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8.56 pm

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): This has been a good debate marred only by the characteristic contribution of the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis). He went to great lengths to tell us that the World Peace Council was a Soviet front organisation, but as everyone in politics and, I assume, in this House, knew that from day one, it was not startling news.

Whenever there is a call for greater accountability of the security services, the fear is always expressed, as it has been to a limited extent today, that that would undermine the work being undertaken. That was the excuse for retaining the ban on unions at GCHQ from the beginning of 1984. Labour opposed that ban and promised that once we were elected, it would go, as it did within days of our victory last May. Would anyone suggest that in the months that have elapsed since, its work has been in any way undermined by the fact that people have the right, which they should have in a democracy, of belonging to a trade union and having the union recognised by management?

In the not-so-distant past, any form of parliamentary Committee was opposed. It was long argued that it would be wrong for parliamentarians to be involved in examining the work of the security services.

In the 1983 Parliament, when I was a member of the Home Affairs Committee--I am again a member of that Committee--it was decided to look into the work of the special branches of the police. As far as I know, it was the first time that that had ever been done by a parliamentary Select Committee. Critics outside argued that we should not do that, as the special branches worked closely with the security forces. However, we did. Our report was not unanimous; it was a majority-and-minority report, but no one suggested afterwards that the work undertaken by special branches was undermined as a result of our inquiry.

There has been a tendency to question whether such work should be undertaken. As I have said in the past, I have never doubted that even if there were no terrorism in Northern Ireland, from Republican or Loyalist sources, or even if international terrorism did not exist, the work of the security services in a democracy such as ours would be essential. Moreover, I know of no democracy, let alone dictatorship, where such work is not undertaken in some form or other.

Those involved in extremist organisations that want to undermine and, if possible, destroy parliamentary democracy should be targeted. Who would suggest that the National Front, the British National party or other such organisations should not be targeted? No Labour Member would suggest that extremists on the ultra left who carry out activities that are not meant to advance the cause of parliamentary democracy should not be targeted. How far they should be targeted is a matter of judgment for the security services, but I have never disputed the fact that such work is necessary.

It is important, however, that the security services should carry out such work with the clear understanding of what they are about. The former Under-Secretary of State for Women, my hon. Friend the Member for

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Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock), explained what happened to her as a result of being involved in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. She quoted Cathy Massiter, a former MI5 employee, whom even Conservatives, I believe, respect for the manner in which she spoke out. She concluded that much of the work that she was doing was simply wrong, and said:

    "Anyone who was on the Executive of the National Council for Civil Liberties"--

now known simply as Liberty--

    "who worked for the organisation, was an active member to the degree of being, say, a branch secretary of the organisation, would be placed on permanent record and routine inquiries were instituted to identify such people and police inquiries were sought."

These people were not extremists. Indeed, it can be argued that they did a useful job in defending our civil liberties. How can what happened possibly be justified?

In an Adjournment debate on 21 December 1983, I raised the case of a constituent of the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler). Mrs. Madeline Haigh made no secret of the fact that she was a CND activist. She wrote to the press and was, as far as anyone could tell, a perfectly law-abiding person. However, police investigations took place and she was lied to. The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield, I see, nods his head. The reply that he received was not the truth. Being a determined person, Mrs. Haigh wrote again to her Member of Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman--he was a Minister at the time--carried out his constituency duties in a proper manner. He wrote again to the chief constable and received a different reply, which showed that the police had lied to his constituent.

Incidentally, I do not wish to pre-empt Thursday's debate, but the point can be established that once a Member of Parliament is elected, he serves all his constituents, not necessarily according to policy. I doubt whether Mrs. Haigh voted for the right hon. Gentleman. As we all would in such circumstances, he carried out his duties and no one can criticise him. The case caused much concern, which is why I raised it at the time.

As we know, since the early 1980s commissioners and tribunals have been established. One argument that is constantly advanced is that those commissioners and tribunals should be able to avoid some of the abuses that have occurred in the past, but paragraph 58 of the ISC report points out that none of the tribunals has found in favour of a complainant. The decisions of those tribunals may well have been justified, but I wonder whether such commissioners and tribunals could be relied on to be the custodians, or guardians, in circumstances in which abuses could occur in the security services.

Mr. Rogers: As my hon. Friend will remember, when we served on the Standing Committee considering the Bill that became the 1994 Act, we were given statistics showing that, during a period just before 1994, some 51 cases had been referred to tribunals, and none of those tribunals had found in favour of a complainant.

