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Column 1155inquiries by the Security Service. The Opposition could point to many issues where capitalist activities have undermined parliamentary democracy.
The Bill provides that a person can complain to the commissioner about the fact that he is under investigation. The commissioner can then investigate whether there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that that person belongs to a particular organisation. However, the commissioner cannot investigate whether there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that organisation.
We have to return to what was said by Harold Acton : that absolute power corrupts. That is the safest axiom to adopt. Any inwardly turned organisation becomes sloppy, corrupt and maligned unless questions are asked about it by independent observers. Any inwardly turned organisation-- whether it be the Security Service, a professional organisation or a commercial firm--eventually becomes sloppy, corrupt and maligned. As great power is vested in the Security Service, it is particularly important that there should be independent scrutiny.
I am reminded not just of what Harold Acton said but of what Robert Michels said about the iron law of oligarchy--that, even in an organisation with democratic goals, power is concentrated at the top. People do not go to work each day saying to themselves, "I am pursuing the goal of national security. I am a missionary for national security." They construct ideas about national security and interpret it. That can lead to an inwardly turned, hierarchical organisation. Such people easily get out of control.
That seems to have occurred most recently over phone tapping. There have been well-documented reports about it. There were reports in The Observer earlier this year about the tapping of the phones of 30,000 individuals and organisations. The number of British Telecom engineers was reported to have more than doubled. Lord Justice Lloyd may have investigated authorised warrants, but there has been no investigation of unauthorised warrants.
The Bill contains a strange expression. It provides that investigation will not be unlawful if the Home Secretary has signed a warrant. It does not refer to an investigation being lawful if he has not signed a warrant. The result will be that certain people will believe that they are beyond scrutiny. Reference has been made to other democratic nations--Canada, Australia and the United States--which have realised that scrutiny of their secret services is inadequate. We should see this Bill for what it would be if it were introduced by any other nation. We should say that the Bill is inadequate. Even if it were to be introduced by South Africa, the Soviet Union or any other European country, we should say that it would not be able adequately to scrutinise the Security Service. For those reasons, there is growing unease on these Benches.
I welcome the measure and I am sure that many of my hon. Friends feel as I do. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, 79 years too late we have put our secret service on a statutory basis. We should not underestimate the Bill, as it is a major step forward. For
Column 1156the first time, after years of secrecy, the secret service is defined by statute. For the first time the powers of the secret service and the roles of the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister in relation to it are absolutely clear. The Home Secretary's powers are clearly defined by the fact that every interference in the rights of individuals in Britain must be certified by warrant and that warrant can be questioned by the commissioner, a High Court judge. Members of the public can step in and say that they have been investigated wrongly, and there is a tribunal to investigate the incorrect use of power.
Some of my hon. Friends may have reservations about the Bill, but we must take one step at a time, and the Bill should be welcomed. In the short time I am allowed, I shall address some of the criticisms of the Bill which I do not consider valid
It has been said that we do not have a proper level of scrutiny. What level of scrutiny does Parliament wish to take to itself and how effective is that scrutiny? Probably, those who do the scrutinising will not be able to say very much about it. They will examine the work of the secret service but they will not be able to report it or tell anyone about it. As they will be inside the ring fence of secrecy protecting the activities of the secret service and protecting national secrets, clearly they cannot report it. That means that there will be no large debates about it in the House. There will not be a stop on the questions or on Adjournment debates on the activities of the secret service.
Alternatively, the scrutiny could be outside the ring of secrecy. In those circumstances, hon. Members scrutinising the secret service would be supervising only budgets and making general reports and not having a great deal of say one way or the other in the activities of the secret service. That would not be any form of scrutiny. We have to decide. It seems to me that the first method of scrutiny could be carried out only by a very few select people and they would be tempted to question individual operations and look into day-to-day matters in the secret service. The public and the House would be totally wrong if they thought for one moment that the responsibility for any such scrutiny would rest with the whole House. We have to face the fact that it would then be outside the ring fence of secrecy.
