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Column 96nature of our politics, such a Committee will necessarily be polarised and that its members will feel bound to reveal-- although he did not go as far as to say this--information they learnt and to play the party game. That has not been the case in the US committee, nor was it the case in the Falklands committee. It will depend on the personnel. There are individuals who enjoy the confidence of their colleagues in the House, who clearly understand the need for national security, and who in no wise can be deemed likely to breach security during their service to the Committee.
The Government's response shows a lack of confidence in Parliament. If we are to have textured democracy that really works, we must have a series of intermediary bodies between the Executive and the citizen. Over a whole range of issues--the trade unions, the media in some cases, and certainly local government--the Government, sad to say, have sought to neuter intermediary bodies. The most important among them is Parliament itself. By giving Parliament a role in security, the Government could show a confidence in Parliament that has been regrettably lacking in other areas. The Government have betrayed a negative view of Parliament and of parliamentary sovereignty. Does anyone seriously believe that this Government package is likely to last? My view is that it will have a relatively short life, not because of any lack of confidence in the present Home Secretary but because he is, by definition, overburdened with a vast range of responsibilities. I say with respect that any Home Secretary, because of the nature of his work, is likely to become rather remote and be drawn into the bureaucracy of the great and the good--the kind of people who serve on the Security Commission. It is a serious point, and I hope that the Home Secretary will address himself to it. When one chooses for the Security Commission former diplomats and former judges, all of whom are no doubt patriotic, one should also look at what the French call the formation--the personal development and background of those individuals. They may not have their beginnings in a gilded background, but they develop a certain bureaucratic feeling. They become, almost necessarily, out of touch with how ordinary folk feel about issues of this nature. Part of the argument for parliamentary democracy is that we are indeed kept in touch with how ordinary folk think, move and have their being, and are able to make an input which is valuable in itself and which, almost by definition, is impossible from the great and the good--the judges who have been robed and cloistered over their career development or the diplomats who have spent a substantial part of their careers--perhaps two thirds--outside Britain and out of contact with ordinary folk in this country.
If the Government really wish to address the matter democratically and to gain the confidence of the public, they will not do so by avoiding a parliamentary component in the accountability of the security services. I am not arguing for a bureaucratic solution or for one that is the least that I can get away with at present. I urge the Government to reconsider their response. Parliament and the public will not for long be content with the plea from the Home Secretary, "Trust in me, and trust in my successors."
Column 97sad that my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) does not entirely agree with new clause 5, for reasons that I shall return to in a moment.
The Home Secretary said a short time ago that someone with a safe Labour seat would become cocooned from life. Little does he know. The Minister of State--who earlier made the faux pas that he would only be happy when there were 650 Conservative Members of Parliament, showing his usual simultaneous combination of arrogance and ignorance--was heard to comment, "Of course, he is a barrister as well." Apparently, if someone has a Labour seat and is a barrister as well--I must declare an interest as I am both--he is cocooned and rendered utterly unsafe to others. What rubbish. That shows the conceit and arrogance of the Government once again.
Let us not mince words. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Boscawen) was kind enough to let me intervene in his speech. I said, "Everyone comes to the House as an ordinary Member. None of us comes here with anything special, magical or mythical about us ; we are ordinary men and women elected by the British public." Some rise to great things, becoming Speaker of the House or a Minister of the Crown. A few rise to become Secretaries of State ; the odd one or two rise to be Prime Ministers. Of course there are those who rise to become Whips, but I have nothing to say about them--nothing good, that is.
I asked the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome whether, when an hon. Member became Home Secretary, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland or Prime Minister--to be fair, I did not mention the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland then, but I mentioned the other two posts--a metamorphosis took over, and he became something even greater, not just an ordinary human being who was a Member of Parliament. Yes, he said, such a metamorphosis did take over.
The following question then crossed my mind. When a Home Secretary ceases to be Home Secretary, as surely the current Home Secretary one day will-- through disagreement with the Prime Minister, through age or through some other misfortune such as getting it wrong--can the metamorphosis reverse? Does that person cease to be someone who can be trusted with secrets of state?
If that is the Government's attitude, it is arrogant and conceited. There are many right hon. Members on both sides of the House who have held high office and whose integrity is without question--who certainly kept secrets of state in their years of office, and who certainly in retirement would never dream of breaching the Official Secrets Act.