Mr. Winnick: Indeed. Paragraph 58 also states that, as the Committee had had no access to the material involved, it had been unable to make a judgment. That is entirely understandable.

I welcome the Committee's conclusion in paragraph 69 that it wants "an additional investigative capacity". I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will be able to tell us whether the Committee will be given the necessary powers.

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Perhaps engaging in a bit of mischief making,my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) predicted that I would quote what had been said by Front Benchers and other Labour Members in opposition. I shall not do so, because it would serve no purpose; but I will say that, in opposition--certainly around 1994, when we were discussing these matters--we took the view that there should be some sort of parliamentary Select Committee rather than what was being proposed, namely the ISC.

I do not challenge the contention that, in government, it is possible to change or at least modify one's opinion, but I must tell my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that I should be happier if the Government did not close their mind to the possibility of a Select Committee. No one is suggesting that my right hon. Friend will tell us tonight that such a Committee will be formed, but I hope that the Government will give it serious consideration.

Let me make two final points. First, I do not believe that this issue will go away. The fact that debates such as this take place--like other hon. Members, I have initiated them in the past--demonstrates that it is an on-going issue. Secondly, although some have opposed the establishment of any parliamentary Committee, no one--not even the hon. Member for New Forest, East--has today challenged the existence of the Committee chaired by the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), despite all that has been said in the past.

I very much doubt that, if and when a parliamentary Select Committee comes into being, anyone will stand up in the Chamber and say that it should no longer exist. In other democracies, the security services are subject to much more parliamentary accountability, and I personally will not be satisfied until ours are too. We have taken the initial steps, and we have had a useful debate today. As I have said, I hope to hear from my right hon. Friend words that will encourage me to believe that, in the not-too-distant future, we will have the parliamentary accountability that we said we wanted when we were in opposition.

9.8 pm

Sir Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield): This has been a valuable and exclusive debate, although perhaps not quite as exclusive as it looks at the moment. I congratulate the members of the Intelligence and Security Committee, many of whom have spoken, on the way in which the Committee has been accepted and is trusted by the security services. In particular, I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) on the way in which he has led the Committee. We are fortunate to have a man of his experience and integrity as its Chairman.

In the debate, there were two features of particular significance. First, there was general agreement that, even though the old iron curtain may have been brought crashing down, there was still a need for the security services; that point was made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater and by the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick). It has not been a matter of the security services inventing new threats or new roles for themselves. Those threats were already there to be tackled. In particular, there was the threat of organised crime and of drugs.

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Secondly, there was a recognition generally throughout the debate that special circumstances applied to the security services in respect of secrecy. Throughout the world, people will not take risks unless they are confident that every effort will be made to preserve their secrecy. Every reasonable effort must be made to do that, including personal management of the services themselves.

There was less agreement on how those principles should be put into practice, particularly on the nature of the committee that should oversee the security services. Several Labour Members--the hon. Members for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), for Walsall, North and for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Soley)--argued for the Committee to be a Select Committee of the House. Indeed, the hon. Member for Sunderland, South pointed out that at one stage the Labour party said that that was its policy.

I am glad to say that I am entirely unencumbered by such a pledge, which is just as well. In any case, I would not accept the argument, because I am persuaded more by the argument of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater, the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and the hon. Members for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) and for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron), as well as my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr. Davis): the way forward is to seek to develop the present structure--to add, as the report proposes, an investigative capacity to the Intelligence and Security Committee.

That is a sensible step forward. That is the way in which to proceed. The Committee has the confidence of the security services. That is important because, without it, it would be easy for the shutters to come down. We all know that that is true. We all know how these things work, but an investigative capacity would enable the Committee to dig deeper.

A strong case has been made with regard to the destruction of personal files and the introduction of some form of independent check. The point was made by the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) and supported by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis). There are two issues. There is the issue of operational use, and the security services are the only people who can decide that. However, there is also, if I may put it this way, the requirement of history. It would be a great mistake if files were destroyed that could throw light on policies and, sometimes perhaps, on personalities at the time. The Government should look at that matter again.

Another point that was raised--[Interruption.] May I have the attention of the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs for a moment because it was raised by him in the debate, but not taken on? He referred to the three security agencies and asserted:

If that does work as perfectly as the right hon. Gentleman suggests, it is fairly unusual in Whitehall.

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