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Mr. Robert Boscawen (Somerton and Frome) : I am increasingly worried by the lack of reality in the debate. The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) rightly said that the necessity for the Security Service is clear. He said that that goes without saying, and I agree. However, we do not agree that it is an effective service. Having an effective Security Service may be one of the ugly sides of protecting a democracy, but if we are to have it at all, it must be effective and it must be privy to certain sensitive information. The tenor of the debate on new clause 5 has been to open up that information.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), who always speaks with great honesty and clarity, said that we want to know what the Security Service is up to ; but if we know that, it can no longer protect our interests. Secrecy is basic to this debate. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said that a Select Committee of 12 members could always be depended upon to maintain secrecy, and that it would not know about operational matters.
Mr. Buchan : Is it not peculiar that Britain, with the most carefully controlled secrecy, has been the country most open to so-called enemies, whereas America, which has openly scrutinised its secrecy, has been relatively free of the problem? It has had no Burgess, Philby or Maclean, so the argument does not work.
Mr. Boscawen : I could not say that there was less violence or criminal activity in the United States than there has been in this country, or that there has been less military spying there. I could not verify that or back my answer with facts. There has been a great deal of these activities in the United States, and in all the western democracies.
Column 82since 1945 and stopped counting at 94. By contrast, there has been a mere handful of convictions under section 1 of the Official Secrets Act.
Mr. Boscawen : To return to my original point, certain sensitive secrets in this country are protected by our security service. If those secrets are made available to a wider selection of people--in this House, or among the so-called great and good suggested by some of my hon. Friends- -they will be more at risk. Such people may have excellent records of service to the House, but they are subject to electoral pressures and to the pressures of the talking shop in which they live, so the secrets will be at risk. We should not allow that to happen. It is a grave mistake on the part of those who want to protect democracy to believe that they can do so by widening the circle in which these secrets are known. If more people know the secrets, they become less secret--
Mr. Winnick : I do not criticise the hon. Gentleman for not having read the Australian debate--he can hardly read every debate in Parliaments abroad--but if he takes the time on some occasion to read the debate of 22 May 1986 in Australia he will find that when the Attorney-General argued in favour of the establishment of a parliamentary committee, which duly happened, he pointed out that "it will not be a function of the Committee to review operationally sensitive matters".
So there is no question of secrets being discussed by the committee.
Mr. Boscawen : Several times in the debate I have heard the argument that such a committee would discuss only the broad principles on which the security services operate--but that does not happen in practice. The security services spend what is perhaps a large amount of money on protecting certain sensitive secrets--for example, a previous Labour Government sought to protect the secret that they were spending enormous sums on developing the atomic bomb and the H bomb. They did not tell the House, and the Security Service existed to ensure that that information, rightly or wrongly, was kept from the House.
A Select Committee could not confine its scrutiny to the broad principles that guide the security services. It will know what is going on ; it will ask what large sums of money are being spent on. It will ask, for instance, why the security services are protecting knowledge about development of the H bomb. Members in the House, or the great and good outside it, who are not directly responsible to the Government, will have to keep these secrets. The risks of their being divulged inadvertently--not deliberately of course --will be a great deal higher than if these people did not know them.
Mr. Bermingham : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that anyone who becomes a Member of this House may one day become a Secretary of State, or even a Prime Minister--or, more particularly, a Home Secretary? When he does, he will become privy to these secrets. Will he be the subject of some special metamorphosis on becoming a Minister which makes him trustable with secrets of state--a
Column 83metamorphosis that does not happen to other Members of Parliament, such as ex-Ministers, who would undoubtedly be members of the Select Committee?
Mr. Boscawen : I believe a metamorphosis does come over people when they are appointed to carry the burdens of the great offices of state. They know that they will have to keep these secrets to themselves, not share them among the 12 or more suggested members of the Select Committee. Acceptance of the new clause would substantially increase the risk of information being divulged. Let us assume that the members of the Select Committee are disquieted by what is reported to them about some activity of the security services. I do not believe that they would ever discover illegal activity, but if they thought the services were hiding a Government policy that should not be hidden, for instance, how could they let the rest of the House and the country know? They would still be behind the barrier of secrecy ; they could not emerge from behind it and explain that the Government were developing a nuclear bomb--as they were in the late 1940s-- because they would be bound to secrecy. I can see no advantage to members of the Labour party if the Select Committee were told that the security services were investigating the National Council for Civil Liberties because they had been informed that the council had been unknowingly penetrated by the IRA, and would have to be investigated. I suggest that the members of the Select Committee would be in an impossible position. When it came down to the practicalities, I do not think that the Select Committee could do other than go directly to the Home Secretary or the Prime Minister and say, "What is this about?" We seem to be living in a fool's world.
New clause 5 would set at risk some of the most sensitive information that we need to keep secret in order to protect our democracy. The members of the Select Committee could not make much use of information if they were bound to silence in the way that members of the Security Service, the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister are bound.
Mr. Banks : This is the first time that I have had the pleasure of hearing him speak since he left the Whips' Office. I apologise to the hon. Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind) for my rather unseemly rummaging on the Bench in front of me while he was speaking. It was no impoliteness on my part. Unfortunately, one of my teeth came out and I found it necessary to recover it fairly speedily. I hope that during my short speech nothing of greater anatomical significance falls off and plops down on the Bench in front of me.
The hon. Member for Somerset and Frome misunderstands how we view the question of parliamentary scrutiny of the security services. The Opposition fervently believe, as do some Conservative Members--as the hon. Gentleman has heard--that accountability is all, is of the essence. Accountability is what this place should be all about and no force in a democracy should be unaccountable. We are talking not just about notional accountability to a Home Secretary, but about account-ability in the broadest, most secure and most efficient sense of the word. It is because we do not believe that there is such accountability within the security services that we have tabled amendments. I support our amendments, and in particular new clause 5.
The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome asked how on earth a Committee that is holding the security services to account could operate efficiently without getting involved in the day-to-day operational duties of the security services. That is not what is required. One can draw some broad parallels with police committees outside the Greater London area. A police committee looks at the overall objective of the police force in its area, but does not attempt to interfere in the day-to-day running of that force. That is the responsibility of the chief constable, and constitutionally everyone understands that position and respects it. Comparisons can also be made elsewhere in areas of broadly similar activity. There is obsessive secrecy in Britain, and an obsession with secrecy is a cancer which, if allowed to develop, destroys democratic society. When we argue for accountability, it is not because we want to get all the secrets that we can and post them off to Moscow, but because we believe that if the security services are to operate within and outside Britain--and we think that such services are necessary--they should be accountable to Parliament and the people in the way that any other force or sector of our democracy is accountable.
I spoke about an obsession with secrecy, and I shall give a small example. On the way into the Members' Cloakroom this evening, I saw on the table a Tory Whip marked "Secret". As I am not a gentleman, I read it just in case there was something there that could have been put to good use. Regrettably, there was nothing like that. There was nothing secret in the Tory Whip. Whips are readily available and Members tend to discuss the business on them.
However, the Whip is marked "Secret". You will know, Mr. Hogg, from your previous incarnation as a Deputy Chief Whip, that the Labour Whip is marked "Confidential". I do not see why our business should be considered confidential while Conservative business should be looked upon as secret. Many people, of whom I am one, believe we live in the most closed society in the whole of western Europe.
Mr. Bermingham : Does my hon. Friend agree that the word "secret" seems to have some special meaning for Conservative Members? Would he not further agree, having heard the speech by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Boscawen)--
Mr. Bermingham : I apologise, Mr. Hogg. I do not understand that part of the country. It is south of the Wash. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome conceded to me that a metamorphosis seems to occur when someone becomes Secretary of State or Prime Minister. Perhaps there is a reverse metamorphosis when one loses office. Some former Home Secretaries and some former Prime Ministers are still Members of the House. Can my hon. Friend give his attention to that, because it is worrying me greatly? I do not know how this great gift descends ; perhaps it is from heaven.
