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Sir Richard Body (Holland with Boston) : I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister of State is poised and ready with a powerful speech, but before he replies I should like to take a minute in which to ask him a question because I do not want to become a criminal--still less to be guilty of a crime relating to the safety and security of our country.
In the 1970s I was an officer in an organisation that was campaigning against our membership of the European Community. I had a telephone call and subsequently a
Column 1082meeting with someone who was in the security services. He said that he did not doubt my good intentions but he warned me that my telephone was being intercepted. The reason for that was the fact that I was serving on a committee and seeing a great deal of someone whom the older Members of the House will remember, Anne Kerr, then the hon. Member for Rochester, who was then married to Russell Kerr, then the hon. Member for Feltham. I was warned to be careful of what I said on the telephone whenever I spoke to anyone.
I suppose that my informant, who was a good friend--obviously I must not reveal his identity now--was guilty of a crime. Having heard what the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said, I am beginning to wonder whether, if the Bill were on the statute book now, I would be guilty of a crime in telling the Committee that 15 or 16 years ago I received that information. My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) spoke of all sorts of dire things happening and said that policemen would frequently be in and out of the House with handcuffs. Surely that is going a bit too far. Does my hon. Friend agree?
Mr. Norman Buchan (Paisley, South) : I feel that I should cap that story. I have already spoken about my experiences in relation to MI5 and the security services. However, on one occasion I received two letters on the same day. They had been put into the wrong envelopes. One came from the south of England and one from Glasgow. Each had arrived in the wrong envelope because they had been opened and incorrectly replaced.
At least one Opposition Member has welcomed the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris) to this debate. I should like to do so, too. He has made a trenchant arrival, but I must warn him that things have got a lot worse since he was a Member. One reason why the Chamber is bare for such a debate is that his hon. Friends are terrified that, once more, they will be convinced that the Government are wrong. It is simpler to come in just to vote for the Government than to listen to the arguments. The hon. Gentleman will find that out for himself in due course.
The Bill was heralded as a reform of the portmanteau provisions of section 2 of the discredited Official Secrets Act 1911. The reform was initiated when we were full of discussions about the nonsense--for this country, the humiliating nonsense--of the "Spycatcher" affair and its revelations. It was supposed to have, and was thought to have, picked up some of the conclusions that their Lordships had reached during the past few years, including the last one that was in favour of a public interest defence. That has been totally ignored. In the same way, the Government ignored the other matter that was expected to be included--that there should be some democratic supervision over MI5.
The problem with clause 1 is that it ignores both those matters. By placing MI5 under completely secret supervision instead of some form of democratic scrutiny, the Government have made the provisions of this Bill an even more serious issue. If MI5 was open to some
Column 1083supervision, with reports, however minute, made to this House, the absoluteness of the Bill would not be so serious. The matter cannot therefore be considered in isolation. The Security Service Bill and this Bill must be taken together.
The Home Secretary disappeared from the Committee on the Security Service Bill and has not been present in this one. Perhaps he was afraid that he too might be convinced by our arguments and find himself in the wrong Lobby. It is disgraceful that the Home Secretary is missing from the debate on this issue, which is at the heart of the freedoms and liberties of this country. This issue is associated with other matters, including, for example, Government interference in the programme "Death on the Rock" in broadcasting and the monopoly of the press. We are being surrounded by an apparatus of secrecy which is the more difficult to penetrate. The Government have now produced a definition to make that form of secrecy absolute. It is no use the Government saying that such secrecy is limited to those in the security and intelligence services. It goes further than that. In the past, people in my case have been opening my mail and replacing letters in the wrong envelopes. There have been other much worse cases, including those of Ponting and Tisdall.
In the case of Ponting, the sensible jury rejected the nonsense of guilt. That was an interesting case, and I do not know why the Government are afraid to appoint half a dozen honest men and true from among right hon. and hon. Members. They saw how intelligently the jury cut through the nonsense of the judge's direction and said, "This is nonsense. Yes, you have proved that legally this man may be guilty but he cannot be guilty of disclosing an iniquity." A similar view was taken by the judge in the Gartside case in the last century.
Previous laws have failed, and it is nonsense to call this Bill a reform. The Government were compelled to introduce a change because they failed to achieve a conviction and Ponting was found innocent. They had to find other methods. They used confidentiality until this Bill was produced. That was meant to be used in commercial issues. They misused that provision in the case of the Swiss chemical firm of La Roche. When they realised that they were coming unstuck, they used injunctions to prevent any examination or publication.
The Government have now introduced this so-called reform of the secrecy Act. First, we are told that the guilty person is one "who is or has been"
a member of the security and intelligence services. The retrospective nature of the legislation has been raised. If such conditions did not exist when a person took office, it would be disgraceful for them to be imposed later. I cannot understand why the Government are not taking that point on board. The Home Secretary should be here to listen to the arguments.
The "Spycatcher" judgment was based on two factors. The first was that the information was already publicly known. Under the Bill, however widely publicised it was, anyone revealing it would be found guilty. If Peter Wright were here, he would be found guilty even though the judges have already decided that "Spycatcher" is publishable. It is dangerous nonsense.
Column 1084I said on Tuesday that we have seen the subversion of parliamentary democracy. The sovereignty of Parliament is being replaced by the sovereignty of the Executive. The Bill says that an offence is committed if security information is disclosed "without lawful authority". What are we coming to? Until now, offences have been committed only when there has been proof of wrongdoing. The Executive are put in conflict with the people because the people are entitled to know if iniquity is taking place. I should have broadcast more powerfully the incidence involving the two envelopes and the phone tapping.
The Executive are also put in conflict with Parliament. We have seen difficulties in attempting to get at the truth in matters other than those involving security. For example, there were problems over the Westland case and the Belgrano. The Select Committees, established to obtain the truth for Parliament and, therefore, for the people of this country, are confronted by an Executive who tell their civil servants and former Ministers, such as Leon Brittan, "Thou shalt not tell the truth." My right hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert) put a series of questions to Leon Brittan in the Select Committee in order to show what he was not prepared to answer. For about five columns of the report of the proceedings, Leon Brittan--we can now mention him by name as he has taken whatever manor he is supposed to have for his new job--refused to answer. Also, civil servants were instructed not to answer. We have permanent secrecy and people are bound by that secrecy indefinitely. We have no instruments in Parliament with which to rectify that.
I do not approve of a Bill of Rights or Charter 88 and so on, but we must legislate to introduce certain rights. One of those rights must be the right of a Select Committee to put civil servants and others under oath if the House gives the Select Committee that right. There is no other way of obtaining the truth, given an Executive of this sort.
Dr. John Gilbert (Dudley, East) : Select Committees have the right to put people under oath. The Select Committee on Trade and Industry, of which I am a member, did that recently in the petrol retailing inquiry. There are plenty of precedents for that. The difference is that, when a witness is put on oath before a Select Committee, all the penalties that attach to perjury apply to any false evidence.
I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). I missed his point as I was involved in a hurried discussion with my right hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert).
Mr. Buchan : That is a powerful absolute silence. We must have the right to put people under oath, and we must understand it and be prepared to use it. If we are to fight back against the sovereignty of the Executive, both sides of the House must combine to fight for freedom.
Column 1085He will recognise that article 10 of the European convention on human rights guarantees the freedom of communication which clause 1 is seeking to deny. Article 10 would undoubtedly be the subject of an appeal if the matter came to our domestic courts. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that there is much to be said for not having to go to Strasbourg but being able to invoke that right here.
Mr. Buchan : I am not taking an anti-EEC attitude on this. If we cannot achieve freedoms in the House, and if article 10 could achieve that I would be prepared to use it. However, we want that power in our domestic legislation.
I am concerned about the constitution, and unhappy about a written constitution being handed over to the judiciary alone. That is not the right way forward. Many legislative measures must be introduced to guarantee rights, but I am not advocating an entire constitution or Bill of Rights to govern our business. But what we have relied on in the past to protect our democracy and rights--the sovereignty of Parliament--has fast disappeared. We all know it no longer exists. We now have the sovereignty of the Executive. That has been due not only to the behaviour of the Executive but to the cowardice of Parliament. We need some courage, and let us hope that we see some on this occasion. We cannot allow the Bill to go through in this form. I have nothing against the Minister of State, but it is a disgrace that he is replying to this debate instead of the Home Secretary, whom we entrust with these matters. The right hon. Gentleman should have been here to listen to the debate. We do not accept that the Minister has surrendered to the arguments of last Monday and Tuesday by bringing us a little tiddler of an amendment. There will be a Report stage, and I hope that the Minister's hon. Friends who are on the side of goodness and justice will take advantage of that, as I intend to do.
Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest) : Given that my voice is just about to become an official secret I shall be extremely brief. An objective observer would find curious the apparent enthusiasm for a public interest defence for members of the Security Service. It has taken eight years, and innumerable White Papers and abortive private Members' Bills to arrive at this significant improvement to the Official Secrets Act 1911. It is equally curious to hear the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) and other Opposition Members arguing so strongly for these reforms since, when in office, they did nothing to promulgate them.
The furthest that the Opposition got was the 1978 White Paper. It effectively gave absolute protection against disclosures by the intelligence services. It proposed a system of ministerial certificates which would be issued by the Ministers concerned and the Attorney-General and would determine that there was a potential for "serious injury to the interests of the nation".
If the Ministers involved decided that, the prohibition on members of the intelligence services saying anything, before, at the time, or afterwards, would have been every bit as comprehensive as that in clause 1--
Column 1086understood by Franks, and the former Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) will confirm that. The difficulty that this and previous Governments have faced is that of how to produce the evidence in court. Franks suggested doing that by ministerial certificates, but there was no question but that a test had to be met. The problem with clause 1 is that no tests must be met. I hope my hon. Friend appreciates the difference.
Mr. Coombs : I do. However, the effect of those ministerial certificates, if they claimed serious injury to the interests of the nation, would be conclusively to prohibit revelations by members of the security services. What is more, the Labour Government made no legislative proposals as a result of the White Paper--they just sat on it--and they did not even give unequivocal support to Clement Freud's Official Information Bill, which made the same sort of proposals as the Labour party now so warmly supports.
It is not unreasonable to recognise that there are some areas of policy, Government activity and secret service activity which are so crucial to the interests of the nation that they should never be released. That is accepted as a contractual obligation by people entering the service. These matters cannot be released in the courts. That was implicitly recognised in the failure of the Labour Government to reform the Official Secrets Act 1911. At least this Government have brought in additional significant safeguards to allow people who are disaffected and aggrieved in the security services to complain. Under the Labour Government there was no staff counsellor to deal with these complaints. There is now also a direct appeal to the Home Secretary, then to the Attorney-General and then to the Prime Minister. There are at least six people who may take a different or the same view as that of the aggrieved member of the service. That would provide a strong defence against any sort of conspiracy, and would throw an effective cloak of secrecy around the Security Service.
Mr. Corbett : The hon. Gentleman's speech should be marked at this moment. The debate has been in progress for three hours ; he will not know, because he has not been able to be with us, that his is the first speech in favour of the Bill all afternoon.
Secondly, I offer the hon. Gentleman a piece of advice : he should keep out of the Members' Lobby, because he will be lassooed to make speeches without having heard those that have gone before.
Mr. Coombs : That remark was unworthy of the hon. Gentleman. Having spent an admirable weekend with him in Nicosia I may say that it was uncharacteristic of him-- [Laughter.] I should have said "with the hon. Gentleman and others". He should realise that I spent five hours sitting in the debate on the Security Service Bill without speaking, and another five likewise during an Official Secrets Bill debate, and my interest in these matters is well known. Sadly I was not called in those debates.
Edmund Burke said in the 18th century :
"It is a general popular error to imagine the loudest complainers for the public to be the most anxious for its welfare."
This debate has been significant evidence of that. If we do not operate a regime like that offered by clause 1, we shall
Column 1087allow a selective, pick-and-choose regime of secrecy in the security services, which will undermine their effectiveness. That will be bad for the services--
Mr. Norris : I understand my hon. Friend's strictures, but he should not imagine that we who have pointed out the value of the amendments to the clause do not believe that there should be a strong and effective mechanism to ensure that that which should be held secure is so held. What is more, we believe that those who breach such proper regulations should be properly dealt with and punished. I and my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge- Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) have argued that the clause as drafted imposes such an obligation in terms of time and in terms of the omnivorous nature of the subject matter, that it is rendered effectively unworkable. Surely that is what my hon. Friend should deal with.
Mr. Coombs : Any other clause would shoot the security services and their hold on secrets full of holes. It would amount to telling aggrieved members of the Security Service that, provided they went through the procedure and happened to disagree with the staff counsellor, the Security Service commissioner and the Prime Minister--and the Home Secretary-- however sensitive and damaging their information might be, they could go ahead and disclose it to their hearts' content. That is a "pick-and-choose" way of operating a security service. It would be immensely damaging not only to the effectiveness of the Security Service but to its unity and morale which are so important to its efficient work.