Many Members of Parliament have, through being in one occupation or another previously, signed the Official Secrets Act. When they were made Members of Parliament, they all took an oath of loyalty to the Crown. Some of us have had to take more than one such oath. Those of us who were not born with an English passport took one when we were naturalised. Those of us who have practised as solicitors, as I did years ago, took an oath when we were admitted, as did those of us who were called to the Bar. The secrets that lawyers carry to the grave--
Column 98because that is the rule--are secrets at least as grave and great as many of the minor secrets that the secret service seeks so jealously to guard.
What of the doctor and his oath of secrecy and loyalty to his patients? What of the clergyman and his oath on confessions or the lawyer and his oath of loyalty to the Crown? The Home Secretary may say that there is a lawyer preaching on behalf of his own game. My point is that in this land of ours there are many human beings who are utterly loyal to the Crown, and that within the House are a considerable number of people who have had to be keepers of others' secrets which could often have done great damage if they had got out. Is it to be said that those persons are not to be trusted, and that unless the metamorphosis has descended on an hon. Member and he has been Home Secretary pro tem--or Prime Minister pro tem, although in the current instance the time is getting rather long--he cannot be allowed to be privy to the actitivies of our most secret service? Is not the reality that most of the secrets of our secret service are known to everyone bar us--certainly to the Americans and to the Russians? Is it not a farce that, in the latter part of the 20th century, our secret service, still clad in the cloak of the 18th century and with the thinking of the 19th, is allowed to burrow and to tunnel?
I agree with what was said earlier about Mr. Wright's book. It is the greatest load of rubbish that I have read for years. It is boring and dull. I shall not repeat the comments about its being the British Government who became the supersalesmen and made Mr. Wright a fortune. Nevertheless, is it not right that we, the British people, should know the truth? If that sort of activity is going on, does it not need to be disciplined and curtailed? If it is not going on--and I have no way of knowing whether it is or not-- surely it is in the interests of the British secret service to have a committee of respectable or respected persons to whom they can report to show that the lies and slanders are not true. One must ask why the Government are frightened that anybody else should be involved.
Over the past ten years there has been a creeping erosion of freedom in one form or another. So as not to go outside the ambit of the new clause, I merely propose to give a few examples. There has been an attack on the right of silence and a curtailment of broadcasting freedom. It is lunacy. If German commentators want to ask a supporter of an idiotic cause about that cause, they can do so and it can be broadcast all over Europe and shortly it will come down out of the sky on satellite television. However, the BBC and ITV cannot be trusted. The great British public cannot be trusted to make up their own mind. The Government decided that juries could not be trusted, so the right to challenge was removed. The Government decided that juries should not be let loose on certain types of case, so they were removed.
Those are just examples of a disease. The Government fear that, if the public or the House have any say, that will somehow erode Government power. They do not want to let anyone else near the heart of our society. They do not want anyone to know the secrets. They want to huddle them away. They will have their guardians to protect the secret service and will not let anyone near it.
The Government's suggestion is circular. A will report to B who will report to C who will then report to A. It will go round and round but will never go outside the circle. I hope that when the Home Secretary speaks to the new clause he will confirm or deny--I put the question to him
Column 99--the report that appeared in the newspapers over Christmas. The report said that the Government intended to agree that the telephones of Members of Parliament should not be tapped. It suggested that the undertaking of old would be given again. I hope that it is. If it is not, that report was as illusory as the report stating on 30 December that police cells were open and that there were no more prisoners in them. On 31 December the prisoners were back, and they are still there. I hope that the protection of the rights of Members of Parliament will be reinstated tonight.
There are those who seek to subvert, and we must have real accountability. My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East talked about the threat from extremes. I like to think that all hon. Members are democrats ; we believe in democracy. We fear the threat from those who believe they are always right and extremists from both sides. My hon. Friend mentioned that, generally, the secret service seems to recruit from the Right because it fears that problems will come from the Left. During this century history has taught us that the threat comes from extremists on either the Left or Right. Both are enemies of democracy. If a service recruits from only one philosophical persuasion, there is the risk that anything standing in its way or anyone who does not believe in its philosophy will be seen as a danger to society. That is a load of nonsense. History has shown that extremism, be it Left or Right, arises when people think that power at any price is a worthwhile tactic.
The history of the 20th century shows that some people did not believe in democracy and thought that they had a divine right to rule and never made a mistake. They reached a point at which they were afraid of ideas that did not agree with theirs. They may genuinely have believed that they were always right. However, the doctrine of infallibility has no merit in history because we are all capable of making mistakes. I do not think that all Labour Governments have been right. Some of them have been horribly wrong on occasions. When the history of the 1980s is written, the Home Secretary and the Minister will look back at some of the decisions they have taken and find them to be wrong because events will have proved them to be so. That is human nature.
