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I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will accept that the official Opposition are also concerned about the continuity of collection of sensitive material. The collection of material is carried out electronically ; it is not necessary for someone to be present for material to be collected. At the weekend, for example, the number of staff present is very much diminished. Only 10 per cent. of the work force are involved in data collection, so the idea that the collection of material ceases if someone is away is entirely false.
Mr. Molyneaux : I hope that, in view of the rumoured cuts, the hon. Gentleman is not accidentally going to incite the Treasury to tell us that a much smaller work force would be acceptable at GCHQ. However, I accept some of what he said. If we need all those employees at GCHQ, it disproves his idea that tape recorders can run of their own accord--because of my limited experience of modern technology, I prefer the old pencil stub.
It has been suggested that new clause 1 could lead to a stoppage in the maintenance of aircraft engines by private
Column 275workmen or a stoppage in a Whitehall Department, even at the Ministry of Defence. I accept that it could mean that an aircraft's take-off was delayed for 48 hours, that a payment order from the Paymaster General might be delayed, or that a cheque might not be issued and tenders not collected by the appropriate date, but the continuity that usually applies in those instances is very different from that at GCHQ where it is absolutely essential. Disruption at GCHQ would cause a great blank in the intelligence picture, which could never be filled from any other source.
Mr. Peter Mandelson (Hartlepool) : I appreciate the fact that the right hon. Gentleman is drawing a distinction between the production of important engines and the work of GCHQ. Is that not precisely why the employee representatives involved offered a no-strike, no-disruption, agreement at GCHQ if their independent union were to be properly recognised again ?
Mr. Molyneaux : I am grateful for the civilised way in which the hon. Gentleman asked his question. I should be greatly reassured if I knew what caused the earlier strike, and what guarantee there was that such a strike would not occur again.
Mr. McWilliam : The earlier strike was caused by management's insistence on imposing unacceptable working hours and conditions on employees of GCHQ. The union said that it was not prepared to accept them, so the management imposed them. That was the cause of the strike, so it seems perverse to blame the trade unions.
Mr. Molyneaux : I was careful not to blame the unions, because I have a great deal of respect for them. I expect that my party comprises a greater proportion of trade unionists than any other party represented in the House, so I do not discount the unions' attitude.
It would have been a great help if we had heard the hon. Gentleman's explanation earlier, but it does not entirely remove my worry. I want to be certain that GCHQ will not be put in jeopardy, and that the collection of information will not be interrupted, even for a matter of hours, because of some mysterious cause or even bloody-mindedness on the part of either side in a dispute. It is for that reason, not because I believe that trade unions are disloyal--I hope that I have made that clear--that I must with some reluctance oppose new clause 1.
Mr. Allason : GCHQ understandably dominated the Bill's Second Reading and the Committee stage. New clause 1 goes to the heart of the issue of trade union recognition at GCHQ and, of course, of convention 87 of the International Labour Organisation. However, there are two reasons why the new clause should be opposed. First, GCHQ is a special case. One must go back not just to its origins as the Government code and cipher school during the second world war but to room 39 of the naval intelligence division during the first world war, when the division achieved disproportionate success in the prosecution of war. I remind the House that, in 1917, it was as a direct result of the decryption of enciphered traffic by room 39 that the Zimmermann telegram brought the
Column 276United States into the war. Room 39 then had a considerable impact on the battle of Dogger Bank and, of course, on the battle of Jutland.
Thereafter, there was enormous sensitivity about the interception of communications. The official secrets legislation of 1919 spells it out in black and white that the Government were authorised to intercept cables, telephone calls and other communications, so it was something of a surprise that Mr. Chapman Pincher should have made such a fuss about the D-notice affair with Lord Wilson, who was then Prime Minister.
The Government were perfectly entitled to intercept communications, but there was a great deal of sensitivity about the issue. Of course, the moment that someone becomes aware that his communications are being intercepted, he becomes a great deal more discreet. The 1924 White Paper was arguably one of the gravest breaches of security that this country has ever faced--a Prime Minister decided to compromise national security by disclosing details of secret communications that had been passing between the Soviet embassy in London and Moscow. They revealed that the trade agreement that had been made was going to be ignored by the Soviet authorities. There was a short-term advantage for the Government in that, but, in the long term, it had the effect of preventing the operation of GCCS. That is why I mention it now.
