have provided something new and something better.
Mr. Hurd rose--
Mr. Hattersley : I will give way to the Home Secretary after I have said this to the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) : for him to hear a case based on that requirement for 20 minutes and then, when the subject is raised, to shout, "What?" says something about either his attention or his intelligence. But we shall see whether the Home Secretary can do better.
Mr. Hurd : I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has sketched his proposal for the benefit of the House, because it illustrates perfectly the contradiction hidden within it. On the one hand, he admits the need for secrecy over actual operations and says that what is required is some general oversight. On the other hand, he claims that that general oversight will prevent abuse in a particular operation. Both cannot be correct.
Mr. Hattersley : I shall do my best to demonstrate why the Home Secretary is wrong. Let me take an example--the creation of police authorities. We have never believed that a police authority is supposed to be involved in the day-to-day operation and decisions of inspectors,
Column 1119chief constables and superintendents, but we believe that the existence of that authority is in itself a countervailing power against unreasonable operations. This is exactly the same principle. If the Home Secretary will bear with me for a moment, I shall try to give an example of what I mean.
We believe that real accountability can come about only if and when the three criteria that I have set out are properly observed. Those three criteria are a concise and acceptable definition of when action by the Security Service can be authorised, a real check on how the Home Secretary exercises his right to issue warrants and a mechanism that ensures that the Security Service does not act outside its lawful powers.
The criteria against which the Home Secretary's action must be judged are set out, as the Minister of State so perceptively said, in clause 3 of the Bill. They are set out in a form that is vague to the point of vacuity. That which may be authorised is
"entry on or interference with property".
"Interference" can mean virtually anything. I confess that I spent a happy hour yesterday evening looking through my Shakespeare concordance at all the alternative meanings that one English poet has given the word. I shall not give them all, but "interference" can mean whatever anyone wants it to mean. Obviously it means breaking and entering ; presumably it also means the expropriation of property and the planting of monitoring devices. Unfortunately it could mean a good deal more. There is clearly no legal limit to what could be justified by the word "interference".
The rest of the clause is drawn just as widely. First, action is justified when the Home Secretary "thinks it necessary". There is no need for him to justify that view ; he need only hold it. The information that the interference with property is intended to obtain must be
"of substantial value in assisting the Service to discharge any of its functions".
The breadth of that definition--"any of its functions"--is clear only when we examine the functions of the service as set out in clause 1. Clause 1 defines the function of the service as
"the protection of national security and, in particular, its protection against threats from espionage, terrorism and sabotage, from the activities of foreign powers and from actions intended to overthrow or undermine parliamentary democracy by political [or] industrial means."
Some newspapers have placed much emphasis on the word "particular", but I believe that with or without that word the clause gives the security services the right to do whatever they choose. I cannot imagine any circumstance that is not covered by that subsection. It is made up of word after word that has only subjective meaning. How is a threat defined? Who decides that the intention was to overthrow or undermine? The answer to all those questions is the Security Service itself, or perhaps the Home Secretary.
Column 1120Neither the Home Secretary nor the Security Service is a suitable arbiter in this instance. If clause 1(2) is dangerous, clause 1(3) is simultaneously dangerous and absurd. MI5 is enjoined to
"safeguard the economic well-being of the United Kingdom against threats posed by the actions or intentions of persons outside the British Islands."
How are we to define economic threats posed by persons outside the United Kingdom? At present a great controversy surrounds the Sultan of Brunei and the pressures which, it is alleged, were exerted on him, together with inducements, to keep his sterling balances in London. In those circumstances, would MI5 have been justified in tapping the Sultan's telephone to find out whether it was his intention to move his sterling balances?
I hope that at least we can be assured that when the Chancellor of the Exchequer goes abroad and agrees--at the New York Plaza, let us say--to damage the British economy with policies of high interest rates, MI5 will not be entitled to "interfere with his property". But in the strict context of the Bill, applying the words in a literal sense, there is no reason why it should not do so.
No doubt the Home Secretary will argue that despite such vacuous definitions we can rely on the whole business being kept in check by his exercise of moderate and reasonable authority. He will insist that he will do only what is right, and that may well be the case.
It is certainly not my intention to impugn the Home Secretary's integrity, but the power provided for him in the Bill is unchecked and should not be given to any Minister. The Home Secretary has not been appointed in perpetuity. The power to authorise action at once so important to the national interest and so offensive to civil liberties ought to be exercised only by a Minister who is himself subject to supervision. The Bill does not provide adequate supervision through the tribunal, and therefore fails the second of my criteria.
