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Column 1167be done properly. The authorisation of breaking and entering is the most dangerous aspect of the Bill. This is an anti-civil liberties Bill and it is wrong.
Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North) : I am grateful for the opportunity to speak briefly in support of the Bill. I shall not follow the arguments of the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) except to say that he did not make it clear how parliamentary scrutiny would meet any of the criticisms that he has made. I support the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell), who spoke about the drafting of the Bill. It is clear and straightforward to understand. Although I am not a lawyer and have great difficulty understanding many Bills, the intention of this Bill is clear and for that reason I am happy to support it.
Despite having read much of the fiction mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, I hope that it is possible to be reasonably objective about the Bill. There is little doubt that, bearing in mind the fact that the Government have no more important duty than the maintenance of internal and external security, this measure is a rational response to recent events and discussion inside and outside Parliament. As a layman, it has been interesting to note the contrast between the constructive points and criticisms made by my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) and the weakness of the Opposition position during this debate.
It is especially unfortunate that the Opposition leadership, apparently following a U-turn, now wish to attack the Bill. The Opposition are on uncertain ground here and, although it was mentioned earlier by the hon. Member for Denton Reddish (Mr. Bennett), I make no apology for reminding Opposition Members that they are on uncertain ground in relation to other aspects of defence and security. One example was the Prevention of Terrorism Bill, which was debated last week, and another was the overturning of the Labour party leadership on defence issues at the Labour party conference. It was clear from the speech of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) that the Opposition, although they may mount a critique, have no alternative proposals of any value. They depart from common sense in their approach to the matter. In recent years, MI5 has been involved in creating a network of governmental defences against threats from the extreme Left and the extreme Right. Those threats come from espionage, terrorism, sabotage and subversion. I agree with those who say that we must carefully consider the definitions of those words, and I am sure that they will be discussed in more detail in Committee. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was right to refer to the sophistication of some terrorist and related organisations.
The Bill provides greater ministerial control over the Security Service. In the words of the deputy leader of the Labour party--before his U-turn--it is a step in the right direction. Opposition Members have called repeatedly for the necessity for parliamentary control of the Security Service. The call has come at various times from people with views as diverse as those of the right hon. Member for
Column 1168Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) on the Right and of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) on the Left.
To widen through parliamentary scrutiny the number of people who, to use the phrase, "need to know", flies in the face of common sense. There have been many convincing speeches by Conservative Members which explain why it would be wrong to break the barrier of secrecy and to go outside the tradition in this matter. Even a person who knows little about the secret services in this country must accept that it would be wrong to do that. I have been further convinced by the arguments that I have heard this evening.
Mr. John Greenway : It has been suggested in the debate that the Security Service sought to bring down the Labour Prime Minister in the 1970s. As the head of the Security Service was unable to detect what was happening, how could a Committee of the House have any better opportunity to find out what the Security Service was doing?
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister stated in May 1985 : "The need for external oversight has been argued at length in the House and came up again during the passage of the Interception of Communications Bill. All Governments run the security services in the same way and on the same lines, because they know they are in power that that is the best way to run them. They must run under unified management. They cannot be referred to an external group."--[ Official Report, 9 May 1985 ; Vol. 78, c. 897.]
My hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) has emphasised that point well, and I agree with it.
The suggestion of the opponents of the Bill would risk the confidence of our allies in the secrecy of operations of our secret service. The Master of the Rolls, Sir John Donaldson, in his "Spycatcher" judgment, said :
"It may be that the time has come when Parliament should regularise the position of the service."
That is exactly what the Bill seeks to do, and that is why it is a good Bill. I find suspect many of the criticisms that I have heard tonight.
The vital responsibilities of the modern Security Service--MI5--stem from its great and rapid expansion during the second world war, which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary described in his opening speech. The recent priorities of the Security Service have been determined by the extent to which hostile intelligence services had succeeded in the 1930s in recruiting ideologically motivated spies in the United Kingdom. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook made it clear that he did not fully understand the Bill, because he kept referring to the secret "services". It is clear from the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and from the wording of the Bill that we are discussing the secret "service"--MI5.
I believe that it is a good and well drafted Bill. The arguments, particularly by Conservative Members, mean that it should have the full- hearted support of all hon. Members tonight. It is sad that we do not have cross-party unity on this important issue affecting the defence and security of this country.