We have a system of accountability which is not enjoyed in the United States. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) spoke about what happened in the United States and we have heard from the Opposition Front Bench spokesman, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) about what happens overseas. In the United States, members of the committee sign the same declaration that is signed by every security operative in the CIA and the FBI. They cannot tell anyone either. Unlike the United States, we have senior Ministers, members of the legislature, who are answerable to the House. We have that safeguard. They have to answer for the secret service at the Dispatch Box. We have to realise that the fewer of us who know the details of what happens in the secret service, the better it will be for the activities of the secret service. The more people who know, the less likely the secret will remain secret. We have that safeguard and we should stick by it.
The same arguments apply to accountability. If something goes wrong, Ministers have to answer to the House from the Dispatch Box. They have the support of the tribunal and the supervision of the commissioner.
Column 1157Quite a lot of accountability and scrutiny is provided for in the Bill. The Bill represents a major step forward. We should recognise that the House has far more control over the secret service than ever before.
I emphasise that the Bill cannot be seen in isolation from the Official Secrets Bill. A whole range of items that were excluded from section 2 of the 1911 act have been built into that measure. The test of harm will be introduced into that Bill, which must be seen in parallel with the Bill that we are considering now. Every officer who is worried about the activities of the secret service can now go to the commissioner. A civil servant who has items in his possession that he feels should be brought into the public domain can go to a Member of Parliament. He can risk facing a charge, but the test of harm and the question as to whether it is in conflict with the national interest in any way will be decided by a jury. Quite clearly, in many cases the Attorney-General will find that those matters do not necessarily do any harm and should have been brought into the public domain.
We have a new and sensible structure. It is a major step forward. I welcome it and hope that the Bill will go through the House unamended.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish) : First, I apologise to the House for not having listened to many of the speeches after the opening ones, but I understood that it would be very difficult to contribute to the debate.
The opening speeches were very interesting, but the Home Secretary slipped from the quality of the debate when he attacked the Opposition for being soft on terrorism. That was an unnecessary claim, and it was particularly mean of him not to give way after making that challenging statement. There is no dispute in the House about our abhorrence of terrorism and our feeling that it should be eliminated. The disagreement is about the methods. We believe that the most effective way to stamp out terrorism is to make sure that we do not slip from our high standards of civil rights and that we do not take short cuts which deny civil rights, because that helps rather than hinders the terrorist.
I wish to raise some questions with the Minister who will reply to the debate. A great many questions have been raised on clause 1--"The Security Service"--and most of the questions have been concentrated on subsection (2). I wonder whether the Minister can tell us a little more about subsection (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." Exactly what is the "economic well-being" of the United Kingdom is questionable. I am not sure why there should be a threat from people outside the United Kingdom rather than from people within it.
I would have some interest in this subsection if we were anxious to deal with United States imperialism and the way in which the United States tries to impose restrictions on British companies so that they comply with United States rather than British law. I should have thought that,
Column 1158because our security services are often closely tied in with those of the United States, there may be some problems in practice. I hope that the Minister will throw more light on that subject.
As I understand it, the aim of the legislation is to deal with the security services. Those services must often work through the special branches of the individual police forces. The Metropolitan police are accountable to the House through the Home Secretary, but the rest of the police forces are not so accountable. Will actions carried out by the special branch officers on behalf of the security forces be covered by the Bill? They should be covered if the security services ask those officers to carry out a particular task.
I understand that a two-way process operates between the special branch and the security services. Often, individual special branch police forces initiate surveillance or an action and pass on information to the security services. Will those officers be covered by the Bill? Will the complaints procedure, although weak, cover them?
Vetting, or blacklisting, of individuals is another worry. Large numbers of people in the Civil Service and people who work directly for military contractors are subject to vetting, as are some individuals who supply services to military contractors. I know an individual in Stockport who works for a company that works for Ferranti in Stockport. Although he worked there for a considerable time and had gone in and out of the Ferranti plant, he became subject to vetting and was turned down. He was told that he could not have security clearance. It is difficult to check whether information held against an individual is genuine or whether there has been an error in the collecting of the information. It seems to me from my discussions with that individual that there can be no grounds for him being a security risk.
