HC Deb 17 April 1985 vol 77 cc300-23
Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)

I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 2, line 19 leave out paragraph (a) and insert— '(a) for the defence of the realm or to prevent subversion, terrorism or espionage;'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 7, in clause 10, page 9, line 19, at end insert—

subversion" means an attempt to overthrow Parliament by unlawful means;'.

Mr. Corbett

The amendments concern more than mere definitions, which they may appear at first sight to be. They concern an area that is vital to every citizen—our freedom within the law, as individuals and collectively, to challenge and try to change Government policy. That is important not just with the present Government, who have shown such scant regard for freedom in relation, for example, to GCHQ at Cheltenham or their attempt to deny the vote to millions of citizens in the metropolitan counties and the greater London area. When the Labour party forms a Government, Conservative Members will no doubt wish to challenge our policies. The road of freedom does not have just a left-hand side or a right-hand side. There are two sides to that important road.

The first criterion on which the Bill allows the Home Secretary to issue a warrant to snoop and spy is in the interests of national security". That must be one of the most overworked and abused phrases in the world, as it can be held to cover anything that anyone wishes it to cover. Who actually defines national security? I would argue that possession of American nuclear weapons by this country is the gravest threat to our national security and that the sale of weapons to the middle east and South America also threatens our national security because it threatens peace and stability in those areas, but I suspect that the Minister and his supporters take a different view.

We believe that the words in the interests of national security are too wide and too vague. They are wide enough and vague enough to run the risk of misuse in any big brother, or indeed big sister, state. This is not a case in which we all know what we mean but find it difficult to agree an exact form of words. The Opposition believe that the definition in the Bill is drawn deliberately wide to give the Home Secretary maximum discretion. We do not believe that our freedom can or should be left in the hands, and resting on the judgment, of one individual. Our amendment therefore seeks to put more flesh on the concept of national security.

The definition in amendment No. I seeks to be more specific. It refers to "subversion, terrorism or espionage", which is what national security is generally assumed to be about—something separate from serious crime, although equally serious, and standing on those three legs. That being so, amendment No. 7 seeks to define what is meant by subversion. In the past few months, the Government have provided a wide variety of choice in terms of what constitutes subversion, but in our view none of those definitions are acceptable.

The recently published terms of reference for the three wise men state simply that a subversive group is subversive because it is acknowledged as such by the Minister". That is menacing in its starkness. It suggests that the Minister can say to an individual or group, "You are subversive because I say so." The opening paragraphs of the document make it clear that a person suspected or accused of being subversive does not even have to be a card-carrying member of an organisation held to be subversive. The document refers simply to suspected sympathies. That is further watered down by the words is susceptible to pressure from such organisations or groups" — that is, those judged to be subversive.

That clearly and frighteningly opens the door to the advent of the thought police.

However, the position is even worse. Under the test of susceptibility to pressure, scarcely a Member of this House is not susceptible to pressure at some time or another. Pressure does not always walk up to hon. Members waving flags and identifying itself. We all at times run the risk of being taken in. That three-part test is rather dangerous.

The Home Office gave us a Christmas present in the form of the guidelines for the special branch. There we find that subversive activities are those which threaten the safety or well being of the State, and which are intended to undermine or overthrow Parliamentary democracy by political, industrial or violent means". That definition is far too wide. It is open to a wide variety of interpretations, not just by the Home Secretary but by any officer serving in the special branch of the 43 police forces. Day by day, such officers are called upon to make judgments against that guideline definition of subversion.

Amendment No. 7 makes it clear that we prefer that there should be in the test a mention of the lawfulness and unlawfulness of the action being taken or proposed to be taken. The Home Office definition uses such phrases as safety or well being of the State". We could probably stay here until Christmas trying to agree among ourselves what that phrase means.

Mr. Waddington

The hon. Gentleman talks about the Home Office definition but he is quoting from the definition propounded by a Labour Minister, Lord Harris of Greenwich, in 1975.

Mr. Corbett

He was a Home Office Minister.

Mr. Waddington

I ask the hon. Gentleman not to talk about the Home Office definition as though we had propounded that definition in the last month or so. It was propounded by a Labour Government.

Mr. Corbett

The present proprietors of the Home Office have accepted that definition. The Opposition do not accept that Lord Harris's definition was meant to be given the solemnity and importance that is now claimed for it. It was given on the back of an answer to a random question in another place. That is why we do not attach to it the weight that the Minister seems to, and seems to think that we should.

Mr. Waddington

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not wish to mislead the House. It must be within his knowledge that the Labour Government when in office followed that definition in exercising the powers to intercept.

Mr. Corbett

I accept that absolutely. As the Minister will have divined during the course of these debates, the Labour party sometimes tries to learn from experience when in government and from the mistakes that parties can make when in government. I tell the Minister once again that when we return to government we will change that definition.

Mr. Winnick

The Minister protests too much. When Lord Harris gave that definition, he did so as a Home Office Minister. It was a Home Office definition, albeit under the preceding Government. At no time, to the best of my knowledge, was that definition changed or debated in this House. It was accepted. There has been no parliamentary debate of the question whether there should be a different definition, or of the earlier one given by Lord Denning.

6.15 pm
Mr. Corbett

My hon. Friend is quite right, to the best of my knowledge.

We have said time and time again in the debates on the Bill and elsewhere that we do not like that definition and that we shall change it as soon as we have the chance. The definition is far too wide. It uses blanket phrases such as the safety… of the State and intended to undermine or overthrow Parliamentary democracy". It qualifies that phrase with the words by political, industrial or violent means". As has already been said, many of us became active in Labour party politics precisely in order to use lawful political means in order to try to turn out the present Government by means of the ballot box and replace them. There is nothing wrong in that ambition, which was shared by hon. Members on the Conservative Benches when in opposition.

Mr. Cash

I may have missed it, but I cannot find the word "subversion" in the text of the Bill. It is in the amendment, but is it in the Bill?

Mr. Corbett

One of the purposes of the amendment is to define subversion within the Bill as an alternative to using blanket phrases such as the interests of national security".

Mr. Cash

The hon. Gentleman should refrain from attacking the Government for not including a definition that he would like to include in the Bill himself.

Mr. Corbett

I cannot satisfy the hon. Gentleman on that point. One of our complaints about the Bill is that the definitions are inadequate. In our view, there is no proper definition of subversion. I have quoted from documents. I will not weary the House by doing so again.

I have tried to place the amendments in the context of the proper concern of all of us to defend the rights of every individual citizen collectively and lawfully to challenge and try to change the policies of Governments of any colour. We believe that our alternative definition of subversion not only helps to make that clear but also underlines, restates and reaffirms the fact that that freedom is most important.

Mr. Waddington


Mr. Deputy Speaker

I call Mr. Waddington.

