|Previous Section||Home Page|
Column 751political party. I tell the Home Secretary again, in the hope that at last he may be able to understand, and perhaps even answer, the point, that clause 2(2)(b) does not provide a complete safeguard. Our concern is not that the Security Service might act on behalf of a political party, but that it should not act in any way that reflects a built-in bias against certain activities, certain individuals, certain ideologies and points of view, and certain procedures that are essential to our democracy but that have been frowned on by the Security Service, and in which the Security Service has interfered. I do not want to risk angering the Home Secretary again by referring to the established history of the Security Service, but we know, and he will readily agree, that in the past, the Security Service has interfered in matters in which every hon. Member, and I suspect the Home Secretary himself, believed that it was improper and wrong for it to interfere. All that we are asking is that the Home Secretary should say more than, "They may have done it in the past, but they won't do it in the future." We need a specific safeguard that can be written into the Bill, and the Home Secretary has not begun to give a reason why that should not be the case.
Mr. William Cash (Stafford) : The right hon. Gentleman appears to be confusing the provisions of clause 1(2) with those of clause 1(3) and conveniently merging the two. The reality is that, in dealing with economic well-being, the criterion is whether the person concerned was outside the United Kingdom, which is the crucial point. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, if that were being done, whether or not the Labour party were in government, the Home Secretary ought to ensure that that was not being done against the interests of the United Kingdom?
Mr. Hattersley : I know that the hon. Gentleman was making notes for his "impromptu" speech, but I said that I would come to the overseas aspect of the work in a moment. At the moment, I wish to emphasise that what we believe should be in the Bil, and what the Home Secretary has not begun to convince us need not be in the Bill, is provisions, couched either in negative or positive form, to prevent the Security Service from doing those things which it has done in the past and which it would be wrong for it to do in the future. Until the Bill, either by specifying the role of the service or by extending the definition of those things that the service should not or must not do, meets our concern about its possible use against wholly legitimate activities, the Bill will not be satisfactory.
The hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) asked about the Security Service's external role of safeguarding
"the economic well-being of the United Kingdom against threats posed by the actions or intentions of persons outside the British Islands."
On Second Reading, I attempted to find out what that meant. The debate in Committee was largely based around the question of how that power would be exercised and what that role involved.
Before Committee stage I attempted to find out the meaning of the clause and offered the Home Secretary an example of what it might mean. I asked the Home Secretary whether my suggestion was a good example of what he had in mind. I used the example of the Sultan of Brunei who, as is well known and publicly established, was put under great pressure by the Government not to remove
Column 752his sterling balances from London. That was certainly an external force and, in the Government's view, it was related to the economic well-being of the British Isles.
I asked the Home Secretary whether clause 2(2)(b) would allow the burgling of the Sultan's palace and the tapping of his telephone in order to protect our economic welfare by deciding whether he was likely to remove his sterling balances. The Treasury and the Chancellor could then take the necessary remedial action at the first opportunity.
Any reasonable reading of the Bill would assume that the clause would allow that. The Home Secretary did not answer my question. Some people might say that that was reasonable, since it was unfair for me to ask for such a specific example that was potentially embarrassing for the Government.
In Committee, the Home Secretary rashly offered his own example of how the clause might operate. He spoke of
"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."--[ Official Report, 17 January 1989, Vol. 145, c. 221.]
The Home Secretary said that a threat to our oil supplies would be a reasonable example of when clause 2(2)(b) might be put into operation.
It is important to remember, as the hon. Member for Stafford would be the first to remind me, that the clause talks about economic well-being, not physical security, of the state--not of convoys being sunk but of supplies being cut off. Fifteen years ago, the OPEC nations were seriously considering denying supplies to some countries in the West, until those developed countries accepted what OPEC believed to be an acceptable pricing structure for oil.
