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Column 1130A quite different dimension of restraint of the Security Service is contained in the Bill than that contained in the famous Maxwell Fyfe directive. I dare say that we shall tidy up much of the drafting in Committee.
The big issue in the Bill, which is the first in the history of the Security Service, is probably not civil liberties but the confidence, effectiveness, efficiency and judgment of the Security Service. The Bill should be judged by what it does to improve, enhance and strengthen the Security Service, which is certainly needed in today's world. Judged by that test, the Bill is extremely disappointing. There are many omissions in the Bill and many opportunities have been lost. The most recent controversy was the Wright brouhaha. Most observers agree that it probably would not have happened if only MI5 had had a decent and fair system of pensions. If Mr. Wright had had a pension, none of this Niagara falls of information would have fallen into the public domain. It is unlikely that many revelations from former employees of the service would have reached the ears of journalists and authors if there had been a clear contractual responsibility by which pensions could be lost following breaches of trust or disclosure of information. The Bill completely misses the opportunity to deal with possible restrictions, definitions or fairer treatment of pensions.
The Home Secretary tackled the subject of oversight very feebly indeed. When he came to this part of his speech, he tried to dismiss the Canadian experience as only four years old, the Australian experience as too new and the American experience as of no relevance. He continuously dodged the fact that we are the only democracy in the English-speaking world that has no system not merely of parliamentary oversight--it is perfectly true that there can be more than one view of this--but any system of independent oversight whatsoever. He did not admit--why should he reveal a state secret, but I will do so--that three successive directors-general of the Security Service have supported independent oversight of some type for the Security Service.
Mr. Aitken : I do not think that my hon. Friend quite understands what is meant by "oversight". Oversight, in the sense that it is used by security services in other parts of the world, is some form of continuous monitoring body. It monitors not whether the right warrant was issued for the right telephone tap but whether the structure and operations of the service are being correctly, efficiently and most effectively carried out. At present, that function is exercised by Ministers, which is what they mean when they talk about oversight. To some extent, I embarrassed the Government the other day, when the Home Secretary was at his peak of reminding us how wonderfully effective oversight by the Prime Minister and himself would be in the future. I quoted from the last ministerial statement made on oversight seven years ago by the then Home Office Minister, Dr. Shirley Summerskill. I will not bore the House by repeating it, but the gist of it was, "We have a completely new oversight mechanism, which has been strengthened and is working perfectly ; Ministers are doing a wonderful job, and although there have been faults in the past, you can trust us and we will do oversight splendidly."
Column 1131That is the same old gramophone record that the Home Secretary played today and during the debate on the Gracious Speech. However, the extraordinary catalogue of blunders, mismanagement and outbreaks of chaos which followed that statement shows that ministerial oversight failed, for the simple reason that Ministers were too preoccupied and too busy to give the continuous attention that is needed. The fight for oversight of the Security Service will not end with this Bill ; it will be a continuous process, whether it be parliamentary oversight or independent oversight by a body such as the Falklands committee. That committee kept its secrets very well, and the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent reminded us that the House can perfectly well keep secrets at times of great national importance or on issues of substance.
Nothing in the Bill will improve the management, efficiency and effectiveness of the Security Service or ensure that it devotes its efforts to the right targets by the right methods. It is no secret that the Security Service has not been well managed in recent years. There are times whey it has been spectacularly badly managed. There have been five directors-general within a decade, which is an astonishing turnover in the world of counter-intelligence, where a long perspective is often needed.
Some of the Security Service's recruitment methods are out of the Boy's Own Paper days. No commercial organisation could have recruited, promoted and failed to detect an erratic, alcoholic and social misfit like Michael Bettaney. Even the expurgated version of the security commissioner's report on Michael Bettaney, published in 1985, was one of the most scathing indictments of the quality of management of any Government organisation this century.
We are told that, since Bettaney, everything has been improved. That is true to some extent. Sir Antony Duff, an outsider from the Security Service, made certain significant changes. As a result of his influence, all MI5 employees were given a 10 per cent. pay increase over and above the normal Civil Service increments, to pay them for their enhanced responsibilities--a new reward structure, which, incidentally, Ministers have never disclosed to Parliament. Sir Antony Duff then insisted that there should be a major shift of resources from counter-intelligence and subversion towards fighting terrorism. That was a wise move.
