Mr. David Harris (St. Ives) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I should like to raise with you matters relating to the Sessional Orders of the House, which are passed at the beginning of each Parliament and which, among other things, lay on the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis a duty to keep open the roads in the vicinity of the House and to ensure free passage of hon. Members, and to prevent disorder in the vicinity.
Given the ugly scenes that occurred last night, which were referred to during Prime Minister's Question Time, will you, Madam Speaker, please examine what happened and what clearly went wrong ? Can you say whether it is still the policy that no demonstrations whatsoever are allowed in the immediate vicinity of the House ?
I have already received a report on last night's disturbance, during which violence was used and access to and from Parliament was obstructed. Behaviour of this kind cannot be excused, and is, indeed, an embarrassment to the larger number of people who simply want to express their opinion peacefully. The police are well used to regulating access to the House to those who wish to lobby Members in a way that is consistent with the very important right of free movement, into and out of the House, enjoyed by Members. The Sessional Order issued to the Commissioner of Police requires the streets to be kept open for this purpose.
This requirement was not able to be met at all times last night, and I am sure that lessons will be learned by the police that will reduce the possibility of a recurrence. But I emphasise that last night's disturbance was the sole responsibility of those who resorted to violence, and I should like to express the House's thanks to the police officers who contained events and, in the course of their duty, suffered violence themselves.
Mr. McFall : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You will be aware that the Sheriff Court Fees (Amendment) (No. 2) Order was approved on 9 February. The order imposes court fees on petitioners in Scotland. Two days later, in Paisley sheriff court, Sheriff Stoddart refused to impose the £53 fee on a petitioner, saying that the fees contained ambiguities and imprecisions. He criticised the whole idea as offensive to the concept of the availability of justice in the court on equal terms. As a result, the Scottish Courts Administration has issued guidance to sheriffs, saying that it is taking legal advice on the matter. This brings the whole statutory instrument system into disrepute.
Column 150Given the importance for justice in Scotland and the fact that people have already paid these fees, can you, Madam Speaker, advise me further on the issue, so that we may help the many thousands of people in Scotland who are trapped by this legislation, which the Government introduced needlessly ?
Madam Speaker : That is barely a point of order for me. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman realises that I am not able to give legal advice of that nature or, for that matter, of any other nature. Ministers on the Front Bench will have heard the hon. Gentleman's comments, and I hope that something may come of the matter as a result of his point of order.
That the draft European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Europe Agreement establishing an Association between the European Communities and their Member States and the Republic of Bulgaria) Order 1994 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the draft European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Europe Agreement establishing an Association between the European Communities and their Member States and the Czech Republic) Order 1994 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the draft European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Europe Agreement establishing an Association between the European Communities and their Member States and the Slovak Republic) Order 1994 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the draft European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Europe Agreement establishing an Association between the European Communities and their Member States and Romania) Order 1994 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the draft Representation of the People (Variation of Limits of Candidates' Election Expenses) Order 1994 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the draft European Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Regulations 1994 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the draft European Parliamentary Elections (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Regulations 1994 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the draft Local Elections (Variation of Limits of Candidates' Election Expenses) (Northern Ireland) Order 1994 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the draft Grants to the Redundant Churches Fund Order 1994 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
Dame Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston) : I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to prohibit the use of eggs taken from aborted human foetuses for fertilisation procedures ; and for connected purposes.
This small Bill is of great importance-- [Interruption.]
Madam Speaker : Order. May I hold the hon. Lady up for a moment ? She is well accustomed to projecting her voice, but I ask for some order so that we may hear what she has to say from the start. Will the House please come to order ?
I shall begin by saying what the Bill is not about--it is not intended to stop research or to stop the use of human eggs donated by women. The Bill is intended to prohibit the use, for fertilisation purposes, of eggs from human aborted foetuses.
I am introducing the Bill for several reasons. First, it is totally repugnant that an unborn child--a child who was deliberately prevented from being born--should be plundered to facilitate the birth of another child. It must surely be against the most basic of human rights that an unwanted child should be destroyed and used to create a wanted child.
Secondly, we are told that there is a shortage of human eggs. Private hospitals apparently want them so badly that they are offering free treatment in return. We are assured that that is legal. Millions of women in this land are perfectly able to donate eggs willingly for that purpose.
I warn the House that if the use of foetal eggs is not made illegal, women will be offered money to get pregnant and to have the child aborted so that the eggs can be subtracted and used to meet the shortage. Women might be offered more money to leave the abortion until a later stage, when the eggs are "riper"--to use a medical term.
If the use of foetal eggs becomes common practice, what a thriving market might develop in other organs. If eggs are okay, why not livers, hearts, kidneys or corneas ? Those are also in desperately short supply, and so, for many people, is money.
Thirdly, it does not take much imagination to envisage the effect on a sensitive child--or even an insensitive one--when he learns that his mother never lived, but was destroyed at the behest of his grandmother before he was even born. A woman who became pregnant after the procedure, even though she had sought it and agreed to it, might well have nightmares during the later stages of her pregnancy, which is often a nervy time, as she pondered the fact that she was carrying a dead child's baby. It would indeed be a terrible thought.
Column 152Fourthly, the law says that a woman must give written consent before her eggs are used to create a baby. It is difficult to see how an unborn girl foetus could be prevailed upon to sign the form, and it will not do to say that the foetus's mother could do so instead. For good reasons, the law does not say that the grandmother of a baby created by in vitro fertilisation can sign--it must be the egg- donating mother, and that is impossible.
There is confusion about whether the law allows the use of eggs from aborted foetuses. It has been said that it is unlawful, but I have searched hard and cannot find any statute that says so. Certainly it is not covered by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990. The chairman of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority was questioned twice on the matter and was unable to say where in that or any other Act it was stated that using eggs from human foetuses for fertilisation was illegal.
Of course, the proposal is in its very early stages, but there is no doubt that it will become possible. It does not always follow that, if scientific practices are possible, they are desirable. The HFEA is currently asking the public to give their opinion on the matter, so that the authority can reach a decision about whether licences should be granted. Surely the authority would not be doing that if the practice were legal already ?
I find it chilling that the authority is reported as saying, "Well, yes, the idea does sound rather repulsive at first, but think about it and you will get used to it pretty soon." That sounds as if it is trying to condition us to the idea and the probability that it will choose to legalise the practice, but how can it be right that a matter of life and death, which touches the deepest human feelings and is of extremely wide public interest, should be decided by a committee ? Many of its members are erudite and some are even expert, but they do not represent or have to answer to the people of Britain. Let the House decide about the matter. Since the authority has asked for an opinion, let the House give one.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Dame Jill Knight, Mr. Michael Alison, Mr. David Alton, Mr. Alan Beith, Mr. Joe Benton, Mr. Derek Enright, Mr. Harry Greenway, Mr. Phil Gallie, Mr. Thomas McAvoy, Mrs. Elizabeth Peacock, Rev. Martin Smyth and Mrs. Ann Winterton.
Dame Jill Knight accordingly presented a Bill to prohibit the use of eggs taken from aborted human foetuses for fertilisation procedures ; and for connected purposes : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 11 March, and to be printed. [Bill 55.]
Order for Second Reading read.
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Douglas Hurd) rose -- [Interruption.]
Mr. Hurd : I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time. The Intelligence Services Bill fulfils the pledge of the Prime Minister to put the Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6, and the Government communications headquarters on a statutory basis. It complements the arrangements in the Security Service Act 1989, so that, if the Bill is passed, for the first time, all three security and intelligence agencies will be covered by a statutory regime. The Bill is the latest in a series of steps marking the Government's commitment to greater openness on security and intelligence matters. To change the metaphor and make it more personal, I am just a little proud to be the parent of three related reforming measures. The first two of my offspring are flourishing, and I hope that the Bill, the third of the trio, will soon follow the others at the font to receive the blessing of Parliament. The first of those offspring was the reform of the Official Secrets Act 1911. Then came the Security Service Act 1989, which, as Home Secretary, I introduced to the House, placing the Security Service on a statutory basis. The Bill closely follows the provisions of that Act. In May 1992, the Prime Minister avowed the existence of the SIS and made a commitment to introduce legislation for the service. That July, he said that legislation would also be introduced for GCHQ. Greater openness continued to follow. In June 1992, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster announced that Joint Intelligence Committee papers would no longer be withheld from publication indefinitely as they had been in the past. Since then, Joint Intelligence Committee records that have been cleared for release from the JIC's inception in 1936 to August 1945 have been made available in the Public Record Office. In the past 18 months, the Government have reviewed and released other previously retained security and intelligence-related records.
I have recently agreed that the records of the Foreign Office's information research department, which was closed in 1977, should be reviewed for release. I hope that it will be possible to release the first batch of those interesting papers by the autumn.
In July 1993, the Government published a booklet about the Security Service, making available for the first time some information about its role and structure. That was followed in October by a booklet explaining the country's central intelligence machinery and detailing--again, for the first time--the terms of reference of the Joint Intelligence Committee.
Column 154In November last year, the Prime Minister announced for the first time the overall scale of expenditure by the security and intelligence agencies. He also announced that, from April this year, all expenditure on those agencies would be carried on a single published intelligence vote.
There will always be hon. and right hon. Members, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), who ask for more. That is their right, but I hope that, before they press us to do more, they will acknowledge that we have travelled a long way down this road--further than I suspect they, and certainly I, thought likely seven or eight years ago. This Bill is a further big step. Indeed, it is the next logical step in this policy of greater openness in security and intelligence matters, wherever possible. I emphasise the importance of the words "wherever possible". We believe that the public should have access to information on security and intelligence matters when that does not pose a threat to national security or the operation of the agencies. But, by their very nature, most security and intelligence matters should remain secret. Obviously, to reveal them would be to put at risk national security, the success of operations and, in some cases, the lives of the men and women who take part in those operations and work for the security and intelligence agencies. That is why successive Governments have made the point that they cannot comment on the agencies' operational matters. The introduction of the Bill does not change that policy. Given the clear need, which I hope and believe most hon. Members will recognise, to retain the secrecy of most intelligence and security information, we believe that, in the circumstances of 1994, there should be proper arrangements for accountability. That is why we have decided that, in addition to providing a commissioner and a tribunal for complaints--machinery contained in the Security Service Act 1989--the Bill should include for the first time provision for an oversight committee of parliamentarians to scrutinise the expenditure, administration and policy of all three security and intelligence agencies.
I shall return to that matter later. May I just add here that the chief of SIS and the director of GCHQ made it clear at a press briefing that I held when the Bill was published last November that they and the staff of the two agencies, for which I am primarily responsible under the Prime Minister, welcome the Bill, particularly the element of parliamentary oversight that it introduces.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : Time and again in recent years, we have been told that it is out of the question to have any form of parliamentary scrutiny, that there was ministerial control, and that Ministers were answerable to Parliament. Although the line has slightly changed, why have the Government decided not to accept the kind of parliamentary scrutiny unanimously recommended by the Home Affairs Committee ?
Is the Foreign Secretary not aware that what is now being produced is totally inadequate--an appointment by the Prime Minister in consultation with the Leader of the Opposition, with the committee reporting to the Prime Minister first ? It will not satisfy those of us who are determined that, sooner or later, we will have the parliamentary scrutiny that other democracies have and which was recommended by the Select Committee on Home Affairs.
[Interruption.] That is not what the hon. Gentleman said, but it is the direction in which he wishes to push us. I shall return to the question of oversight in a minute. We have moved substantially from the position that I advocated as Home Secretary in 1989, and I will explain why. Before the hon. Gentleman pushes for more, he should analyse what is in the Bill and the reasons for it. However, I shall return to that point in a minute.
I should like to deal with something that perplexes some critics of the agencies--their importance in the world of 1994. It is a world which has changed, but which remains deeply turbulent and dangerous. Having looked at it with some thoroughness, we are clear there is a role for the agencies alongside the armed services and diplomatic services in protecting and furthering the interests of Britain and its citizens at home and abroad.
The threats change--as they have throughout history--and they have changed again in the past few years. They include nuclear, chemical, biological and conventional proliferation of weapons ; they include terrorism and the threat to our armed forces in times of conflict, serious crime, espionage and sabotage. I know that there is scepticism in some quarters, so perhaps I could give some examples of those threats and how the agencies help to tackle them.
Clearly, weapons proliferation is a substantial threat following the break- up of the Soviet Union and its arsenal of weapons. We tried to tackle it at a diplomatic level by negotiating treaties, but intelligence helps us to act against unscrupulous Governments who aim to break those treaties.
Perhaps I should illustrate the value of intelligence work in that field. Our agencies recently provided one of our European neighbours with intelligence about a major construction contract being undertaken in a developing country by one of its national companies. Our agency was able to show from its intelligence that the proposed facilities were meant for the production of weapons of mass destruction, and as a result of that intelligence, the allied Government concerned was persuaded to frustrate the contract. The terrorist threat is real and chilling. I do not need to give the House the list of terrorist murders and murderous attempts in recent years. I should have to add to that list the attacks which did not take place and the lives that were saved if I were to illustrate fully the work of the agencies.
Perhaps I can also give an example in that field. At the time of the Gulf war, the intelligence agencies gained
Column 156access to premises occupied by a known terrorist who was living under an assumed name in the capital of a developing country. The agencies got hold of some crucial details about his contacts and associations ; they passed that intelligence to the law enforcement agencies in a western European country that he was known to visit, so he was watched. As a result of that surveillance, the life of an ambassador of one of our allies was saved, because the terrorist and his group were preparing to assassinate him.
On serious crime, intelligence can be particularly important as a protection during periods of armed conflict--for example, in the Gulf war in 1991.
Intelligence about the capabilities of our enemies saved the lives of British service men and women. The contribution that the intelligence agencies make to the safety of our armed forces is greatly appreciated by those forces themselves.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish) : I appreciate the point that the Foreign Secretary is making about the importance of the security services in all these serious areas, but what concerns one or two people who watched what happened in the House of Lords was the reluctance of the Government to define the serious nature of these events as opposed to less serious ones.
Many people are concerned that the security forces occasionally get involved in matters that do not come into that category of seriousness. Will the Foreign Secretary at least consider in Committee whether definitions could be written into the legislation to make it clear that the security services should be concerned with the serious threats to the state, not less serious issues ?
Mr. Hurd : The hon. Gentleman is perfectly right, but if he looks at the Bill, he will see that it is full of safeguards in that respect. If he looks at the provision for warrants, authorisations and the matters that now must come to the Secretary of State--with the commissioner standing over my shoulder, ensuring that what I do is in accordance with the Bill-- he will see that, for the first time, the safeguards will be there.
The way in which the two agencies--the SIS and GCHQ--operate is already in line with what the hon. Gentleman wants. What will be new under the Bill is that the law and the commissioner will be able to ensure that that is so. The hon. Gentleman is on to an important point. Those agencies should not concern themselves with trivial matters.
To give another example, serious crime is increasingly international. Transnational criminal organisations operate in various countries, seeking to escape the reaches of domestic law enforcement agencies. There, our intelligence agencies support the efforts of the police and Customs and Excise to prevent and detect such serious crime.
A British law enforcement agency recently asked the SIS to help monitor a large consignment of drugs from a developing country believed to be destined for the UK. The service could not rely on the co-operation of the authorities in the country concerned, so it sent an officer there under an assumed identity.
Soon after his arrival, in difficult and dangerous circumstances, the officer was able to identify and enlist the support of an employee of the transport organisation which was innocently handling the movement of that consignment. With the help of that employee, the
Column 157consignment was monitored to a point outside the country, where it was seized through international action, and the gang of traffickers involved were arrested.
There is the provision for action--the tasking of our intelligence agencies --in the interests of the economic well-being of the United Kingdom. Those who have followed these matters know that that is a well-worn provision. It is in existing legislation, and is provided for in the European Convention on Human Rights. It sometimes causes puzzlement as to what it can mean.
Examples of where it might be useful are where there is instability in a part of the world where substantial British economic interests were at stake, or where there was a crisis or a huge difficulty about the continued supply of a commodity on which our economy depended. The House will notice that the Bill restricts the activities of the SIS and GCHQ for safeguarding the economic well-being of the country to the acts or intentions of persons outside the United Kingdom. The agencies may not and do not get involved in domestic economic, commercial or financial affairs.