Much has been said to the effect that new clause 1 will not interfere with the continuity of operations at GCHQ. That is not the case. It is worth remembering that, in 1938, during the Munich crisis, the Prime Minister's first opportunity to know whether he had achieved any success with Adolf Hitler was when the Deutschland left the Spanish port of Vigo. GCCS was monitoring radio traffic from the Deutschland, a very large German naval vessel.
The question was whether it was going to turn west and south and continue its intended cruise to South America with a crew of trainees, in which case Mr. Chamberlain could be assured that he had achieved what he wanted from Munich and there was not to be immediate war ; or whether the Deutschland turned north and east from Vigo, in which case it would be assumed that the Deutschland, returning to port, was crewed by a crack crew of naval seamen, which meant that war was fairly imminent.
That is the kind of crucial undertaking never disclosed at the time, or in any history book, but it is a communication between the cryptographers and analysts, and the individuals who advise the Prime Minister and the Cabinet of such sensitive activities. Nobody would underestimate the achievement of GCCS, and thereafter GCHQ, during the second world war at Bletchley park, where a disproportionate contribution was made to the prosecution of the war by about 12,000 people who worked at that establishment.
However, the difficulty that faces us today, which also faced the GCHQ employees in 1984, is the fact that they are in a sense victims of their own success.
One of the questions raised earlier in the debate was why, when the industrial action took place between 1979 and 1981, the Government took no action until 1984. People ask whether that is evidence of some kind of paranoia, or at least unreasonable behaviour, on the part of the Government and the Prime Minister of the day. However, at no time in the post-war period was GCHQ ever described as or admitted to be a cryptographic organisation. It was never mentioned as an organisation
Column 277devoted to the interception and decryption, or indeed to the security, of communications. It was listed simply as the communications department of the Foreign Office.
The change between 1981 and 1984 was brought about by the criminal prosecution of Geoffrey Prime. For the first time in the history of GCHQ and GCCS, somebody had compromised security and provided secrets to the Soviets. As a result of his criminal conduct, Geoffrey Prime was the subject of an investigation and a prosecution at the Old Bailey. It was the disclosures then made publicly at the Old Bailey that enabled the Government to introduce the ban that would have brought, indeed did bring, GCHQ into common parlance.
Opposition Members may have a distant recollection of a Labour Administration, and it is worth remembering that it was a Labour Government who brought criminal proceedings against three people who disclosed the work of GCHQ, and a Labour Government who arranged for the deportation of the two people who wrote the notorious article in Time Out .
All that is neatly forgotten now, but at that time Labour Ministers were persuaded of the enormous importance of the work of GCHQ, and of keeping its activities secret. There was some controversy during that period but, to their undying credit, Labour Ministers were willing to go the whole hog.
The two people were expelled from this country. They exhausted their appeals procedures, but the Home Secretary of the day never lost his backbone. Thus, between 1979 and 1981, the Government were extremely reluctant to draw more attention to GCHQ. Regardless of whether the right decision was made, that was the explanation. The proposition that in 1984 the Prime Minister and the Government took arbitrary action is utter nonsense.
As for the International Labour Organisation, many Conservative Members who have studied its history will have considerable reservations about any judgment or criticism from that quarter. Certainly, until the mid-1950s, the ILO was regarded virtually as a branch of Soviet military intelligence. [Hon. Members :-- "What ?"] Yes. I shall not detain the House with a long list of the intelligence connections, but a clear link was established by a royal commission, through, for example, some work conducted in Canada in 1945. ILO members were identified as obvious Soviet intelligence personnel.
Mr. Winnick : I do not understand the logic of the hon. Gentleman's case. Even if it is possible--and indeed, in view of the nature of the Soviet Union, likely--that there were agents in the ILO, so what ? No doubt the same was true of the United Nations. During the period of communism in Russia and elsewhere, should we have abolished the United Nations, or discontinued our membership of it, simply because the Soviet Union was doing its usual work of destabilisation, along the lines that the hon. Gentleman has suggested ?