The Home Secretary offered that example and he has a duty--at least, his Minister does--to pursue it. In the Home Secretary's example, would the Security Service's power to interfere be justified? Would it be proper and right under the Bill, for the security services to "interfere"--the word in the Bill--in OPEC premises? Would it be right for the security services to tap telephones in the embassies of OPEC countries? According to the Home Secretary's example, that must be the case.
The Home Secretary has a duty to make clear to Parliament the extent of the powers that he is proposing that we should invest legally, not covertly, in this organisation. There will be mixed feelings about whether that is a legitimate form of operation. For the House of Commons to give such a power without knowing its potentially serious applications is not an appropriate way for the Executive to treat the House.
I referred to the word "interference" and when interference with property might be justified under the Bill. Interference is the power provided for the Security Service in the Bill. Under the Bill, "interference with property" is justified when the Home Secretary "thinks it necessary" and
"likely to be of substantial value in assisting the Service to discharge any of its functions".
As I have already said, those functions are defined in a way that underlines the fear that the service can involve itself in activities from which, in a democracy, it should be precluded. The definition of when the Security Service can act within the limitless parameters of its terms of reference is equally wide. The definitions of how it should act and when it should act are wide. The definition of what justifies
Column 753it acting is wider still. The width of all the definitions, the opportunities it gives for interpretations to the Government of the day, and the discretion it provides for the service and its responsible Ministers are all justifications for voting against the Bill.
Much reliance has been placed by the defenders of the Bill on the ability of any man or woman who is aggrieved by the behaviour of the service to complain to the commission or tribunal. That is provided for under paragraph 3 of schedule 1. The Bill explicitly prohibits a dissatisfied complainant from appealing against a decision or testing it in the courts. We regard that as crucial to the Bill and I asked about it during the debate on the Loyal Address. It is a question on which the Government have hardly touched throughout the consideration of the Bill. That is an inadequacy and an omission which makes the Bill in itself inadequate.
The explicit exclusion of the small and simple powers to appeal or test judgments in court demonstrates more than the Bill's inadequacies. It demonstrates the Government's unwillingness to compromise with any of their critics on either side of the House and even seriously to consider any of the proposals that could have helped to create bipartisan support for the work and existence of the Security Service.
Taken in conjunction with the Official Secrets Bill--the two cannot be separated, because the Official Secrets Bill cloaks the Security Service in absolute, total and permanent secrecy--the Bill demonstrates how hollow is the Government's claim that they would like to see a common position between the parties on the security of this country. They would like to see a common position as long as they are allowed to stake out the ground in every detail and other political parties tamely occupy the area that the Government have defined and from which they are not prepared to budge even by an inch. That is not how bipartisan agreements are made. That is not how services which are essential to the national security are removed from political controversy. The Government have chosen to reject even the most constructive criticisms of what they now propose for the Security Service, and because of that we shall vote against the Bill.
Mr. Ray Whitney (Wycombe) : Virtually every time the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) has spoken on the Bill, he has changed his position. That says something for his flexibility but nothing for his consistency or understanding of the issues involved. For example, his initial reception of the Bill was one of welcome and he said that he expected to support it, subject to reading the small print. There was no mention of the problems about oversight. We have now heard yet another change of position. Early in his speech he said that he had discovered that we are changing the scope of the operation of the Security Service. He suggested that intervention in property and other activities of the service will take place now but could not take place before. Later in his speech he said that in years gone by the Security Service had been involved in improper actions.
Column 754so-called inconsistency in tonight's speech to which he has just referred was copied verbatim from my speech on Second Reading.
Mr. Whitney : If the right hon. Gentleman considers carefully what he said in his second speech he will understand that he changed his position within the speech. When he reads his first allegation about what is now to be allowed and compares that with what was allowed in the past under the Maxwell Fyfe directive, which he deemed to be improper, he will be able to detect inconsistency in his performance.
I must declare a degree of non-interest. I wish to make it clear, as I have done regularly in the press--I had not felt it necessary to do so in the House but it appears to be necessary--that I have never had the privilege of serving in MI5 or any other intelligence or security organisation. I hope that that is not itself a breach of the Official Secrets Act. I hope also that my statement will save me from having to write endless letters to correct false newspaper allegations or to correct the misapprehensions of Opposition Members.