Mr. Banks : I think perhaps the source is someone close rather than celestial. I have just spoken to my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) who tells me that, as a former Home Secretary and Privy Councillor, he is bound by the Privy Council oath. We have heard that oath explained. What I admire most about my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South is that on more than one occasion he has told the House that he was wrong in some of the things that he did when he was Home Secretary. I cannot remember all of them because the list is perhaps too long. He had the honesty and integrity to say that, which is refreshing, because most politicians seem to believe that it is a sign of great weakness to admit that decisions that they had taken in the past were wrong. Such an admission by my right hon. Friend is a sign of great strength. We can learn from the strength that allows right hon. Members to say, "I made a mistake when I was in Government." I certainly respect that approach.
The hon. Member for Lancashire, West, who is unfortunately no longer in the Chamber, spoke about the Opposition's obsession with secrecy. He said that it was paranoia and had no basis in fact or reality. We come back to the allegations made by Peter Wright in his incredibly turgid and overpriced book. Peter Wright owes the Prime Minister an enormous debt of gratitude, because she boosted sales of that boring book. It would have gone the way of many other books, and would have remained with W. H. Smith if the Prime Minister had not stepped in and insisted that this man be pursued around the courts of the world at great expense to the taxpayer. That was unnecessary. It did not do us any good and it made the Government look fairly stupid.
The one thing that emerged time and again was the accusation that during the 1970s systematic attempts were made to undermine--or there were discussions by various people in MI5 about undermining--Harold Wilson's democratically elected Government. Those accusations have been made too often, by too many people, in too high places of authority and with too much knowledge for us to disregard them. The hon. Member for Lancashire, West said that we were being paranoid, and that in any case these matters were investigated by Jim Callaghan when he was Prime Minister, and he found nothing untoward. I understand from my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South that he, as Home Secretary, and Jim Callaghan investigated the issues subsequently raised by Peter Wright and others. I do not know how many more times hon. Members want to hear someone who was there at the time giving an authentic account of what happened before they start to believe that, far from being paranoid,
Column 86we are concerned with the fact that a democratically elected Government could have been undermined by the illegal activities of MI5.
Mr. Allason : Has the hon. Gentleman read the book by David Leigh called "The Wilson Plot", which is the most detailed analysis of all the allegations that have been made about the undermining of the Wilson Government? When one examines it in detail, it turns out that all the allegations are that a defector identified John Stonehouse as having been a probable source, that Lord Kagan was investigated because he was playing chess regularly with a suspected KGB officer and that an individual who was to be recommended for high Government office by the then Prime Minister had been denounced as having been a member of the Communist party and a possible KGB recruiter. When David Leigh examined all these allegations, they turned out to be true, but that cannot be described as undermining the Wilson Government. Surely the job of the security services is to investigate allegations, and that is what happened.
Mr. Banks : The point at issue is that it was the undermining of Harold Wilson, and, as he happened to be Prime Minister, the undermining of a democratic Government was linked. I do not believe that Mr. Leigh had access to the sort of information that my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South, a former Labour Home Secretary, has had access to. If he tells me that there are grounds for a parliamentary inquiry into the various allegations that have subsequently been made, I am convinced that we need to have an inquiry. Let us get it out.
If the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) is correct, and if it turns out that we are overly concerned, then such an inquiry will reveal it, and we shall have more confidence. Conservative Members do not seem to want to allow us to have our confidence in the security services restored. At the moment, it is at an all-time low. Many of us may not have had a high regard for them in the past, but now we have none at all. We are asking only for an inquiry into various allegations, and it seems strange that Conservative Members are not prepared to accede to that request. I am sure that if we were talking about a Conservative Prime Minister and a Conservative Government, Tory Members would be making the demand that we are making now. I only hope that their demands would have received a more ready acceptance than we have received.
Mr. Rees : I agree with my hon. Friend. The plain fact is that the inquiry did not include what came out later in the Wright book, whether it was right or wrong. There is more than that in what has happened in the past year or so. I have here some photostats of documents. One of them was printed in 1972, before there was a Labour Government, and deals with Northern Ireland. At that time, I was the shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The document is "Published by Merlyn Rees, Stan Orme, David Owen and Paul Rose." This is an interesting document, although whoever wrote it was a political nincompoop. It is all about the Ulster Defence Association, the assassination of civilians, the Long Kesh concentration camp and why Britain cancelled local elections under the Heath Government. I wonder who published this. It was sent to me through the post. I
Column 87had nothing to do with it. I read economics at university after the war, and if I had written this thing and handed it in, I would not have got a CSE in anything.
