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Column 111Interception of Communications Bill, which received Royal Assent in 1985. The right hon. and learned Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Waddington), the Government Chief Whip who was then a Home Office Minister, felt that it would undermine ministerial responsibility as well as the responsibility of the senior management of the Security Service. Consequently, he rejected it. He said that there was no need to add
"another parliamentary dimension to the existing arrangements for control and accountability."--[ Official Report, 17 April 1985 ; Vol. 77, c. 298].
The amendment would do exactly the opposite to that which was argued by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Rather than undermine the positions of the Home Secretary and the senior management of the Security Service, it would strengthen them. The performance of the service would be enhanced through improved accountability. In response to the right hon. and learned Gentleman's argument that another parliamentary dimension to the existing arrangement is not needed, I must state that that is the same as saying that the existing system of parliamentary accountability is working satisfactorily. I firmly reject that.
In reply to a question on the need for an oversight body from my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) following the statement on the Security Commission's report on the Bettaney affair, the Prime Minister said that the existing arrangements were the best way to run the Security Service because, she said, the service must be run under "unified management."
We all understand the principles under which the Select Committee system works. It is absurd to suggest that accountability to Parliament through a Select Committee along the lines proposed in amendment No. 73 would impair the unity of management of the Security Service. I have spent 35 years in business and industry and as a Member of this House. From my experience I reject the arguments put forward by the Prime Minister and the right hon. and learned Member for Ribble Valley as hollow and wrong.
Anyone who has a good grounding in management and who, through experience, understands basic human nature will appreciate the benefits that can arise through good and effective accountability. I believe that the existing arrangements are disgracefully inadequate and quite antiquated. I wonder whether when the Prime Minister and the right hon. and learned Member for Ribble Valley made their statements they had given even the most superficial consideration to the notion of improved accountability, or did they simply accept another brief from the Security Service chiefs and Permanent Secretaries without question?
It is ironic that the Government hold such rigid and out-of-date views while some of our allies, with whom we co-operate most closely, have oversight systems to improve the performance of their security and intelligence services. What is supposed to make Britain so different from the other countries? Perhaps the Minister will tell us. In particular, perhaps he will comment on remarks made by Stansfield Turner, the former CIA director, who said :
"It is not good enough for intelligence agencies to be accountable to the Executive. There is a need for a responsible body outside the Executive branch to make sure that Executive is not overenthusiastic in seeking to obtain information important to the national interest. Over-enthusiasm, we have seen, may lead to excess."
Column 112Mr. Turner added that he believed that oversight improved the quality of CIA operations and provided against future mistakes due to the lack of accountability.
On a similar note, Harvey Barnett the former head of the Australian security and intelligence organisation said :
"it would be a sign of political health and commonsense to have at least occasional external scrutiny of a body which may be required for national purposes to intrude into the private lives of individuals."
Those quotes come from people with considerable experience of running organisations similar to our Security Service. The message is clear. Scrutiny and accountability along the lines proposed in amendment No. 73 and new clause 5 are vital to the effective operation of security and intelligence services and would protect the civil liberties of our people.
Perhaps the conclusion that we should draw from the Government's position is that they do not care about civil liberties and the freedom of the individual. They have wasted opportunities to introduce changes during the passage of the Bill. However, it is a minimalist Bill, designed merely to get the Government off the hook with the European Court of Human Rights now that that court has declared admissible alleged abuses or civil liberties by the Security Service. The Government have no intention of trying to achieve anything more.
What is wrong with the existing system of accountability? Why do we suggest through amendment No. 73 and new clause 5 improvements to those arrangements? The existing system relies on the Home Secretary monitoring the service on behalf of Parliament. Right hon. and hon. Members are unable to obtain from him any information about the service, except in general terms. The arrangement is shrouded in secrecy, and right hon. and hon. Members must rely on the Home Secretary doing his job efficiently.
