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Main Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 62 (Amendment on second or third reading), and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

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Further Education and Training Bill [ Lords] (Programme)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 83A(6)(Programme Motions),

Question agreed to.

Further Education and Training Bill [ Lords] [Money]

Queen’s recommendation having been signified—

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pu rsuant to Standing Order No. 52(1)(a) (Money resolutions and ways and means resolutions in connection with bills),

Question agreed to.


Post Offices (West Berkshire)

10.17 pm

Mr. Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con): I have a petition from 5,292 constituents in west Berkshire who are concerned about the possible loss of sub-post offices in my constituency.

The petition

To lie upon the Table.

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Mr. Victor Makarov

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Mr. Alan Campbell.]

10.18 pm

Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham) (Con): I am very glad to have this opportunity to raise a somewhat unusual subject—a matter relating to intelligence and a former KGB agent who worked for the British security services and eventually defected to the UK, aided and abetted by our security services, and is now living in the north of England in circumstances of penury, which I believe shows the UK in a bad light.

The man concerned is the former KGB agent Viktor Makarov, who has now moved to the north of England. I will give a brief résumé of this man’s history. The Minister will be aware of the background to the case, but I believe that this is the first time it has been raised in the Chamber, although other Members have sought to help him in the past.

Viktor Makarov joined the KGB in 1975 and was inducted into what was known as the KGB university; coincidentally, he was in the same intake as Vladimir Putin, the current President of Russia. On graduation in 1980, Makarov was posted to the cryptanalytical department, which specialised in decoding telegrams and messages from embassies in Russia and around the world. These were obtained by many different methods, including the use of extensive bugging, a technique at which the Soviet Union was a master. Those who follow these matters may remember a case where the American embassy was presented with the great seal of the United States, courtesy of the people of Moscow; it was subsequently found to contain a bug.

Makarov spoke Greek and was initially used to translate messages passing from the Greek embassies around the world. After five years, he had a wide knowledge of the way in which Russian dissidents were treated by the regime. He was particularly affected by the repression of the Solidarity campaign when martial law was introduced in Poland. At that stage, he decided that he would make contact with western intelligence.

Makarov was helped in this by a woman who was to become his fiancée, Olga Bireva, an interpreter who worked at trade fairs held in Russia. She eventually contacted representatives of the British Secret Intelligence Service, which she and he believed was the most secure of all the intelligence services operating in the Soviet Union.

For two years he passed information, until he was arrested in 1987. The evidence against him was slight: a transcription of a message from the German embassy in Prague that he had passed some years before to a man involved in illegal foreign exchange dealings—a man he had worked with in the KGB. The man, who had been arrested in connection with the foreign exchange dealings, had identified Makarov, presumably to help to get a lesser sentence. Had the KGB discovered that Makarov had been spying, he would have been shot, undoubtedly. As it was, he was tried and jailed for 10 years. He was sent to the Gulag, to the notorious Perm 35 camp in the Ural mountains. He was freed in early 1992, a few months after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

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On being freed, he returned to Moscow and contacted the British embassy. He was taken to the UK by MI6 via Latvia. MI6 equipped him with a false diplomatic passport and had him pose as a Greek business man, using his knowledge of the language. On his arrival here he was looked after, but the promises that he says he was made of a new identity and a pension were never fulfilled. Finally, after months of dispute, he was offered a one-off payment of £65,000 to buy a house, which he accepted. Ever since then, the UK Government have used this as an excuse to say that he agreed to a full and final settlement of his case. Before he moved to the north, he had lived a life of bedsits, flats and, at one stage, sheltered accommodation.

Shortly before Easter, Mr. Makarov staged a hunger strike in Parliament square, which, after nearly two weeks, he called off after I promised to table a parliamentary question, which I duly did. This was the second time he had been on hunger strike; some years before, over 56 days he had lost nearly 60 lb. He called off the hunger strike because he was promised that his case would be reassessed. On 16 December of that year, he and his psychiatrist met an MI5 officer. He said that he was given reason to believe that his case could be resolved positively. Since then there has been nothing at all.