I declare, however, a deep interest in our security. I well recognise that that interest is shared entirely by all hon. Members on both sides of the House. My experience as an unglamorous and straightforward member of Her Majesty's Diplomatic Service has given me some insight into the straits to which Britain and all democracies are subjected, and when I reach my conclusions on the issues that are before us they may be positioned on a different resting point from that of many Opposition Members and from one or two of my hon. Friends.
If I may say so--I say this with no immodesty--I have some awareness of the nature of the threats to open and democratic societies, and of the way in which they are changing and becoming much more difficult to cope with and much more subtle. In our efforts to preserve the balance between freedom, to which we are all committed, and the security of the nation, of which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary spoke, we must take careful account of the threats to which our society is subjected. We must proceed cautiously before we change the status quo.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : Clause 1(2) deals with national security, to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. He has said that he is aware of threats to national security and says that they have become more subtle. Did he protest in any way at the actions of Army officers in the early months of 1974? According to reports which appeared in The Times , which were written by Christopher Walker, certain officers were making remarks which were definitely subversive. That was confirmed in 1979 by Lord Carver, who deplored such remarks. Did the hon. Gentleman make any protest?
Mr. Whitney : At the time I happened to be a civil servant. It was scarcely in my gift to protest or otherwise. I share entirely the revulsion which the hon. Gentleman clearly has for any extreme Right-wing or Left- wing coup d'etat to subvert our democracy. I think, however, that the hon. Gentleman seeks to take me far beyond the bounds of the debate.
The balance to which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has referred is an extremely difficult one to strike. We would at great risk disturb the system at which we have arrived. I congratulate my right hon. Friend and the Government as a whole on the progress which has been
Column 755made and which is enshrined in the Bill. It is a matter for deep regret that the majority of the exchanges in the debate have focused on what is not in the Bill, what might have been in it and on what other countries have or have not done rather than on the changes--I would regard them as improvements--that are now proposed by the Government. The old adage that the appetite grows with the feeding has never been more clearly demonstrated than by the reaction of Opposition Members and of some of my right hon. Friends to what has now been achieved.
It is important for the House to understand the change in the climate in which these affairs are now debated over the past 10 years. I draw the attention of the House to the views of Lord Wilson of Rievaulx. We are led to believe that he, as the Prime Minister of a Labour Government, had especially good reason to be aware of the activities of the security services. In his book entitled "The Governance of Britain", which he was careful to point out was written after he had left office and after the flurry over what did or did not go on during his incumbency of No. 10 involving some MI5 officers, about which the world has been informed or misinformed by the Wright book, he made it clear that he had reason to understand the issues that were involved.
In a book of about 200 pages Lord Wilson devoted only two paragraphs to national security. The chapter in which we find the two paragraphs is entitled "The Prime Minister and National Security". Lord Wilson quotes with approval at the beginning of the first chapter a statement by the late Earl of Stockton, and it is important that the House reminds itself of it. It should be used to set where we were then in 1976 with Lord Wilson and where we are now with the proposals that are contained in the Bill. Harold Macmillan said : "It is dangerous and bad for our general national interest to discuss these matters. It has been a very long tradition of the House to trust the relations between the two parties to discussions between the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister of the day. I ask the House now to revert to the older tradition which I think is in our real interest. Otherwise we would risk destroying services which are of the utmost value to us."
Harold Macmillan said that in 1963. I believe that it was true then, the Labour party believed that it was true then and Harold Wilson, as he then was, repeated it in 1976. Most of the Labour party believed that it was true then. I believed that it was true then and I believe that it is still true. Lord Wilson concluded a brief paragraph by writing :
"There is no further information that can usefully or properly be added before bringing this Chapter to an end."