Another interesting document is entitled :
"The Labour Movement. Economics : Master or Servant of Mankind". It claims to be by
"Denis Healey, Tony Benn and Stan Orme".
My right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme) gets into it all. Somebody wrote these documents. It has been suggested to me that it was part of a move in the early 1970s to denigrate the Opposition as well as the Government of the day, for reasons that I will not go into now. There is need to inquire into books such as these.
Mr. Banks : My right hon. Friend underlines yet again the need for accountability. More and more, as I listen to these debates, I believe that MI5 has a dirty tricks department and those who run it allow their political priorities to determine their actions. That means that they will always be looking at Labour Members and, increasingly, Conservative Members. They are allowed to set the priorities for their activities. They are allowed to intervene with their interpretation of the world as a way to influence and determine what they do.
That is unacceptable in a democracy. MI5 and MI6 are supposed to protect the national interest. They are supposed to be protecting our security, not indulging in dirty tricks against eminent Labour politicians. How anybody could believe that my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South is a dangerous subversive, I do not know. When I was not a Member of Parliament, I remember coming to see my right hon. Friend, when he was Home Secretary, about section 2 of the Official Secrets Act. I have always wanted to tell my right hon. Friend that I came away disappointed with his response and thinking, "Another typical old Right-wing Labourite Home Secretary." That is what he was, but, in the years since, he has done a great deal to atone for those sins. Now, I am one of his staunchest admirers.
One of the problems that Conservative Members have is that they do not trust Labour Members because they see us as attempting to undermine their system, and in that they are absolutely correct.
Mr. Banks : Perish the thought no doubt they would quickly move to have parliamentary scrutiny of the secret services. They would then declare that Parliament had become non-political. I have always noticed, Mr. Hogg-- my God, you look ill. I am sorry, it is not Mr. Hogg.
Column 88Members they might trust us, the Minister clearly said, "It soon will." Perhaps we are heading towards a dictatorship, and that is all that the Government will accept.
Mr. Banks : I apologise to you, Mr. Rhodes James. I did not realise that you had slipped into the Chair in place of Mr. Hogg. It came as a bit of a shock to me. My teeth are dropping out and my eyes are going as well. I hope that you will understand.
There is a lack of understanding and an intolerance in Government. We are not prepared to allow the Home Secretary to be our point of accountability to the House because he will see the national interest as being essentially the Government's interest, and that means the Conservative party's interest. It would be a strange Home Secretary who could disaggregate national interest from the party's interest and, in many ways, no Home Secretary could be required to do so. When we have a larger forum in which to hold the security services accountable, those interests will tend to cancel each other out. We have no great complaint about confidentiality with regard to Select Committees. Perhaps some of the matters on which they deliberate are not as crucial as the security of the nation, but they often touch on areas of high political controversy where an element of national security is involved. Apart from the occasional leak, the system works efficiently. All Members of Parliament know their duty, but we will not be told that a group of people who have a view of politics that is not subject to any form of accountability or scrutiny in a meaningful sense--the security services--can decide what they will do and how they will do it and may place themselves above the law.
The Bill makes previous acts of illegality legal. In many ways, it is a piece of retrospective legislation. It is scandalous that we have tolerated for so long the possibility of people operating outside the law which is supposed to control and govern us all and on which our democracy is supposed to be established. I cannot accept that the Home Secretary is an adequate source of accountability to the House in respect of the security forces.
