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Column 298Redwood, John
Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Roe, Mrs Marion
Shaw, David (Dover)
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Twinn, Dr Ian
Waddington, Rt Hon David
Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Tellers for the Noes :
Mr. Michael Fallon and
Mr. Tom Sackville.
Question accordingly negatived.
(5) Complaints from serving or former members of the Security Service may at the request of the complainant be dealt with informally by the Staff Counsellor of the Security Service. (6) The Staff Counsellor shall be appointed by the Prime Minister. (7) The Staff Counsellor shall be available to be consulted by any member or former member of the Security Service who has complaints or anxieties relating to the work of his or her past or present service.
(8) The Staff Counsellor shall have access to all relevant documents and to any level of management in the Security Service. He will also have access to the Secretary of the Cabinet, the Secretary of State and to the Prime Minister.
(9) The Staff Counsellor shall be available to give guidance to members or former members of the Security Service who are seeking authorisation to publish information about their past or present service.
(10) The Staff Counsellor shall make an annual report on his activities and on the working of the system to the Prime Minister. (11) The Prime Minister shall lay before each House of Parliament a copy of each annual report made by the Staff Counsellor under subsection (10) above together with a statement as to whether any matter has been excluded from that copy in pursuance of subsection (12) below.
(12) If it appears to the Prime Minister, after consultation with the Staff Counsellor, that the publication of any matter in a report would be prejudicial to the continued discharge of the functions of the Service, the Prime Minister may exclude that matter from the copy of the report as laid before each House of Parliament.
(13) The Secretary of State may after consultation with the Staff Counsellor and with the approval of the Treasury as to numbers provide the Staff Counsellor with such staff as the Secretary of State thinks necessary for the discharge of his functions.'. I realise that the House is fibrillating at the prospect of three hours of Scottish business as soon as possible, so I shall not detain it unduly. However, the amendment is important and has a particular significance to our proceedings. Those hon. Members who have managed to endure this marathon will have noticed that the Government have had a wild determination at all costs not to give way to any amendment because, for some mysterious reason, they oppose a Report stage. No matter how bad the drafting and no matter how deep the hole they have got themselves into, they have not dreamed of accepting an amendment.
Column 299Here at last, however, I believe that I have managed to draft an amendment from which it will be impossible even for my hon. Friend the Minister of State--the great Houdini in this debate--to escape. My amendment has only two ingredients--the words of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and a promise given to the House by my hon. Friend the Minister of State. With those two elements, the amendment is almost inescapable and I wait with interest to see how Houdini can escape from it, as I know that he will endeavour to do.
The amendment seeks to write into the Bill the position, role and duties of the staff counsellor of the security services. A staff counsellor was, until recently, an unknown animal in the world of security, but was created in 1987 as a direct result of the activities of Mr. Michael Bettaney, of blessed memory, whose activities have already been discussed and whose treachery and subsequent story have been relayed already to the House.
What emerged from the Security Commission's report on the Bettaney case is that throughout the Security Service many officers had been deeply anxious about the conduct of Michael Bettaney, his possible treachery and his instability. I treasure the memory of the report by the Security Commission on a Mrs. X, an employee of the Security Service, who was cloaked in suitable anonymity. She had gone to a party with Mr. Michael Bettaney and a woman friend and Mr. Michael Bettaney had, in the course of the party, drunk two bottles of neat whisky, set fire to himself and announced that he would much rather be working for the Russians. Despite that, back at the office the following morning Mrs. X felt unable to tell anybody about this dimension of Bettaney's instability, insecurity and unworthiness to be a member of the Security Service because there was no one to tell. After a great deal of internal criticism and soul-searching, the Security Service said, "We really need to have someone to whom the troops can talk in confidence about their grievances, worries and fears about their desire to see a more efficient and effective Security Service."
Another incident confirmed the need for a staff counsellor of the Security Service. A distinguished committee investigated the case of Sir Roger Hollis. Rightly or wrongly, it concluded that the "preponderance of probability"--a good bureaucratic phrase--was that Sir Roger Hollis was a Soviet agent, but its members could not then tell anybody. They eventually found someone to tell because Mr. Stephen DeMowbray had a cousin at No. 10 Downing street. He was somewhat surprised when the doorbell rang, but asked for an appointment for Mr. DeMowbray, who managed to get in to see the Cabinet Secretary by that circuitous route to tell him that the head of MI5 was, in the view of a number of his colleagues, a Soviet agent.