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : There is another side to the story. As I understand it, these matters were always dealt with by means of private notice questions from the Leader of the Opposition to the Prime Minister of the day. As I further understand it, the present Prime Minister --I am open to correction but I do not think that I am wrong--refused to continue with the time-hallowed way of dealing with these matters with the present Leader of the Opposition, my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock). As I have said, there are two sides to the story.
Mr. Whitney : I must disagree with the hon. Gentleman on the substance. I have no knowledge of the nature of the exchanges that take place between the Leader of the Opposition and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. It must be asserted, however--this cannot really be
Column 756challenged--that the statements that have been made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on security matters, following her statement on the Blunt episode, have been much fuller than any of the statements made by her predecessors, Conservative or Labour. The statement which was made by Harold Macmillan, as he then was, which was endorsed so warmly by Lord Wilson, underlines that change. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been much more forthcoming with the House on security matters but far from satisfying the House, that has whetted its appetite. That is the problem with which we must deal. It behoves all hon. Members to understand just how far we have come.
Why has there been such change? Has something fundamental happened within the security services? With the possible exception of my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office, the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten) who now occupies the Government Front Bench, none of us can seriously answer that question. That applies even to my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason), with all his splendid researches and special sources of information. Throughout the consideration of the Bill we have heard generalised allegations. These have often come from the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook, but not only from him. Whenever we have asked for substantiation of the assertion that something is rotten in our security system, we are taken back 15, 20 or 30 years. That must give us pause for thought.
The main body of complaint has centred on the extraordinary farrago--I do not know how much is true ; it is clear that a lot of it is not true--in the Wright book and the replay of the tawdry old stories of a generation ago. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) took us back to Palme Dutt, for example. We have heard many times of the Blunt and Philby saga. It is worth remembering that the Soviet Union had its money's worth about three times over as a result of that little clique of Cambridge traitors who were recruited in the early 1930s. The effect of their recruiting those four, five or however many there were is still reverberating. Such so-called evidence is still used by critics of the status quo, and critics of the changing system as proposed in the Bill, as justification for further change.
My hon. Friend the Member for Torbay mentioned the Bettaney case, which I accept revealed, within the limits of what we have been able to know, a depressing state of affairs. The details of the Security Commission inquiry that were released verify that. It is clear that the Security Service is a particularly difficult service. It spends its whole time looking for spies and subversion. It is, by definition, a closed and difficult world where personnel management and the broader picture are crucial. It is, presumably, not composed entirely of saints and fellows of All Souls--there are weak links in the chain.
We should note that we hear of only one or two failures out of the hundreds or thousands that there may be in the
Column 757service. The lessons of the Bettaney experience have been learnt. The security proposals were put into operation, a staff counsellor was appointed and Sir Antony Duff, whom I know personally from his days in the Foreign Office and who is an excellent administrator, has put things on the right track.
Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton) : The hon. Member is trying to prove that there has been nothing to argue about since the days of Palme Dutt or what Peter Wright referred to in his book. How does he know that people have not been burgling all over London and elsewhere? It is a secret service. They do not go around with placards saying, "I have just burgled somebody's house," or, "We have just bugged somebody's telephone." They do not do that. That is why we think that they should be under surveillance. Can the hon. Member assure me that, since those books and, perhaps, those written by the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) were written, nobody has done any of those things which we know went on before?
Mr. Whitney : I am happy to agree with about 90 per cent. of what the hon. Gentleman said. I do not know whether there are other Bettaneys in MI5. None of us does. Knowing Sir Antony Duff personally, accepting the Security Commission and accepting also the integrity and skills of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, I would wager that, of all the security services in the world, our MI5 gives us reason for pride. That view was reinforced by what my right hon. Friend said earlier. Is the hon. Member for Walton suggesting that a parliamentary committee of oversight would discover a Bettaney mark 2? It is inconceivable. The idea does not stand up to a moment's investigation.
