§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)
I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 10, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,the allegations published yesterday in The Observer newspaper about illegal and political acts by MI5 relating to telephone tapping and other activities".The matter is specific, in that a named person has made precise and detailed allegations. It is important, because at stake is the fundamental right of citizens to conduct legitimate activities free of oppressive interference by the state. It should have urgent consideration, because such charges have been current for several days without any specific response or denial by the Home Secretary.
The charges are made by Miss Cathy Massiter, who was employed in MI5 for 14 years, and who has been ready to risk prosecution under the Official Secrets Act as a result of speaking out openly. Miss Massiter alleges that MI5 has falsely classified hundreds of members of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament as subversives so as to justify opening files on them. She says that MI5 deliberately chose as a subject for telephone tapping a leading member of CND who was a Communist so as to justify this interception on the ground that a Communist could reasonably be classified as a subversive.
Miss Massiter further alleges that the Home Secretary in August 1983 signed a warrant authorising that this man's telephone be tapped, even though the Home Secretary himself has insisted that the test of subversion is a strict one, involving an intention to undermine or overthrow parliamentary democracy. This authorisation enabled MI5 to listen in to conversations with other leading members of CND.
Miss Massiter further alleges that secret information obtained by covert and clandestine methods was passed to the DS19 unit at the Ministry of Defence and a briefing paper was specifically prepared by MI5 for the Secretary of State for Defence and that this material was then used for party political purposes by the Secretary of State for Defence, even though the Maxwell Fyfe directive says:the Security Service should be kept absolutely free from any political bias or influence".In the past few days, the Home Secretary has repeated that point.
Miss Massiter again says that the housing organisation, Shelter, has been spied upon on the ground that it might be a target of Communist penetration.
These allegations are of the utmost importance for freedom in a democratic society. If they are true, it means that the security services are being wrongly used by the Government in pursuit of party political objectives.
Some of these matters could have been put before the nation for consideration had it not been for the craven and sycophantic attitude of the Independent Broadcasting Authority in banning the programme, "MI5's Official Secrets". But it is particularly urgent that we in the House debate these allegations because, for all we know, these oppressive and instrusive activities are still going on now, possibly with new targets being spied upon and listened to.
§ Mr. Kaufman
All who care about liberty and democracy — that clearly excludes a considerable number of Conservative Members of Parliament—and all who are opposed to the Big Brother or Big Sister state want these allegations to be cleared up, one way or the other. The House is the proper place for the Government to be questioned and to be held to account, so a debate is needed. Therefore, I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House.
§ Mr. Speaker
The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter which should have urgent consideration, namely,the allegations published yesterday in The Observer newspaper about illegal and political acts by MI5 relating to telephone tapping and other activities.The right hon. Gentleman knows, as does the whole House, that the only decision that I have to make is whether to give this matter precedence over the business already set down for today or tomorrow. I regret that I do not consider the matter which he has raised is appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 10, and I cannot therefore submit his application to the House.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Obviously I am in no way challenging your decision—[HON. MEMBERS: "Sit down, then."—That is your decision, and we must respect it.
If it was decided that there should be a prosecution under the Official Secrets Act, am I right in the view that it would be impossible for the matter to be raised on the Floor of the House because it would be sub judice?
We are told that the matter is being considered by the Director of Public Prosecutions. There is widespread concern in the country, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) has properly said, and there is a great deal of discussion going on about it. However, at the end of the day we are unable to raise the matter with the relevant Minister.
During business questions last Thursday, you will recall that I attempted to raise the matter, as did one or two of my hon. Friends, and all that the Leader of the House said, understandably, was that he would refer it to the appropriate Minister. Today, Monday, there is to be no statement. There is no other way of raising the matter. If it was decided that the employee who exposed the malpractices in MI5 should be prosecuted, which in my view would be outrageous, we should not be able to raise the matter. It would be sub judice.
As I see it, a very important part of our job in the House in safeguarding democratic liberties is being eroded because we are unable to raise the issue by means of an emergency debate, a statement or in other ways that I cannot mention here. Therefore, we are denied the opportunity that we on the Opposition Benches want—I cannot speak for Government supporters—which is to play our role in defending people's democratic rights.
§ Mr. Speaker
I cannot rule on what is obviously a hypothetical case. It is an individual case, and I have no knowledge of whether there is to be any prosecution. However, the hon. Gentleman is correct in saying that if cases are sub judice they may not be raised here.
As for the general proposition, the House knows that there is shortly to be a debate on this subject.
§ Mr. Mark Carlisle (Warrington, South)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Further to the application made by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), since the vast majority of the allegations made in the film to which the right hon. Gentleman referred relate to the telephone tapping of trade union leaders at the time when a Labour Government were in office, would it not be more appropriate for such a debate to take place in Opposition time?
§ Mr. Kaufman
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The concern of the Opposition is that all allegations should be considered. The point is that Ministers of the Crown who are answerable to the House of Commons refuse even to come to the House to make a statement. When will the Leader of the House fulfil his undertaking that the House will be given a statement on these matters by the Home Secretary, so that all allegations, whomever they are against, can be considered by Parliament?