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Mr. Richard Shepherd : I hope that my hon. Friend will clarify one point. Is he saying that this is only a partial definition? I should have covered the implications of the phrase "in particular" because it has tremendous implications for the issue of warrants. The Home Secretary, guided by the reference point of the statutory duty regarding the issue of warrants, controls the way in
Column 214which national security is defined. The use of the phrase "in particular" appears to indicate that the provision refers to only some of the duties, albeit the principal ones. It implies that there are additional duties which could take the issue much wider. It makes it difficult for the House to judge the matter in the context of the issue of warrants.
Mr. Hurd : I am coming to precisely that point. So far, I have set out the difference between the approach of my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills and the approach in the Bill. That difference was clearly expounded by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland.
The definition has to be comprehensive. The committee would not want to establish a description of functions that did not cover all areas in which the Security Service might, now or in the future, have to become involved. If the committee did that, it could create an intolerable position, where the Security Service might be powerless to defend us or where there might be great pressure and, therefore, strains on the way in which the legislation was interpreted and understood. It would be wrong for the committee to establish a Security Service that was unable to protect the security of the nation from whoever threatened it.
The term "national security" relates to the survival and well-being of the nation. That has been the continuing and consistent understanding of successive Governments and Parliaments. One can imagine a situation--I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills to consider this point-- where everyone would expect the Security Service to take a hand in protecting the national security. No matter how clever we are now in working out allegedly comprehensive definitions, we may not succeed and the Security Service may find itself in a legal difficulty. For example, a new and devastating weapon could be secretly developed which had clear and obvious implications for the defence of this country. Unless it fell absolutely within the definitions set out by the committee if it adopted my hon. Friend's proposal, the Security Service could not do anything to identify or prevent the threat unless it involved terrorism, sabotage or the activities of agents of foreign powers. My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South illustrated my point in his amendment requesting the addition of the word "chemical". He is concerned about a danger--he expressed his fear dramatically and well--which, he believes, is not only on the horizon but almost upon us. He believes that the Security Service should be trained and able, within the remit outlined in the Bill, to deal with that danger. Another hon. Member might make a similar speech about biological threats, but that issue is not dealt with in any of the amendments. My hon. Friend's point illustrates the difficulty of attempting to take into account all the uncertainties of the future.
Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. Hurd : In drafting legislation that relates to the nation's security we cannot avoid recognising the fact that we cannot always foresee from where the next threat will come. If we had been drafting this legislation 30 years ago we might not have put the emphasis on terrorism as the Bill and the scheme of my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge- Brownhills do.
The Bill allows the Security Service to identify and, if necessary, take action to prevent such threats. It is right to do so. However, clause 1 makes it clear that the Security
Column 215Service is not able to act except to protect the security of the nation and to safeguard its economic well-being from outside threats. It cannot act in support of sectional and other interests without acting outside its remit.
Mr. Richard Shepherd : As I understand it, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary says that the function of the Security Service shall be the protection of national security. He has added a few other words to show the extent to which that is so, but they are merely the icing on the cake. The essence of the clause is to say that the function of the Security Service is the protection of national security. That requires no definition because we have talked about it in previous debates and exigencies that we cannot now contemplate may arise in the future. Clause 1(2) cannot be an all- embracing definition, although it relates to a few serious threats to the nation. It is broad and it is not a definition of the proper function.
Mr. Hurd : My hon. Friend has a different approach designed to provide, in January 1989, a comprehensive breakdown of how the protection of national security should be achieved. The Bill does not do that and I have explained why. I do not think that we can do that. My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South, by trying to add to that comprehensive breakdown an aspect which he believes to be important, has illustrated my point.