Mr. Allason : I am grateful for that intervention. I merely add that I recall the ILO being surprisingly quiet about the rights of workers who wanted to exercise their right to work at Grunwick. The political discrimination of the ILO has been remarkable when it looks for particular issues on which to go in to bat.
GCHQ is an important organisation, and its work must not be undermined by any interruption, albeit temporary.
Column 278The issue of continuity has rather been missed in the debate hitherto, so I shall give the House a brief analysis. Continuity is not a matter of simple data collection, or of one individual hunched over a machine--or indeed, if the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) is to be believed, switching it on on a Friday and switching it off on a Monday when he comes in to work. There is the matter of collateral.
First, there is the collection of electronic data. That involves more than one person. Several people have to do it to ensure that it is accurate. If there is any corruption, the rest of the text may well be lost. That is the lesson that history teaches us. Secondly, there must be continuous analysis of the data product. There should be no interruption of that. Finally, none of it is at all relevant unless it can be received in time by the appropriate departments and politicians. Anyone who doubts that should simply look at the history books. It is perfectly clear that, in December 1941, there was an enormous amount of cryptographic evidence of an impending Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, but none of the material was analysed in time. The White House did not receive it until nine days after the attack.
The statistical suggestion has been made that, as there are 6,500 or 7,000 employees at GCHQ, where only 10,000 days have been lost, one can extrapolate that that is the equivalent of everybody not working on one particular day during the year. Things do not work like that. The importance of intelligence is that it saves lives. It is not any kind of game.
If there had been good intelligence, we should not have had to fight the Falklands war or the Gulf war. Back beyond that, good intelligence would have meant that the Israelis would not have been taken by surprise during Yom Kippur in October 1973, and the allies would not have been taken by surprise in Korea, the Americans during the Tet offensive in 1968.
Good intelligence saves lives and prevents bloodshed. Surely that is the point. Any disruption of GCHQ's activities will inevitably compromise intelligence.
Mr. Allason : If the right hon. Gentleman has the honour to serve on the Intelligence and Security Committee, I hope that he will make a greater contribution than that. I fear that his remarks will be remembered by members of the Security Service, Secret Intelligence Service and GCHQ, who have saved tens of thousands of lives. If the right hon. Gentleman is ever a member of the committee and gets to see classified information, I hope that he will return to the House and acknowledge the extraordinary work of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ in saving lives and preventing terrorist bombs being placed. Even within the right hon. Gentleman's short memory, he should be able to recall specific incidents. In one instance, a suspect was followed through the west end carrying bombs--he left bombs in wastepaper baskets, and lives were lost. In particular, one person was killed in a pub. Good intelligence saves lives, and is exceptionally important.
Column 2796 pm
Sir John Nott said that GCHQ had operated continuously, and that there had been no threat to its operational efficiency during his term of office. He was talking about the Falklands war, but I described a scenario in which good intentions prevent bloodshed. The right hon. Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert) will recall that, when Lord Owen was Foreign Secretary, he presided over a considerable intelligence success. In 1977, there was clear evidence of an Argentine attack in the Falklands, and Britain deployed two hunter-killer submarines in the south Atlantic. The news of their deployment was deliberately leaked in Buenos Aires, and no Argentine attack took place.
Mr. Rogers : I remind the hon. Gentleman that the statement by Sir John Nott, then Secretary of State for Defence, that was much quoted on Second Reading, in Committee and today was made on 14 April 1981.
Mr. Allason : That may be the case, but Sir John did not have responsibility for GCHQ. That brings me neatly to the difference between the status of GCHQ personnel and that of their military counterparts.
A large number of GCHQ's activities are conducted by military personnel-- Air Force analysts, two special signals regiments and naval interception operators. There is a difference between them. In legal terms or in terms of the trade union ban, there would have been no difference at all if it had been clear at the time that it would be impossible to disclose the nature of the work undertaken by GCHQ. That relates to my reference to GCHQ as the victim of its own success. Its work was of such priority that it was impossible to disclose its exact nature.