Here again--this is why Parliament should debate such issues--a caveat should be entered since Sir Antony Duff's retirement. We all agree that fighting terrorism is extremely important, but some experienced international observers fear that, with their understandably deep concern for terrorism, the present Government may not have got the balance quite right in the allocation of resources. There is a somewhat simplistic view in the Security Service today that, in this age of glasnost and perestroika, it is safe to lower our guard against Soviet penetration and subversion so that we may raise our guard against Irish terrorism. That view is not shared by intelligence experts on the other side of the Atlantic, who, incidentally, are refreshing easy to consult, in comparison with how difficult or impossible it is to get near their British equivalents.
Column 1132I draw the attention of the House to a speech by Mr. Robert M. Gates, the deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency, to the Association of Former Intelligence Officers on 15 October. He said : "Since Gorbachev's accession to power, the hostile intelligence threat against the US has grown. Over the past three years we have discovered more penetrations of US defence and intelligence activities than at any time in our history Despite improved US-Soviet relations there has been an increase this year in Soviet attempts to recruit US sources. I believe the recent choice of Vladimir Kryuchov to be chairman of the KGB will mean an intensification of Soviet intelligence efforts of the US and its allies."
If Deputy Director Gates of the CIA is right about the increased intensification of KGB activities and the increased spending on the KGB by the Soviet Government, it suggests that our Security Service may be getting its priorities wrong.
Mr. Whitney : Does my hon. Friend agree that the evidence by our hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office to the Select Committee made precisely the same point as Mr. Gates? Therefore, we must assume--neither my hon. Friend nor I know--that that information, which apparently is in the possession of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, is also in the possession of other security agencies, and that they are taking appropriate action to deal with it. Why does my hon. Friend impute such ignorance or lack of wisdom to our colleagues on the Government Front Bench?
Mr. Aitken : My hon. Friend knows much more about this subject than I do. The judgment of priorities and the assessment of threats and macro- political judgments of the kind that we are talking about, is certainly not something that MI5 has done particularly well in the past. My view of MI5 is that, on the whole, it has done its best to do a decent, honest, patriotic, plodding job. The tone of MI5 is the tone of sound mediocrity, often touched with an inferiority complex about its cousins at MI6.
The retired military and police personnel who are so present in MI5 ranks are not the stuff of which deep thinkers are made, yet deep thinking is required on certain aspects of the Bill. The Bill appears to enlarge the role of MI5 and let its officers into new areas in which the qualities of intellect, expertise and specialist knowledge will be required on a scale not hitherto observed at the Curzon street headquarters.
I draw the attention of the House, as did the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) to the dramatic expansion of MI5's activities as defined in clause 1(3) :
"It shall also be the function of the Service to safeguard the economic well-being of the United Kingdom against threats posed by the actions or intentions of persons outside the British Islands." Unless that is a quite spectacular piece of bad drafting, it means something very different from what MI5 has done in the past. What does it mean? The mind boggles. It has gone way beyond the Maxwell Fyfe directive. Is MI5 to monitor speculators against sterling? Is it to place the gnomes of Zurich under surveillance? Will Smiley be sent off to the souks of Cairo to make sure that another "Hero from Zero" does not grab hold of Harrods? Is Bulldog Drummond to be sent to the Mexican fastness of Sir James Goldsmith to make sure he is not cornering the market on salmonella-free eggs? What does it mean? It certainly means that a new type of employee is to be required for MI5 to monitor overseas people who are
Column 1133posing threats to the economic well-being of this country--LSE professors-- [Interruption.] --yuppies, as my hon. Friend says, and certainly fiscal wizards.