In any event, it is very difficult for the Secretary of State alone to exercise effective control over the security services. His role will become the same sort of legal fiction as his theoretical position as the police authority for London, which amounts to little more than requiring him to endorse decisions taken by others. Let the House imagine that at 9.45 am today the Home Secretary was about to leave for the Cabinet meeting, carrying with him the draft of the speech that he intended to make this afternoon, that he was suddenly presented with an application for a warrant and that he was told that the security services needed to "interfere" with somebody's property before noon. I believe that in those circumstances the Home Secretary needs some countervailing force to exert alternative pressure from that which would certainly be exerted by the security services in favour of immediate and unthinking action. The commission, operating behind a wall of secrecy in every sense of that word, cannot exert anything like effective pressure.
Column 1121The only effective countervailing force is a Committee of this House.
Mr. Hurd rose--
Mr. Hattersley : I think that a Committee might consider the application if the aggrieved person wished to do so. I do not suggest for a moment that a Committee of this House should examine every action of the security services. I said so a few moments ago when I drew a parallel between the Committee that should control the behaviour of the police. It is crucial that a Committee of this House is able to deal with the complaints of an individual who says that he has been aggrieved. That is the purpose of the tribunal. It is that purpose which we believe the tribunal cannot properly fulfil. The third criterion concerns the necessity to ensure that the security services, with their deplorable record in this particular, do not continue, despite the new legal framework, to act unlawfully. That assurance can be provided only by an official secrets Act that does not allow their covert activities permanently to be protected, whether they are lawful or unlawful. Yet we know, from the new Official Secrets Bill, that we are to debate next week, that everything that the security services do must remain an official secret. To reveal it in any circumstances will be an offence. If MI5 bugs and burgles without warrant, anybody who reveals that he has broken the law is himself or herself breaking the law. The aura of secrecy with which the Bill that is to be debated next week surrounds the security services disqualifies the Bill from our support. It also reduces--this is the point that I was struggling to make to the Home Secretary--the tribunal's effectiveness when investigating complaints. I refer to the tribunal that is to be established under clause 5. During the debate on the Loyal Address I asked two specific questions about the tribunal : first, whether there was any appeal against its decisions and, secondly, whether its decisions could be questioned in court. The Minister of State replied to neither of those questions. I assumed that that was because he did not know the answers. I realise now that it was because he knew the answers. The tribunal's judgment cannot be questioned in court. There is no appeal against the tribunal's decision. It is farcical to suggest that, for an aggrieved party, that can be considered to be a safeguard that is comparable to supervision by a Committee of this House.
Those parts of the Bill that deal with the powers and duties of the commission and tribunal, both clauses and schedules, show how little restraint and protection those two institutions will provide. The obvious example is paragraph 3 of schedule 1. If a man or woman complains that the security services have given information to a prospective employer, the tribunal may examine whether the information is accurate. However, the real cause of complaint is not the accuracy of the information but the propriety of information about a free individual being passed from hand to hand. To examine that great abuse--the principle of improper vetting--is not within the tribunal's capabilities.
Column 1122The idea that such a scheme should provide adequate recompense for offending citizens or adequate protection against wrongdoing is absurd. Against the background of a system that is cloaked in complete secrecy and of a definition of powers that gives absolute discretion to the Home Secretary, the tribunal becomes no more than window dressing.
In some ways, the Bill is window dressing from start to finish. We know-- the Home Secretary confirmed it to me--that the security services wanted the Bill. I have no doubt that at last they have become conscious of the enormous and unjustified criticisms that have been recently directed towards them and that they decided that a minimum legal framework, which allowed them to operate much as they had done before, was the best way to avoid a continual campaign for greater efficiency and genuine accountability.
I want to assure the Home Secretary that a campaign to improve the performance and to increase the accountability of the security services will not go away. We shall continue to argue for a system of parliamentary scrutiny. Until we achieve it, we shall continue to press the Home Secretary properly to discharge the duties which--
We shall continue to press him properly to discharge the duties that, because of this Bill, he has been able to pretend he has acquired. We shall try to question him, but he will no doubt refuse to answer--as is the practice and convention. When next there is a security scandal we shall attempt to hold him responsible, but he will no doubt say that that is not a proper subject for debate in this House. He will simply refer to the clauses that demonstrate that anything he has approved is lawful. That response will only hasten the day when we have a proper Security Service that is under proper control and proper supervision.
