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Mr. Speaker : I have allowed the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) to raise this point of order because it is a matter of considerable interest to the House, but it is not a point of order for me ; it is a matter for the Minister. However, I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman, particularly as I understood the Minister to say that he had answered that question yesterday. I anticipated, therefore, that it would have been printed in Hansard. If it has not been printed, I think that the hon. Gentleman should take up the matter with the Minister.
Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am grateful for what you have said, but it is a matter for you in another sense. The form of reply that was given by the Minister constitutes a block on further questions, in that he has nothing to add to the reply that he has already given. The Minister has
Column 1040done two things, the first of which, I accept, is not your responsibility. He has denied my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) the opportunity to ask an informed supplementary question. He has also possibly prevented any hon. Member from tabling further follow-up questions if the Table Office treats the "nothing to add" as a blocking reply. How do we deal with that?
Mr. Speaker : The answer that was given to the hon. Member for Hillsborough did not prevent a supplementary question from being asked. That kind of answer to a question does not mean that a block is imposed. Refusal to answer a question might constitute a block, but an answer referring to a previous reply does not constitute a block.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I understand that, if hon. Members hand in questions to the Table Office and an identical question has been answered, we cannot pursue the matter. This is not quite like that. On 10 January, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) put his question into the raffle and was fortunate to come top of the list. The Table Office accepted on either Thursday or Monday--I have been unable to ascertain which day it was--a question for written answer which was in identical terms, and that was not treated as having priority for answer yesterday. It could have been answered on any day this week. However, the Department chose to answer it yesterday, but unfortunately the answer has not appeared in Hansard .
It seems to me to be an abuse of the House that an hon. Member can pick out another hon. Member's question, table it for a written answer and receive a written answer before the hon. Member who tabled an oral question receives a reply. The Minister did not check that my hon Friend the Member for Hillsborough had received an answer. He referred him simply to a written answer that can be found in the Library but not in Hansard. That seems to me to be sharp practice. Will you look into the matter and report back to the House, and certainly make it clear that this should not become common practice?
Mr. Flannery : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is not sufficient to say to me that I should write to the Minister concerned. It is as clear as daylight that the Minister concerned did something that was totally wrong. He gave the impression that an answer to the question was available to me. He knew that I needed that answer in order to rephrase my question. He prevented every other hon. Member from asking supplementary questions about it. It has all the hallmarks of being very wrong. If it can be done to me, it can be done to any hon. Member.
responsibility--sometimes I wish I did--for the answers that are given. I shall certainly look into the matter and satisfy myself, in so far as my responsibilities in the Table Office are concerned, that nothing untoward has happened. As I say, I have sympathy for the hon. Member and I shall do what I can.
Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I raise it, having established that it is a matter for you after consulting widely among my colleagues. Yesterday, I asked the Prime Minister a
Column 1041question about a statement that had been made by the hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) in which he said that the Security Service had fingered six Conservative Members of Parliament and questioned their reliability and suitability for office. When the Security Service took the decision to examine the backgrounds of those Conservative Members, they were taking into consideration questions of national security and they must have reached the conclusion that they should not see classified documents, or documents supplied to Ministers marked "Secret".
Those hon. Members may have applied for selection as members of Select Committees of the House of Commons. The Public Accounts Committee and the Select Committee on Defence receive, periodically, classified documents, as I have done as a member of the Public Accounts Committee. Occasionally we have had to return them to the Clerk at the end of the meeting. If those Conservative Members are not to be allowed to gain ministerial office because they may be classified as a security risk, I put it to you that, equally--if it were to be true--they should not be given access to classified documents as members of Select Committees.
I wonder, Mr. Speaker, whether you would take on board my suggestion that the material which the Prime Minister saw in relation to the six Members of Parliament be given to the members of the Committee of Selection so that they can establish whether they believe that those Members are fit to see classified documents as members of the Public Accounts Committee or the Select Committee on Defence.
