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Mr. Stephen: My hon. Friend will be aware that a public interest immunity certificate does not exclude

10 Jan 1996 : Column 259

evidence from proceedings but simply places the matter before the judge, who decides whether the evidence in question is admissible.

Mr. Allason: I only wish that that were the case. I am confident that after the Matrix Churchill report comes out, it will be, but I remind my hon. Friend that a Minister had severe reservations about signing one of the certificates in that case and asked that those reservations be passed on to the judge. They were not passed on. The prosecuting counsel subsequently expressed his dismay at not even knowing that a Minister had had severe reservations.

I recognise that the public interest immunity certificate is a useful tool for the protection of informants, the Security Service, the police, the authorities in Northern Ireland and the Inland Revenue and they have often been usefully deployed, but there are cases in which people have had their defence inhibited by the use of the certificates and they have felt that they have had a raw deal. There are several cases, which I will not go into now, in which defendants have been convicted. Instead of accepting their conviction and doing their bird, the fact that a secret arm of government has interfered in the investigation or the prosecution leaves a nasty taste in the mouth.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater said, several concerns must be dealt with before the Bill can go any further. The tasking, command, integration and accountability of the Security Service have all been raised by my right hon. Friend. I have heard little from the Government today to answer any of those concerns, but I hope that when the Minister of State, Home Office--my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean)--replies to the debate he will be able to respond to them.

I also hope that my right hon. Friend will agree to disclose some of the agreements that he mentioned on the radio this morning with the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the police. As far as I know, they have never been disclosed. They are not in the Library. If the House is to give a fair wind to the Bill, the integration that has been described should be disclosed to the House so that we can satisfy ourselves that the balance between the protection of the community and the protection of defendants accused of serious crimes is absolutely right. If we get it wrong, we will not have another bite at this particular cherry. Therefore, I urge caution on the House. By all means send the Bill up into Committee. I hope that the Committee will scrutinise the legislation line by line. If we do not, we may well live to regret it.

Several hon. Members rose--

Madam Speaker: Order. Before I call the next Member, let me say that one Opposition Member took much more than 30 minutes and a Conservative Back-Bencher took a great deal more than 30 minutes. There is a great deal of interest in the Bill. I cannot impose a 10-minute limit, but I appeal to hon. Members to behave in such a way that I am able to call them all.

6.58 pm

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): There is undoubtedly more agreement between the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) and me tonight than there was when he opposed my ten-minute Bill on trade union rights at GCHQ which I introduced on 25 January 1994, the

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10th anniversary of the ban. I do not criticise the hon. Gentleman for opposing me because as a result of his opposition we won the vote, for what that is worth.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Committee proceedings on the Bill. I hope that I am not hopelessly destroying his chances of being chosen to serve on the Committee when I say that I trust that he will be one of the Conservative members of the Committee. I have no hesitation in saying that, because the last time that we discussed security matters the hon. Gentleman was not chosen and I for one genuinely regretted that fact--I am sure that I was not the only Labour Member to do so. He undoubtedly had an input to make and could not do so because he was not chosen.

I am not necessarily opposed to the measure, although I certainly have a number of reservations and doubts about it, as do many hon. Members, not least on the grounds of accountability. During debates on the intelligence services, I have often said that, even if the curse of terrorism were absent--for 25 years it was far from absent when the IRA and other paramilitaries conducted their terrorist operations--there would undoubtedly be justification for an organisation such as MI5, or whatever it would tend to be called. I am not aware of any democracy, let alone dictatorship, that does not have some form of security organisation. It would be very odd if a democracy did not give itself such protection.

I hope that my use of the past tense will be justified, but I was critical of the way in which MI5 gave the impression that too many of its officials were not merely right wing--they have as much right to be right wing as left wing--but very right wing indeed. Frankly, although employed by an organisation whose task, first and foremost, is the defence of parliamentary democracy, I would question whether those officials--I trust that they were a small minority--had any real confidence in parliamentary democracy. I do not want to keep on about Peter Wright, but he is as good an example as any of someone whom I would certainly not accept had any strong feelings about parliamentary democracy--certainly not the sort of feelings that we have.

As for the present, I hope that those way-out elements are absent from the organisation with which we are dealing tonight. If I had to hazard a guess, I would say that there are far more Conservative voters among the senior ranks in MI5 and MI6 than non-Conservative voters and I have long held that view, but their politics are certainly a matter for themselves.