Mr. Robert Boscawen (Somerton and Frome) : I listened with interest to the speech of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). I was quite convinced, at the end of it, of two things : either that he knows very little about the subject or that he does not want a Security Service in this country. He sought in every way to undermine what the Security Service is bound to do. I have a few points to make about the Bill, which I believe is extremely important for the safety of every individual in this country. The Bill is timely. There are details that need to be looked at, but it gets the answers about right.
What stands out is the relevance, the succinctness and the clarity of the original Maxwell Fyfe directive that was drawn up by a former Labour Government. It is still relevant today, 36 years later, except in one respect ; that it is not a statutory provision. That is what the Bill intends to put right.
It is interesting to dwell for a moment on why it has taken so long since the second world war for the Security Service to be placed on a statutory basis, in place of the directive to the Director-General of the Security Service on his appointment by the Home Secretary. This country believes, more than any other country, in a free society. It
Column 1123has shed as much blood as any other country to destroy the worst police states in our history. Incidentally, this country has had Labour Governments for almost 19 of the 36 years since the Maxwell Fyfe directive. For nearly 23 years since the second world war, there have been Tory Governments.
Why has it taken so long to place the Security Service on a statutory basis? The answer must be significant. The reason is the long-standing belief of no fewer than nine Prime Ministers--three of whom were Labour and six Tory--their senior permanent secretaries and a number of senior distinguished judges that Britain's Security Service, however imperfect, was best safeguarded by the Maxwell Fyfe directive. It was not until the treacheries of Blunt and others were revealed, and certain dubious revelations of illegality by worthless creatures such as Wright, and the genuine telephone tapping incident, that the requirement of a statutory basis appeared on the menu. In my view, not least of the reasons was the need for the improvement of morale and well-being among those who staffed the service and had done so for a long time.
I entirely disagree with the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook, as I consider that the legality issue is faced squarely and set down in clause 3. It is nothing new. Many of us in younger days had to be trained in security matters for previous emergencies. I can certainly vouch for the emphasis placed on the individual's responsibility for acting lawfully at all times, if necessary through the authority of the warrant system. Hence a close relationship has always been maintained with the police authorities. If all those lurid stories that sell so well on the bookstalls are true, the individuals have not been acting lawfully. If they have not been acting lawfully, they are on their own, as any individual in Britain who does not act lawfully is on his own.
If nothing else, what is spelt out in clause 3 must be a confidence- building exercise, in that the Security Service must act lawfully at all times, throughout the warrant system which is also scrutinised by the Commissioner for the Security Service as is laid down in the Bill. That is what we have to aim for.
As for the contentious matter of parliamentary oversight, I believe that it would be totally wrong and would be harmful to the security of British people and must be rejected. A year or two ago, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary used the very good description, "those inside and those outside the barriers of secrecy". He was then quoted by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook. In cases of security, those inside the barriers of secrecy must be limited to the fewest possible people. The idea of matters of secrecy being open to the members of a Select Committee, however eminent and responsible they are, increases enormously the risk of secrecy being blown. That is why those who remain inside the barriers of secrecy must be as few as possible.
More than anyone else, those with the continuous burden of the highest responsibility of office must be inside
Column 1124the barrier of secrecy. They would be the Prime Minister and I understand, for administrative reasons, the Home Secretary. For reasons which we have heard, the Home Secretary is the Minister responsible for issuing the warrants and is answerable for that. I do not believe that it is sensible or wise to spread information and secrecy on what the Security Service is doing, particularly in its operational duties, beyond those two Ministers.
Ex-Home Secretaries, ex-Law Officers and ex-senior Cabinet Ministers, however eminent in office, are different animals without their official pressures. They are under different pressures, often of a highly competitive nature, inside the House. Many of them are working to regain office. That is their duty. Many of them are working hard outside the House on other personal matters. I do not believe that they are the right animals to hold the tremendously responsible position inside the House of scrutinising and overseeing the Security Service.
In my humble position as an ex-Whip--after 10 years in the Whips Office, where one has the opportunity to observe human nature in the House--I certainly do not have the confidence that the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook and some other Opposition Members have in their colleagues to maintain the enormous responsibility of secrecy that would be required of them if they were to be in charge of overseeing the Security Service.