Mr. John McWilliam (Blaydon) : Clause 1 does not refer just to the security services. Clause 1 (b) refers to other people who may come to have information which is by its nature a matter of national security but who have not, because of their occupation, taken the kind of Trappist vows that the hon. Gentleman seems to imply should be taken by members of the security services.
Mr. Dalyell : Right hon. and hon. Members and personal friends of the late Russ Kerr would be more than curious at the Minister's reply to his hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body). It is the clear memory of some Opposition Members that at least Russ Kerr believed that he had been mistreated by the security services. My right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) nods in agreement. What the hon. Member for Holland with Boston has said must surely be answered. It is a most serious matter. Our departed, deceased colleagues have rights. Some of us want to pursue this matter and to learn what the Government think about it. I speak as one who happens to have a different view of the European Community from that of Russ Kerr.
I wish to put six reasonably succinct questions on the amendment. There is a great deal that we need to learn. One of them is a repeat of a question that I asked on 21 December 1988 on Second Reading.
Mr. Heffer : Before my hon. Friend goes on, I wish to raise a very important matter in relation to Russ Kerr. I want to make it quite clear that Russ Kerr was a bomber pilot in the Royal Australian Air Force and spent four years in that service. I want to know the answer precisely because of that and because he was my friend.
On Second Reading I said :
"I asked a former Prime Minister"--
the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) "a question about someone acting like Desmond Morton acted for Churchill. The former Prime Minister said that the Home Secretary would have to answer. The Home Secretary shook his head, and I believed that he thought that anyone in Desmond Morton's position would not be prosecuted."
I then asked :
"May we have some reflections on that? I believe that some people think that someone like Desmond Morton would find himself in prison."--[ Official Report, 21 December 1988 ; Vol. 144, c. 528-29.]
I admit straight away that retrospective cases are always difficult--I can see the Minister's difficulty--but could we have some reflections on that?
My second question goes back to the remarkable exchange between the Minister and my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) earlier today. Have some of us understood it properly? The Minister seemed to say that if something illegal happens there can be no revelations about the illegality. If I have misunderstood, I ought to be told. If that was not the purport of his response to my right hon. Friend, what exactly did his intervention mean? I hope that he will explain.
Mr. Hattersley : I was contemplating whether to clear the question up now or when the Minister of State answers, particularly if he continues to shake his head as though my allegation were untrue. If I may refer my hon. Friend to the Official Report, I said : "The Home Secretary says that I have got it wrong. I will read the passage from Hansard if he wishes According to my reading of the Bill, if I am told by a member of the security services that my telephone is being tapped it is an offence for me to reveal it. Is that so, or is it not so?"
The Home Secretary said :
"That is correct".--[ Official Report, 16 January 1989 ; Vol. 145, c. 42.]
None of the qualifications that the Minister of State may attempt to insert will alter that.
My third question can be illustrated personally and I hope that the Committee will bear with me. In 1982-83 I was tipped off by someone who was informed, someone in a position to know--I do not know whether he was a member of the security services or not--that the couple of rooms where I stay when I am in London had been visited. I am quite sure that the visitors were not interested in me as such, as a Member of Parliament, but I have reason to suppose that they were deeply interested in the source of my information about a ship. I make no bones about it--the information had come through the diaries of Lieutenant Sethia, the supplies officer on HMS Conqueror. At that time there was great curiosity, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing)--a member of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs which looked into these events on 1 and 2 May--will know. There was nothing of value to take--it was very sparse--but having been tipped off, I left my squash racket, my gym shoes and my clothes in particular
Column 1089positions. On three occasions when I came back after the weekend they were not in the same position as I had left them. One can draw one's own conclusions from that.
Under this legislation, surely I would then have been obliged to keep completely quiet about it. I repeat in another form the question that my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook asked in an intervention. I see the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris) nodding. It is a valid question. What would the position be if I told the police about this? At least that must be answered, because when my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook asked the question the Minister was shaking his head in disagreement. I am afraid that he will have to spell out precisely the basis of that because there is a difficulty. If we make public unsubstantiated suspicions we are in the clear, but if we make public firm information we are gagged. That is a logical absurdity. If one is not sure about something, one is in the clear, but if one is sure, one is in deep trouble.
Mr. Gorst : Is the hon. Gentleman aware that he has said that if one tells the truth one will be in the clear, and that the way to find out whether something is happening is to tell a lie--that one will be prosecuted only if it is the truth?