It is suggested that, because there are from time to time rotten apples in the barrel and we find them out, that is damaging to the security services. It would be much more in the interests of the security services, as happened with Blunt initially, to hush up the failures. When the failures are exposed, everyone has an opportunity to say, "It has all failed."As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, the success of the security services can never be told.
Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South) : May I challenge my hon. Friend's sweeping assertion that a future Bettaney could not in any circumstances be discovered by an oversight committee? Surely he accepts that such a committee's duties would include matters such as recruitment, training and supervision generally. At least the terrain would be far better monitored than it has been hitherto.
Mr. Whitney : I ask my hon. Friend seriously to consider much easier territory--the rest of the Civil Service. We have active and energetic Select Committees for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, for the Department of Health and for the Department of Social Security in respect of which we have no serious problems with official secrets. Is my hon. Friend telling me that recruitment policies and the quality of recruitment is affected by those Committees? If he believes that they are, I have to say that he is living in cloud-cuckoo-land. We
Column 758must recognise that there is a substantive difference between what we are talking about in the security services and--
Mr. Bermingham : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I understand that the purpose of a Third Reading debate is to deal with germane and pertinent points of a Bill and those which were not raised in Committee. I do not recall recruitment policies in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and other such waffle being part of the--
Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd) : Order. The opening speeches widened the Third Reading debate rather more than I would have wanted, but I am sure that the hon. Member will come back to the purpose of the debate.
Mr. Whitney : I shall, but I hope that it is understood that what I have said is germane if we are comparing the secret services with the operations of other parts of the Government service. I submit with great respect, Madam Deputy Speaker, that such issues are central to what we are considering.
We are considering special areas of Government which cannot be compared with any others, so we have to take account of the special characteristics. It is not enough for Opposition Members to say, "Of course we understand the needs of security but " It is the "but" on which the debate turns. Too glibly, the caveats and conditions that should follow that "but" are ignored.
I should like, if I may, to say something about the extent to which the Bill takes us towards what pertains in other countries and the grave expressions of disappointment that we have heard from both sides of the House that we are not going as far as other countries with parliamentary oversight. It is important to understand the crucial change that is being made. We have the commissioner, a senior member of the judiciary, and the tribunal sitting on the Home Secretary's shoulder, as it were. That is a major change. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) has sometimes gone too far in suggesting that our Canadian friends have found utopia or nirvana. It is early days for the Canadian experiment, and they will probably end up, not with parliamentary oversight, but with a small group of the great and the good above the parliamentary battle--who may have been in it at one point--in a supervisory role, not distinct from the role of the Commission.
Mr. Whitney : It is precisely the rule of law that we are discussing. We are taking a step forward to enshrine by statutory provision the existence of something which hitherto did not exist--MI5. I hope that my hon. Friend will join me in welcoming the embodiment of the security service within what he terms the rule of law. Of course I have regard to that.
We often hear American experience cited as an example, and there is a small paradox in that. Many people on the Left of politics in Britain frequently use America either as a negative or a positive example. Our Health Service is always defended by an immediate reference to
Column 759the so-called black example of the American experience--I am glad that the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) is here--
Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. These points of order are usurping the time of the House. I appreciate that several hon. Members wish to speak and I think that the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) was about to reach his peroration.
Mr. Whitney : You are entirely right, Madam Deputy Speaker. By contrast, those on the Left heartily welcome the American security service experience. I draw to their attention the views of the last--I mean that in every sense--Labour Prime Minister on the American experience--those of Lord Callaghan. He said :
"I think the Americans wrecked their system by allowing covert intelligence to be discussed by Congress. It is absolute madness." The Bill has achieved the right balance and I have great pleasure in supporting it this evening.
Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent) : I must disagree immediately with the opening remarks by the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) when he criticised the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). My right hon. Friend's speeches, far from becoming weaker, have grown increasingly strong on each occasion and his attack on the Government and the Bill has grown increasingly devastating. Whether that is because of the weakness of the Bill or his natural capacities, I do not know, but I think that it is a combination of the two. Nobody who has listened to these debates could say that the Opposition have not presented a consistent and persistent attack on what is being done, and we have had sound reasons for doing so.
