Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Mr. Straw indicated dissent.

Miss Widdecombe: The picture is very confused. The Home Secretary shakes his head, but he has contradicted what he said before.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): She has lost it.

Miss Widdecombe: I think that it is the Home Secretary who has lost it.

Mr. Mackinlay: The right hon. Lady is talking about when Malcolm Rifkind was in charge. He ain't on my side.

Mr. Straw: What I am saying is exactly the same as what I said in the Home Office statement that I issued on 13 September. The right hon. Lady prides herself that she is properly briefed, so I suggest that she read that statement, as it makes matters clear. In that statement, I said that I had been told for the first time about the plans to publish the Mitrokhin archive in December 1998. I also stated that I was told at that time that the Security Service was considering whether Mrs. Norwood should be recommended for prosecution.

In that statement, I also said that I was told earlier this year that the matter had been referred to the Attorney-General. I said that I was told that the Attorney-General had decided that there was no decision on prosecution for him to take, as he considered that the last date on which it would have been possible to make a proper decision was in 1992-93--when the Security Service decided not to put the relevant papers to the Attorney-General so that he could consider prosecution.

I repeated all that five days ago. As the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald knows very well, I also made it clear five days ago that the papers are now

26 Oct 1999 : Column 832

back with the Law Officers, as a result of the admission apparently made by Mrs. Norwood in the BBC programme. The right hon. Lady has failed again today to justify her appalling statement in mid-September, just as she failed last week. In that statement, she asked that I should denounce people who had been the subject of neither trial nor conviction.

Vasili Mitrokhin worked for the KGB for more than 30 years, but he was disgusted by what he witnessed. He came to the United Kingdom because he thought that this country was different--that it was based on democracy and the rule of law. It would be a cruel irony indeed if this country were ever to slip into the sort of practices now proposed by the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald--practices that Mr. Mitrokhin worked so assiduously to expose.

I turn now to the matter of CND. I am appalled that the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald has resorted to simple, straightforward smears of that organisation. We became all too used to such smears when the Conservative party was in government. Conservative Members had an appalling record in previous years, but I thought that they had learned something at least about the need to raise the standards of debate in public life.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw: I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, but it will be for the last time.

Dr. Lewis: It has now been revealed beyond all doubt that the Stasi penetrated CND. Will the Home Secretary therefore take this opportunity to confirm that it is legitimate for a security service in a democracy to monitor penetration of so-called peace movements by communist, fascist or other agencies or movements that are allied to any dictatorship with which that service is confronted? Will he say once and for all whether MI5 was right or wrong to monitor communist infiltration of the so-called peace movement in the 1980s? Does he recognise that that penetration was exposed not by Mitrokhin, but in the files of the Stasi, with a quality of information that led to successful prosecutions in Germany and the United States of America? Why is nothing being done about the matter here?

Mr. Straw: The position regarding the Security Service and subversion is set out in "MI5: The Security Service", a perfectly public booklet. It is currently in its third edition, but I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman has read the second and first editions as well as the third. It states:


It goes on to say that that allegation was not true. It adds:


    "To fulfil its function of protecting national security, the Service therefore investigated individual members of bona fide organisations when there were grounds to believe that their actions were intended to overthrow or undermine parliamentary democracy by political, industrial or violent means."

If the hon. Gentleman is asking whether I sign up to that proposition without knowing anything of what happened under the previous Administration, I do sign up to it. I hope that that helps him.

26 Oct 1999 : Column 833

I was referring to the fact that the Conservative party is in Opposition now. I spent 18 years in Opposition, 17 of them on the Opposition Front Bench. I commend that period to the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald and her colleagues. I guess that I know more than most about what is required of a shadow Minister. To make a name in Opposition, one must be ever ready to give a comment or instant quotation. I commend the right hon. Lady for being the most accessible member of the shadow Cabinet. She is ever available to the press with a string of adjectives about the Government's latest iniquity, no matter what the issue may be. There is no question of her going ex-directory.

Just in case the right hon. Lady's phone is engaged when reporters call, however, they can visit her very own website. It is called--and this is absolutely true--the "Widdy Web". When I was told that, I thought that it was a spoof. I thought that Millbank was up to something that I would never have approved, or that some rogue member of the Security Service was doing some private enterprise. So I had the site checked out, and it is entirely authentic, accurate and authorised.

We have no screen on the Front Bench, so I can offer hon. Members only a preview of the site. On page 1, it offers photographs of Ann at conference, Ann at a fringe meeting, Ann after the fringe meeting, Ann during her speech, the conclusion of Ann's speech and Ann signing copies of her new book. It goes on. Indeed, it goes on and on and on.

In her eagerness to please the press, the right hon. Lady forgets the No. 1 rule of rapid response--think before you speak. I have three examples of where she has forgotten that rule. First, just two weeks ago, she described British plans to allow thousands of refugees across Europe to settle in the United Kingdom as "serious" and "perverse". It was indeed a dreadful idea. The only problem was that there are, there were, there never have been any such plans.

Then, she was at it again last Wednesday in The Independent, criticising what she thought were Government plans to allow remand prisoners the vote. Well, it was a terrible idea. The only problem with the proposal and with her criticism is that the proposal to allow remand prisoners the vote was backed fully by the Conservative party and its representatives on the all-party working party on electoral procedures. They signed up to the proposal.

Then--this is dear to my heart, Mr. Deputy Speaker--last Friday, she even popped up as the champion of freedom of information. She criticised me--the champion of freedom of information, as everyone knows--for flawed plans. Yet that is the same Conservative party of BSE and arms to Iraq; the Conservative party which at the last election said that there was


which it said was of interest only--I have warmed to this idea, by the way--to


    "inquisitive, left-wing busy-bodies"--[Interruption.]

In opposition, one can only, sadly, be judged by what one says. In government, we are rightly judged both by what we say and by what we do. It is an eternal verity of government--but especially of life in the Home Office--

26 Oct 1999 : Column 834

that, to say the least, not everything works out as intended all the time. It has not under this Government and it did not under the previous one. I am always ready to take advice, but the last person from whom I intend to take advice--

Mr. Nicholls rose--

Mr. Straw: I am coming to the end of my remarks, so I will not give way. I take advice about taxis from the hon. Gentleman, but not about anything else.

The last person from whom I intend to take advice about the conduct of my office is the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald, whose record as a Home Office Minister was--I put this delicately--scarcely written up as distinguished. It is as if she and her colleagues at central office now want to airbrush out of history her record and that of the last Conservative Government. It is no wonder that a former Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer said on television last night of the Conservative party:


By contrast with the Conservative party, this new Labour Government deliver on their promises. [Laughter.] Oh yes. We are on track to deliver our pledge to speed up youth justice. Recorded crime is down. There is new money for the police and we are giving increased powers to them. We are introducing overdue reforms to make our immigration system fairer, faster and firmer. That is the difference between new Labour and a very old, marginalised and divided Conservative party. While they shout, we deliver. I commend the amendment.


Next Section

IndexHome Page