Under the Bill, will it be possible for such an individual to make a complaint and obtain satisfaction so that he can tell whether the information held against him is accurate? If he is a villain, that will be easy to demonstrate and he will know whether the information is accurate. If he is innocent, it will be almost impossible to tell such a person what information is held against him, and impossible for him to set out to disprove it. We need to consider the vetting procedure carefully.
What about the possibility of the security services trespassing or bugging or damaging property? What is the position with entrapment, or leading a person on so that he may commit a crime? Colin Breeze from my constituency is in custody in Miami in the United States. Clearly, he was entrapped by agents of the American Government into becoming involved in attempting to sell helicopters to Iran. His defence was that he was led on by agents of the American Government into a position where he could be convicted of a crime. What will happen in respect of warrants when what is normally an illegal activity is permissible? Will the legislation cover entrapment and provocation?
How accountable should the services be to Parliament? I have been amazed at the number of Conservative Members who have argued that Members of Parliament cannot be trusted. If we can trust a person to be Home Secretary, Members of Parliament--or some of them--can be trusted with that role. Most Governments would claim that at least half a dozen Members could be Home Secretary. If, in a parliamentary democracy, one says that a substantial number of people in government are capable
Column 1159of being Home Secretary, one must accept that a reasonable number of people in the Opposition can be trusted to fill that role. Once one accepts that sufficient people can hold that office, there is no difficulty in finding a group of people who could sit on a parliamentary Select Committee to oversee the responsibilities of the security services. For Conservative Members to say that they do not believe that a group exists in the House that could be trusted with that role is to under-value the integrity of Members of Parliament. It is dangerous to say that, at any one time, only one Member of Parliament, the Home Secretary-- or perhaps the Prime Minister--can be trusted with the knowledge of the security of the state.
I have heard the argument that we should not increase the number of people with knowledge of the security services, and that there is always the possibility that information will slip out. If we want to make the security services accountable and to guarantee the right of all individuals to live in a free society--after all, that is the purpose of democracy--we should have parliamentary accountability, not the weak accountability which the legislation proposes.
I hope that the Minister will answer some of my questions, and that we shall probe deeply into the rest in Committee.
Mr. William Powell (Corby) : A number of hon. Members have said that the Bill may be 79 or so years late, but that is not my line. I regret the fact that the Bill has become necessary. As a high Tory traditionalist, I admire prerogative powers and the use to which they have been put through many hundreds of years of our history. I regret the fact that developments in recent years with the security services have made the use of prerogative power--which was once so effective--a matter that must be codified in statute. Therefore, I welcome the Bill.
For the reasons given by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and a number of Conservative Back Benchers, including my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Boscawen), I support the Bill. The speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome--the first speech of freedom for him in 10 years--was a powerful contribution, as were the speeches by my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr Wheeler), my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) and my hon. Friend the Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind). I support all the reasons they gave as to why the Bill sets the right balance of judgment and will be in our country's interests.
There has been considerable discussion about clause 1(2), which states :
"The function of the Service shall be the protection of national security and, in particular, its protection against threats from espionage, terrorism and sabotage, from the activities of agents of foreign powers and from actions intended to overthrow or undermine parliamentary democracy by political, industrial or violent means." I hope that hon. Members will not be naive about the vulnerability to blackmail of people in the security services, who may be of assistance to agents of foreign powers. It is entirely right and proper that, in their vigilance in upholding our democracy, the security services
Column 1160should have regard to blackmail, as it can undermine the democracy that we seek to protect and that they are employed to protect. It is right that they should seek to inform themselves about relevant matters on that issue.
Much of the debate has dealt with accountability. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) conceded, as he had to, that when it was announced that this Bill would be introduced, he welcomed it and said, both on television and in this House, that he expected, subject to its contents, to be able to support it. The question that he was reluctant to be asked and which must be asked and answered is : when he said that, did he have any reason to suppose that the Bill would contain provisions for a parliamentary scrutiny committee? So far as I am aware, in all the discussions on security issues down the years and certainly since 1979, there has been not one word or suggestion from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, successive Home Secretaries or any person speaking on behalf of the Government that the Government would welcome, still less introduce, a parliamentary scrutiny committee.