Mr. Dalyell : If one knows it is the truth, one is in the clear if one says, "But I am uncertain," which is untrue and is therefore a lie. In other words, pleading uncertainty and not knowing puts one at an advantage.
Fourthly, I unashamedly read a paragraph from Maurice Frankel's excellent brief, which he has given to a number of hon. Members. He says :
"A civil servant or journalist may reveal information about behaviour so unacceptable that no minister will dare stand up and defend it. Everyone in a position to intervene may have failed to act. Yet the person who finally exposes the matter risks imprisonment under this Bill--while denied the chance to justify the disclosure." Are Mr. Frankel and others right? The answer is highly germane to our discussion. They must be either right or wrong.
In asking my fifth question I must refer to the speech of the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) because I return to the important classic case of Gartside v. Outram in the 19th century. In that case the courts upheld the right of an employee to reveal that his employer was defrauding his customers and to reveal it to those customers. The judgment referred to having no confidence in iniquity. One might say that we in Parliament are here concerned with confidentiality and with no confidentiality in wrongdoing. This raises a fundamental issue. Is wrongdoing to be protected by what amounts to a law of confidentiality?
My sixth question is about one heck of a letter in The Times today. It was headed, "Civil servants and official secrets" and signed by Douglas Allen, Frank Cooper, Patrick Nairne--who, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) will know, was a member of the Franks committee on the Falklands and, like the others, he is a Cabinet Office civil servant--and Douglas Wass, the permanent secretary to the Treasury. When people of that calibre write such a letter to The Times, it must warrant an answer from the Government.
The four signatories make two important points. First, they write :
Column 1090"But it does not seem to be wholly unimaginable that a government might perpetrate some serious impropriety in circumstances in which the Head of the Civil Service might be unable to respond effectively to representations about it from within the service."
My right hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert) nods in agreement. If that letter had come from an hon. Member or from a commentator in the press, it might have been serious enough, but when it comes from four of the heaviestweight permanent secretaries that there have been in this country since the war their words need answering.
The second point that they make also needs answering :
"Such a right of reference to an independent authority of an active impropriety by ministers would not be new. It already exists in the financial field where the permanent secretary, as accounting officer, is obliged to draw the attention of the Comptroller and Auditor General to expenditure on which his or her minister has insisted, but which the permanent secretary considered to be improper or illegal." What remedy do Ministers suggest for dealing with problems which these experienced heavyweight permanent secretaries say could not be dealt with by going to the head of the Civil Service? How can such abuse be prevented if the head of the Civil Service is unable to prevent it and disclosure is an offence?
Perhaps the Minister will answer those six questions.
Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South) : My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has posed important questions. It has been a privilege to listen to my colleagues expressing their views in this debate, which is about to reach its climax. It has been one of the best debates in full parliamentary tradition that I have heard for some time.
It may be asked why more hon. Members are not present. I suggest that security, the subject of this debate, is now perhaps not so much the security of the realm that it was in 1914 or in 1938 or when the official secrets legislation had its origin. We in this Chamber are particularly concerned with the security of parliamentary democracy, and this debate has been a contribution to that.
It was said that there would be opportunity to discuss this as a Committee of the whole House. I have noticed with interest the absence from the Committee of responsible Cabinet Ministers. Is it not customary, when a Bill is in Committee, for a senior Member of the Government to be present for at least some of the time and to give frequent replies to questions?
I do not accuse the Minister of State who is in attendance tonight of discourtesy. But does not the absence from the Committee of senior Ministers--indeed, of Members of the Privy Council and of the Government-- deny them the moral authority to introduce legislation of this kind, when they are not present to hear the arguments and to reply to them? That must be some condemnation of the lack of regard for parliamentary democracy which some of us feel is now under pressure.
That pressure comes not only from Opposition and some Conservative Members. When I show parties round the House, especially parties of young people, I start at the Norman Tower. I point across to the Treasury and say, "There is the Government in Whitehall, the Queen's Government. This is Parliament. The Government can do
Column 1091certain things on their own, but they must come to Parliament for permission to do other things" and I spell them out.