One of the decisions that will prove to be wrong is their decision to oppose new clause 5. It is not perfect, but it is a step in the right direction. It simply says that we believe that the body to whom the Security Service should be accountable is composed of men and women from this place who can be trusted. The Government do not seem to trust Parliament. That is a tragedy. I hope that the House will support new clause 5.
Mr. Cryer : I will not detain the Committee because many of the points that I wished to make have been made already. The Opposition have bent over backwards to accommodate the Government. No doubt, the Government will, as usual, kick them in the teeth at the vote. Their plea for allowing the House to be the judge and allowing Parliament to play a part in the process has been arrogantly brushed aside by the Government because they do not believe in democratic accountability or in Parliament. If Parliament had a part to play in democratic accountability, the Government would seek to burn the place down to get rid of it. Therefore, it is easier to ensure that it does very little.
Column 100The Government are attempting to bring about this cynical manoeuvre because of Peter Wright who bugged and burgled his way around London. He was able to influence the choice by a Prime Minister of the head of MI5, as he recounts in his book. I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) because I found Peter Wright's book fascinating. It is always fascinating to look behind the locked door of Whitehall and find out what is going on. Peter Wright's book has never been challenged on its authenticity. It has been challenged on its revelations and on the grounds of Peter Wright's lifelong oath of secrecy.
Now that the information that Right-wing extremist elements were operating in MI5 is out--and I shall come to other examples in a moment--the Government seek to legitimise that, and that is all they want to do. The notion that the amendments are likely to find favour is improbable.
I have always been in favour of open government and I resigned from the last Labour Government on two counts. The first was the Government's decision to close a worker co-operative with the loss of 500 jobs and they wanted me to do their dirty work for them, which I refused to do. Secondly, they were not carrying out party policy on open government. The then Prime Minister sent round a memorandum saying that we should not discuss or reveal the Cabinet system of government. Under that, 80 Cabinet committees make various decisions and are labelled by civil servants. All the labels are changed when a new Government come to office so that there can be no accountability outside or any lobbying, so the machinery of government remains isolated. I disagreed with that and showed my disagreement by resigning, so I am following a consistent line in saying that more open government is good for democracy.
Amendment No. 73 proposes scrutiny by a Select Committee. I do not want to go over the arguments about hon. Members being reasonable, decent people. When one steps through the portals of this place, one abandons certain radical attitudes because as soon as one is inside the House, one is part of the establishment.
Mr. Cryer : It is true. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North- West (Mr. Banks) may protest and cherish the illusion that he will lead the revolution at some stage, but, I am afraid, we are all tarred by the parliamentary brush to some extent.
There is, therefore, a fair range of potential candidates for the Select Committee. There is, after all, a Select Committee on Defence, and the Home Secretary knows full well that if the Government feel that somebody might be a bit radical for the Defence Committee, they get hold of the Opposition Whips and have a little chat through the usual channels. The usual channels say that they will get some safe people on to the Committee and will not have on the Committee people who might raise a few awkward questions.
I do not know what the Government are worried about. They can always fix things. They can almost always deal with the problem of an awkward customer who seems likely to become a member of the Select Committee. They cannot always do that, which is why they have some modest reservations about the system, but they usually
Column 101have a good chance of ensuring that the people who become members of Select Committees are pillars of the establishment.
Mr. Tony Banks : I realise that often, in the past, good red Socialist meat has been turned into bourgeois sausages as it has gone through this place, but surely my hon. Friend would not include in his strictures about selling out to the establishment his hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) or, I should have thought, himself. I do not want to shatter the view that I have of him as a principled Socialist.