A number of Members have tried to help Mr. Makarov, including the hon. Members for Tynemouth (Mr. Campbell), whom I am pleased to say is sitting on the Front Bench, and the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), who also tried without success.

Since Mr. Makarov arrived in this country, his mental health has deteriorated, no doubt as a combination of what he went through when he was detained in Perm 35 and what has happened since he arrived in this country, when he was effectively left without friends, support or, initially, a good command of the English language, which meant that he was unable to get work or look after himself. Today, he is in a sorry state, existing on disability allowance and in danger of falling into arrears with the payments on his house. His mental health is still a major problem, and he undergoes psychiatric treatment.

The murder of Alexander Litvinenko, allegedly by former KGB officers, has raised concerns about Mr. Makarov’s security, as have approaches by members of the Russian-speaking community in the north, some of whom appear to know much more about him than they could have possibly known unless they had been briefed beforehand. I have been reminded tonight that about a year ago the Russian Parliament passed a law allowing people who are allegedly traitors to the country to be killed abroad, which has fuelled his concern for his safety.

All approaches to the Government, which have been made by various hon. Members to the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary, and to the Conservative Government, when the approach was made to the then Prime Minister, Mr. John Major, have simply been brushed off. I have a letter from the Foreign Secretary to the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington, which is two paragraphs long:

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That is a typical answer.

Mr. Makarov called off his second hunger strike in Parliament square because I tabled a parliamentary question:

The Minister, whom I am grateful to see on the Front Bench tonight, replied:

In my view, that was not a helpful comment to a man in his particular situation.

The question is why a man who was effectively an ally of this country against the communist regime in the Soviet Union has been treated in that way. Is it simply because he is an irritating thorn in the flesh, or is it because his information was not worth very much money? The latter certainly cannot be the case, because having an agent in the KGD 16 directorate, the code-breaking directorate, was extremely important—knowing what one’s opponents know is a vital intelligence tool.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): I have read about this case in the papers along the lines that have been explained to the House. I suggest that although it may be impossible for the Minister to make a detailed comment on this case, he ought to make at least a general comment on the importance of the Secret Intelligence Service being seen to offer both protection and a pension to anyone who has risked their life, let alone actually been imprisoned, engaged in human intelligence operations for this country. Otherwise, we will send out a terrible signal to anybody who might be thinking about helping this country and its intelligence services in the future.

Mr. Atkinson: I agree with my hon. Friend, who has made an important point that needs reinforcing. The way in which this man has been treated will certainly send out a bad signal to anybody who might be tempted to do the same.

Mr. Makarov had an interview with an American historian called David Kahn, who is well known as a historian of code breaking, particularly in the second world war. David Kahn interviewed Mr. Makarov because he was thinking of writing a book on more recent code breaking during the cold war. He is in no doubt that Mr. Makarov’s intelligence was of value.

Another source that mentions the role played by Mr. Makarov is the book jointly written by Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin—I apologise for massacring the Russian language, Mr. Speaker. Vasili Mitrokhin was a prominent defector from the KGB, who produced a substantial volume called “The Mitrokhin Archive” with Christopher Andrew. In the book, he mentions the number of high-ranking KGB officers who were attracted to work for the British security service as penetration agents or as defectors. They included names that will be known to members of the public such as Oleg Gordievsky,
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as well as Mitrokhin himself, and Victor Makarov is listed as one of the six who played a valuable role. His credentials were good. He was clearly a valuable agent, and any idea that he was not should be dismissed. The only theory that I can think of is that because the cold war had ended when he was freed from Russia he became an embarrassing anachronism to the British security services in the new world.