When I made a few discreet inquiries about what the clause could mean, I was given the impression that I had got it wrong and that it was to do with offshore oil rigs which needed protection, and about the Channel tunnel. That would be confirmed by the rather curious reference to the "British Islands". If that is the case, it is an appalling piece of parliamentary draftsmanship to have a clause which is meant to refer to offshore installations such as oil rigs and the Channel tunnel all mixed up in economic well-being overseas. It is not a well drafted Bill. Large parts of it are about cosmetics. Clauses 4 and 5 are a couple of sledgehammers to crack nuts. They envisage the appointment of a high judicial officer as a commissioner, three or four lawyers as a complaints tribunal, and a tribunal staff of 12 officers, at a cost of £360,000 a year. What will they all do? After all, in the 80 years since the Security Service was founded, few real complaints about extra-judicial activities have surfaced, except in the suspect works of Peter Wright. The few genuine ones such as Cathy Massiter's complaint may not be directed at MI5 at all. It is common knowledge that MI5 had great internal doubts and debates about monitoring the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, but instructions from higher up made it do it. There is no way that the tribunal will criticise MI5 for carrying out what it was properly asked to do.
Be that as it may, I doubt whether this expensive apparatus will find more than one genuine complaint that it can uphold in the course of a year. Of course it will have complaints from plenty of nutters, paranoiacs and anti- MI5 obsessives, but it will get rid of them pretty quickly, and then it will have no real job. The tribunal will be a sort of Don Quixote tilting at windmills.
That brings me to my real grumble about the Bill and the Official Secrets Bill which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is to launch next week. There are scores of missed opportunities--certainly in this Bill. There is no oversight, no real reform of the Security Service, no management improvements, and no real expansion of citizens' rights. There is a hollow cosmetic touch to the Bill, once one has welcomed the basic, genuine legal change. It reminded me of the great speech of Lord Randolph Churchill about Mr. Gladstone whom he criticised in 1884 for chopping down trees as his recreation, particularly the famous passage which begins with the words "The forest laments in order that Mr. Gladstone may perspire." Having perspired, Mr. Gladstone handed out chips as symbols of what he was doing in his wood cutting.
The Home Secretary's policies are similar. The commissioner is a chip for the civil liberties lobby. The tribunal is a chip for lawyers. Sir Philip Woodfield, the staff counsellor, is a chip to the young Turks inside the service who did not like the idea of not being able to report Mr. Bettaney, even when he was drunk and on fire, as unworthy. The legal status is a chip to appease the European Court of Human Rights. It is chips, chips, chips. The Home Secretary is good at those chips and cosmetics, but this is not a lasting reform of substance. Parliament will not be gainsaid indefinitely and fobbed off
Column 1134permanently with no oversight. I believe that the European Court of Human Rights will be back on some of the civil liberty issues. As a first step, the Bill is not entirely useless, and for that reason I shall vote for it. However, although it is some progress, it is a story of missed opportunities, and I have grave reservations about it.
Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland) : It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) and to agree with almost every word that he has said. He was right to focus on the inadequacy of the Bill in strengthening the effectiveness of the Security Service, as well to allude to the infringements of civil rights which, undoubtedly, the Bill will do little to remove and, indeed, may make it more difficult to identify.
I and my right hon. and hon. Friends will be voting against the Bill, however, because it has failed on three counts. First, it does not properly define the role of the Security Service. If one had any doubt about that before the Home Secretary spoke, that doubt would have been strengthened by his attempt to expound the provisions of clauses 1 and 2, which, far from indicating that the Bill was squarely based on the Maxwell Fyfe principles, or the definitions of national security as set out in 1975 by Lord Harris of Greenwich, showed that the Bill goes a great deal further than that. It also has some catch-all provisions, which will enable those in the Security Service--almost unchecked--to carry out investigations on or interferences, as they are called, with individuals and their property, which almost certainly would have fallen foul of the law in the past.
Secondly, we shall vote against the Bill because, although it purports to provide a remedy for aggrieved members of the public, it is difficult to see how that remedy will be effective. It in fact removes the redress that the individual citizen has at present, by providing a system which excludes the purview of the courts. Thirdly, we shall vote against this measure because the Bill entirely fails to provide for effective scrutiny and parliamentary accountability, which I believe is increasingly recognised, not only in this country but in other parliamentary democracies, as appropriate for the Security Service as it is for other Government services.
Mr. Hind rose--
The Bill is a response to an historical situation of considerable gravity, which has been underlined not just by the revelations of the rogue Peter Wright, but by the more serious revelations of Cathy Massiter, Anthony Cavendish and many other instances of incompetence which have come to light since the end of the last world war. Of course it is correct to move towards putting the Security Service on a statutory footing, provided that the statute deals with the problems which have been highlighted, but plainly it does not.
