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Column 71they are almost like the kind of open, explicit material we get from this lot publicly. They do not say much. But they were ceremoniously carried down by a junior civil servant, a very attractive young lady. She brought the Cabinet box to my room, opened it with a key and stood there while I read the papers. There was I, a Minister of State aged 50, having to sit and read the minutes while a young lass who had already seen them waited beside me, presumably in case I whipped some of them off to the photocopying machine. That is the background of the nonsensical secrecy that developed. It was not unrelated to my political past, as my hon. Friend the Member for Walton knows.
Long before I resigned I wrote a minute signifying my resignation. I was a senior Minister and if I had stayed instead of resigning two days after the 1974 general election--I could not resign before because I did not want to make a political stramash and the Labour party had to beat the Conservatives as well as some of its own members--I would have become a Privy Councillor. As such, I would have been fit, apparently, to scrutinise the intelligence people, but I cannot scrutinise them now because I resigned before I became a Privy Councillor. I was three weeks away from being safe, secure, intelligent, rational, unbribable and incorruptible.
I hope that when the Home Secretary replies he will give intelligent answers. More importantly, I hope that he will take an intelligent and independent line and not be afraid of his mistress.
Mr. Hind : The hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) seems to epitomise what in the past--certainly during my time in the House--has appeared to be the Labour party's paranoia about everything secret. One point that I wish to make to the hon. Member for Paisley, South--whose failure to understand is obvious--and other Opposition Members is that the Bill should not be taken in isolation. The Security Service Bill must be put side by side with the Official Secrets Bill. The hon. Gentleman spoke about his experiences and ignored the rest of the legislation that the House will consider. He considered the Bill in isolation. The Government's proposals must be taken as a total package, a major reform and step forward, and the past must be excluded.
Mr. Buchan : The burden of my speech was that the Bill must not be taken in isolation. I said that the Bill should be taken together with the general conduct of the Cabinet, and, specifically, alongside the Official Secrets Bill.
Mr. Hind : Most of the hon. Gentleman's arguments were pitched in such a way that the Official Secrets Bill and the major reform that it will introduce--taking out of secrecy so many Government papers and activities and introducing more open government generally--were ignored.
The hon. Member for Paisley, South referred to the cases of Cathy Massiter and Clive Ponting. If those cases occurred under the new legislation that will, I hope, pass through the House, an entirely different approach would be taken. The tests that would be applied to guilt or
Column 72innocence would be enirely different and, accordingly, we would be dealing with entirely different circumstances. Let us forget about the past and the paranoia.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) referred to the time when he worked in a special branch office in Liverpool. That was probably 20 or 30 years ago. Again, that is in the past. We should forget about the past and look forward to the major reform with which we are dealing.
Mr. Heffer : The hon. Member should be aware of the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan), myself and others, when we were in government, argued that we should change the Official Secrets Act and that we should introduce something on the lines of what we are arguing for today. It is not a question of forgetting the past. We are arguing today what we argued then. The Government have only just caught up with what we were arguing then. They have not gone as far as we were suggesting.
Mr. Hind : When the Labour party was in government, it could not agree to bring forward the major reform for which the hon. Gentleman argues. It took this Government to sort it out, and to bring forward the radical proposition that we are able to debate today. Although the hon. Gentleman may have been advocating it, he was involved in a dialogue with the deaf. Many Opposition Members were obviously not listening to what he had to say.
It has taken this Government to come forward with a
proposition--this Bill and the Official Secrets Bill--that has been given the overwhelming support of my Conservative colleagues. That must be borne in mind.
We should forget the paranoia that lies behind the novel, "A Very British Coup" written by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin). Throughout the debate we have heard the suggestion that there is something going on behind the scenes which will undermine the system.
