Column 778doubt, as the hon. Member for Thanet, South said, the debate about that will not be ended by the passing of the Bill.
National security should not be a disguise for narrow political interests, or scoundrels or rogues, be they those like Wright or any similar person, to undermine the parliamentary democracy and civil liberties about which we are concerned and which we are determined to defend. The matters that have come to light must cause us the maximum amount of concern and disquiet. What a pity that, throughout the debates on the Bill, neither the Home Secretary nor the Minister could bring himself to admit that mistakes and abuses have occurred. It would have been better if they had frankly admitted that. That is yet another reason why we are so concerned about the Bill and why we do not believe that its enactment will avoid the mistakes and serious abuses that have occurred in the past.
I am sure that the Secretary of State wishes that MI5 was not such a source of continuing political controversy. I understand the feeling in Government circles, and certainly on the part of the Home Secretary, that MI5 should not have such a high political profile. If the Bill had been amended, MI5 would have a far lower political profile in the future, and it would not be the subject of so much continuing controversy. I regret that, since the Bill's introduction, we have not been able to make the necessary changes and reforms that would have largely avoided the abuses about which I have spoken. Unfortunately, the Government were not willing to concede anything, having introduced the Bill for the reasons I have explained. No matter how much the Home Secretary and other Ministers hope that this matter will go away, MI5 will continue to be the subject of controversy. The Opposition will raise the matter whenever we have the opportunity because we strongly believe in democracy and civil liberties. I have already said that it is necessary to have a Security Service, but one that is accountable to Parliament. That is the essence, I believe, of a parliamentary democracy, and I regret the Government's attitude throughout the proceedings on the Bill. 9.18 pm
Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay) : In my misplaced optimism--call it inexperience or perhaps ignorance--I rather hoped and assumed that, in Committee, the Government would actively pursue many of the constructive ideas put forward by both sides of the House. Nobody has a monopoly of wisdom on this subject, and I was terribly disappointed, inexperienced though I am as a parliamentarian, by the Government's attitude.
I have at least one contribution to make, which I hope will clear up the mystery created by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, I think deliberately, when he rejected the opportunity to introduced parliamentary oversight. He chucked out the idea of a committee of Privy Councillors, rejected the idea of a detailed report from the commissioner and declined to take up the quite sensible suggestion to extend the role of the commissioner. Cogent examples and arguments were put before him. I could not understand why he was so unwilling to share the burden of his responsibility, particularly when other examples had been given--Canada was identified as a classic example. I now know why.
The Home Secretary said that Canada had its own solutions and we should examine the problems that face
Column 779this country. There are great parallels between the two countries. Canada endured the bombing of an Air India jet and had to take appropriate measures thereafter. Canada also has considerable loyalty problems. Security Service officers in Canada say that one of their great challenges is that Canada is such a cosmopolitan community and there is no such thing as a born Canadian. People have different backgrounds and loyalties.
What made Canada so different from the United Kingdom? What was the spike upon which the Home Secretary was determined to impale himself? It is that the Canadian intelligence community does not have a foreign intelligence gathering group. I have subsequently discovered that the advice given to him was that, if he was to give way on oversight--to allow any supervision of the Security Service--it might lead to the supervision and oversight of another organisation that successive Governments have declined to admit exists in peace time. That is the sole reason why the Home Secretary has been so obstinate. It is uncharacteristic of him because usually, with great courtesy, he takes--
Mr. William Cash (Stafford) : My hon. Friend is making a generalised point about another service. Is he saying that there is no supervision? Under the Bill, legal duties imposed upon the Secretary of State, the commissioner and the director general would be required to be assessed and interpreted by the courts. Therefore, there is supervision by judicial review if a person wants to challenge the basis on which the functions are carried out. Surely my hon. Friend recognises that.
Mr. Allason : I regret that my hon. Friend was not present during our two days in Committee. We outlined all the different opportunities for parliamentary oversight. The Home Secretary obstinately resisted this point all the way through. In essence, he said that everything was fine, there may have been one or two problems in the past and we were placing great trust in the Home Secretary. He said that he had wide shoulders and could bear that burden.
When the Home Secretary talked about the past he spoke of "ill-defined" legality. The Bill--if it does nothing else--at least gives the Security Service a cloak of legality. The pressure from both sides of the House has been not just for legality but for a measure of oversight.