Column 1135The continuing practice of the Security Service over the years to scrutinise the wrong people because they belong to a class of individuals who are suspect in certain Right-wing circles and to promote from within its ranks or into its ranks highly unsuitable people --in many cases the agents of foreign powers--suggests that something radical is needed to ensure that this self-perpetuating oligarchy, only sporadically the subject of effective scrutiny, is ended.
The role of the Security Service under the Maxwell Fyfe rubric was fairly clearly set out, and departures from the role were clearly matters that required to be remedied. However, under clause 1, there must be considerable anxiety about the extent of the powers and functions of the proposed statutory service. The use in clause 1(2) of the definition of the protection of national security, and the continuation later in that clause of the description of particular threats, appear to allow the Security Service to decide that many matters not particularised also raise issues of national security ; that I am anxious about. It is an open door to pursue hares which are inappropriate.
It is disturbing, too, that the wording of the Harris of Greenwich rubric is not in fact precisely reflected in clause 1. Those provisions of the Bill provide for protection against threats from espionage, terrorism and sabotage, from the activities of agents and foreign powers and from actions intended to overthrow or undermine parliamentary democracy by political, industrial or violent means. Those are three separate categories.
The Select Committee on Home Affairs was only satisfied by the Harris of Greenwich definition of regional security because those two latter categories were linked together. The Select Committee--which the Home Secretary wrongly invoked in support of the Bill--did not consider that it was satisfactory to have these as separate categories. That last category has given rise to criticisms in the past that the Security Service has too readily focused upon political, not security, issues. That the Cathy Massiter type of revelations will continue unchecked is something that must worry us.
The concept of subversion, which clause 1 appears designed to define, has been found unhelpful in other security services. It is noticeable that, in the past year, the Canadians have specifically excluded subversion from the purview of their security service. I believe that we should have taken the opportunity to do likewise in this Bill.
I found compelling the remarks of Lord Jenkins of Hillhead in an earlier debate on the matter. Speaking as a former Home Secretary, he described the inappropriateness of those who are living and moving in the fevered world of espionage, applying their minds to whether certain behaviour was subversive or simply legitimate dissent. I doubt whether the proposals for remedying grievances are much of an improvement on the provisions of common law. They provide limited rights but are not subject to appeal to the courts. They do not seem to provide for circumstances that have been complained of : that smear campaigns have been conducted for political purposes, or that a former Prime Minister believed that MI5 had tried to undermine his Government. Such complaints will not be examined by the tribunal that will be set up and will
Column 1136certainly not be examined by the commissioner. Nor will complainants be given reasons for the decisions of the tribunal. No adequate remedy is provided, and in any event it is highly unlikely that evidence will be available on which complainants could mount a case to the tribunal--certainly in the light of the linked provisions in the Official Secrets Bill, which will come before the House next week, which make it an offence for a member of the Security Service to reveal any misdeeds in the service.
The third and most important defect of the Bill is the lack of accountability. The Home Secretary's view, which he repeated today, is that to give some accountability to any body other than himself is to breach the necessary secrecy. He has spoken repeatedly of the barrier of secrecy. Those who are within that barrier include himself, the Prime Minister and a few others for specific purposes. I take no great comfort from the proposed appointment of the commissioner. His role is much more limited than that described by the Home Secretary. It is confined to the propriety of the handling of warrants and he is not allowed to examine policy, efficiency, value for money or any of the matters that Parliament is entitled to consider.
On value for money, it is extraordinary that a service that costs the country more than £100 million per annum is accountable to the National Audit Office only through the certificate of a Minister that the money has been spent. That will not suffice. Even the financial responsibility for the service is inadequately provided for. The gossamer- thin arguments that the Home Secretary used to disregard the evidence of what is happening in other countries show the frailty of the Government's case in general. It is possible for individuals to be chosen by the House who are responsible and perfectly capable of straddling, or going within, the barrier of secrecy. He has preferred instead to bring within the barrier of secrecy as the commissioner someone of high judicial office. In the debate on the Queen's Speech, the Home Secretary said, in relation to a body that may be set up to scrutinise the workings of the Security Service :
"If the body knew all, it would know that it could say little to the rest of Parliament without damaging results. If it knew little, it could say nothing with any conviction".--[ Official Report, 23 November 1988 ; Vol. 142, c. 123.]
