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Column 343Richards, Rod
Rifkind, Rt Hon. Malcolm
Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim
Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas
Shaw, David (Dover)
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Speed, Sir Keith
Spencer, Sir Derek
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Spink, Dr Robert
Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Taylor, John M. (Solihull)
Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Thornton, Sir Malcolm
Townend, John (Bridlington)
Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)
Twinn, Dr Ian
Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Tellers for the Noes :
Mr. Timothy Wood and
Mr. Derek Conway.
Question accordingly negatived .
Amendment made : No. 32, in page 13, line 15, leave out from three' to end of line 17.--[ Mr. Douglas Hogg. ]
Order for Third Reading read.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
Mr. Winnick : I wish that I could be more enthusiastic about the Bill, especially in view of the long campaign to ensure that the security services are subject to parliamentary scrutiny.
I wish that I were in a position tonight in which I could say that the campaign had succeeded, and that the oversight that is necessary to ensure that the security services act in the way in which they should act had been accomplished, but I am afraid that I am not in that position. Therefore, like my hon. Friends, I am somewhat critical of the measure. I am not enthusiastic.
It is regrettable that the Government, having gone down the road of parliamentary scrutiny of a type, have stopped far short of what they should be doing. I should like to be able to say that the long campaign had come to a victorious conclusion. I should like to be able to say that the House could now be satisfied that it was establishing genuine parliamentary scrutiny along the lines of other western democracies. Unfortunately, I am not in that position. I say this to the Minister. This would have been the opportunity to end the controversy. This would have been the opportunity to say that the battle had been won. The
Column 344parties should agree to an oversight committee and there is no reason why it should continue to be the subject of controversy. I do not believe that we do the services--the intelligence services, MI5, MI6 and Government communications headquarters, Cheltenham-- any favours by creating a situation in which the controversy will continue. I agree that the controversy will continue in a more limited form, but it will continue. It will continue because we have not ensured the necessary type of parliamentary scrutiny. It is unfortunate that the proposed oversight committee will report not directly to the House but to the Prime Minister and hence there will be a feeling that the committee is more similar to a Cabinet subcommittee than it should be. I regret even more deeply the fact that the proposed committee will not have powers and papers which it should have.
I challenged the Minister earlier about what would happen if a witness who had been summoned to the committee decided that he or she did not want to appear. I asked whether, in those circumstances, the Government would be in favour of ensuring that the person concerned was forced to go to the committee as to a Select Committee. The Minister of State at the Foreign Office said that the Government would be willing to do nothing of the kind.
It is unfortunate indeed that the oversight committee does not yet have the powers and authority that the House should give such a committee. I do not know who will serve on the committee, but I hope that, in spite of the limitations that I have outlined and in spite of the criticisms that were made by the Labour party in Committee and on the Floor of the House, the committee, once it is set up, will regard its job as that of a genuine oversight committee.
One of the reasons that I, and I am sure most of my hon. Friends, will not vote against the Third Reading is that we believe that the measure goes at least some of the way towards what we want to do. If we were of the view that it was entirely a mockery, for such a committee would serve no purpose, obviously we would vote against Third Reading, as we would have done against Second Reading, but that is not our view. I accept, as I said a few moments ago, that it goes down the type of road that we want to travel, but how much better it would have been if it had gone down the road of other western democracies.
How much better it would be if we could say, apart from anything else tonight, that the campaign has now ended. It will not end. From time to time, hon. Members such as I will no doubt make the arguments that we have made before.
Nevertheless, I wish the proposed committee every success. I hope that it will carry out the type of functions that it should carry out. I have never disputed that we need the security and intelligence services, and would need them even if we were not confronted by the curse of continuing terrorism. I know of no country--no democracy--that does not have some type of intelligence and security services and I cannot anticipate any circumstances in the future in which the facilities of such a service will not be necessary. A democracy has a right to defend itself.
My criticism of the security services has been largely connected with the scandals and abuses that have occurred. I have never questioned the need for such services, and, as I have said, I see no reason for us to work on the assumption that such assistance to the democracy in which
Column 345we live will not continue. Nevertheless, the intelligence and security services should be subject to parliamentary scrutiny in the same way as other arms and agencies of Government. The need for such scrutiny explains why parliamentary control was introduced, why Select Committees were set up in 1979 and why some other Committees existed before then.
If we could assume that the committee would do the job that I consider necessary, we should be far happier tonight. Notwithstanding all those criticisms, I believe that we should give the committee an opportunity to work, and to see how far it goes in its work ; but I am certain that the matter will return to the House at some future date. I am convinced, as I was before, not only that there should be parliamentary oversight but that a Select Committee should be established--and one of these days such a committee will come into being, along the lines that we advocate.
Mr. Allason : The Bill puts on a statutory footing an agency that has existed since 1909, and establishes a commissioner and a tribunal to hear complaints from the public. It is not a consequence of an investigation conducted by Otis Pike or Frank Church--the kind of investigation that was undertaken in the United States ; there has never been any sabotage of a Greenpeace vessel like Rainbow Warrior. The only scandals to have preoccupied the SIS, MI5 and GCHQ in recent years have been the unauthorised disclosures made by retired security and intelligence personnel. More than £1 million of taxpayers' money was wasted in the fruitless, counter-productive pursuit of Peter Wright, thereby ensuring that "Spycatcher" became an international best-seller.
Wright was resident abroad, and had acquired Australian citizenship. Accordingly, the public watched the unedifying spectacle of an Australian judge, in an Australian court, with an Australian defendant, deciding what was or was not in the British national interest. GCHQ avoided a similar fiasco by taking out an injunction against a former radio officer, Jock Kane ; as a retiree--a pensioner now working as a milkman in Hampshire--he has been unable to produce his memoirs, but no doubt he will be one of the complainants before the tribunal and the commissioner.