Mr. Lawrence : If my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary does not wish to concede anything on oversight on the secret service because he does not want to concede oversight on another branch of the security services, will my hon. Friend say why he thinks that would be a bad reason?
Mr. Allason : My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) characterised the Home Secretary as King Canute because he opposes something that has been widely and successfully introduced around the world, in New Zealand, Australia and Canada. Sooner or later there is bound to be a measure of oversight. Those who were in their places throughout the consideration of the Bill in Committee will recall the continuing argument that there should be some improvement in the existing system.
We know that everything has not been entirely satisfactory in the past. Mention has been made of the contribution to this continuing debate of Mr. Macmillan, and his role in the Profumo affair was one of profound ignorance. He was never aware that Stephen Ward was an
Column 780agent of the Security Service. That ignorance, which has been argued for by at least one of my hon. Friends, cannot be sustained. There have been numerous incidents where it has been shown that the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister have been unable to keep their finger on the day-to-day operations of the Security Service. It has often been said that the lesson that is never learned from history is that people never learn things from history, and we know that history has a tendency to repeat itself. I have no doubt that we shall be debating these issues again with a view to having some parliamentary oversight or scrutiny, or to make the Bill acceptable to the European courts.
Mr. Norman Buchan (Paisley, South) : I do not know whether the Home Secretary was in his place on the Government Bench when the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) said that Home Office Ministers behaved abominably on Monday and Tuesday of last week--they treated the House with contempt and, therefore, the country as well--because they wanted to preserve MI6 from any following investigation. The Home Secretary might want to comment on that.
I believe that that attitude of boorishness stems from the fact that they ignored the warning of Francis Pym some years ago, which was based on the size of the majority that the Tory party might gain in the then general election. He warned of what the consequences would be. We have seen this boorishness on issue after issue. The Government have treated the House with contempt. I have been a Member of this place for 20 years and never previously have I encountered the behaviour that I saw on Monday and Tuesday of last week, on an issue that to a great extent had brought both sides of the House together.
It is our concern that we have an effective secret service. We are concerned also that it is placed under proper democratic control and supervision. Faced with that concern, the Home Secretary still resisted even the mildest of amendments which were designed to introduce some supervision. The right hon. Gentleman should be warned. The people of England have not yet spoken. Incidentally, the people of Scotland have spoken, and the Government might learn a lesson from that.
This is not an isolated Bill. It is one of a series of measures that have limited freedom of speech in every possible way. That has applied to the BBC and the press, and it will be the effect of what will be the new Official Secrets Act. That legislation stems from the exposure of the security services' failure. It has arisen in part from the Wright case. Agitation for change stemmed from that issue and many others. The Government spent two foolish years dragging a senior civil servant through the courts, which humiliated him and the nation in the eyes of the world. Eventually the final decision was reached that the public interest should be taken into consideration, and that was right. Everybody expected that to happen. Unfortunately, the public interest is ignored in the Bill. The inadequacies of MI5, including those of the past, have not been properly denied by Peter Wright, and that is one of the inadequacies of the book. It is regrettable that the Government have not taken the opportunity to put the organisation under proper control.
We are concerned with the failure to bring the secret service--MI5 and the other security services--under
Column 781proper democratic control. The seriousness of that failure is magnified when we consider the looseness of the definition. Opportunities were presented, not to alter the guts of the Bill, and MI5's role, as the Secretary of State defined it, by adding words such as "protest" and "dissent". The same would have been true if what the Home Secretary had said had been put in legislative form. Why in heaven's name should he come to the House, make a speech saying what the Bill is about and then flatly refuse to put what he says into legislative form? That is but another example of the Government's boorishness.
We are witnessing the end of the sovereignty of Parliament, and we are halfway through the sovereignty of the Executive. Its sovereignty has increased, is increasing and ought to be diminished. We are put at enormous risk when we allow that to happen.
We are told that the Bill is based on the Maxwell Fyfe directive, but it is infinitely weaker. I understand that he jotted his five points down on a napkin when he was away from the office for lunch for an hour. In regard to political control, he said that it was essential that the Security Service should be kept absolutely free of any political bias or influence and that nothing should be done that might lend colour to any suggestion that it is concerned with the interests of any section of the community or with any matter other than the defence of the realm. The Home Secretary claims to have incorporated that argument in the Bill, but he has not--he has weakened it significantly. Clause 2(2)(b) provides :
"that the Service does not take any action to further the interests of any political party."