If he gave consideration to that question and still went ahead--he must have known that there was no possibility of any Bill containing that--the right hon. Gentleman was a fool. If he gave that commitment, subject of course to the small print--never forget that, Mr. Deputy Speaker--without considering that question, the most charitable thing that can be said on his behalf is that he will go to his grave saying with Macbeth :
"And that which should accompany old age,
As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends,
I must not look to have",
because he will have made a grave error.
At no stage since 1979, in any discussions on security matters, has any person speaking on behalf of Her Majesty's Government from top to bottom suggested that the Government were in favour of a parliamentary scrutiny committee. They would have been complete fools if they had, not just for the reasons given by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary but for the reasons given by my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome and recently underlined so effectively by my hon. Friend the Member for Lancashire, West.
When we listen to some right hon. and hon. Gentlemen, several of us feel that in opposition they wish to take part in security decisions or that they wish to be given privy information about matters which have properly been denied them. As my hon. Friend the Member for Lancashire, West said, if a scrutiny committee were to be established, the Opposition would be disappointed on all fronts. They would either be within the walls of secrecy, in which case they would be in the somewhat embarrassing position that the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) found himself in on the Zircon affair, or they would be outside the walls of secrecy and would have little knowledge or information about what was happening. What a most disappointing and frustrating experience that would be.
The right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), in an engagingly irrelevant speech, referred to the allegations made against Sir Roger Hollis. If we had a parliamentary scrutiny committee investigating the affairs of Sir Roger Hollis, would we be any the wiser? If it reported one way or the other, would its conclusion be the correct one? Of course not. We know that, to all intents and purposes, half of MI5 think that he was a spy and the
Column 1161other half are outraged by the suggestion. Only the Soviets could assist us, and even if they opened their files, several of us would conclude that disinformation was being put out and we would get no nearer the truth. A parliamentary scrutiny committee would come nowhere near resolving these issues.
Several hon. Members said that they would prefer the scope of the Bill to be wider. I am glad that it is not. These matters are properly entrusted to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and his successors. If the right hon. Members for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) and for Sparkbrook were to become First Secretary to the Treasury and Home Secretary, I would have every confidence in their abilities to carry out their constitutional functions in this area, as they would be subject, as would anybody holding those offices and having to consider these matters, to relevant pressures of a sort which I am afraid right hon. and hon. Gentlemen simply could not experience. They would be in the operational front line and would have to deal with matters as they arose in the context in which they arose. It is right and proper that those matters should be entrusted in the traditional way, and for the House to have or not to have confidence in those office holders and to be able to question them in the usual way.
The case deployed by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and subsequent right hon. and hon. Friends is overwhelming. I give this Bill my enthusiastic support on its Second Reading.
Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton) : When I heard the Queen's Speech and the proposal for this Bill, I turned to several of my colleagues, some of whom are on the other side of the House, and said, "That worries me no end because we shall put power in the hands of a Minister." Although we can ask Ministers questions in the House, I do not trust this Government to act on our behalf and in our interests. I might trust them more if they were not so authoritarian, but they are one of the most authoritarian Governments that I remember. I remember when the Prime Minister referred to trade unionists as "the enemy within". I have not forgotten that. Clause 1(2) states that the function of the service is not only the protection of national security but its protection
"from actions intended to overthrow or undermine parliamentary democracy by political, industrial or violent means."
The word "or" is used twice.
Some hon. Members may not be aware that we had to fight violently to get parliamentary democracy. People do not like to be reminded of it, but we cut off a king's head. It must be remembered that a certain amount of force was used. I am not suggesting that there should be further upheaval or that we should cut off people's heads, but there are people in this country who are not wedded to our concept of parliamentary democracy. They are democrats, but they believe that there are other forms of democracy that are better than ours. They could be regarded as subversives. Some of my friends are philosophical anarchists. In some respects, there is little difference between them and the Conservative party, because they are all individualists who believe in individualism.