Mr. Maclennan : The Home Secretary has taken issue with the attempt to define national security as set out in the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd). I prefer the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills' amendment and I put my name to it, but there is an alternative. My amendment No. 74 was designed to give effect to what the Home Secretary has just said about the breadth of the phrase "national security". The Home Secretary said that by "national security" we mean that which threatens the safety and well-being of the state. That is an objective test which was included in Lord Harris of Greenwich's definition and in the Maxwell Fyfe directive. However, for some reason which is not clear to me, the Government have departed from their earlier definition and are using the phrase "national security" as if its meaning were obvious. As a result, they are opening wide the ambit of the service to look not only at matters which by any test are a threat to national security but at matters which are not a threat to national security and should not be covered by the Bill. Why will the Home Secretary not accept the language of Lord Harris of Greenwich's definition?
Mr. Hurd : I have just re-read the hon. Gentleman's amendment. He seems to accept the basic point that it is difficult to define by statute all the circumstances in which the Security Service might intervene to protect national security. I have given one or two examples, and my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South gave another in the form of an amendment.
Having re-read the hon. Gentleman's amendment, I do not think that it alters the position. The Bill as drafted sets out clearly the bulk of the activities of the secret service. That is not defined in a way that would prevent the service from moving into new spheres if it was found to be necessary.
Mr. Shepherd : My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made much of the concern about the word "chemical". Paragraph (a) of amendment No. 47 provides a mandate by which to pursue anxieties involving chemical warfare. It may be defined as sabotage and may be said to be detrimental to the interests of the United Kingdom. It could be covered by paragraph (b), which involves a "threat to any person". There is a series of catch-alls for the contingency which concerns my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the House. The definitions in amendment No. 47 are wide enough.
Mr. Hurd : I do not think that we can be sure that they are wide enough. If a crisis arose, it might be possible to slot it into my my hon. Friend's definitions. Presumably my hon. Friend tabled the amendment because he fears that it might not be possible, and it is better to be clear beyond peradventure that it fits in. Obviously my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South was not content to take his chances with amendment No. 47. In picking up his point and the points raised by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland, I am expounding the Bill as it stands.
Mr. Hurd : The matter has been raised, and I have a statement of the present situation which would remain unchanged under the Bill. It is for Departments to make proper arrangements for the security of their papers before there is any question of a leak. They may take advice from the Security Service where appropriate. If there is reason to believe that departmental information has been leaked, obviously it is for that Department to deal with it. The advice and assistance of the Security Service would not be sought unless issues of national security were involved. That seems to me to be a reasonable position.
I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) and studied his amendment No. 40. Of course we are familiar with the different aspects of our national life. Indeed, in another context there is a proposal before the House concerning Northern Ireland. It is perfectly true that police constables and members of the armed services are given particular powers under the Crown. I do not consider that members of the Security Service are in that category or that it would serve the purpose which the hon. Gentleman had in mind to put them, but not other civilian servants of the Crown, in that position.
I now move to the concern about subversion which has been expressed by just about every right hon. and hon. Member who has spoken in this debate. It is generally accepted that the Security Service must be able to protect the nation from those who threaten national security by
Column 217seeking to undermine or overthrow parliamentary democracy. There are differences in interpretation, but I do not wish to accept the invitation of the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) to describe exactly what is meant by parliamentary democracy. If the House accepts the Bill, I do not consider that the courts will have very much difficulty on that point. The question concerns the definition of subversion. Despite their deep scepticism, I should like to allay the genuine concerns that have been expressed by the Opposition and by Conservative Members about how that is to be defined.
We start from the definition by Lord Harris of Greenwich, who has had a terrible mauling from his previous friends. When the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent was in full swing about the horrors of that definition, I noticed the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) look rather attentively at his papers because he specifically endorsed that definition when he was Home Secretary. Therefore, it has a rather more distinguished lineage than the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent gave it credit for. It states : "Subversive activities are generally regarded as those which threaten the safety or well-being of the State and which are intended to undermine or overthrow Parliamentary democracy by political, industrial or violent means."--[ Official Report, House of Lords, 26 February 1975 ; Vol 357, c. 947.]