The thrust of Maxwell Fyfe has been thrown out of the window. We do not believe that the security services are entirely the paid servants of the Conservative party, even though some of their actions might imply that they are. Those of us with experience at the other end of the process are in no doubt, however, about the bias of their thinking. I do not know of any example of MI5 bugging the boardrooms of directors in the City. We know of their bugging people who want more democracy in Britain, or want to change our war policy, or who want to demonstrate on the streets in support of their jobs. We do not yet know of any time when boardrooms have been bugged --
Mr. Buchan : Indeed. We were presented with an opportunity to bring the service under control. The Home Secretary says that we cannot copy Canada because it is different, or America because it has a different political structure, or France or Germany. We are now the only western democracy which has failed to bring its Security Service under any kind of supervisory control. We are not arguing that we should copy the example of others. What we want, and what the Bill fails to provide, is some democratic supervision.
Resisting that, when the Franks committee dealt with a much more sensitive situation, is an insult to every hon. and right hon. Member. The Home Secretary is saying that only the Home Secretary can be entrusted with the information, and that it can be reported to the Prime Minister. He is wiping off 649 other hon. Members, including you, Mr. Speaker. We cannot leave supervision
Column 782with the Executive--it has too much power. That power should be diminished. We should make a start on that later this week when we discuss the Official Secrets Bill.
Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton) : We are witnessing, not the break-up of parliamentary democracy as we know it, but a number of hon. Members going right over the top. Apart from possibly, the hon. Members for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) and for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), who appeared to complain that we are making illegal something which he shamefully says went on in the past--namely, that the Security Service concerned itself with the interests of a political party--which is an odd way to behave when we are changing the law for the better, one can conclude from the debate that there is a fair amount of common ground.
Hon. Members on both sides agree the objectives of the Bill. They are to establish a clear framework of statute, defining in law the functions of the service and the responsibilities of Ministers, and providing for the first time a statutory remedy for members of the public who have complaints about the security services. This is a recognition of the public anxiety inside and outside Parliament and a substantial step forward in protecting society generally and the rights of citizens who are involved in the Security Service in particular.
In general, the criticism seems to have been that much more should be done to provide an oversight which is completely independent of the Government, more accountability and a more dependable remedy for those wronged. Hon. Members have called for more definition of functions--a wider definition and more functions. Only the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) seems to think that the Bill provides too much and that we should remain as we are. He says that clause 5(4) means that there is no longer a recourse to the courts. It does not mean any such thing. It cannot. The Bill provides for new institutions--the tribunal and the commissioner--and the restriction governs only them. The provision does not mean that security matters cannot be raised in the courts as they can at present. It means that the decisions of the tribunal and commissioner alone shall not be questioned by any court. Obviously, it would be remarkable if any other provision were made.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) took me to task for not agreeing with what he said about the meaning of national security. He says that the Bill should spell out in even more detail what is meant by such understandable words as espionage, terrorism, sabotage, parliamentary democracy and political, industrial and violent means. Why should it be more specific? What more would be achieved? We could go on for ever defining ever more closely and still the courts would be asked for an interpretation of some sub-meaning of some other sub-definition of some general word used in the clause. I do not know what my hon. Friend is trying to do. Perhaps he is trying to whittle away completely the protections enshrined in the Bill, with which most people broadly agree. Are the calls for more and wider definition practical? In all the circumstances, are they sensible? My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has resisted all the blandishments, however persuasively and enchantingly
Column 783they have been offered, and I am sure he is right, because two problems of substance lie in the way of the bold reformers. First, we are talking about a secret service. Strange as it may seem, its activities must remain secret or there is no point in them. One does not have to speak evilly against one's colleagues as unreliable safeguarders of secrets, as people who can harbour malice, as people capable of political bias, or as being incompetent, or because they chatter to journalists, perhaps in the most convivial circumstances, and journalists piece together bits of information and reach conclusions. Such observations would be wholly unworthy and out of place in this House. But in reality, the more people who know a secret, the more likely it is to get out. That is the most important reason why a Select Committee with oversight, or even a Select Committee of Privy Councillors, would be inappropriate.
The second problem is volume. My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South requested that the Bill should contain more reference to what should be done in a case such as Bettaney's. There should be more consideration of recruitment, training and functions. So much goes on in the secret service, at such a rate and with such complexity, that it would be well nigh impossible for any Member of Parliament to follow such matters with the closeness that they require and not put his foot in it. Such matters are of particular importance because they often affect the very lives of the people concerned. It follows that Parliament is not the most efficient or appropriate body to supervise the Security Service, and that the Government are entirely right to resist the amendments.