We heard a great deal earlier about comparisons with the United States. I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) that, although I have been a stern critic of the policies of the United States Government, particularly in respect of central America, I have a great admiration for the openness of that government system because it is a democracy that is confident in itself. It is prepared to have those nasty skeletons in the cupboard pulled out from time to time for all to see. When people see that, the system moves on to a stronger level of accountability and becomes a better democracy. There are many faults in the United States system. I would make mainly economic complaints from a Socialist standpoint, but we can learn much about Government accountability from the United States model. I should be happy to attain its level of accountability because it would be leagues in advance of anything that we have now or are likely to have as a result of the Government's proposals.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) said, we can support new clause 5. We support the idea of a Committee consisting of
"10 Members of Parliament representing each party having at least 12 members in the House of Commons and
Column 89these Members of the Committee shall be appointed by the Prime Minister after consultation with the Leader of each party". I accept that because it is the main thing on offer, but I can see some weaknesses and inadequacies. I should like to think that, if the amendment were carried, the Prime Minister would not be able merely to overrule the Leader of the Opposition and to say, "I have consulted, but I have decided to reject the names that you have put forward." We all know the Prime Minister's attitude towards appointments ; she applies the dictum, "Is he one of us?" If he is, that person is appointed. We can see all sorts of dangers in the growing accretion of prime ministerial patronage as this Prime Minister, who at one time made great play of devolving power and of taking the apparatus of the state away from its interfering role, particularly in local government, has given more power to the centre and taken more power for herself. In many ways, I consider her to be the greatest threat to democracy in this country.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walton said that it would be better if we allowed the House to decide who would be the 10 members of the Committee. That would be an improvement on the amendment of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), but I must disappoint my hon. Friend and say that I doubt whether he or I would be elected under that system. We have been trying for a long time to have ourselves elected to the committee of the parliamentary Labour party, the shadow Cabinet, and have not yet succeeded, so our chances in a wider forum to become part of the committee responsible for overseeing the security services would be doomed to failure. However, as good democrats, we are prepared to keep on trying.
I would have far more confidence in a Committee made up of Members of this House and elected by the House because I would feel more certain that they would look after the interests of our parliamentary democracy. That is what it is all about. Our case is based on an argument in which we believe. We believe passionately in parliamentary democracy and that anything that strengthens parliamentary democracy, through greater accountability, must be for the betterment of this place and of society. That is why we support the amendments. The Bill is testament to the fact that no one considers the system to be satisfactory. Although the Government's proposal is a minor improvement, it is not acceptable to us. That is why we have tabled the amendments.
Some Conservatives Members, including the hon. Member for Somerton amd Frome, said that they did not believe us when we said that we accepted the need for the security services. We accept that need, but, equally, we do not accept that those security services should set their own policies or that they should decide who is an enemy of the state or which foreign country or home politician should be destabilised. That is not their right. That should not be tolerated in a democratic society. I cannot accept that, merely because we cannot guarantee that we will be 100 per cent. successful if we have accountability through a Committee of the House, we should accept no accountability at all. I should prefer something that was almost perfect rather than something that did not even make the effort. We cannot accept the idea that the security services should be a law unto themselves, acting illegally. The
Column 90Government now also accept that position and we welcome their late conversion to our cause, but, equally, we do not believe that the Bill goes far enough. We do not want to see the security services becoming nothing more than an extension of the Tory party because they are accountable to a Conservative Home Secretary. We do not believe that effective accountability is exercised through the Home Secretary. The Home Secretary has only to come to the Dispatch Box and say, "In the interests of national security I do not believe that I should disclose that information." We do not have proper accountability at present. We have tabled the amendments because, through them, we believe that the House will have the accountability that it deserves and that will greatly strengthen our democracy.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : The first question that the House must ask is why the Government have introduced the Bill. It seems overwhelmingly clear that they have done so because they feel that society lacks confidence in the Security Service. That is the prime reason for the Bill. I know that one or two of my hon. Friends have suggested that the Government want to have a better defence at the European Court and that there is a wish also to have more effective control over the security services generally, but I adhere to the view that the Government realise that the public have lost confidence in the Security Service. They believe that the Bill will restore some of that confidence, but only a much stronger Bill will do that. If they fail to introduce such a measure, they will only fuel demands for further legislation and greater scrutiny by the House. It would be far better if at this early stage the Government were to go for an effective system of scrutiny instead of having a continuing debate for the next two or three years that in many ways will further undermine the public's confidence in the security services. It seems that the Government have set out to minimise debate rather than to maximise it. That will fail to restore the public's confidence in the security services. Not one Government amendment has been tabled.