The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland was anxious that both legs of that definition--I think that he described them more elegantly as limbs-- should appear in the Bill. I hope that I can persuade him that that is already the case. First,
"the safety or well-being of the State"
is covered by the reference in the Bill to
"the protection of national security".
I repeat that national security can relate only to the safety or well-being of the nation. The second limb is also spelt out in the Bill. I ask the Committee carefully to consider the restrictions in the Bill on that part of the functions of the Security Service. The Bill homes in on
"actions intended to overthrow or undermine parliamentary democracy by political, industrial or violent means."
Therefore, it is clear that there has to be a deliberate intention. It is not enough that a person's actions might be argued to have that unintended effect. However, if that is someone's deliberate intention, it is reasonable to include in the Bill those who seek to undermine parliamentary democracy as well as those who aim to overthrow it, otherwise there would be a weakness in our defence.
Mr. Hurd : I shall complete my argument before I give way to the hon. Gentleman, who has tabled amendments on this matter. Under the provisions of the Bill, even that would not be enough to bring the Security Service into play. As clause 1 is drafted, the Security Service could do nothing unless such intentions represented a real threat to the security of the nation. I consider that it is a reasonable definition. It includes
"political, industrial or violent means"
because it would be naive to suppose that people with such a deliberate intention could not represent a threat to the security of the nation by exploiting the industrial life of the country. Under the restrictions that I have defined, it would not be sensible to accept the amendment that seeks to delete the word "industrial" because it is possible to
Column 218conceive of people in that category using industrial means for their purposes. It does not mean that anyone engaged in industrial action is liable to the attention of the Security Service. I shall return to that point more positively in a moment.
Mr. Winnick rose--
Mr. Buchan rose--
Mr. Hurd : The hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) has not yet spoken, but I shall give way to him and to the hon. Member for Walsall, North when I have completed my argument on this point. The Security Service should be able to identify and obtain information about those who exploit freedoms under the law to overthrow or undermine our parliamentary democracy. That is preferable to waiting, helpless and ignorant, until some illegal or violent action is taken to overthrow our democratic system. Therefore, I believe that the Bill is correct in that. I hope that I have shown the Committee that the power of the Security Service is strictly limited. We knew that that would be a particular concern, and we have spent a substantial amount of time mulling over it.
Although the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent pressed me hard to accept the amendment, he suggested that it might be useful if I spelt out the point in a more positive way. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish also came close to making that point. There is no power in the Bill to enable the Security Service to take any interest in any person or organisation or any activity or enterprise which presents no threat to the security of the nation as a whole. It does not matter if such people have views on the structure or organisation of Parliament or if they are involved in seeking to change industrial practices in this country or to negotiate a better deal if they are members of trade unions, or if they seek to challenge or change the Government's policies relating to defence, employment, foreign policy or anything else. The narrow party political interests of the Government of the day have no part to play in deciding on the necessary involvement of the Security Service. Its sole criterion in relation to a subversive threat is whether there is a deliberate intention to undermine parliamentary democracy and whether that presents a real threat to the security of the nation.
In the light of the comments made in yesterday's debate, I asked for such a statement this morning, perhaps rather foreseeing the point made by the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent. I do not expect hon. Members to accept it in toto because that is not the nature of the debate. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members find that interpretation useful, and to some extent reassuring, in defining the purpose of the Bill. It is not meant as a declaration of ministerial policy but a statement of what the Bill contains.
Mr. Winnick : What has just been stated by the Home Secretary should be in the Bill itself, so that there can be no doubt or ambiguity. Also, given that Lord Harris of Greenwich's definition has become so controversial and has been abused--though the Home Secretary will not admit it--what is wrong with the original definition given by Lord Denning, which was in use until 1975 and whose terms I have included in amendment No. 76? What is wrong with amendment No. 77, which would insert, instead of Lord Harris's definition,
Column 219"which are calculated to overthrow Parliamentary democracy"? Mr. Buchan rose --
Mr. Benn rose --
Mr. Buchan : It is not good enough for the Home Secretary to make a statement of the kind that he has made when the interpretation he offers could be accepted and written into the Bill by a Government amendment. There is no security provided by any statement made by a Minister at the Dispatch Box. There are other ways of dealing with the matter. A schedule can be inserted for the avoidance of doubt. It could be included in the Bill, preceded by the words
"nothing in the above section means"--
or something of that kind. Such an addition will provide security. Otherwise, the Home Secretary will create great anxiety and terror among many people in this country.