Mr. Cryer : I am sure that, as a principled Socialist, my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West would not want to put words into my mouth that I never uttered. I never said anything about selling out to the establishment, but I said that the inevitable consequence of following the conventions of being elected to Parliament was, to some degree, to be touched by the establishment, because Parliament is, basically, an establishment institution. I agree that we should use the place to improve society and to produce a Socialist and fairer society. We must take a few leaves out of the Government's book and show as much determination for our people as the Prime Minister and her cronies have shown for their people. The House is open to change. However, there are 650 hon. Members who are all within the establishment framework to some extent and who could all be candidates for the Select Committee to scrutinise the mysterious area of Box 500, MI5 and all the rubbish and gubbins that goes with that. The truth is that our security activities need to be within a fairly narrow area. I am referring to activities such as those that would have prevented the terrible tragedy to the Pan Am aircraft over Lockerbie, for example. No one would dispute that, but I dispute the uncontrolled flights of fancy, the soaring into political and trade union areas by MI5, which are revealed in Peter Wright's book. When one realises that but for an argument over a parsimonious pension settlement that book would never have been published, one realises how narrow is the line between maintaining secrecy and allowing the complete picture to be produced. New clause 2 suggests a review committee of Privy Councillors and I would vote for it as a second best. However, I do not think that there should be any difference between one hon. Member and another. Privy Councillors are only people who sucked up to some Prime Minister in the past, long enough to get a job. The notion that they are transmogrified into superb beings who are more trustworthy than others is absolutely nonsensical.
The notion of different ranks in Parliament is demonstrated by the deep resentment that prevails among many ordinary Back Benchers when Privy Councillors are called early in debates and given preferential treatment. If any Privy Councillor said at a general election, "I am a Privy Councillor, I get called early so I deserve your votes", it would be nonsensical. That relatively trivial matter, which rankles with many hon. Members, applies also to membership of Select Committees. Every hon. Member should be equally eligible to serve on a Select Committee. The difficulty over Privy Councillors, with some distinguished exceptions, is that they tend to be more subservient to the establishment than are other hon.
Column 102Members. When Members of a Select Committee are chosen, I should prefer Privy Councillors to be ignored so that the proper scrutiny that is necessary can be achieved.
I support new clause 5. It makes accountability a little more democratic. Curious circumstances surround what MI5 has done. For example, Mr. Peter Shipley worked as an adviser at No. 10 Downing street. According to The Guardian, he was a member of the National Front. Did MI5 give him clearance? I have asked questions about that, but in the usual tactful way in which answers are blandly distorted to reveal nothing at all, the question was pushed to one side. I should have thought that those who work at No. 10 Downing street ought to be given clearance. Either MI5 was singularly inefficient in not knowing what The Guardian discovered or it acquiesced, which would be very disturbing.
Mr. Allason : Anybody who has regular access to top secret or atomic information has to be positively vetted. The fact that somebody works in a lowly position in an office at No. 10 Downing street or anywhere else does not mean that he or she is automatically clear or vetted by MI5. The Security Service does not conduct positive vetting. That is conducted by the Procurement Executive of the Ministry of Defence.
Mr. Cryer : I have been positively vetted. I do not know whether the man who arrived at the Department of Industry wearing his NHS specs--who at first refused to reveal his name because it was all very secret, so we had to insist that he provided us with a name so that he could be allowed into the building--was from the Procurement Executive. I was disappointed to discover that he warned me not against blondes or brunettes but against going on steam train excursions to Eastern Europe in case I revealed Department of Industry secrets. I wished that there had been some Department of Industry secrets to guard, but there did not seem to be many of them at the time.
I do not believe that those who work at No. 10 have not been subjected to scrutiny. It casts a reflection on MI5's political attitude that a person who was subsequently listed as a member of the National Front was able to work at No. 10.
My second point about that individual is that he was taken on as an assistant to the chairman of the Conservative party for the 1987 election. He pursued a number of dirty tricks during the campaign. I suspect, therefore, that he may not have been the kind of lowly clerk that the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) suggested. [Interruption.] Does my hon. Friend want to leave the Chamber?
Mr. Banks : I should never wish to leave the Chamber while my hon. Friend was speaking. He must know that. Has my hon. Friend shattered another illusion this evening--that he actually passed the positive vetting test?
My second example of the strange relationship is simply an anecdote. Somebody who was not a constituent came to
Column 103see me. He had pursued a protest about a book not being published and had gone out to paint slogans "Justice for Adrian Tibbetts." on a wall in Leeds. An unmarked police car circled him twice and he, his parents and a man who worked with him on the task called Peter Maranchenko were arrested by plain clothes officers. Peter Maranchenko was connected with the British National party. The Tibbetts, who were involved, were arrested and prosecuted, but Peter Maranchenko slipped away from the police headquarters in Leeds with the agreement of the police, and was never prosecuted. To this day, the Tibbetts believe that he was an agent provocateur.