Finally, if a Select Committee was in the know, as my right hon. Friend pointed out many times, what could its members reveal to their colleagues if they had misgivings about what was going on? They could go only to the Prime Minister or the Home Secretary of the day and tell them about their misgivings. They could go to no one else, so what advantage would there be to the House and to Back Bench Members on both sides? It is a foolish proposal. It is significant that, in all its years in government, the Labour party never sought parliamentary control of the Security Service when faced with the realities of office.
The Security Service depends on the morale of those who give long years of toil within the barriers of secrecy. On it depends the better defence of freedom from the violence for political ends in Britain that is so close to us today. It is vital that nothing in the Bill undermines the value of the Security Service to the safety of our country.
Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent) : The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Boscawen) and other Conservative Members have suggested that what we are proposing, or the outcome of our proposals, would be unfair to the Security Service or to people working within it. However, there have been gross injustices to people in the service in the past, in particular because of the way in which some accusations have been made in recent years.
There could not be any more serious charges against a man of distinction who served the Security Service than the charges that were made against Roger Hollis. Those charges were investigated a number of times. I remember the Prime Minister at the Dispatch Box announcing to the House that all the investigations had shown that the charges were quite false and quite misleading. None the less, charges against Roger Hollis continue. They have been taken up by Peter Wright--although some of us do not pay much attention to him--and Chapman Pincher,
Column 1125who is occasionally given special favours by various Governments for his work. It is grossly unfair that the charges against Roger Hollis continue.
Anthony Cavendish who I believe was employed by the Security Service, tried to come to the aid of Roger Hollis to defend his good name, but his information was suppressed. It is unwise and improper, and it does not serve the House of Commons and the nation, if that happens. The present system can be grossly unfair to former servants of the Crown. People such as Roger Hollis can be maligned in a scandalous way without any successful repudiation of the charges. I am not complaining about the Prime Minister's actions--she tried to come to the defence of Roger Hollis at one stage--but members of the Hollis family have a right to feel outraged by what was said about him and about the fact that there was insufficient right to reply. The Home Secretary said that he would not enter into details about the past. I can well understand that, but obviously the Bill has been introduced because of some of the events of the past. If the Government were as content as the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome with what happened in the past, there would not have been any purpose in their coming forward with the Bill. They have been in a dilemma about whether to present the Bill as a great reform or as a measure that will not make much difference. The Home Secretary has done his best to make the Bill more than it is. He has tried to present this fig leaf of a Bill as though it were a virility symbol of Freudian proportions. However, the Bill has very little in it and will not make much difference to the way that the security services operate. That is one of our complaints.
We have serious complaints about what has been revealed in the recent past. There has been nothing like sufficient investigation or explanation, especially about Peter Wright's revelations and many others. It is all very well the Government saying that they will not go into past matters, that it is a matter of history and has nothing to do with the present, but those past matters are the background to the Bill. If it had not been for all the past events, the Government would not have proceeded with the legislation. In saying that he will not go into past events, the Home Secretary is saying that he will not be going into the reasons for the Bill. There is grave suspicion about the Government's actions because they have steadfastly refused to inquire into the revelations.
Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) : Does my right hon. Friend recall that, as late as 14 February this year, the Sunday Express devoted most of its front page to a photograph which had been released to it by the security services, smearing a former Labour Minister, Lord Diamond? Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be a test of the new spirit of frankness which is alleged to be abroad if, in summing up, the Minister were to tell us who leaked that photograph and why?
Mr. Foot : My hon. Friend raises an important matter. I should be happy to hear a reply by the Government, although I doubt whether they will attempt to do anything of that kind. If the Government will not give us any information about some of the matters which have been discussed throughout the country over the past year and a half, I doubt whether they will come forward with any information to answer my hon. Friend's questions.
Column 1126A Government who have done what this Government have done over the past year and a half cannot wash their hands of the matter. We might have looked on the Bill with more favour if the Government had had a splendid record of defending civil liberties at every turn, of showing great sensitivity to threats to bring injunctions against newspapers and of introducing novelty in the scale of security operations. We have not had such a Government. The Government have engaged in peppering and pestering the newspapers with injunctions on a scale never seen before. The Home Secretary laughed about that, and perhaps some newspapers deserve to have their stories stopped, but I doubt whether that is a proper way for a free country and Government to operate.
