HC Deb 06 May 1987 vol 115 cc723-32 3.30 pm
Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn) (by private notice)

asked the Prime Minister if she will make a statement in response to the statement made this morning by the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Sir J. Callaghan) calling for a review by a senior judge of the findings of the 1977 inquiry into allegations about the operations of the security services in the mid-1970s, taking into account information reportedly contained in a book written by Mr. Peter Wright, examining both him and those officers who have been implicated by Mr. Wright or named by others, and providing the means to gain an independent verdict on the past, and to safeguard the future.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

The right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Sir J. Callaghan) has today called for an inquiry into. recent allegations about the Security Service in relation to the Government led by the right hon. and noble Lord Wilson of Rievaulx between 1974 and 1976.

Allegations of this nature first gained currency 10 years ago, in July 1977. They were summarised in a speech in the House on 28 July 1977 by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker). The allegations ranged widely, but were to the effect that the Security Service had sought to discredit the duly constituted Government of the day, and in particular its Prime Minister; or that some members of the Security Service had conspired together to do so.

On 23 August 1977, the right hon. Gentleman, the then Prime Minister, issued a statement in which he said that he had conducted detailed inquiries into the recent allegations about the Security Service and he was satisfied that they did not constitute grounds for lack of confidence in the competence or impartiality of the Security Service, or for instituting a special inquiry.

On 8 December 1977, the right hon. Gentleman told the House that Lord Wilson associated himself with that statement, and therefore there was no reason to carry the matter any further. I accepted the right hon. Gentleman's statement and conclusions without question. I believed them, and I still believe them, to be correct.

Early in 1978, a book was published, entitled "The Pencourt File", which contained fuller accounts of these allegations. My hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) has let me see copies of correspondence which he exchanged with the right hon. Gentleman the then Prime Minister. My hon. Friend drew the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the contents of the hook, and in particular to a number of statements attributed in the book to the then Sir Harold Wilson. My hon. Friend urged the then Prime Minister to arrange for a full inquiry to be undertaken by the Security Commission.

In his reply dated 20 February 1978, the then Prime Minister said: So far as I can see, there are no significant statements about matters of national security in this book of which the authorities were not aware when I issued a statement on allegations about the Security Service on 23 August last; I put the statement in the Official Report on 8 December. He concluded: I have nothing to add to it. In recent weeks these allegations have been given renewed currency in press reports which the right hon. Gentleman, in his statement issued this morning, says go into greater detail than the 1977 inquiry knew about.

It would not be appropriate for me or other members of this Administration to see papers relating to that time, and we have not asked to do so. I can, however, tell the House that the director-general of the Security Service has reported to me that, over the last four months, he has conducted a thorough investigation into all these stories, taking account of the earlier allegations and of the other material given recent currency. There has been a comprehensive examination of all the papers relevant to that time. There have been interviews with officers in post in the relevant parts of the security service at that time, including officers whose names have been made public.

The director-general has advised me that he has found no evidence of any truth in the allegations. He has given me his personal assurance that the stories are false. In particular, he has advised me that all the security service officers who have been interviewed have categorically denied that they were involved in, or were aware of, any activities or plans to undermine or discredit Lord Wilson and his Government when he was Prime Minister. The then director-general has categorically denied the allegation that he confirmed the existence within the security service of a disaffected faction with extreme Right-wing views. He has further stated that he had no reason to believe that any such faction existed. No evidence or indication has been found of any plot or conspiracy against Lord Wilson by or within the security service.

Further, the director-general has also advised me that Lord Wilson has never been the subject of a security service investigation or of any form of electronic or other surveillance by the security service.

The right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth, in a statement he issued on 22 March this year, declared that he had every confidence in the integrity and ability of the present director-general of the Security Service. So have I. I accept the assurance and the advice which he has given me.

This latest investigation, taking account of recently published material, confirms the conclusions reached and announced by the right hon. Gentleman in 1977, which I then accepted without question. That was in accordance with the tradition of bipartisan Front Bench support for the security and intelligence services and the work that they do. Like the right hon. Gentleman in 1977 and again in 1978, I do not propose to institute any other inquiry into these matters. In the light of the director-general's assurance and advice, I do not believe that any further inquiry would be justified.

So, once again, as in 1977, detailed inquiries have confirmed the conclusion that there are no grounds for lack of confidence in the competence or impartiality of the Security Service or for instituting a special inquiry.

It is time to stop raking over the embers of a period over 10 years ago and to assert confidence, as I readily do, in the Security Service's strict adherence to the directive under which it carries out its duties, and in its skill and loyalty in carrying out the tasks which it is called upon to undertake in the defence of our security and freedom.

Mr. Kinnock

I share the confidence that the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend for Cardiff. South and Penarth (Sir J. Callaghan) have in the director-general of the Security Service and in his efforts in conducting an internal inquiry and examination into these matters, including the references to recently available information. That is all the more reason for thinking that there is nothing at all to fear from an independent review of that inquiry by a judge.

When my right hon. Friend, who was Prime Minister at the time of the 1977 inquiry, now seeks a review of that inquiry because there is, as he says, a direct conflict of evidence, it is unreasonable, unjust and unwise of the Prime Minister not to make a positive response to that very serious request. Does not the Prime Minister realise that such a refusal can only fuel suspicions of every description and that the resulting circumstances will not assist national security or the people engaged in maintaining national security?

Why does not the Prime Minister accept that allegations and assertions of criminal activity or criminal intentions that, as my right hon. Friend has said, go into greater detail than the 1977 inquiry knew about, have a significance which does not end with a change of Government or the passage of years? Why does not the Prime Minister recognise that those allegations and assertions—whether they relate to people still working or now retired, or to people living or dead—can do no good for either the reputation or the morale of the services and, therefore, must be dealt with in the manner suggested by my right hon. Friend in order to establish whether Peter Wright's version of events is fact, falsehood, fantasy, or a concoction of all three?

Mrs. Thatcher

If the right hon. Gentleman accepts the integrity and loyalty of the director-general of the service, he should accept his advice. There has never been such a detailed statement as I have made. I have tried always to make detailed statements, going further than any previous Prime Minister. When the previous Labour Prime Minister made a statement about the Security Service, he knew that he could rely upon the bipartisan support of Her Majesty's loyal Opposition. I wish we could do so today.

Sir Peter Blaker (Blackpool, South)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that her very full statement will be warmly welcomed by Government Members, as will the decision? If in spite of my request in my speech on 28 July 1977 and, as the former Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Leeds, South and Morley (Mr. Rees) has asserted, the inquiry then conducted was narrow and went into the allegations of bugging only and not into the wider allegations, all of which are referred to, does not that show that there must have been incompetence, negligence or a cover-up by that Government?

Mrs. Thatcher

My right hon. Friend has heard the very detailed statement I have made. I have confidence in the director-general of the Security Service and in the Security Service. I believe that the majority of people have more confidence in the Security Service of this country than in some of the politicians in the Opposition who try to undermine the service.

Sir James Callaghan (Cardiff, South and Penarth)

I am very grateful to the Prime Minister that the statement I issued this morning has given her the opportunity to tell us about the director-general's investigation. I ask her whether she would have told the House about that if I had not issued that statement. It is all very well for her to be convinced about these matters and for me to be convinced about them, but it is important also that the public should have confidence in the service.

What the right hon. Lady has said this afternoon will have gone some way to reassuring the public about what has happened. What I have said in my statement is quite clear: there is a direct conflict of evidence between what Mr. Peter Wright has said and what I was told by the director-general of the Security Service in 1977. I have my own view about whom I believe, and I have expressed that in my statement by saying that, strangely enough, Mr. Wright has offered no explanation for his failure to come forward in 1977 to tell the inquiry what he then knew, despite a public invitation that I issued to witnesses to do so. So I have my own view about the situation.