That information was given to me in good faith by people who were prosecuted for causing criminal damage whereas the person who encouraged them was not. Such problems would be dispensed with if there were more democratic accountability. The Home Secretary will brush that idea to one side because he likes to keep everything within his own little ambit. He is not much of a democrat, truth to tell, or he would accept a Select Committee of fellow Members of Parliament, with the Government having power of selection over its operation.
We shall just have to keep pressing the case until the next Labour Government institute proper, comprehensive accountability as part of a pattern of open government. We shall have to be as radical in a progressive way as the Tory Government have been radical in their attacks on ordinary people. We shall have to give ordinary people open access behind the closed doors of Whitehall.
The debate has been of high quality, ascending to the heart of the questions concerning responsibility for the Security Service. The Committee has considered two schemes of amendment, both of which were, I thought, ably proposed--by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd). It has emerged that both schemes are woven out of a good many shades and patches, with a certain amount of American and Canadian cloth, and an agreeable controversy developed between the two, stoked by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan).
My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills is not here at the moment. His scheme draws on the Canadian experience, as did he in his speech. I have no desire to crab or rubbish the Canadian or New Zealand models. The Canadian model has been in operation for about four years and a review is expected to be undertaken fairly shortly. There must be some possibility of overlapping between an inspector general and a security intelligence review committee, each conducting reviews in the same area. The arrangements may or may not be sensible for Canada--that is not a matter for me or for the House. The responsibility of our Security Service and the threats to our citizens from which it seeks to protect us and the duties of Ministers in the House are not the same as those in Canada. Nor do I think it sensible to force the United Kingdom system into a Canadian mould.
Column 104There is a curious suggestion, which my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills did not dwell on, but it is in his amendment that all Executive responsibilities should be transferred to the Solicitor-General.
In Canada, the Solicitor-General has a good deal of executive responsibility. I know that because I meet him at the Trevi meetings--the European security meetings which Canada sometimes attends for preliminary discussions. The Solicitor-General in Canada is responsible for the Royal Canadian mounted police, the prison service and so on. The idea put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills that by transferring responsibility to the Solicitor-General we would be transferring it to some leisurely fellow does not reflect the experience in Canada. Of course, there would be a major difficulty here, because, as the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook knows, the Solicitor-General helps the
Attorney-General in deciding on prosecutions which could raise questions of national security or relate to members of the Security Service.
It is difficult to explain, but as all right hon. and hon. Members know such decisions are independent of Government. That has been misunderstood enough already and if we were to add to the confusion as to the existing role of the Law Officers by giving executive responsibilities over the security services to the Solicitor-General, the confusion would become absolute.
The real question before the House tonight is not whether we follow Canada, or New Zealand which has robustly declined to follow that route, but whether it would benefit us, in addition to the reforms proposed in the Bill, to have a system of parliamentary oversight alongside the responsibility of the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister, as defined in the Bill. One merit of the way in which we discuss legislation is that critics have to put forward alternative schemes. They have to leave aside generalisations and propose particular schemes.
The Opposition had an option. They did not do what I expected them to do, or what I would have done had I been in their place. I had rather expected that they would table amendments which would have produced a Select Committee concerned with broad questions of policy and perhaps finance and not with the actual operations of the Security Service. The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) thought that that was what they had proposed. I presume that he will not be voting for the new clause now that he has read it and realises that far from making the decision to which he attached considerable importance, the Opposition go the whole hog and require that the Select Committee should see everything.
As the debate has developed, it seems that the Labour party would have been in a better position to push its proposals had the debate finished at about 7 pm. With the exception of that of the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), most of the speeches in the latter part of the debate have illustrated quite convincingly the difficulties of the Select Committee which the Labour party has proposed. Through the Opposition's general approach to the matters, the cloak of responsibility donned by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook when he moved the amendment became rather motheaten and disintegrated as his supporters took the Floor.
The Select Committee which he proposes would be able to examine any aspect relating to the Security Service. The
Column 105amendment suggests that the very existence of the Security Service would depend on that examination. The Select Committee proposed by the Opposition would be able, at any time and in any way, to question all the actions undertaken by the Security Service. All its individual operations and all its most sensitive and secret techniques, all its information, all its expenditure and management decisions would be open to investigation. In practice, by the definition in the amendment, next to nothing could be kept from the Select Committee, which would not only receive information, but be required to compile and analyse it.
Although I am probably not quoting the right hon. Gentleman correctly, I think that he used a phrase which is not in new clause 5 about sharing or taking part of the responsibility for the service. We shall see exactly what he said in Hansard tomorrow, but his speech went even further towards divided responsibility than the new clause itself. The Select Committee will be able to direct reviews by the Security Service and by the commissioner and conduct their own reviews on any matter.
