Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

China: Falun Gong

3.23 p.m.

Lord Moyne asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, the Government expressed their disappointment to the Chinese Government at the banning of the Falun Gong organisation on 22nd July and supported an EU Presidency demarche in Peking on 29th July to the Chinese Government. We also referred to the issue at the recent round of High Level Bilateral Human Rights Dialogue between 13th and 15th September.

Lord Moyne: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that satisfactory reply. I am glad that the Government of this country are aware of this shocking situation. Tens of thousands of people are under arrest, including old ladies up to 83 years of age. Many are tortured with electric shocks. One woman died on the 7th of this month after 10 days of continuous beatings. People have been sacked from their jobs, expelled from universities and driven into exile. The matter should not be allowed to pass without comment and I am glad that the Government are not doing so.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I can reassure your Lordships, and particularly the noble Lord, that the Government take very seriously indeed the human rights issues inherent in the expression of religious commitments. It is a matter that the Government have pursued with some vigour since coming into office in 1997. We have sought bilateral dialogue with China in order to address that matter vigorously.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for the actions that the Government have taken already. Will she agree that Falun Gong is an entirely peaceful belief system which encourages the highest standards of moral behaviour among its adherents and therefore there is no excuse whatsoever for the actions that the Chinese have taken against the millions of people who belong to that new religion?

21 Oct 1999 : Column 1293

Apart from remonstrating with them, as the noble Baroness has said we have already done, will she see that the matter is taken up and investigated by the UN Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance, M Abdelfattah Amor, and ask him to make a report urgently to the Human Rights Commission so that the commission can consider the Chinese action at its session next April?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, Her Majesty's Government have made it clear in all their dialogues with the Chinese authorities that they see religious expression as a clear part of human rights. We make no comments on the merits or demerits of any particular religion. Religion is a matter for the individual. Her Majesty's Government have taken every opportunity to encourage the Chinese authorities to engage with the UN. The noble Lord will know that we have encouraged them to sign two conventions: the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1997 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1998. Through bilateral dialogue we are also making efforts to make practical contributions to a change in the way in which China addresses the issue of human rights. We shall pursue that with vigour.

Lord Moynihan: My Lords, how does the Government's repeated failure to co-sponsor the annual motion of the UN Human Rights Commission criticising China's human rights record demonstrate that Britain is prepared to take a firm and candid stance on such matters of human rights? Can the Minister say how the so-called ethical foreign policy of the Government has, over the past year, improved the human rights situation in China, given that only this week Amnesty International said that there has been a marked deterioration in respect of civil and political rights in China since the Prime Minister's visit a year ago?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I can. Her Majesty's Government have a proud record in that regard. In 1997, when Her Majesty's Government came into office, we were instrumental in bringing about a change. Isolation bore no fruit prior to 1997. Since 1997, through the bilateral dialogue, we have engaged with the Chinese in a practical, constructive manner, which has borne fruit. Dialogue is the way forward. We have continued to challenge the Chinese Government at the highest level in relation to breaches of human rights that have been identified to us.

Today the Prime Minister spoke directly to the President of China about issues of human rights. Yesterday my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary had a very robust discussion with the Foreign Minister detailing a number of specific issues upon which Her Majesty's Government were not content. We are not silent. We are doing an enormous amount to improve this dialogue. But constructive interaction is the way forward, not negative isolation which brings no fruit.

Lord Weatherill: My Lords, will her Majesty's Government continue to make representations to the

21 Oct 1999 : Column 1294

Government of China about the treatment of the adherents of the Dalai Lama in Tibet? I ask that as patron of the all-party Tibet Group. As the noble Baroness will know, the Dalai Lama is not seeking independence from China; he is seeking a form of autonomy. Since he believes in achieving his objectives by peaceful means, I hope he will have the support of our House.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, as I said earlier, Her Majesty's Government emphasised the importance of religious freedom. The issue of Tibet and the Dalai Lama were raised yesterday by the Foreign Secretary with the Foreign Minister. It is an issue upon which we continue to place emphasis. The Dalai Lama is the spiritual leader of a number of people. It is a matter that her Majesty's Government will not cease to highlight whenever it seems appropriate.