Parliament would prefer to play some part in the choice of those who are appointed to scrutinise, or to stand at the Secretary of State's shoulder, as he put it. If those great powers--they are necessary powers--are to be applied without infringing fundamental human rights and freedoms, Parliament must discharge its role more precisely by appointing a body that is accountable directly to it. We cannot simply rely upon the assertions of the Ministers that all is well.
The acceptance of that principle of Executive convenience is an abandonment of our democratic responsibilities, and that is why we shall vote against the Bill.
Mr. John Wheeler (Westminster, North) : I shall resist the temptation to go down the byways of the past to review the history of the service and some recent events that may apply to it. I shall concentrate on what the House must consider.
For the first time, the Security Service will be placed on a statutory basis and Parliament is invited in clause 1,
Column 1137which has been carefully drafted, to define the function of the service. Clause 2 defines the role of the director- general and the line of accountablility from the person in day-to-day management of the service to the Home Secretary. That is reaffirmed as the proper form of control, and I support it. The Home Secretary and the Prime Minister are accountable to the House. They are both elected Members of Parliament, who assume that accountability by virtue of their appointment to ministerial office.
For the first time, there will be a statutory remedy for members of the public who have complaints about the service's activities against them. I welcome the Bill because it answers the anxiety that has grown in recent years about the alleged illegal activities of the service and its supposed lack of accountablility. Those allegations have followed well-publicised disclosures by former officers of the service.
There is no doubt that, in a parliamentary democracy, the House should have the opportunity to define the function of the service and to set up, as is proposed in the Bill, a procedure for investigating and remedying complaints from the public arising from its actions. Those who work for the service should clearly understand the legal basis for their activities. There should be explicit ground rules and improved procedures for accountability.
The Bill will define MI5's functions as the protection of national security, especially against the threat of espionage, terrorism and sabotage. The director-general is charged with ensuring that the service remains politically neutral.
Under the proposals, the Home Secretary will be given power to issue warrants before members of the service can enter
property--something which they do not at present require. I qualify that by saying that the entry of a person on to another person's property is subject to civil law as well as, in many instances, criminal law, and both are complicated matters. An independent commissioner who is a former or serving senior judge and thus independent of the Executive--that point is important--will continually review the warrant system and report annually to the Prime Minister. His reports will be published, subject to vetting on security grounds, and the House will have the opportunity to consider those reports. The new guidelines will follow the lines of the Interception of Communications Act 1985, which brought telephone tapping and the interception of mail by the Security Service under the law. A tribunal of up to five independent lawyers will also be appointed to consider any complaints against the service by members of the public. It will have the power to call on MI5 for relevant documentation and information. If a complaint is upheld, the tribunal can order an end to an investigation and the destruction of relevant records. Those are powerful and significant requirements.
Furthermore, compensation payments can also be granted by the tribunal, which is independent, and officers engaged in entering property without warrant authorisation may face criminal proceedings. There have been, and will continue to be, calls for a wider parliamentary role in the accountability of the service, as we have heard in the debate this afternoon. I recall that, when the Select Committee on Home Affairs carried out an inquiry into the work of special branch--which is, perhaps, the public face of the security services in some of its activities--we had great difficulty in mounting that inquiry.
Column 1138One question begets another and the problem is that, before one knows where one is, one wishes to intrude into operational areas ; that may put in jeopardy the interests of the nation and the very function of the service whose existence Parliament is being invited to authorise in the Bill. I do not, therefore, subscribe to the view that a special Committee of the House should be appointed or that a Select Committee--the Select Committee on Home Affairs comes to mind-- should be otherwise involved in the scrutiny of the service's work.