Mr. Hurd : I was not attempting to make a statement of ministerial policy. Instead--and I took some care about it--I responded to an invitation extended by the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent, though I did not know that I would be doing so. What I set out is the interpretation of the Bill. It is a description of what the Bill contains--not only in clause 1 but in other clauses--including that concerning political influence.
Mr. Foot : As the right hon. Gentleman has made his statement in the form that he has, I hope that he will consider incorporating those same words into the Bill--though whether they go as far as we would wish is something I should like to consider. If the Home Secretary incorporates those words into the Bill--and I trust that he will do so--I hope that he will then give the House an opportunity to consider them again, and to amend them if necessary. That is the proper way by which the House should legislate. I invite the right hon. Gentleman to take that course, which would be a concession that the House will greatly value.
Will the Home Secretary also tell the Committee what he proposes to do about the suggestion that the amendment of the hon. Member for Aldridge- Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) deals with lawful advocacy, protest or dissent, unless it is carried on in conjunction with any of the activities to which the clause refers? Will he also undertake to ensure that such a provision, whether in the form suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) or in some other, will be included in the Bill? If he includes both, we shall be making a real advance. Certainly the Home Secretary must tell the Committee what is his view of the clause, which is designed to protect liberal argument and discussion in the way that it has been understood in this country for many generations.
Mr. Hurd : If the right hon. Gentleman studies the Bill--I have drawn on clauses concerning political bias that we have not yet reached--he will find that the points about dissent that concern him are covered. The scope of the Security Service is as I have rather carefully stated it. The
Column 220definition of national security is as I have rather carefully stated it. I do not intend improvising further on that point. I am sure that anyone studying my remarks against the background of the Bill will find in the Bill textual justification for everything that I have said. I am not attempting to add a ministerial gloss. I am simply stating the Bill's impact.
Mr. Benn : It is well known that, when a case goes to court, the views of a Minister when presenting a Bill to the House carry no weight with the judges, who are there to interpret the words of the statute approved by Parliament and not the opinion of the Minister, who may be a bird of passage.
By uttering words that we cannot examine in writing and amend, the Home Secretary denies us the power--even if we agree with every word of what he said--to enact in statute the assurance he gave. His assurance will not carry any weight in another place, because it was made in this House. Also, is it a collective statement? Has that statement been through the Cabinet, or is it just the Home Secretary's way of getting out of a difficulty in the light of the powerful arguments made today? I hope that the Home Secretary recognises that I am not being discourteous or unsympathetic but that we want matters affecting civil liberties to be enshrined in statute rather than rely on Lord Kilmuir or Lord Harris of Greenwich, or--dare I say it?--the present Home Secretary, whose future authority may not last for ever or be held to be adequate.