I also explain that because they are the Queen's Government, there is line management, there is hierarchy ; it is like a company or an army with ranks and discipline. Here in Parliament I, like the Prime Minister, have one vote. It is a different basis of relationship. I see seated on the Opposition Benches right hon. Friends who were Members of the last Labour Government when I opposed some of the actions they were taking. In any Government, including a future Labour Government, there will be personalities, private office wars and differences of opinion. Are they to be covered by the sort of blanket provision that is before us today? And should they take actions which, if they became public, would perhaps not be to their credit--I am not referring to anybody from any party but to human nature--the chances of some form of sanction or publicity would not exist if the clause went through unamended. That might encourage a future Government to act in a way wholly contrary to the traditions of parliamentary democracy and accountability.
I say to the Minister and those hon. Members who are here that, if this thesis is correct, the clause, far from providing some sort of sanction or reminder of those things that happen in all Governments, and may happen in the future--but which we want to reduce, if not to eliminate--might itself be accused of being anti-parliamentary and against the interests of parliamentary democracy and accountable government, as we have developed it on this very spot over the centuries.
Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West) : I support this clause, but I have one or two points to put to the Minister, which I am sure he will attempt to answer. Every civil servant or member of the security services who deals with security or defence matters knows--they have known always-- that they have a lifelong duty of confidentiality. That is essential if we are to preserve the security of this country. Many of them in the past have made the request through the normal channels in the Ministry of Defence to publish books on their work, and some of them have been published, subject to deletions. That is a principle which is enshrined in the Bill, and it is essential. My concern is that there is for the member of the secret service a clear line of process to follow if he has any reservations about what is happening. He may go to the staff counsellor who has access to the Home Secretary, who in turn has access to the Prime Minister. There is, therefore, a clear line for the member to follow if there are wrongful activities which are clearly undermining the status and the security of this country.
At the root of what the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has said, and what enshrines the point in the letter to The Times, is that, if we have a Home Secretary who wishes to conceal something that is not in the interests of the public, what does that member of the secret service do? That is something we must consider during this debate.
If a member of the secret service comes to my surgery or to the surgery of any hon. Member, by listening to what
Column 1092that member of the secret service says to us, we do not commit an offence. Receipt of a disclosure is not an offence, and there is an obvious line to pursue in our case. We obviously have the House, which is covered by privilege, but the correct course of action for every Member of Parliament would be to raise that matter directly with the Minister responsible for the secret service, either the Home Secretary or the Prime Minister. That course of action can be pursued without the Member of Parliament concerned committing any offence and, of course, the matter can be pursued and investigated. We must make it clear that any hon. Member who receives a disclosure from a member of the secret service does not commit an offence. It is wrong to say otherwise.
Mr. Hind : My hon. Friend makes a good point, which I fully accept. That person, however, has a direct line of normal procedure to follow--to the staff counsellor, who will then go to the Minister responsible for the secret service--and his point will be dealt with. My point is, what safeguards does this House and members of the secret service have should it be that the Minister concerned has no interest and wishes to conceal something which is obviously detrimental and should not be considered?
When we dealt with the Security Service, built into the Security Service Bill was the provision for a commissioner who would look over the Home Secretary's shoulder to protect the public interest when the Home Secretary issues warrants to pursue matters where extraordinary action, which would normally breach the civil liberties of an individual, is required. That commissioner reports back to the House and he has a clear responsibility to represent the public interest. In those circumstances there is a problem, with which I hope my hon. Friend will deal.
Sir Nicholas Bonsor (Upminster) : Following on directly from my hon. Friend the Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind), I do not accept that what he has said has much merit on the question whether people working in the Security Service can go to their Member of Parliament when they have problems. I want to bring to the Minister's attention a case which I had in my surgery two months ago. Someone in precisely that position came to me because he was profoundly unhappy about the way in which he was being treated within his department. He had followed the procedures laid down. He had seen his departmental head, but he remained extremely unhappy about the way in which he was treated. I was able to take his case up with the appropriate Minister and, while I cannot say that my constituent is necessarily fully satisfied, at least he has had the advantage of seeing that his case has been properly considered by the Minister and by the officials at the highest level.
I believe that it would be appalling if this Government were to legislate-- and I believe legislate by mistake, because I am certain it is not their intention--in such a way as to prevent a constituent going to his Member of Parliament with a problem relating to his personal circumstances at work, because he would be committing a criminal offence if he were to do so. I do not believe that that is my hon. Friend's intention. I hope that by showing sympathy to the amendment to this clause and by being
Column 1093prepared to look closely at it before Report, the Government will put that right. If the Government do not, I am sure many of us will look at that point and be unable to support them.