United Reformed Church Bill [H.L.]

Read a third time, and passed, and sent to the Commons.

Transport Salaried Staffs' Association (Amendment of Rules) Bill

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.--(Lord Boston of Faversham.)

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to an Unopposed Bill Committee.

Mitrokhin-related Matters

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary on Mitrokhin and related matters. The Statement is as follows:

    “With permission, Madam Speaker, I wish to make a Statement about the Mitrokhin archive and other related issues.

    “On 13th September, when the House was in Recess, I issued a Written Statement concerning the activities of the KGB and its agents which had been brought to light by the Mitrokhin archive. A copy of this Statement has been placed in the Library.

    “The archive material relates to activities spanning several decades from 1917 up to the mid 1980s. A book by Mr Mitrokhin and Professor Christopher Andrew drawing on the archive was published in September prompting extensive media coverage. This in turn raised questions about how the archive had been used.

21 Oct 1999 : Column 1295

    “In the light of these questions, I announced on 13th September, with the agreement of the Prime Minister, that the Intelligence and Security Committee had been asked to conduct an inquiry into the policies and procedures used by the intelligence and security agencies in the handling of the Mitrokhin material. I am very grateful to the right honourable Member for Bridgwater, the chairman of the committee, and his colleagues for taking on this work. My right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary and I will carefully consider the committee's report and ensure that as much as possible of it is made public. It may, however, be helpful to the House if I set out today some of the essential background.

    “Vasili Mitrokhin worked for almost 30 years in the foreign intelligence archives of the KGB, where, at great risk to himself, he made notes of the contents of the highly secret files which passed through his hands. Over many years, he assembled a huge collection of material, some in manuscript, some typed.

    “In 1992, after Mr Mitrokhin approached the UK for help, the Secret Intelligence Service made arrangements to bring Mr Mitrokhin and his family to this country, together with his archive.

    “As there were no original KGB documents or copies of original documents, the material itself was of no direct evidential value. But it was of huge value for intelligence and investigative purposes.

    “Thousands of leads from Mr Mitrokhin's material have been followed up world-wide. As a result, our intelligence and security agencies, in co-operation with allied governments, have been able to put a stop to many security threats. Many unsolved investigations have been closed; many earlier suspicions confirmed; some names and reputations have been cleared.

    “Our intelligence and security agencies have assessed the value of Mr Mitrokhin's material world-wide as immense.

    “Much of the media coverage in September concerned Mrs Melita Norwood. My Statement of 13th September summarised the history of the Security Service's knowledge of Mrs Norwood spanning over half a century, and the decisions that were taken in her case. The handling of her case will plainly form part of the inquiry that is now under way by the Intelligence and Security Committee. For the convenience of the House, however, I will briefly summarise what I spelt out in September.

    “Mrs Norwood was first vetted for access to government secrets in 1945 when she worked for the British Non-Ferrous Metal Research Association. Although there were concerns about her in 1945, there were insufficient grounds at that time to warrant withholding her clearance for access to sensitive documents. Further investigation, however, led to her vetting clearance being revoked in 1951. She had not in practice had authorised access to government secrets after 1949.

21 Oct 1999 : Column 1296

    “An extensive investigation of Mrs Norwood in the 1960s led the Security Service to conclude that Mrs Norwood had been a spy in the 1940s. But the service also concluded that there was no usable evidence which could be used in court to support a prosecution.

    “When Mr Mitroklin's notes of the KGB archive material became available to British intelligence in 1992, those notes further confirmed the suspicions already held about Mrs Norwood's role as a spy. However, the Security Service again concluded that this material did not on its own constitute evidence which could be put to a UK court. Moreover, a judgment was made at that time that material needed to remain secret for a period. There were many leads to more recent espionage to be followed up, particularly in the countries of a number of our close allies, which could be jeopardised by premature disclosure. In summary, the key decisions in this case were made in 1945, in 1951, in 1966 and in 1992-93.

