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Mr. Winnick : The hon. Gentleman should get his facts right. I have not read his books on intelligence matters but I hope that before he writes them he does his research or gets someone else to do it for him. Some 30 or 35 years ago, or more, the National Council for Civil Liberties could have been described as closely allied to the Communist party. Although there may have been a case to argue then, that has not been the case since the mid- 1950s as it was not prescribed by the Labour party from the mid-1950s onwards--
Mr. Winnick : The hon. Gentleman puts forward the weakest possible argument. I said that I did not think that any Conservative Member would try to justify prying into the lives of my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham and of Patricia Hewitt, but the hon. Gentleman tries to justify what the Government are ashamed and embarrassed about. Those two people were targeted by the security services under this Government simply because of their senior positions in the National Council for Civil Liberties. I am pleased that they took their case to the European Court.
The Scott inquiry will no doubt refer to the role of the security services, but will be far more critical, I am sure, of ministerial conduct, including ministerial responsibility for the security services.
Much of the emphasis in this debate has been on clause 10. I am particularly unhappy about it because it will not provide the genuine parliamentary scrutiny that is needed. The clause sets up a committee of six members, but what does it add up to? As I said in an intervention, there are unlikely to be any non-Privy Councillors serving on that small committee. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Kinston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) will not mind my saying that, given his defence of the arrangements, he may be one of the few non-Privy Councillors invited to join it. We shall wait and see. Moreover, it will be a joint committee with the House of Lords. When the Home Affairs Committee, with a Conservative majority, reported at the end of 1992, it recommended that that scrutiny of the security services should be by the Committee and criticised any joint committee with Members of the House of Lords. It said :
"We believe that it would not be appropriate for a Committee containing Peers to consider matters of expenditure."
It then went on to say :
"We do not believe that there is any general right or need to know what the service does on a day to day basis. But we do believe that establishing a form of parliamentary scrutiny of the service would meet an important public interest and help to protect against any possible future abuse of power."
Not surprisingly, I agree with those recommendations.
The Prime Minister will be responsible for appointments to the proposed committee after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition. The Prime Minister may also decide who will be its chairman. That is most inappropriate. Even on the basis of what is being proposed, the Prime Minister should not have the power to decide who out of the six should be the chairman, but no doubt that will be pursued in Committee. The committee will report not directly to the House but to the Prime Minister,
Column 209who will then decide what should be left out of its report. How on earth can all that be described as genuine parliamentary scrutiny? That is why I remain critical of the Bill.
Schedule 3 makes it quite clear that information can be withheld from the committee. I can draw many examples from the recent past, such as the arms sales to the criminal regime in Iraq. It could well have been argued that had such a committee existed at the time, there would have been a feeling among Ministers and senior officials that the information was far too sensitive to be given to that committee. Therefore, we should be on our guard about what is contained in schedule 3.
What we are debating tonight will not end the controversy. Had the committee been anywhere near what was recommended by the Home Affairs Committee, to a large extent the political controversy would be over. What is now being proposed will mean that, in effect, the issue will keep returning.
When the committee has been set up, those of us who are not satisfied--that will be the case if no major modifications are made in Standing Committee-- although we may not be as persistent as previously, will not say simply that, although we did not get what we wanted we achieved a halfway house and that is the end of the issue. We do not believe that it is a halfway house. If the Government believe that a controversy is being concluded as a result of the committee being established as set out in clause 10, they will discover that that is not the case.
Finally, I raise two other matters. I was pleased that my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland mentioned GCHQ. On 25 January, I introduced a ten- minute Bill--no Conservative Member voted against it--to lift the ban on trade union membership at GCHQ. The Government's decision 10 years ago was quite wrong and shameful ; it brought into question the loyalty of the people at GCHQ and there was no justification of any such questioning.
Ministers may have taken the view 10 years ago that the controversy would simmer down after a while, so it is interesting to note that nothing of the kind has happened. The controversy has continued. Some three or four days after my speech, there was a rally in Cheltenham where my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition made it perfectly clear that a Labour Government would remove that ban. There is no possible justification for what was done on 25 January 1984. The sooner the ban is lifted the better.
