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Column 348

the security services for so long. The committee has no power that I can detect to hold any public sessions. I do not see why it should not hold some. As a member of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, I was one of the people invited to lunch with the director of MI5, Mrs. Rimington. Nothing took place at that lunch that could not easily have been said in public.

I do not see why, now or at some time in the future, the committee should not have the power to interview those in charge of the security services, at least about the general principles of their work. I do not see why it should not be able to do what is done in other mature democracies, and interview candidates for the top jobs in those services. Why should they not be interviewed, so that their commitment to parliamentary democracy can be tested in public ? For example, if Mr. Spedding, who has just been appointed as head of MI6, were to come before the committee, one would want to know what he was doing in Chile in 1973. That was a time when the democratically elected Government of that country were overthrown, with much violence. It would be a test of Mr. Spedding's commitment to parliamentary democracy if we asked whether he, representing the security services there, played any part in that process. If Mrs. Rimington were up for the job of head of MI5, as she was a few years ago, and we had the power to conduct such interviews, one would want to talk to her in general terms about her commitment to parliamentary democracy, especially in relation to some of the activities in which F branch of MI5 engaged during the early 1980s--the activities that caused Cathy Massiter to resign. The only concession that we succeeded in extracting from the Government in Committee was an increase in the size of the oversight committee. Although we are grateful for that, it is not adequate. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) made the point that it is much in the interests of the security services that the exercise is credible. I am sure that there are genuine democrats in the security services and that many of them--perhaps the majority--want the services to be properly accountable. In the last few years, there has been a large clear-out of what one former Home Secretary described to me as dead wood, and it is at least arguable that the majority of those in the services are firmly committed to parliamentary democracy and proper accountability, and the Bill does not provide that.

The Bill is the first step on a long road--which is why, in common with my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North, I shall not vote against its Third Reading. I am glad that the committee is being established, and were a future Government so minded, there would be nothing to prevent them from making amendments to rectify some of the problems that I and others outlined.

There has been much speculation about likely candidates for membership of the oversight committee. Some of them were depressingly predictable, and I hope that the committee will include one or two inquiring minds. As the committee is presently empowered, it will not be good enough merely to have inquiring minds. It must have the power to do the job properly--on behalf of Parliament, not the Executive.


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11.1 pm

Dr. Gilbert : I do not usually detain the House at this time of night, and I rise to speak only because I am filled with a great sense of disappointment over missed possibilities. Right hon. and hon. Members who did not serve on the Standing Committee ought to know that we were faced by a Minister who was not only

extraordinarily unbriefed but extraordinarily obdurate.

Normally, it would not matter if a Minister were unbriefed, provided that he had some experience of committee matters. Apart from the GCHQ debate, not one of the amendments with which the two Ministers had to contend had any partisan flavour, yet the Minister of State did not know the powers of Select Committees. He had to go away and be instructed that they have powers to swear witnesses. He did not know the powers in his own Bill with respect to the committee that he was establishing. He had to take advice as to whether it would be able to swear witnesses.

We even had the spectacle of a Queen's counsel, a man of considerable intelligence--to which I pay tribute--and a man who, given the disarray of the Government's Law Officers, has a distinct future as a Law Officer, although that is no great compliment to him, choosing to say that, for all practical purposes, the country no longer needs a law of perjury. It defeats me why the right hon. and learned Gentleman thinks that the law of the land should be as it is in that respect.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman kept telling us that the oversight committee was not a Select Committee, which we all knew, but he never said why. Amendment No. 37, which was understandably not selected, and my hon. Friends pointed out that it is really a prime ministerial committee. In addition, the Minister is totally lacking in ability to master simple arithmetic up to a sum of five. He finds it necessary for the oversight committee's chairman to have two votes--one to create a tie and one to break a tie. That is not the case in a Select Committee, but as the committee is not a Select Committee it shall be different. If we have a five to three to one committee--we must assume that the Minister sensibly relies on there being partisan votes--that is virtually a five to four committee and the chairman will not need two votes because he will have a vote to break a tie. If there is a defection from the Government ranks, it becomes not a five to three to one or a five to four committee but a four to five committee. In that event, the chairman's second vote is of no use to him because he will not be able to use it.