Mr. Winnick


Mr. Waddington

I shall be happy to sit down again.

Mr. Winnick

If the Minister stands up, the debate is closed, I suppose.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I cannot call an hon. Member who does not stand up.

Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones (Watford)

The hon. Gentleman should wake up.

Mr. Winnick

The Government Whip seems to be even more vocal than usual, even though he never makes a speech.

The essence of much of the disquiet which exists about security matters is the question how subversion is interpreted by the security services. As the hon. Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Norris) said an hour or so ago, there is a good deal of disquiet, even if it is more openly expressed on this side of the House than on the Government side. In my view, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) was absolutely right to say that the present definition of subversion must give rise to concern. Speaking in another place in February 1975, Lord Hams interpreted subversion as activities which threaten the safety or well-being of the State, and which are intended to undermine or overthrow Parliamentary democracy by political, industrial or violent means." —[Official Report, House of Lords, 26 February 1975; Vol. 357, c. 947.] That gives the security service a great deal of discretion, and far more than it should have. That is why, when I raised this matter on the Adjournment on the day that the House went into the Easter recess, I said that the definition of subversion was far too wide. It is all very well for the Minister to say that Lord Harris gave the definition when a Labour Minister, but he is no longer a member of the Labour party. I do not think that there is a great deal of regret about that. Moreover, as far as I am aware, the definition of subversion has never been debated in the House.

Mr. Waddington

The hon. Gentleman missed the significance of what the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) said in reply to my intervention. He confessed that that definition had been expressed by a Labour Minister and that the Labour Government had operated their powers to intercept on the basis of that definition. That is the important thing to bear in mind.

Mr. Winnick

It is remarkable how Ministers pray the Labour Government in aid when they support Labour's activities. It is otherwise denunciation. I do not complain. The Minister is using whatever arguments he can find to advance his argument. Nevertheless, Lord Harris's definition of subversion was never debated, I believe, in the House. The matter affects citizens and civil rights and we should all be anxious about how such rights can be eroded or undermined. It must be right for the House to debate what the definition should be.

Mr. Cash

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like a debate on what subversion means, but it is the Opposition amendment which includes that word. It is impossible for us to deal with a debate in which the Opposition are attacking the Government for including in the Bill a word that does not appear in it.

Mr. Winnick

It might not appear in the Bill — I concede that point—but Ministers have stated, and the Home Secretary made it clear when he gave evidence in public session to the Home Affairs Select Committee, that the special branch works on the definition of subversion given by Lord Harris in February 1975. It is therefore reasonable to assume that when the special branch and the security services decide on these matters they will use that definition, which is the subject of a great deal of controversy.

Mr. Cash

Will the hon. Gentleman, when he is discussing definitions, tell us what espionage means as that word is in the amendment and is not defined?

Mr. Winnick

We are debating amendment No. 1 at the moment. Lord Denning gave a definition of subversion in the 1960s. Yesterday I prayed Lord Denning in aid on another matter and I am about to do so again now. He must think that he has a fan on the Labour Benches. With respect to his lordship, Lord Denning is not renowned for his pro-Labour movement sympathies. I imagine that even Conservative Members take him to be quite a safe person. Nevertheless, he gave a far closer definition that Lord Harris. He defined a subversive as one who would overthrow or contemplate the overthrow of Government by unlawful means". That is very much in line with the amendment.

I should like the House to be reasonably satisfied that those who carry out these delicate and sensitive duties do not at the same time erode the rights of which my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) spoke. Such rights have been slowly built up over centuries. Is not the safeguarding of the rights of citizens one of our main responsibilities? Some time ago, I raised the case of Mrs. Haigh, who was interviewed and lied to by the special branch regarding letters that she had written about cruise missiles. Some people might ask, "What does one person matter?" Surely one person's civil liberies are as important as those of many.

Other matters which cause concern have come to light as well. The security services do not have the complete confidence of everyone. I accept that we must have a security service. When asked a few weeks ago whether I favoured a security service, I gave the obvious answer. I know of no country without one. We know how dictatorships operate, but democracies require a security service too. However, such a service would be in a stronger position if it had the confidence of the whole House and the public, and I am not satisfied that the security service understands or appreciates sufficiently the strong feelings about the right of dissent and the right to hold minority opinions.

About three months ago, the hon. Member for Stroud (Sir A. Kershaw), Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, told the Home Secretary at Question Time that if these people—he did not qualify who they were—were not investigated, he wanted his money back. What was the reaction of Tory Members? They roared with laughter and approval. Included among them, I am afraid, was the Home Secretary. Some of the people under investigation are acting perfectly legally. They just happen to disagree with the Government on major issues, such as defence. Should they be subject to surveillance and investigation, simply because they disagree with the Government? The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) nods his head in agreement with that proposition. The difference between him and me is that I do believe in parliamentary democracy and people's rights that do not exist in eastern Europe or Latin America. I believe that people have a right to disagree and to express those opinions freely without being subject to investigation and surveillance.

My hon. Friend the Member for Walton has mentioned a section of the security service. On 4 April, I mentioned the F branch of MI5. F2 investigates trade unions and F7 investigates various other political groups. Apparently there is a special group of the F branch which investigates teachers, Members of Parliament, lawyers and journalists. Those allegations have been made —

Mr. Eldon Griffiths


Mr. Winnick

Of course they are allegations. Am I supposed to go to MI5 or write the Director General a letter asking him to confirm them? Such things though cannot be dismissed out of hand.

If it is true that such a branch and such sub-branches exist, should we not be worried? Should we simply dismiss the allegations and say that, even if they are true, those sections of MI5 are justified? One of the functions of the House, I hope, is to safeguard civil liberties. We must be worried if there are civil servants in the security service with files on a very large number of people and groups. It is interesting that there has been no allegation that investigations are made into the Conservative party, the City or the stock exchange. If there were, would not Conservative Members be worried? Of course they would. They would be probing the issue and causing a fuss.

Mr. Cash

I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware that the Bill provides for investigations into questions arising from economic well-being, and the pointed remark which he has just made goes rather wider than the content of the Bill.

Mr. Winnick

That is a matter for the Chair. I do not think that we need a substitute Deputy Speaker in the form of the hon. Gentleman who has graced us by his presence.

I do not expect for a moment that the Minister will accept the amendment, because he does not believe in any form of parliamentary scrutiny of the security services. However, even though these amendments may be lost, I hope that they contain the sort of changes which the next Labour Government will be able to carry out. Given a tighter definition of subversion, one hopes that it will not be possible in future for Conservative Members, such as the Minister, to bait us on what the Labour party did when in office.