I reject the amendment for the simple reason that the total package being presented to the House, including the Bill, is sufficiently radical and open in its approach and there is no need to go further than is proposed by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. For the first time, we will have a statutory basis for the secret service. The Home Secretary, in order to carry out a secret operational matter, has to apply for a warrant. Standing behind him there is a commissioner--a High Court Judge--who has the power to review his actions and, if necessary, to write a report examining his actions which can be put before the House. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) forgets that in Britain judges have a fundamental role. He said that the protection of the liberties of the people is too important to be left to judges. What arrogant nonsense. One has only to look at the court cases brought against the Government by private individuals which the Government have lost to see that the judges are independent of the Executive. They are the protectors of the ordinary man in
Column 73the street, and they enforce the rights of the individual against the Executive. They are there to protect those rights and the commissioner, whose role will be fundamental, will be important in enforcing those rights.
Mr. Mullin : The hon. Gentleman referred to my novel "A Very British Coup". The Home Secretary and I do not have much in common, but we are both the authors of novels which suppose that an elected Government is destabilised by a Right-wing plot of some sort.
Mr. Mullin : The Home Secretary's book is a good read, and at one point the king is found in a box under the bed. The right hon. Gentleman's book is called "Send Him Victorious" and I commend it to the House.
Mr. Hind : The point made by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South was destroyed by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. As he said, in his book the Right-wing plot fails. In "A Very British Coup" the plot succeeds.
Mr. Tony Banks rose --
Mr. Hind : We must look at what is contained in the Bill. The tribunal is another major step forward in the preservation of the rights of individuals. The hon. Member for Walton complained earlier about the investigation into his activities, and the hon. Member for Paisley, South complained that special branch knew about him. Under the new system, both hon. Gentlemen would be able to go to the tribunal and make a complaint, which would then be investigated. The hon. Member for Paisley, South would be able to tell the tribunal that he was an innocent member of the Communist party--which presupposes the existence of guilty members of the Communist party and shows the need for the Security Service.
The point is that there will be a right of investigation. Never before has there been the opportunity to make representations or for those representations to be examined. That is a major step forward. The commissioner will be able to publish a report and, with the exception of certain parts that may have to be removed because it is not in the public interest for them to be published, it will be considered in the House.
Mr. Allason rose --
Mr. Hind : In addition, the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister are answerable in the House for the actions of the Security Service. Some hon. Members do not consider that to be important, but it is an important safeguard for the House. I argue against extending that safeguard any further.
What is the most important function of the secret service? It is to protect the national interest. We must not do anything to weaken our defences by allowing the exposure of operational secrets, which would increase the risk from terrorism and other threats. The more people who learn about secrets, the less likely they are to remain secrets.
Column 74there to protect the interests of the public and the state. What would happen if a committee was introduced, as the amendments propose?
Mr. Allason : My hon. Friend has made an important point about the role of the report that will be published by the commissioner. I draw his attention to amendment No. 12. We hope that the report will be extremely important, but there is nothing in the Bill that gives the parameters of the topics that the report will cover. As the Bill is drafted, the commissioner can say more or less anything he wants in the report. It would be better to describe the topics that can be examined.
My hon. Friend is anxious about compromising security, but I point out to him that the Bill allows for parts of the report that might compromise security not to be published, but to be read only by the Home Secretary or the Prime Minister. Does my hon. Friend agree that the drafting of the Bill is rather vague and that it might be a good idea to specify the topics that should be examined?
The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Paul Dean) : Order. I hope that, in responding to that intervention, the hon. Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind) will not anticipate our later debate on amendment No. 12.
Mr. Hind : I shall observe your ruling, Sir Paul. I shall merely say to my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) that he has made his point and will, no doubt, raise it again when amendment No. 12 is debated.
The important problem that is created by new clause 5 is that it breaches the wall of secrecy considerably. There are more than sufficient safeguards for the public built into the Bill without new clause 5. Let us consider carefully what is proposed in new clause 5. We must ask ourselves whether we, as hon. Members, can dissociate ourselves from party interest in dealing with matters of secrecy. I do not believe that party interest can be excluded from our deliberations on this matter. It would be nice to follow the views of the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) and to believe that there could be an objective, non-partisan view about matters of secrecy, but, bearing in mind the Labour party's paranoia about matters of secrecy, I do not believe that we could have objective scrutiny.