Mr. Hurd : Of course it will not last for ever, and I am not pretending that it will. I do not know whether the right hon. Member for Chesterfield was present in the Chamber when his right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent invited me to give the interpretation that I did. The right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent said that it was not binding in a court of law. I am not seeking to add to the Bill. I am simply explaining what the Bill contains, which is the whole purpose for which it has been worked out by the Government.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills drew attention to the European Court of Human Rights judgment in the Leander v. Sweden case in 1987. We are satisfied that the Bill meets the requirements of the convention, taking account of its terms and of case law, including the judgment to which my hon. Friend referred. I come to the separate point concerning the nation's economic well-being, which is the subject of several amendments, and on which the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish spent some time, as did other hon. Members. The purpose is to allow the Security Service to safeguard the United Kingdom's economic well-being from hostile foreign actions and adverse developments arising outside these islands. It relates to foreign affairs and not to the domestic affairs of this country. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish made a critical point, but what would be his view if protection of the nation's economic well- being had not been confined to threats from outside these islands? He would immediately pounce on the Government for attempting to allow the Security Service to intervene in any form of industrial action that might damage the country's well-being. That aspect is deliberately restricted and confined in the way that the Bill sets out. By virtue of the reference to the United Kingdom,
Column 221it must be a matter of national significance, and not something trivial or peripheral to the nation's economic well-being. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills knows that the European convention on human rights defines a nation's economic well-being as being a matter of proper concern for a public authority. However, the Bill offers a much narrower definition than does the European convention on human rights. It is proper that the Security Service should be able to join with others in safeguarding the nation's economic well-being from outside threat. It must be in a position to contribute to that objective when it is best placed to do so--and that requires an appropriate provision in the Bill. It is not difficult to envisage the circumstances in which such a safeguard will be needed. One does not need to use one's imagination, because two such threats arose in dramatic circumstances over the past 20 years. It can happen that there is a threat from abroad in respect of a commodity upon which we are particularly dependent. One can think of oil as being such an example from the past, though not now. One thinks also of foreign powers employing covert intelligence methods to obtain scientific and technical secrets-- though not by using agents, which will be covered either by the Bill or my hon. Friend's alternative.
Although such occasions may not arise frequently, it is important that the Security Service should have the necessary power, subject to the restrictions and with the definition that I have explained, particularly as it is a power envisaged by the European Court of Human Rights as one for which the state may have special responsibility.
I have tried to give way, as is right in Committee, and I hope that I have dealt with all the substantial points made on both sides of the Committee. Yesterday's debate was on a major point of principle. I do not think that questions of definition present such major points of principle, but--as the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent and my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills pointed out--they are crucially important as the legislation goes on to the statute book. I do not wish to be polemical, but we are still in a certain amount of difficulty because of suspicions felt especially by Opposition Members, which, although they are largely unfounded, somewhat obscure their vision of the future. I hope that, as they examine the Bill--which will bind the service and Ministers in the future--as it is and as it will be interpreted by the courts, they will find that, although it does not include everything they want, such as parliamentary oversight, it is a substantial step forward that most hon. Members will welcome.
Mr. Foot : We still hope that, having gone so far, the right hon. Gentleman will be prepared seriously to consider incorporating in the Bill the form of words that he has put forward. The Bill will have no Report stage unless an amendment is carried, and we want a chance to examine the wording.
I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman has answered the central question that I have put to him, as have other hon. Members : why do the Government refuse to include wording that underlines that lawful advocacy, protest or dissent carried on in normal ways is perfectly appropriate and that no Security Service operations can be allowed to interfere with it? Why do they not seize the opportunity to remove some fears by incorporating such a
Column 222provision, in their own words if they wish? If, as he has said, that is what the Home Secretary means, why does he not say it in the Bill?
Mr. Hurd : The Bill sets about the problem in a different way. It sets out to say what the Security Service can do rather than what it cannot do. It uses the Harris definition, which the right hon. Gentleman so dislikes, of subversion and the restrictions of damage to the United Kingdom as a whole, and the other restrictions that I have spelt out. Although, as is the custom in statute, the Bill approaches the question by saying what a Government can do, I think that the right hon. Gentleman will find that it arrives at the same conclusion.
Mr. Buchan : I shall endeavour to be brief because there are many serious points to be made by my colleagues and we hope to achieve at least some progress in ministerial understanding. We have some serious words to say to the Home Secretary. He recognised, or at least said that he recognised, the genuine anxiety felt by Opposition Members. I stress that we are not engaged in a political ploy ; we are desperately anxious about the present nature of the Bill and the resistance to change embodied in it. I remind the Home Secretary that we have only one opportunity to look again at the Bill in the light of his statement. If he accepts a small amendment today, we shall be able to debate the Bill on Report. There are several minor amendments which, if the right hon. Gentleman accepted them now--or accepted one of them--could be rejected on Report if he wished.