This is not a light request. It is an important matter. We cannot have an inconsistency. If a Member of the House of Commons is not fit to be a Minister because he should not have access to classified material, I put it to you, Mr. Speaker, that he is not fit to be a member of a Select Committee which sees classified material. The only Committee which can decide upon that is the Committee of Selection. Perhaps you will consider the matter.
Mr. Speaker : The hon. Gentleman should raise that matter with the Leader of the House. It is not a matter for me what answer the Prime Minister gives to questions. Like the hon. Gentleman, I have consulted widely and have come up with absolutely nothing. It is a legitimate question for the hon. Gentleman to put to the Leader of the House tomorrow.
Mr. Speaker : Order. I am very sorry, but because of the points of order I failed to call for the presentation of Bills. The hon. Members responsible for them are waiting. Will the hon. Member for Newham, North- West (Mr. Banks) forgive me?
Mr. Malcolm Bruce, supported by Mr. James Wallace, Mr. Archy Kirkwood, Mr. Matthew Taylor, Mr. Simon Hughes, Mr. A. J. Beith, Mr. Richard Livsey and Mrs. Ray Michie, presented a Bill to protect the environment through greater control on the use of chlorofluorocarbons and to require Her Majesty's Government to carry out an audit of the use of chlorofluorocarbons ; and for connected purposes : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 3 March and to be printed. [Bill 48.]
Mr. James Wallace, supported by Mr. Malcolm Bruce, Mr. Archy Kirkwood, Mr. Matthew Taylor, Mr. Simon Hughes, Mr. A. J. Beith, Mr. Richard Livsey and Mrs. Ray Michie, presented a Bill to promote the preservation of tropical rainforests by controlling the importation of hardwoods, reducing the use of hardwoods by Her Majesty's Government ; and for connected purposes : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 3 March and to be printed. [Bill 49.]
Mr. Archy Kirkwood, supported by Mr. Malcolm Bruce, Mr. James Wallace, Mr. Matthew Taylor, Mr. Simon Hughes, Mr. A. J. Beith, Mr. Richard Livsey and Mrs. Ray Michie, presented a Bill to reduce consumption of scarce resources by encouraging the practice of recycling, reducing the packaging on goods and introducing deposits on certain containers ; and for related purposes : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 3 March and to be printed. [Bill 50.]
Mr. Hugh Dykes, supported by Mr. John Wilkinson, Mr. Dafydd Wigley, Mr. Robert Adley, Sir Rhodes Boyson, Mr. Cyril D. Townsend, Mr. Jeremy Hanley, Mr. John Gorst and Mr. Robert G. Hughes, presented a Bill to make it obligatory to apply for planning permission before demolishing a dwelling house : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 17 February and to be printed. [Bill 46.]
That the draft proposals by the Commission of the European Communities on machine safety described in the unnumbered Explanatory Memorandum submitted by the Department of Trade and Industry on 30th November 1988
Column 1043and the Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum of 11th January 1989 be referred to a Standing Committee on European Community Documents.--[ Mr. Kenneth Carlisle. ]
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to restore to the people of London the legal right and duty to elect a London Council so that the needs of London may be met and its administration secured on a basis that is fully accountable to the people, through the ballot box ; and for purposes connected therewith.
Nineteen eighty-nine will mark two significant anniversaries in the history of London local government. The first is the 100th anniversary of London county council ; the second is the 800th anniversary of the City of London. While the city, that most anachronistic of all local government institutions, is busily celebrating its anniversary with a surfeit of food and wine, the great mass of Londoners will only be able to pay tribute to the past work of the LCC on behalf of millions of capital citizens, past and present.
The work of the LCC from 1889 until it was absorbed into the newly created Greater London council in 1964 would take far too long for me to record today. Suffice it to say that the monuments to the LCC are all around us to this day. On London's streets and below London's streets the good works of the LCC and the GLC exist in
superabundance. Thanks to the LCC, millions of Londoners were able to escape from the slums into decent homes for the first time. Millions were educated in LCC schools and colleges and attended LCC evening classes. LCC parks and open spaces, together with hospitals and specialised medical services, provided for the health of London's citizens. LCC transport services on road, rail and water served the capital's transport needs. LCC fire, ambulance and other emergency services guarded London in peace and war. LCC arts and crafts schools produced the musicians, painters, dancers and sculptors who subsequently graced the LCC's Royal Festival hall and its museums, art galleries and concert halls.
The LCC built for the future and protected the past. London's needs were met with skill and dedication by generations of professional council officers, many of whom were acknowledged throughout the world as the finest in their disciplines. Many LCC politicians subsequently achieved high political office in Government, and in both Houses today there are many who owe an enormous debt of gratitude to London county council.
The LCC was created as an acknowledgement that London was more than simply the sum of all its parishes and boroughs. London as the capital city needs a citywide government able to plan and co-ordinate the capital's strategic services. That was the judgment of 100 years ago, as it is today.
Political arguments about the structure of London government have raged around this place for more than 150 years, but always the underlying process has been a movement towards a single strategic authority. It was true when the Metropolitan Board of Works gave way to the
Column 1045LCC, which in turn gave way to the GLC. That was the historic development of London government which will inevitably be resumed at some later date. However, for the moment we are in a period of hiatus. There is no strategic authority for London and the disastrous consequences are there for all who choose to see.
London is the only capital city in Europe without citywide government. The abolition of the GLC in 1986 remains the single most destructive legislative decision of the Government. It was based on the politically malign and vindictive motives of the Prime Minister, who is far more influenced by the example of Attila the Hun than St. Francis of Assisi. Abolition is now history and my Bill looks to the future. There is no doubt in my mind that the welcome departure of the Prime Minister will presage the welcome renaissance of citywide government in London.
If leave is given to introduce my Bill, the new London council, operating from county hall, will be charged with the responsibility for providing, safeguarding, maintaining, developing and improving employment and training, housing, transport, planning, information services, fire services, police, ambulance services, arts and recreation, pollution control, waste disposal, flood prevention, support for groups of Londoners, and such other goods and services as the council wishes to provide for the people.
In most of those service areas today London is descending into a chaos created by a lack of coherent and co-ordinated planning. Numerous Government Departments, local authorities, public bodies and quangos are struggling to make sense of a Heath Robinson system of administration in London which defies history, good sense, efficiency and public interest.
My Bill, if enacted, would not only restore administrative sanity and civic pride to London but would
Column 1046also address the historically outstanding task of democratising the ancient city of London. The Royal Commission report on London government in 1960 stated :
"If we were to be strictly logical we should recommend the amalgamation of the City and Westminster. But logic has its limits and the position of the City lies outside them."
Such sentiments are wholly unacceptable today. My Bill would deal with the City by making it the basis of a new London council, firmly established upon Londonwide democracy and accountability. The lord mayor of London would truly become the lord mayor of all our citizens and not, as at present, lord mayor of the mere handful within the square mile.
I have but one modest wish in respect of the city : to succeed where Mr. Gladstone failed. With those sentiments, and with the support in spirit, I believe, of Mr. W. E. Gladstone, I beg leave of the House to introduce the Bill.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Tony Banks, Mr. Tony Benn, Ms. Joan Ruddock, Mr. Jeremy Corbyn, Ms. Dianne Abbott, Mr. Harry Cohen, Ms. Mildred Gordon, Mr. Paul Boateng, Mr. Ken Livingstone, Ms. Harriet Harman, Mr. Bernie Grant and Mr. Tom Cox.
Mr. Tony Banks accordingly presented a Bill to restore to the people of London the legal right and duty to elect a London Council so that the needs of London may be met and its administration secured on a basis that is fully accountable to the people, through the ballot box ; and for purposes connected therewith : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 24 February and to be printed. [Bill 51.]
Official Secrets Bill
Considered in Committee.
[Mr. Harold Walker in the Chair ]
Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington) : On a point of order, Mr. Walker. When Bills are considered in Standing Committee, we expect--and normally receive--a Hansard of the proceedings the following day. There are times when, because of the pressures of many Committees, that does not happen, but it is important especially when Ministers give undertakings at the end of a sitting which will follow on into the next sitting. You will know, Mr. Walker, that Hansard normally switches off--if I may put it like that--at about 10 pm or 10.30 pm. Are there any special arrangements that might be made with Hansard to publish the proceedings of the Committee on this Bill the next day, so that we can keep abreast of the undertakings that will, I hope, be given by Ministers? There is no immediate rush about this because this is the only day on which we are considering the Bill this week. However, we do not know whether, in coming weeks, the Committee will meet on one day a week or on consecutive days. That is where the problem arises. Is there anything that you can do, Mr. Walker, to seek to make arrangements with the Official Report to help us in this matter?
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (Derbyshire, West) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Walker. Is not the point of order that the hon. Gentleman has raised fairly bogus? Anything that takes place in the Chamber after Hansard stops is available in the Library for hon. Members to inspect.
The Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Harold Walker) : I shall deal with the point of order first. I cannot anticipate what may happen at 10 pm this evening or on any other evening, nor can I anticipate or seek to pre- empt what may happen next week. No doubt the hon. Gentleman's words have been listened to.
makes a damaging disclosure of'.
No. 69, in page 1, line 19, leave out or has been'.
No. 70, in page 1, line 22, leave out or has been'.
No. 16, in page 1, line 25, leave out subsection (3) above' and insert this section'.
No. 67, in clause 7, page 7, line 7, at end insert
or it has been authorised by the Publications Review Board set up under this Act'.
New clause 6-- Publications Review Board --
Column 1048(1) There shall be a body, called the Publications Review Body, which shall authorise the public disclosure of information by former members of the security and intelligence services.
(2) No information shall be disclosed, whether in books, articles or other media, by former members of the security and intelligence services without the approval of the Board.
(3) The Board shall consist of a Chairman and three members appointed by the Secretary of State.
(4) The Board shall notify its decision as to the granting of permission for disclosure to applicants within six months of application being made to it.'
Mr. Hattersley : No doubt the first debate in Committee of the Official Secrets Bill will demonstrate the way in which the Committee intends to do its work. I hope that it will demonstrate that although the Committee is divided on the need to change the Bill's contents, it is unanimous in its belief that the Bill must be debated in great detail and, therefore, at great length. It is not the Opposition's intention to be either fractious or obstructive, but I hope that the Government will understand that we expect sufficient time for every clause to be given the scrutiny it deserves. There are many long days and nights ahead of us and we had better acknowledge that at the start.
This first debate concerns the absolute obligation to secrecy that the Bill places on members of the security and intelligence services and on other persons associated with those services and nominated by the Secretary of State about every aspect and detail of their work for their entire lifetime. Amendment No. 71 was intended to probe that concept and to provide an opportunity for the Secretary of State to justify the notion that total and permanent secrecy--save only for those occasions when he lifts the interdict--is a reasonable obligation to place on members of the Security Service and those associated with them. We do not propose to press the amendment to a vote, but I suspect that the hon. Member for Aldridge- Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), whose amendments are grouped with amendment No. 71 will wish the Committee to divide and we shall support him in that case. The amendments that the hon. Member has tabled, to which he will, no doubt, speak, limit action under clause 1 to disclosures that do damage, and the principle inherent in the limitation of prosecutions--or successful prosecutions--to the publication of items that do damage to the interests of the country lies at the heart of most of our objections to the Bill. We believe that information should be suppressed only when suppression is necessary. That is clearly not the intention of clause 1 in the particulars that relate to the security services, those who work in them and those associated with them because they make the ban on publication absolute and for ever.
Amendment No. 67 and new clause 6 deal with the concept of absolute and permanent secrecy in a rather different way. They propose a publications review board, which will decide whether information that an ex-member of the security services wishes to publish is appropriate for publication. At this stage, I shall say no more on those amendments except that they are an improvement. However, as such a review board would consist of Government nominees, it would not be much of an improvement.
