Previous Section Home Page

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : Ignorance is bliss.

Mr. Boscawen : I know that there are willing recruits to that Select Committee on the Back Benches--they are all queuing up to be on it--but my experience is that there are certain things that, if one does know, and one has to keep them to oneself, one would rather not know. I believe that that is true of the House as a whole. That would not be a good Committee to be on. One would be stuck with that information and knowledge, which one would know one could not impart--

Column 765

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. I must bring the hon. Gentleman to order. We are on Third Reading and we can debate in this House only what is actually in the Bill. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is wandering on to issues which are not in the Bill.

Mr. Boscawen : I accept that what is proposed by the Opposition is not in the Bill, and I am delighted that it is not, because it would worry me greatly. I believe that it would reduce the effectiveness of the Security Service, which is in the front line in trying to prevent the sort of actions that we have seen in the past few years. 8.18 pm

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South) : As I have sat here, I have realised that the point of a Third Reading is to deal with the Bill as it is and not with how it should be. Nevertheless, it still leaves many questions to ask about the way that this Bill, when it becomes an Act, will be carried out by the Home Secretary of the day. As I want to pursue that point, I shall not proceed with my argument that I regret that parliamentary accountability of some sort, which should have been discussed between both sides of the House, is not being followed.

I want to make it clear that I regard bringing MI5 under the law as an important step forward.

When I read about officers burgling their way across London I realised for the first time that MI5 should be brought under the law. I am glad that that has happened. I believe that the use of a commissioner is a step forward. I will bear your instruction in mind, Madam Deputy Speaker, and not discuss what should be in the Bill, even though my right hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) and for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) have cogently argued that there are deficiencies in the drafting of the Bill.

There are seven clauses and a number of schedules that the Home Secretary must operate and they will be in his left or right-hand drawer when deciding whether to agree to a warrant. He and the Prime Minister must operate the measure. I repeat, however, that, sometimes, there is a great misunderstanding about the place of MI5 in the Home Office. It is not a Department, nor is it in wide commission--only the Home Secretary and one or two others have dealings with it. About two years ago I remember--I shall be writing books about it soon--I was at a memorial service in Jerusalem. I was standing above the city and listening to the moving service when a man came up to me and said, "Thank you for protecting my life and getting a decision in Cabinet." I said, "Don't thank me, I didn't know you existed." The man then went. I asked the special branch man who was protecting me who he was, but the man had gone. If that man thought that all such issues were discussed in Cabinet, he should think again. For that reason it is important that the Bill is drawn up correctly and cogently.

We are not dealing with a normal political issue. On those grounds I want to consider parts of the Bill and some of the issues that have arisen as a result of reports in newspapers and wider discussion. The hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) spoke about six of his fellow Members being the subject of investigation. If those people had been members of the Labour party, I too would have

Column 766

raised the matter. He said that those people had been fingered, or whatever, by MI5. I must ask myself whether those people would try to subvert the constitution.

Mr. Foot : They are old Tory trade unionists.

Mr. Rees : I doubt that.

I read a report in a newspaper about this matter. We have all learned to discount the complete accuracy of newspaper reports, but it raised new information. How did it happen that six Members of this House were fingered by MI5? Perhaps there was a visit to an embassy and an expansive young man or woman talked as though he or she were more important than was the case. Perhaps a young official at the embassy took up what they said and made it more important than it was. That is the way it sometimes happens. Immediately, that information was written down, signalled out or whatever, and picked up.

If the Security Service felt it necessary to go to the leader of the Conservative party to report on six Members, and given that it has come to light only as a result of our debate, those Members should be told. They should be given the chance to explain what it is they are supposed to be guilty of. It is only as a result of public discussion that this information has come out. What usually happens--I speak with some experience of listening around--is that people visit countries on the other side of the iron curtain for business or other reasons and there are always those who will make a meal of it in some foreign security service. The moment that is done, that person's name is damned--maybe for the wrong reasons.