    “Questions on prosecutions for espionage or for any other alleged crime are a matter for the prosecuting authorities and the law officers, not for the Home Secretary of the day.

    “As I made clear in my 13th September Statement, the papers relating to Mrs Norwood were submitted to the Attorney-General in the spring of this year. But he concluded that 1992 had represented the last opportunity for the authorities to proceed by way of a criminal investigation/possible prosecution, and that there was therefore no decision for him to take. I can, however, tell the House that, in the light of Mrs Norwood's recent statements, the papers in this case are currently being studied again by the prosecuting authorities. I understand that four other cases covering the Mitrokhin archive and other related matters are also being considered.

    “Let me now turn to the decision which was taken to make publicly available information from the Mitrokhin archive. Although the material has been in the custody of the Secret Intelligence Service since 1992, it was and remains the property of Mr Mitrokhin. It was always his intention that the material should be published but Mr Mitrokhin agreed to co-operate with the major operation by the security and intelligence agencies, which I have outlined, to use the information first for investigative purposes.

    “I understand that by 1996 investigations in the UK and elsewhere had reached a stage where it was possible to agree to start the process to meet Mr Mitrokhin's wish to see the story revealed. Given the nature of his notes, it was concluded that this could best be done through an historical analysis.

    “In March 1996 the right honourable Sir Malcolm Rifkind QC, the then Foreign Secretary, agreed in principle that Professor Christopher Andrew of Cambridge University should be invited to co-author, with Mr Mitrokhin, an historical study of

21 Oct 1999 : Column 1297

    those aspects of the archive which cover KGB activities against the principal Western states. I understand that Sir Malcolm agreed with the recommendation that an inter-departmental committee of officials should consider whether any of the information in the material needed to be withheld from publication. I also understand that Sir Malcolm imposed a condition that any allegations of criminal behaviour against individual persons should not be made public unless those individuals agreed or they had been prosecuted and convicted.

    “This Government were informed in late 1997 of the plan to publish the archive, and concurred. In 1998 the Secret Intelligence Service entered into confidentiality agreements with Professor Andrew and the publishers, Penguin. These were intended to ensure that still sensitive material was not published.

    “In the interests of national security, the Security Service has over the years carried out many investigations into allegations of espionage based on intelligence which it has acquired. But allegations or even good intelligence are not proof of criminal activity. They are instead the basis for investigative work designed to prevent further damage to the interests of the country. They may in turn help in the end unearth evidence solid enough to put before a court.

    “The publication of news articles and television programmes about the Mitrokhin archive and East German Stasi records has led some people to ask that the Government should publish a list of all those against whom allegations of spying and complicity with the KGB and Stasi have been made. There are, however, compelling arguments against doing so which have been accepted by successive Governments.

    “First, it would be wrong to compromise the effectiveness of the intelligence and security agencies by revealing the cases on which they may be working. Above and beyond that consideration, it is a long established rule of law that people are innocent until convicted in a court of law. We must not slide into trial by denunciation.

    “The Mitrokhin archive has raised some important issues which we are pursuing through an inquiry by the ISC and we wait for its report to see what lessons can be learned. That must not obscure the important value of Mr Mitrokhin's work to this country and to our allies. His archive is a unique testimony to a brave individual who worked alone against tyranny. It is also a reminder, if one were needed, of the continuing value of the work of our security and intelligence services".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.42 p.m.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, the consequences of the traitorous actions described in the Mitrokhin archive were exceptionally damaging to this country and to some individuals and were, of course, designed to be absolutely catastrophic. The whole House will be appalled by the behaviour of the spies, which has been

21 Oct 1999 : Column 1298

revealed by the archive. But, equally, the whole House will endorse the Home Secretary's commendation of the bravery of Mr Mitrokhin and also his praise for the security and intelligence services. We also look forward to reading the report of the Intelligence and Security Committee on this matter.

I note that the Statement said that the archive did not contain original evidence and so was itself of no direct evidential value. No doubt this influenced the decisions of the Security Service about prosecutions in 1992. However, in the past few weeks there have been some confessions which obviously affect the considerations of possible prosecutions. I am glad that prosecution is being reconsidered. If I may express a personal view, I hope that the noble and learned Lord the new Attorney-General will find it legally possible to approve prosecutions following the confessions. But I do not ask for a comment on that this afternoon from the Home Office. My only regret is that a punishment of banishment to the former Soviet Union will not, in any case, be available to the courts.

Can the Minister confirm that the length of time since the crimes and the age of those concerned will not be limiting factors, particularly in the light of the recent World War II prosecution, which was also for very serious crimes, and, for that matter, the treatment of Senator Pinochet? Can the noble Lord tell the House whether the conditions on publication, which were laid down by the right honourable Sir Malcolm Rifkind--that no allegations of criminal behaviour should be made public unless either the individuals had been convicted, or they had agreed--have been adhered to? If so, how has it come about that some individuals were featured in television programmes and in newspaper articles at the time of publication last month? This has been a most serious affair. We look forward to seeing the committee's report on the details of how it has evolved over a long period of years.

3.45 p.m.

Lord McNally: My Lords, it may be slightly mind-boggling to read that these documents cover the period from 1917 to the 1980s. Therefore, this is one of those rare occasions that allows me to say that these Benches take ministerial responsibility, as do the Opposition and the Government. We also endorse what the Minister said about the continuing value of the work of our security and intelligence services. But that should not make us hold those services in awe. I think that our first base should be that we want security services which catch spies when they are active and alive, not when they are dead or old.

In many ways, the areas covered here belong to another world. I was international secretary of the Labour Party in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I fully believe that I must have talked to the KGB, the Stasi, MI6, the CIA, BOSS and MOSAD. It was a Cold War world. It is important to get into perspective the things that have changed since then. Indeed, if we go back to some of the hysteria of those days and some of the assumptions that were made by informed commentators--and we now look back with the

21 Oct 1999 : Column 1299

information of hindsight--the TUC General Council actually comes out better than the University of Cambridge, if we are measuring patriotism.

When looking at such archives, it is also important to point out, as has been emphasised, that they are notes and jottings; they are not prime sources. It is important to bear that in mind when using words like “criminal" and “offences" as regards people who are named. It is also important to understand the difference between actions by Crown servants who have signed the Official Secrets Act and individual citizens who may be opinionated and freely give their opinions hither and thither but who, in fact, have no disposable secrets to give.

The cases revealed fall into both those categories. In the case of the Crown servants, one has to ask whether a prosecution would succeed on this evidence and whether such prosecutions would be in the public interest. I freely admit--and these Benches admit it--that this is a judgment call. If the Cold War were still at its height, one might say, “prosecute"; but it is over and won. We are dealing with events which took place a long time ago. The following words come to mind:

    “Let the dead Past bury its dead!"

So what about the future? Treason is still treason and it is important that we have efficient, effective and accountable security forces. But we must face the fact that if we look at “efficient, effective and accountable" in terms of our security forces, we cannot give them 100 per cent on any of those categories over the period of consideration.

There is still genuine concern about political and parliamentary control of our security forces. As regards the case at hand, from 1992 to 1997 the security forces in many ways acted as judge and jury in terms of what they should reveal, when they should reveal it and to whom they should reveal it. Too often in the past, the security forces have chosen to reveal not to political masters, but to Chapman Pincher, Rupert Allason or Brian Crozier.

We believe that the key is accountability. I must say that in my experience Prime Ministers, Home Secretaries and Foreign Secretaries sometimes get sucked into the security services' “club". The security services committee was always seen as a halfway house. I realise this question is premature but we shall continue to ask it. What is the Government's response to the suggestion of the Home Affairs Select Committee that the security services should now be fully accountable to Parliament? In the mean time, what measures will be put in place to ensure that the ISC is fully informed? It is extremely worrying, and indeed extraordinary, that Mr Tom King and his committee were kept totally ignorant of these matters over the long period that they were in the hands of the security forces.