These are not matters of a general nature ; they involve the collection of information or the capacity of the service to protect our security, and they could be compiled and analysed only by those who were party to all the acts of the Security Service. Then the information, so far as one can follow the argument, would appear in an annual report. Obviously, there is not much point in compiling and analysing statistics on operational data if they are not largely to be published, and publication, under the Opposition's proposals, would not be a matter in which the Government would have a decisive say. They would be consulted, but it would be for the Select Committee to decide what it should publish. Ministers could make representations but the members of the Select Committee would decide.
So the Opposition propose a Select Committee which would, in effect, be completely inside the barrier of secrecy that the House has often discussed, and there would be no hold on the use that it made of the information that it acquired. To answer the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham), I do not say that hon. Members of any party would deliberately use this information to undermine the Security Service or the nation. That could happen, but I do not say that it is likely. I am saying that the risk of the service and the nation being undermined as a result of information passing into the Select Committee's hands would be substantial.
I also say that responsibility for the disclosure of information about the work of the Security Service should rest with the Executive and nowhere else ; otherwise, the situation would be thoroughly confused and risky. A parallel with Lord Frank's committee, which was a single inquiry into a single set of dramatic events in the past, cannot be prayed in aid on this occasion.
Mr. Bermingham : Will the Minister be kind enough to explain why someone who has held high office of state and been entrusted with the state's secrets should, when he becomes an ordinary Member of Parliament and serves on such a Select Committee, change his attitude to the duties and responsibilities that he has had previously?
Column 106my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge- Brownhills--that such persons would serve. Secondly--I put this politely-- the passage of time makes an enormous difference. Opposition Members would not conceivably have adopted many of the attitudes that they now express when they held office themselves or even, perhaps, when the memory of office was still fairly recent. The third answer is that which I have just outlined. I do not suggest that there would automatically be a deliberate desertion of responsibility. I merely suggest that if all this information were in the hands of the Select Committee, with no bar on the way it was used--leaving aside ill will--the position would be risky and confused. For those three reasons, the hon. Gentleman is on to a poor point.
Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West) : Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that whether there would be breaches of security would depend on the type of people ‡on the Select Committee? Does he recognise that new clause 5 includes a veto that the Prime Minister could exercise to reject anyone thought to be unsuitable?
Mr. Hurd : I understand that--I read the Opposition's proposal with care--but it does not dispose of my first argument, or touch on the other two at all. Even if the Select Committee defied the sort of advice that it might receive from the Opposition Members who spoke in the latter part of this evening and behaved entirely responsibly--in their view--it would still get itself into a remarkably difficult position. What would be the purpose of a report from the Select Committee if the Secretary of State did not respond to it? Its members would get into difficulties : they would be pressed by people such as Opposition Members to reveal information that they had highly secret operational matters ; and if they did not, they would find themselves accused by most Opposition Members who spoke in the latter part of the debate of not doing their job. [Interruption.] That is the critique that we have made of this philosophy for at least two years, and it has not been answered. It has been sharpened in the Opposition proposals.
Mr. Anderson : It is wrong to ignore the Falklands precedent or to say that it was just a one-off operation. Is the Home Secretary aware of any pressures from any Labour Member on my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) who sat on the Falklands committee?
Mr. Hurd : I am not, and that is why I say it was a one-off operation for a single dramatic set of events in the past and is not in any way comparable to what the Opposition now propose. I shall now turn to the proposition by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills. His is a more sophisticated proposition and, as my hon. Friend acknowledges, it is a less parliamentary one. He proposes a body of Privy Councillors or hon. Members who might become Privy Councillors as a result of their appointment to this committee. Since the debate in 1986 on this subject we have looked seriously at the different proposals for a committee of Privy Councillors or for some other body to oversee and review the work of the Security Service.
The point about the confusion at the heart of the nation's security remains the same whether one is talking about my hon. Friend's proposal or about the Opposition's proposal. As my hon. Friend said, he
Column 107borrows from the Canadian wording and, like the proposed Select Committee, his review committee would have access to any information in the control of the Security Service. When one looks at the duties that it is expected to perform, one finds that it would be able to carry out those duties only if it had access to all the information. We would then find, although in a diluted form, the same risks and confusions that I mentioned when I spoke about the proposed Select Committee.