The information about Members of the House has been a turn-up for the books, because it is not only the Labour party that was supposed to be involved in such things, but members of the Government Benches. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent has said, the weakest part of the Bill is how it deals with subversion. That has been the weakness of the Maxwell Fyfe directive and was apparent as long ago as 1972 when the director-general of MI5 gave evidence to the Franks committee about subversion. I have always been extremely concerned about this matter because too much subjective slandering occurs.

In Right-wing circles it is too easy to say that someone is a Communist, but it also happens in the Left--it used to happen far more. The word "Fascist" comes to too many lips too glibly. "Communist" and "Fascist" are descriptive words that should not be used because there is no proof. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent has said, it is not good enough to have the Home Secretary's words about what subversion means. The Maxwell Fyfe directive of 1952 states :

"It is essential that the Security Service should be kept absolutely free from any political bias or influence and nothing should be done that might lend colour to any suggestion that it is concerned with the interests of any particular section"

and so on. That did not do much good, and I suggest that the words of the Home Secretary will not do much good either.

In the 1970s there were those--I do not have enough evidence to know, absolutely, where the information came from--who were engaged in denigrating the then Conservative Prime Minister. I remember the stories, and the bits of paper that I now collect are all on the same theme. The information denigrated some Conservative Members and, of course, Labour Members.

Column 767

The Bill talks about the Security Service, but there is no doubt that, at least in the 1970s, other branches of Government were involved in the game. It is all finished now--I have checked most carefully--but there is no doubt that the Army information service and those associated with it in Lisburn in Northern Ireland, played their part. They provided lists of possible successors as Conservative Prime Minister and gave their weaknesses and strengths. The information provided was such illiterate rubbish that it makes Bulldog Drummond look as though he had obtained a first-class degree from a prominent university.

We should remember that the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) set up a DS department within the Ministry of Defence to deal with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. I found that indefensible. The moment one has a DS department in MOD it can talk directly with other Government Departments. That should not have been allowed. The Bill refers to MI5 and the Security Service, but does it refer to other people in Government service? We may have to return to this matter shortly.

It is important to consider the role of Ministers once the Bill becomes an Act. Home Secretaries come and go. We are dealing with non-political issues and it is difficult for any Home Secretary to check all the information that should be brought to his notice. I shall give another example. A year or two ago I was on holiday in Spain and I was sitting on the beach reading The Times. I had driven down to a nearby village to buy it. It reported a story in a Sunday newspaper that a member of MI5 used to vet applicants for jobs, or people who work, at the BBC. The Times report said that the newspaper had been in touch with the Home Office and the press officer at the Home Office and said that that was exactly what had happened in 1979 when I was in office. That was news to me, so when I got back I wrote to the Cabinet Secretary and said that I had known nothing about it. Shortly afterwards I received a letter saying, "That is absolutely correct. You did not know because we checked our briefing notes and you were never told." I was supposed to be responsible for broadcasting and for MI5 and I was the only bloke in the country who did not seem to know about it.

It has all stopped now. The BBC does not use such vetting and it was certainly never used in the IBA companies. But it enables me to ask the Minister how any Home Secretary can know the full extent of what is going on when his position is so transient. There is not even a relevant department. I am against a Ministry of security or whatever it would be called, but the Bill should provide that information should be passed on to successors if they are from a different political party. It is most important that that should be done and it is not done.

Mr. Tony Banks : My right hon. Friend regularly gives us confessions. I am beginning to think that he has learnt more out of office than in office. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the BBC senior personnel management have a military background and that that area is still a favourite recruiting ground for the BBC personnel department?

Mr. Rees : That may or may not be the case. I am concerned that if there is a case for positive vetting in any organisation it should be for those who deal with a particular job concerning a wartime situation or

Column 768

something similar and that there should not be vetting by MI5 of people's political views and the programmes that they produce.

Mr. Winnick : Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the story had not appeared in The Observer in August 1985--perhaps the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) should note that I read it while I was on holiday in Yugoslavia and not in Spain--and if there had been no disclosure then or later, it is quite likely that such vetting would have continued?