What is the Government's response to the suggestion made by my colleague Simon Hughes in another place that prosecution of present and former spies should not be the accountable prerogative of security services' officers or Ministers of the day but

21 Oct 1999 : Column 1300

should be done on the advice of some special counsel who would be independent of both political pressures and security service influence? There is schizophrenia as regards spies. Mata Hari and the life of Riley, James Bond and Smiley's People all convey glamour and entertainment. Whenever these matters come before Parliament, there is a retreat on the part of politicians because the security services marshal their considerable skills to imply that anyone who questions them is somehow being unpatriotic.

We on these Benches believe that our security services have an important job to perform. Rogue states, drugs, organised crime and international terrorism should all be on their agenda. However, I repeat that to combat those threats we need effective, efficient and accountable security services. We on these Benches believe that if we obtain parliamentary accountability in this regard, effectiveness and efficiency will flow from that.

3.52 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the Government are most grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Cope and Lord McNally, for their confident support of our security forces and security agencies and for their continued commitment to support the national interest through the national security services. There are, of course, many important questions relating to accountability on which many Members of your Lordships' House will no doubt have different and differing views. That is, of course, an important area of public debate.

I shall try to answer some of the points that have been raised by your Lordships. The noble Lord, Lord Cope, asked about the length of time since crimes occurred and whether the age of those concerned might be a limiting factor. Of course that is an important consideration, but we take the view that whether or not anyone faces prosecution is very much a matter for the prosecuting authorities. It is a matter of public record that those authorities take into account the strength of evidence and the public interest; those must be paramount. Age may, no doubt, enter into the equation, but it can be only a part of that consideration. It must not be the determining factor. The noble Lord, Lord Cope, also asked whether the conditions of publication had been properly adhered to. So far as I am aware, the conditions of publication have been properly adhered to and that must continue to be the case. I am grateful to the noble Lord for asking that question.

The noble Lord, Lord McNally, asked a couple of questions about the role of the Home Affairs Select Committee and its views, and about the role to be played by the Intelligence and Security Committee. It is the Government's intention that we co-operate fully with the Intelligence and Security Committee, but we cannot anticipate the committee's conclusions or commit ourselves now to accepting all of its conclusions. We expect that the committee's investigation will be a thorough one; we should expect no less. We shall look carefully at the committee's findings and at the recommendations that it makes.

21 Oct 1999 : Column 1301

There may well be lessons to be learnt for the future. We look forward to the contribution which the ISC is able to make in this process. We recognise that there is a debate to be had as regards the ISC's conclusions, our view and the views of the Home Affairs Select Committee.

We hold strongly to the view that no one should be judged as guilty without full evidence being made available. It is entirely a matter for the prosecuting authorities as to who should be prosecuted, where and when. I stick firmly by the point that we must not have trial by denunciation. I believe that to be utterly wrong. The previous government held that to be an important principle, as do Her Majesty's Government today. We need to proceed with great care when following up revelations.

3.56 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I ask about the trial by denunciation dimension. As I am sure everyone will accept, this is not the first time that selective leaks to by and large Right-wing newspapers by government--as happened in the Gordievsky affair and now--have named a number of people who are thought to have been involved in matters but against whom a prosecution has not been brought. A number of these are my friends and colleagues. I declare an interest. As a professional in a policy studies institute in the 1980s I was involved in conversations with Russians. I recall a Sunday Telegraph half-page article which suggested that the then Christopher Tugendhat and I were dangerously close to being agents of influence in going to meet Yakoulev and Primakov in Moscow.

We have to be concerned about the relationship between the security services and newspapers of a conspiratorial bent. Nowadays The Times and the Telegraph see conspiracy as often in Brussels as in Moscow, but I refer to allowing the security services to give lists of names, many of whom are professionals who have to be engaged--as are all professionals in international relations--in discussions with governments of whom we do not in any sense approve and with experts working with those governments whom we often suspect of being engaged in intelligence activities. Can we have an assurance that part of the role of the inquiry will be to ensure that the relationship between the security services and such newspapers will be properly investigated in future because a great deal of damage has been done to innocent people, not just on this occasion but even more in the Gordievsky affair and on earlier occasions?

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page