A review committee would cut across the line of responsibility and it would come close to what the Opposition have described as divided responsibility. It would put the director-general and the Security Service in a difficult position. If it were doing its job, it would be constantly pressing for the revelation of operational secrets to show the House and public that it was an effective watchdog. One point becomes more relevant when we come to the complaints part of the Bill. Unlike the Opposition, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills tries to sweep up under the scope of the review committee the complaints procedure that is embodied in the Bill. His proposal would provide a worse service for the complainant with more hurdles than are proposed in the Bill. Instead of having his complaints investigated at once by the tribunal, the aggrieved citizen would not be able to turn to the Security Service review committee in lieu of the tribunal until he had first made a complaint to the director-general and had received no satisfaction. On reflection, my hon. Friend will find that that would put the director-general of the Security Service and the aggrieved citizen--the complainant--in an impossible position.
Mr. Richard Shepherd : The amendments have not just sprung out of our heads. There has been some practice and some experience of the amendments in the operation of the Canadian system. None of the objections advanced by the Home Secretary has pertained there. There have been no objections or complaints and it is a working system in situ. The hypothesis that it may not be right has to be based on something. What evidence does the Home Secretary have for saying that the Canadian system does not work?
Mr. Hurd : I dealt specifically with what I described as the Canadian cloth from which my hon. Friend's proposal was woven. I am presently dealing with the handling of complaints. Under our proposal the aggrieved citizens would go straight to the tribunal. I think that I am right in saying that under my hon. Friend's proposal there would be no tribunal. There would be a Security Service review committee, but the aggrieved citizen would have to go to the director-general before he could go to that committee. That is a less direct and less satisfactory means of dealing with a possible grievance than that proposed in the Bill.
As I listened to the debate, it became increasingly clear that there are deeply different basic approaches to the Security Service. The approach of the Opposition is not entirely that of my hon. Friends the Members for Aldridge-Brownhills and for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken), although the same thought came into their speeches. It is that the Security Service is basically an untamed and
Column 108possibly dangerous animal that needs to be caged, that a searchlight needs to be trained on the cage, that keepers be employed to enter the cage and announce to the world at every stage what the animal is doing because the main fear is that the animal will escape and pounce on innocent citizens. That is a caricature of the portrait of a Security Service being built out of the speeches of Opposition Members.
The debate has been of high quality, and the only time that I felt a flicker of anger was when I listened to the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) describing the work of the Security Service. My hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) is on to a good point. I come into contact with the Security Service almost every day for various reasons, but partly as result of the Interception of Communications Act and the duties that that has laid upon it. I see a body of people who, in one way or another, are daily trying to use their ingenuity to protect us from espionage, subversion and terrorism, and the greatest of these threats is terrorism. My contact with the Security Service concerns its efforts to protect the hon. Member for Paisley, South, and me, and our constituents, from terrorism, day by day and week by week. But the hon. Gentleman showed no understanding of that dimension. When I hear him going on with all the old stories, I see that there is a substantial difference between the concepts of the two sides of the House of the work of the Security Service.
Mr. Winnick : The Home Secretary knows full well that we do not question the bravery of MI5 officials who combat terrorism and protect the security of our citizens. However, three factors give rise to our concern. The first has been put by the person for whom the Home Secretary used to work--the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), who said that there were some officials in MI5 who did not seem to understand their responsibilities. Secondly, there are Peter Wright's allegations, and, thirdly, and perhaps most important of all, what Cathy Massiter, the former MI5 official, said, which has not been challenged in any way. Should we not be concerned about such matters?
Mr. Hurd : I have heard the hon. Gentleman make his speech several times, and he has just ecapsulated it again. As to his only new point, about my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), I learnt a good deal of what I know about these matters from my right hon. Friend, and I had a fairly rigorous upbringing from him when he was in a position of responsibility. The truth about several speeches--
Mr. Hurd : I am answering the point made by the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick). What has come through in several speeches from the Opposition--from the hon. Members for Swansea, West (Mr. Anderson, for Caithness and Sutherland, the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) and from parts of the speech of the hon. Member for Walsall, North--is that there is a tension and a difficulty in the fact that the service that has the job of protecting us can do it effectively only to the extent that its operations remain secret. That difficulty is not addressed in the Opposition's solution.
Column 109Until fairly recently, we managed to get on fairly well with many of these matters in a certain obscurity, with tension coming to the surface only occasionally.
