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22 May 2008 : Column 430

Andrew Mackinlay: No, but I have a parliamentary question down to that effect, and I want to know the parliamentary procedure; I do not want to deny the opportunity of hon. Members in all parts of the House to say what their view is in debates of at least one and a half hours upstairs.

I want to trespass into one other area that might get Members salivating. A lot has been said about the Freedom of Information Act 2000, even this morning, but the other side of the same coin is the Data Protection Act 1998. This needs to be looked at in respect of our own interests. There must not be a casual disclosure by this House of information relating to hon. Members in which there is a third-party interest under the Data Protection Act. There therefore needs not only to be time for Members to look at any disclosures proposed to be made; but the House authorities and hon. Members have also to be conscious of the fact that what is put into the public domain should be nothing with which another person outside this House has a legitimate interest and protection in relation to data protection. I am surprised that this issue has not been raised before, and I would be pleased to develop it with Members outside this Chamber.

I say this because I have been the victim of an unauthorised disclosure, under the Data Protection Act, by a Government Department. I have kept mute about this for some time. What aggravated me is that when I found out about it, the Government Department concerned initially treated the matter with some levity, and since then, the people responsible for breaking the law in respect of me—and for a disclosure that included a defamatory statement about me—have been promoted. There have been discussions about beefing up the penalties in relation to data protection, and they should be. My personal experience indicated to me how casual and flippant people can be regarding the reckless disclosure of data when there is no real penalty. The point is true of both the public and private sectors.

Mr. Evans: I find it a bit perverse that the same man responsible for FOI is responsible for the Data Protection Act. Surely these two very different areas should be separated out, and there should be different people in charge of them.

Andrew Mackinlay: That is a very interesting and valid point but in any event, the existing law places a duty in relation to data protection that is not being addressed by many organisations, both in the public and private sectors. When there is a freedom of information disclosure, the person or organisation making that disclosure needs to be mindful of their other statutory duty and responsibility to people under the Data Protection Act. I have never heard that mentioned during the past weeks and months in relation to the disclosure of Members’ expenses and so on, or to the big controversy about a Government Department’s recklessly disclosing data. This is a serious point that we need to address not only in our own interests, but those of everybody else.

Dr. Julian Lewis: The hon. Gentleman is making a very valuable contribution. One reason why he has never heard that issue being mentioned inside this House is that it is sub judice. Moreover, we have been unable to get it reported outside this House because the
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people who are determined to have this reckless policy of disclosing Members’ home addresses are equally determined to stifle any public airing of the arguments against the folly that they are driving forward for their own selfish ends.

Andrew Mackinlay: I accept what the hon. Gentleman says, but may I take the opportunity, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to emphasise that I am not raising the Data Protection Act issue in relation to the Members issue? I am using it as an illustration. The fact is that Members in all parts of the House did not raise it when great concern was rightly raised in this House about the disclosure of data by a Government Department. We are too casual about our responsibility as legislators to protect the interests of other people in this regard. Moreover, this is not a matter for us, but if there is disclosure, which there inevitably will be—and, in broad-brush terms, rightly so—of our expenses and interests, there needs to be a reassurance that there is no third-party disclosure. That would be breaking the law.

I raise this issue in the context of the degree of malevolence, in my view, on the part of some parts of our security and intelligence services. There is a great deal of concern about files that are kept, for example, and there is no way of reassuring ourselves about this secret part of our state; that needs to be addressed. People may think that I am exaggerating, but I will go on to buttress my argument. In any event, the maxim comes to mind, “Just because you think I’m paranoid, it doesn’t mean to say they’re not after me.”

Mr. Kevan Jones: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Andrew Mackinlay: Well, I—

Hon. Members: He is after you.

Mr. Jones: All that I was going to say is that my hon. Friend’s file is going to get rather larger after this afternoon’s debate.

Andrew Mackinlay: I have two serious points that I want to share with the House, the first of which I referred to in questions earlier. In the last decade of the South African apartheid regime period, a man called Wouter Basson was the head of the South African equivalent of Porton Down. He was described by journalists writing about the truth and reconciliation commission, in respect of which he had a big hearing, as the Dr. Mengele of South Africa. It is a matter of fact, not conjecture, that he was involved in chemical and biological research, and that he was responsible for the deaths of many people not just in South Africa but throughout the continent and probably elsewhere around the world. For 10 years, he was given access to the United Kingdom. It is not unreasonable for me or any other hon. Member to ask why, and on what basis.

I tabled a parliamentary question this week asking on what basis Wouter Basson was allowed to come to the United Kingdom, and to have either the ownership or tenancy of a house in Berkshire. The Government’s reply was, “We don’t discuss individual cases.” Of course, I would defend that as a general principle, but it is a matter of fact that that man was involved in serious wrongdoing both in South Africa and internationally. He was an agent of the South African apartheid regime. He was involved in chemical and biological
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weapons. So he must have been in the United Kingdom with the full knowledge and full consent of our security and intelligence services, and I want to know why.