Mr. Rees : No doubt that issue will be raised in the debate on a different Bill in a few days' time.

I cannot comment on the new type of warrant because it did not exist in the past. It is right that there should be warrants. I am certainly not clear how they will work or how they will stand in a court of law, if for some reason they affect a decision in a court of law. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) asked the Home Secretary about tapping the telephones of Members of Parliament and received the correct answer from the Home Secretary. Are there any limitations on the use of the warrants? If there are limitations on the warrants used for interception, are there any limitations on these new warrants, for whatever purpose they are used? I believe that the next changes in legislation will be on warrants.

This Bill has been brought about by events. The story from Wright has brought about the Bill. All Governments are driven by catastrophes about which something has to be done. Perhaps it is inevitable. I believe that the next changes will have to be made on warrants. However, I have to pull back because I do not want to discuss what ought to be done.

We need a Security Service to fight against espionage and international terrorism. I hope that MI5 and special branch know far more than we learn in the papers about the rest of the Semtex that was not discovered at Clapham. I hope that they have a great deal more information on that, because it would benefit the country. Nobody on either side of the House should do anything but applaud when the Security Service, special branch and the CID break through, but it was luck that produced the discoveries at Clapham. I am concerned about subversion. I do not really know what it means, but it is a subjective feeling in all of us. I used to believe that it had something to do with whether someone was in touch with a foreign embassy or was carrying out the orders of a foreign embassy, but I do not believe that that alone is enough. It is very important that any Home Secretary considers very carefully the matter of subversion.

As for the security services, I found the two or three members with whom I have had close dealings to be excellent officers, who knew what they were talking about politically. They had experienced a wider career than most people and their knowledge was first class. I had trust in them, but obviously others do not see it in that way. The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) once said that if one reads the Daily Mirror or The Guardian one is regarded as a subversive. That aspect has to be considered, as no piece of legislation gets it right. That was one reason why, in the 1950s, when Lord Attlee was considering the subject he smarted at what he knew about the Zinoviev letter and for that and other reasons wanted an inquiry into the security services at the time.

Column 769

Subversion cannot be determined subjectively. Espionage and international terrorism can be determined subjectively, but it is too easy to make mistakes about subversion. That is one reason why I would prefer a general oversight by the House, with people appearing before Members of Parliament. We learn to appreciate each other, whatever our political views. There would be a learning process the other way when we found out what is the balance of the use of the Security Service and what changes have been made in the past year. Of course that should be for general discussion. I do not want to know the details of the missions or bandy them around.

One reason why that man in Jerusalem was right is that I had taken a decision because it protected people's lives. We would not wish to do anything here that would put anyone's life at risk, but we have every right to find out in general what the Security Service is doing, because, if only marginally, things have gone wrong. We have every right to examine the Security Service in the way that I would suggest, but I fear that I would be incurring your wrath, Madam Deputy Speaker, if I pursued that argument. The Bill has many defects, and because of those defects and not because of the step forward that it represents, I shall vote against it.

8.38 pm

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) : It is difficult for Ministers to say much on Third Reading. However, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and my hon. Friend the Minister of State talked almost in terms of Home Office press releases rather than to the substance of the Bill. Tonight the Home Secretary advised us that the commissioner could tell the Home Secretary if his definition of national security under the warrant was correct. When challenged where that was to be found in the Bill, the Home Secretary would not give way. The difficulty about a number of measures is that the Home Secretary seems to be captivated by his press releases and does not use his analytical talents when he addresses the Bill.

I do not want to be uneven-handed, and I move to the Minister of State's ability to be just the same. When we considered what the Bill did or did not contain, we discussed warrants and whether they should be judicially issued. Many hon. Members will recall that debate. A compelling argument that has been advanced by the Minister of State, based on the Bill, is that there can be no judicial issue of warrants because that would extend the circle of secrecy ; people would not know on what basis the warrant had been issued because they would not have the expertise, or access to the information. Then, doing a pirouette, he told us that any Secretary of State may issue a warrant. First the Minister of State said that judges would not have the expertise to issue warrants and therefore that they were not suitable, but within seconds he announced that any Secretary of State might issue a warrant, even if he had no experience, knowledge or understanding of the matter.

That is the intellectual thrust which informs this Third Reading debate. I am mindful that we are discussing what the Bill contains. It contains a duty, placed on the security services, to guard national security. What is national security? One would ordinarily expect, when reading a Bill,

Column 770

to find a definition of such a term. From what the Home Secretary has told us, we know that national security is what the Home Secretary determines it to be. The House should be cautious of a definition that gives any successor of the current Home Secretary such overwhelming powers to determine what national security should be. During this century, other states in continental Europe have used the term "national security" to do horrific things to human nature and the soul of people. How can a democratic House of Commons accept a definition of a function that is anything that the Home Secretary determines it to be, without any redress? But that is what the Bill says.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton) : Clause 1(2) makes it patently clear what the protection of national security means. It particularises national security. It refers to

"protection against threats from espionage, terrorism and sabotage, from the activities of agents of foreign powers and from actions intended to overthrow or undermine parliamentary democracy by industrial, political or violent means."

How can my hon. Friend persist in saying, as he has before, that there is no definition of national security? What it means is patently clear from the text.

Mr. Shepherd : I am grateful that that issue has been raised. Had my hon. and learned Friend been a Member of the Committee, he would have learnt that those are merely illustrative of some of the functions that the Security Service may address. However, those functions are not exclusive, and that is the matter which causes concern. If they are not exclusive functions, the House should consider what functions the Security Service may look into. This power may be used in a malign way. We should be cautious about accepting on Third Reading the provisions of this Bill, as unamended in Committee.

The Home Secretary has made much of the fact that the commissioner may look over his shoulder--if I have misunderstood him, I hope that the Minister of State will draw my attention to the clauses in the Bill that deal with this matter--and identify something as not being in the interests of national security. We are giving the Home Secretary a clearly unreviewed function to determine what is national security. We are providing something along the lines of what was contained in the Interception of Communications Act 1985. The House knows that, by and large, that was a travesty. The Times called it a travesty. That measure was designed to meet the contentions that were placed in front of the European Court of Human Rights, when we were found wanting over the telephone tapping of an antiques dealer in Sussex.

That was the purpose of the Bill. What were the commissioners able to review? They could review something only if an innocent citizen, by some form of osmosis, came to the conclusion that the security services had acted. The Home Secretary fairly said that, under the Official Secrets Bill, no one may, under penalty of imprisonment or the possibility of imprisonment, mumble a word that a crime, fraud or improper act has taken place. The idea of the innocent citizen referring something that he does not know about--and if anybody tells him about it, that renders that person liable to imprisonment--to the commissioners is an extraordinarily obtuse way of trying to bring about the protection of individual rights and a correct balance within our society.

This is not a credible Bill for a Conservative Government to introduce. Conservative Members should be cautious about it. Our worry about the powers of the

Column 771

state and our anxiety that they can be used in malign ways are respectable arguments. The Bill does not meet those arguments. I welcome--as did the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley)--a statutory basis for our intelligence and security services for domestic purposes. That is admirable. I have not heard one person criticise it. High Court judges believe that, to the ordinary citizen, burglary is a criminal offence. They are nervous about placing our security services in an unprotected position in front of the courts without a proper mandate or a proper warrant system.

The constraints that are provided by the Bill are insufficient. Insufficient regard is paid to ministerial responsibility and accountability. The Bill pays no regard to the rule of law and it does not acknowledge the right of lawful dissent, a right that is fundamental to our democracy.

8.47 pm

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland) : Like the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), who has just spoken, and the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), I started from the position that to bring the Security Service within a statutory framework seemed, on the face of it, a step forward. However, as one has listened to the debate--and today to the Home Secretary's speech--my initial view has considerably changed. The right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South, who speaks with great authority as a former Home Secretary, did not get it quite right when he said that he wanted to bring the Security Service under the law. The fact is that the Security Service has always been under law. The question is whether the law is enforceable. That the Security Service has always been under the law has been repeatedly stated in the courts. It was stated by Lord Denning in the Profumo inquiry. It was stated by Sir John Donaldson, the Master of the Rolls, in an important judgment in the Wright case--the Attorney-General v. The Guardian. Parliament has been considering whether we are changing the situation in a way that strengthens and enhances individual liberties by statutory means or whether we are stemming the effectiveness of the control over the operations of the Security Service.

In many ways, the present position is safer than that which the Bill provides. In the case of a transgression by the Security Service, the citizen has the right to take his case to the courts. The position was well spelt out by Sir John Donaldson. In the case to which I have referred, he said :

"It may be that the time has come when Parliament should regularise the position of the service. It is certainly a tenable view. The alternative view which is equally tenable is that the public interest is better served by leaving members of the service liable to prosecution for any breach of the law at the instance of a private individual or a public prosecuting authority but may expect that prosecuting authorities will exercise a wise discretion and that in an appropriate case the Attorney General would enter a nolle prosequi justifying his action to Parliament if necessary."

He went on :

"It is not for me to form or express any view on which is the most appropriate course to adopt in the interest of the security of the nation and the maintenance of the rule of law."

The most troubling aspect of Ministers' interventions in our debates has been their unwillingness to address the important point about the maintenance of the rule of law. If the rule of law means anything, it must mean some

Column 772

certainty in knowing the difference between what is permissible and what is impermissible. The Bill does not provide for that, because its definitions are imprecise. Above all, it does not define the function of the Security Service. In a sense, that did not matter in a common law situation. If a security officer transgressed, bugged or burgled his way around the country, he could have been taken to court. That is no longer to be the position. A complaint will now go through the new statutory procedure, which rules out appeal to the court. A security officer has a narrower defence for a wrongdoing than he had before the introduction of the Bill.

Mr. Rees : I concede that point. It is not for me to defend the Government's position, but I thought that one reason the Government had moved was to deal with those who had burgled their way through London without a warrant--those who had broken the law.

Mr. Maclennan : That is undoubtedly the case, but if a member of the Security Service is argued, or found by the tribunal or the commissioner, to have acted contrary to the provisions of the statute, in that the warrant was defective in some way, that is final. Under clause 5(4), there can be no appeal to any court if the matter has been considered by the tribunal or the commissioner. That is cutting the rights of the citizen.

Far from congratulating the Home Secretary, as he invited us to do at the conclusion of his speech, we should take strong issue with the narrowing of citizens' rights in the manner which the Bill provides. It is deeply disturbing. I would not have been disturbed if the Bill had defined its terms and the functions of the service in a clear and not so all-embracing manner. Once again, when he was considering what is meant by the protection of national security, the Home Secretary said that everybody knew what it meant and that the phrase appeared in several statutes. He said that we must rely upon him or his successors. He said that the language of the Bill is as clear and as unequivocal as possible. Merely to use the term "national security" and treat it as though its meaning were pellucid is to treat hon. Members as though they were innocents abroad. The phrase is capable of being interpreted by a Home Secretary in many different ways. It is not correct to suggest, as did the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) said in an intervention during the speech of the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), that the phrase is defined by the particularisations which appear in the clause merely as examples. The Bill gives considerable power to be exercised by the Security Service in the issuance of warrants by a Home Secretary, or by any other Secretary of State if the Home Secretary is not available, regardless of knowledge of the matter. Such great powers cut the freedoms of our citizens, and they should not exist with so little control.

The Bill's provisions on supervision have been discussed at this and other stages of the Bill's passage. The provisions for supervision of the issuance of warrants by a commissioner, who is a man appointed by the Home Secretary and holding high judicial office, do not cover more than they purport to cover. They do not cover more than the issuance of warrants and the handling of complaints, as set out in schedule 1. They do nothing to strengthen the effectiveness of the scrutiny of the Security Services to protect it, as many hon. Members would wish,

Column 773

from the kind of outrage of which former servants such as Bettaney were guilty as recently as three years ago. We are doing nothing to strengthen the Security Service. We are doing nothing to increase the protection of the individual from abuses of power. We are not providing a proper channel of appeals.

Some of these matters are likely to go before the European Court of Human Rights. The Bill is a response to pressure. It may be argued that there is an inadequate domestic remedy. The Bill is not an improvement on the law as it stands. For that reason, I shall vote against it.

8.57 pm

Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South) : The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) was right to remind the House that the Bill began its parliamentary journey with a quite substantial measure of good will on both sides of the House. The hon. Gentleman certainly supported it. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) seemed to make a genuflection in the direction of its support. I certainly gave it my willing vote on Second Reading. But all that good will has been disdainfully dissipated by a charade of a two-day Committee stage.

I call it a charade because, during its proceedings, my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench systematically flouted the usual parliamentary conventions, to the extent of completely refusing to accept or even reconsider in another place a single amendment, irrespective of its merits. In blunt language, the Bill was given the bum's rush by the Government. The Home Secretary will live to regret it.

One good reason is that, instead of removing the Security Service from the arena of political controversy--surely we all want that--the Bill leaves it in the crucible of political and parliamentary argument and debate. The desirable objective of taking the Security Service away from political controversy could have been achieved if there had emerged, as there started to, a broad cross-party consensus that the Bill was on the right lines.

The Home Secretary's Third Reading speech mysteriously kept concentrating on what he called the deep divisions in the House that caused him to realise that there was no hope of solidarity on this Bill. In fact, any fair-minded observer who listened to the Committee would have been amazed at the genuine degree of agreement between such diverse sections of the House as my hon. Friends the Members for Torbay (Mr. Allason), for Aldridge -Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) and myself on one side, and the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), the right hon. Members for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) and for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) and several others I could name, on the other, all of whom seemed to be moving broadly in the same direction. It was my hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench who were left in far from splendid isolation.

Having started with this consensus on his side, the Home Secretary steadily and inexorably lost it as the Bill progressed, because of his intransigence. It takes a remarkable parliamentary footballer to begin with the ball at his feet in the goal mouth with no goalkeeper in sight and, instead of scoring, to dribble the ball all the way back to his own goal mouth with most of the players, including

Column 774

those on his own side, shouting "foul", "offside" and "Let's have a replay." The analogy of football is not wholly invalid. A replay of the Bill is exactly what is likely to happen in the not-too-distant future. I cannot predict who will force it ; perhaps, as the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland said, it will be the European Court of Human Rights picking a quarrel with the sweeping definitions of the functions of the Security Service in clause 1. Perhaps it will be the next scandal to emerge in the Security Service.

This is a world in which Murphy's famous law--if something can go wrong, it will--seems to apply in spades, and it will not be too long before trouble boils up. Perhaps it will be a future House of Commons with a majority of one sort or another of such slenderness that the current buzz phrase, "elective dictatorship", will not be applicable. Whatever the cause, the argument about the statutory basis for the Security Service will be back on the political agenda soon, because the Bill has been left in the category of unfinished business as a result of Home Office ministers failing to accommodate any point of view other than their own.

As far as Parliament is concerned it is , to put it mildly, unusual for a major Bill to pass all its stages without amendments of any kind, especially when amendments have been moved in a responsible and constructive fashion by major parliamentary figures such as a former Home Secretary, a former Foreign Secretary, a former Defence Secretary and others with experience in this area.

The Bill cried out for amendments, not only in places in which policy differences prevail, such as oversight, but in quite small non- controversial areas. For example, when we came to the part of the Bill that dealt with warrants, I thought that my hon. Friend the Minister of State was left with egg all over his face. To mix my nutritional metaphors, he made a complete Horlicks of his explanation of why the Bill did not follow the much more precise and accurate rules on warrants in the Interception of Communications Act 1985. The arguments about a staff counsellor, which I was able to draft in the exact words of the Prime Minister, were rejected on the baffling ground that there was no need for such an amendment, even though the Prime Minister thought it necessary to introduce such a staff counsellor by means of a written parliamentary answer.

As these amendments were rejected by my hon. Friend the Minister of State in that tone of unconvincing bonhomie which reminded me of a minor character in John Le Carre 's novels, Roddy Martindale, I asked myself what we are to make of all this in the cold light of day. Has the Home Office grown so complacent that it sticks up a notice on Queen Anne's Gate saying, "No hawkers, no gypsies, no unsolicited circulars and no parliamentary amendments"? Or has the Home Secretary suddenly moved his Department into a fairyland in which perfect legislators bring forward perfect legislation and they all live happily ever after in a silver-lined cloud of self- satisfaction with no amendments?

Perhaps we should take a more sombre view of all this and remind ourselves of Lord Acton's famous aphorism about power tending to corrupt, and reflect that it may be coming true in a House of Commons in which there is a majority of over 100. Either way, it is bad for Parliament and for Government, and perhaps bad because, when the Official Secrets Bill comes to the Floor of the House we shall be given the same contemptuous treatment --no

Column 775

amendments accepted because they are all terrified of a Report stage. That would be a disgrace to parliamentary proceedings. I solemnly warn my right hon. and hon. Friends that if they think that they have had trouble so far on this Bill--it has been good- natured--they will have much worse trouble if they take the same haughty line.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten) : I did not quite catch my hon. Friend's reference to Roddy whoever-it-was, but perhaps he will give me chapter and verse from the Le Carre novel in due course so that I can seek to identify myself. May I reassure my hon. Friend--I hope to bring a smile to his face--that my right hon. Friend and myself have already tabled at least one amendment to the Official Secrets Bill, so that will ensure a Report stage on that measure.

Mr. Aitken : I am delighted to give a smile to my hon. Friend. If we are to have a Report stage on the Official Secrets Bill, that is a great deal better than has happened on this Bill.

I shall return now to the Security Service Bill, Madam Deputy Speaker, because I know that you wish us to stick closely to Third Reading rules. Two areas remain in which the cauldron of political controversy will continue to bubble because of the Government's short-sighted refusal to accept any amendments. The first relates to the functions of the service and to the definitions of those functions. At first glance, many of us felt that clause 1(2) implied that the Security Service would in future limit its activities to espionage, sabotage, terrorism and attempts to overthrow parliamentary democracy.

Even my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) fell neatly into that trap, not having attended the Committee stage to any great extent, when he thought that the clause somehow defined the activities of the Security Service and limited it to those provisions. However, he was absolutely wrong, as we discovered in Committee. Of course, we wanted a hopeful sign that the Security Service would no longer engage in dubious fishing expeditions of the kind that Mr. George Wigg persuaded the service to indulge in when he was in some way in charge of the Security Service in the 1960s, with results that were at times deeply unfair to some of his colleagues in this House. In fact, it meant no such thing. The phrase "the protection of national security" has never been defined. It can be extended far beyond the mere illustrations given in clause 1(2). That is a grave defect in the legislation and one to which the House will undoubtedly wish to return.

Secondly, the oversight argument will not go away. We had a full day's debate on that, so there is no need to go over old ground. However, it was illustrative of the Home Secretary's approach to the oversight case that in his reply last Monday he made no reference to the outstanding speech by the right hon. Member for Devonport. Indeed, my right hon. Friend made only glancing references of the most cursory nature to the speeches made by the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South, by my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay, by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland, and by many other hon. Members. That was a surprising and uncharacteristic departure from the usual courtesies of a wind-up speech, especially when there was no real pressure of time.

Column 776

My right hon. Friend's failure to recognise that the call for oversight will only redouble in volume and intensity when the story of the next Blunt, Bettaney or Burgess hits the fan--as it surely will--is a great mistake. A "no oversight" Home Secretary, like a "no amendment" Home Secretary, is at best short-sighted and at worst, a fundamental error of judgment.

The Bill could have been a parliamentary success story for the Home Secretary, with congratulations from all sides for crafting a Bill that would stand the test of time and put the Security Service on a secure footing. Instead the Bill should be retitled the Security Service (Temporary Provisions) Bill. It will not last and that is why I shall vote against its Third Reading.