6.30 pm

Much has been said about those who want to undermine parliamentary democracy. Yet in the last few days it has been discovered—it is not an allegation but a confirmed fact—that someone working at the Department of Trade and Industry has a known Nazi past, has been involved in the most extreme Right-wing organisations, went to prison for Nazi activity and apparently even now is considering the formation of a new organisation based on race hate and fascism.

Despite all the talk about the need for a security service, which I accept, it is surprising that someone with such a background and involvement in extremist Right-wing politics, and who is a declared hater of blacks and Jews, should be a civil servant working in the Department of Trade and Industry. I wonder about the basis on which that gentleman was investigated, or do we take it that so long as someone has a Nazi background and has been to prison for Nazi activity, it is perfectly acceptable, whereas if someone is the general secretary of CND, files can be opened and such a person can be the subject of much gossip by special branch officers through interviewing a former editor of the CND journal?

Two laws seem to operate—one for those who carry out perfectly lawful responsibilities, and another for people on the extreme Right, such as the person I mentioned, who, according to the Department only yesterday, would continue in his job. There must be a much wider look at the security service. At the end of the day, steps should be taken to strengthen the rights of ordinary people, thereby allowing the security service to operate under a much tighter definition of subversion.

Mr. Maclennan

I do not doubt that the intention behind the amendment is worthy, in that it seeks to strengthen the defence of the individual from unacceptable intrusions into privacy by the exercise of the Secretary of State's discretion. But from the way in which the amendment seeks to achieve its ends and the effect of its language, it is clear that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) is under a misconception.

The hon. Gentleman made an error in believing that the most effective way of protecting the citizen from an abuse of discretion is by seeking to narrow that discretion. As I said on Second Reading, senior Ministers who have the duty to authorise interception of communications must have a very wide—in many cases, almost unlimited—discretion, and the real protection of the individual from the abuse of power which such discretion makes possible is the ex post facto examination of the exercise of the discretion, provided in the Bill by the continuing role of the commissioner, and the right of access to a tribunal for a remedy.

The attempt to narrow the ambit of the Secretary of State's discretion in respect of clause 2(2)(a) should not be supported. Whether or not the amendment succeeds in narrowing the discretion is far from resolved by the speech of the hon. Member for Erdington. I do not believe it achieves the purpose which it seeks, nor do I believe that the definition in amendment No. 1— for the defence of the realm or to prevent subversion, terrorism or espionage"— is narrower than that contained in the phrase "national security" which is in the Bill. Nothing that the hon. Gentleman has said has persuaded me that the Labour party would succeed in reducing the circumstances in which Secretaries of State might exercise their discretion if Parliament were to make the mistake of accepting the definition in amendment No. 1, which I consider to be verbose and unnecessary.

The hon. Gentleman's apparent justification for the amendment was some dissatisfaction with the definition of subversion given by Lord Harris of Greenwich, a former Labour Minister, and acted upon by the Labour Government during their term of office.

The hon. Gentleman made an extraordinary point when he said that he and his colleagues had been elected to use political, industrial and other means to overthrow the Government.

Mr. Corbett

I did not say that.

Mr. Maclennan

When the hon. Gentleman reads Hansard tomorrow, he will see that he said something like it.

Mr. Corbett

The point I was trying to make was that, by political means through the ballot box, we should try to throw out the Government.

Mr. Maclennan

That reinforces my point. The hon. Gentleman has misunderstood Lord Harris's definition, which refers not to Government but to parliamentary democracy. It is wholly misconceived to seek to redefine subversion when that conceals the circumstances set out by Lord Harris, which do not need to be altered. actvities intended to overthrow parliamentary democracy by political, industrial or violent means are patently unlawful.

Mr. Waddington

The hon. Gentleman does not do justice to himself, because the definition is in two parts and it is not even a question of either-or. The definition as a whole includes activities…which threaten the safety or well being of the State", and which are also intended to undermine or overthrow Parliamentary democracy". —[Official Report, House of Lords, 26 February 1975; Vol. 357, c. 947.] Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that there is no need for even a moment's hesitation and that no one but an idiot would conclude that trying to replace the Government through the ballot box came within Lord Harris's definition?

Mr. Maclennan

I agree entirely with the Minister. I was merely focusing on the part of Lord Harris's definition which the hon. Member for Erdington addressed—his reference to the overthrow of parliamentary democracy.

The amendment dresses up a proposal which is somewhat misleading. On the face of it, the proposal seeks to narrow the Minister's discretion, but it does not achieve that. On the face of it, the proposal provides a remedy for the aggrieved citizen, but it does not achieve that. For those reasons, the House should reject the amendment.

Mr. Waddington

The question which the House is addressing is whether we can find a more appropriate phrase than "national security" when defining the Secretary of State's powers to issue warrants under clause 2.

First, the phrase "national security" is no stranger to us. It has appeared in many statutes over the years. It appeared in the Employment Protection Act 1975, in the Race Relations Act 1976, and in about 50 further Acts sprinkled through the statute books. No Government have found it necessary or appropriate to define the term, which Parliament has accepted as it is, when passing those Acts. By their nature, decisions about questions of national security must be for Ministers, who must form a judgment in the light of all the information available to them about what does or does not raise issues of national security. Uniquely, under the Bill there is an independent check on those decisions by the tribunal or the commissioner, who will be able to see all the facts.

Therefore, Parliament has less to complain about on this occasion than on previous occasions when the Labour Government were perfectly happy to put before Parliament Bills in which the phrase "national security" was used with no suggestion that any protection should be afforded to citizens lest the Labour Government should misconstrue the meaning of that expression.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Given the fact that the Government are providing these new safeguards, is it not curious that the previous Administration, which operated Lord Harris's definition, at no time felt constrained to bring to the House legislation to deal with the problem about which Opposition Members now complain?

Mr. Waddington

My hon. Friend is right. We had this nonsense from the Opposition last year on the Data Protection Act 1984. Every sort of fiddling, piddling, ridiculous criticism was made of the Bill, but no explanation given why the Labour Government never introduced one when they were in power. Yet they now try to pose as the guardians of liberty. As they did nothing when they were in office, we can be excused for growing slightly irritated by their cant.

Secondly, the use of the phrase is appropriate because it properly reflects the way in which interception has been authorised by successive Governments of the Left and Right. It emphasises the important point that the Bill provides for no extension of existing practices. That is why I was glad to hear the reply of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) a few moments ago.

Thirdly, the use of the phrase "national security" is especially appropriate in the context of the Bill because article 8 of the convention on human rights refers to matters being done in the interests of national security. What could be more natural than for us to import into the Bill a phrase from the convention, when part of this exercise is to ensure that we conform to our obligations under the convention?

6.45 pm

Fourthly, when I consider the Maxwell Fyfe directive, I can see why the formulation in the amendment was reached. However, it is obvious from all that the hon. Gentleman has said that there is a complete misconception by the Opposition. There is obviously more to preserving the nation's security than safeguarding against subversion, terrorism and espionage. I am taking not merely the narrow point that the amendment deals only with prevention and not with the detection of those who may have engaged in such activities — although it is extremely odd that detection should be omitted—but the point that the defence of the realm, which is one of the phrases that appears in the amendment, together with these words is of uncertain meaning. If, in this context, it means no more than defence against armed attack, the phrase is certainly not wide enough to cover all that it is necessary to do and that has previously been done.

I refer hon. Members to paragraph 10 of the White Paper published in February 1985. It states that interception is authorised in accordance with the Government's requirements for intelligence in support of its defence and foreign policies when…that…is necessary in the interests of national security. Interception may be necessary to protect our national security at international level to provide secret intelligence in the foreign and defence areas. Undoubtedly, the acquisition of such intelligence may sometimes be essential in the interests of national security. Without it, the Government's ability to safeguard the country's vital interests would be undermined in a way which I do not believe Opposition Members can intend. No previous Government have contemplated the sort of changes proposed in the amendment, and great harm would be done to our national interests if the amendment were carried.

I now turn to the question of subversion. First, I shall put into perspective the use of the power to intercept on this ground. My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) was right continually to remind the House that at present the word "subversion" does not appear in the Bill. It is for the Secretary of State to decide whether a warrant is necessary in the interests of national security. The starting point is satisfaction in the mind of the Minister that interception is necessary. His view can be considered by the commissioner. If the commissioner gets it wrong, his view may be rejected by the tribunal, if a complaint is made to it by someone who is affected. Therefore, although Lord Harris's definition is a statement of cases within one limb of the national security test, it is not part of the Bill, and no definition of subversion is needed for the Bill to work effectively.

I shall now deal with the meaning of subversion, because the Opposition seek to incorporate a definition of it which not only does not correspond with Lord Harris's definition—we have gone over that so often that hon. Members must be tired of hearing that that is the case—but which is different from and far more limited than the one that they sought to incorporate in Committee. I remind the House that they then defined subversion as having in contemplation the overthrow of the Government. Now they say that that is wrong and that subversion exists only when there is an attempt. Even more strangely, they say that it should not be an attempt to overthrow a Government, only to overthrow a Parliament.

Can one imagine anything more ridiculous? So tight is the definition which they are now trying to persuade Parliament to accept that it is hard to see how anything could be subversion under this definition except the gunpowder plot. It is sheer nonsense, and we have better things to do in the House than to debate sheer nonsense. There can be no doubt that those changes would make far more difficult the task—

Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)

Surely the gunpowder plot was an attempt to blow up the House of Lords. I thought that was the policy of the Opposition.

Mr. Waddington

That may be so, but it is absurd that they should put down an amendment on Report which is entirely contrary to what they said in Committee.

Mr. Cash

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that the last time there was at attempt to put down such an amendment was during the interregnum, when Cromwell was in charge of things?

Mr. Waddington

I shall not indulge in a dissertation on the history of the Commonwealth. I intend to draw my remarks to a close, which will no doubt give much satisfaction to the House. I am sure that hon. Members will not hesitate a moment before rejecting the most absurd amendment that has been tabled during the proceedings on this Bill.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 122, Noes 226.

Division No. 184] [6.51 pm
Anderson, Donald Campbell-Savours, Dale
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Canavan, Dennis
Ashton, Joe Carter-Jones, Lewis
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Clark, Dr David (S Shields)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Clay, Robert
Barron, Kevin Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh) Cohen, Harry
Bidwell, Sydney Conlan, Bernard
Blair, Anthony Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)
Boyes, Roland Cowans, Harry
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E) Cox, Thomas (Tooting)
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E) Craigen, J. M.
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith) Cunliffe, Lawrence
Caborn, Richard Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'I)
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M) Deakins, Eric
Campbell, Ian Dewar, Donald
Dixon, Donald Marek, Dr John
Dormand, Jack Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Douglas, Dick Maynard, Miss Joan
Dubs, Alfred Meacher, Michael
Duffy, A. E. P. Michie William
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G. Mikardo, Ian
Eastham, Ken Milian, Rt Hon Bruce
Edwards, Bob (W'h'mpt'n SE) Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Evans, John (St. Helens N) Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Fatchett, Derek O'Brien, William
Faulds, Andrew O'Neill, Martin
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn) Park, George
Flannery, Martin Pavitt, Laurie
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Foster, Derek Prescott, John
Foulkes, George Randall, Stuart
Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald Redmond, M.
Garrett, W. E. Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)
Golding, John Richardson, Ms Jo
Gould, Bryan Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Hamilton, James (M'well N) Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Hardy, Peter Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Short, Mrs R.(W'hampt'n NE)
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Silkin, Rt Hon J.
Haynes, Frank Skinner, Dennis
Heffer, Eric S. Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'kl'ds E)
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Snape, Peter
Hughes, Roy (Newport East) Soley, Clive
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S) Spearing, Nigel
John, Brynmor Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Stott, Roger
Kilroy-Silk, Robert Strang, Gavin
Lamond, James Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Leadbitter, Ted Tinn, James
Leighton, Ronald Torney, Tom
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Lewis, Terence (Worsley) Wareing, Robert
Litherland, Robert White, James
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Wilson, Gordon
Loyden, Edward Winnick, David
McGuire, Micheal
Mckay, Allen (Penistone) Tellers for the Ayes:
McKelvey, William Mr. John McWilliam and
Madden, Max Mr. Robin Corbett.
Alexander, Richard Bruinvels, Peter
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Bryan, Sir Paul
Alton, David Bulmer, Esmond
Amess, David Burt, Alistair
Arnold, Tom Butterfill, John
Ashby, David Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Ashdown, Paddy Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S)
Aspinwall, Jack Cash, William
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble) Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E) Chapman, Sydney
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Baldry, Tony Cockeram, Eric
Batiste, Spencer Colvin, Michael
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Conway, Derek
Beith, A. J. Coombs, Simon
Bellingham, Henry Cope, John
Bendall, Vivian Corrie, John
Benyon, William Couchman, James
Bevan, David Gilroy Cranborne, Viscount
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Crouch, David
Blackburn, John Currie, Mrs Edwina
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Dickens, Geoffrey
Boscawen, Hon Robert Dicks, Terry
Bottomley, Peter Dorrell, Stephen
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n) Dover, Den
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Dunn, Robert
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Durant, Tony
Bright, Graham Evennett, David
Brinton, Tim Eyre, Sir Reginald
Brittan, Rt Hon Leon Farr, Sir John
Brooke, Hon Peter Favell, Anthony
Fookes, Miss Janet Mates, Michael
Forth, Eric Mather, Carol
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Maude, Hon Francis
Freeman, Roger Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Freud, Clement Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Gale, Roger Mayhew, Sir Patrick
Galley, Roy Meadowcroft, Michael
Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde) Merchant, Piers
Garel-Jones, Tristan Meyer, Sir Anthony
Goodhart, Sir Philip Mills, lain (Meriden)
Goodlad, Alastair Miscampbell, Norman
Gorst, John Moate, Roger
Gower, Sir Raymond Monro, Sir Hector
Greenway, Harry Morris, M. (N'hampton, S)
Gregory, Conal Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Griffiths, E. (B'y St Edm'ds) Murphy, Christopher
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N) Needham, Richard
Ground, Patrick Nelson, Anthony
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Neubert, Michael
Hanley, Jeremy Nicholls, Patrick
Hannam, John Norris, Steven
Hargreaves, Kenneth Onslow, Cranley
Harris, David Osborn, Sir John
Haselhurst, Alan Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Hawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk) Patten, J. (Oxf W & Abdgn)
Hawksley, Warren Pawsey, James
Hayes, J. Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Hayward, Robert Penhaligon, David
Heathcoat-Amory, David Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Heddle, John Porter, Barry
Hicks, Robert Portillo, Michael
Hirst, Michael Powell, William (Corby)
Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling) Powley, John
Holt, Richard Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Hordern, Peter Proctor, K. Harvey
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A) Raffan, Keith
Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk) Rhodes James, Robert
Hubbard-Miles, Peter Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Hunt, David (Wirral) Roe, Mrs Marion
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Hunter, Andrew Rost, Peter
Irving, Charles Sackville, Hon Thomas
Jessel, Toby St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Silvester, Fred
Jones, Robert (W Herts) Skeet, T. H. H.
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Kennedy, Charles Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Key, Robert Soames, Hon Nicholas
King, Roger (B'ham N'field) Speed, Keith
Kirkwood, Archy Spence, John
Knight, Gregory (Derby N) Spencer, Derek
Knowles, Michael Steel, Rt Hon David
Knox, David Stern, Michael
Lang, Ian Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Latham, Michael Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Lawler, Geoffrey Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Lawrence, Ivan Temple-Morris, Peter
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd) Thurnham, Peter
Lightbown, David Viggers, Peter
Lilley, Peter Waddington, David
Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham) Wainwright, R.
Luce, Richard Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Lyell, Nicholas Walden, George
McCrindle, Robert Walker, Bill (T'side N)
McCurley, Mrs Anna Wallace, James
Macfarlane, Neil Waller, Gary
MacGregor, John Walters, Dennis
Maclean, David John Warren, Kenneth
Maclennan, Robert Watson, John
McQuarrie, Albert Watts, John
Madel, David Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Major, John Wells, Sir John (Maidstone)
Malins, Humfrey Wheeler, John
Malone, Gerald Whitfield, John
Maples, John Whitney, Raymond
Marlow, Antony Wiggin, Jerry
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Wolfson, Mark
Wood, Timothy Tellers for the Noes:
Wrigglesworth, Ian Mr. Tim Sainsbury and
Mr. Donald Thompson.

Question accordingly negatived.

Sir Philip Goodhart

I beg to move amendment No. 2, in page 2, line 23 at end insert 'or unless the persons whose transmissions by post or whose communications by a public telecommunications system are the subject of a warrant are officials of any Government department or of Her Majesty's Armed Forces or of any police force, who are authorised to receive and read information that for the time being is classified as secret.'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 3, in page 2, line 29 at end insert— '(5) No warrant shall be needed to intercept the communications of any public servant who is entitled to read Government documents classified "secret"...

Sir Philip Goodhart

In the debate on the previous amendments, my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) pointed out that the word "subversion" does not have any part in the Bill, although all the speeches from the Labour Benches, without exception, have touched on the subject of subversion, in one way or another.

The amendments which I and my hon Friend the member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) have tabled are not concerned with trying to draw up guidelines on tapping the telephones of business men or of trade union leaders who may be conspiring with agents of foreign countries to do damage to the country. We are not concerned with trying to draw up guidelines to exclude or include members of organisations which may be seeking to dismantle the defences of the country.

The amendments reflect the concern of my hon. Friend and myself that we should do nothing in the Bill that makes it more difficult to track down spies and traitors who have high position in the public service. We are anxious that we should not inadvertently make it more difficult to unmask what the headline writers in the popular press would call "traitors in high places". No one has to seek employment in that part of the public service which entitles him to work with secret material. Those who choose to undertake this work, whether it be in the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign Office, GCHQ or the Underwater Research Establishment at Portland, are generally required to undergo some form of security vetting.

Despite that, within the past few years, vetted employees from all these establishments have been convicted of espionage. Therefore, it seems probable that our vetting procedures need some improvement and change from time to time. I do not see why the routine random tapping of personal communication should not be part of the continuous vetting system.

Mr. Golding

Would this category include all members of the Privy Council?

Sir Philip Goodhart

I see no reason why anybody working with secret material should be excluded.

I am concerned that the Bill will inadvertently make it more difficult to introduce such random taps, so my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds and I have put down these amendments. I commend them to the House.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) in everything that he has said. I recognise that he is suffering from a temporary disability, which I am sure will disappear quickly, and that the brevity of his speech reflected that. He had a great deal more to say and no doubt he would have said it if he had been able to do so.

My hon. Friend and I seek to tackle the problem of traitors and spies at very high levels within the Government. Our view is that we need to do a better job of discovering those spies and traitors who exist, or have existed, in high places, and also of preventing their activities being used to damage the highest interests of the state.

I start by defining the problem. The external threat from the Soviet bloc intelligence services remains undiminished. The internal threat has become more varied and grown more serious. The fall in Communist party membership has been accompanied by the proliferation of new subversive groups of the extreme Left and the extreme Right (mainly the former) whose aim is to overthrow democratic parliamentary government in this country by violent or other unconstitutional means, not shrinking, in the case of the most extreme groups, from terrorism to achieve their aims. They might well seek to make public information that is injurious to the interests of this country, not at the behest or for the benefit of any foreign power, but simply to harm this country itself, whether by causing a rift between it and its allies or otherwise, and by these means to weaken its defences against the overthrow of democratic government here by force. Those are the words of the Security Commission as quoted to the House in the White Paper laid by the Prime Minister in 1981–82. To summarise what it says, both the external threat and the internal threat are serious and growing.

Nor is that the only definition of the threat to which the amendments are addressed. Only 18 months ago we had information in a further report of the Security Commission dealing with the damage caused by the spy and traitor, Geoffrey Prime. We read in paragraph 5.22 of the 1983 report of the Security Commission: In the course of Prime's employment both in the RAF and in GCHQ…he had access to information of the very highest secrecy. An account of the information which we believe Prime passed to the Russians and our assessment of the damage he caused are set out in Appendix D. Quite rightly, appendix D was never published, but we get some inkling of what it contains from paragraph 1.6 of the same report of the Security Commission: The disclosures following Prime's trial naturally occasioned the gravest public disquiet that a traitor involved in the most secret intelligence work should have for so long escaped discovery. Moreover the extent of the injury to the public interest was greatly magnified by the fact that United States secrets had been no less gravely compromised than our own. There can be no doubt that the problem which my hon. Friend and I are addressing in these amendments is very real. Nor are these the only examples where people in high positions have behaved as spies and traitors.

There was the extraordinary case of Commander Trestrail, though I ought not perhaps to apply the words "spy" or "traitor" to him. A police officer appointed to safeguard in the first instance the Duke of Edinburgh and subsquently the Queen, Trestrail was in no sense a traitor or a spy. But he was a personality who could, because of his sexual proclivities, have been capable of being blackmailed, as has happened in other cases.

According to the report of the Security Commission. at the time that Trestrail was originally engaged to safeguard Her Majesty, he had not been positively vetted. That is most peculiar when one remembers that all members of the special branch who are engaged in protecting foreign Heads of State or Heads of Government when they are in Britain are positively vetted. Trestrail at the material time was not, though I should add that since then the Metropolitan police have imposed positive vetting on all members of the royalty protection squad.

7.15 pm

I mention a number of other individuals of whom I have had some passing personal experience. During the 1950s, when I worked in the United States, I came into contact from time to time with senior members of the British diplomatic service working in the British embassy. I am not sure whether I ever met Burgess and Maclean together, but from time to time I had contact with both. Neither of those two was ever imagined by me or any of their colleagues to be traitors or spies, but we now know that they were.

Subsequently, it was widely argued in the United States that there was a third man—a third traitor and spy.

Mr. Golding

What are we to make of this hon. Member who claims the acquaintanceship of those two spies and then puts up a smokescreen about a third man?

Mr. Griffiths

It was bruited about in the United States, especially in the intelligence community, that there was a third man. At the time that was denied by the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence and members of the security service. Subsequently we discovered that Kim Philby, whom I also met, was a spy and a traitor. If it helps the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) with his interventions, I may say that a former British ambassador, whom I know well, shocked me the other day by asking me whether I remembered when we had last met. I replied that I did not. He said, "It was when I gave you lunch in Beirut with Kim Philby." I had forgotten the incident.

My point is that Burgess, Maclean and Philby were all spies in high places and that they did irreparable damage to our country. They were members of the foreign service, but there were others in the defence services. I think of Vassall and of Blake, and since then we have had the shocking case of Geoffrey Prime.

I make one specific point about the Prime case to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, who I am glad to see in his place. The allegations about spying in the security services, notably in the book by Mr. Chapman Pincher, were examined very carefully by the Security Commission. My right hon. and learned Friend will recall that in May 1982 the Diplock Security Commission reported to the Prime Minister and that the Prime Minister, who has been more open about the procedures of the Security Commission than any other British Prime Minister, told the House in her White Paper of May 1982: The procedures as they have been applied…have worked well. She added that the present system of security was well conceived and operated effectively. Unfortunately, as we discovered some nine months later, that conclusion was not accurate. It was then discovered that, despite the investigations that the Security Commission itself had conducted, Geoffrey Prime was still at work, undetected.

It is right to remind the House that, as the White Paper of that day made clear, there had been an investigation by the Security Commission which lasted nine months and involved 32 meetings and interviews with 36 witnesses, among whom, I must suppose, since the Security Commission was conducting the investigation, were the heads of all our counter-espionage services. At the end of that investigation, the Security Commission gave the Prime Minister its considered assessment of the efficacy of the vetting arrangements set up after Radcliffe and applied throughout Geoffrey Prime's career. That assessment said all was well. But that assessment turned out to be wrong. It did not uncover Geoffrey Prime, but it should have done so.

If the security services had had better instrumentalities, would they have been able to do the job that they failed to do? The Security Commission concluded that at the time there were no available resources whereby Prime's treachery could have been detected—save only perhaps the polygraph. I understand that experiments as to the efficacy of the polygraph are continuing and, no doubt at some stage, the Home Secretary or the Prime Minister will give us the conclusions. However, I believe that, if the security services had had available to them the powers proposed in the amendment, there would in fact have been a much greater chance that they would have apprehended Prime during his period at GCHQ. No one can be certain that that would have happened but the chances would have been far better if it had been axiomatic that no person handling intelligence material at the level that was available to Prime should be immune from having his telephone tapped.

The central point of the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham and myself is that too many of the acts of treason and espionage that have come to light have been conducted by people at the very highest levels.

Mr. Corbett

From public schools.

Mr. Griffiths

I accept that. Too many of them have been from public schools. Too many have come from the Oxbridge background. But that is in no way an indictment of public schools or Oxbridge. What matters is that too many of these acts of espionage and subversion have come from those occupying positions in which they have access to information that is classified for the time being as secret.

Those who join the police service put aside most of their personal civil liberties, and rightly so. From the moment of engagement, a police officer may join no trade union, engage in no politics, affiliate to no political or trade union organisation. He must live where he is told and be available 24 hours a day. Certain officers too, are covered by the Official Secrets Act 1911, and that is entirely correct. It is a precondition of the policeman's employment that he should accept the restrictions imposed on his civil liberties that are necessary for him to do his job properly.

We are now asking in these amendments that another category of public servant at the highest level should accept as a condition of employment that some of the civil liberties that are available to the generality of people must be forgone. It is a proper and reasonable condition of service that those at the most senior levels in the Ministry of Defence, in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, perhaps in GCHQ, and certainly in the Atomic Energy Authority, and any of the agencies that are to be engaged in space, especially where they collaborate with the Americans in the strategic defence initiative, should be asked, as a condition of taking on their post, to put aside the civil liberties that the rest of us enjoy—the right not to have our communications intercepted when suspicion justifies interception.

Mr. Golding

Do the hon. Members for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) and for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhatt) include Privy Councillors? Do they include the Home Secretary in this category?

Mr. Griffiths

As drafted, my amendment does not. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham, I have no inherent objection to that, but I should like to hear the arguments for such an inclusion.

The House is naturally concerned with striking the subtle and difficult balance between civil liberties and the proper preservation of the security of the democratic state. That balance will constantly concern us. It is the nature of political dialogue that one side of the House will tend to lean a little more one way and the other side a little more the other way. But not all civil liberties are the civil liberties of individuals. The civil liberty of the community must also be protected against subversion, aggression. terrorism, drugs and war. In the 21 years that I have been a Member, rarely has a Home Secretary had to pilot through the House the welter of legislation introduced by the present Home Secretary, and I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on it. In virtually all that legislation—the Data Protection Act 1984, the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and the Prosecution of Offences Bill--we have been concerned at every point with the balance between the liberty of the individual and the proper protection of the rights and liberties of the community.