Mr. Robathan : First, let me correct the hon. Gentleman. I was a Teller on that occasion and about 85 Conservative Members voted against his Bill. I know that the hon. Gentleman is particularly concerned about the GCHQ dispute in which a large number of working days were lost. The whole purpose of GCHQ--to defend the national interest--was negated because working days were lost. GCHQ might just as well have closed down because of industrial action. If the hon. Gentleman believes in the need for national security to be paramount, he should agree that it was necessary to ban trade unions at GCHQ. Otherwise, we might not have bothered to spend the money on it.
Column 210Bill. As I kept a note in my diary of the vote, I apologise for misleading the House. My Bill was carried by a majority of 222 to 69. I should have thought that was an overwhelming majority but I am sorry to have given the impression that no Conservative Member voted against it.
The hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) had the courage to speak against it. Although I disagreed with him profoundly, he is to be congratulated on doing what many Conservative Members would not be willing to do. It was interesting to note how few Conservative Members, even those in no way involved in the Government--69 in all voted against my Bill--were willing to go into the Lobby against it. As regards the hon. Gentleman's second point, some working days were lost, although the number has been much exaggerated. It was before the Falklands war. On 25 January, I quoted the then Director General of GCHQ congratulating every single employee on the excellent work undertaken during the Falklands war. That was after the days had been lost as a result of the industrial dispute.
The trade unions have gone out of their way to offer every possible compromise in an attempt to get the ban lifted. Had the Government shown any genuine willingness to agree to any such compromise, agreement could have been reached by the end of last year. I hope not only that we will try to improve the Bill in Committee but that if no major amendment is carried and my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition is invited or consulted by the Prime Minister, he will not simply comply with the Prime Minister's request, be it over names or other matters.
As regards calling for papers, my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition has a perfect and legitimate parliamentary right to pursue with the Prime Minister, if the Bill becomes law as it is, matters that have occupied the attention today of hon. Members on both sides of the House.
I wish that I could conclude by saying that while I am not entirely happy with the Bill, it is a happy compromise. I cannot draw that conclusion, hence the controversy will continue until we establish the same adequate form of parliamentary scrutiny that has been established in so many other western democracies.
Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay) : GCHQ is the wartime successor to the Government code and cipher school, and it has had a long and honourable tradition dating back to the second world war. Certainly Eisenhower judged that the second world war had probably been reduced in length by a year, and many tens of thousands of lives were saved as a result of the work carried out at Bletchley Park. The work undertaken there remained secret until 1974 and the publication of "The ULTRA Secret". In the post-war era, there has been only one case of hostile penetration, and that was the case of Geoffrey Prime. GCHQ is the jewel in the crown of the British intelligence establishment. I am disappointed that their Lordships were so preoccupied about the union ban. We should be clear that the 1984 ban was not imposed by the Government ; it was requested by the director-general of GCHQ. Some 10,000 days were lost in total, and that was during a critical time for Britain--the imposition of martial law in Poland and the invasion of Afghanistan.
Column 211The Secret Intelligence Service, on the other hand, has not been so successful, and has sometimes been described, perhaps unfairly, as the second oldest profession.
When one is working at the coal face, hostile penetration is almost inevitable. We have the cases of Kim Philby, George Blake, John Cairncross, Dick Ellis and the unnamed victims of the mole hunts in the 1970s. All those cases are occupational hazards of secret intelligence.
Mr. Allason : I have no idea. I have described only one case of hostile penetration of GCHQ--the case of Geoffrey Prime. It has been argued that the information that he betrayed over a long period was probably more damaging than anything that was betrayed by the other individuals in the secret service.
Let us not suppose for one moment that the threat of espionage has come to an end. When right hon. and hon. Members open their newspapers tomorrow, they will read about an espionage case in the United States that has been brewing for some weeks and which is regarded as one of the most serious Russian intelligence service penetrations of the American intelligence establishment. The fact is that the cloaks and daggers were not put away at the end of the cold war.
There is a continuing role for the SIS and GCHQ. One sometimes wonders how one can judge whether one is getting value for money from an intelligence agency, because Ministers invariably ask the director-general of the Security Service and the chief of the SIS how they are doing, and are told, "We are doing tremendously well. We are doing so well that we cannot tell you all the details, because, quite frankly, you do not want to know them. But, yes, you are getting value for money."