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Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West) : We have had an interesting and informative debate on the Security Service and the Bill. It has become clear to me that the question of scrutiny, or accountability, is now firmly on the political agenda and that it is only a question of time before some mechanism is introduced to enhance the accountability of the service. That would improve not only the confidence in the service and the outside perception of it, but the feeling of trust that we have in the service.
Every hon. Member--with no exceptions--who has taken part in the debate believes in the need for an effective and efficient Security Service to look after our national interest and protect our parliamentary democracy. There is no dispute about that. The dispute has been on the balance between national interests in security terms and civil liberties. The Government have got the skew wrong and have taken too little account of civil liberties.
the debate on the Queen's speech, the Home Secretary referred to the Bill as "an essay in openness." Essentially, however, the Bill iabout maintaining MI5 as a closed and secret society. The inevitableconsequence is that the freedom of the individual is impaired througthe intrusion of the state into his private life. Mr. Whitney : Thehon. Gentleman said that the Government "had the skew wrong" and implied that civil liberties were under threat. Will he cite examples to show how civil liberties have been damaged by the security services in recent years and say in what measure the Bill will fail to safeguard civil liberties better than they have been safeguarded hitherto?
Mr. Randall : There are other cases, too. What Cathy Massiter had to say showed unequivocally that there was an abuse of civil liberties. Such abuse has resulted in a loss of confidence in the service, and that is not good for our nation, our national security or our democracy.
The Bill is a minimalist Bill produced by the Home Secretary to deal with the pressures that are now emerging from the European Court of Human rights, especially now that the Hewitt-Harman case has been declared admissible. The Government have been forced to introduce the Bill rather hurriedly and it has not been subject to the consultation that it deserved.
The Home Secretary said that the Bill had been given "cool consideration", in conjunction with MI5. He said that one of the reasons for it was that the political kaleidoscope had changed, whatever that may mean, and added that the Government had not been forced to produce the Bill.
The Bill has been introduced in this hurried way because in the Hewitt- Harman case there is an alleged violation of civil rights by the security services in the course of their investigations. The case arises from article 13 of the European convention of human rights, which is all about right and freedoms. It says :
"Everyone whose rights and freedoms are violated"
even by the Government--
"shall have an effective remedy before a national authority". It is that effective remedy which allegedly does not exist.
Column 1170The Bill represents a wasted opportunity. The members of the Security Service accept that parliamentarians have to take civil liberties into account and I believe that many members of MI5 would not object to a more open system that allowed parliamentary or external scrutiny. I do not know who wrote the Bill, but one has the impression that it was written not by the Home Secretary but by a technocrat or a member of the Security Service who does not understand parliamentary drafting. The Bill has serious weaknesses. The Home Secretary is letting the Security Service down in failing to restore the public's confidence and trust. In his opening speech he failed to deal adequately with the question why other countries feel that they can proceed with a more open arrangement. The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) dealt with the McDonald report in detail, saying that there were lessons to be learned from that system. Other hon. Members have referred to what is happening in Australia and elsewhere.
What is it that makes Britain so different? I hope that the Minister of State will tell us why we have gone for a closed rather than the more liberal approach that is being adopted in other friendly countries with systems based on ours.
Mr. William Powell : When the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said, both in the Chamber and outside, that he expected to support the Bill subject to its small print, did he have any reasonable cause to believe that the Bill would contain provision for parliamentary scrutiny?
Mr. Randall : At the time that that statement was made, no information was available. My right hon. Friend has said that the Bill does not meet three criteria which he laid down clearly and which everybody will be able to read in Hansard tomorrow. That is why the Opposition feel that the Bill in its present form is not acceptable. The notion of putting the Security Service on a statutory footing naturally appeals to all hon. Members because it is at least a step forward. Unfortunately, as I have already said, the Bill does not go far enough, and the skew away from civil liberties is unacceptable.
The White Paper on the interception of communications in February 1985 defined national security. It said :
"The Secretary of State may issue warrants on grounds of national security if he considers that the information to be acquired under the warrant is necessary in the interests of national security"-- and it goes on--
"in support of the Government's defence and foreign policies." What does that mean for a member of CND? That question has already been asked several times. In an earlier debate, the Home Secretary's predecessor attempted to say that CND members would not be regarded as subversives and need not fear being regarded as acting against the interests of national security.