What concerns me most is that the review committee would be entitled
"to receive from the Commissioner, the Director-General and the Secretary of State and employees such information, reports and explanations as the Committee deems necessary for the performance of its duties and functions."
If we consider that alongside new clause 5(6)(b), which says that the committee could
"where it considers that a review by the Service or the Commissioner would be inappropriate, conduct such a review itself," we see that it would, in effect, look in detail into every operational matter of the secret service. New clause 5 suggests that members of the committee could call for any document, any explanation and any investigation into the day-to-day running of the secret service. It would be able to call for witnesses and papers and, when not satisfied with the investigations of the commissioner or the
Column 75director-general, it could instigate an investigation itself. I cannot agree with that because the committee would be going far deeper than would appear to be necessary.
Most important of all, the number of people who would learn about the detailed day-to-day activities of the secret services would become greater and that would put at risk many of the operations and, most important of all, the lives of many agents, such as those working under cover in Ireland. That is where problems would arise.
Mr. Tony Banks : I want to take the hon. Gentleman back to the point that he made several times about the Labour party's paranoia about secrecy. I know that he is a man of some integrity, so I hope that he will answer my question honestly. If he believed that a Conservative Government had been undermined and that attempts had been made to destabilise that Government, would he not have taken exactly the same attitude as Labour Members have and have called for some form of public inquiry? [Interruption.] I am sorry, one of my teeth has just come out.
Mr. Hind : I would share the concern of the hon. Member were it not for the fact that Lord Callaghan, who was the leader of the Labour party at the time of the allegations, came to the House and said that, as far as he was aware, there was no truth in the allegations. They were investigated and rejected. I understand that Peter Wright is casting doubt on the allegations.
To a certain extent, we have to rely on the integrity of the people in the secret service. The allegations about undermining the Government of Lord Wilson of Rievaulx were investigated by Lord Wilson when he was Prime Minister and subsequently by Lord Callaghan. It makes a very good story. The public want to read about the Security Service. It makes good novels and it makes good press, but that does not mean that the allegations are true.
Mr. Allason : Is it not time that the whole fiction of the Wilson plot was knocked on the head once and for all? Peter Wright has admitted on television that the so-called plot consisted of himself and that there was no enormous group of fellow conspirators. A book has been published recently by David Leigh which completely debunks the myth of the Wilson plot. None of the allegations about misconduct has turned out to be true. The investigations that were conducted by the Security Service at the time were extremely relevant and appropriate.
Mr. Hind : A great deal of doubt has been cast on Mr. Wright's allegations, even by himself. Most hon. Members accept that his allegations have been discredited. It is wrong that hon. Members should frame a new clause that is based on Mr. Peter Wright's allegations.
Lastly, I want to refer to that part of new clause 5 which deals with reports that are laid before the House. An annual report on the activities of the secret service would be brought before the House, with certain parts of it--after consultation with the Prime Minister--left out. Many hon. Members believe that scrutiny would involve detailed consideration and debate of what had happened in the secret service. The major problem over scrutiny is that the secret service cannot be debated without undermining the country's security and without the exposure of information that would damage the national interest.
Column 76More than adequate supervision is provided by the Bill. It is a major reform. Therefore, I urge the House to reject the amendment.
Mr. Winnick : First, I welcome you, Mr. Hogg, to the Chair. I congratulate the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) on saying, surprisingly, that he is a convert, albeit a late one, to an oversight system. The fact that it took him some time to be converted is beside the point. Because of his detailed knowledge of the intelligence community, we welcome the fact that he recognises that oversight is necessary. Some may say cynically that he will find it difficult to get information for his books if there is a lifelong confidentiality rule for intelligence agents. Be that as it may, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman was perfectly genuine when he made that statement.
Mr. Allason : It is important that the hon. Gentleman should be aware of their Lordships' judgment on the suggestion that lifelong confidentiality is the same as lifelong silence. It is not. It is quite clear from their Lordships' judgment in the "Spycatcher" case that members of the Security Service and the intelligence service are perfectly at liberty to make disclosures, to write books and to do whatever else they want, provided that they do not disclose new material.
