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Other issues of accountability that emerged were membership, structure, functions and the role of the committee itself, which will be set up in the House under the proposals in the Bill. The appointment system will be carried out after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition, but will be solely in the hands of the Prime Minister. It is specifically provided that the Prime Minister also has the right to remove a person whom he does not want to serve on the committee. It will not be a committee of the House ; it will not be responsible to the House. It will be a committee of the Prime Minister. The idea that some form of parliamentary accountability is being introduced is complete nonsense.
It is presumed that the security services will vet the members before they are put on the committee. I do not know how many hon. Members, from both sides of the House, put in their bids to be members of the committee, or for chairmanship of it, but whenever I have looked up into the Galleries and into the Box, some faces have been fairly constant. I presume that hon. Members are presently being vetted for their membership of the commitee, even as they speak. I am sorry to have to tell those hon. Members who have been absent all day and have just come in that
Column 235they are non-runners. They will certainly not be joining the starting line-up. I am sure that everyone who aspires to membership of the committee recognises that its role, as the Bill says, in examining
"the expenditure, administration and policy"
will need to be defined. I think that it was the right hon. Members for Guildford (Mr. Howell) and for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) who said that membership of the committee would involve a lot of hard work, that it could not be someone dodging in and out and saying, "I'll do half an hour here and half an hour there." To have any form of scrutiny in this poorly constructed committee, it will be necessary for people to dedicate themselves to the job in hand.
When the Bill is in Committee, I hope that we will be able to get clear definitions of what we are about and the matters that we are to address. One issue that we will want to address is the committee's access to information. If what is to come to the committee will be vetted by the Prime Minister, the director-general of the relevant service and anyone else who wants to chip in before it even comes to the committee, it will be a charade ; it will be nonsense. Not only will the Committee have not much of a role to play ; what role it has will be worthless in any event.
If, as we have heard today, the culture of the services restricts the provision of information to a need-to-know basis, it seems to me that the committee will need to know nothing ; any information that is likely to be contentious will be sidelined or removed by the Prime Minister before it can even reach the committee. Even if it percolates through that sieve, by the time the committee reports to the Prime Minister--it will not be reporting to Parliament--the whole concept of parliamentary scrutiny will have gone by the board. I am not sure whether the Secretary of State is present in his role as Minister for open government or in his capacity as Minister for the Cabinet Office. Perhaps he or the Foreign Secretary can assure us that they are prepared to examine the serious arguments advanced by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I could deal with many serious issues that have been raised, but, because of the agreement between the Front Benches, I must close my speech. Let me end by referring to a matter that has been mentioned more by Opposition Members than by Conservatives.
I welcome the return to the Chamber of the hon. Member for Torbay. I found his "Book at Bedtime" extremely interesting.
One of the most important issues with which we shall deal in Committee is the question of trade union membership at GCHQ. I know that the former Home Secretary--who was involved in the decision about GCHQ, and who is again involved as Foreign Secretary--has a particular view, and much has been said about the matter. The Labour party, however, is completely and consistently opposed to the Government's continued stubborn refusal to see sense. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland said, when the Labour Government are elected we will end that abuse of human rights and democracy.
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The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. William Waldegrave) : I may not be able to do full justice to the many good speeches that have been made, partly because I have been left with slightly less time than was planned.
The Bill has received a broad welcome from a variety of quarters in the House. Serious speeches were made by, for instance, the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel), my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) and the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham).
Although the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) ended his speech in a slightly eccentric way, he began by saying, "We support the Bill." The right hon. Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert)--to whose speech I shall return several times--made a formidable contribution, as did a number of my colleagues. My right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Sir A. Hamilton), along with my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), touched the tiller in the other direction, expressing anxiety lest we go too far.
There was universal support for one aspect of the legislation. In this regard, I have the backing of both my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge- Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) and the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin)--who, at one point, made me a little nervous by saying that we were taking a small step in the right direction : he does not often say that to me. Both agreed that--in the words of the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale--there was no lack of targets in the new world. Fortunately, there is no lack of new targets for serious, well-organised and well-tasked intelligence services.
I echo the tributes that many hon. Members have paid to the service provided by those whom the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) rightly described as public servants like any others--public servants, however, who often live in dangerous and hazardous conditions, and serve us very well. Given the strengths of this country in the new world--given the cards that we must play and the pieces that we can deploy on the international chess boards--our intelligence services are a major asset to the country and the free world. We should preserve and honour them.
We should therefore oversee them properly. It is to their credit that they now strongly believe that there should be proper oversight, and that they especially believe that all the services should be put on a statutory basis, which is now right.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) rightly paid tribute to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, one of whose many achievements has been completely to change round the way in which we approach those matters in this country--first the Security Service, now the other two agencies. He did so under the leadership of the present Prime Minister, but I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.