Freedom is not a simple thing. It is very fragile, and I think that the Home Secretary is taking the concepts developed in the Bill rather too lightly. Yesterday we tried to find means of controlling the Security Service ; today we are considering what is to be controlled. The position is the more serious because we made no progress yesterday in allowing the operations of the service to be brought before a Committee of the House. We are faced with a double jeopardy. The Security Service will be under the sole control of the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister, with no public, representative or accountable analysis to be carried out by Parliament. Moreover, the material with which the service will be legally empowered to deal is, in our view, wide, extensive, dangerous and genuinely worrying. This is not a political point. It is one thing for those who make up the structure of government to behave in a secretive fashion, getting up to a kind of skulduggery--as it must now be seen--and sanctifying their behaviour by the law. The state as a whole is then moved towards accepting the destruction of freedom. When that was done in an underhand way--under the counter, as it were--at least the basis of freedom sanctified in nation and state was maintained. But when it is made legal the state is in a mess : it is indeed in danger.
The Bill says that the function of the Security Service is to protect the nation
"from the activities of agents of foreign powers and from actions intended to overthrow or undermine parliamentary democracy by political, industrial or violent means".
If that definition is not confined or limited, it will be an open sesame for this or any future Home Secretary. Without power to control, our parliamentary democracy cannot be regarded as safe. Parliamentary democracy is in
Column 223a very weak condition. On issue after issue we have had to rely on the House of Lords to be progressive and to safeguard the well-being of the country.
I was waiting to hear on what basis the Home Secretary could reject the words of safety introduced in many of the amendments, particularly those of his hon. Friends in amendment No. 47. They were not rejecting what he now says is the purport of the Bill ; on the contrary, it was assumed that that should be its purpose. Amendment No. 47 defined and therefore limited it so as to bring about the safeguards that we seek.
We cannot even get it written into the Bill that industrial or political action confined to lawful advocacy, protest or dissent will not be subject to the investigations of a body subject only to control by the Prime Minister. I do not know what security that gives to industrial workers given the behaviour of the present Prime Minister at the height of the miners' strike. If the Home Secretary had visited some of the mining villages he would have known the depth and sincerity of feeling there. The Government regarded the strike as a scandalous operation, not realising that hearts and souls were involved. At the height of that action few of us could see the mining villages without being touched by the genuine decency of the whole operation, but the Prime Minister chose to describe the people there as the enemies within. We cannot trust such a Prime Minister. I believe that I could trust the Home Secretary if he was not controlled by such a Prime Minister--I think that he is displaying weakness, not evil-- but we certainly cannot trust a future unknown Prime Minister.
In every way the liberties and the freedoms of this country have been whittled away. Now they are being whittled away from Parliament. We are not even given the opportunity to put into legal form the words and intentions uttered by the Home Secretary. If he means what he says, he must put it in the Bill. I too have been a Home Office Minister, or at least a home affairs Minister at the Scottish Office. Time and again one was told, "It is no use standing at the Dispatch Box explaining what you mean because no judge will listen. If that is what you mean, you must put it into legal form." What the Home Secretary means is not in the Bill. If it were, we might be discussing it or amendments to it. The Home Secretary says that it is implied in the Bill, but it is not stated in the Bill. If he wishes to state it in the Bill, there are easy ways of doing it. He could do it in a schedule. He could do it, as I said, by adding that nothing in the subsection affects the safeguarding of protest and dissent. If we examine what the Government actually believe the provision to be saying, it is for the protection of national security. His hon. Friends have defined that in a series of ways and sought to limit it. His answer is that a situation might arise with new elements of terror, as in King Lear's
"such things--what they are yet I know not, but they shall be the terrors of the earth."