I suggest that there are ways in which one can judge the performance of a security or intelligence agency. A classic way is by the receipt of defectors. The SIS has a long and impressive record of receipt of Soviet defectors, particulary during the latter part of the cold war. If an intelligence agency is not trusted, it is unlikely to receive defectors. That one criterion is useful. In the past 20 years, we have received Vladimir Kuzichkin, Ilya Dzhirkvelov, Oleg Lyalin, Vladimir Rezun and, in 1985, Oleg Gordievsky. Whatever one says about the bad old years, if one can run an agent for between 12 and 14 years--up until Oleg Gordievsky's defection in 1985--that says a tremendous amount about that agency. It means that it can keep a secret for that length of time. It means that, operationally, it can run an agent for that length of time. All that is to the credit of the intelligence agency and goes a long way to demonstrating its integrity.
The principal role of an intelligence agency is to avoid being taken by surprise. That is a problem for all great nations. There have been appalling examples of nations being taken by surprise, the classic being Pearl Harbour. Israel is often credited with having a tremendously impressive intelligence service, but it does not deserve that reputation. The 1973 Yom Kippur conflict is the classic textbook example of how a nation can be taken completely by surprise. The Americans were taken by surprise in Korea, and by the Tet offensive in Vietnam. The collapse of the Soviet bloc was predicted by nobody, least of all by the Central Intelligence Agency.
Column 212We were taken by surprise in the Gulf war. No amount of overhead surveillance or satellite system can penetrate the thoughts of Saddam Hussein or get close to his cabinet and discover his intentions. We were taken by surprise there in a way that we were not a decade or so earlier when troops and HMS Bulwark were deployed in the Gulf to prevent and deter aggression.
We were taken by surprise in exactly the same way during the Falklands crisis. We had few assets in south America.
Mr. Rogers : The hon. Gentleman says that we were taken by surprise in the Falklands. Is that strictly true? Many people realise that the wrong signals were being sent to Argentina. Surely the problem was more or less the stupidity of the Government rather than being taken by surprise.
It is worth explaining one of the reasons for the Falklands conflict and the heavy reliance on GCHQ as opposed to the SIS. On that occasion, GCHQ assured the Joint Intelligence Committee that it would be able to give a considerable lead time for any planned amphibious landing on the Falklands, because it was intercepting and reading the signals of one unit--an amphibious commando unit--stationed on the Andes, overlooking the Chilean frontier.
It was judged that that unit, which was the only one that had been trained in amphibious landing by the Americans at Fort Bragg, was the one unit that would be likely to be deployed against the Falklands. On that occasion, GCHQ gave that assurance to the Joint Intelligence Committee.
But, of course, during and even after the landing at Port Stanley, only conscripts were used, and the unit remained in its position on top of the Andes throughout the conflict. So, by a reliance on technical sources of intelligence, one can disadvantage the human sources. That is where the SIS comes in. That is one of the classic reasons why intelligence is so enormously important.
The question for the House is whether the Bill will help the services to be more effective and efficient. Will it mean more financial support for the organisations that are strapped for cash at the very time when the defence intelligence staff is being chopped? It is my belief that this is an opportunity for the House to give full support to the SIS and GCHQ, because the fact is that this is the first time, as far as I know, that there have been compulsory redundancies in the SIS. It is bad for morale and bad for this country. If we are intent on dismantling our armed services at the rate we are, it is all the more important that we should have an effective trip wire overseas to alert the Joint Intelligence Committee and the Cabinet, so that the appropriate decisions can be made in time.
I hope that one of the messages that the House will give to the SIS and GCHQ is that they are doing an extremely important job and that the resources will be available to monitor the kind of disruption that has taken place in eastern Europe, the activity of the Islamic fundamentalists right across the continent of north Africa, the near east and middle east, and to monitor our own interests in central America and the Falklands, and even in the South African continent.