The fact that the routes of communication were so unsatisfactory led even the Government--who, as we know, believe in the total efficiency and wizardry of the solo monitoring of the Security Service by the Home Secretary--to decide that it was time to do something. The appointment of the staff counsellor was announced by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 2 November 1987 in a written answer which described his functions and terms of reference. The words of the Prime Minister are
Column 300encapsulated, more or less verbatim, in the amendment, which would write into the Bill the terms and conditions of the staff counsellor as announced by the Prime Minister. Some of us do not necessarily approve of government by written answer. If the staff counsellor is to play a pivotal role, let us not rely on a written answer given in 1987. If we are to restructure the legal basis of the Security Service, let us write into the Bill the appointment of the staff counsellor, because he fulfils an important role.
I have added one further function to the functions of the staff counsellor- -a development that dates from 21 December, when the Official Secrets Bill had its Second Reading. I have forgotten which statesman said that he had caught the Whigs bathing and walked away with their clothes. [ Hon. Members :-- "Disraeli."] In that case, I have donned the mantle of Disraeli. I have caught my hon. Friend the Minister of State buying votes, walked away with his promise and sought to put it into the Bill.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), who is unavoidably detained, travelling in the southern hemisphere, has authorised me to say that he supports my amendment. He expressed considerable concern about the impossibility even of innocuous and patriotic memoirs and comments by former members of the Security Service ever being authorised. In a very good speech on 21 December, my right hon. Friend argued that some members of the Security Service might from time to time wish to express their views on policy matters--while not revealing any operational secrets- -and that there was no system of authorisation to allow for that. Even Mr. Anthony Cavendish, who dug up only innocuous old remains, received the message "Please delete eight chapters" when he sent his Christmas card in for authorisation.
Closer to home, one recalls that on the day when the BBC was to put out the first of an admirable but basically boring and anodyne series of programmes on the security services called "My Country, right or wrong" the Attorney- General rushed to the Dispatch Box, hurled out writs like confetti and banned the programme because some members of the Security Service had commented on it. When the dust settled--when the writs had stopped flowing and somebody had finally listened to the programmes and read the transcripts--not one sentence or comma was deleted. Several weeks later it transpired that the only comments made by the former members of the Security Service had been in the most responsible areas--suggesting, for example, views on whether it was desirable to have oversight which could not deserve a ban. Clearly, there are situations in which, despite all the talk about absolute bans and life-long confidentiality, former members of the Security Service can make comments and express views that have no bearing on national security, which do not in any way jeopardise secrets, but which are just comments on policy. Therefore, it is desirable to have some means of authorisation.
In the debate on official secrets my right hon. Friend the Member for Pavilion pressed for a system whereby, if a former member of the Security Service were dissatisfied and found himself unreasonably blocked from saying anything and forced into the role of a Trappist monk, he would have somewhere to turn. My right hon. Friend said, "I am not prepared to vote for this Bill unless I can get an assurance on this subject." I suspect that my hon. Friend the Minister of State flew off on an excitable unpinioned wing to buy off my right hon. Friend's vote because he did
Column 301not want a well-known patriotic Privy Councillor such as my right hon. Friend the Member for Pavilion to vote against the Government on official secrets legislation.
The Minister quickly cobbled together a formula to buy back the vote of my right hon. Friend. He did so with the following words : "My right hon. Friend then asked where a member of the service would turn if he still felt dissatisfied. He will turn to the staff counsellor. At present our distinguished staff counsellor is Sir Philip Woodfield. That is a matter of public knowledge. This applies not just to present members but to former members of the services. If a member or former member is seeking to use publication to report anxieties that he or she may have about his or her work or former work, or if he or she is concerned about the reasons for a refusal of publication, he or she can go to the staff counsellor".--[ Official Report, 21 December 1988 ; Vol. 144, c. 538.]
In this vital area of free speech for former Security Service officials, the staff counsellor was suddenly shot into the role of arbiter, adviser, man of guidance and the man who would steer the former Security Service official wishing to publish his memoirs or say his piece on the radio on to the strait and narrow path of authorised disclosure. Subsection (9) of my amendment therefore simply adds to the staff counsellor's role the words :
"shall be available to give guidance to members or former members of the Security Service who are seeking authorisation to publish information about their past or present service."
My right hon. Friend the Member for Pavilion has asked me to say that he strongly approves and supports that part of the amendment. I think that I have made out my case, using the Prime Minister's words taken straight from a written answer, and the promise made by the Minister of State. The amendment is perfectly tailored to fit the Bill. It is an ideal amendment to the Bill. How will Houdini escape? Watch this space, Sir Paul.
Mr. Cryer : We should not allow this matter to pass without comment. I know that there is pressure of business, but this is an important measure and the Bill and amendments have been debated without wasting any time. During our debates important issues have been raised. I thought that the Minister proposed to remain immobile and would not answer the points that have been raised, so I should like to raise one or two more points so that he can give a reasoned reply. However, I have no doubt that the Minister will refuse to accept the amendment.