I also want to know whether there was any ministerial cover for that. If there was not, it is a serious matter, and probably criminality could be involved, because of United Nations sanctions, as well as the United Kingdom law that governed such relationships. If there was ministerial cover, there is even more reason why the House should know. That illustrates how the security and intelligence services will use Ministers to not disclose that which should be disclosed, and I challenge the Government to come clean to the House on the relationship of Woulter Basson and his Project Coast.

I made a Data Protection Act request to the Foreign Office in relation to myself. I asked a lot of questions about Woulter Basson and Project Coast, and to summarise, the Minister’s replies were broadly, “There’s nothing in this.” Yet when I made my Data Protection Act request, it was disclosed that

had taken place and that no fewer than 13 officials attended that meeting to give me the reply that there was nothing in it. Being a diligent Member of Parliament, I inevitably asked the next question, “Who were the officials who attended the handling strategy meeting to deal with Andrew Mackinlay’s questions about Woulter Basson and Project Coast?” And they refused to answer, because the spooks were there. That is the truth, and they know that it was true that there was some illicit, probably illegal, involvement by our security and intelligence services with Woulter Basson and the apartheid regime’s chemical and biological weapons research. So they do not like that sort of question.

The other thing that I want to share with the House—I have hesitated about this—is that I, as a diligent Member of Parliament, take an interest in many parts of the world, and from time to time, as other Members of Parliament do, I meet an official from the Russian embassy, to ascertain the Russian Government’s views. We cannot rely on the British press and media and certainly not on the British Government’s objectivity in such matters. In my discussions, I give such state secrets as “I think that Tony Blair will retire probably in 2007” and my firm prediction that there will be no contest for the leadership of the Labour party. That is the extent of it. If those are state secrets, I plead guilty before the House.

What I learn from meeting a diplomat from the Russian embassy approximately three times a year is what Russia’s views are on a range of things—for instance, the Helsinki accords in relation to the controversy about Kosovo. I learn its views about nuclear missile defence. I suspect that many other hon. Members do that. If they do not, they should, because at least if we understand the other guy’s point of view, we can make a good assessment of how we should probe the Government and what we should be arguing and so on. For example, the British want someone extradited from Moscow, but what has not been told in the House is that Moscow would like some people extradited from London to face courts in Moscow—not a wholly illegitimate claim.

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Mr. Evans: In the hon. Gentleman’s next discussions with the Russian embassy, will he get some advice on how the Russians police football matches? I find it quite bizarre that there were more arrests in London for a match that took place in Moscow than there were even in Moscow.

Andrew Mackinlay: I do not want to go down that road. Although it is a legitimate point, I am in the middle of making a serious point.

I want to share with the House—this is why I raise it as a matter for Parliament— the fact that I was approached very formally last summer by a Minister who said, “I’ve been approached by you know who, who tells me that you’re meeting a person from the Russian embassy.” I was and I remain highly indignant and angry, both in my regard and for Parliament. I found the approach menacing, and bearing in mind that I meet the people from the Russian embassy in this building, it means that the security and intelligence services are monitoring not only the people who come into this building, but the hon. Members whom they meet and presumably what is discussed.

I ask the House a question: is that not an affront to Parliament? Is it not serious that there should be scrutiny of hon. Members talking to people from around the world? My view is that it is important—people have fought battles over this—that any Member of Parliament should be able to talk to whomever he likes, particularly in this building. If oversight of that starts to happen, it diminishes Parliament and is very dangerous politically.

Mr. Kevan Jones: I hate to accuse my hon. Friend of being a bit naive, but does he not live in some sort of utopia and does he not think that those other people might be interested not in what he is up to, but rather in the Russian gentleman whom he meets? Does he not think that the Moscow security services follow British diplomats and other EU diplomats around different parts of the former Soviet Union?

Andrew Mackinlay: I am not naive about the security and intelligence services around the world. I guess that they monitor officials from a variety of embassies. I object not to that—indeed, I make the assumption that it happens—but to the approach by a Minister warning me off doing such things. That was unacceptable to me, and it remains so. I see it as a breach of my rights and duties to the House and as a Member of Parliament. Of course, I have refused to buckle on this.

I want to share with the House the fact that those conversations I have with the Russians are casual. I have not exaggerated and was not being flip. I will talk about my predictions—for what they are worth—about the United Kingdom political scene over the next few months. What I get in return is Russia’s views, which I do not necessarily accept, but I then understand its views about a range of issues. If we abandon that and if we feel influenced or intimidated, that is a real diminution of our roles as legislators, and I find it intolerable. I hope that other hon. Members share my view.