The right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) said that the conduct of the Franks committee on the Falklands proved that parliamentary scrutiny of a substantial nature could work, but, for a start, few Members have the integrity, good sense and reliability of the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), who can be entirely trusted not to open his mouth--perhaps in a bar, under pressure from his colleagues or under any other kind of pressure --and vouchsafe any of the secrets that he has learnt.
Moreover, the Franks committee was a single inquiry into a single subject, which was under the eyes of the press for as long as it endured. That is not the same as continuing supervision by a continuing body. The eyes of Parliament and the media are not constantly on the functioning of such a body. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) even suggested that the Franks committee was not given all the information, in which case setting up such a committee would be a waste of time.
It is obvious that no form of oversight can guarantee no errors, but there is some sense in having as much oversight as is reasonably possible consistent with the need for secrecy and for a body that is more reliable, because more constant, than any body of Members of Parliament can be. To the question, "Is there some serious deficiency in the oversight protections in the Bill?" I have to answer that I can see none.
It is ridiculous to suppose that the additional methods of oversight in the Bill do not close the gap considerably between the free hand that it appears that the Security Service used to enjoy and an enforceable obligation to behave correctly. Not only is there the director-general, with a statutory duty to ensure that the rules are followed--and why should we assume that such people are
Column 784incompetent, malicious or unable to follow the requirements laid on them?--but there is the Secretary of State, who must authorise all the warrants. There is also the Commissioner, a senior judge who can review the Secretary of State's use of his authority. The Secretary of State must then report to the Prime Minister, and the report must be laid before Parliament.
There is also a tribunal consisting of three to five of the most distinguished kind of people in our society--lawyers, the most dependable, reliable, important and splendid people--to receive and consider complaints about the activities of the Security Service. They will have power to order the ceasing of inquiries, to order the destruction of records and to order compensation. It is wholly unrealistic to conclude that the Government could reasonably do more than they are doing to strengthen accountability, without at the same time threatening the secrecy that is the essence of the secret service.
Opposition Members in particular have consistently shown concern about the member of the Security Service who cannot complain about any wrongdoing that he or she sees within the service--the whistleblower. That whistleblower may be prosecuted, under the Official Secrets Act, if he complains in a way that is against the interests of his superiors. I can understand that concern, but the breach of the Official Secrets Act will involve doing something "without authority". The whistleblower can go to the staff counsellor, who is an independent body set up with the particular end in mind of helping the whistleblower by giving that authority. If he does not want to do that, he can still go to the Minister. If he does not want to do that, he can still go to the Secretary of State. If he does not want to do that, he can still go to his Member of Parliament. His Member of Parliament can go to the Prime Minister, and his Member of Parliament can say to the Prime Minister--I do not believe that the Prime Minister would not listen to any hon. Member who said this to her--"I have a constituent who is very concerned about something that has happened to him as a servant of the state in the Secret Service, which was grossly wrong and improper and may be criminal. Will you give him the authority to tell you what it is?" It is unthinkable that that authority would not be given. If that authority were given, there would be no breach of the Official Secrets Act. The concern, therefore, for the whistleblower, while it may be in the past have been justified in some cases, need not be justified when one bears in mind the functions that we as Members of Parliament in this place can legitimately perform. I believe that that criticism of the vulnerability of the whistleblower is therefore unfounded.
I continue with this thought. One's attitude towards this Bill depends upon one's attitude to the Security Service. If one believes that it is a wild animal to be caged, to be watched at every moment of the day by keepers, and that it cannot possibly work unless Members of Parliament have something to do with it--dabbling and poking away in case this animal escapes from the cage and devours the innocent public--of course it is an unsatisfactory Bill.
But is this not the closer approximation to the truth? The Security Service is a body of thoroughly decent people, using their ingenuity to protect us from espionage, subversion, terrorism and threats to the economic well- being of the United Kingdom. It is not perfect, but it operates as near perfectly as any human machine dealing
Column 785in secrecy can. The public appreciate that, even if Opposition Members do not. During all the discussions, I have received no more than two letters opposing this legislation, from which I conclude that the people who sent me here do not distrust the Security Service or this Bill. Nor do they wish to see the Service opened up to the eyes of the world.