Before we debate the principle that I have described, it is important to recall some of the background to the Bill. Some cynics suggest that one reason why the Prime Minister allowed the Bill to be introduced at all was her
Column 1049obsessive determination to vindicate her paranoid behaviour in the case of Mr. Peter Wright and "Spycatcher". It is important to remember specifically in the context of the "Spycatcher" case that other relevations that in any normal and reasonable judgment were at least as damaging to the interests of the state appeared in a book by Mr. Chapman Pincher, which the Government either approved or took no steps to prohibit.
To avoid future misinterpretation--or at least, as it is the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten) who is to reply later to the debate, to ensure that he has to misinterpret me intentionally rather than by mistake--let me say again that I have no time at all for Mr. Peter Wright. What is more, if one considers the way in which he was prepared to profane the dead, I do not have much time for Mr. Chapman Pincher either, but personal opinions of those two gentlemen are neither here nor there. The question to which the amendments relate is whether it is reasonable for all memoirs of the secret service to be prohibited unless--the word "unless" is important--they are published with Government approval--that is, with the lawful authority of the Government, as stipulated in clause 1.
If clause 1 is agreed unamended, the Government will have the right to prohibit any secret service revelations of which they disapprove, no matter how ancient, trivial or important to democratic debate. On the other hand, the Government will have the right to authorise any revelations that they find convenient. In future, as in the past, a group of Ministers will be able to agree that one memoir may be published because its contents support their interests but suppress another that they find politically embarrassing. That seems an arbitrary power that should not be allowed to the Government of a democracy.
As the debate continues, it will revolve increasingly around two concepts. One is the belief that it should be possible to mount a defence against the disclosure of classified information with a claim that its publication was justified in the public interest. We shall debate that concept specifically in the third group of amendments. The second argument around which all the other propositions will be built is the contention that before a prosecution can succeed, it must be demonstrated that publication harmed the interests of the state. On Second Reading, the Home Secretary made great play of the test of damage that would be inserted into prosecutions, and the right of juries to decide whether damage had been done. Indeed, a Home Office press release referred to "a public interest defence" although neither the concept nor the words appear in the Bill. In the terms of this, our first debate, it is essential to remember that none of the protections of which the Home Secretary made such play on Second Reading--irrespective of whether they are regarded as adequate or inadequate--apply to the clause that we are debating or to the revelations by members of the security services or those designated by the Government as being associated with the security services.
Clause 1 is comprehensive and arbitrary in the area that it covers. There is no need to demonstrate damage to the national interest. In fact, the fact of disclosure--and the fact alone--is all that is necessary for conviction, no matter how inconsequential the published information.
Column 1050The White Paper, with which this exercise began, demonstrates in paragraph 42 exactly how arbitrary and unreasonable such a ban would be, boldly stating that it
"should not be necessary for the prosecution to adduce evidence of the likely damage to the operation of the security or intelligence service when information relating to security or intelligence has been disclosed by a member or former member of one of the services." That is the simple assertion that the Government and Home Secretary seem to believe is enough to carry the argument.
On the other hand, the Franks committee recommendations of 1972, which the Home Secretary is always saying have been improved upon by the Bill were absolutely explicit on that point. The Franks committee recommended that the harm test should be applied to the security service as to any other category of official secrets.
It cannot be necessary or right to make every item connected with security- -no matter how loosely connected, no matter how unimportant--subject to that restriction. It is intolerable in a free society that the Government alone should be the sole arbiter of what is covered by this ban and of the occasions when the ban should be lifted.
Amendments Nos. 14 and 60 do no more than limit the ban to the publication of information which would be positively damaging. By resisting the amendments, if the Government do so--I have no doubt--that they will--the Minister of State will be asserting that he wishes the ban to apply to information that can be published without damage. That is the only logical conclusion that could be drawn from the recommendation to vote against the two amendments.
On Second Reading, the Home Secretary made no attempt to justify a blanket prohibition. He merely asserted its necessity. He then went on to list examples of secret service activities which nobody in their right minds would want to see revealed. When cornered, the Home Secretary always argues in that way--taking absurd examples of what might be revealed and implying that those who want a more acceptable system want to reveal everything.