Column 213The truth is that the CIA pays only lip service to oversight. It is an unwieldy and difficult system in the United States. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate have their own separate committees. They are trusted, but only because they have to be. It is worth examining why Congress introduced oversight in the first place. It was as a result of the appalling embarrassments and misconduct that were exposed by the Pope and the Church committees. I would not want the American example to be followed. There is no reason to in this country.
As for the Canadian model, it is worth pointing out that there is no external intelligence collection service in Canada. There is, however, an effective security agency--the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service. If the Minister wants to look at a model of how a report about an intelligence agency can be published annually without giving away secrets, but with some sanitised case histories that will educate the public and politicians, I would recommend that document as good reading matter.
There have not been any significant leaks from the oversight committee in Canada, or, for that matter, from those in the United States. There has been one resignation from one of the committees in the United States because of the premature release of a report. Apart from one allegation of one CIA asset being lost in the old Soviet bloc, it is widely believed that the trust has been reciprocated and well earned.
Back in 1989, when we debated what was then the Security Service Bill, we were told that the reason for the Bill was the fact that "it was about time". We now recognise, however, that the real motive was to satisfy the European Court. I do not know the precise motive behind this Bill ; perhaps my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy will explain when he winds up. I do not know whether there is any really compelling reason for its introduction
The fact is that there have been no scandals to act as a catalyst. There have been no murders ; there are no dead bodies hidden away. There has simply been a lengthy police investigation of the Hilda Murrell case, after which the police clearly concluded that the Security Service had played no part in it. People on the fringes are making a good deal of mischief. Gary Murray--who served as a dog handler in the RAF police--wrote a long and mischievous book about the Hilda Murrell case, and made a series of other allegations about the Security Service. That man operates in the world of fantasy. This country has a proud and honourable record of intelligence gathering. That is because there has been considerable ministerial oversight. It was introduced at quite a late stage in the 1940s, when a Foreign Office adviser was attached to the Secret Intelligence Service. No sensitive operation was undertaken without the consent of that adviser--who was not an SIS career officer, but someone seconded to the SIS on a temporary basis.
The one occasion on which something went wrong occurred in 1956, and involved the Buster Crabb case. Curiously enough, the system appeared to work well ; but on the morning that the Foreign Office adviser received a telephone call asking for authorisation to send a diver under the Russian cruiser the Ordjonikidze in Portsmouth
Column 214harbour, his father had died. When he received the call, a short time later, he was in no condition to examine the case in detail. The Prime Minister was severely embarrassed, and considerable effort was made to ensure that there would never again be a lack of political control. Since 1956--when the director-general of the Security Service was imposed on the SIS to prevent any recurrence of what was described as misconduct--virtually all operations of that kind have involved a large element of ministerial approval. Evidence about the Matrix Churchill case that has surfaced so far--during the trial of Paul Henderson, and at the Scott inquiry--clearly shows that both the Security Service and the Secret Intelligence Service have conducted themselves in an exemplary fashion. I am not sure that I can say the same of the Ministers who signed the public interest immunity certificates, but this may not be the appropriate time and place to refer to that aspect ; Lord Justice Scott is bound to pursue it over the next six weeks.
My concern about the Bill relates to the inclusion of the Security Service, which--by its very nature--is heavily involved in political judgments. About two thirds of its operations now take place in anti-terrorism and-- because it is now so firmly integrated in the criminal justice system--I wonder whether it might more appropriately be subject to the scrutiny of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, and perhaps an annual visit.
I am worried about the relationship between intelligence and security agencies--and the officers responsible for collecting the information--and the criminal justice system. Members of the special and counter-terrorist branches are all police officers ; they all hold warrant cards, and they have all given evidence in the courts at one time or another.
I find it an unattractive proposition for this country's courts to be presented with evidence by Mr. A, Mr. B and Mr. C from behind screens. That is not part of our criminal justice system, and it is not understood abroad : it represents a propaganda coup for the Provisional IRA.
Mr. Rogers : What did the hon. Gentleman mean when he said that operatives were heavily involved in political judgments? Earlier in the debate, the Foreign Secretary said that the secret services did not "invent their own agenda". Surely there is a conflict between what the hon. Gentleman said and what the Foreign Secretary said.