I hope that CND members are not regarded as subversives. Although the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan) said that we can be sure that in practice CND members are not regarded as subversive, how can we be confident about that? My hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) gave us four definitions of "subversive" tonight. There are no definitions in the Bill, and that leaves us
Column 1171unclear about what it is all about. I hope that in Committee we shall have some definitions and that the Minister will give us some information about that tonight.
The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Boscawen) gave the impression that he believed that none of the disclosures could lead to the idea that there was something wrong with the service. Yet the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills said that Sir John Donaldson had said that we should be naive to think that bugging and burglary did not take place in the service. During the "Spycatcher" hearing, Sir John said :
"In defence of the realm there must be stringent limits of what breeches of the law are considered excusable covert invasions of privacy (what Peter Wright called burglary) may in certain circumstances be a different matter it is absurd to contend that any breeches of the law will constitute such a "wrong doing" as to deprive MI5 of the secrecy without which it cannot operate." So Sir John was saying that crimes were committed but that some of them were excusable.
Clause 3(2) speaks of the authorising of actions specified in warrants. Certain actions will be unlawful unless they are covered by a warrant. What are the limits on what can be specified in a warrant? For example, may the Security Service install bugging equipment? Would it be included in the warrant? The House should note that bugging and other surveillance equipment is still unregulated by the law, despite recommendations of controls by the Royal Commission on criminal procedure, the Young committee on privacy and the Law Commission report on breach of confidence. The only guidelines we now have are the Home Office's guidelines to the police on the use of such equipment. If the service used such equipment, would not that violate article 8 of the European convention on human rights? If it would, should not the use of such devices be included in the Bill? Why has not the Home Secretary made warrants subject to judicial authority rather than to administrative decision by himself, bearing in mind the fact that the Royal Commission on criminal procedure recommended that a person should have his interests represented by the Official Solicitor at a hearing before authorisation by judicial authority? That was the question raised by several hon. Members, who asked about the way in which the warrants should be issued and about the mechanisms for dealing with them.
Again, in the context of warrants, what criteria will the Home Secretary use in deeming it necessary for action to be taken to obtain information? Clause 3(2)(a) states that the Secretary of State
"may issue a warrant if the Secretary of State thinks it necessary".
How does he decide what is necessary? Further on, the clause expands on that as necessary to obtain information which
"cannot reasonably be obtained".
We are being asked again to sign a blank cheque for the Government. How can the House be confident that the proposals on warrants will work in the way that the Home Secretary believes they will? I want to say a word or two about the Security Service tribunal. Schedule 1(1) states :
"Any person may complain to the Tribunal if he is aggrieved by anything the Service has done to him".
How will a citizen lawfully be able to discover that he has been the subject of action by the Security Service? Does the
Column 1172Minister agree that the Bill's provisions make it exceedingly difficult--nay, impossible--to obtain such information? In West Germany, if a person's telephone is tapped, when the surveillance work has been completed that person is notified that it has been. Why cannot we do the same in this country?
It has been alleged that there are files on people such as CND members. What will be their status? How will that information be used by the Security Service? Would it affect job and career prospects? I want further information on that.
There is a large photograph of a former Labour Minister. The photograph is 20 years old and was leaked this year to the Sunday Express, obviously by someone in the Security Service. Is there any mechanism in the Bill to ensure that the person responsible for that leak accounts to Parliament for his actions?
Mr. Randall : My hon. Friend has asked an interesting question, and I hope that the Minister will make an appropriate comment on it. Clause 2 refers to the director-general. Once the Bill receives Royal Assent, the service will be placed on a statutory footing. Will the director-general become a more public figure? Will he appear on television? Will he start to educate people in order to build up their trust? Those are serious questions because, until there is contact with the public, trust and confidence will be eroded. That is a practical suggestion, and if I were a Conservative Member, I would positively encourage the director-general to have more contact with the public.
There is a political section at the end of the clause. I am not sure why it has been included, but I wonder whether it is to reassure the House and the country that the Bill contains measures to prevent the overthrow by the Security Service of a future Government of any political complexion.
The Wright book contained allegations that MI5 was playing that role. How will that be enforced to ensure that there is no political bias? How will misdemeanours be brought to light? What penalties will there be if something goes wrong inside the service? Is the Home Secretary using that clause, together with Sir Philip Woodfield, the staff counsellor, to create the illusion that there will be no political bias in the Security Service? That is nothing more than window dressing.
The hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken), who is not in his seat, said that there was a divergence between clause 2 and paragraph 4 of the Maxwell Fyfe directive. The Maxwell Fyfe description is stronger, and I cannot understand why there is a divergence. I put it down to bad drafting.
The clause dealing with warrants asks Parliament to approve actions by the service that will become legal as a result of the warrants being issued. For other members of society, such actions would be regarded as illegal. Parliament is being asked to do that without any information about the extent to which illegal practices have taken place in the past. If the Minister answers no other questions, will he tell us specifically what the warrants will be used for? I do not want him to use the
Column 1173words in the Bill. Similarly, when a person is vetted for employment purposes, why should he not be informed subsequently that that has happened?
The Bill is a great disappointment. It is vague, it is imprecise, and it will have little effect on the way in which the Security Service operates. The Bill fails to provide adequate safeguards against abuse and illegal activity by MI5. It contains no measures to improve the service's efficiency and effectiveness. Of special importance is the fact that the Bill includes little to enhance the civil liberties and genuine freedoms of the people of Britain. At the same time, the Bill contains no measures to introduce external oversight, which we believe is vital to the service. the Bill is a wasted opportunity, and we shall be voting against it tonight.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten) : I congratulate the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) on his excellent speech. In the course of my remarks, I shall answer the one question to which he sought an answer above all else, but I shall be unable to deal with his 16 or 17 other questions, which will have to wait until the Committee stage. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the question of oversight will play a major part in our debates, which are certain to be interesting.
Several notable speeches have been made this evening, particularly by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Boscawen), my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence). There were also four short, precise and pointed speeches by my hon. Friends the Members for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind), for Corby (Mr. Powell), for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) and for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson).
I also listened with great care to the constructive criticisms made of the Bill by my hon. Friends the Members for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) and for Torbay (Mr. Allason). For one extraordinary moment, I thought that I might agree with the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), at least for the first three minutes of his speech, but that proved not to be the case.
There were misconceived speeches as well. I may tell the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) and all his right hon. and hon. Friends that I shall not comment on the security service's operational details. I shall not comment either, and nor will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department, on cases that are currently before the European Court. I say to the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen), who is not in his place at present, that my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North was right in stating that the Bill refers to the Security Service and to the Security Service alone.
The Bill is about the trust and the confidence that is placed upon Parliament and upon Government to keep our country in peace and safety.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett rose --
Mr. Patten : I hope to respond to at least one of the points made by the hon. Gentleman in his speech. I have little time in which to reply to all right hon. and hon. Members who spoke in what has been a very full debate.
The Bill places on Parliament a responsibility for establishing the scope of the Security Service's work, upon which so many lives depend--and I do not use that phrase
Column 1174lightly. For the first time ever, a Government of this country are prepared to bring this issue openly to Parliament and to let Parliament decide. Upon that, almost every right hon. and hon. Member who has spoken is agreed. I welcome the fact that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) was able to go at least that far.
When this issue was first discussed during our debate on the Loyal Address, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) heard my right hon. Friend's description of the Bill and told the House that he welcomed it. I quote him exactly : "This is a small concession We welcome it and hope--hope subject to examination of the Bill--to support what the Home Secretary proposes."-- [Official Report, 23 November 1988 ; Vol. 142. c.137.] The right hon. Gentleman's judgement was right then, but deeply flawed later. He made his statement of support both in the House and, on television to the nation later that night on "Newsnight", after my right hon. Friend's Bill was published.
The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook is a very good writer, and a very good writer generally has to be a very good and rapid reader. My right hon. Friend's Bill is very short and succinct, and I simply do not believe that the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook did not fully understand what it contained before he went on television that night. Who knows what went on around the shadow Cabinet table after Labour's fiasco over the vote on the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Bill vote?
This is a very sad half-turn by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook. The Bill is a liberating measure : first, it puts the Security Service on a firm statutory basis under the clear authority of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.
Mr. William Powell : Can my hon. Friend tell me whether at any stage since 1979 any spokesman for Her Majesty's Government has given the House any cause to believe that the Government would favour a parliamentary scrutiny committee? Was that information available at the time when the right hon. Gentleman spoke?
Mr. Patten : On no occasion has such an impression been given. We have made the information freely available, and it was of course available to the right hon. Gentleman when he spoke, both in the House and on television.