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : I found the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) acutely depressing. It is no wonder that not many of his constituents have written to him and protested because, frankly, it would have been a waste of time for them to have done so. I felt that it was depressing, because, once again, the hon. and learned Gentleman--like a number of Conservative Members this evening--has effectively sold Members of Parliament short. He said that we are not responsible enough to be exercising some form of accountable control over the Security Service.
Mr. Whitney rose
I believe that the Bill, unamended, creates as many problems as it seeks to resolve. I do not think that it has sincerely sought to resolve many of those problems. It is vague in its definition. We have heard that said in good speeches from the decent Tories that remain. I pay tribute from this vantage point to the hon. Members for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) and for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) for at least speaking out for freedom, because there are not many Conservative Members who are prepared to do that.
The Bill is vague in its definition. It is a lawyer's paradise--perhaps that is why the hon. and learned Member for Burton is so enthusiastic for it to reach the statute book. The definitions in the Bill mean precisely what the Home Secretary means them to say. Therefore, that means that this Bill could have been drafted by Lewis Carroll, because it will leave MI5 in Wonderland. It gives inadequate safeguards to our people. The Home Secretary ventured to give us a number of proposals that he said would answer our fears, but, as hon. Members on both sides of the House have recounted, when we sought to push him to include those safeguards in the Bill, which would then go some way to meet our objections, he steadfastly refused.
We all know that what is said on Second Reading, in Committee or what appears in the Official Report, will have no bearing or influence on any judges who are subsequently called upon to interpret the Act. Therefore, the words of the Home Secretary were not worth the breath he used to utter them.
In the end, MI5 will be left as a barely regulated state within a dangerously centralised state--that is the way the Government are leading us. There is no chance of a judicial review of the issuing of warrants. I find that totally unacceptable. The idea is that we cannot trust the Commons, we cannot trust the courts and, in the end, we
Column 786cannot trust the people. Whom can we trust-- the Home Secretary of the day and no one else? A bunch of apologists behind the Home Secretary?
Mr. Cash rose --
I do not believe that the freedoms of our country are safe in the hands of Conservative Members or in the hands of the Home Secretary. I consider that this is a weasel Bill full of weasel words and, in that sense, it is appropriate that it should be passed by a weasel Government.
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : I shall speak for no more than five minutes, but I should like to start with a correction to my speech of 16 January at column 103. I implied that Dr. Adrian Tibbetts had been entrapped by a British National party member, Mr. Peter Maranchenko, in conjunction with the special branch. In fact Dr. Tibbetts was at home and had nothing to do with this matter. It was his mother and father, Mr. and Mrs. Tibbetts, who were entrapped. I want to make that absolutely clear.
That correction also illustrates the value of having such things on some sort of record that can be challenged by the people about whom comments are made. If comments are made behind closed doors the consequence, just like the consequences of the Bill, is that there is no opportunity for those comments to be challenged. Such remarks can stick. If files are drawn up by members of the security services, without any democratic check by this place, which would provide some accountability, such a stigma can grow and fester without the possibility of correction.
One reason why I shall vote against this shoddy little measure is that there is no definition as to who can issue warrants to burgle. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) repeated the name of the Home Secretary on several occasions--as have other hon. Members--but the truth of the matter is that the legislation does not give power to the Home Secretary because the power to issue warrants is given to any Secretary of State--ten, 12 or however many there might happen to be. Those warrants to carry out a serious criminal act do not have to be in writing to be undertaken. This is a shoddy piece of legislation that will not easily fasten round the neck of the Home Secretary. He does not even have the responsibility that is normally ascribed to Secretaries of State. That lack of responsibility was brought out only in the debate in this House. The House was mistaken to allow the Committee stage to be taken on the Floor of the House. It would have been far more effective if consideration had been undertaken in a Committee upstairs because there would have been much more time and much more analysis of the reasons for the Government putting forward the various clauses.
People describe the security services as undertaking heroic deeds. It is possible that individuals may do so and may have their lives put at peril. If that is the case, they are heroic, but we also know that, by the very nature of their job, members of the security services must lie, cheat and deceive. To allow that to take place with the added authority of a warrant to burgle, issued by the Secretary of State without any accountability, is to put serious power into the hands of people who have the ability to lie and cheat, allowing them to burgle and even to kill, if accounts in various newspapers have been accurate in the past.