The Minister may have mastered the law but it is clear that he has not mastered the most simple addition tables. He had not appreciated before the Bill came before the House that it was nonsensical to require that one member of the quorum be a Member of the House of Lords, even though the practical absurdities of that requirement were pointed out to him personally before the Bill reached the Floor of the House. We had to wait until today before he conceded that point. Why should such an intelligent Minister behave in such a way ? The word is being put about that it is nothing to do with his Department and nothing to do with the Foreign Office, which was prepared to be reasonable. It is said that the Home Office created the difficulties. If that should be the case, my only hope is that some Home Office officials come before a Select Committee before too long.


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The Bill is the product of Ministers who individually have no Committee experience to speak of. The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of Public Service and Science was kind enough to admit that. Equally, his ministerial colleague has no Committee experience. The Bill is the product of a Government who are terrified of facing a Select Committee.

For all these reasons a great opportunity has been missed. That is a sad thing to have to say. It could all have been so much easier. We could have completed today's proceedings in a fraction of the time that it has taken to reach this stage. However, I welcome the Bill, despite my reservations-- [Interruption.] There is not the slightest inconsistency. I welcome the Bill because it sets a precedent.

Mr. Allason : Give him a job.

Dr. Gilbert : The hon. Gentleman would be surprised by what happened if the Government did that.

As I have said, the Bill sets a precedent for some parliamentary scrutiny of these operations. I hope that the committee will have success. I hope also that my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers), who will respond on behalf of the Opposition, will assure us that one of the first tasks of a Labour Administration will be to ensure that the committee is converted into a full-blown Select Committee.

11.7 pm

Mr. Rogers : Our consideration of the Bill in Committee was extremely interesting. For many of us--those not obsessed with the secret and security services--it was quite a learning experience. I thank all my hon. Friends who served on the Committee and Conservative Members for the positive way in which they approached our debates.

I do not know whether I agree with the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert) about the Minister of State. On occasions, I thought that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was too well briefed. I wish that he had been a little briefer in expounding some of his briefs. It was an experience, however, for many of us to learn about some fundamental matters that are extremely important to society.

We are talking about the security of the nation, the balance of security in the process of law, the balance of security and the rights of individuals, the assertion of parliamentary democracy and accountability and control over the state and the Government. On many occasions it was right to pay tribute to members of the security services for the dedicated work that they have undertaken over many years. It was right also to say on other occasions that there were members of the security services who had let down their comrades as well as letting down the nation by defecting and acting to the detriment of society.

The Opposition recognise that the effectiveness of the country's security and intelligence services depends on a degree of secrecy that would be unacceptable in other institutions. However, that latitude puts the services in a unique position. That is why we tabled amendments to clause 1 and clause 10 in particular so as to focus on the rights and privileges of the security services and on the accountability of those services to Parliament and to democracy.


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Our main concern has always been the control aspect--the process of accountability that is enshrined within the Bill. We regret the Government's minimalist approach. It does not fulfil the Bill's original intention, which was to create a more open society and more open government. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, East that the Government have missed an opportunity to bring about an openness in an aspect of society that has been secret for too long. We are probably the most secretive society of all the western democracies.

Unfortunately, clause 10, which sets up the Intelligence and Security Committee, does not also set up a process of accountability. There is no breaking of the ring of secrecy. There is no way of operating outside the ring of the Secretary of State and the Joint Intelligence Committee tasking the security services, of the Secretary of State issuing a warrant so that they can operate outside the law where they feel that that is necessary, of the services reporting back to the Secretary of State, the Secretary of State filtering information before it comes to the Intelligence and Security Committee and the Prime Minister and the head of the agencies using their right to sideline information. The circle is too tight and too complete.

The committee will be a charade, a pretence at accountability. The Minister responsible for open government may shake his head, but the proof is in the pudding. I hope that the committee has a better record than the tribunal that was set up under the Security Service Act 1989. That tribunal has been what I feel this committee will be--a pretence at accountability.

We will not force a Division because the Opposition accept that we need secret services, and that they need to be secret. We commend the Government for going as far as they have, but we wish that they had taken this opportunity to go a little bit further, accepted many of our constructive amendments and ended up with a better Act. Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time : The House divided : Ayes 216, Noes 10.