If we consider the work that spies undertake, we must recognise that they are under great pressure. They have to lie to people, often to their own families, and deceive other people in their close circles. Naturally, they will not want to do that. They cannot disclose by whom they are employed. They must say, "I am employed by Box 500", which would be a less than satisfactory explanation, or they must dream up a more conventional excuse. That naturally leaves them in a closed world in which their only understanding and relationship is with people who can share their secrets. Because of the nature of their occupation, they cannot chatter to friends and acquaintances, as most ordinary mortals can, about difficulties at work. The staff counsellor can, therefore, perform a useful function.
In addition, as the hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) said, there is the question of writing memoirs as a means of divulging information. The staff counsellor will be able to point to a few useful alternatives. In the
Column 302past, when the Government wanted to publish information about the spies, they did not allow the spies to write directly, but told them to get in touch with Chapman Pincher of the Daily Express , who would publish it as being from non-attributable sources, which is what they did with Peter Wright. The Government became hot and bothered about Peter Wright's revelations, but we should bear in mind that one of Peter Wright's grumbles was that Chapman Pincher did not do a very good job in ghosting his memoirs and did not include all the information. Those were memoirs that were approved by officers of the Government.
When the Government said that there was a life-time obligation of secrecy, that was not quite accurate. They were prepared to allow some information to dribble out as long as it did not appear to have the absolute authenticity of a real full-time working spy but just came from a hack. The staff counsellor will be able to give advice as to who to contact at the Daily Express and the ghosting cost for providing information on "My life as a spy". He will be able to take the heat off the difficult circumstances in which people, who, after all, are ordinary human beings following a somewhat extraordinary occupation, can find themselves.
The amendment contains a bit more parliamentary accountability. It takes one's breath away that people can sit on the Treasury Bench and talk about there being a parliamentary democracy, which these spies are working to protect, but in the next breath they can take away the essence of that accountability in a parliamentary democracy. Yet subsection (11) of the amendment provides
"The Prime Minister shall lay before each House of Parliament a copy of each annual report made by the Staff Counsellor", with the qualification that, if there is anything that prejudices the network, the information or the position, it can be deleted by the Prime Minister. It will assure people in this difficult occupation that the staff counsellor is doing his job. The spies, too, will be doing theirs without encountering any difficulty. The staff counsellor will have the information about pensions at his finger tips if a new Peter Wright comes along and says, "Look, my pension will be rotten ; I need another earner. Can you give me some guidance?" He will be able to produce new figures for pensions. As everybody knows, that is the basis on which Mr. Wright wrote his book, and that is something which he reiterates again and again in the book.
An annual report by the staff counsellor laid before Parliament would be a bit more pressure to provide time in this House. As the Minister said in an earlier debate, it is not just a question of curiosity. This Parliament is the most important Chamber in the country. We all face elections, we are all accountable, and it is not just a question of vicarious enjoyment in some sort of Bond escapism.
We are talking about a serious section of Government work. Therefore, we should have the opportunity to have debates on that work. I believe that subsection (11) provides that opportunity. I hope--I do not have faith that it will happen--that the Minister will accept the amendment and, if there are deficiencies in its drafting, will suggest that it be moved in another place.
Column 3031.45 am
Mr. John Patten : As they used to say in the old days when the great escapologist broke free, "With one bound he was free." My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) used the excellent words of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, which he reported accurately. He also reported words when I replied to my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) and I thought that they sounded rather good. My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South has introduced the themes in his amendment, but he has not demonstrated the vital missing ingredient of need and, therefore, why the amendment is necessary. Hence my ability to escape, Houdini-like, from the dialectical trap of the well-honed words of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and myself into which he attempted to encompass me.
When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced the appointment of the staff counsellor to a surprised House on 2 November 1987 she made his functions clear. I refer hon. Members to column 512 of the Official Report for that day, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South has already referred. The system is in place and is working well. It does not need any legislation to underpin it. I understand that the staff are well aware of the staff counsellor's existence and of the arrangements for consulting him, which are simple and direct.
On 21 December, during Second Reading of the Official Secrets Bill--to to which my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South referred--I made clear the sort of circumstances in which the staff counsellor might be approached by a member of the security and intelligence services regarding a member's wish to publish information about his experiences in the services. That system had never been spelt out so fully before and I have nothing to add to what I then said.
I see no need for my hon. Friend's proposal to extend into statute law the life of an official who is successfully carrying out his role as staff counsellor.
Mr. Maclennan : The Minister said, as he might have said before the Bill was introduced, that the system is working well and that there is no need to put it on to a statutory basis. We do not think that the system is working well and certain admissions from Ministers during our deliberations tonight confirm our view. For that reason we want the system set on a statutory basis.
The reality is that what a Minister concedes under pressure from his Benches one day he can withdraw on another day. The statutory provision, along the lines outlined in the amendment, would provide a degree of permanence to an arrangement that, by its nature, is transitory. There is a need for permanency, at least until Parliament can think of a better way in which to provide for anxious members of the Security Service.