In the last year or so, we came to the conclusion that the time had come to make a substantial move forward, to put the security service on a statutory basis, to establish a system of authorisation of any interference with property by the Secretary of State and to put that warrant system under the supervision of a commissioner, who would be a judge, and to establish a system of remedy for any aggrieved citizen.
We have heard several aggrieved citizens in today's debate. The hon. Members for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) and for Paisley, South gave us long dissertations about how they believed themselves to have been aggrieved by the activities of the security services. It is no good their waiting for a Labour Government to give them any remedy. I recall no sign of movement and no effective pressure from the last Labour Government, but perhaps I am wrong about that. The two hon. Gentlemen were in and out of Government, so it was difficult to tell. There was no sign of movement, reform or democratic responsibility at that time. They have had to wait until we put forward this Bill to have an opportunity to remedy their alleged grievances.
I hope that those hon. Members will recognise, in the middle of their radicalism, that this is the first time for a long time that it has been possible to discuss these matters in any detail. I hope that they will recognise that we are putting forward three radical changes and are now deciding whether there should be a fourth. Those hon. Members should give us credit for the movement which is taking place and which provides a remedy for the first time for the particular grievances to which they devoted so much of their speeches.
Mr. Heffer : I agree with the Home Secretary. The Labour Government did nothing of any consequence to deal with this question. We argued the case time and again, but the present Government have acted only after all the revelations and the upsurge of feeling among the masses of people in this country that something had to be done.
Mr. Hurd : You could fool me, Mr. Walker, about the upsurge. The hon. Gentleman told us how he created demonstrations in Liverpool and how much difficulty he had in doing that. There has been no upsurge of popular feeling. We introduced this Bill and we are defending it on its merits because the time has come to make this substantial move forward. The idea that we have done so as a result of overwhelming popular pressure shows how out of touch the hon. Gentleman is with public opinion.
The Bill contains three substantial proposals. We are discussing whether there should be an additional scheme and, if so, whether it should be that put forward by the hon. Member for Sparkbrook or the more sophisticated one put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills. I advise the House to resist both schemes and both sets of amendments which are attempts to add a fourth major element to the Bill. If the House took that course, it would certainly blur responsibility in an area where responsibility should not be blurred and it could create substantial dangers.
There are three main elements in the Labour party's policy for the Security Service which it has held for some considerable time. First, the service should be on a statutory footing, secondly, its functions should be properly defined and, thirdly, the service should be accountable to Parliament. The Bill proposes putting the Security Service on a statutory footing and we welcome that. On the other two elements of our policy, the Bill fails miserably and that is why we oppose it.
Amendment No. 73 and new clause 5 deal only with scrutiny and accountability. Our belief that the operation of the Security Service should be more democratic lies at the core of the debate. The basis and fundamental guiding principle that I tend to use is that all power in our democracy must be accounted for. Without proper accountability we make the Security Service susceptible to inefficiency, ineffectiveness, corruption and abuse. More importantly to Labour Members, there is the danger of loss of freedom for some individuals in entirely unacceptable ways. A key characteristic of our democratic approach is that it would lead to more openness for the service.
It is important to add that we accept that a characteristic of the Security Service is that some of its operations must remain secret. If we intruded on that secrecy, the usefulness of the service would be impaired. I think that all hon. Members accept that. Certainly that was recognised when we formulated amendment No. 73 and new clause 5. We believe emphatically that it is possible to improve accountability while retaining necessary levels of secrecy. That assertion can be substantiated by experience in the operation of the security services in other countries on a more open and democratic basis than ours.
Our motive in tabling the amendment is twofold. We want greater democracy and we want to see improvements in the operation of the Security Service. We believe that that would be inevitable if the amendment were carried.
I am sure that improved accountability would be welcomed by the many members of the Security Service who feel that its reputation has been besmirched by various scandals over many years. The amendment would help to prevent such damaging scandals for the service in future.
The operation of the Security Service must adhere to three important criteria. First, the service must be effective and efficient in carrying out its functions. Secondly, it must both recognise and protect the civil liberties of the British people. Currently, the service is, in practice, a powerful and insular organisation which operates outside the law and, to all intents and purposes, is unaccountable to Parliament. That leaves it open to various abuses that can and have damaged the civil liberties of many of our citizens. Thirdly, and most importantly, we believe that the service must command the trust and confidence of the British people. Our contention is that the three criteria can best be met by the Security Service if it becomes accountable to the House by means of the Select Committee that has been advocated in the amendment and the new clause. The proposal to introduce parliamentary accountability was advocated by the Labour party during the passage of the