Division No. 226] [11.13

AYES

Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)

Alexander, Richard

Allason, Rupert (Torbay)

Amess, David

Arbuthnot, James

Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)

Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)

Ashby, David

Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E)

Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)

Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)

Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North)

Baldry, Tony

Beggs, Roy

Bellingham, Henry

Bonsor, Sir Nicholas

Booth, Hartley

Boswell, Tim

Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)

Bowden, Andrew

Bowis, John

Brandreth, Gyles

Brazier, Julian

Bright, Graham

Brooke, Rt Hon Peter

Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)

Browning, Mrs. Angela

Budgen, Nicholas

Burns, Simon

Burt, Alistair

Butler, Peter

Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry)

Carlisle, John (Luton North)

Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)

Carrington, Matthew

Carttiss, Michael

Cash, William

Clappison, James

Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coe, Sebastian

Congdon, David

Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)

Coombs, Simon (Swindon)

Cope, Rt Hon Sir John

Cran, James

Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)

Davies, Quentin (Stamford)

Davis, David (Boothferry)

Day, Stephen


Column 352

Deva, Nirj Joseph

Devlin, Tim

Dorrell, Stephen

Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James

Dover, Den

Duncan, Alan

Duncan-Smith, Iain

Durant, Sir Anthony

Elletson, Harold

Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter

Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)

Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)

Evans, Roger (Monmouth)

Faber, David

Fabricant, Michael

Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)

Forman, Nigel

Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)

Forth, Eric

Foster, Don (Bath)

Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)

Freeman, Rt Hon Roger

French, Douglas

Gallie, Phil

Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan

Gill, Christopher

Gillan, Cheryl

Gorman, Mrs Teresa

Gorst, John

Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)

Greenway, John (Ryedale)

Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)

Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn

Hague, William

Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie

Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)

Hampson, Dr Keith

Hanley, Jeremy

Harris, David

Hawkins, Nick

Hawksley, Warren

Heathcoat-Amory, David

Hendry, Charles

Hicks, Robert

Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)

Horam, John

Howard, Rt Hon Michael

Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W)

Hunter, Andrew

Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas

Jack, Michael

Jenkin, Bernard

Jessel, Toby

Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey

Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)

Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr)

Kilfedder, Sir James

Kirkhope, Timothy

Knapman, Roger

Knight, Greg (Derby N)

Kynoch, George (Kincardine)

Lamont, Rt Hon Norman

Lang, Rt Hon Ian

Legg, Barry

Leigh, Edward

Lennox-Boyd, Mark

Lidington, David

Lightbown, David

Lilley, Rt Hon Peter

Lord, Michael

Luff, Peter

Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas

MacGregor, Rt Hon John

Maclean, David

McLoughlin, Patrick

McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick

Madel, Sir David

Maitland, Lady Olga

Malone, Gerald

Mans, Keith

Marlow, Tony

Marshall, John (Hendon S)

Martin, David (Portsmouth S)

Mates, Michael

Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian

Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick

Merchant, Piers

Mills, Iain

Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)

Moate, Sir Roger

Molyneaux, Rt Hon James

Moss, Malcolm

Nelson, Anthony

Neubert, Sir Michael

Newton, Rt Hon Tony

Nicholls, Patrick

Nicholson, David (Taunton)

Norris, Steve

Oppenheim, Phillip

Ottaway, Richard

Page, Richard

Paice, James

Patnick, Irvine

Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey

Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth

Porter, David (Waveney)

Portillo, Rt Hon Michael

Rathbone, Tim

Redwood, Rt Hon John

Renton, Rt Hon Tim

Richards, 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

Shaw, David (Dover)

Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)

Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)

Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)

Soames, Nicholas

Speed, Sir Keith

Spencer, Sir Derek

Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)

Spink, Dr Robert

Spring, Richard

Sproat, Iain

Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)

Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John

Stephen, Michael

Stern, Michael

Streeter, Gary

Sweeney, Walter

Sykes, John

Taylor, Ian (Esher)

Taylor, John M. (Solihull)

Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)

Thomason, Roy

Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)

Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)

Thurnham, Peter

Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)

Tracey, Richard

Tredinnick, David

Trend, Michael

Twinn, Dr Ian

Viggers, Peter

Waldegrave, Rt Hon William

Walden, George

Waller, Gary

Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)

Waterson, Nigel

Watts, John

Wells, Bowen

Whitney, Ray

Whittingdale, John

Widdecombe, Ann

Wilkinson, John


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