When the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) returns from the nether regions or from the Antipodes, I doubt whether he will be satisfied with what the Minister has said. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman will want to consider his stance on the Official Secrets Bill carefully once he has read this debate. The Minister has advanced no argument of substance against a statutory
Column 304basis. Once again he has shown the Government's unwillingness to accept any amendment, however sound and however much support it enjoys.
Mr. Aitken : As they say in American show business, "The opera ain't over until the fat lady sings." In this case she is played by Sir Philip Woodfield, the Security Service staff counsellor. We are solemnly told that there is no point in writing his role and functions into the Bill because there is no need to. Everything is working perfectly well. I do not know how much detail we have about Sir Philip's activities, or about how many members of the service have been to see him, or about what his functions have been. We shall have to take it on trust that everything is going perfectly. But one part of the amendment cannot possibly be said to be working well or to be unnecessary. Here I return to the promise made by my hon. Friend the Minister to my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery). How can there be no need for subsection (9), which writes into statute the promise my hon. Friend gave on 21 December? It was given only three weeks ago ; there has not been a surge of people going to the staff counsellor asking for their memoirs to be authorised. I do not suppose those authors have all read the small print of Hansard closely. It cannot be true that there is no need for this to be written into the Bill. First, the staff counsellor's role needs to be put on a permanent basis, rather than depending on a written answer. Secondly, if only to get my right hon. Friend the Member for Pavilion to vote again on the Official Secrets Bill, there is a need to write the memoir and communication assisting parts into the Bill.
We have reached the comic opera finale : not one amendment will be accepted under any circumstances by the Government. There is a funny side to that, but a sad side, too, and on that note I close. Amendment negatived.
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Mr. John Patten : This subject will be discussed during consideration of the next amendment. But I can say now that we do not yet know the final shape of the Bill. This matter will require the usual consideration after we know that, which will enable us to make full use of the commencement provision.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Anyone reading the past two days' debates on this legislation would realise that we have been through a farcical procedure. Most people will marvel that the Government have pushed through the measure that they claimed would give the Security Service a statutory basis with so little input and scrutiny by the House. It is also amazing that the Government think they can get away
Column 305with a measure that leaves all the power in the hands of the Home Secretary and Prime Minister. They claim a statutory basis, but the Bill leaves all decision-making to Government Ministers-- nothing is set down in statute.
The final affront is the commencement order at the end of the Bill. Clause 7(2) reads :
"(2) This Act shall come into force on such day as the Secretary of State may by an order made by statutory instrument appoint, and different days may be appointed for different provisions or different purposes."
That means that the Secretary of State wants a blank cheque for deciding how much of the legislation he will bring into force. He has just told my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) that he will wait until the end of the legislation process, until the Bill has completed its progress through the House of Lords, before deciding how and when the legislation will come into operation. That is totally unsatisfactory.
This is a simple measure and there is little in it that needs to be brought in over a lengthy period. It would be quite simple for the Government to follow the precedent set by other Bills and not insert a commencement clause, in which case the legislation would come into operation with the Royal Assent. The Government claim that the measure contains checks and balances. If that is so, it is reasonable to ask for the whole measure or none of it. We do not want the Secretary of State deciding over several years when certain parts of the measure can come into operation while others do not operate at all.
We have some means of scrutinising statutory instruments, but we do not have procedures for scrutinising statutory instruments that are not laid. It is a gross abuse that measures containing regulating powers often go through the House and Ministers do not use those powers for many years afterwards. Sometimes they are never used, but there is no way in which the House can scrutinise them. I seek from the Minister an assurance that the whole measure will be brought into operation at one time. He should not say that the first part of the Bill, which gives extra powers to the Secretary of State, will be brought into operation at once while the second part, which allows for some mild scrutiny, will not be brought in until later. I hope that the Minister will accept the amendment because it would ensure that the whole of the legislation would be operative on Royal Assent. We should also have a proper Report stage so that hon. Members may return to the many issues that have entered the debate and which have not been satisfactorily answered. We should get answers here rather than having to wait and hope that the other place carries out the scrutiny that we should be allowed to carry out.
Mr. Cryer : I asked a question on clause 5 because I wanted to hear the Minister's comment before we came to this amendment. His comment at that time was as unsatisfactory as all his other comments. The Minister must have a strong sense of irony because he said that he would wait until he knows the shape of the Bill. Every amendment has been rejected and the Whips have been operating to get the majority of Conservative Members--most of whom have not troubled to listen to the debate--to vote. The Minister must either be very stupid--and I do not think that he is--or very ironic to say that he does not know the shape of the Bill. He knows its shape perfectly well because it is in the document before the Committee. He knows 99 per cent. of the shape of the Bill.