The impression I have gained from the debate is that under the existing system of accountability the Home Secretary does not really know what is going on in the Security Service for much of the time. Perhaps the Minister will confirm whether my impression is correct by answering four basic questions. First, does he accept that power over the Security Service is concentrated away from the lines of ministerial responsibility? Secondly, will he confirm that, with security and intelligence, there are no parallel committees of Ministers and civil servants, as often happens, but only committees of officials? Thirdly, will he confirm that those committees of officials are served by Cabinet Office staff whose accountability, such as it is, is through the Cabinet Secretary and the Prime Minister? Finally, does the Minister accept that the effect of those organisational arrangements is to remove Ministers and Parliament from an opportunity to direct the Security Service?
I shall be grateful if the Minister will answer a number of additional, short questions. [Interruption.] We are in Committee, so he can do so. The information I seek is in the public domain, and I want only brief answers for the record. We must find out what the Minister thinks.
Will the Minister confirm that the various aspects of security are co- ordinated at Civil Service level, and there is no equivalent function at ministerial level? Is it true that the Minister does not direct long-term planning or become involved in short-term operations, or even in the service's budgeting? Will he confirm that he is merely fed with information according to need-to-know criteria decided by
Column 113the Security Service itself? Does he agree that when Ministers are given information, they are not necessarily involved in any decision-making process?
In the context of that last question, I shall be grateful if the Minister will comment on the words of George Young, ex-deputy head of MI6, in Command 8787, "Falkland Islands Review" :
"The higher reaches of the Civil Service undoubtedly make most of the decisions for Ministers. They put them in front of them and say, Minister, do you agree?' The ethos of the higher reaches of the Civil Service is not one of stirring up hornets' nests, particularly if some of your best friends are hornets, but in my experience of dealing with Ministers--and I have met a fair amount off and on over some 12 years--they don't hear what you say ; you tell them something, it goes in one ear and it is out of the other, and they are busy thinking up the next Parliamentary answer to the next Parliamentary question."
Clearly Mr. George Young, who was very experienced in security and intelligence affairs, did not think much of ministerial accountability. It is a matter of great concern that the so-called system of ministerial accountability, which we are told works satisfactorily, seems to add up to Ministers receiving reports from the Security Service that say, "Everything is fine, Minister." That is quite unacceptable. Only the House has the power to introduce a system of effective accountability. That is why we tabled an amendment and a new clause to establish a Select Committee for the Security Service, I hope that it will be supported by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House.
Mr. Aitken : I think it essential that we make a more determined attempt to probe my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and to challenge some of the sweeping assertions that he made in his winding-up speech. From the point of view of dealing with the Opposition, he could be said to have made a skilful speech : it was not, after all, very difficult to pick off, one by one, some of the sitting Left-wing ducks by attacking their sillier remarks. I believe, however, that he misjudged the mood of the House and the country in ignoring some of the serious arguments put forward by, for example, the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) and the minority parties, and indeed by the libertarian wing of his own party. Although there is tremendous support for the security services, there is also considerable unease about some of the things that have gone wrong, and to make no answer to some of the major criticisms made in the debate was a glaring omission.
First, my right hon. Friend did not answer the point that a busy Secretary of State whose responsibilities span broadcasting, immigration, the police and the Channel islands might not have quite enough time to give the security services the detailed attention and monitoring demanded by the modern world. Secondly, there was not a single good argument to explain what he sees as the flaws of the Canadian system of supervision--referred to in the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd)--which is in situ and working well. Although we heard some lofty disdain, we heard no serious criticism of the system.
My right hon. Friend also did not explain why he is so complacent about the fact that Britain is the only democracy in the English-speaking world with no independent system of oversight of the security services. I find it offensive to the House for the notion of a parliamentary Select Committee to be dismissed with the
Column 114attitude that "We cannot trust parliamentarians." It is wrong that my right hon. Friend should brush aside the precedent set by the Falklands committee, and suggest that that precedent in no way suggests that a similar Committee could also keep secrets well. My right hon. Friend has emerged tonight as the King Canute of the oversight argument. Parliamentary or Privy Council oversight of the security services is an idea whose time is here now and will stay here, despite tonight's disappointing ministerial response.