Everyone I know who has had dealings with Mr. Makarov—journalists as well as hon. Members and those who tried to make a documentary about him—share a frustration about the unexplained brush-offs from Ministers and others. We have a sense that he is a decent man badly treated by a country that he tried to help. As a final footnote, when he was arrested at his fiancée’s flat in Moscow in 1987, they kissed goodbye and he never saw her again. He was subsequently told, although he does not know whether it is true, that she committed suicide.

I know that the Minister will be unable to say too much tonight, but I urge him to revisit the case to see if something can be done to help Victor Makarov before his predicament gets worse and leads to serious consequences for him. He is no doubt a stubborn man. He believes that what he did for this country was the right thing to do. He believes that the promises that were made to him have not been honoured, and his pride is offended by the fact that he has to try to scratch a living off disability allowances instead of getting the pension to which he feels he should be properly entitled. He is quite capable of repeating the hunger strike that he has undertaken on two previous occasions, but next time it could have much more serious consequences.

10.32 pm

The Minister for Security, Counter Terrorism and Police (Mr. Tony McNulty): I congratulate the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) on securing this debate. The various statements made by and on behalf of Mr. Makarov and the concerns that he raises are well known to this Government and, as he suggests, the previous one. As I made clear in my written answer to him of 16 April at column 510W concerning Mr. Makarov’s future security and well-being, his local police force are aware of his background and are best placed to offer advice. That was not meant to be unhelpful—it is a matter of fact in these circumstances. For reasons that I will explain, there is very little that I can add to that statement.

As the hon. Gentleman will know, the functions of each of the intelligence and security agencies are governed by law. In the case of the Security Service, that is the Security Service Act 1989 and the Security Service Act 1996; for the other two agencies, it is the Intelligence Services Act 1994. As I shall explain, much of the work of the agencies must be kept secret. However, in general terms perhaps a surprising amount of information concerning the agencies is made public on their respective websites, among other things.

It has been the long-established policy of successive Governments not to discuss matters relating to the operational activities intelligence and security agencies. That policy is often called “neither confirm nor deny”. This approach is neither arbitrary nor capricious but is
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necessary for the protection of national security. By its very nature, the work of the intelligence and security agencies must be surrounded by secrecy. Many of those who assist and work with the intelligence and security agencies, including those employed as their agents, do so only if guaranteed complete confidentiality and anonymity. If their identities and activities were to become a matter of public record, that would not only jeopardise their activities and their future co-operation but could put them at personal risk. Secrecy is also essential because much of the investigation and intelligence gathering must be done covertly. If methods and techniques were exposed, those under investigation, who understandably go to great lengths to keep their activities hidden, would be able to take counter-measures that would thwart the gathering and exploitation of the necessary intelligence. The compromise of only one case would have far-reaching consequences. If the activities of one agent were revealed, that would lead others to question whether they could continue to co-operate with the agencies confident that their role would remain secret.

A similar approach applies to techniques. If, in a particular case, the techniques and methods used were revealed, it would not be long before targets such as terrorists, spies and serious criminals would use the information to modify the way in which they acted to escape detection. The strength of the “neither confirm nor deny” approach is in its consistent application. If I were to depart from that approach in this case, how could I defend adhering to it in all others? I therefore hope that the House will recognise why I cannot respond to the specific points raised thus far in the debate.

Mr. Atkinson: I do not understand how, for example, giving a pension to the man whom we are considering compromises national security.

Mr. McNulty: As I said, there are things that I can and things that I cannot discuss about the case or any other on the “neither confirm nor deny” basis for reasons that I have outlined and others that I shall describe. I shall say the little that I can about the case at the end.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the intelligence and security agencies are sometimes characterised, because they work in secrecy, as unaccountable. Nothing could be further from the truth. As I said, the functions of the agencies are governed by law. By statute, they work under the authority of the Secretary of State—that is the Home Secretary for the Security Service and the Foreign Secretary for the Secret Intelligence Service and GCHQ. Like other hon. Members, I know from personal experience that both Secretaries of State take their responsibilities for that very seriously indeed.

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