I am concerned about the mere fact that other people clearly had knowledge of our discussions—times and details. I occurs to me that my hon. Friend the Member
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for North Durham is probably part of the establishment, but I am not and I am never going to be. Basically, there is an attempt to frighten hon. Members, as I was, and they say, “We know that you’re a perfectly good patriot and we have every confidence in you, but it would be helpful if you could let us know next time you’re meeting them, and you might be able to broach one or two subjects.” I think that that is what goes on, and it has been going on in the House for years, and I am not prepared to sign up to it.

I urge hon. Members to reflect on what I have said. We must have oversight of the security and intelligence services. Ministers must be less craven to them. The Prime Minister must be bold and go down in history as saying that he will do what happens in the United States of America, Australia, Canada, the Republic of France and every other democracy, where the legislature has control and oversight of the security and intelligence services.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con) rose—

Andrew Mackinlay: The hon. Gentleman is poised to intervene. Obviously, he agrees with me, and I hope that hon. Members will reflect on what I say, because I believe that we are ignoring a great danger to our liberties. We should be much more jealous of the rights and privileges of the House, which people fought for and are enshrined in the Bill of Rights.

1.39 pm

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay). When he stood up with the back of an envelope in his hand, I thought we would have a short speech. I was disappointed in that sense, but he has injected more passion and—with all due respect to other speakers—more interest in the debate that we might have had otherwise.

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman on everything, but I have great sympathy with what he says about not trusting the opinion of experts, be they Sir Ian Blair or the spooks, as he calls them, or anyone else. I think the job of Ministers, whom I view as the elected Government, is to make sure that they keep a clamp on the security services and do not take everything they say as the gospel truth.

The hon. Gentleman and I are of not dissimilar ages, so perhaps he was brought up on too many of those 1960s programmes in which there was some conspiracy in the security services to overthrow the elected Government of the country—almost invariably a left-wing Government. I do not distrust the security services, but it is our job and that of Governments to maintain freedom and freedom of information, and to make sure that paid agents of the state, of whatever sort, do as they are told and do not tell the Government what to do. Having said that, I hope the hon. Gentleman will not think me weak or craven, which he suggested one or two Ministers might be.

I hope not to detain the House too long, but there are issues of great concern to my constituents. The first is the eco-town controversy. An eco-town is proposed for a place called Pennbury, which does not exist, in the district of Harborough. I represent about a third of
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that district. Pennbury is entirely open fields. It is owned largely by the Co-operative and Labour society of the midlands, usually called the Co-op, and partly by English Partnerships, which is a creature of the Government. That is relevant.

Should this town of many thousands of houses be built on a totally greenfield site, contrary to all public policy over a number of years, it will necessitate at the very least a new road between the area and the M1. Although we do not know much about it, that will almost certainly go through the virgin countryside of my constituency. The idea that it is an eco-town is ludicrous. There is nothing ecological about it at all. It is just a town which, I hope, will employ the latest energy-efficient designs.

We need to deal with the demand for housing, which was partly revealed in The Times yesterday by reference to the 1.2 million new citizens of this country in the past 10 years. I am sure they are all excellent people who have come here for understandable reasons, but such an influx is, of course, creating demand. However, the Government have yet to produce any real evidence of need for new housing, apart from the fact that there is bound to be some need. I am sure there will be a need for housing, but it should be properly examined. If the Government proceed with eco-towns, particularly the one that impinges on my constituency, they will encounter enormous opposition and they will have to answer the questions that they have so far not answered at all.

The second issue that bothers my constituents in Harborough district is the future of Lutterworth hospital. That should be of interest to the Government who have said, rightly, that people should be treated closer to home. Yet the agent—albeit at arm’s length—of the Government, the primary care trust in Leicestershire, is consulting, which I think is a euphemism for “planning”, to close the residential beds in Lutterworth hospital. Those beds are used for therapeutic treatment to enable elderly people, typically, to go back to their own homes. If the beds are closed, visitors will have to travel to Rugby, which is at least 8 miles from Lutterworth, or to Leicester, which is 20-plus miles from Lutterworth.

Leicester is perpetually snarled up. There is talk of a congestion charge, although I do not believe that that will materialise. By some delicious irony, when I met the chief executive of the PCT, Catherine Griffiths, at Lutterworth hospital a couple of weeks ago, she was 25 minutes late. The reason was that she had taken an unusual route through Rugby to get to the meeting, and she had met the traffic in Rugby.

I want people to be treated close to home, and I want them to be able to visit their relatives in hospital close to home, and not to have to travel miles, be unable to park, and to get stuck in traffic jams. There is a good hospital in Lutterworth. It may be a little outdated, but as the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow) said, just because a hospital has red bricks and a Victorian date on the front does not mean it is incapable of being used today. I have been treated in Lutterworth hospital—treated well—and I want to ensure that Lutterworth hospital’s services are not downgraded in any way. I shall fight for my constituents in Lutterworth to prevent that.

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