If I am right in assuming that the Government will resist most if not all of the Opposition's amendments, the Bill will not be considered on Report. It is a constitutional matter and the House has been allowed to debate it on the Floor of the House in Committee, but it seems that the Goverment are trying to eliminate consideration on Report. I hope that the other place will take note of the way in which the Bill proceeds through this place, take the time to scrutinise it effectively and ensure that it returns to this place with amendments so that we shall have the opportunity further to examine it. I regret that the Government have not been prepared to table their own amendments, and I shall be surprised if an eight-page Bill proves to be perfect. Have no drafting errors come to light? It has been argued strongly by some Conservative Members that the Home Secretary is not the appropriate Minister to issue warrants for the undertaking of what otherwise would be illegal activities such as bugging, telephone tapping and burglary. I have strong sympathy with that argument. With the Home Secretary's long list of
responsibilities, he does not have the time fully to examine all the possible occasions on which a warrant might be needed. He is often presented with a clash of interests. Being responsible for so many Government functions, there is often strong public pressure upon him to achieve results. If an outrage occurs, the pressure on the
Column 91Government to arrive at a solution is considerable. If at the same time the Home Secretary has a warrant placed in front of him that seeks his permission for some illegal activity to go ahead, it is only human nature that he will be inclined to grant it, especially if at the back of his mind there is the possibility that someone in the security forces will leak to a journalist that he, the Home Secretary, is not over-sympathetic to a certain warrant coming forward for approval. There is considerable pressure on any individual who has a political role in governing the country and who has also to decide whether someone's civil rights should be revoked.
There is another problem for the Home Secretary in separating reasonable political intelligence from intelli-gence on illegal activities. Some of my hon. Friends have become extremely upset at the suggestion that there has been any bugging of organisations such as CND or other interference with them. Perhaps some of my hon. Friends are somewhat naive. In most protest groups there are those who want to pursue their process by legal democratic means, but there are sometimes smaller groups who feel equally strongly about the same issues but believe that they should be pursued peacefully through passive forms of resistance. There is, for example, the relationship between CND and the Committee of 100. In many instances there is a third and smaller group which believes that its cause is so correct that it is permissible to engage in violent forms of protest to pursue its ends.
Mr. Tony Banks : There is another category that might be included in any one of the groups that my hon. Friend has listed. I refer to the agent provocateur who is put into an organisation to try to discredit it.
Mr. Bennett : I accept that. What I have said goes beyond CND and other such organisations and embraces groups that are concerned with the rights of animals. It seems reasonable and legitimate for a security service and for the police to be concerned with those who are at the far end of the spectrum who involve themselves in violence and breaking the law generally. Equally, the security services are not entitled to be involved with those whose activities remain within the law.
When a member of the security forces asks for a warrant to enable an illegal activity to be carried out, it must be extremely difficult to know whether the person whose telephone is to be tapped or whose home is to be burgled has been involved in illegal activity. If illegal activity is authorised by the Home Secretary, he must know the results of that authorisation. If he is told that he has unearthed a crime as a result of the illegal activity that he has authorised, the officer's action in seeking the warrant will have been justified. If no crime is discovered as a result of the illegal activity, considerable political intelligence might well be gathered concerning those who are behaving legitimately and democratically. That places someone such as the Home Secretary in an extremely difficult position. He is likely to be able to gather information as a result of actions that the security forces should not have taken that will be of great importance politically. I do not see how a Home Secretary can separate his judicial role in deciding whether telephone taps, burglaries and other such actions should be committed from his political role. It would be far better to place the
Column 92duty in the hands of someone else who is not in a position to use any political intelligence that results from a misuse of the power to carry out investigations.
Is the Security Service cost effective? It is extremely difficult to judge whether we would be better to put the money into open government, for example, rather than to try to maintain great secrecy when there is no need to do so since the service is cloaked in total secrecy.
Many of my hon. Friends seem to assume that telephone tapping is widespread. That assumption is one that the Government would like to encourage. It encourages some who are involved in legitimate trade union activities to assume that their telephone is being tapped. Having arrived at that assumption, they go to considerable lengths not to make telephone calls but to pass on information in other ways. They are involved in protest, not illegal activities, but they assume that their protest activities will be reported back to the Government. Many of them would not wish such information to be reported back to the Government at a certain time. It would be amazing if anyone involved in illegal or subversive activities regularly transmitted information over the telephone. It would be far better if we knew clearly how many warrants were being issued. That would eradicate many myths and rumours.