Secondly, the Bill is a liberating measure in that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will personally authorise certain actions only when he is satisfied in the light of statutory safeguards. Thirdly, it provides for the independent review by a commissioner--not a member of the Government, but a senior member of the judiciary--of the exercise of those powers. Fourthly, it allows any person or organisation to complain and to seek remedies in respect of any alleged actions by the service that have affected them.
The Bill sits alongside my right hon. Friend's proposals for restricting the scope of official secrets legislation. We shall debate those proposals next week. The true effect of the two measures together is to provide reassurance and an avenue for complaints about matters relating to the
Column 1175authority and control of the Security Service, while continuing to ensure that the secrets on which all our lives depend can be fully protected.
Both my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) and the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett)--and, I think, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West--raised the important issue of economic well- being and exactly what that meant. The term is embodied in article 8 of the European convention on human rights. The function defined in clause 1(3) represents no change in the work that the service has been undertaking for many years. It follows exactly the careful and narrow drafting already approved by Parliament in the Interception of Communications Act 1985, and it addresses the safeguarding of the country against hostile foreign actions and adverse developments which could affect our economic well- being. Of course, the Security Service is not solely responsible for those matters. Others are concerned--the Army, the special branch and the police. It is nevertheless essential that the service should be able to contribute where it can do so.
I must say that I welcomed the defence by the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) of the excellence of the Home Office draftsmen. The Bill is indeed excellently drafted ; it is a first-rate Bill, and I hope that the hon. Lady recognises that. She, of course, spent some time as an administrative trainee in the Home Office, and I understand that she was marked down at an early stage for speedy promotion. I can reveal what could well be an official secret and get me into trouble. A member of the personnel department in the Home Office came to me recently and said that the department wanted to launch a competition for that most important of posts, my replacement principal private secretary. He said that had the hon. Lady still been in the Civil Service she might well have been a leading competitor.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills referred to the definition of national security, a matter that concerns many hon. Members. The concept of national security is recognised in the European convention on human rights. It is also recognised in legislation that was introduced by the last Labour Administration--in the industrial relations legislation, equal opportunities legislation and other measures. The definition of national security is entirely consistent with the interpretation that is referred to in the White Paper. The Bill covers more than the Security Service. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said in his opening speech that the Security Service is not primarily concerned with matters that relate to defence and foreign policy. However, the Security Service cannot be inert if it is to contribute to thwarting threats to national security.
National security is generally understood to refer to matters that relate to the survival or the well-being of the nation. That must cover matters relating to defence and foreign policy. It would be inexcusable if the Security Service were to be disbarred, in a statutory sense, from helping to thwart an armed attack on this country, or if it failed to act if it came across a possible act of sabotage, or if it failed to act if it could contribute to identifying or frustrating the hostile intentions of a foreign Government.
Column 1176policy in relation to foreign affairs and that the definition is so broad that ordinary citizens, going about the legitimate task of challenging Government policy, could be designated under the provisions of the Bill.
Mr. Patten : I can only repeat the words of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary when he responded to an earlier intervention by my hon. Friend : such an interpretation is entirely wrong. Of course, there will be an opportunity to return to these points in detail in Committee.
There can be no question of the Security Service acting in circumstances where the security of the nation as a whole is not under threat, nor could there be any circumstances in which the Security Service could act in a way that tended to further the interests of any political party. That is clearly and specifically set out in clause 2.
I promised to reply to the point that was made by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish about the powers of police officers and the special branch. Police officers act under the authority of their own legislation. The special branch is part of the police force, which is under the authority of the chief constable. Any complaints about the special branch go to the Police Complaints Authority.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West referred to the extremely important issue of accountability. [Interruption.]
Mr. Patten : In a Bill such as this, whose objectives must be clarity and certainty when dealing with the security of the nation, there is no place for proposals, however well intentioned, that could lead to confusion. In practice, the effective oversight of the Security Service is inseparable from overall responsibility for the Security Service. I urge the House not to accept, under the guise of what may seem to be a reasonable person's response, something that in practice turns out to be a fudge.
We cannot safely divide up the responsibility for the Security Service. That is recognised by other English-speaking parliamentary systems. My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) referred to New Zealand. Socialist New Zealand has chosen to go down a route that is similar to ours in many ways. New Zealand has a commissioner. It has also decided that there should not be parliamentary scrutiny.
The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook's points about supervision displayed a very muddled--