The Government have refused to allow any investigation into Peter Wright's revelations and the associated revelations. The Prime Minister may say that she is weary of these issues. I have had long correspondence with her over the past year or so. When revelations were made in the Wright book about the attempted action against the Labour Government--the primary matter in the book--and other matters, I believed that it was of paramount importance that inquiries should have been made. The revelation about the Suez plan prepared by the Secret Service for the assassination of President Nasser was important, if it were true. Even if it were not, it was still important. We did not have a proper inquiry into that matter. Only recently, judges have pronounced on the way in which the Government behaved. I am glad that some emphasised how seriously they regarded such allegations and said why it was necessary, to have some means to investigate these matters properly. Up until the present, the Government have refused to have any investigation into those charges. Now the Home Secretary tells us that he is going ahead with this legislation, and the other legislation which will be introduced next week, without giving an answer to the House of Commons about any of the revelations.
Mr. Allason : I know that the right hon. Gentleman likes to keep up to date in these matters. Is he aware that Peter Wright has admitted on television that his tale of a conspiracy against the Labour Government was sheer fiction?
Mr. Foot : If the hon. Gentleman is so inaccurate in his reporting of facts in his books as he is in the House of Commons, we shall have to watch carefully what he writes. He has misreported even Mr. Peter Wright. I fully understand that there are often good reasons for not treating Mr. Peter Wright with great respect.
The Government have been engaged in great efforts across the world, at great cost to the reputation of senior civil servants and of the law. The Wright case eventually was tried in this country. The judges' verdicts are a judgment of the way in which the Government behaved throughout the proceedings and a judgment of the case that they were asked to try. These matters cannot be brushed away as easily as the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) or anyone else has suggested. It is a great mistake that the Government have never held inquiries. So long as they refuse to do so, the matters will continue rumbling.
The Government's excuse over many months when the case was before the courts was that they could not act
Column 1127because it was sub judice. Again, the Prime Minister was possibly saying that we cannot have an inquiry because it may injure the operation of the secret services. Today, the House is asked to proceed to decide on what we shall do in future without any of the information or proper investigation that we would normally have for any other section of the nation's affairs.
The Home Secretary sought to reply to my right hon. Friend's proposals for proper parliamentary scrutiny, and that will become the overwhelming question for discussion. The House of Commons is a much more powerful and versatile place than the Government give it credit for. We hear Conservative Members, including Front Bench Members, especially the Prime Minister, talking as if the House is not fit to do these jobs and cannot adapt itself to carry out the proper work of surveillance over a security system. I am not saying that we should have exactly the same system as the Americans, but if they had had the same system as we have, absolute secrecy, all the revelations about their arms dealings with Iran would never have been revealed. It would have greatly injured the relationships of the Western world if the Americans had been allowed to sell arms to terrorists without anybody knowing that they were doing so and if there had been no investigation. It would have greatly weakened the whole democratic world if the United States had not had the investigative methods that operated there, whether or not they were initiated partly by the newspapers and were operated through a Congress which had some sort of machinery. I am not saying that we should have exactly that machinery--naturally, we must adapt it for ourselves--but it is nonsense to say that the House of Commons cannot devise methods for dealing with these matters.
Mr. Ray Whitney (Wycombe) : Would the right hon. Gentleman be prepared to tell the House if, when he was a member of Labour Cabinets, he urged on his fellow Cabinet members the parliamentary mechanism for oversight which he is now recommending, or is that a secret within the Labour party?
Mr. Foot : That is not a secret. The proposal for a parliamentary surveillance of these matters was not one that I raised in Cabinet, but there is strong case for it. All the evidence and outpourings of the activities about the security services in recent years confirm the good case that my right hon. Friend has made.
Yesterday there was some talk about insults to the country. It is an insult to the House of Commons to say that we cannot devise a proper method for dealing with the Security Service and making it properly answerable. If anybody says that cannot be done, my advice is to look back at the ways in which the House of Commons in times of extreme danger has decided that it can waive rules or devise machinery to investigate dangerous affairs of this kind. That should have been done when the Peter Wright revelations were coming out. During the first world war, a Select Committee was set up to inquire into why there had been such a catastrophe at Gallipoli and to take evidence from many different quarters about the reasons for it. The strength of the House during that war was partly because it devised a means by which it could discuss even such secret matters
Column 1128as the operations that led to the Gallipoli disaster and partly because it learned lessons from that. Some people at the time said, "You cannot allow a Committee of the House to inquire into these matters ; they are much too secret in wartime," but fortunately for the nation, an inquiry was carried out. It was one of the most important inquiries in the war in changing the way that people looked at the conduct of the war.