That is what he says, but it is nonsense. The threats are of espionage, terrorism and sabotage, but other Members have found means of qualifying that so that protest, dissent and industrial action can be permitted. We plead with the Home Secretary to do the proper thing here. He cannot do it unless he allows a Report stage because the provision is not in the Bill. His words are not in the Bill.
Column 224If they were in the Bill, he would not have needed to come to the Dispatch Box to iterate them as being his point of view. Let us have a small amendment so that we can come back to the matter on Report. The legislation introduced alongside this--the legalising of burglary, bugging and so on--is an open and eager extension of what we used to accuse the security services of doing. I have given my own experience in relation to MI5 and the security system. We said that they should not be doing such things and were told that they could not be doing such terrible things. The Bill now says that they can. I do not think that the Home Secretary has taken on board what this is doing to liberty and freedom in this country, any more than he did when he failed to understand the judgment of the Law Lords in relation to the Official Secrets Act and the defence of public interest, which he has apparently discarded.
I regret to say this to a genuinely honest and liberal Minister, but even if we come through this period without this blowing up in our faces he will still go down in history not as the most liberal Home Secretary but as the most illiberal and weak Home Secretary. He can show strength tonight by at least granting that single small concession. Let us have an amendment-- there are plenty that he can accept without destroying the Bill--so that we can come back to the matter. Failing that, we must depend upon the House of Lords. What price parliamentary democracy now, when we cannot rely on the House of Commons to defend its own parliamentary democracy but have to rely on the House of Lords to do it for us? We have to look not to the heralds of freedom that we have found on these Benches in the past, but to the judges whose function should be to iterate the law. To them we must turn.
This is a sad day for the Home Secretary and a sad day for the country. I hope that he will rethink.
Ms. Abbott : There is always something slightly "Alice in Wonderland" about discussing the security services, and so it is this evening. About 10 minutes ago I heard a statement of policy by a Minister, who went on to assure us it was not a statement of ministerial policy, and we now understand it cannot stand up in a court of law. I am obliged to ask in all naivety, if it is not a statement of policy and it will not stand up in a court of law, why did he bother to make the statement? Is it simply to reassure us on a personal basis that the Minister is, after all, a kindly and humane man? We are not concerned with that. What I believe my hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite are concerned with is the actual text of the legislation which we are debating this evening.
It is with a certain amount of diffidence that anybody speaks in this debate, which is so full of people who have either worked for MI5 or have fantasised about working for MI5, and people who are Home Secretaries or have fantasised about being Home Secretaries. Nonetheless, I make a small contribution.
I listened with care to the Secretary of State explaining the tangled and subjective wording around the definition of threats to national security and, as I understood what he had to say, he gave three explanations for words which everyone who has spoken has said are lamentable and fail to meet the case. He said that the wording simply sets out what the Security Service does at the moment. Some of us might say that that is the problem. He went on to say that the wording has to do with the fact that it is, of course, impossible to be comprehensive in a Bill. We on this side
Column 225would argue that that is mere sophistry. The point which is so important about amendment No. 47 is what it says the Bill does not include. The Secretary of State's final explanation for his wording is that this Bill is about what the Security Service can do, not what it cannot do.
This is the point of many of the interventions this evening. We believe that, given the very wide powers the Security Service has, given the absence of effective parliamentary scrutiny and surveillance, it is crucial that the legislation specifies what the Security Service cannot do, and that is the point of the final two sentences of amendment No. 47.
We have heard from the Secretary of State very beguiling assurances, but they are assurances which have no weight, which have no force, and, above all, would not stand up in court. We on the Labour Benches believe that it is crucial that the text of this legislation embodies something which reflects the final lines of amendment No. 47 and reflects the spirit of what the Minister has said. It is not too late--in fact, it is in all respects appropriate that at the Committee stage an amendment should be brought forward which reflects the concerns that have been expressed on both sides of the House.