As for the SIS, it is in a curious position following the enactment of the Official Secrets Act in 1989. Two books have driven a coach and horses through the Act. Desmond Bristow was engaged in an acrimonious correspondence with the Treasury solicitor ; he is resident in Spain and his publishers are American, so he held a strong hand when he ignored the threats and released "A Game of Moles" last year. Similarly, Brian Crozier received a series of threats from the Cabinet Secretary regarding his book "Free Agent". The bottom line is that both books, written by retired SIS officers, were perceived by their former employers to be prejudicial to national security : that is quite clear from the exchanges between the various parties. However, absolutely no action of any kind has been taken against them--or, indeed, against the late Nicholas Elliott, who told me shortly before his tragic death some 10 days ago that he he had applied for and received permission to publish a third volume of his memoirs. The first did not mention his lengthy career in the SIS ; the second was a
Column 346delightful account of his clandestine life. Alas, the third will never be published ; but it is certain that other such books will follow. With compulsory redundancies being imposed on the SIS for the first time in the 85 years of its history, perhaps we should anticipate that disenchanted early retirees will capitalise on their experiences.
The current arrangement for dealing with the authorisation of the memoirs of security and intelligence personnel is manifestly unsatisfactory. It is conducted on the basis of nods, winks and threats that amount to impotent bluff. If there is a single issue that affects the operational capacity of all three agencies covered by the Bill, it is disclosure of the kind that I have described. Although I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on his handling of the Bill, I hope that the commission and the tribunal will be allowed to interpret their briefs sufficiently widely to avoid more lapses of the type that brought the security services so unfairly and unnecessarily into disrepute.
Mr. Mullin : The security services have been brought into disrepute over the years because of their own actions, which they no doubt thought would never see the light of day. However, many of those actions did see the light of day, partly due to the disclosures to which the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) has referred. My problem with what has happened in the past--I do not suggest that it is still happening, although I suppose that we shall have to wait a few years to find out--is more fundamental than that expressed by the hon. Member for Torbay. It is a matter of record that, in the past, the security services have to a great extent been targeted against the party which, for 17 of the past 45 years, has formed the Government and that they have on occasion been used to subvert the elected Government.
I do not know whether it is still the case but, at least until fairly recently, the security services were permanently under the control of the friends of one political party. That was certainly the experience of previous Labour Governments. In another place, Lord Jenkins referred to the "in-growing monoculture" of the security services which he found when he was, nominally at least, in charge of them. Unhappily, it has also been the case that the security services have been targeted by their political masters against people involved in legitimate activities--that was the reason why Cathy Massiter resigned.
I suppose that it could be said that the services have for many years been out of everyone's control, and certainly out of Parliament's control. Indeed, until the Bill came before the House, no one had ever suggested that Parliament should have any say in the matter. I believe that they have been out of the control of all Secretaries of State and most Prime Ministers of either party. There is a wider problem. It is also a matter of record that the security services have been paralysed by internal feuding. People who care about national security--many, especially Conservative Members, say that they do--should at least be concerned about the extent to which the operational capability of the security services has been entirely diverted by such feuding. Many Conservatives also claim to be concerned about getting value for money, so they should be concerned about the fact that millions of
Column 347pounds have been wasted by being invested in enterprises that were not effective even within the terms of reference that the security services set themselves.
A further problem was outlined by Robin Robison, a chap who worked in the Cabinet Office until a couple years of ago. He said that domestic telephone tapping had increased massively in recent years. I have no way of confirming his suggestion, although the issue was raised in Committee, that, although GCHQ was supposed to target foreign communications, its vast facilities have been used for domestic tapping. He worked in the Cabinet Office and says that he saw the product of some of those taps.
The litmus test of the new committee to be established by the Bill will be the extent to which it is able to oblige the security services to put a stop to the nonsense that has occurred in the past. The problem will not arise immediately because it is in the nature of things that, whichever Government happen to be in office, the security services tend to be under the control of the friends of one political party--the party which is presently in government. [Hon. Members :-- "Ah!"] The test would come after the next election, were there to be a change of Government. Would a Labour Government be able to receive the same loyal service from the security services as the present Government believe that they receive ? I do not think so. The record suggests that that would not happen. At that point, we would find out whether the committee established by the Bill makes any difference.
I shall cite an example from the 1970s. If forged documents about Swiss bank accounts in the name of, say, the deputy leader of the Labour party suddenly appeared on the market, as happened in the 1970s, would the committee be able to pursue an inquiry and follow the trail wherever it led ? I do not know, but it should be able to do so.
How easily could the committee be nobbled ? Others have commented on that problem, so I shall do so only in passing, but that will be easy. As others have remarked, the Bill gives the security services carte blanche. There is no definition of the national interest, of serious crime or of economic well-being ; there is no definition that limits their activities in any way. As the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) said, there is no definition of what constitutes legitimate dissent.
The second problem with the committee is that, as others have also said, it is a creature not of Parliament but of the Government. It will be appointed by the Prime Minister and will report to the Prime Minister, and it will be the Prime Minister who decides what it sees.
Thirdly, the committee has no powers to compel persons and papers to come before it. In Committee we moved amendments to introduce such powers, and they were rejected. There is no power comparable with Select Committees' reserve powers to require witnesses to give evidence on oath. My right hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert) rightly made much of that issue in Committee, but when the idea was put to the Government they rejected it.
The committee will be staffed not by servants of the House but by civil servants, probably supplied by the Cabinet Office. To a great extent it will be in the hands of people who are servants not of Parliament but of the Government. Furthermore, it appears to be committed to the obsessive secrecy that has surrounded the activities of