During the second world war--I watched from the Gallery--the House of Commons inquired into many matters. It even had secret sittings. Some Members did not like that. It is incredible to think of a secret sitting with almost every Member present. It discussed matters of the utmost importance. Some thought that if different views were taken, it could give some advantage to the enemy. But others thought that it was much more important that the Government should establish their good faith before other hon. Members and that that risk should be taken. They thought that it was much more important that Ministers should be called to account and should give answers.
Churchill, who knew something about these matters, was prepared to act in that way. He had secret committees on many matters, inquiring into questions infinitely more sensitive than many of those covered by the Security Services. If both this Bill and next week's Bill are carried, no future Churchills will write their memoirs. If ever the historical writings of any great figure in this House were stuffed with official secrets--I bet that not every one was vetted and passed--they were Churchill's. He thought that he had a better idea of what was an official secret than any officious security officer who might tell him otherwise, and that is often the case. Above all, Churchill was answerable to this House, and he trusted it. Even in the much lesser event of the Falklands war, it was necessary that there should be a proper inquiry into how the country got into the war. The Prime Minister was not eager that it should be the size that it was. She thought that we must have a smaller inquiry because it would be a bit dangerous to have as many as six or seven Members of Parliament investigating. Some of us persuaded her--she is not always easy to persuade--that she must have a committee that could both inquire and command the confidence of the House. If it was to have the confidence of the House, it could not consist of one or two hon. Members ; it had to be a bit larger. Some of us thought that it might have been a bit larger still.
A great deal of secret information and information about security, and many official secrets went before that committee. My right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) was on that committee and will vouch for what I am saying. If that evidence had not been available, the report would have been worthless. It is not the case that this House cannot devise means of dealing with these questions.
During recent weeks and months, the Government have taken measures on a series of events to restrict the freedoms that we have previously accepted as natural, which we have taken for granted. I shall not go through the whole long list, but they include the proposed interference with the right to silence, interference with the rights of people to report terrorism in Northern Ireland, and the introduction of an identity card system. There is a list of different measures which infringe some of our elementary rights.
Column 1129Nobody believes that those matters, including some of the provisions in the two Bills on this subject, are the outcome of the cool analysis or--what was the phrase of the Home Secretary? --the "cool consideration" of the Home Office and the Government. They are not. They are the result of the paranoid spasms of the Prime Minister. She comes along and says, "We must settle these questions in a particular way overnight, whatever the objections, criticisms and obstacles." The Home Secretary's way of dealing with these questions over the years has been governed much more by that factor than by any so-called cool consideration of all the factors involved. I hope that that pressure will be sustained.
I have not the slightest doubt that eventually the House will have enough dignity and determination to establish over the security services the right that we have over every other activity in this country--the right of surveillance. It can be done without injuring the nation's security or the way in which it conducts its affairs. All that is needed is for hon. Members to have a little confidence in this institution, which still has the power and capacity to adapt itself to any such needs.
Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South) : The right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) put his finger on a curious paradox that is one of the central weaknesses of the Bill. He said that the Bill has come into existence only because of past events. Looking forward to the future-- remembering, to use the right hon. Gentleman's words, what a "small fig leaf" the Bill is--there is little hope that future events will be handled differently. It is to that central weakness that I shall devote most of my attention.
I should like to give the Bill a qualified welcome. It is a sensible initiative to place the Security Service on a statutory basis for the first time in its 80-year history. When such a first attempt to legislate is made, it is perfectly natural that there should be some unease and debate about whether the activities of the Security Service, as defined in the Bill, infringe civil liberties. That unease, which has come mainly from the Opposition, would largely have been alleviated if the Bill had been drafted better. Sometimes parliamentarians criticise the Foreign Office for making a mess of legislation because it has so little experience of bringing Bills before the House. Poor old MI5 has had no experience of bringing legislation before the House, so perhaps it is not surprising that, by professional standards, the Bill has been poorly drafted and has many grave flaws.
If one wanted to choose a fundamental flaw in the drafting regarding the lack of political interference by the Security Service, one could do no better than make a comparison with the rather splendid words of the Maxwell Fyfe directive of 1952. Paragraph 4, which deals with political interference, says :
"It is essential that the Security Service should be kept absolutely free from any political bias or influence, and nothing should be done that might lend colour to any suggestion that it is concerned with the interests of any particular section of the community or with any matter other than the Defence of the Realm as a whole."
Those words have a splendid ring to them and compare favourably with the extremely modest sentence in clause 2(2)(b), which asks the director-geneal to ensure
"that the Service does not take any action to further the interests of any political party."