I have long advocated parliamentary scrutiny of the Security Service. My amendment No. 38 deals with that question. If such a Select Committee were formed, its membership should consist of hon. Members who have been here since 4 o'clock or 4.30 this afternoon. They are all very much interested in security matters.
[Interruption.] I should be quite happy if a dissident such as the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) were to serve on that Committee. If I were able to decide who should be its chairman, who better could I choose than my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) whose dedication to parliamentary democracy and freedom is second to none? He would be an ideal chairman for the Committee.
Whether the Home Secretary likes it or not, he ought to recognise that in recent years MI5 has become the subject of intense political controversy. No Opposition Member argues that there should not be a Security Service. Even if we were not concerned about sabotage and terrorism--particularly by the Provisional IRA--the need for a Security Service would be clear. I hope that the Home Secretary or the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten), will not argue that Opposition Members would like MI5 to be abolished. That is not so. It goes without saying that we need MI5 or a similar organisation. However, that organisation ought to be accountable.
The purpose of MI5 is to defend the integrity of parliamentary democracy. It is odd that, although MI5 is supposed to defend parliamentary democracy and our democratic way of life, we are told that the House of Commons is neither a fit nor an appropriate body to scrutinise its activities. That does not say much for parliamentary democracy or for our roles as Members.
The feeling has grown in recent years that the Security Service is not nearly as politically impartial as it needs to be. The Maxwell Fyfe directive laid down in 1952 that MI5 should be politically neutral. Successive Home Secretaries
Column 77have said that it is not the role of MI5 to become politically partial. However, the accusation has been made that MI5 has a bias against the Left in this country. I am referring not to the revolutionary Left but to the broad, mainstream Left. If some hon. Members say, "Left-wing Labour Members would say that," I have to ask the Home Secretary why the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) said during the Second Reading debate on the official secrets Bill that was introduced by the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) that if some members of MI5 saw somebody reading the Daily Mirror on the tube they would have to investigate that person.
Mr. Winnick : Leaving aside my hon. Friend's intervention, is it not interesting that a Conservative ex-Prime Minister believes that some MI5 officials are so out of control that they have no understanding of political impartiality? That accusation is not made only by the Opposition.
It is unlikely that the Bill would have been introduced if complaints had not been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Ms Harman) and Miss Patricia Hewitt. They are taking a complaint--it has yet to be heard--to the European Court of Human Rights. One of the reasons for the Bill is that the Government will be able to explain to the European Court the changes that have taken place since those complaints were made.
I strongly believe that if the security services had been subject to parliamentary scrutiny, they would have gone about matters somewhat differently. MI5 officials know that, in practice, they are accountable to nobody. Are we really to believe that when organisations such as the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the National Council for Civil Liberties were targeted, the Home Secretary was notified or kept aware of what was going on?
Mr. Allason : I think that I can clarify that matter. The answer is yes. At one stage, the NCCL was a recognised Communist front organisation. It was banned by the Labour party. Every time there was any application for a telephone intercept warrant, evidence for that warrant had to be supplied to the Home Secretary. The short answer is yes. Successive Home Secretaries have authorised just such warrants.
As I said on Second Reading, when a former editor of the CND journal Sanity resigned as a result of some internal argument, that person was asked by special branch, no doubt at the request of MI5 officials, all manner of questions about leading personalities in CND and their private lives. Was the Home Secretary notified of that? Because MI5 is not subject to parliamentary control or scrutiny, and because there is very little ministerial control of it, it has behaved in a way that has made it the subject of intense political controversy. If it is true, as has been argued by the hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken), that successive directors general of MI5 have been in favour of some kind of oversight, perhaps they have
Column 78been in favour because they want to lessen the high profile of MI5, which they cannot like. Making MI5 the subject of political controversy is not, the liking of people actively involved in the Security Service.