I speak partly as a journalist. Long before I ever heard how the House of Commons would try to settle matters of official secrecy, I had to look at these questions from the view of a journalist who was trying to print what he thought was right. If before the war, or even during it, anyone had suggested that there should be such an absolute prohibition on what should be properly printed as a defence of the existing position, most reputable journalists would have denounced the idea as a gross interference with the freedom of speech. When the Home Secretary introduced these measures he said that he was taking the past into account, introducing a new method of control over the security services and a novel system of operating and that he should be given the benefit of the doubt on that. If he were present I would gladly compliment him on his diligence in attending almost all our debates and listening to what we have had to say. He does not seem to have understood what we were saying, or at least he has not translated it into legislative fact, and that is the argument to which I shall return in a moment. The right hon. Gentleman has a
Column 760whole series of measures so dangerous that he is afraid to leave it to his subordinates to speak on them. That precaution may be wise. Some Conservative Members, including the hon. Member for Wycombe, try to give the impression that we in the Labour party are not eager to see the Security Service properly protected and able to do its work. One of the attacks on my right hon. Friend involved taking one of his remarks out of context and using it for that purpose. Far and away the most damaging revelation--if it is a revelation ; I shall come to the truth of it in a minute--about the Security Service that has been made from any quarter in recent years was not made by the Labour party. It was the charge that for many years the head of the service, Sir Roger Hollis, was a Soviet agent. If that was true, obviously it would be deeply damaging to the whole Security Service. That was not a wild charge thrown up by the Labour party. The charge came into the public forum partly thanks to the actions of other people in the secret service.
If the Security Service is saying that we in the Labour party have not been sufficiently vigilant in trying to protect it, I repudiate the charge entirely. We want the service to be properly controlled and conducted and able to do its job. The direct responsibility for the worst and most damaging charge against our Security Service over the past 10 years was the charge that the head of the service was for a long period a Soviet agent. I do not believe that he was. I know that there is the Chapman Pincher theory. I do not know whether we have a Chapman Pincher clause in the Bill yet. It is not specified in those terms, but there has been one operating over the past 15 years. Although members of the Security Service are not supposed to say anything to anybody, they are entitled to go and speak to Chapman Pincher. Some of those people told Chapman Pincher that Roger Hollis was a spy and he printed it, as did Peter Wright and others. Every time that that has been investigated it has been repudiated, and I hope that it will be repudiated now.
That is an example of how the Security Service cannot be protected by the forms of secrecy which the Home Secretary thinks can be erected to protect it. It cannot be protected in that way. A point is reached where the matter must be argued in public, and if it cannot be argued in public, the security services will be as damaged as they were when the charge was made against Sir Roger Hollis.
When people do not believe the repudiation, that also damages the service. The Labour party, and certainly my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr Rees), who was partly responsible for the conduct of the services when he was Home Secretary, utterly repudiate the charge that we are not in favour of the security services being able to do their job properly. Of course we are.
This has been going on since 1911, and nobody now claims that the accidental measure introduced in 1911, which has governed the proceedings since then, has worked properly. It has worked shockingly. Neither this Bill, nor the Bill to be introduced next week, deals with the problem, and we must examine the two together. In many respects the Bill will make matters worse, because the law will have been laid down in a way that makes it even more difficult to protect freedom when matters are to be settled in the courts. First, we object strongly to having a Bill of this nature brought to us. We were told on the first day of our debate
Column 761that there could be no proper parliamentary surveillance. I shall not go into all the arguments, because my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South presented them fully, but the Government have made no attempt to answer them, and it is particularly important that they should do so in the light of the most recent evidence on how Select Committees could deal with such matters. The Select Committee on the Falklands, on which my right hon. Friend served, showed that a matter of boiling, burning topicality could be examined by a Committee of the House. There was no suggestion of any leakage or of any threat to the security of the state. What would have happened if that investigation had not taken place? We can imagine the amount of rumour and tittle-tattle, and the charges of various kinds, that would have spread throughout the country.