I do not impugn the loyalty of GCHQ staff members, and neither, I am sure, do my right hon. and hon. Friends. Personal disloyalty is not an issue here. All GCHQ staff were given the right of abandoning the opportunity to join an outside trade union, and many exercised it. They also exercised their right to join a staff association. Our earlier discussion related to just 14 people who, for one reason or another, decided against both options. That matter is for them. The Government certainly bent over backwards to provide them with alternative employment and to give them opportunities in a non-classified field outside GCHQ.
Of the many thousands of people who opted to accept financial compensation for the loss of their right to join an outside trade union, a tiny minority chose exclusion. It was entirely self-imposed.
GCHQ is an extraordinarily significant organisation. It makes an enormous contribution to this country's security, and it is on a par with the Security Service and Secret Intelligence Service. I have not heard Opposition Members demand that members of MI5 or SIS should have the right to join the First Division Association. Through their membership of the federation, GCHQ staff enjoy a far greater chance of obtaining better pay and conditions.
When I recently interviewed Yuri Modin, who was for many years a Soviet intelligence officer based in this country, he said, "MI5 officers run the very best union in the country." I asked him what he meant and he replied, "Whenever I wanted to be active, I arranged to have breakfast in exactly the same cafe in Holland Park avenue every day. It was entirely agreed with my MI5 counterparts that they would be there at 8 o'clock each morning to start work. When I was under surveillance in any pub, I gave an
Column 280agreed sign when I was finishing my last drink, so that the MI5 watchers would have an opportunity to drink up in time."
That may be a slightly backhanded compliment from Yuri Modin, for whom I have been trying to obtain a visa for some time, but MI5 has a good union. The SIS and GCHQ have every reason to expect that their own staff associations will exercise a disproportionate amount of influence over the Government of the day. Accordingly, I urge the House to oppose new clause 1.
Mrs. Bridget Prentice : I find myself in the same unfortunate position as on Second Reading of following the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) in his forage through history--not all of which was accurate.
I am a member of a trade union, as are all my right hon. and hon. Friends, and I am proud of it.
Some Conservative Members have been trade union members, and may still be, and I am sure that they are equally proud of their membership. That is why this debate is so strange. Conservative Members seem to believe that, while it is perfectly acceptable for them to be trade union members, it is unacceptable for other groups--particularly for people who perform important, professional and patriotic work.
The Government's reason for banning trade unions at GCHQ had nothing to do with national security, but was a product of an innate hatred of trade unionism and collectivity by the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. Unfortunately, the present Prime Minister does not have the gumption to stand up and say that that was wrong. What is it about the Government that makes them so afraid of people who like to work together in a collective and co-operative fashion ? What makes the Government unable to realise that that can have a positive outcome on those people, collectively and individually ? Mention was made of the breach of ILO convention 87 that the Government made or are about to make, and it has been said that, by the end of this year, it is likely that the Government will have taken the United Kingdom into the same group as the Sudan, which was censured for slavery, and El Salvador, which was censured for the murder of trade unionists.
It is both disgusting and despicable that the Government are prepared to accept that censure. They should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves, but they are not. They care nothing for the people who work on their behalf to ensure our national security. Indeed, they do not care for anyone who works in the public service. It has been clear over the past 15 years that the Government, throughout all their strands, have no conception of what it is to work on behalf of others, which so many people believe to be the right thing to do. Much has been made of the 10,000 days lost at GCHQ through industrial action. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) said, that number is tiny when compared with the days lost as a result of sickness. The days-lost argument was dismissed by Sir John Nott, when he explained that operations had not been affected. Days lost stand as nothing when we remember those who have been sacked for being trade unionists at GCHQ.
Column 281The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) talked about one of the 14 men who were sacked at GCHQ. I shall mention Mike Grindley, who was the only Chinese technical linguist. What was the disruption to operational services when the Government sacked Mike Grindley ? As I have said, his sacking meant that there was no technical Chinese linguist at GCHQ. What was the Government's response ? They chose to close the department.
So much for the collection of data. So much for the need to have that data collected day in and day out for the consistency that Conservative Members have talked about this afternoon. The department was simply shut down. Suddenly, it was no longer important. It is clear that the Government's arguments are fallacious.