Mr. Heffer : The hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) said that there was a time when the NCCL was on the Labour party's proscribed list. I have been a member of the Labour party for a long time. I cannot remember a time when the NCCL was on the black list. I remember that there used to be argument, certainly before the war, about some of the activities of the NCCL. The hon. Member has got it wrong. I hope that we will not go on record as saying that the NCCL was on the Labour party's proscribed list.
Mr. Winnick : I think that I answered the point on Second Reading when the hon. Member for Torbay made the same claim. I asked why my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham had been targeted when she was the legal officer of the NCCL. I understand that there was no other reason. The hon. Member for Torbay intervened and said that the organisation was once on the proscribed list. I replied that it may or may not have been. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) may be right. I conceded that, until about 30 years ago, the NCCL had what I would call an undue Communist influence. I do not wish to deny that. Is that how the Security Service works? Does it not take account of changes over 30 years? The NCCL can in no way be described as Communist influenced now.
Since Second Reading, I have had printed in the New Statesman a letter taking to task a barrister who had written defending the present Czech Government. I protested about what he said. I am disgusted about what is happening in Czechoslovakia, especially after yesterday. It is interesting to note that two others who replied in the same issue are active members of the NCCL. We must ask why, if the NCCL is targeted, the Freedom Association is not. That is the type of partiality that we are complaining about and think undesirable.
Some of the most important features of parliamentary democracy are the rights of protest, advocacy and dissent. They distinguish parliamentary democracy from dictatorship. We all know that, in a dictatorship, any form of advocacy, dissent or protest is immediately denounced as subversive. We saw an example of that yesterday when the brave people of Czechoslovakia gathered on the 20th anniversary of the death of an heroic student who committed suicide in protest at the occupation of his country by Soviet troops.
In a democracy, the rights that I have mentioned have been built up over the years. They have been fought for and paid for. The Labour party wants to defend the right to protest and dissent, the right of advocacy, and the ability to disagree with the Government on important issues such as nuclear disarmament and civil liberties. Such activity is not subversive. It is subversive only if the objective is to help people abroad who are engaged in hostile action, if the aim is to bring about a form of dictatorship in Britain, be it ultra-Right or ultra-Left wing, or if its aim is to destroy our parliamentary system of government.
When the Minister replied to my Second Reading speech, he said that he was unwilling to go into matters
Column 79which were for the Security Service and that he would not explore them on the Floor of the House. That is why we ask for oversight of the Security Service. When we want to know why organisations and individuals are targeted without justification, all we get is the Minister saying that he cannot go into such matters, and that they are purely for the Security Service. That will always be the response of Ministers while there is no parliamentary oversight of the Security Service.
Mr. Hind : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, even if there were a Select Committee, the same would be the case? The Committee would be new, but it would still not be open to the House to discuss these matters. If it is possible for the Security Service to mislead a Home Secretary, how come the hon. Gentleman has so much confidence that the same Civil Service that he describes as deceitful will not deceive a Select Committee?
Mr. Winnick : The point about having a Select Committee is that complaints that have recently been raised and that are now being taken to the European Court of Human Rights would be raised in a Select Committee, and it could report to the House. At the moment, if we table parliamentary questions on the subject, they are blocked or we get the sort of response that I got from the Minister on Second Reading. Parliamentary democracy is being undermined. We do not want to know what action is being taken against spies or suspected spies ; we are concerned to protect civil liberties.
As for civil servants, I am not arguing that the majority of MI5 officials are deceitful. However, it has been admitted on both sides of the House that a small number of them, such as Peter Wright, were deceitful. I have not argued otherwise and it would be wrong to say that I have argued that the majority of them would intend or would be willing to deceive the Select Committee.
In 1985 The Observer gave details of how any employee or potential employee of the BBC was automatically vetted in liaison with the Security Service and that the person carrying out the vetting at the BBC was either employed by the Security Service or accountable to it. That has changed.