9.8 pm

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : I am pleased that the hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) will vote against it the Bill and I hope that he will be joined by other Conservative Members. Like my hon. Friends, I shall vote against it because there has been no improvement since Second Reading.

As it stands, the Bill makes only cosmetic changes. It provides no effective remedy against the serious complaints made against the Security Service and we should not forget that we are so concerned because of the complaints and disclosures made by a former official of MI5, Cathy Massiter. No one has denied that she was speaking the truth. There have been no Government allegations that she was lying. As I have said before--I repeat it today--I believe that Cathy Massiter is an honourable person. By the manner in which she revealed matters which had gone on, but which should not have gone on, she has performed a public duty and a public service and we should be very pleased that we have people like her--

Mr. Allason : Is the hon. Gentleman aware that Cathy Massiter's allegations were investigated--

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. We are now straying from Third Reading. That is a result of my tolerance in allowing the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) to stray so far. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would come back to the matter before us.

Mr. Winnick : The need for a security service, whether it is MI5 or a similar organisation, was never questioned during the course of the Bill. Everyone recognises that it is necessary to have an organisation for the protection of national security. That is set out in the appropriate clause, clause 1(2). The need for national security and related matters and the need for the defence of the realm is recognised in all parts of the House. We know what goes on in dictatorships, but it is unlikely that there is any democracy that does not provide for some sort of protection and does not have some sort of security service. It is the other part of the clause that gives rise to a great deal of controversy.

I am certainly in favour of opposing anything that would overthrow or undermine parliamentary democracy. As I said repeatedly in Committee, I am keen that our democratic system should be permanent. I would be the last person to do anything or be in favour of anything that would undermine it. Equally, I am against targeting and spying on those who are active in organisations such as the

Column 777

Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament or in campaigns for civil liberties and who have no wish whatever to overthrow or undermine parliamentary democracy.

One of my reasons for voting against the Bill was echoed by the hon. Member for Thanet, South. Protest, advocacy and dissent are the very life blood of parliamentary democracy. That is the basic difference between a democracy such as ours and a dictatorship. In a democracy one can protest, advocate and dissent if one disagrees with the Government of the day and one will not be penalised, put away or punished in any way. Some hon. Members have spoken about the reasons for the Bill, and the name of Wright has been put forward. I wonder whether we would have such a Bill if it had not been for the complaint brought by my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman) and Patricia Hewitt to the European Court of Human Rights. No doubt when that case is before the court the Government's answer will be that some improvements have taken place, and they will give the Bill as an illustration of the progress that has been made. Clause 2(2)(b) says :

"that the Service does not take any action to further the interests of any political party."

On the face of it we should be quite content about that, because it is obviously right that the Security Service should not further the interests of any political party. The same words, more or less, were in the Maxwell Fyfe directive of 1952. It was described at the time as a Security Service that would be completely politically impartial. How seriously can we take the claim of political impartiality when we know that the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), when he was Secretary of State for Defence, decided to ask the Security Service to target CND? What kind of political impartiality existed then? Did the right hon. Member for Henley take into account the Maxwell Fyfe directive, or did he say to himself that there should not be any distinction between the Security Service--

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. More than once, I have had to remind hon. Members that debate on Third Reading is very limited. I regret having to remind the hon. Member for Walsall, North yet again.

Mr. Winnick : I defer to your ruling, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was speaking about clause 2(2)(b), which says quite clearly

"that the service does not take any action to further the interests of any political party."

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman has widened the debate too much.

Mr. Winnick : I was trying to illustrate that that was already in the Maxwell Fyfe directive of 1952 and did not prove at the time the point that we should like to see proven.

I said that the basic difference between a democracy such as ours and a dictatorship is that in a democracy protest, advocacy and debate are permitted and are part of everyday life. Like my hon. Friends and me, many believe that such views and actions should not be undermined by the Security Service. I believe strongly that Parliament itself should be able to scrutinise the Scrutiny Service. No

Next Section

  Home Page