What was the basis on which trade unions at GCHQ were banned ? It took the Government three years to come to that decision following the industrial action between 1979 and 1981. It is incomprehensible that there is a connection between the ban and the industrial action that took place three years earlier.
What was happening to national security between 1981 and 1984 ? Were the Government not concerned about national security during that period ? Is that why it took them so long to get round to deciding that everything was the fault of trade unions, and that trade unions had to be banned ?
I am not surprised that Conservative Members become excited when they find that people have principles and are prepared to stand by them. It was interesting that Conservative Members had little to say in Committee except on trade unions at GCHQ. When the issue arose, they suddenly became fired up. It seems that they do not understand that people might put principles before money. Perhaps that should not surprise us. That attitude or philosphy has driven the Government for the past 15 years. It is beyond their comprehension that people might believe in things that matter to them as individuals rather than in a material fashion.
My right hon. and hon. Friends and I want to put it on record that the employees of GCHQ are both loyal and patriotic. Unfortunately, Conservative Members are incapable of understanding that. The Government's actions in 1984 were shameful. The Government continue to cover themselves in shame while they ban workers at GCHQ from having the right to choose to be a member of a trade union. When Conservative Members troop through the Lobby this evening to ensure that the ban remains in place, they will be covering themselves with the same shame that should attach to the Sudan, to Brazil, to El Salvador and to any other countries whose Governments do not allow their workers the freedom of expression that we ask for the workers at GCHQ.
Conservative Members may vote down the clause, but the time will come, sooner rather than later, when a Labour Government will return the right of trade unionism to the patriotic, professional and principled men at GCHQ. We shall be proud to do so.
Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde) : When I was 16 years of age, I served my apprenticeship in a firm at Govan called Matthew Wylies. When I was presented with my first union card, I was a
Column 282proud young man. I am now 50 years of age, and I am proud that I still hold the same card. I come from a family of trade unionists. My late father was a trade unionist. He served in the Royal Navy for nine years. He was on HMS Medway when it sank.
I heard that the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) is getting together the bones of a new book. Bearing in mind what he had to say, it will not be a best seller among trade unionists.
I have had many conversations with friends and members of my family about their belief in trade unionism. We have never seen trade unionism as a threat to the nation's security. I am not kidded by the comments of some Conservative Members. I believe that the Government have inherited a vindictive policy from the former Prime Minister, whose hatred of trade unions and anything that smacked of trade unionism was well known. She used trade unionism at GCHQ as a lever. It is appalling that the folk at GCHQ have had their democratic right to be members of a trade union withdrawn in the name of national security. The argument that the Government have advanced is spurious and undemocratic. The blanket ban is completely illogical. Thousands of men and women laid down their lives to beat Hitler. Many folk have laid down their lives since for our country in the Falklands and other wars. I am sure that many of those people were members of trade unions. How can we deny those who work in GCHQ the membership of a trade union on the basis that that could jeopardise national security ? The Government's approach is appalling. It is a travesty of justice.
Before I entered the Chamber, I explained to a couple of trade unionists what I was about to do and say. They are workers in a royal ordnance factory. I am sure that such people are involved in work that is sensitive in terms of our country's defence. I am sure also that they never exploited their positions by telling others what they are doing. We know that in a crisis they will ensure that ammunition is ready and available for soldiers, sailors and whoever needs it to defend our nation.
People say to me, "Tommy, to be a member of a trade union gives us a sense of pride. We are proud to be part of the great trade union movement of this country. It is an organisation that has always put the country to the fore." More important, it has put people to the fore. It continues to fight for the rights of the people, but not for folk who give away secrets, people who are prepared to see our country invaded and dominated by an enemy.
When I was a young man, I worked at Rolls-Royce. I was involved in the production of military equipment. None of the people with whom I worked was a traitor. Indeed, they would have been angry if they had even been thought of as traitors. Yet the Government have banned the folk at GCHQ from being members of a trade union.
Why are they being denied that right ? I have not heard a Conservative Member state clearly why the folk at GCHQ are not entitled to be democratic members of a trade union. The Government's stance is unbelievable.
Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South-East) : Does my hon. Friend find it strange that Conservative Members supported the rights of Solidarity in Poland yet denied the same rights to workers in this country ? Does he agree that it is only right-wing Governments, if we bear in mind history, and especially events in Latin America, who attack trade unionists ? That is because the positive role of trade
Column 283unionists is the defence of democracy. Nevertheless, Conservative Members have had much to say about reds under the bed, for example.
Mr. Graham : My hon. Friend is right. In the past, the Government have used anything to support their arguments for what they feel is right. They support trade unions in Poland, but they do not support them here. Trade unions in Poland can go on strike, but those in Britain cannot. I find such logic distasteful, to say the least. It would be great if we all had hindsight and could look back and say, "If we had known this, we would not have done that." It would be magic if we had a crystal ball and we could see what faces the world and Britain--we would perhaps see an important step forward in the restructuring of Britain--but while the Government maintain their view on civil rights, particularly the civil rights of those at GCHQ, we shall never have democracy and we shall never make Britain great. The Government do not trust our people. They do not trust the men and women who work at GCHQ to be good solid citizens who will not stoop to treachery. They tell us that they do not believe that those folk should be members of a trade union because it would put national security at risk. I could go on, but I do not wish to speak for too long.
No matter how often the Government try, they cannot justify the trade union ban at GCHQ. We used to hear the statement that trade union decisions for the Labour party conference were reached in a smoke-filled room. We all know that that was nonsense. Even if it did contain an element of truth, the Government's decision was reached over champagne glasses and big cigars by people who do not understand what trade unionism is about. They do not understand that trade unionists see themselves as a part of the country and want to take part in the building of the country.
Only with the engine of trade unionism and with the solid backing of workers with rights will Britain ever become a good place in which to stay. Only then will we see decent pensions and decent education for young people. Only if we give folk democratic rights will they have a sense of pride in their nation and work hard to create a good Britain in which to live. The Government should do the right thing and restore the democratic right of every citizen in this country to be a member of a trade union if they so desire.
Dr. Gilbert : I feel that I should start by apologising to the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason), who is not in his place. I clearly over- taxed his mental equipment when I intervened in his speech. I promise never to intervene on him again. I would have liked to have been able to say that to the hon. Gentleman's face, but as he was so discourteous as to leave the Chamber only a couple of moments after my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mrs. Prentice) began her speech, I feel that I owe him no courtesy on this occasion. I will not detain the House for long. I support virtually everything that has been said with such eloquence, knowledge and passion by Labour Members, except for one thing. I do not necessarily pray in aid any of the authorities that they have prayed in aid this evening. I do not give a toss what the International Labour Organisation says about the issue at Cheltenham and I am not panting to
Column 284know what the European Court of Human Rights has to say about it. I do not need either of those organisations, however august they may be, to tell me that what was done was sleazy and vindictive, had nothing to do with defence considerations and sprang from the Government's mentality, which has left, among other things, this great city of London without any proper governance for many years.
The only other reason that I am on my feet is to make it clear that even those Labour Members who could be regarded as pretty hawkish on defence and security matters--I make no apology for that, never have done and never will do in this place--are enthusiastically at one in support of the new clause and will vote for it with great enthusiasm. We will not do so simply because we are Lobby fodder.
Mr. David Davis : I agree with the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) on one thing--I, too, pay credit to the work of the staff at GCHQ. I hope that he will take it well that I also agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason), who said the same thing, as did a number of others.
There have been some well-informed speeches this evening, not least by my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. French), who has a direct constituency interest and who made some excellent points about the whole debate. I particularly associate myself with one of those points--the credit that he paid to the staff federation. I do not want to labour that point, just to reinforce it. Although he is not here, I appreciate the remarks of the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), who has more reason than most to have a special interest in the matter.
Mr. Winnick : I am grateful to the Minister for allowing me to intervene at such an early stage in his speech. Since the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. French) did not give way, will the Minister confirm that the staff union, which to us is just a company union, was refused recognition as a genuine, independent trade union by the certification officer ? Its application was turned down and rightly so. On appeal, the employment appeals tribunal upheld the decision of the certification officer. As he made clear, that union, if it can be described as such, exists only because the director general allows it to continue as an organisation.