Mr. Allason : No, there is not. One of the responsibilities of the Security Service under the 1989 Act is counter-subversion ; one definition of counter-subversion was given in the other place, and another--lengthy-- definition was given by the present Foreign Secretary, then Home Secretary, during the passage of that Act.
There are bound to be political judgments about whether a political organisation is determined to undermine parliamentary democracy, but they are political only to that extent. Targeting is a matter for the directorate of the Security Service and the Joint Intelligence Committee.
Mr. Rogers : I am sorry to press the hon. Gentleman, who demonstrates considerable knowledge of these matters. Perhaps he can pass that knowledge on to the House, however. Is he saying that part of the function of the secret service is to subvert political parties in this country? That is what it sounded like. I know that my
Column 215Welsh dialect may be slightly different from the dialect of Torbay ; but the hon. Gentleman did say that the service was involved in subversion, and made political judgments in relation to political parties.
responsibilities of the security service.
Mr. Richard Shepherd : I do not mean to nitpick, but the Act does not use the term "counter-subversion"--although I accept that the remit involved can be interpreted in a number of ways. One of the purposes of the service is to prevent the undermining of parliamentary democracy
"by political, industrial or violent means."
That tallies with the comments of the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) : the service is precluded from interfering in the political process.
counter-subversion. The definition of "subversion" is the definition in the 1989 Act. To that extent, theservice is responsible for counter-subversion- -for countering the undermining of parliamentary democracy by non- parliamentary means.
According to my interpretation of the Bill, the tribunal will be, in effect, a permanent security commission. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will explain whether the Security Commission will continue to exist. At present, it is composed of a panel, some of whose members can be called upon to conduct investigations. Will the commission still be needed, or will the tribunal take over its role? Certainly, the panel has been made up of the great and the good, but not one of its members has a day of intelligence experience. In the past, the membership has been derided in the intelligence community as a stable door operation ; it does not carry much weight. If the right people are selected for the tribunal, however, I believe that they will have a powerful role to play. I would refer anyone who has any doubts about the way in which the Security Commission can be misled, to the Bettaney report, in which, in order to protect Oleg Gordievsky, who was a current source, the Security Commission completely misled the public about the tips that had led to Michael Bettaney.
I must also express some concern about the term "taking in washing", which in effect is what my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary described when he told the anecdote about an SIS officer being deployed abroad on a drugs surveillance operation. That causes some concern, because there is a national drugs intelligence unit and its sole function surely is to undertake and to collect intelligence of that type.
There are also implications for the criminal justice system if SIS personnel are to be deployed abroad and to supply information that will be used in the prosecution. Are those individuals to appear in court? Will they be called as witnesses and, if so, under what circumstances?
I very much hope that the role of the commissioner will be a strong one. I hope that he will not be governed by a statutory deadline of the type that has handicapped the security commissioner in the 1989 Act. I said in an intervention that he declines to participate in the investigation of any case initiated before 10 December 1989. That precludes his investigating a very large number
Column 216of complaints. I see no reason why the new commissioner should not be able to use his discretion and to investigate cases about which a file has started before the Bill goes on to the statute book. I draw the attention of the House to a number of the damaging allegations that were mentioned earlier. I do not think that in Committee we should once again hear some of the tired old allegations that have been disproved elsewhere, that have been the subject of police investigations or, in the case of the allegations that Special Air Services officers have been training the Khmer Rouge, that have gone through the libel courts.
John Pilger has made an apology for those claims, yet one still hears allegations that the Security Service murdered Hilda Morrell, and we still hear that the Walter Mittys, such as Colin Wallace, are making serious allegations that undermine the morale of the Security Service and the Secret Intelligence Service.
I very much hope that the SIS will take the tribunal as an opportunity to ensure that there is a proper system to allow former--and current--members of those organisations to get proper clearance to be able to write their books. I hold no brief for the Peter Wrights of this world, but it is preposterous for disaffected former members of the service and others--very distinguished former members of the service--to be obliged to undergo threats from the Cabinet Office, to undergo a variety of lawsuits initiated by the Treasury Solicitor, and other experiences which are unnecessary and which cost the taxpayer an enormous amount of money.
I suggest that the tribunal should have the power to authorise individual officers to be able to make the type of non-damaging disclosures that are perfectly sensible and are allowed in the United States, Canada and elsewhere.