What steps are taken to ensure that the agency does not get involved in unauthorised operations ? Where such unauthorised operations have taken place, what steps are taken to ensure that it does not happen again ? What disciplinary action is taken ? Given the nature of the operation that we are dealing with, how can we be sure that operations subsequently described by Ministers as unauthorised really were unauthorised ?
Mr. Hurd : Legislation relating to the Security Service is already on the statute book. I know of no evidence to suggest that the machinery set up by the House in 1989 has proved inadequate or defective, or that security operations have fallen within that category.
The Bill primarily concerns the other two agencies, for which there is currently no statutory provision. It introduces statutory arrangements for warrants, authorisation, the appointment of a commissioner and the establishment of a tribunal--that is the novelty, in comparison with the previous arrangements--for an oversight committee. That is quite an apparatus of control.
I am already consulted if either agency wishes to authorise particularly sensitive operations, but that is not a statutory arrangement ; it is just what happens. The Bill proposes that the arrangements should be elaborated, refined, extended and put on the statute book, and that machinery should be introduced to deal with any breaches.
As I have said, the commissioner will look over my shoulder, and the tribunal will examine any complaint from any member of the public that the agencies might have acted without authorisation in the manner described by the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble). That is a big step towards securing what he wants.
Before we become too enmeshed in the question of possible breaches, difficulties and dangers, I think it right to record our appreciation of the loyalty, courage and hard work of those involved. It has not been possible to do so
Column 158before. That work is very dangerous, and provides few rewards--in the form of public recognition, or in any other form.
Most hon. Members know one or more of the individuals involved ; it should be pointed out that their work, although unrecognised, is as essential to the public good as much of the other work that is constantly praised in the House. The terrorist attack that is prevented, the potential crime that is disrupted and the vital intelligence that is conveyed to our armed forces or aid workers do not make the news ; but that work is essential to public well-being. Let me clear up a point that is often raised, and was almost touched on by the hon. Member for Upper Bann. The SIS and GCHQ do not work to their own agenda, invent their own requirements for information or act independently without the prior knowledge and clearance of Ministers. As the Bill makes clear, they are both directly accountable to the Secretary of State ; they must remain politically neutral, and they operate only within strict parameters. They do not invent adventures of their own ; they carry out tasks in support of specific policies.
This is where the Joint Intelligence Committee comes in. It lays on the SIS and GCHQ detailed requirements and tasking, which are reviewed annually in a process with which I am now familiar : it combines rigorous analysis of the requirements for secret intelligence with a great deal of consultation with what are known as customer departments. From that rigorous process emerges a list of requirements, which must then be approved by Ministers.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : May I warn the Home Secretary that I shall not be present for the winding-up speeches ? The Standing Committee considering the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill sits morning, noon and night.
May I ask which Ministers knew about the activity of the security services- -albeit 10 years ago--in relation to the miners' strike ? As, I believe, the only Member of the present Parliament who appeared for an hour and a half before the Franks committee dealing with the Falklands, may I ask in what circumstances a Minister is informed ? Lord Franks and his colleagues were extremely confused about the issue.
I would simply say, from my experience, which does not cover either of the examples that the hon. Gentleman mentions, that there was somewhat more consultation in the Home Office even before the passage of the Security Service Act 1989, but the Security Service Act is plain and has worked well, I think, for five years. I find now, in my present job, that there has been increasing consultation of the Secretary of State when operations are proposed that are sensitive--that could cause difficulty.
I have never known an operation to be proposed in any of the three services that infringes the principle of political neutrality. I find, however, that there is an increasing tendency to consult the Secretary of State on what might be called sensitive or controversial matters. That will now be enshrined in the Bill because of the procedures laid down in the Bill for warrants, in the case of operations against property, and for authorisations covering a rather wider field.
Column 159The Bill provides for ministerial control of the way in which the agencies act to fulfil those tasks by, as I have said, a system of warrants and authorisations. In addition to those statutory provisions, the SIS will continue the existing procedure that I mentioned, whereby my specific clearance is sought for more sensitive operations.
I shall run through the Bill quickly for the convenience of the House, as is normal on Second Reading.
Mr. Peter Mandelson (Hartlepool) rose