|Previous Section||Home Page|
Mr. Mullin : My hon. and very good friend asks me if I would be willing to serve on the Committee. I do not think that I shall be flooded with invitations, so the House must not consider this to be a job application.
The committee should be accountable to Parliament and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert) has said, it should have powers to send for persons and papers and should be covered by privilege. Reference has been made to the staff who will work for the committee. That is an important point which has not been touched on in the debate so far. Who will be the staff? Will
Column 196persons be sent down from Millbank or Vauxhall to service the committee? Will it be people who are employed by Parliament, and who share Parliament's desire for scrutiny? Will they come from the Cabinet Office in Whitehall?
That is rather important, because hon. Members who serve on Select Committees know the extent to which we are dependent upon those who staff those Committees. Obviously, hon. Members could be easily led astray, or the committee could be led into complacency, if the staff were not of a suitably rigorous frame of mind.
Dr. Gilbert : There is another point on the question of staff to which my hon. Friend has not alluded. Will not it be necessary for the committee to have at least one member of staff from this place to advise it on procedure?
As the committee will not be a Select Committee, it will not be accountable to Parliament, will not have powers to send for persons and papers that are not covered by privilege and may not have the power to select its staff, we will be dependent entirely on those lucky people who are appointed to sit on the committee.
If the Government are serious in their desire to make the intelligence services accountable to the people whose interests they are supposed to serve, I hope that those who are appointed to the committee will be of a sufficiently rigorous and inquiring frame of mind. I hope that they will not be tame pussycats who will roll over to have their tummies tickled at the first sound of the magic words "national security" being whispered in their ears.
Some names have been canvassed already, and I make no comment on any of them. Some of them look worthy, but it does trouble me slightly how predictable it seems. When the subject was first raised more than a year ago--about the time of the Home Affairs Select Committee report--the same old names came up. I may be pleasantly surprised, and find that my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) and inquiring and rigorous minds of that nature are appointed. I am also prepared for the possibility that I may not be all that surprised.
Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde) : My hon. Friend has probably had the same type of letter that I received from a constituent. My constituent worked at Coulport for a few months, where bombs and weapons are made. He was told that he had been fired because he had not been given a security pass. I wrote to find out why, and was told that it was because of national security. However, my constituent got his job back because somebody had made a tragic mistake.
Unfortunately, there seem to be lots of those tragic mistakes when people have been denied the opportunity to work. Hon. Members do not get satisfactory answers or conclusive statements to allow us to make a case, and so we drop the cases. We are not really looking after our constituents properly because of the bland replies.
Mr. Mullin : My hon. Friend is certainly right that one of the effects of blanket secrecy is that mistakes get made and covered up, although that is not necessarily intentional. I hope that that culture will change under whatever system is established. I will conclude on this note. As I said at the outset--and we should not be churlish--this is a small step in the right
Column 197direction. Those of us who are reformists by nature will be grateful for small mercies, but we have a long way to go before we can call ourselves a modern democracy.
I am worried about the concept of further steps which seems to be creeping into everyone's speeches and which implies that more is to come and that we have not reached a settled order of things. It also implies that this measure is just experimental and may lead to other things. Many hon. Members have indicated clearly what they want. It seems to me that either this measure is a balance, in which case one keeps it as a balance, or it is a further step.
The problem with steps is that they tend to be followed by further steps, as the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) said when he began his delightfully anecdotal speech. The trouble with stepping off a balance is that you lose your balance. I hope that we shall lose that terminology and concentrate on the fact that this is a new arrangement for an established order of things, that we shall make it work and that it has an underlying stability. It is not healthy for the conduct of the secret intelligence services if they feel that this measure is a temporary stopping point before we rush on to other things. I hope that there will be no more talk of steps, and certainly no more from those who are trying to advocate and establish that this is where we are now and where we should dig in and stay.
I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary emphasised the continuing need for intelligence services in a world where people who have been caught up in the great spy dramas we have all enjoyed in paperbacks think that the role of the special intelligence services finished with the end of the cold war, on the day when the KGB began having open days at Ljubyanka. That is nonsense. We are in a completely new situation. Terrible things may yet happen in Russia--not a return to previous ideology, but other unpleasant things. One hopes that they will not, but they may. There are also a whole variety of new threats to which hon. Members have rightly referred.
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary emphasised the modern nature of terrorism. It is, indeed, a changing phenomenon and it is spreading in weird and dangerous ways. We think that terrorism, say, in Egypt, Algeria or the Maghreb in general or the operations mounted and orchestrated out of Khartoum are remote to us. People say, "What is the threat to us?" The answer is that if such things get out of control they can be a threat to the stability of Europe, including northern Europe. There are great dangers which we need to know about well in advance.
Several hon. Members have mentioned the proliferation of weapons. That is obviously dangerous now, with the dispersal of the former Soviet nuclear arsenal. We should be aware of the proliferation not only of nuclear weapons but of all sorts of other weapons of mass destruction. We are living in a world in which, just as we seek to use preventive diplomacy to halt really nasty conflicts before they escalate, we need preventive secrecy to operate on a highly efficient basis and to be allowed to proceed in ways
Column 198that permit the operational freedom necessary to be in advance of any nasty developments that could come out into the open, which would mean that we were too late. That means secret work. Secret work means a careful and sensitive scrutiny, and it is on that aspect that I wish to make a few remarks. I shall not detain the House long. First, I wish to ask a question about accounts and cost. I am glad that a single published figure for the cost of security is to become available. Hitherto, little bits of the cost popped into the estimates which come before the various Select Committees, including the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, on which I serve. Then, suddenly, great lumps such as the vast cost of the new establishment at Vauxhall Cross appeared, sitting unhappily and out of context in the middle of the Foreign Office Vote or some other Vote. If the overall figure is available, the policy makers and Ministers will have to keep justifying the secret service and the case for it in new conditions. Otherwise, people will ask--this has already been hinted at in some speeches--"Why do we need to continue spending this amount of money? What are these people doing?" The emergence of a single figure will require in parallel with it a sustained, systematic and regular justification of expenditure on the intelligence services. The two things must go together. Otherwise, there will be growing doubts and scepticism when the figures are bandied about.
The committee of parliamentarians has preoccupied us all. It has been rightly pointed out that it will not be a Committee of Parliament. It will not be a Select Committee. It will be a rather new animal. It is hard to think of an analogue for this group of people who will be Members of both Houses of Parliament and will be appointed by the Government. That sounds as if they will be part of the Executive ; yet somehow they are supposed to be a filter which will exert a degree of accountability that will satisfy Parliament. The committee will report annually, as we know, but it will not report to Parliament. It will report to the Prime Minister and it will have a task of oversight which will be extremely large. It will examine the whole range of expenditure. We are apparently talking about hundreds of millions of pounds, although we are not sure how much. The committee will examine administration, which will be a very large operation. It will also look at policy.
The committee will stand aside from operational matters. However, those hon. Members who have said that there is a grey area are right. There is always a grey area between policy and detailed operations. It is not always easy to draw the line. All that looks to me like work, and a great deal of work. The committee will have a very considerable task if it is really to have oversight. It will have large responsibilities.
Contrary to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Sir A. Hamilton) said about the need for a small committee, I believe that my right hon. and hon. Friends may have to consider adding a couple more members to the committee. They will certainly have to consider something slightly larger. I believe that the tasks are very considerable. One could be looking at an extremely time-consuming occupation and not the sort of thing that can be taken on by someone who already sits on six other committees. The members of the committee will not be able to pop in like, dare I say it, a non-executive director in rather more casual circumstances --this is not
Column 199always a good idea--who has fiduciary responsibilities but little power because he or she does not have access to the detailed executive and management accounts.
The oversight will therefore be quite a tricky operation. It is experimental in the sense that it is a new system. I do not mean that it is experimental in the sense that it will be temporary. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on the boldness of his thought in tackling the matter.
With his usual persuasive elegance, the right hon. Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert) said that we should go the whole hog and have a Select Committee. But that is something completely different in philosophy and design from what Ministers had in mind. There may be a case for it, but a Select Committee is completely different. I was previously a little doubtful about Select Committees. It will surprise no one to learn that I am now rather an enthusiast about the way in which they have developed. I certainly do not hold the view that one of my senior colleagues held when we were constructing the predecessors to the Select Committees back in the early 1970s. He thought that they were merely a useful device for keeping people out of mischief and giving work to idle hands.
Select Committees are rather effective, but they report to Parliament. We are driven--I speak for the Select Committee on which I serve--in directing our work and questions by what we have picked up by a process of osmosis from the House as a whole. We pick up from all parties what Parliament is interested in and concerned about. We report to Parliament. We are staffed by servants of Parliament. Although one has to exercise some restraint, we are open to outside comment and views and accessible to outside lobbies. Of course, we are also open to the press, which is bound, in the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) to badger the committee once the identities of the persons involved are known. The press will constantly ask questions which the members will not be allowed to answer.
The committee's report will not be a report to Parliament. It will be a report to the Prime Minister, who will be able to excise any necessary bits before he presents it to the House of Commons. So it will be a tough line to hold. That is why I am worried about all this talk of steps. The committee's responsibilities will be considerable. Like other hon. Members, I am not clear about the nature of its powers. Expenditure, administration and policy are enormous areas. One wonders how the six good men and women will tackle the vast budget, which will be as big as that of many medium and large-sized companies.
If the committee had powers to send for persons and papers, which it does not have under the Bill now, which ones would it send for and how would it know what to send for? It is a difficult matter. Those who are appointed will have a hard and unfamiliar path to follow. They will need a great deal of support and encouragement from Ministers if they are to do their work effectively.
In principle, I welcome the Bill. It is a real attempt to achieve a balance between two almost irreconcilable things--the absolute and overriding need for operational secrecy, so that we can have an effective intelligence service to protect this island in an increasingly dangerous world, and the prefectly natural desire of a free Parliament to call to account people who act in the name of the state and spend taxpayers' money. There is no solution. If one went the whole Select Committee way, one would go too far into
Column 200the, to my mind, enjoyable area of accountability and I am convinced that that would undermine the effective secrecy of the operation. If one took the attitude that nothing could be done--that no parliamentary figures at all were to be involved--we would remain where we are now, but that is not what the House wants. People want movement and it is to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary's great credit that he has produced movement and come up with a new idea. However, very careful and energetic establishment will be necessary. This should not be paraded as just a step to something else : it is a balance, which will have to be kept with the utmost skill.
Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West) : I welcome the production of this important Bill, which will lead to greater openness. I believe that the Prime Minister has got it right by making the move at this time, and the structure of the Bill is about right. The idea of a commissioner, a tribunal and a parliamentary committee was debated at great length by some of us during the passage of the Security Service Act 1989.
Mr. Randall : I accept that. Indeed, this committee is unique. Part of its uniqueness lies in the fact that there must be a balance between the openness that so many hon. Members have called for and the effectiveness of the Secret Intelligence Service. That is what this is all about.
The right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) talked about steps. I believe that that is indeed what we are discussing. The first step must be all about confidence-building. This subject must be looked at from the point of view not only of parliamentarians but of those who work in the Secret Intelligence Service, GCHQ and the Security Service. Our top priority must be to ensure that the confidence of the people working in these services is retained. We must not rush fences. At heart, I am a fairly liberal person and I normally like to rush fences. However, in this case,
confidence-building is the road which we must take.
There will be so much to learn. This is a brand new exercise, and there will be many responsibilities in the provision of parliamentary oversight. At this stage, I am happy that the step-by-step approach should involve saying yes if, for confidence reasons, the Prime Minister has to carry out a vetting operation. I shall live with that. I hope that, in practice, the committee will be sufficiently mature and professional to make it unnecessary for the Prime Minister ever to intervene. However, this is a necessary start.
I have skipped through some stuff about Canada, which has a system slightly similar to ours. The Canadians' steps towards
democratisation and accountability have lowered the performance of their intelligence and security services. That is something which we in this country must not allow to happen.
I believe that the new committee will be able to establish its own procedure. On the question of its being able to call for persons and papers, my interpretation of the terms of reference is that that will be possible in special circumstances. But we are not talking about operational matters. It would be absurd to think for one moment that
Column 201the committee should delve into such matters. Its concern must be the three areas--policy, administration and expenditure--that are highlighted in the Bill.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert) made a good point about the Comptroller and Auditor General--one that I had not thought about. We are talking about a very large organisation, with a massive budget. If one of the priorities of the new committee is to look at the whole question of expenditure, it will be necessary to have mechanisms for appropriate auditing work.
Mr. Campbell-Savours : My hon. Friend talks about this committee as if it will be able to assume that it has a right to call upon Ministers or civil servants to provide information. I cannot see where in this legislation that right is enshrined. If my hon. Friend can point to such a provision in any of the schedules, I shall be prepared to concede.
Mr. Randall : I refer my hon. Friend to schedule 3, which refers to what the new committee will be able to do, including the setting of its priorities and procedures. One procedure could be that of calling for persons and papers. I do not know the detail. I have referred to what I think is implicit. We ought not to guess, but, instead, should ask the Minister of State to explain the Government's thinking. However, this is how I look at the matter. I very much hope that there will be flexibility, so that the committee may be as effective as possible.
"the Committee may determine their own procedure",
the part of the schedule dealing with access to information says that information can come to the committee only with the permission of the director-general of the Security Service, the chief of the intelligence service, the director of GCHQ and the Secretary of State together.
The only material that will go to the committee is that which has been--if I may use the term--positively vetted and which the Secretary of State determines can be disclosed. If the Secretary of State says that information cannot be disclosed, it will not be disclosed, and the committee will have no right to aquire it. This is one of the Opposition's main objections to the Bill.
Mr. Randall : I can see that my hon. Friend is referring to the part of schedule 3 that is entitled "Access to information" and to the part entitled "Sensitive information". When one reads these provisions, one sees that there is discretion. I should like the Minister of State to tell us how he sees the powers. I do not want to speculate, but it seems to me that there is a good deal of discretion.
I believe that the Bill will pave the way to correction of the massive errors that the Government made when they imposed their restrictions on trade unions at GCHQ. The assertion that trade unionism is incompatible with national
Column 202security caused deep offence to many trade unionists--people who are as loyal and patriotic as anybody in the House.
It is a disgrace that 14 people were dismissed for insisting on retaining the right to trade union membership. I hope that those men will get redress before too long. The Government are a signatory to the International Labour Organisation's convention 87, which deals with freedom of association. It is therefore unacceptable that this anomaly should be allowed to continue. At that time, it was important to recognise that what was happening at GCHQ was not in any way damaging to national security.
I should like to deal briefly with the question of the committee. A membership of six seems rather on the small side. Indeed, it is very small. However, I agree with the right hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) that we must be careful about leaks, which could take place through the committee. The security of the committee must be handled properly, and I want the Minister to tell us how that can best be done.
Perhaps it is a good idea that we are not restricting the committee to Privy Councillors. There is one practical reason why we should not do so. The Labour party has been out of power for 14 years, and has created a mere handful of Privy Councillors, so it would create some problems for us. Also, why would we need to restrict membership in that way? If the work of the committee is to be covered by the Official Secrets Act 1989, there is a mechanism to provide that protection. The oath one takes when one becomes a Privy Councillor is not as secure as signing the Official Secrets Act.
Perhaps this is a matter for the committee, but the quorum of three, including one peer--although only one member might be a peer--does not sound practical. What do the Government think about that? Surely we must consider changing it.
The role of the committee is to scrutinise expenditure, administration and policy. I jotted down a few policy matters that it might need to look into. For example, what role does it have now that the cold war is over? I do not know what has been happening in the various organisations. Since the end of the cold war, we have had "Options for Change" and other defence reviews. Have we carried out a comparable review of our intelligence and security services? I do not know the answer, but perhaps that would be one area for work. In a debate in another place, Lord Callaghan criticised the size and bureaucracy of Government communications headquarters, Cheltenham. Presumably he knew what he was talking about, as he had served as both Foreign Secretary and Home Secretary. The only other question is whether £900 million is a true figure. It seems to be a large amount, and that is another possible area for investigation. Russia still has a massive military capability, which is under questionable control. We knew where we were with the old Soviet communist system, but that has been replaced by fanatical nationalism and by defence policies which are nothing short of a muddle. As a consequence, there may be instability, unrest and disruption in that area--possibly even war.
Hon. Members have mentioned terrorism, but I shall skim over that subject because I think that Ministers understand it.
We know that there is much co-operation between various agencies in this country and their sister organisations in the European Community. Now that we
Column 203have joined the European Union, how far has that co-operation gone? I do not know. I spent five years shadowing the Minister with responsibility for the security services, so my experience of such matters is theoretical, to say the least. I usually deal with complaints by taking them to the Minister concerned. I do not know the extent to which the security services are co-operating.
Mr. Campbell-Savours : My hon. Friend spent five years shadowing on such matters. I cannot grasp why it was so vital for members of the security services not to mix with Members of Parliament. Why would that have been wrong in principle? The Foreign Office invites people here for social functions, where we can meet and discuss matters. Why should it be wrong for my hon. Friend to be invited to the Departments to discuss aspects of such matters with members of the security services? I do not see anything wrong with that. Half the problem is that many hon. Members are suspicious of the security services, and people in those services are suspicious of Parliament. The relationship has broken down because of mutual suspicion. I cannot believe that it is beyond the wit of man and woman to devise a system based on a little more contact between the two.
Mr. Randall : I do not want to answer that intervention, except to say that I used to have useful discussions with Ministers and other officials, often on Privy Councillor terms. That procedure had to be followed, and I cannot add to that.
People are not quite so hung up as the newspapers make out, provided that such matters are dealt with reasonably reliably. Retired Labour Cabinet Ministers say that, in the main, the agencies--the main ones are MI5 and MI6--employ people who have very good reputations. Of course, there have been a few rotten apples--there are a few in every barrel--but those Labour Ministers always expressed great admiration for the people they dealt with, and said that they had great integrity.
A former Minister with responsibility for security in Northern Ireland is present. It does not take much imagination for any hon. Member to guess at the work going on there. We have a lot to thank the people responsible for as they are providing protection. Security is about the bombs we do not hear about, not those that go off. It would be wrong if hon. Members did not take that into account and recognise the brilliant work going on.
A free and open society becomes susceptible to abuse and subversion. That is why we need the security and intelligence services--to ensure that our society is as free and open as possible. Those people who threaten Britain's political and social interests and who attempt to destabilise our society do not operate openly, but in secret. That is why our intelligence services must also operate secretly. We must accept that, and we must not attempt to undermine that secrecy.
We are debating the introduction of a parliamentary system of accountability, monitoring and oversight. Government govern, and Parliament must oversee ; that is what we are attempting to do. Attitudes have developed. In 1987 and 1988, when we debated the security services, I was frustrated by the way in which the then Home Secretary responded to us. His responses did not seem to hang together. However, there has been some movement, and hon. Members must welcome the steps that we are taking in the Bill.
Column 204The key is to start by recognising that there must be a confidence-building exercise. We cannot go at it too fast : it must be measured and careful, because this is a very important matter. It we make mistakes, the consequences could be serious. The intelligence and security services are too important for us to make mistakes, so we must go about the process in the right way. The Bill paves the way for that progress.
The Executive must account to Government and Government must account to Parliament. I have long advocated that there should be a Minister responsible for the oversight of the security services, who should report here on what they are and are not doing. However, that is not the way that we have gone. Perhaps it is too late for that because of events and our experience of the Security Service Act 1989, which we have been living with for four or five years. That said, I welcome what the Government are doing.
I could make some wide-ranging remarks about the Bill, as other colleagues have done, but I want to be brief, so I shall confine my comments to clause 10, particularly subsection (3). I understand and fully accept why the proposed committee will not be a Select Committee. The Government could not have given the committee the powers rightly held by other such committees because of the sensitivity of the information involved and the need to maintain the security, and confidentiality of almost all the work that is undertaken by the three agencies. I accept that.
That said, I beg my right hon. Friend and the Government, when they consider the matter more closely and scrutinise the Bill in Committee, not to be afraid of many of the ways in which Select Committees operate. It is fine and acceptable that the committee will not be a Select Committee, but the Government have decided that they must not give it a Select Committee's powers or it will look like a Select Committee. I can draw on my experience of serving on a Select Committee that dealt routinely with top-secret information over a wide range of highly sensitive subjects. The Government may be fearing unnecessarily the consequences of what some of us are asking them to do.
The committee should be appointed and discharged by the Prime Minister, not the House, through the Committee of Selection and a motion--as happens routinely with all departmental committees. Such a motion can be debated. To try to remove an hon. Member other than with his or his party's consent, which has not happened during the course of a Parliament, would be very difficult. I acknowledge that. The appointment of the chairman needs to be discussed. In all other Committees of the House, the Chairman or Chairwoman is chosen by the members. The chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee is to be appointed. I do not quarrel with that
Mr. Mates : The committee will be different in that its chairman will be appointed by the Government. If we are not careful, the chairman's relationship with the members of the committee will be different from that of a Select Committee Chairman, who serves at the pleasure of his colleagues.
Many hon. Members have mentioned that the committee will have six members. Whether it contains one or two members from the other place is a detail. I do not know why that element has been introduced, but it has and I accept that it is now there to stay. A committee of six is marginally too small for the workload that will be involved, although I accept the need to keep the committee small because of the circle of secrecy, to which the Foreign Secretary referred, and which I endorse.
The membership needs to be an odd number because there is provision in the Bill for the chairman to have a casting vote. I do not think that the committee will take many votes--most sensible Select Committees do not. But there are the odd Committees where the Chairman constantly makes the casting vote in favour of the Government of the day, because that is where the majority lies. That would not make for a good working relationship in the committee. At the very least, the committee should have seven members so that we do not face that problem.
The committee must also have a clerk who comes from this place because the procedural advice given has to be professional and professionally delivered. If the staff of the committee were to come from outside the House, it would not work. I commend that course to my right hon. Friend.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) talked about leaks. That is not something that the House or Government need to fear. There have been leaks from Select Committees, but they have never involved security. I shall tell the House an anecdote. In my 12 years on the Select Committee on Defence, nothing of a sensitive nature was ever leaked. I was present when the Committee system began in 1979. Initially, the Ministry of Defence was a little suspicious about letting us see things here and there, but we worked our way through that and by 1987 there was nothing that we did not see. On a cross-party basis, we were shown information of the most highly sensitive nature because we had shown ourselves to be trustworthy. The Labour party, in its wisdom, then decided to submit for appointment two members of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. An enormous frisson went through the MOD as if things could never be the same again, and its good working relationship with the Committee was going to stop.
A very senior person in the organisation, who had better remain nameless, asked me what we should do. I said, "You must carry on as before until the trust is broken. That is the only way in which we can proceed, and if we do not a number of members of the Committee will explain vociferously." We went on sharing the most sensitive and highly secret information and there was never any form of leak. Some of my hon. Friends may have been nervous about the information that was passed over, and it was not always done with the best grace, but it was passed over and nobody was let down. [Laughter.] I am glad that the jovial reaction of my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Sir A. Hamilton) confirms that. The
Column 206Government might be being unnecessarily fearful about the nature of the information that they will have to share with the members of the committee. I hope that they will put those fears behind them. The powers to send for persons and papers and to summon witnesses have been excluded from the Bill because they would make it look too like a Select Committee. The Government had better give the committee the right to make such requests, or there is little point in setting it up. It will lose its credibility before it has began its work. If members of the committee have the power to make such requests, it will cause some chagrin in official circles, but the Government always have the power not to respond. The Government and Ministers may refuse to answer questions.
There have been celebrated occasions in the Select Committee on Defence when distinguished hon. Members have come before it and refused to answer questions. Whether that did the individual more harm than the Committee is another matter, but it happened and it is everybody's right so to act. The powers of the committee are not something that anybody needs to fear, particularly as I cannot imagine that the committee will very often sit in public. Its public session would probably be confined to once a year when it announced its report and published details of its work. For the rest of the time, it would sit in private, as the Select Committee on Defence did for much of the time. It would ask questions in private, its proceedings would be private and its report to the Prime Minister would be private. There will follow a process with which those who have served on the Defence Committee will be familiar. It will ask how the exclusion of particular information can be considered when it is published elsewhere. The argument will go backwards and forwards before a solution is reached, with the Government always having the final say.
The fears that I suspect have caused the Government not to give the committee the powers that it needs are groundless. I ask the Ministers to consider the matter in a far more realistic way when the Bill is scrutinised in Committee. While the committee will not be a Select Committee, for the reasons that I described earlier, it will nevertheless function like a Select Committee. The Government do not need to be afraid to give it the powers that no Select Committee has misused to the detriment of national security and secrecy in the 14 years that the Select Committee system has existed. I am certain that the committee would not misuse those powers.
I hope that the Government will listen to the constructive remarks that have been made in the debate, take them into account and get the committee, which is not a Select Committee, off to the best possible start.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : I accept that, despite the historical changes that have taken place in eastern Europe since we debated this matter some five years ago, work clearly remains to be undertaken by the security services. As I have pointed out in previous debates, some of which I initiated, I know of no democracy, let alone dictatorship, that does not find it necessary for such activities to be undertaken in some form, quite apart from what is necessary to deal with the
Column 207continuing curse of terrorism. Whether those activities are carried out by MI5 or what is usually referred to as MI6, they must be undertaken for the defence of this island.
Many people, particularly Opposition Members, are worried about political bias. Long before the Wright affair, people felt that far too many senior members of the security services were not only right wing but extremely so. The Wright affair showed that the opinions of a few--I hope that it was just a few--were more than extremely right wing. During the 1970s, some officers in the Security Service were outright disloyal, subversive and out of control. To them, the enemy was here in Britain--it was the Labour Government and much of the Labour movement, if not the entire Labour movement. That is why they did tremendous harm to the reputation and work of the Security Service.
It is not just me who says that. On Second Reading of the Bill in another place, Lord Callaghan said that such officers chose the wrong side of the line between right and wrong and that they damaged the Security Service and democracy. As Prime Minister of the day, he was head of the Security Service, so I presume that he knew precisely what he was talking about.
Hence the campaign over many years for parliamentary scrutiny of the security services. Every time that this matter has been raised, the standard ministerial response has been that parliamentary scrutiny was unnecessary and that ministerial control of the security services meant that Ministers were answerable to Parliament. We were asked what we were concerned about. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) said earlier, when we debated a previous Bill that would have put MI5 on a statutory basis the Government were strenuously opposed to any form of parliamentary scrutiny. They said that it was totally unnecessary and irrelevant. It is simple to judge our ability to monitor the Security Service. If we go to the Table Office and try to put down a question about it, we find that we cannot even get to first base. I criticise neither officers of the House responsible for the Table Office nor the other Clerks. Once Ministers have decided that they will not answer questions on the Security Service, future questions are blocked and that is the end of the matter. In the main, Members of Parliament cannot pursue such questions on the Floor of the House, although they can initiate Adjournment debates.
Allegations of bias come not only from the wretched Wright. What sort of person can he and others like him have been to have been recruited to the security services in the first place and to have remained in a senior position for so long ? In addition to the Wright affair, I have mentioned in previous debates how some members of the security services dealt with CND. Although many hon. Members accept that Britain should have nuclear weapons, the current Prime Minister has accepted that it is a perfectly legitimate argument to oppose that. The Security Service, however, pried into the private lives of senior officials involved in CND. I have raised such matters on the Floor of the House and they have been well publicised on other occasions in the press.
My hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Ms Harman) and Patricia Hewitt were also targeted. Were they subversive ? They must have been considered subversive by those who held positions in the security services at the time. They were targeted because they held senior posts in the then National Council for Civil Liberties. No Conservative Member could say that that was justified.