Mr. Maclennan : The Home Secretary has given the debate a most disappointing conclusion. He has completely failed to address the central issues of the amendment tabled by his hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge- Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), which draws to his attention the experience of a country in our Commonwealth with a constitution very similar to ours.
The right hon. Gentleman may argue that there is something peculiar about the conduct of the Security Service that makes accountability unimportant. If there is something more important to the country than security, it is war and peace. Ministers of the Crown have always been held to be responsible to Parliament for their decisions and the exercise of their prerogative powers over war and peace. Not only was the Falklands inquiry subjected to consideration by a Committee of the House, but even when we were engaged in total war against the might of imperial Germany it was thought appropriate to establish a committee of inquiry into the Gallipoli disaster. The Committee-- It being Ten o'clock, The Chairman-- left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again.
Committee report Progress .
That, at this day's sitting, the Security Service Bill may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour-- [Mr. Fallon.] Security Service Bill
Considered again in Committee.
Question again proposed , That the amendment be made.
Mr. Maclennan : The Home Secretary has argued that accountability means shared responsibility, but that is not an argument for excluding oversight by those to whom Parliament has given the task of scrutiny. We can accept the argument that Parliament cannot deal with questions of security in the same way that it deals with other matters. We accept that there has to be a narrower consideration by fewer hon. Members. However, as the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) said, Parliament must be satisfied by the arrangements that are made. We cannot be satisfied by an arrangement that allows the Home Secretary the sole responsibility for these matters, backed up in this narrow question of the issue of warrants by a judicial officer appointed by him. That excludes from proper judicial review the common law rights of citizens not to have their liberties infringed by otherwise illegal activities.
The Home Secretary did not give the House an answer to the fact that the system we have recommended works. It works in Canada where there has been no problem of leakage. It has not called into question the effectiveness or secrecy of the Canadian security service. The right hon.
Column 115Gentleman has not given the House any evidence to support the thesis that we alone of democracies should have no scrutiny by our Parliament. Nowhere did he explain why this country has to be out of step with other democracies in the rest of the world.
Mr. Richard Shepherd : My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will not be surprised to hear that I am disappointed by his response to our considered amendments. Hon. Members have concentrated on the concept that, sometimes, the Security Service may get it wrong. Can we not evisage circumstances in which a Minister gives an incorrect instruction to the Security Service? Our amendments are designed to ensure that by a dual approach--having independent oversight--the Security Service would know if an improper instruction were given to it, and by a complaints system the matter could be remedied. When we legislate on the matter, internal control and accountability and external controls are fundamental for guaranteeing our democracy. The Home Secretary did not mention the subtle balance necessary between the defence of democracy and our security. The theme running through our amendments is that the rule of law must be paramount. I am sorry that my right hon. Friend cannot conceive of circumstances in which that would be of assistance to the Government, the service and the House. That is why we tabled the amendments.
Mr. Buchan rose --
The Chairman : I am addressing the hon. Gentleman. There is no obligation on the Home Secretary to speak a second time, nor do I have the power to require him or any other hon. Member to do so. Question put, That the amendment be made :--
The Committee divided : Ayes 163, Noes 232.
Division No. 33] [10.05 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane
Archer, Rt Hon Peter
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich)
Beith, A. J.
Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)
Biffen, Rt Hon John
Bray, Dr Jeremy
Buckley, George J.
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)
Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Column 116Clelland, David
Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Evans, John (St Helens N)
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)
Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Godman, Dr Norman A.
Golding, Mrs Llin
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Harman, Ms Harriet
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Heffer, Eric S.
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)
Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Macdonald, Calum A.
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Marek, Dr John
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Pike, Peter L.
Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Reid, Dr John
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)