Mr. Tony Banks : I have sat right the way through this debate getting more and more concerned by what I have heard raised on both sides of the Committee in terms of the amendments moved, and my fear and trepidation of this Bill was compounded by what the Home Secretary had to say. He gave us a considered view on what the definitions, as he saw it, were supposed to be all about. He gave us what amounted to an assurance from the Dispatch Box with regard to definitions, and yet he was not prepared to agree to a demand from both sides to incorporate such assurances, such statements, within the Bill.
There is no report stage tonight, but what the Home Secretary said earlier could be incorporated in another place. If what has been said at the Dispatch Box tonight were put in writing, we could see how it accords with our understanding of the matter and whether it meets the various poins that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee have tried to put forward tonight. If it does, it could easily be incorporated in the Bill.
The Home Secretary must have thought long and hard about his statement in view of what was said yesterday and what he knew would be said tonight. It would be a shame to waste all that careful consideration and let it pass into the annals of parliamentary history ; into the Official Report , but not into the Bill. As a number of hon. Members have already said, all the assurances in the world in Committee when legislation is being drafted mean nothing when the Act is considered in a court of law. We must all assume that the Bill will at some stage be tested in court. Someone will be judging actions against the words of the legislation. We accept that the Home Secretary's intentions are honourable, but we want to make sure that those honourable intentions are enshrined in the Bill so that we can sleep more easily in our beds when it becomes an Act.
As we have said throughout, we want to try to define more narrowly the boundaries within which the security services can legally confine their activities. That is perfectly reasonable. We understand that they operate in a grey area ; that is the nature of the security forces. So much more important, then, is it that we should make sure that as far as possible we define their activities within that grey
Column 226area. There will always be areas of discretion. On many occasions in future the Home Secretary will have to decide whether to authorise certain actions. We accept that as well. But we cannot allow the Home Secretary in effect to say that national security means exactly what he believes it to mean. That is not an adequate definition for us. There are many things that I could say about terminology. There is no immediate consensus between the Home Secretary, some Conservative Members and every Labour Member who has spoken tonight on parliamentary democracy. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) was right to ask what would happen if a Labour Government pressed for the abolition of the other place, which at the moment is part of Britain's parliamentary democratic set-up. If the Labour party campaigned at a general election for the abolition of the House of Lords and a Labour Government then took office determined to carry out their manifesto pledge, would they fall foul of the interests and activities of the security services? It could be said that by trying to eliminate the other place the Labour Government were undermining parliamentary democracy. In a political forum we can never completely agree on definitions that have any form of political connotation. That is obvious. However, it is reasonable to ask the Home Secretary to accept amendment No. 47 which excludes
"lawful advocacy, protest or dissent, unless carried on in conjunction with any of the activities referred to"
from threats to national security which are the subject of activities by the security services.
The Opposition believe fervently and passionately in parliamentary democracy. Some Conservative Members might not believe that, but we do and we always try to preserve parliamentary democracy. The Opposition believe so much in parliamentary democracy that we want to try to achieve Socialism through parliamentary means. Many people outside the Labour party think that we are foolish, indeed stupid, to believe that that is possible. Unless the Home Secretary makes it clear in the Bill that any legal political activities that might call for the removal of capitalism--not the violent overthrow of capitalism--are consistent with the Bill, we shall always believe that the security services will be interested in the activities of Labour party Members and Labour Governments if those Labour Governments are determined to abolish capitalism and replace it with Socialism. That is what we are interested in protecting.
As I have said, there are many who do not believe that Parliament can be used to achieve Socialism in Britain. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) said in his book "A Very British Coup", when a Labour Government threaten the status quo and the capitalist system, they will be destabilised. That is when the extra-parliamentary forces of the Conservative party will start to mobilise themselves in order to destabilise that Government. That is the time when many Labour Members consider that the belief that many Conservative Members say that they have in parliamentary democracy will be stripped away. They will support parliamentary democracy as long as that means the status quo or capitalism. As soon as it means Socialism, we could be accused of undermining parliamentary democracy and so fall foul of the Bill.