As to the operational details, there has, with one or two exceptions, been unanimity about the fact that any sensible democratic assembly will exercise, in the phrase--although he approached it with some care--of my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills, a self-denying ordinance about the investigation of operational details.
Column 237The right hon. Member for Copeland made a good analogy in a sense--it is only an analogy--with police affairs. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills is right to say that the House has the power to inspect everything, but it is the sign of a mature democracy that it sets itself some self-denying ordinances. There are many others, in less sensitive sectors, but it is right to do so in the intelligence sector above all.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall), in what I thought was an impressive speech, said that we should consider the Bill from the point of view of people working in the services, and he is right to say that we should have that perspective.
I would add another perspective. One should consider the Bill also from the point of view of someone who might, at considerable risk to himself or herself, perhaps in a totalitarian or fascist country, be considering working with one of our agencies. That situation occurs regularly, and such people do great service to freedom, and to their own countries in the end. The agent who is working with him has to be able to say that his life is secure ; that there will not be too many people poking about in the works of the thing, and that the thing is properly secure.
I believe that those people who said that we should be careful about operational details were right. I believe also in this respect I agree with the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), on one point if not on others--that there has been an atmosphere, to some extent, of mutual suspicion. If we can now get arrangements right, as I believe we are doing, that mutual suspicion, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge- Brownhills also referred, will diminish and--of great help to the people who do that serious work--the atmosphere of fantasy in which the work of the services is so often written about will dissolve.
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is probably doing a great disservice to a productive British industry the production of fantastical spy stories, on which we are experts. My right hon. Friend is an author of distinction, so he may damage his own sales. I hope that he will not damage the sales of the works of my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay or anyone of that type. The more openness and sensible accounting we do, the less absurd stories are generated, the less fantasy develops, the less nonsense is talked.
An argument was made about the money. One of the best ways of hiding information is to publish it in Hansard. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister answered a written question in Hansard on 30 November 1993, which said that the budget was about £900 million at the moment, so there is no great mystery about that.
Before I discuss more important matters, I shall reply to some minor arguments. The right hon. Member for Copeland quoted from the report of the Security Service Act Commissioner, Lord Justice Stuart-Smith, and chilled our blood for a moment with the first part of what he said. The commissioner said :
"I cannot answer the question categorically"
as to whether there are illegal operations
"because it is not my function to review the operations of the Service and in the nature of things such operations"--
this was the point on which he put emphasis--
"if they existed, would be concealed".
Column 238For some reason, the right hon. Gentleman stopped reading at that point, but Lord Justice Stuart-Smith continued :
"I consider that I am in a position as a result of my experience over the past three years to express an informed opinion on this question. It is my opinion that such operations are not undertaken." He then cited four reasons why he believed that to be the case. I therefore think that the right hon. Gentleman was expressing an unnecessary anxiety.
The British islands, which confused the hon. Member for Rhondda are statutorily defined. They are outlined in the Interpretation Act 1978 and are standard in legislation. They include the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.
The structure of the Bill has general support, but I shall come back to the aspects over which there is straightforward disagreement. I should not have expected the representatives of the Labour party to abandon their previous view in relation to a Select Committee. They have, quite fairly, put it to the House again today, and I make no complaint about that.
However, the structure of having a commissioner and a tribunal and an oversight committee--the right hon. Member for Copeland then argued about the nature of such a committee--has broad support. That is a considerable step forward and I hope that it will form the basis for a good deal of further agreement if we can work out some of the details in Committee.
Many of the details are technical. We must discuss in Committee the question of privilege, which was raised by the right hon. Member for Dudley, East. It is not for me to define privilege, but we must ensure that the reports from the committee can be handled properly, and that the people who come before the committee are properly protected. Such issues are exactly those which the Committee must discuss. I shall deal later with the committee, which has caused the most argument.
The hon. Member for Hartlepool made foreign comparisons, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater in his excellent speech. Everyone says, as a cliche that needs no further proof, that Britain is the most secretive society in the world. However, if the Bill is passed, as I hope it will be, we shall be far from the most secretive.
It is impossible to find any reference to the French security services in French statute, and there is no oversight of their proceedings. The French are at one extreme and the Americans at the other. If the Bill is passed, we shall be in a position not unlike that in Australia and Canada. There will be differences, but the positions will be comparable. Right hon. and hon. Members need not think that we are far out of the sensible pack in this respect. My right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) said that he hoped that we were offering the Bill as a considered view by which we would stick, not as a first step to something else. We have thought long and hard about the balance we needed to strike, and we believe that we have arrived at a solution which once it has been put into practice, will be seen to work, will gather authority and respect in the House and outside and will not be only a temporary change leading to something else.