Column 1162Philosophical anarchists do not believe in our concept of parliamentary democracy, so they could be regarded as subversives. Industrial syndicalists believe that there should be a Parliament of working people through trade unions and argue against our idea of a centralised political regime. Are they subversives? Under the Bill, they could be treated as such.
Conservative Members may not have suffered from being on a blacklist. The Observer phoned me recently and said, "We have the list of people on the blacklist in the north-west, and your name figures twice." I said, "Only twice? I should have thought it would have figured more than twice." Where did those people get my name? Who was watching me? Special branch was watching me. I was told by one special branch officer in Liverpool : "You are on our list ; your name is well there." No doubt that fact was passed on to the Economic League, which distributed it.
Some people equate parliamentary democracy with the capitalist system. They do not believe that there can be another system, equally democratic, that does not accept capital control. What is meant by "subversion"?
I accept that we must protect ourselves against invasion. When I was a Minister, a chap came along--he never said who he was--and warned us about the Russians and east Europeans. I said, "This is very interesting, and I do not disagree with a word you have said, but does it apply to the Americans and all the others?" He said, "That is a different matter ; we must be concerned about the Russians." I hope that the Security Service is not as it is portrayed in "Game, Set and Match". In that programme, they seem to be watching and working against each other all the time. Half the members of the Security Service believe that Hollis was a spy ; the other half do not. It would be better if there was an annual congress of world spies. It would save a lot of money--they could give each other their secrets--and a lot of lives, and it would be more sensible than the present position.
I am especially worried about clause 1(2) and the idea of the enemy within. We know that members of CND have been supervised, their phones bugged and some of their houses broken into. I never thought other than that my telephone was bugged. Some of the conversations that my wife has with her mother must be very interesting. The people listening must think that they are talking in a special code. This is a very dangerous Bill.
Conservative Members have tried to knock the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), but he rightly argued for parliamentary scrutiny. It is right that we should have an extended committee. Of course it will not be able to look into every aspect of security, but it could concern itself with internal subversives, whatever that means, and who is being bugged because they are regarded as internal subversives.
The Government know that there is deep feeling in the country that something must be done about security. There is much worry and fear among people about the role of the Security Service. That worry was most apparent when the Wright story came out. We heard that people
Column 1163were prepared to undermine a democratically elected Government and were looking for dirt to throw at the Labour party's leaders. Mention was made earlier of an interesting book called "One Girl's War". People were entering other people's houses, going through their property and bugging their telephones quite wrongly and illegally. Under the Bill, the Government are legalising something that is fundamentally wrong.
I shall vote against Second Reading and hope that the Bill will be improved. If it is not, I hope that we will all vote against it. 8.48 pm
Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Gedling) : It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer). I am genuinely sorry that there is not more cross-party unity on this measure. The division is between those who know much about the Security Service and the rest of us who stick to important landmarks. The division is not between those who think that this is a good Bill, or those who think it is a bad Bill. Almost no hon. Member has suggested that the Bill does not have merit ; the main suggestion has been that it does not go far enough.
We have had a most interesting debate. It has been much more interesting than listening to the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) at 1.15 in the morning. A number of interesting points were made about the drafting of the Bill, many of which were somewhat churlish. The Bill is relatively simple and easy to understand and is pretty clear and concise. I have had the good fortune, if those are the right words, to sit on two Standing Committees, but it seems to me that the Bill is relatively comprehensible and easier to understand than many others.
We should be clear at the outset that there has been little public pressure for the enactment of the Bill. Few hon. Members have received correspondence from droves of anxious constituents demanding this legislation. The media have hardly conducted a sustained campaign urging us to implement this measure. The public are intrigued by the Security Service. The sense of mystery and secrecy ensures that newspaper speculation about its activities is avidly read and enjoyed, but the basic truth remains that the vast majority of our constituents know and accept that the Security Service is there to protect our liberties and freedoms from those within and without who would see them destroyed. Of necessity, it carries out its duties behind a ring of secrecy.