If the amendment is accepted and those who handle secret information no longer have absolute rights, the security services will be better able to ensure that the freedoms of the community — not to be terrorised, subverted, subjected to violence or the importation of drugs on a large scale and not to see the enemies of democracy triumph — are equally protected. The amendment is worth pursuing on that ground.

Mr. Golding

The hon. Gentleman persists in saying "the amendment". Is he aware that there are two amendments on the amendment paper in his name? Is he aware that we are debating both? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that amendment No. 3 refers to public servants who are entitled to read Government documents? Does that not relate to the Home Secretary? Is it not odd that we should discuss giving people the right to tap the Home Secretary's telephone without the Home Secretary's knowledge?

Mr. Griffiths

The hon. Gentleman is quite properly a stickler for precision, and I do not complain about that. My name appears at the top of the amendment that is confined to officials. It would exclude from the protection of the clause those persons who are officials of any Government department or of Her Majesty's Armed Forces or of any police force". The name of my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham appears at the top of the amendment dealing with the communications of any public servant". I acknowledge that there is a slight difference. I am speaking to my amendment, but, in its wisdom, the Chair has judged that we should debate both amendments together.

7.30 pm
Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

I regard the speech of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmudnds (Mr. Griffiths) as odious. He was moving a repulsive amendment. It is intolerable for him, in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding), to weasel out of his responsibilities for amendment No. 3. Only two hon. Members have signed it. One is the hon. Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) and the other is himself. The hon. Gentleman cannot pretend that, because the two amendments are linked, and he is speaking to the one on which his name comes top, he is dissociated from the other amendment, which, as I shall seek to point out, bears the interpretation to which my hon. Friend has drawn attention.

I described the speech of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds as odious because it was deliberate sensation-mongering. He decided to drag Mr. Trestrail's name through the mud. Mr. Trestrail has suffered all that he should be required to suffer after the episode in which he was involved. It was a regrettable and unhappy episode. It is monstrous of the hon. Gentleman to drag that man's name through the mud when he is in no way involved with the subject matter of the two amendments, however the hon. Gentleman defines them. It is a disgraceful abuse of parliamentary privilege to pillory an individual who has suffered a great deal.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

I made it crystal clear that Commander Trestrail was in no way involved in espionage or treachery. My point—it bears repeating as the -fight hon. Gentleman was signing his letters at the time and apparently did not listen— was that if there had been telephone interception of Commander Trestrail's conversations, his peculiar proclivities would undoubtedly have been picked up.

Mr. Kaufman

The hon. Gentleman is therefore seeking to have people's communications intercepted on a basis far wider than has been proposed by almost anyone. The hon. Gentleman is proposing that someone should have his telephone or letters stopped not because he has committed or is likely to commit a crime but because he is a potential security risk on the basis of a social bias against some sexual activities. I regard that as utterly abominable. On that basis, almost anyone vulnerable in that way can have his telephone tapped or letters intercepted.

I made that point because it will not do in the House for us to seek sensational headlines by dragging along the names of all those spies about whom people like to write newspaper articles. It was disgraceful of the hon. Gentleman to do that. When we speak in the House, we should take account of the feelings of those whose names we mention. If there is no overriding public reason to do so, we should exhibit some fastidiousness. The hon. Gentleman's fastidiousness has now gone below zero.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned Mr. Prime. That strikes me as nuts. It is bananas. Mr. Prime, or any serious spy, will not speak on the telephone. A non-serious spy will speak on the telephone to be intercepted in the way that the hon. Gentleman wants, but serious spies have other ways in which to communicate with one another.

All of us who have served in Government and who have travelled abroad on Government service have had our security briefings. That is why—

Mr. Griffiths

The right hon. Gentleman has made personal animadversions. May I quote the words of the Security Commission dealing with the interception of communications? The commission said: The criminal and the wrongdoer should not be allowed to use services"— that refers to telephone services— provided by the State for wrongful purposes quite unimpeded; and the police …and the Security Service ought not to be deprived of an effective weapon in their efforts to preserve and maintain order for the benefit of the community. It is the Security Commission and not I that is saying that telephone interception could be effective in the case of traitors, including Prime. The right hon. Gentleman should do his homework before he makes such allegations.

Mr. Kaufman

The Security Commission says that they should not have the use of those media of communication. The hon. Gentleman should have tabled an amendment providing that all spies should have their telephones cut off.

The amendment is not just extraordinary objectionable; it is stupid. It is stupid when it comes from two hon. Members who have served in Government. If the hon. Gentlemen were new Back Benchers I could understand them—I should not sympathise; I should still deplore them — tabling such an amendment. Both hon. Gentlemen — in particular the hon. Member for Beckenham, who has served in the Northern Ireland Office — are aware, as I am, how enormously wide a circulation documents marked "secret" have. Junior civil servants see documents marked "secret" the whole time. Civil servants of higher executive officer level see documents marked "secret".

A document is not secret because it is marked "secret". A document is classified as "secret" because it is marked "secret". Anyone who has served in Government—I did for five years and my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme did—knows that the most trivial documents are marked "secret", for reasons that I have never been able to understand.

The Home Secretary clearly told us that there are four classifications of documents. I think that there is probably a fifth, but not for the likes of me as I then was. The four categories are restricted, secret, top secret and commercially confidential.

My experience in Government was that a restricted document was one which, if one dropped it in the street and it was picked up by a reporter from the Daily Mail, he would throw away as being too boring. If someone dropped a document marked "secret" in the street and it was picked up by a reporter from The Sunday Times, it might be examined with some interest to see whether it would make a paragraph in an inside story.

Most Government documents are over-classified. That being so, the amendment would make it possible for the security services — without applying to the Home Secretary because no warrant needs to be issued—to intercept the communications of someone who has regular access to documents marked "secret". It would make it possible for most civil servants to have their telephones tapped without the Home Secretary knowing anything about it.

The Home Secretary and I have our differences, and we shall continue to have them, but I take seriously what he said. I know that he has said conscientiously that every time he is asked to sign a warrant for an interception of communication he deals with it with enormous care. He does not deal with it, as we know, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) said in Committee, as a Minister in the Home Office. It is not a Home Office responsibility. It is not a responsibility that the Home Secretary can hand on to his hon. Friend the Minister of State or anyone else. It is his personal responsibility as Home Secretary. It is a private and important responsibility. It is a responsibility—whatever we may think of the outcome of any Home Secretary's decision—exercised with great restraint.