The right hon. Member for Copeland teased us that we had changed our minds on some matters. That is so, but there is nothing dishonourable in our changing our minds. The Labour party should not use that argument without some care, because, as I understand it, the Labour party's
Column 239present position is that it has changed its mind about everything in which it believed in the early 1980s, so it is now a different party.
That appears to cause some tension in various part of the party, but the right hon. Member for Copeland is now much more comfortable with his party's policy than he was in the early 1980s. I suspect that he believes the changes have been a good thing, but some of his colleagues may have forgotten they have changed their minds. Let us consider the arguments for a Select Committee versus the committee proposed in the Bill. It is perfectly right to say--and best to make it absolutely clear--that the proposed committee is not a committee of Parliament in the usual sense, but a committee of parliamentarians.
It is better to be entirely clear about that. We propose to introduce a more or less unique committee. I can find no exact parallel. It was eloquently argued by the right hon. Member for Copeland and by several of his colleagues that the committee should be a Select Committee. We have considered the case for doing so, and I shall now examine the arguments.
The right hon. Member for Dudley, East put out a seductive stall, saying that we could have a Select Committee under such controls that its members would effectively be nominated by the Prime Minister, by a resolution put before the House of Commons, and its publications could be controlled by the Prime Minister, as could the sidelining. By the end of his argument, the right hon. Gentleman had persuaded himself that there would be little difference between his Select Committee and our committee, except in the timing of its publications.
In that case, I believe that those who are dissatisfied with our committee, such as the hon. Member for Workington, would soon become dissatisfied with the Select Committee suggested by the right hon. Member for Dudley, East, too. They might feel that a Select Committee should not be trammelled in that way.
The right hon. Member for Dudley, East was fair in a way, because he said that we were missing a presentational trick. However, in order to gain in presentational terms, we would run the risk--which was mentioned by several of my hon. Friends and by the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale--of losing the significant elements of control. We should not do that simply for presentational gain ; I agree with the right hon. Member about that. I have little time left, and I cannot cover many points that I should like to have discussed. I shall write to hon. Members about those. The other crucial factor concerns the committee's access to information and its powers to summon other people. We shall need to examine those matters closely in Committee.
I believe that some hon. Members have made themselves unnecessarily nervous about the Secretary of State's powers under the Bill. The provision in schedule 3, paragraph 3(1)(b)(ii), that says that he can refuse access or override information is subject to subparagraph (4), which says that he cannot do so on grounds of national security alone. He can use that power only to control the kind of information that would not be given by Ministers to a Select Committee. That does not trammel the committee, and the argument is not to do with the limitation of sensitive information, other than that limited by paragraph 4, which deals with operations. I believe that there is a broad consensus on both sides of the House on that paragraph.
Column 240The right hon. Member for Dudley, East also mentioned the Lord Chancellor's point about operations. I believe that we broadly agree that schedule 3, paragraph 4, restricts the disclosure of sensitive information to the committee only when that information is about particular operations. The hon. Member for Hartlepool used the word "tasking". As I am sure he knows, that word has a proper meaning in this sphere.
The committee will be involved in very secret areas that have never before been shared with others outside the Secretary of State's responsibilities-- for example, matters to do with the tasking of the services. The committee will not only deal with high-level policy in a broad-brush way ; it will be able to examine the actual tasking, the money and the organisational structures.
The committee will be fully trusted, and fully inside the secret wall. I believe that the result, while it will not establish within the House the parliamentary accountability that, for reasons that I have not had time to do more than sketch out tonight, we believe would be extremely difficult to organise, will be to spread the reassurance that senior, trusted people on both sides of the House share the secrets of the services, and have a formidable power to cause trouble for the Government.
Somebody asked earlier where the teeth were. The teeth consist of the fact that the committee, staffed by very senior Members of the House, will have the right not to publish stuff that would damage national security--which it would not want to do--but to write a report saying, "We believe that things are not being handled properly, and that Ministers are not responding properly." No Government in their senses would want to risk such criticism. That is why the committee will be powerful, and that is why I commend the Bill to the House. Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
Question put, That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the whole House :--
The House divided : Ayes 122, Noes 299.
DIVISION No. 138] [10 pm
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)
Allason, Rupert (Torbay)
Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Clark, Dr David (South Shields)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Corston, Ms Jean
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John
Donohoe, Brian H.
Eagle, Ms Angela
Evans, John (St Helens N)
Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Foster, Rt Hon Derek