I go further than that. In spite of the suggestions of intrigue and incompetence which emerged into daylight last year, most people in our country accept that by and large, the Security Service does a crucial and difficult job, loyally and successfully. By its nature, the bad press that the Service has had from time to time is highly partial and, almost certainly, an inaccurate assessment of its effectiveness. However, we must be protected from rotten apples without impairing the operations of the service. That is what the legislation will achieve.
Most people who have no reason to fear the security services accept the balance between the need to protect the rights of the individual and the need to protect the security of the state. They accept also that greater public accountability cannot be at the cost of breaching the
Column 1164security surrounding the service's operational activities. Therefore, great duty and confidence is imposed on the
director-general. Nothing in the Bill changes that key aspect of our Security Service. When Sir Findlater Stewart produced his report to the then Prime Minister in 1947, he said of the post of director-general :
"The appointment is one of great responsibility, calling for unusual experience and a rare combination of qualities. But having got the right man, there is no alternative to giving him the widest discretion in the means he uses and the direction in which he applies them."
That must be right. It underlines the fact that, in the end, the director- general is responsible to the Home Secretary for ensuring that the balance between individual freedoms and liberties and the interests of the state is maintained. I stress that I do not believe that there is any widespread disagreement about the sufficiency of that process.
What should be our attitude to the Second Reading? First, I assume from the words used by the Home Secretary during the Queen's Speech debate that the security services wish the legislation to be enacted. If true, that is to their credit and underlines their commitment to ensuring that correct procedures are followed. Secondly, the measure is part of the Government's step-by-step reform of the minefield of official secrets and related matters.
We frequently hear high-minded statements of principle from Opposition Members, when they were in Government, they were either unable or unwilling to tackle such difficult issues. This Government have grasped them. We debate official secrets next week. The Government have also rightly received credit for the Interception of Communications Act 1985. There were all sorts of dire warnings from the Labour party at the time, but the Interception of Communications Act is widely regarded as working effectively and well. In addition, on no fewer than nine occasions, the Prime Minister has made clear and concise statements on secrecy matters that were of concern to the House.
Thirdly, this measure deals with a minority unease, in certain quarters, that the service is insufficiently accountable. There has been some public concern, and some misunderstanding perhaps, about the service's role, but the Bill goes quite far enough to counter such fears. It not only gives statutory authority for the existence of the service but makes the director -general personally responsible under the law for ensuring the political neutrality of the service and underlines that it cannot be used as a party political toy. It lays down the role and functions of the Security Service, and effectively uses a definition of subversion that was used by the Labour party when it was in Government in 1975.
Above all, the Bill sets out what we might call the public's consumer protection measures--the commissioner and the tribunal. The mechanism for a member of the service who feels a need for external complaint was brought in last year. The mechanism for an aggrieved citizen who feels that he is being unfairly treated is now clearly set in place in the Bill. The tribunal, which is able to investigate all complaints except those relating to warrants--they will be investigated by a commissioner--will be able also to award compensation, to quash warrants, and to destroy wrongly kept records.
That is an important step forward. By the nature of the issues that we are considering, it is clearly difficult for an aggrieved citizen to seek redress without breaching the ring
Column 1165of secrecy that must inevitably exist and without which the effectiveness of the service would be undermined. The great success of this measure is that the Government have now found an ingenious formula for achieving just that. At present there is no redress for the public, but we are now enacting the necessary legislation to protect the right of the individual while not undermining the interests of the state. Opposition Members may care to consider that Socialist New Zealand is following exactly the same course as proposed in this short and sensible Bill. It deserves the support of the whole House tonight.
Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton) : The only aspect of the Bill that I welcome is that, for the first time, it puts the Security Service on a statutory footing. I said "Security Service", but we are talking only about MI5. Does the Bill apply to MI6 and other intelligence services? There are several intelligence services scattered around the state.
When the Home Secretary introduced the Bill this afternoon, he gave a brief potted history of MI5, but he missed out a key element in the early stages of MI5--that of the Zinoviev letter, which involved MI5 interfering in the politics of the country. It was successful in bringing down a Labour Government. From that, we move on directly to the "Spycatcher" affair, which is the reason for the Bill. Central to the "Spycatcher" affair was the plot to subvert the Labour Government of Harold Wilson. There can be little doubt that MI5 acted outside its powers when it did that.
The Government spread a trail of diversion by taking "Spycatcher" through the Australian courts, claiming how terrible it was that Peter Wright had broken his pledge of silence. When we mentioned the plot to subvert the Labour Government, all we got was shock, horror. There was no action. If the boot had been on the other foot and the Conservatives had been affected, there would have been screams for court action and parliamentary scrutiny. We have had none of that. Hon. Members know that language is important in Acts of Parliament. I draw attention to Clause 2(2)(b), which the Home Secretary quoted. It states :
"That the Service does not take any action to further the interests of any political party."
It may not do that directly, but that does not stop it running down another political party. It could claim that it was not doing anything to the advantage of any particular party, but it could run down a party.
We know that, if the service decided to run down a party, it would be biased against the Labour Party and the trade union movement, because of the class nature of the Security Service personnel. On the one hand, there are those on the extreme Right, such as Peter Wright, who are in the service because they are cold warriors and are anti-Socialists, or there are the Oxford-Cambridge set, who we know are the ideal models to act as spies for foreign countries. Neither of those groups had its roots in the working class or in ordinary people, so there is a bias straight away against the trade union and labour movement.
I wish now to make a couple of brief but important points. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparbrook (Mr. Hattersley) about warrants, especially when he said that the criteria should be public, precise and limited before a warrant is issued. I ask the Minister whether a warrant that he signs will be authority
Column 1166to break or enter into the home of one person or, when he signs his name once, will it apply to everyone within a particular organisation? That is what happened, for example, in the case of the National Council for Civil Liberties when my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mrs. Harman) had her telephone tapped. The CND, too, was the subject of bugging and phone tapping.
If it will not apply to just one person, why not? Why can the Minister, with one stroke of the pen--for instance, because he is worried about the population of Liverpool revolting against the poll tax--sign a warrant so that the Security Service can break into anyone's property in Liverpool? We need to know why it is not limited to one. The Minister should explain that to the House, because it opens up dangerous precedents.
I also agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook that there is no substitute for proper democratic accountability to the House. It was an insult to the intelligence of hon. Members and to the country when a previous Home Secretary said that Lord Bridge investigated over the weekend all the warrants for telephone tappings that had taken place since the 1950s and found not a mistake in any of them. We all know that that was nonsense and a whitewash and unacceptable. The question about the warrants is a serious one, which we need answered.
At the weekend, The Observer described the Bill as "the breaking and entering Bill" which is the serious aspect of it. The hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) said that the Bill is not so much about civil liberties, as about the efficiency and effectiveness of the service. I do not agree. If we want to sort out the efficiency and effectiveness of the service, other methods could be used, such as bringing in management consultants. The civil liberties aspect is crucial. For the first time, we are authorising people in law to break into and enter other people's homes, which is a most dangerous precedent. Authorising burglary in that way is a slippery slope, which should worry us all.
My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has raised in this House time and time again the death of Hilda Murrell. There were strong reports that her house was the subject of an investigation of a breaking and entering, perhaps by official parties. What happens when, in such a case, the security services have authorisation from a warrant and someone dies? Does the person who killed her say, "I will not go to court. The police must let me go when I am arrested, because I have been warranted to break in. The Home Secretary signed the warrant and said I could break in. I am sorry it was an awful accident and the woman died when she found out I was burgling her home, but I had authority from the Home Secretary"? The Minister should refer to those serious and new implications.
I have thought seriously about the balance argument. We should say that the threat to life could be so important that it warranted somebody breaking and entering. However, I do not believe that that is a good enough argument, because in such circumstances powers already exist in the normal course of the law. A police officer can always arrest someone and obtain a proper warrant signed by a magistrate to search legally, and not without the individual's knowledge. If someone is regarded as a serious threat to the lives of other people, the surveillance should