I accept that it might be useful for MI5 to help in the detection and prevention of serious crime. Like a number of my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), I believe that it is important for the description "serious crime" to be more tightly drawn and I hope that the Minister will accept that. I am sure that it will be necessary for a number of amendments to be tabled in Committee--some probing and some not-- because of those two words.

The Home Secretary might be right to argue that MI5 can deal more effectively with such criminality as he described on occasions than the police acting on their own. I do not underestimate the difficulties and dangers of criminality, certainly as far as the organised drug trade is concerned and because so many young people are involved in drugs and other problems that can endanger their lives. Of course, those are serious problems, but is it really necessary for MI5

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to come in on the act? Would it not be more appropriate for the police to act on their own or with other law enforcement agencies as they do at present?

The fact that problems would arise during court cases has been mentioned. Security Service personnel can give evidence in court on an anonymous basis. Will it be possible for such officers to be cross-examined on their evidence? The position of the police is well regulated by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984--a necessary Act, which laid down clearly the ways in which the police had to act as regards powers of stop and search, entry and seizure, arrest and detention. Moreover, their powers are detailed in the codes of practice through which the Act operates, which all adds up to some control and accountability--control and accountability to which MI5 will not be subject.

The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 also established the Police Complaints Authority. How much more controversial would controversial cases be--the police have been involved in such cases, for example with the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four and so forth-- if MI5 played a role, especially if they were criminal and not simply terrorist cases? We must be very careful and clear. That is why the Committee stage is of such importance with a measure of this type. The wording will have to be more tightly drawn. We do not want to get ourselves into a situation that we will later regret.

Will the Security Service be able to take action to deal with serious crime when it has not been requested to do so by the police and other enforcement agencies? What are the views of the police in the matter? That question has been very much in our minds and has been touched on in the debate. For all that I know, the police may be very enthusiastic and may have been pressing the Home Secretary to give the security services such powers. There are rumours, on the other hand, that the police are not altogether happy, but have not gone public. We are entitled to know their position and, in particular, that of the Metropolitan police. Do they believe that they will be substantially assisted by the security services? Surely we do not want sharp rivalry between the police force and the Security Service. That would not be desirable and nor would it do much to deal with serious crime.

Perhaps the Minister will tell us whether it will be possible for MI5 to carry out such activities, where it believes that that is necessary, without the police being notified--acting on its own, without the sort of co-ordination that would exist in most cases, I assume, between the police and the security services.

Those are the sort of questions that we need to probe in Committee and on Report. I will not vote against the Bill tonight, but while I accept that there might be a case for MI5 having those additional powers, because of all my doubts and reservations I am clear in my mind that the case for proper parliamentary accountability and scrutiny of MI5 is strengthened. I have long argued that case. It is not some issue that I have taken up recently, as I argued it in the 1980s and before. I argued that, as in other democracies in the western world, such as the United States, Germany and the Scandinavian countries, MI5 should receive some parliamentary scrutiny.

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I accept that the Government have taken a modest step in that direction--I was a member of the Standing Committee on the appropriate Bill--by setting up the Intelligence and Security Committee, but it does not satisfy the need for proper parliamentary accountability.

When the likes of myself, my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) and the rest have raised the issue in the past, the Government's response was clear. They said that such accountability was not necessary and that the security services were subject to ministerial control. They said that we had no justification for raising such issues. Although it was not said openly, they hinted that we were just causing trouble. It is interesting to note that, although that was the argument many years ago, it was not quite the argument when the Government conceded that there was a case for some scrutiny--hence the reason for setting up the Intelligence and Security Committee. The Government have accepted, albeit to a limited extent, the need for Parliament or, at least, parliamentarians to look into the work of the security services.

I have never argued that proper parliamentary scrutiny should necessarily operate in exactly the same way as the work of other Select Committees. I do not suggest for a moment that the Select Committee should investigate future operations, or should necessarily investigate those that have already taken place. I do, however, believe that there is a case for parliamentary scrutiny that does not currently exist.

Hon. Members may ask what is wrong with the existing Committee. For one thing, it does not report to Parliament. Unlike other Select Committees, it is not accountable to the House of Commons; it is accountable to the Prime Minister, to whom it reports annually. The Prime Minister decides whether the report, or part of it, should be deleted: he judges whether the report should be submitted to the House in its current form, or in a different form. I do not consider that to be parliamentary scrutiny as such.

Moreover, the Committee does not sit in a parliamentary building. I do not understand that. Other Committees sit upstairs in private, and in many instances--with perfect justification--a policeman is present, either outside or inside the room.

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