To insert in the Bill an amendment which would take away the Home Secretary's right to decide about warrants and allow the security services to tap a talephone or intercept letters on the basis merely of someone having access to secret documents could mean that tens of thousands of taps would take place without the Home Secretary knowing and using his judgment about them. That would immensely widen the scope for interception. It would also remove any ministerial responsibility from most telephone tapping. It would be a police state development with the most serious consequences. I am convinced that it would be as intolerable to this Government as it would be intolerable to a Government formed by the Opposition.

The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds was completely wrong and my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme was absolutely right on the question whether Ministers could have their telephones tapped. Amendment No. 3 is poorly drafted as well as repulsive in content. It refers to "any public servant". Ministers are certainly public servants. They may not be civil servants but they are public servants. If they are not public servants, what on earth are they? If the amendment were to become part of an Act of Parliament, it would be open to MI5 to decide that any right hon. or hon. Member on the Conservative Front Bench could have his telephone tapped and his letters intercepted.

There is another danger of a contrary kind. That is the temptation for those who are responsible for classifying documents to classify them as secret in order to allow communications to be intercepted. The hon. Members who have put their names to this horrible amendment know very well that it is not Ministers who decide the classification. As a Minister of State, I was responsible for areas of great confidentiality, even though a good deal of the material was over-classified. The documents arrived on my desk classified.

This is another area in which Ministers, if they wished —to give them credit, I do not think they would—could classify documents as secret as a way round the other criteria in the Bill for allowing communications to be intercepted. It would also be possible for other public servants, other civil servants or senior civil servants to have documents classified as secret in order to have the communications of colleagues intercepted. Hon. Members may say that that is fantasy. I hope it is, but it is what the Act of Parliament would say if the amendments were made.

There is among some hon. Members a kind of spy mania or security mania. Of course we all want to deal with enemies of the state; of course we want to prevent important state secrets being spied upon by people and then communicated to external enemies of our society; of course we all want that, and it is essential to have an apparatus that brings it about. The Opposition have never said or implied otherwise at any stage during the passage of the Bill. But to widen on an enormous scale, in massively outwardly radiating concentric circles, the number of people whose civil liberties are to be interfered with, because they might conceivably have access to documents which are over-classified in any case, is pushing things too far.

As the Home Secretary said on Second Reading, and as he said previously when he made his statement on the White Paper, the power with which the Bill deals is an unattractive power. Governments say that they do not want it. It is a power that they should not want. It is a power that, if used at all, should be used to the minimum extent necessary consonant with the security of the state and the detection of serious crime—which the Government, we are glad to say, have been able to re-define as the Bill has proceeded.

7.45 pm

Let us remember what the Bill is about. It is not about having some kind of McCarthyite phobia, although the two hon. Members whose names appear on the amendments seem to believe that it is. On Second Reading, the Home Secretary said that it was the first statutory restriction on the interception of communications, and that is what it should be. We have serious differences across the Floor of the House as to whether the restriction is tight enough, but the amendments are not about the restriction of interception of communications. They are about widening the interception of communications to an extent which would cause delight if it were available in Moscow or any of the Eastern bloc countries, in South Africa, Chile, or any totalitarian country of any kind. We are utterly opposed to providing this Government with totalitarian powers, and we very much trust that the Government will tell the House that they do not want such powers.

Mr. Waddington

I shall not follow the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman),who, from time to time, rather exaggerates. I do not believe for one moment that my hon. Friends can be accused of being odious or of deliberate sensation-mongering. We all know that the right hon. Member is a past master in overworked abuse and snide and silly remarks. He uttered a few last week. Those who live in glass houses should not cast stones.

Clearly, the Government cannot accept the amendments. I appreciate my hon. Friends' concern about the menace of treachery. It behoves us all to recognise the dangers and to encourage continual vigilance, but the Bill is surely right not to single out any category of people as being either especially liable to interception or as being especially protected from it. Surely the object of the exercise must be to establish clearly in the statute the grounds on which interception can be authorised. If the criteria set by the Bill are right, and if the arrangements for operating the system are correct, no one should need special protection or be specially liable to have interception directed against him. Surely the question here is whether we have the criteria right. We believe that we have.

My hon. Friends are rightly concerned about treachery, and they see the amendments as a means of deterring it. The powers in the Bill allow all proper steps to be taken. Espionage, of course, is a crime and is therefore covered by clause 2(2). Treachery must be covered by national security in clause 2(2)(a). The Bill does not provide for speculative interception for the purpose of deterring treachery, and two questions obviously arise. First, is it right that interception should be used in that speculative way? Secondly, if it is, is it likely in any event that it would have any practical effect?

With regard to the second question, a large number of Crown servants have access to secret material. Would it be a sensible use of resources to have their communications dipped into occasionally as a matter of routine? Obviously it could be only occasionally, because there are so many of them. The right hon. Gentleman is at least right on this. Any person seriously bent on treachery would know that because of his position he was in that category of persons liable to have their communications dipped into from time to time. If he were up to no good, he would not use the public system. Therefore, the effect of the amendments might be to make such a person even more difficult to catch, and would have exactly the opposite effect to that which presumably my hon. Friends are after.

There are two other relevant points. It is at least doubtful whether, under the European convent:on, speculative interception of a certain class of people would be deemed by the European Court to be necessary in a democratic society. I refer there to the article concerned. Secondly, we are all agreed that interception is distasteful. Therefore, we have set out to make it subject to special controls and safeguards.

That is what the legislation is about. The effect of the amendments would be to remove all safeguards from this type of interception—there would be no warrants from the Secretary of State and no tribunal. To do that would be to defeat the whole purpose of the Bill. We could not possibly go down that road. As a Government, we are proud of the fact that we are introducing a measure which, while giving adequate powers to the Secretary of State in regard to telephone tapping, at the same time provides new safeguards for citizens.

I respect the reasons why the amendments have been tabled. I share the view of my hon. Friends on the need to take adequate steps to safeguard national security, but I think I have made it abundantly plain that the amendments run entirely counter to the central theme of the legislation.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

It was never the intention of my hon. Friend or myself to press the amendments to a Division. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) totally misconceived the purpose of our amendments. He was characteristically assassinatory in his ugly and repulsive remarks, which I reject. In view of what my hon. and learned Friend has said, and in view of the fact that I am sure that the Home Secretary has apprehended the point made by my hon. Friend and myself that we are looking for the utmost diligence by the Government to ensure that we do not have more such cases, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman cannot do that, because he did not move the amendment.

Sir Philip Goodhart

indicated assent.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I see that the hon. Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart), who moved the amendment, wishes to withdraw it. Is it the pleasure of the House that the amendment be withdrawn?

Hon. Members


Amendment by leave, withdrawn.

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