The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) used the example of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary being accosted in the street and asked for a warrant at 9.45 am. The Select Committee would be in an even less favourable position if it were to be approached to authorise the grant of warrants or, worse still, to be asked to say whether the issue of that warrant should continue. The neat arrangement for the tribunal meets the legitimate concerns of members of all parties for an acceptable form of accountability. The Select Committee on Home Affairs could look at the Estimates for the financial provision for the service, as could the Select Committee on Public Accounts, because they are a matter of public availability. The Select Committee could examine the report about the work of the tribunal and its findings, but I do not believe that it is either practical or desirable for Parliament to go beyond that. We have heard this afternoon about the work of other democratic Parliaments and the attempts that they may have made to exercise some scrutiny over the work of their own security services. I know nothing about the details of those operations, but in the fulness of time, I may have the opportunity to examine them. However, I doubt that they could go much further than the Bill's provisions on the work of the commissioner and the tribunal. I very much doubt whether a service that is charged with the utmost secrecy to perform its functions can be made accountable operationally to a Select Committee or a committee of politicians who have other interests and other concerns as the basis of their appointment.
If the service is to remain effective and to serve the best interests of the British people, operational accountability must, strictly, arise from the director-general to the Home Secretary and, ultimately, the Prime Minister. The holders of those offices must remain accountable for their discharge on the Floor of the House of Commons. I see no way at all of avoiding those responsibilities. 6.55 pm
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : There is no dispute among the Opposition about whether there should be a Security Service. It goes without saying that even if the country was not involved in combating terrorism and drugs, the necessity for such a service would remain. The dispute is whether that service should be accountable to Parliament.
When the Select Committee on Home Affairs--of which the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) was a member--decided in 1984 to make the first ever parliamentary inquiry into the special branch of the police, the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths), who was not a member of the Committee, said that the Committee's decision could endanger the security of this country. As I have remarked previously, we carried
Column 1139out the inquiry, with some controversy, and produced a majority report and a minority report. Lo and behold, not a soul, including the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, has argued that any damage was done to the national interest, although the Home Secretary at the time, the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan), was hardly enthusiastic that the Select Committee should look into the special branch.
During the course of proceedings, the Home Secretary made public the Home Office guidelines on special branch. That was the first time that the guidelines had been published and the Home Secretary did not deny that the Committee's decision to look into special branch was connected with the decision to go ahead in bringing that document into the public domain. The hon. Member for Westminster, North is nodding his head in agreement.
I have some knowledge of the minority report because I wrote it. Paragraph 34 of the minority report says :
"The security services were outside the terms of reference for this inquiry, but the House may well wish to consider whether the present total lack of Parliamentary scrutiny over these government agencies is really desirable and if it would not be preferable for there to be some degree of accountability to Parliament which would not endanger the safety of the realm."
I doubt whether the Government would have produced the Bill if the Security Service had not been the subject of such continued controversy and scandal, particularly in view of Wright's serious allegations that he and other officers in MI5 were involved in subversive activity against the Labour Government in the 1970s. Of course, as I have said before, Wright may have been lying, and the only reason that he published such allegations may have been that he wanted his book to sell. The Government have certainly helped him to become a millionaire. However, if there is any truth in his allegations, the questions must arise about how someone like Wright was ever recruited into MI5. Can any Conservative Member say that Wright was wholly committed to parliamentary democracy? Because he did not like the Government of the day and considered it too Left-wing, he decided to commit treachery. What sort of person was he? Are there others like him in MI5? There is a good possibility that he is telling the truth and that others were involved and still remain in the Security Service.
There have also been disclosures from Cathy Massiter. I do not put these two people together. Wright is an out-and-out scoundrel, and, whether he is telling the truth or not, his basic loyalty to this country and to the democratic process must remain in considerable doubt, to say the least. Ms. Massiter,who was employed by MI5, clearly had the most serious reservations about what she was being asked to do. No one has claimed that she made any money out of her disclosures. I believe that she acted in an honourable manner and I am pleased that there are people whose conscience leads them to say that their work is wrong and that they should make that known. I have the highest respect for Ms. Massiter. However, under the Government's proposal, which will be debated next week, for the change of the Official Secrets Act, she would have had no legal defence that she had acted in the public interest. That must cause us much concern, and the Opposition will express that concern when the Bill is debated next week.