It was absolutely right to establish that Committee. It was a much larger Committee than the Prime Minister wanted, but, as my right hon. Friend and those associated with him proved, it was a perfectly proper way to examine the issues. It is the most recent example of the ability and versatility that the House has shown in dealing with such questions, and one that the Government should have noted when they brought the Bill forward.
Mr. Dalyell : I should like to praise the Franks committee, on which my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) served. I appeared before the committee for an hour and 25 minutes, and wonder retrospectively whether it was given all the information that it should have been given. This encapsulates a real problem. How can we be sure that such a committee is given all the information to which it is entitled? I doubt whether it can be.
Mr. Foot : I cannot say for certain whether all the information was provided ; neither can my hon. Friend. Even those who were on the committee could not know for certain whether they had all the information, but I have little doubt that many of them strove to ensure that they would obtain most of it.
What is certain is that that committee, investigating as it did so soon after the event, had much more information on the conduct of the services at the time than they would have if there had been no parliamentary surveillance. The form of surveillance set up by Parliament may not be perfect, but that is no reason not to have it at all. Once we have set out, as we do in the Bill, to establish a new form of responsibility for the security services, it is quite wrong for the Government to push aside the arguments of hon. Members from various parties for the forms of effective surveillance that the House can establish. It is an insult to the House to say that we cannot devise secret methods of governing our own Security Service, but that is what the Government have persistently told us. My second major charge against this inadequate Bill is contained in what the Home Secretary himself has said. He went out of his way to try to listen to what we were saying and to meet it if he could. In Committee, he read out a formula which he said should govern these matters. He said that he would not put it in the Bill, for various reasons which he did not give. He clearly wanted to believe that a statement of that character would influence the way in which we would consider the Bill, and perhaps also
Column 762influence the courts. I shall not read all his statement, although it is worth reading ; nor shall I try to take one part of it out of context. He said :
"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."
The right hon. Gentleman says that that should set all our minds at rest. Some of us ask whether it would have excluded or prohibited the investigation into CND, or some of the other investigations operated by the Security Service. The right hon. Gentleman will not give us direct answers. In Committee, hon. Members on both sides tried to devise a legislative method to get round the difficulty, and I think that an appropriate and sensible method was devised. I say that particularly in the light of what the Home Secretary said a few minutes ago--
Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. The right hon. Gentleman is such a considerable parliamentarian that I hestitate to interrupt him, but he is now dealing with matters that are not contained in the Bill. I must caution him about that.
Mr. Foot : Let me say with the greatest deference, Madam Deputy Speaker, that I understand the problems of ruling on Third Reading debates. I have attended a number of such debates, on different sides of the House. Nevertheless, what is in the Bill is certainly a matter for Third Reading debate, and I am discussing what is in the Bill. Provisions that should be in it are not in it, and I am certainly criticising that, but I am also criticising the form in which the Home Secretary has left what is in the Bill. Let me underline that by repeating what the Home Secretary said a few minutes ago. He said that language as clear and unequivocal as possible was used to define the nub of the Bill, and that is what I dispute.
Hon. Members from both sides of the House put it to the Home Secretary that if he wanted to win the consent of the House and create a security measure that commanded national support, the language should surely be made clear. There were two or three ways in which that could be done. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) has one suggestion ; the hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) had another. Various hon. Members suggested different methods, but we all wanted a clause to define some of the activities that would not be dealt with by the Security Service. I shall read the right hon. Gentleman's reply, because I think that it is relevant to the Bill. I had asked him, why did the Government not
"seize the opportunity to remove some fears by incorporating such a provision, 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?"
We said that time and time again. I ask hon. Members to note the Home Secretary's answer. He did not push the proposal aside and say that it was of no importance ; nor did he say that it could not be done. He said :
"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 to 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
Column 763Government can do, I think that the right hon. Gentleman will find that it arrives at the same conclusion."-- [Official Report, 17 January 1989 ; Vol. 145, cc. 218-222.]