Column 787That is a heady combination. Democratic accountability is a tried, tested and practised means of ensuring that the heady mixtures which the security services can distill behind closed doors are held in check. Democracy is about checking things. The Bill does not do that and that is why I hope that hon. Members will vote against it tonight.
Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West) : One thing that became apparent during the Committee stage of the Security Service Bill was the yawning gap between the legislature and the Executive on this important issue. Quite frankly, it appears that the Government are contemptous of the House of Commons. That contempt manifested itself in the fact that the Home Secretary has ignored the will of the House on issues which are fundamental to the operation of our national democracy and the protection of the civil liberties and basic freedoms of people in this country.
The Bill has been rushed through the House of Commons by the Government deliberately in such a way as to minimise any discussion and consultation. The rigidity of the Home Secretary in not conceding fundamental points that are important to hon. Members on both sides of the House was partly aimed at avoiding a Report stage. That was designed to stifle full and open discussion on the legislative framework in which the Security Service should operate in future. One important consequence of the Government's appalling attitude is that the Security Service, a very powerful and insular organisation which conducts some of its business outside the law of the land, is being allowed to continue its operations without any form of effective democratic accountability. It will continue with inadequate restrictions on it in regard to possible abuses of the civil liberties and freedoms of the British people. It is a very sad picture, and when in future we talk about Britain being a democracy, we should think about the way in which the Government have dealt with the Bill. In my view, the Government verged quite dangerously on being anti-democratic.
Another thing that became clear in the early stages of the Bill is that the existing system of so-called parliamentary accountability is totally inadequate. The arrangement is based on the Home Secretary being inside the barrier of secrecy and the understanding that he should monitor the Security Service on behalf of Parliament. When we ask questions about the Security Service, more often than not we are told that information cannot be made available for security reasons. The upshot is that Parliament has not a clue as to what is going on. In reality, I believe that the Home Secretary does not always know what is going on in any depth and we all rely on the permanent secretaries and the chiefs of MI5 to operate the service without any effective external scrutiny. I believe that that arrangement has been rejected by many of our allies because they believe that external scrutiny and accountability is necessary as a safeguard against abuse, corruption and inefficiency. More positively, however, experience in these countries has shown that the security and intelligence services operate much better when there is some external oversight. Our debates have also shown that the Home Secretary--I should add that I am talking not just about this Home Secretary but about previous ones too-- does not seem to
Column 788be interested in what is going on within the Security Service. They seem to have given up trying to counter the influence of the MI5 senior management and the permanent secretaries. That is a strong statement. I notice that the Home Secretary commented that that was based on--
It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
That, at this day's sitting, the motion relating to the Security Service Bill may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.-- [Mr. Lightbown.]
Question again proposed, That the Bill be read the Third time.
What is the solution? At the moment we have scales--with all the permanent secretaries and the MI5 chiefs on one side and the Home Secretary, almost on his own, on the other side. As we know, the Home Secretary is busy with a huge range of responsibilities and has little spare time. Also, he does not have under his control a structure that would enable him to formulate policy to counter all the influences that are weighted against him. The answer, therefore, is to put Parliament on the same side of the scales as the Home Secretary.
If the Home Secretary were properly accountable to Parliament--the Labour party believes that a Select Committee is the best mechanism for achieving that accountability--the pressures from Parliament would serve to bring more balance than is possible under the existing arrangement. The Home Secretary would have more clout over the MI5 establishment than he has at the moment because both he and MI5 would feel obliged to respond to parliamentary pressures. With this approach, I believe that everyone wins-- MI5, the Home Secretary and Parliament.
As for the duration of debate, two main areas of policy were considered during the Committee stage. The first was accountability, both of the Security Service and of the Home Secretary. Essentially, it was all about the best mechanism to achieve better accountability. The second main area of debate related to protecting civil liberties, along the lines proposed when new clause 4 was moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick). It proposed that nothing in the Act should be done that undermined the right of protest, advocacy or dissent. Amendment No. 47 contained the same phrase but it was more specific and limited because it contained a definition of threats to national security. However, it permitted people to take part in protest, advocacy or dissent.
To return to accountability, my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) moved new clause 73, which advocated that the Security Service should come under the scrutiny of the Select Committee but that it should remain under the authority of the Secretary of State. New clause 5 was tabled by the Labour party to illustrate the scope of the Select Committee.