Column 1140Clause 5 of the Bill establishes a tribunal to consider complaints against the Security Service. As the Home Secretary pointed out, that is very much along the lines of what was agreed in the Interception of Communications Act 1985 which also raised considerable doubts among Opposition Members both in Committee and on the Floor of the House. I do not believe that the provision in the Bill is an improvement upon the complaints procedure in that Act.
We can be assured that many complainants who apply to the Security Service tribunal will not be in a position to argue their case. Most people will not even know whether they are the subject of investigation by MI5, but even those who believe that they have a case and take it to the tribunal are most unlikely to be allowed to appear in person or--more important--to be legally represented. It will not be too difficult for the Security Service to make out a case that the national interest required such and such a person to be targeted. The tribunal will then conclude that in all the circumstances the Security Service acted in the proper way.
Our crucial concern is not of course, that the Security Service pursues spies or people who genuinely endanger the security of the country. It is right and proper that it should do that. That is what our Security Service should be all about. What worries us is that people engaged in perfectly legitimate political activities are targeted by the Security Service. That is why Cathy Massiter's disclosures are so worrying. She told us that the leaders of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament were spied upon and that, when the editor of CND's journal resigned over an internal difficulty of the kind that all organisations have, he was approached by members of the security services or special branch who were interested in all kinds of tittle-tattle ; they wanted to know who had slept with whom and all about people's private lives. What has that to do with the security of the country?
Ministers have told us repeatedly that it is perfectly legitimate to campaign for nuclear disarmament. It does not matter how strongly the Government oppose nuclear disarmament ; those involved in the campaign should not be spied upon or have their private lives pried into by people paid by the taxpayer who are supposed to be defending the interests of the state. Opposition Members suspect that CND was targeted because the then Secretary of State for Defence gave direct orders to MI5 to target it.
Mr. Winnick : As my right hon. Friend says, it was disgraceful. Take the National Council for Civil Liberties. Cathy Massiter told us that anyone who was on the national executive of that organisation or who was an active member at branch level was placed on permanent record and that routine inquiries were established to identify such people, with police co- operation being sought. Just imagine that. Why was it decided to target my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman), who was then the legal officer of the National Council for Civil Liberties, and Patricia Hewitt, who was its general secretary and who now works in the office of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition?
Mr. Allason rose --
Mr. Winnick : If he knows the answer, he can tell us in his own time. No doubt the House will be interested to hear his explanation. I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham and Patricia Hewitt are bringing their case before the European Court of Human Rights and that it has been decided that there is a case for the British Government to answer. If those two were targeted, the question inevitably arises how many other people, perhaps less prominent, wer the subject of MI5 investigations or of special branch but did not find out.
Mr. Allason : The hon. Gentleman asked why members of the National Council for Civil Liberties should historically be targeted by the security services. The answer is quite simple. Many years ago, the NCCL was defined as a proscribed organisation by the Labour party because it was considered to be a Communist front, and the Communist party of Great Britain has always been the subject of surveillance by the Security Service.
Mr. Winnick : I am grateful for that explanation. I have never had an explanation from the Government. I wonder whether the explanation that the hon. Gentleman gave will be the one given by the Government at the European Court of Human Rights.
Mr. Winnick : We have no need to research it ; I know the answer. It is perfectly true that, rightly or wrongly, the NCCL was proscribed by the Labour party--at a time when, in all honesty, the Communist party had too much influence in the organisation. I concede that. But those events took place about 25 or 30 years ago. Can MI5 really say that matters have not changed and that my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham and Patricia Hewitt, who are as committed to parliamentary democracy and its defence as any hon. Member, should be targeted because there was too much Communist influence on the organisation 25 or 30 years ago? No one--not even the Government-- could claim that the NCCL is a Communist front organisation now or has been for 20 years. The Communist party probably has no more than 4,000 or 5,000 members now, so it is hardly in a position to have front organisations. That is more a matter for the Conservative party.
Column 1142No doubt if the Security Service was made accountable to Parliament, the Select Committee--presumably the Select Committee on Home Affairs--would ask the director-general the questions that I have asked. It would not be appropriate to ask about operational matters that would genuinely endanger the security of the country, and we did not ask any such questions when we carried out an inquiry into special branch.