The Bill does not arrive at the same conclusion, however. If we do not take the opportunity to insert a clause covering all the matters that will not be properly investigated by any security service, the opposite will be the outcome. These matters are bound to come before the courts, perhaps a good deal more frequently than in the past, because no one will know exactly what the law is. Some hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Thanet, South, have had close experience of the wretched way in which the law has operated in the past, but neither the hon. Gentleman nor anyone else in the country has any guarantee that its operation will be any better in the future.
When matters investigated by Government security officers came before courts and judges in the past, at least there was some chance of arguing the matter, and some of these cases were won. The argument against the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) was won, as were some others. However, when the question comes before the courts now, they will quote what is in the Bill but I am afraid that it does not provide the protection required. They will not quote what the Home Secretary said to me in his reply, when he said that the Bill is intended to say exactly what he has said.
The Government will not change their mind easily--they will not do it on Third Reading--but I hope that, when a clause designed to protect proper free debate in this country is introduced in the other place, the Government will not have the insolence to come back here and throw it out.
Mr. Robert Boscawen (Somerton and Frome) : This debate has been rather extraordinary, because right through the proceedings at which I have been present the underlying theme has been that the Opposition are deeply concerned about the way in which the Security Service has worked, because they believe that all the time there has been a sinister plot to undermine Left-wing activists. Nobody, however, has mentioned any action taken by the Security Service against the National Front or the extremists of the Right- wing. The Opposition have an underlying fear that there is a sinister plot which has been maintained by the secrecy of the Service under Governments of different complexions. Whether it has been a Labour or Tory Prime Minister, that sinister plot has been there. Opposition Members fear that their telephones are being tapped and people have been looking into what they have been doing, which has been the purpose of the Security Service. I believe that the Opposition are not that important. The Security Service has more important things to do than to study Left-wing or Right-wing activists.
Mr. Boscawen : The Security Service has an important job to do, and it must do it as efficiently as it can, as hon. Members have agreed, especially the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot). The question asked in this debate has been whether it will do its job more efficiently if the House has a window into that job. I do not believe that to be so.
The security services are not perfect. They make blunders and mistakes and from time to time they are
Column 764bound to employ the wrong people. The biggest failure of the Security Service and the special branch of the police--it cannot be laid at the feet of any individual--was to allow the head of Government, most senior Ministers of that Government and the senior people in that party to be within an ace of being destroyed in the Brighton bombing a few years ago. Had that been successful, that failure of the Security Service would have destabilised whatever party had been in power for a long time. Such actions must be the most important matters into which the Security Service must look. Perhaps agents of a foreign power intent on invading or destroying this country by military action may be an important factor, but I do believe that it is as important for the Security Service to counter the evil intentions of terrorism and such actions that could destroy stable government and could change the policy of the Government.
Mr. Boscawen : I am not suggesting that supervision in the way proposed will stop it in any way. I do not see how it can. How will the Security Service become more efficient in carrying out its job by spreading its secrets a little bit wider and making them known to some worthy people in this place? My main criticism about the Opposition's proposal is that, if they are told all the operational secrets and the purposes of the Security Service's investigations, what good will they do? If they are told those secrets, I believe that we are spreading the knowledge of those operations and the purpose of the Security Service's investigations far too wide. I do not agree with the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), however experienced he may be, that it is an insult to the House not to be able to devise a system for overseeing the Security Service. I believe that it would be an insult to the House if we were not able to show a little more wisdom than that. The wisdom is that there are some things that we should not know too much about, because the more people who know about them, the less effective the Security Service will be, and the more likely it will be that the sort of outrages committed in this country in recent years will escape detection. The old thrust of the Opposition's argument, which is to try to spread the secrecy of the Security Service to the knowledge of a lot more people, worries me. If I were asked to go on to a Select Committee, if it were set up, I should be worried because I am bound to learn things that I would not want to know.