Mr. Allason : That is a very important point. Some years ago, a telephone tap in the Hague revealed two identified Soviet intelligence officers being indiscreet. One boasted to the other that at four days' notice he could get 12,000 people out on to the streets in Holland in an anti-nuclear demonstration. If hostile Soviet intelligence officers--it has been conceded that they are legitimate targets--are in touch with members of CND or other such organisations, surely it must be legitimate for the Home Secretary of the day to authorise warrants for those organisations to come under some form of scrutiny.
Mr. Winnick : That was a ridiculous intervention. I have already congratulated the hon. Gentleman on his conversion to oversight of the Security Service. He is suggesting that CND should be targeted. However, the Opposition believe that CND is a perfectly legitimate organisation made up of people whose loyalty to Britain and to parliamentary democracy is certainly no less than that of any Conservative Member. The old poison that members of CND are Soviet agents or could be used by Soviet authorities is nonsense. Over the years many active members of CND have been in the forefront of protesting
Column 80against the way in which dissent is punished in the Soviet bloc. That is hardly the action of people who could be manipulated by the Soviet authorities.
Mr. Buchan : The intervention of the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) shows an appalling ignorance of how demonstrations work. Can my hon. Friend imagine any of us, let alone an unknown Russian agent, getting 12,000 people out on the streets at four days' notice?
Mr. Heffer : When it appeared that Cuba was about to be invaded by America, a friend of mine in Liverpool said to me,"We have to organise a big demonstration on Saturday against American intervention in Cuba." I was not too keen, but I agreed. So we tried to organise a great demonstration against American intervention in Cuba. Two dozen of us turned up with placards saying, "Hands off Cuba." We marched down the streets in Liverpool trying to get a big gap between each person so that the demonstration would look three times greater than it actually was. The idea that we were being manipulated by Soviet agents is absolutely ridiculous and the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) should be ashamed of himself. [Interruption.]
Mr. Winnick : Although they may not say so in the Chamber, some Conservative Members really believe that any protest that could be described as Left wing is somehow connected with the Soviet bloc. As I have said, that is absolute nonsense, and my hon. Friends have underlined that point.
If other western democracies have some oversight of their security services, why can we not do so? On 22 May 1986 the Australian Attorney- General argued for changes in Australia. He argued that there should be some parliamentary scrutiny and that a committee should be established. Obviously, given the majority of the Australian Government of the day, that was duly carried out. The Australian Attorney-General said :
"The Government believes"--
that is the Australian Government--
"that the provisions provide a proper balance between greater Parliamentary involvement in the oversight of A510 and the limits of the Executive's ability, having in mind its responsibilities in regard to security matters to make sensitive information more widely accessible."
As my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) argued so strongly, the United States has an oversight committee and has had such a review of the security services for a long time, and Canada and Australia have established such systems. No one has suggested that since Australia introduced its parliamentary scrutiny committee in 1986 the security services in Australia have been undermined. If Conservative Members could produce evidence of that, it would be an argument against what has been proposed today.
I have some sympathy with the amendment tabled by the hon. Members for Thanet, South and for Aldridge-Brownhills. Any review committee is better than nothing,
Column 81but I am not persuaded that a review committee made up of non-parliamentarians would improve the position much, if at all. It could be argued that if such a review committee were
established--obviously the Government are not willing to accept it--it would provide a further reason why there should not be parliamentary oversight. It would be argued, "We have the Privy Councillors and the review committee ; why do you continue to argue for parliamentary scrutiny of the service?"
Obviously the amendment will be voted down by the Government, but the matter simply will not go away because there is no reason why our Parliament should be treated worse than the Parliaments of other western democracies. If the Home Secretary really wants MI5 to stop being involved in political controversy, and feels that it is about time that political pressure was removed from the Security Service, he should recognise that there is a need for parliamentary scrutiny. If amendment No. 73 is not accepted today, sooner or later the matter will return to the House. Inevitably there will be some scandal and we shall repeat the arguments that we have used tonight. Finally, will the Home Secretary explain to the House why it is all right for the United States, Canada and Australia to have parliamentary oversight, but it is not right for Britain?