The question that must be addressed in this amendment is not whether or not everything the secret service does should be made public, it is whether nothing that the secret service does should ever become public but should remain secret--important or trivial, damaging to the national interest or of help to the national interest, legal or illegal.
I shall conclude on that point about illegality. The fact that the ban on secret service information covers illegal as well as legal activities is perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the blanket prohibition. On Monday, the Home Secretary told us once again that he had brought the security services into a legal framework. If it operates outside the boundaries which the Home Secretary is so proud to have drawn, it will still be an offence under this Bill for a member of the service to reveal the illegality, and it will still be an offence for a newspaper to print the revelation.
When we debated the Security Service Bill--which cannot be separated from what we now debate--the Home Secretary conceded, after some wriggling, that under the provisions of this Bill were I to be told by a member of the Security Service that my telephone was being tapped or that my premises had been burgled, it would be an offence for me to make that information public. I hope that the
Column 1051Minister of State will confirm today that, were I to be told by a member of the security services that my telephone had been tapped or my property burgled without proper warrant--that is to say, illegally--it would still be illegal for me to make that information public.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten) : Under those circumstances, the right hon. Gentleman should take his complaint directly to the tribunal that is to be set up under the Security Service Bill.
Mr. Hattersley : I am always grateful for the Minister of State's advice, but having given it me, perhaps he will now answer my question. I shall put it to him again. If a member of the security services tells me that my telephone is being tapped without warrant and therefore illegally, or that my house has been burgled without warrant and therefore illegally, is it or is it not a criminal offence for me to make that information public?
Mr. Patten : It would be a criminal offence for the right hon. Gentleman to make that public, and quite rightly so because he has an avenue of redress. He can go to the tribunal set up under the Security Service Bill.
Mr. Hattersley : I do not want to begin the Committee stage on an acrimonious note, but that reply reveals something not only about the Government, but about the Minister of State. He can apparently say with conviction that if I have been told that I have been the subject of illegal Government action, it is a criminal offence for me to reveal that and that he approves of it being a criminal offence for me to reveal it.
Mr. Hattersley : I certainly believe that, but as I also believe that it is my positive duty to remain within the rules of order, the case that the right hon. Gentleman tempts me to develop is one which I propose to develop in the discussions on the third group of amendments when the public interest criteria is the crucial issue. The idea that the Government might suggest--the Minister of State did suggest--that it is supportable to argue that a man or woman who has been subject to an illegal act by the Government should be sent to prison for making that public, is a view that is inconsistent with the traditions of this country. As I do not want to overstate the case, I shall not tell the Committee those countries in eastern Europe and south America with which it is consistent.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish) : My right hon. Friend obviously knows the legislation, but what about the ordinary citizen who does not know the legislation and who needs to seek advice, as my hon. Friend did on this point from the Minister of State? What is the position if such a person goes around saying that he has discovered that that has happened and asking what he should do about it? Presumably every time that he asks for advice he is committing an offence. That means that every citizen must know that the way to proceed if he hears such information is to go to the tribunal, and surely that is an utter farce.
Column 1052being told by a member of the security services that his house has been burgled illegally. As I understand it, the Minister of State who has not been tardy in confirming my judgments on the Bill, will say that, if that individual goes to the citizens advice bureau saying, "My house has been burgled illegally, what shall I do about it?", he is committing a criminal offence by telling the person in the citizens advice bureau what has happened. If the individual goes to a solicitor there is, as I understand it, no legal protection and no rule that says that the matter is so privileged that he may discuss it with a solicitor. So if a person goes to his solicitor and says, "I am assured that I have been illegally burgled," or "I have had my telephone tapped illegally, oh solicitor, what am I to do?", that person is committing a criminal offence, and the Minister is defending that proposition.
Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland) : Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Minister of state's extraordinary intervention shows that he has failed to recognise that the commission of an offence is not something between the person who commits the offence and the victim of that offence alone, which may or may not be remedied by appeal to a tribunal, but something that touches society at large, for which the tribunal offers no remedy at all?