When he commented on new clause 5, I believe that the Home Secretary showed a terrific lack of faith and trust in the Members of Parliament who would serve on the proposed Select Committee. He also demonstrated the Prime Minister's lack of confidence in being able to select 12 Members of Parliament--just six from either side of the House--who would be sufficiently reliable and trust-
Column 789worthy to serve on the Select Committee. The Home Secretary thinks that it is impossible to select six Members of Parliament from either side of the House who could be trusted not to leak secret information. It seems also that the Home Secretary believes that it is impossible--
Mr. Whitney : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is not the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) continuing the debate that we had in Committee instead of taking part in a Third Reading debate?
Mr. Speaker : That is correct. I was contemplating that very matter a moment ago. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) must stick to Third Reading and not go through amendments that have already been debated in Committee, but not made.
Nevertheless, the Home Secretary showed a lack of faith in hon. Members being able to be relied on to suppress the publication of information via a Select Committee that would be against the national interest. Frankly, I cannot see why hon. Members are supposed to be such a potential threat to the security and wellbeing of the country, as so many of them become Foreign Secretaries, Home Secretaries, Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland, and Defence Secretaries. Added to that list are the Ministers of State in each Department. All hon. Members with office must be trusted with secret information, as part of their day-to-day responsibilities.
According to the Government's arguments, when an hon. Member becomes a member of the Government, he or she suddenly undergoes some sort of physical or mental change that mysteriously makes them less of a security threat. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Boscawen) actually agreed that a metamorphosis takes place when an hon. Member becomes a member of the Government--that he or she suddenly becomes safer and more reliable as soon as the new appointment is announced.
That is a load of nonsense. I cannot accept that a Select Committee is unworkable on the ground that hon. Members cannot adhere to the necessary rules of secrecy under which a Select Committee would have to work. From my experience, when people are given responsibility, they rise in stature and become-- [Interruption.]
Mr. Randall : There were some long speeches in the debate. I appreciate that hon. Members want to be away. I am cutting out a lot of my speech. The hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) almost did a filibuster. That is why we are running late tonight.
The Home Secretary's assertion on the point about hon. Members' reliability was not only wrong but insulting. I am convinced that I could easily select six hon. Members from both sides of the House who could do the job admirably and would have the necessary personal attributes.
The Home Secretary has used the argument merely to reject amendment No. 73 and new clause 5. He was told by MI5 that it did not want any form of accountability. I am sure that the word "resist" was written in bold letters on the briefings that were provided for him. The Home Secretary is not his own man when it comes to decisions on these matters, partly, as I have already said, because he does not have under his control a structure which enables him to formulate policy.
The other long debate in Committee was about civil liberties and, in particular, an individual's right of protest, advocacy or dissent. New clause 4 and amendment No. 47 were prominent in that debate-- [Interruption.]
Mr. Randall : I consider that I am in order for the Third Reading. There appeared to be an overwhelming feeling in Committee that, as currently presented, the legislation does not protect the rights of individuals to protest advocacy or dissent without the Security Service regarding such people as a threat to national security and recording that information in its files and possibly using it in a way that could be detrimental to the interests of the people. I will not go into any detail, but I refer to Hansard of 17 January. It was referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot). There, the Home Secretary found it necessary to make a statement on the meaning of clause 1(3). I only wish that he had included that as part of the legislation ; he would have won a great deal of good will had he done so.
The Bill is inadequate as it stands, as it will be for the courts to interpret the definitions within it. They will accept the legislation at face value, and will not look up Hansard to see what the Minister really meant. We believe that this matter is of such importance for the protection of civil liberties and the freedom of the individual that a positive statement implying a restriction on the powers of the Security Service is vital. I hope that the House of Lords will give that careful consideration.
What makes the Home Secretary think that the service will take any notice of a ministerial statement in Hansard on the meaning of the protection of national security, which is for the courts to interpret? If the service is to respond to anything, it must be to the contents of the Bill--that is important. The reason why we wanted the Bill changed to include a statement of what the Security Service is not allowed to do is not that we are against the service or anything silly like that. It is because we believe that the Bill is out of balance. How can we be confident that the senior management of MI5 has the slightest concern for protecting the civil liberties of the people of Britain? A number of scandals in the past have damaged MI5's reputation. That destroys the trust that some members of the public have in the service and can have a bad effect on staff within it.
I should have liked the Home Secretary to accept amendments Nos. 4 and 47. Many of us who appealed so passionately to him on Tuesday evening think that he should have accepted those amendments there and then.