Mr. Davis : I shall answer the hon. Gentleman exactly. He was rather inexact in his question because he used a variety of words such as "genuine", as well as "independent". The one word that he was right about was "independent". About 80 trade unions are listed as not independent. Like the staff federation, many of them have been commended by the certification officer for being effective, which they are, but they are not certified as independent. They include the National Union of Mineworkers area unions. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has any reason to run those down.
Clearly, it is the first duty of the Government to safeguard the security of the nation. In the context of the new clause, it is the principal responsibility of Government to maintain the security and effectiveness of GCHQ. The Government set out their objective in 1984--to ensure the continuous undisrupted operation of GCHQ. The Government's action in 1984 has been effective in ensuring the continuous operation of GCHQ since then.
Disruption of GCHQ operations posed a substantive risk to the country's security. Industrial action was taken
Column 285with the express intention of causing disruption and it succeeded in doing so. The Government clearly had a duty to act.
The continued effective and efficient operation of GCHQ requires that there is no division or confusion of loyalties.
In practice, membership of external unions has led to a risk of divided loyalties, a point that I shall make in some detail later. That is not a theoretical matter--it has happened in the past. Labour's case today, and to some extent that of the Liberal Democrats, has rested on arguments that go something like, "The strikes did not do any material harm and if they did, that was not really intended anyway, it was just a spat with the management locally". All those arguments are fatuous.
The Opposition's position is that industrial action involving GCHQ in the period 1979 to 1981 did not harm national security. How can they be so sure ? The point of GCHQ is to listen continuously for possible threats to the country or to its citizens. Any break in its vigil poses a potential threat. With modern techniques, vast amounts of data can be sent in a short space of time. A few seconds' gap is enough to miss a vital instruction to terrorists.
In these days of burst transmission, even a speech by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) could be transmitted in a few seconds. We should bear in mind that one could be trying to intercept, for example, one-word instructions that may launch an operation, a terrorist action or something of that nature. The whole point about GCHQ is that it operates seven days a week, 24 hours a day, 60 minutes in the hour.
Mr. Carlile : Are we hearing a Minister say for the very first time that there were some gaps in communications--that they were not received ? He should answer that directly, because if there were, this is the first time that the claim has been made in the 16 years since the dispute began.
Mr. Davis : I shall come back to the point in a minute. It is not possible to forecast when a state-sponsored terrorist organisation will communicate with its masters, or when other actions by an antagonistic state will occur. In pursuit of the maintenance of continuous operations, it is vital that staff at GCHQ do not face conflicts of loyalty that may lead to a loss of efficiency, or to a loss of coverage, or to any breakdown of GCHQ activities. In 1979-81, 10,000 man days were lost as a result of union action, and they were lost in critical areas of work. The right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) made a rather fatuous point in this connection. He said that the 10,000 days lost were fewer than the number of days lost owing to sickness or holidays, but the latter, of course, were not targeted. GCHQ, like any properly run organisation, is designed to allow for absences for jury days, holidays and so on. The industrial action was set against the background of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Iranian hostage
Column 286crisis, Soviet troops on the border of Poland and rising state-sponsored terrorism in a number of countries. The Opposition must accept that there was a least some disruption. The unions themselves accepted as much.
"The selective action by non-industrial civil servants has hindered some defence activities, but neither training exercises nor essential operations have been interrupted."--[ Official Report , 14 April 1981 ; Vol. 3, c. 136.]
Later, the then Prime Minister said that Sir John was referring only to military operations :
"GCHQ did not come under his then Department and does not now."--[ Official Report , 31 January 1984 ; Vol. 53, c. 136.]
As I told the Committee, about 3,000 soldiers act on behalf of GCHQ gathering military data. The industrial action did not interfere with their duties because they could not go on strike in any case. As I was saying, the Opposition must accept that there was some disruption because the unions themselves accepted that. At the Employment Select Committee meeting on 8 February 1984, at page 39 and section 77, it was reported that Mr. McCall of the Council of Civil Service Trade Unions had been asked :
"have you disrupted security in the past, by industrial action ?"
and that he had replied