Is this amendment absolutely necessary? As I understand it, the Select Committee on Home Affairs is entitled to ask questions about these matters. According to "Erskine May," it is clear that the Select Committee on Home Affairs is entitled to investigate any activities of the Home Office which are paid for from public funds. It seems that there is absolutely nothing in the Standing Orders to prevent the Home Affairs Select Committee investigating secrecy matters.
Since the departmental Select Committees were set up in 1979, the Home Affairs Select Committee has on one or two occasions hedged around the question whether it should investigate security issues. On almost every occasion, by using their Whips and their majority on the Committee, the Government have made it clear that it would be a waste of time for the Committee to investigate these matters because Ministers were not prepared to answer any questions and the inquiry would not make much progress,. Therefore, Members are encouraged to consider other areas for investigation.
We should not need to pass this amendment now. Instead, the members of the Select Committee should make up their minds whether they want to carry out their scrutinising role. If they were prepared to act, as some people hoped that the Select Committees would when they were established in 1979, the Committee members would be demanding that Ministers answer questions about the security services. No doubt Ministers would come to the Committee and say that they could not answer, just as they come to the Chamber and refuse to answer such questions. I suspect that a Select Committee has the power to take on the Government with a sustained and challenging assault to demand papers and information.
Mr. Buchan : I hate to destroy such optimism, but I believe that my hon. Friend is being rather sanguine. We have already experienced the way in which Select Committees can question Ministers in the case of the Select Committee on Defence and the Westland affair. Instructions were given to Ministers that no answers were to be given. On five pages of that report, a Committee
Column 93member put questions to the former right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan) who would not answer them. Unless we change the nature of Select Committees so that there are occasions on which the Committee, perhaps with the imprimatur of the House, can put Ministers and civil servants under oath, I cannot see a substitute for the kind of Committee suggested in the amendment.
Mr. Bennett : My hon. Friend highlights the fact that our Select Committees are not working particularly well at the moment. That is not because they do not have the powers. If the House was to assert that it wanted the Select Committees to carry out their inquisitive roles, they could. Not only did the Select Committee back down over Westland, the House backed down as well. Part of the problem lies in the Government's majority. To a certain extent, in the amendment we have built in the Prime Minister's veto over appointments and there is still the problem with the Government majority.
It is most important that the House has the confidence to demand that the Executive is accountable. Although I will support this group of amendments together with the slightly weaker amendments of Conservative Members, at the end of the day the House must have the confidence to assert its right to control the Executive.
Until it does that, the situation in this and many other areas will continue to be unsatisfactory.
The strongest and stoutest defence of the Government's response to public concern about the security services was made by the hon. Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind). His thesis was that, as a whole, the package, proposed by the Home Secretary is radical. He said that for the first time the Bill puts the security services on a statutory footing and warrants will have to be sought from High Court judges. He explained that there will be a tribunal with a right of appeal for members of our security services and that there will be a report from the commissioner. He said that the apex of the whole system is supervision by the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister. That all adds up to a fairly plausible case.
However, the problem is where, if anywhere, Parliament enters that grand structure. It is clear that when faced with substantial public concern about the role of the security services, the Home Secretary has not responded by trying to find a role for Parliament and the elected representatives of the country. Instead, he has responded with a bureaucratic solution which bypasses the role of Parliament and effectively gives no role to Parliament in our democracy in the oversight of our security services. Effectively, the Home Secretary is not saying, "How can I look at the problem through democratic spectacles and see how I can build in some oversight and accountability of the security services with all the proper safeguards?" His response has been, "I must give something. What is the least I can get away with?" The Bill is his response. It represents the divide between the two sides of the House and between the parliamentarians and
Column 94authoritarians in Parliament. There are clearly good
parliamentarians on both sides of the Chamber as we have seen from the speeches today.
During this interesting debate we have addressed one of the key problems of democracy, which is who guards the guards--Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? I agree that "guards", however defined, are necessary in our democracy. However, those "guards", with statutory powers, in the security services pose a potential danger. There are indeed substantial dangers from forces seeking to subvert our democracy and we are never sure from which quarter those threats will come. I recall being lectured as a very young diplomat by a very senior diplomat. He told me in a very avuncular way, "When you go abroad, young man, you will never know who the chief Soviet agent will be in the post to which you are assigned. In my first post the chief Soviet agent was my head of chancery, Donald Maclean." That caused a certain response from a young diplomat.