But the broader questions are also very important, and in that respect I come to the point made by the hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken). Other Western countries, no less democratic than ours--the United States, Canada and Australia--have concluded that their security services must be made accountable to Parliament. Why should we be different? Perhaps there would be a case if it could be argued that our Security Service had never been the subject of scandal and if we had never had any Wrights; but even leaving aside the Soviet spies and all the rest of it, our Security Service has been particularly scandal prone. Canada, Australia and the United States have decided to make their security services accountable to Parliament, and we have even more reason to do that.
The present definition of subversion is far too wide. I prefer the definition agreed to before the one decided upon by Lord Harris. Lord Denning's definition of subversive seems perfectly all right to me : "one who would overthrow or contemplate the overthrow of government by unlawful means."
That definition would give the security services a far more narrow remit and less scope to dabble in matters that do not concern them. Britain's security services will remain the subject of controversy as long as parliamentary accountability is lacking. The Bill will not change the position. When the Bill becomes an Act, as it obviously will, Opposition Members will still have Adjournment debates, ten-minute Bills, and all that we are entitled to do. We shall continue to do all that, because we believe that, as in other western democracies, it is essential for those who carry out the sort of work that I have been describing--the broad range of which I do not question--to be subject to parliamentary accountability. We shall continue to press that point at every opportunity.
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) : The Government are right to want to legislate, or rather, to put the security services on a statutory basis. Whether they are going about it in the right way I shall come to, but we recognise the pressures that are upon them to do just that.
When Sir John Donaldson, then a High Court judge, now Lord Donaldson, said that we would be naive to suppose that burglary and bugging do not take place, a man sworn to uphold the rule of law has denied it in the courts of Britain. That is remarkable.
But the Government are confronted with something more pressing than that. As has been pointed out a couple of times today, we had two cases before the European Court of Human Rights in which it was argued that it is admissible to take a complaint to that court on the basis that we no longer have the judicial remedies to protect the freedoms and liberties of our own citizens.
It is shocking that the United Kingdom, an early signatory to basic rights and freedoms and recognitions of
Column 1143who we are as a people, is now almost arraigned in front of the European Court defending our processes and practices.
The Bill is a minimalist attempt to meet the contentions before that court. We have seen it happen before, in what The Times called an insult, in the Interception of Communications Act. That too was minimalist, and one day that too will come before the European Court and we shall be found wanting.
My fear is that the Government, by not taking a direct and central grasp of the real issues that affect the relationship of the security services to a democracy, will also, in time, find that they are again in front of the European Court.
I was interested to hear that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary had had his official servants canvass the world to see what other procedures exist. I noticed how, within a couple of minutes, he was able to dispense with those, roll his hands and say, "Well done, we're pretty well done here."
I shall not follow the line of the American experience, but let us take the Canadian one. One difficulty that has always confronted Parliament is that we are unique in having a parliamentary democracy with ministerial responsibility. Therefore, let us take a country which has just such a system, Canada.
Canada had isolated incidents that sadly turned out to be not so isolated when a Royal Canadian mounted policeman, then responsible for his country's security services, unfortunately bombed someone's house. The Government said that those were isolated incidents, but they turned out not to be and the McDonald Commission was set up. Its report was telling. It was called "Freedom and Security under the Law". The concepts are there.
Did we hear my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary of the United Kingdom say today that freedom as a concept must be weighed with security? No, we did not. That is what has been worrying me about my right hon. Friend's proposal. He is not weighing the central contentions for the House and for our society. After all, what is the Security Service for? It is to defend our liberal democracy. What is our liberal democracy? It is freedom of speech. It is also freedom to dissent. Let us never forget that. It is an important right that we try to exercise when we are assembled in the House. That is the function of the security services.
When we weigh up the right organisation and the right arrangements to embrace a necessary protector, that is subordinate to the needs of us, as citizens, and to the House of Commons as an expression of what the citizens wish. That is one thing that the Bill does not do. Let me look at one definition. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) rightly drew our attention to clause 1(2). There is an elision here from what the previous Home Secretary said to the Select Committee on Home Affairs. Two branches, or limbs--as I think he called them--are not there in that definition. I do not propose to go over it other than to take from the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service Bill, with which the Home Secretary will be familiar, the definition of
"threats to the security of Canada."
For that let us read