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Column 791There was unquestionably a great feeling of disappointment at the stance that the Home Secretary adopted on this important issue. In Committee I told the House that I believed that the Security Service should adhere to three important criteria. First, it should be efficient and effective in its operations. Secondly, it should use--
It is clear that the operation of the British security and intelligence services seems to be out of step with developments taking place in other countries throughout the world. The general move seems to be towards more openness and external scrutiny. In some instances that has happened in response to abuses and corruption. At present there seems to be no inclination on the part of the Security Service to promote such changes, and it would appear that the motive behind the introduction of the Bill had nothing to do with modernising the service and making it more accountable. It had to do with meeting the requirements of the European Court of Human Rights in the context of alleged abuses of civil liberties by MI5, and the alleged lack of effective remedies for those who feel that their rights have been abused.
Reviewing the progress of the Bill, I must conclude that it is a wasted opportunity. It does little for the people of this country and little to improve the Security Service. One thing is clear, however : external scrutiny of the service is on the political agenda, and it will not go away.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten) : I shall be as brief as I can be, consistent with replying fully to the debate. It is a great pity that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall), who has been assiduous throughout our proceedings on the Bill, chose not to refer to this afternoon's Third Reading debate, but referred merely to the Committee Stage, when and where he got the chance.
All hon. Members who have addressed themselves to the issues this afternoon have said that whatever criticisms they may have of the Bill, they welcome the fact that the Security Service will be put on a statutory footing. There was one exception to that, the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), who, pursuing the unworldly approach of the Social and Liberal Democratic party, thinks that the situation is much better left alone.
This Third Reading debate has allowed the House to take stock of the principles upon which the legislation is founded. In my brief reply to the debate, I shall begin and end with the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). He addressed one particular question to me, which I must answer, about economic well-being. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary gave an example earlier which seems entirely reasonable. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook sought today to draw us into further precision about the operations that might become necessary under the provisions. I do not think that the House really expects to go into operational details of the workings of the Security Service.
Column 792Indeed, I cannot responsibly provide or appear to be providing a list of Security Service targets, actual or hypothetical, from this Dispatch Box. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook knows well that the phrase "economic well-being" is taken from the European convention on human rights. It has been approved already by Parliament in the restrictive form in which it appears in the Bill. That provision is essential for the country's well-being.
now to the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge- Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) who, with my hon Friend the Membefor Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken), has addressed himself to the issues although we disagree on the fundamentals of the Bill. He had made a criticism this evening of alleged pirouetting by the Minister of State at the Dispatch Box. My hon. Friend-- [Interruption.] -- Mr. Speaker : Order. I appeal again to the House to listen to the speeches. If hon. Members below the Gangway wish to carry on private conversations, they should do it outside.
Mr. Patten : My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills suggested that there was a logical inconsistency in the arguments used from the Dispatch Box when the issue of whether or not there should be judicial review of the warrant procedure was to be considered. He criticised the argument that to have judicial review meant that the circle would be widened. An additional reason why I believe that judicial review and intervention is not acceptable is the need for speed, which is often the case in terrorist issues in this country.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills then related that to the need, as he saw it, for no flexibility under the rule of my hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department in relation to those who could and could not sign warrants. My hon. Friend seemed to think that there was an inconsistency in that line of argument. The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) also raised that issue a moment ago. It is nonsense to say that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will be shopping around to find people to sign property warrants.
The House must recognise that my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge- Brownhills raised an important point because the Security Service is under the authority of my right hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend has the commissioner at his elbow. Therefore, it is absurd to suggest that my right hon. Friend will make arrangements for the signing of property warrants at any stage that would cause the commissioner to suggest that they were being put in an incorrect framework.
Mr. Cryer rose --
No Home Secretary would knowingly lay himself open to findings by the commissioner that his powers had been abused in any way. It is only those Secretaries of State who are in an informed position who would take a decision of that nature and who would be approached. At an earlier stage of our proceedings, I pointed out that my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland and for Scotland have obvious responsibilities in that area.
The right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) did not seem to understand that which my right hon.
Column 793Friend the Home Secretary said earlier in the debate, that we have sought to explain fully to the House the way in which the language of legislation must operate on the work and judgments of Ministers and on the Security Service. He was stating the obvious and I should have thought, given the long parliamentary experience of the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent, that it would have been obvious to him. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has not been offering statements of ministerial intent during the debate and then expecting a court to interpret them. We all know that courts address themselves to the language of statute and not to the language of Ministers. My right hon. Friend has offered not a statement of ministerial intent but an explanation of the consequences of the language of the Bill. There is no need to fill the Bill with a vast amount of declaratory material of one sort or another.
We benefited from listening to the speech by the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) who welcomed the fact that the Bill will put the Security Service on a statutory footing. In answer to his question I can confirm that the Bill refers only to the Security Service. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman in response to his anecdote about the BBC that, as always, the fullest briefing is provided to Home Secretaries. There will be full scrutiny of the warrants provision by the commissioner.
My hon. Friends made some notable contributions. My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) showed his deep understanding of the need for the Security Service. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Boscawen) put his finger on the plot mania that so often seems to run among the Members of the Left. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) clearly demonstrated the need, if we are to have a Security Service at all, to have secrets. My hon. and learned Friend was stating the obvious and I am glad that he chose to do so.
The understanding of my hon. Friends underpins the basic principles of the Bill. It places the Security Service on a statutory basis and this is a great step forward in the history of this place. It ensures that there are now new procedures for the authorisation of warrants and that those procedures will be kept under review by an independent commissioner. These steps about authority, control and review are important. As the long title of the Bill says, it establishes the criteria for investigations by a tribunal or, in some cases, by a commissioner of complaints about the service. No one can doubt that the mechanism for redress is suitable for the general public and that it will be regarded as suitable in a wider and European context. The Bill is a significant reform and will increase and improve public confidence. It has to be seen in the context of the attitude of the Labour party to the security of Britain and to terrorism as a whole. Earlier in the debate my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary contrasted the attitude of one Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), who was asking for greater and greater preventive action against terrorism, with the attitude of Labour Front-Bench spokesmen to security overall. The Bill deals with the Security Service and that is why I want to give the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook one last
Column 794opportunity to withdraw the terrible slur that he cast upon the Security Service. That was referred to earlier in the debate. Taking it in context, as reported in the Official Report, the right hon. Gentleman said--
Mr. Patten : This was referred to by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in his opening speech. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook said, in what I think is one of the most shameful statements made in the House :
"In truth, since the war MI5 has been one of the worst and most ridiculed security services in the western Alliance".--[ Official Report, 15 December 1988 ; Vol. 143, c.1124.]
That is disgraceful. I give the right hon. Gentleman the opportunity to take that back. It is clear that he will not withdraw that slur, which came from the deputy leader of a party that is seeking to form a Government at some future date. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman will not take that course.
The speeches made by my right hon. and hon. Friends, with the exception of only three of my hon. Friends who did not like the Bill, show that Conservative Members are solidly behind this important reforming measure. I invite the House to give it a Third Reading. Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time : The House divided : Ayes 276, Noes 214.
Division No. 44] [10.25 pm
Alison, Rt Hon Michael
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)
Bevan, David Gilroy
Biffen, Rt Hon John
Blackburn, Dr John G.
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Body, Sir Richard
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)
Browne, John (Winchester)
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)
Buck, Sir Antony
Carlisle, John, (Luton N)
Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Cope, Rt Hon John
Currie, Mrs Edwina
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)
Davis, David (Boothferry)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)
Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas
Fenner, Dame Peggy
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey