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Mr. Bercow: I am listening intently to the hon. Gentleman's questions to the Home Secretary, but I hope that he will not exclude consideration of the important category of special constable. Given that there was a fall in their numbers of almost 10 per cent. between March 1998 and March 1999, will he ask the Home Secretary his intentions in that matter? If we listen intently--with beads of sweat on our brow and bated breath--he may tell us the position of the Liberal Democrats.

Mr. Hughes: Let me deal with the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's intervention. I have always been a strong supporter of special constables and, as a London Member of Parliament, I have consistently lobbied both the Home Secretary, as the police authority for London, and successive Conservative Home Secretaries for more special constables. London has had a lower rate than almost any other force in the country, but I believe that special constables play an important role and it is our view that there ought to be more of them in each area of the country. I can simply pass on the hon. Gentleman's question to the Home Secretary, and I am happy to endorse it. We ask that an announcement be made on the level of support for special constables.

Before I move off police matters, I have a final question on funding: does it come with strings attached? Various publications have suggested that, for the police to get the money from a fund to which they bid, they may be required not only to meet efficiency criteria, but to use certain of the equipment that the Home Office prefers. I have not yet had a chance to go round the country discussing the matter, as I have been in this job for only seven days, but I understand that many police forces are not keen on the equipment and certainly do not want their expenditure to be tied to its use.

One other policing matter has exercised my colleagues and me over the years. As the Home Secretary knows, one of the biggest expenses for the police budget and the budgets of other emergency services is pensions. That is because, unlike most people in society, people in those services cannot be expected to retire at the age of 60 or 65. Will the Home Secretary at least consider consulting his ministerial colleagues in other Departments on whether the pensions commitments for the emergency services could be taken out of the normal budget allocation? I know that there are implications, but if this Administration could get that sorted it would be a great relief to the police and fire authorities around the country, because their increasing pensions burden has a severe effect on other resources.

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I am conscious that asylum and other immigration matters will be discussed by the House in a few days when Lords amendments come back to this place, but I will say a word or two now. I hope that the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald does not believe that the number of people who come to this country as asylum seekers or immigrants is more determined by the policy of the Government of the day than by events abroad. The large number of people who have come to my constituency from Kosovo or the Horn of Africa have come not because they assessed which was the best place in the world to come, but because European Union countries are expected to be sympathetic to people from countries suffering from poverty and civil war, many of whom have been persecuted or raped and have lost family, friends and homes. That is more likely to determine the numbers.

Of course, there are bogus asylum seekers, but a significant minority of those who apply are accepted on their first application, and a significant number of those whose application is turned down win on appeal. If we ever lose people's right to put their case in an appeal, we shall be in trouble. When will we have the resources, the people and the commitment to catch up and process the cases that are stacking up day after day?

This very morning, my constituency office had a phone call from a solicitor representing a young Kosovan refugee. He was told that the young man must go from his bed and breakfast in south London to Birmingham to collect his papers, because if they were sent to Croydon they would be lost in the post for six months. The refugee then asked whether he would be paid, because he has no money to go to Birmingham, but there was no guarantee of that. The system makes no sense. Asylum seekers and immigrants, whether they are accepted or not, have civil liberties; and we have a duty to ensure that the people who work hard in our immigration and nationality department have a system that works and ensures that justice is done and is seen to be done.

May I say a word about spies? I share the Home Secretary's view on the subject of the specific debate. I do not believe that the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald, my right hon. and hon. Friends or I are in a position to decide, let alone pronounce, who should be prosecuted for spying against this country.

Dr. Julian Lewis: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hughes: No.

We need a process in which Security Service officers do not decide either. They should advise, there should be independent adjudication that is free of them and of Ministers and, ultimately, the Home Secretary should decide.

This Government were elected to be tough on crime and on the causes of crime, a phrase that may come back to haunt them. Their policy is often as much about talking tough on crime and the causes of crime as about delivering.

I hope that the second half of this Administration will be caricatured as much by--characterised as much by--

Mr. Mackinlay: Both.

Mr. Hughes: Indeed, both. I hope that it will be characterised by being tough on incompetence and tough

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on the causes of incompetence. The Home Office has a greater reputation for incompetence than any other Department. As I said a couple of weeks ago when asked to comment on the famous Bournemouth speech, if we cannot trust the Home Secretary or his press releases to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, Home Office Ministers cannot expect the rest of the country to behave differently. If we cannot have confidence in the Home Office to ensure people's civil liberties and to provide the best public services on law and order, we cannot have confidence in the Government.

I do not think that people have confidence in the Home Office at the moment. Much in the administration of the Home Office is seriously rotten. Our job is co-operatively, constructively and, when necessary, aggressively to hold the Government to account, so that in their second two and a half years--or in as many months as they still have to go--things will get better, instead of promises of improvement followed by things actually getting worse.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Before I call the next speaker, I remind the House that Madam Speaker has put a time limit of 10 minutes on speeches from Back Benchers. That applies from now on.

5.26 pm

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): In view of what you have just said, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall not give way during my speech.

I am surprised that the Opposition have drawn the House's attention to the stewardship of cold war spies and the Mitrokhin archive, bearing in mind the fact that this matter relates mostly to their period in office. I regret that I was unable to be in the House last Thursday when the Home Secretary made a statement about the Mitrokhin archive. I was in Russia on parliamentary business, and watched his speech from my hotel bedroom. I was frustrated for two reasons. I have taken a great interest in this matter over the summer, and have corresponded with the Home Secretary.

First, my constituent, Michael John Smith, was imprisoned for 20 years for selling secrets to the Soviet Union. He claims that there was a miscarriage of justice and entrapment by the security services. He was convicted in part on the evidence of defectors. I have no way of knowing whether he was guilty or innocent, and I shall not detain the House on that: I shall try to probe some of the issues raised by his case in an Adjournment debate. However, it is interesting that if the existence of the Mitrokhin archive had been known to his defence counsel at his trial in 1993 and his appeal in 1995, it might have been relevant to the preparation of his case, especially as he is mentioned several times in Professor Christopher Andrew's book about the Mitrokhin archive. I want to flag up my concern about that.

My second interest in this matter is a parliamentary one. Parliament does not oversee the security services. The Intelligence and Security Committee is a fine body of hon. Members, but it is not a parliamentary committee. That is an important point: it is not a nuance or a minor detail.

This whole business has again raised the issue of the need for good freedom of information legislation. As much as I welcome the legislation to be introduced by the Government--it is 300 per cent. better than nothing--it is still inadequate. More importantly--this should interest

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every hon. Member--it is amazing that it is appropriate for Malcolm Rifkind to hand over papers to Professor Christopher Andrew, but not to make them available to Members of Parliament. How can that be justified? I certainly think that those papers should be in the wider public domain.

I probed the Home Secretary about this matter in correspondence. I asked him why Professor Christopher Andrew has those papers if they are secret. If they are not secret, why cannot we see them? I pressed him on the security classification of the papers. He said that there were of great sensitivity. I replied that I am not aware of the security classification of "great sensitivity." If there is such a classification, we should be told about it. If not, what is the security classification of those papers?

I have still not had a response to that question, so perhaps the Minister can give me one. We should not be glibly told that we cannot see those papers: some justification should be given. I understand that there are categories of security classification, but the Home Secretary has failed to tell us what category the papers are in.

The Home Secretary sent me a letter on 15 October, not answering that question but stating:

That is something of an understatement. I have no way of assessing the courage of Mr. Mitrokhin or other defectors, and I do not want to go into that today. I am not qualified to judge. The Home Secretary has said that they were very courageous, and they probably were. In any case, we all have different views on defectors. However, it should not be suggested that Mr. Mitrokhin put up his hand and said, "I should like to publish my notes." Mr. Mitrokhin came here because he had to get out: things were getting a bit hot for him. That should also be borne in mind in relation to Oleg Gordievsky, who also published some papers.

Let me repeat that I am not judging those people's courage; nevertheless, they had a vested interest. They were making an appeal to the security services here, and there were rich possibilities. I think that there was a propensity to exaggerate, especially when there was the possibility of a financial return on the publication of their books. We must tread cautiously when examining the contents of the documents. We must consider what the motives for defection were, and what has been published by those people or on their behalf.

In his letter to me, the Home Secretary said, in effect, "Awfully sorry, Mackinlay, but the ownership of the archive is not with me, but with Mitrokhin." He also said that he had taken legal advice on ownership. I would like to be humble, but I do not accept that advice; and even if I am wrong, I believe that ownership should be with Her Majesty's Government. That takes us back to Malcolm Rifkind's stewardship of the matter. When a person is about to defect, a price is extracted. That person should be told, "What you bring with you in return for safe asylum"--and, no doubt, some remuneration for future life--"is our property." I find it ridiculous that it should now be suggested that the papers are Mitrokhin's property.

Both Malcolm Rifkind and, to some degree, the present Government are ducking and diving. They are saying, "It is all right for Professor Christopher Andrew to have the

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papers, but it is not all right for Members to have them." They will not tell us the secret classification of the archive. It is all wholly unsatisfactory, and to a large extent an affront to Parliament.

I am not sure whether the Minister is in a position to reply, but I tabled a parliamentary question asking whether comparable conditions had been placed on Gordievsky and Victor Oschenko when they defected, and in relation to the ownership of any material that they might have published. Was Malcolm Rifkind, or any other Conservative Home Secretary, so generous as to abdicate ownership of documents from those defectors on behalf of Her Majesty's Government? It is an important question.

We know that Malcolm Rifkind imposed some conditions, one of which was wholly unsatisfactory, and was not fulfilled. The Home Secretary referred to it in the House last week, when he told us that Malcolm Rifkind had said that any publication of the papers must not traduce anyone who did not agree to reference being made to them or anyone who had not been convicted. That, however, did not safeguard the reputation of people who are deceased, and have been traduced in the press, with no right of reply, since these matters came to light.

Malcolm Rifkind's stewardship of the matter was highly selective. It has damaged the reputation of men and women who cannot reply, and other names have been bandied about when there has been no satisfactory way of obtaining a remedy. Those who have been traduced, living or dead, have no access to the papers, just as we in the House have no access to them. It is time the facts were revealed, and time that a much fuller, comprehensive statement was made. I do not accept that this is a matter for the Intelligence and Security Committee, which is not part of the House of Commons.

Who the heck is Professor Christopher Andrew? I know that he is a distinguished academic who does not just read books--he writes them--but why should he have a superior position over hon. Members and everyone else in the land? It is wholly unsatisfactory.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind suggests that Professor Christopher Andrew was given the archives, so that he could make a proper historical analysis. That is bunkum. We will get a very partial and selective interpretation, so I hope that the Government will think about the matter again. I hope that they will consider the freedom of information point and generally reflect on the matter much further.

Since I have taken an interest in the matter, I must tell the House that, for the first time, the lock on my house in Tilbury has been tampered with--it has been damaged--and my dustbin has been pinched. I am sure that it is a coincidence--but if anyone is looking for documents, they will be on the shelf in the living room, between the Edward VIII coronation mug and the Neil Kinnock general election victory mug of 1992.

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