Let us accept that there is a need for secrecy. Clearly the right-to-know principle is relevant. However, should certain parliamentarians who have the confidence of this House be brought within the veil, taken to the other side of the curtain to perform a proper role within our democracy? During my time in the public services, I had to deal with a number of members of the security services. I can generalise about them. Certainly they were patriotic, but it was unlikely that people would be attracted to the security services who were of a radical disposition or who would easily find themselves broadly on the Left of politics in this country. Indeed, for the most part they had their de formation professionelle. As the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) said on Second Reading, they would have a certain suspicion about the man reading the Daily Mirror on the Underground. They believed they were playing a role as centurions in our society against all the dark forces seeking to subvert our society. Perhaps a rather extreme example of that individual is Mr. Wright. Unfortunately, as a result of his role in "Spycatcher," he is deemed by some people to be a democrat. He was the most nasty, authoritarian Fascist imaginable. Any organisation that allows such a man, with his known views and weaknesses, to be recruited certainly needs a degree of accountability.
Mr. Anderson : That is precisely my point. In so far as there is deformation by those in the security services who believe that they are being patriotic, they believe that the threat to our democracy comes from the Left. They have a world view that identifies generally with the Right.
I accept that many problems surround the question of security in our democracy. There are the problems of pursuing policies, which have been set out by authors from de Tocqueville onwards, and how, in a democracy, one exerts any control over foreign relations or whether one leaves everything to the Executive. The United States, with all its problems, has solved the problem reasonably satisfactorily, as have Canada and Australia. They have in different ways sought to address themselves to the problems of scrutiny in a democracy and oversight of their
Column 95security services. They have arrived at a form of oversight, however imperfect, so why do our country and Government feel that they must stand outside other democracies, which not only perceive the need for control but have done something about it?
Why is it that the Home Secretary, with his excellent democratic credentials, is prepared to wear the bureaucratic garb that comes with the present proposed solution? The existing accountability and oversight is inadequate. I shall listen to arguments about the precise form of parliamentary participation, whether it be individual parliamentarians who, along with other outsiders, are taken within the veil, or a Select Committee. There should be a role for Parliament, or at least for some right hon. and hon. Members. I am not wholly persuaded by the amendment in the names of my right hon. Friend the Member of Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) and my hon. Friends which proposes that the Prime Minister should have a veto over the selection of members of the Select Committee. That would be wrong. However, I shall listen to arguments about how one should choose the Committee's membership. I am not persuaded that all members should be Privy Councillors. The right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) said that anyone appointed to the Committee who is not already a Privy Councillor should be made one, and therefore be subject to all a Privy Councillor's
responsibilities. I believe that those appointed to the Committee should submit themselves to positive vetting. It would be absurd to go so far as to suggest that they should undergo a polygraph test ; that would be wholy intolerable. However, Committee members should at least be subject to positive vetting, which would help overcome problems that might otherwise arise.
My view of the size of the Committee is the fewer the better. The "need to know" principle is valid, and if the Committee has a small number of members there will be less likelihood of leaks. When the hon. Member for Lancashire, West defended the Government, he did not mention the precedent set by the Falklands committee, when a distinguished parliamentarian such as my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), who served on it, was taken within the veil of secrecy. That gave a credibility to the inquiry's conclusions that they might otherwise not have enjoyed. That is not a bad precedent for involving Parliament in some way.
I also listen carefully to arguments about whether there should be a small Committee comprising only right hon. and hon. Members of this House, or whether Members of another place should be included. A number of distinguished former Members of this House now sit in another place, and I see no reason in principle why they should not be invited to join a form of small joint committee. I hope that the Home Secretary will accept the valid points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South concerning continuity. It is one that can be addressed, whether or not the Home Secretary meets the arguments we are deploying about parliamentary accountability or a parliamentary component.
The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) suggested that no form of parliamentary component is appropriate--as if there were no right hon. or hon. Members suitable to carry out such functions democratically and on behalf of the House as a whole. I do not accept his argument that, because of the partisan