The Bill is a pretty good one. I regret that the Security Service is included in it, but I conclude by expressing the hope that the Bill will proceed in Committee, and that it will be a Committee of the whole House.
Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I waited until the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) finished because I have no desire to detain the House. There has come into my possession a press release, which was issued by an organisation that describes itself as a political pressure group. What disturbs me about that press release is that it attacks Members of the House, especially members of the shadow Cabinet, and the way in which they voted last night, and it gives two contact numbers, one of a Mr. Ben Lucas, the chair of the organisation, with a House of Commons telephone number, and the other of a Mrs. Cathy Ashley, a 219 number, which is also a House of Commons number. If those people are employees of the House or hon. Members, they should not be using the facilities of the House to attack Members of the House.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris) : The hon. Member has made a combination of allegations. The first is a matter of privilege and I should be most grateful, if he feels that privilege is involved, if he would write formally to Madam Speaker.
As to the other matter in relation to the use of the House's facilities, the rules are quite clear. The authorities of the House will have recorded what the hon. Gentleman has said and I imagine that action will follow. I am most grateful to the hon. Member for mentioning it.
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Mrs. Bridget Prentice (Lewisham, East) : I shall speak in support of the Bill in principle. I will not take a walk down memory lane of the murky mystery of spy novels and people who may or may not have been involved in the security services at one time or another throughout the history of time.
Opposition Members support the Bill in principle for a number of reasons, not least of which is that we believe very much in more open government. It is especially important given the record of the Government, who have consistently refused or avoided answering questions in Parliament on so many matters.
One of my worries about the Bill, however, is the role that the Prime Minister has in appointing the committee, given that he, especially, seems to be least open to scrutiny on so many occasions. Opposition Members, on the other hand, have advocated openness and scrutiny consistently for a considerable time. It is important that security services are put on a statutory basis.
I shall speak briefly about some of my reservations about the Bill as it stands. A number of hon. Members have referred to the Home Affairs Select Committee report ; the Committee had considered systems abroad in which scrutiny took place. It seemed to find no reason why parliamentary scrutiny should not be extended in this country. I believe that we should play especially close attention to the report of the Home Affairs Select Committee, whose members do not come to their decisions lightly, but have taken some time and have gone into some detail in doing so. The report says :
"it seems to us that the examples from abroad demonstrate that there are a number of ways in which parliamentary scrutiny of the Security Service in the United Kingdom might be improved". The House should seriously endorse that view.
The new committee should have the power to make its annual report on the way in which it carries out its duties, not to the Prime Minister, but to Parliament. Parliament is the sovereign body. It is to Parliament that any committee of the House, in whatever form, should report and I believe that that is a flaw in the Bill as it stands.
A number of hon. Members have mentioned the membership of the committee. In my view, the committee has unnecessarily few members. I very much endorsed a number of the comments made by the hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates) when he said that the committee was not a Select Committee, but would have to take on many of the attributes of a Select Committee ; for example, it should be able to call in evidence, call in individuals, ask for documents, according to its own will, setting its own agenda and not according to the Security Service or under some aegis of the Prime Minister. Why is the report of the committee to be presented first to the Prime Minister, not to the House of Commons and the House of Lords? The number of members of the committee worries us for a number of reasons. There are to be only six members, which is very few. There may be good reasons for that, such as keeping membership tight, but, given the breadth of the work to be done, I wonder whether six will be sufficient to scrutinise the services.
I found it fascinating that the right hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) felt that the committee members should be House of Commons men. I am not entirely sure what that is supposed to mean. I am not suggesting for one minute that my name should be put forward, but there are
Column 218a number of hon. Ladies of all parties who would do more than a good job in scrutinising the security services. If they wish to be considered, I hope that they will be.
The committee will be discussing policy, expenditure and the management of the security services. A number of hon. Members have referred to the serious problem of the dividing line between policy and operation. We should like an assurance that there will not be constant attempts to stop the committee discussing policy on the ground that it is, in fact, operational. There must be sufficient flexibility to allow the committee to get on with its work without having to look over its shoulder and hearing the Prime Minister, the heads of the security services or someone else saying that it cannot discuss a particular issue because it is operational.
I have already referred to the disclosure of information to the committee. It is nonsensical for any committee of the House, of whatever standing, not to be able to decide of its own volition what documents it wants to see, which people it wishes to question and how it wishes to formulate its report. As the hon. Member for East Hampshire said, all other Select Committees may do so. Although the committee will not be a Select Committee, it will have to work on very similar lines.
I am surprised that the commissioner will not report to Parliament at least at the same time as he or she reports to the Prime Minister. To illustrate my point, I use as a parallel, although I know that it is not on all fours, the Select Committee on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration of which I am a member. The Commissioner comes to the Committee week in, week out, to deliver his report, respond to our questions and raise issues that he believes are of great concern in the administration of Parliament. I should have thought that the commissioner proposed under the Bill would be able to do something similar in reporting directly to the committee. There is an omission from the Bill which my colleagues and I believe is both tragic and shameful. I refer, of course, to the reinstatement of trade unionism at GCHQ. The Prime Minister has said that he is prepared to talk to trade unions and various organisations, but, despite the fact that they have bent over backward to accommodate his concerns and those of the Government in general, he still maintains firmly that there is to be no trade unionism at GCHQ.
It is nothing short of a scandal that the workers to whom the Secretary of State today rightly paid fulsome tribute should be denied their basic right. Not one member of the Government has yet come up with a serious reason why GCHQ workers should not be members of a trade union.
It is a matter of the utmost shame for the Government and, in particular, for the Prime Minister that, after 10 years, they are still incapable of accepting that people can be trade unionists while being good patriots and professionals and able to get on with the work that the Government ask of them. You can be assured, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that my colleagues and I will be pressing that issue in Committee and beyond until those trade union rights are re-established.
The right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) was concerned that the Bill was merely a first step. As my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) said, it is a step and there are more aspects of the issue still to be developed. We have not completed the circle and there
Column 219is still much more work to be done. The Bill is to be welcomed, although it is by no means perfect and much could still be added. Finally, I ask the Minister to define the phrase "serious crimes". We might understand it to mean terrorism and the international trafficking of drugs among other things, but I should prefer it if the Bill contained something closer to a proper definition, especially in view of what is happening in relation to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill. We should know exactly whom we are targeting under the phrase "serious crimes".
Although I welcome the Bill as a first step, I regret the tragic fact that it does not reinstate the fundamental right of trade unionism for people who work on our behalf at GCHQ.
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) : In a sense, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary presented the Bill as a continuum of a process enacted under the Security Service Act 1989 and reinforced by the Official Secrets Act 1989.
The House will recall that the two Acts were introduced because of episodes in our distant past. In fact, a Lord Justice advised the nation through a court judgment that we would be--I am quoting from memory--naive to suppose that a little bugging and burglary did not take place. There could be no stronger signal from the judicial process to reinforce the fact that there had been a massive breach of a concept that is important to the House and to constitutional and democratic government--the rule of law. The judge was, of course, signifying that, under prerogative power, the security services were breaking the legislated law of the land--statute--and that that was intolerable. I am glad that my right hon. and hon. Friends who were then in government moved to regularise the position and subsequently passed the Security Service Act 1989.
I put the Bill in context because it is inconceivable that, when one is dealing with the range of the necessary defence of the nation, one does not have some form of structure that can attest to the public at large that the intelligence services are run ethically in accordance with certain basic principles.
The entire House accepts the thrust of the Bill, but I wish to explain why I think that the powers of the House and the regard in which the nation is held in the world have diminished. Executive government has an incessant need to hold the formulation of all policies and all Bills entirely unto itself. There has been no discussion with the wider and informed public about what routes we should have taken to secure the objectives that the House believes to be appropriate.
In Canada, of course, there was the McDonald commission, and even in the United States before the Church commission there was Vice-President Rockefeller's report to the then President Ford. There have also been commissions of inquiry in Australia and New Zealand. I say all that because there has been no examination of what the security services are about, what are the guiding principles that inform their operations and their work, and what are our requirements. That is terribly important, because we are among the most important servants of the state for defending the integrity of our institutions.