In my judgment, it would be much better to clear the matter out of the way so that there can be public confidence, and the Security Service may know that it has confidence. If there were to be an independent inquiry from outside the Security Service, I believe I know what conclusion would be reached. Because of that, and because I certainly have nothing to fear from such an inquiry, I believe that the right hon. Lady is missing a very good opportunity both to close an unhappy chapter and to open a fresh one.

I beg the right hon. Lady not to close her mind to that even now. If she does not do so, these allegations, and in some cases inventions, about the Security Service will carry on and the contents of the book will continue to be dribbled out in one country or another. Every time that happens there will be a fresh spate of allegations and charges. The Security Service and everybody else will still rest under those allegations. The right hon. Lady is stubborn in not yielding to the suggestion that an independent group should consider these matters objectively, and report to her and to the House.

I believe that my next suggestion will carry with me some Conservative Members who are chuntering: the Government should also consider for the future some oversight body which would review the work of the service, its targeting, its management, its structure and its staff counselling—and if anything was needed, goodness knows, that is. The right hon. Lady did not refer to that.

Is the right hon. Lady aware that she has given a partial reassurance by the statement she has made which was drawn out of her by my press comment this morning? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes. I ask the right hon. Lady once again to consider whether she cannot on some occasions be wrong. Would it not be better for her to accept some good natured and well intentioned advice that is offered to her?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for saying that, in his view, my statement goes, in his words, some way to reassure. I believe that for reasonable people it will go the whole way to reassure. Secondly, when the right hon. Gentleman was responsible for the security services, on that day 10 years ago when he appeared at this Dispatch Box and answered, he refused to institute an inquiry. He was right to refuse, and he knows that he was right to refuse. That is the tragedy of it. He knows that tradition has been for all Prime Ministers to refuse such requests. Let me quote Harold Macmillan: It is dangerous and bad for our general national interest to discuss these matters. Otherwise we would risk destroying services which are of the utmost value to us. That, I believe, is correct.

Ten years ago the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Sir J. Callaghan) made a much shorter statement than mine. He was right not to allow an inquiry then. If every Prime Minister says, "This is the result of my inquiry; I will not have a further inquiry," and 10 years later reopens the matter, there will be no assurance whatsoever in anything said from this Box.

Sir Humphrey Atkins (Spelthorne)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that those hon. Members on both sides of the House who know the present director-general will agree with her and with the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Sir J. Callaghan) that he is a man of exceptional intelligence and integrity? Has she had any communication from the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth about whether, if the inquiry were held in private—I assume that that is what he wishes—those who share the Opposition Benches with him would accept the result of the inquiry?

The Prime Minister

Some people would never be satisfied and would go on raising matters again and again. Some people—I totally exclude the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Sir J. Callaghan) from this—wish to undermine the security services. This is their way of doing it. I have made it clear that I do not intend to institute a further inquiry. It is not necessary; it is not justified.

Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)

If Parliament is to accept that the security services return to the previous situation when there were no questions and debates in the House, surely it has to be satisfied as to its objective scrutiny. Is not that the fundamental point? Will the Prime Minister at least look deeper into the more profound matter of parliamentary scrutiny of the security services? If she were to give a little ground over that matter, on which there is a great deal of bipartisan support, many of us — I can speak only personally — would accept the word and integrity of the present director-general. He does not come from the security services and, to that extent, is outside it. I personally accept his judgment on this particular, though narrow, issue.

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what he said about accepting the assurance of the director-general and, therefore, accepting what I have said from the Dispatch Box. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary dealt with the other matter from the Dispatch Box, in reply to a debate on security matters.

Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)

Bearing in mind the contrast between the position taken by the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Sir J. Callaghan) when he had all the power and authority of a Prime Minister—I was content to accept that fact at the time—and his equivocal attitude now, does my right hon. Friend think that the only possible explanation is that he has unhappily been leaned on by a shadow Cabinet that is desperate for some political advantage?

The Prime Minister

I have said that I accept the advice that I have been given. I take the opportunity of reasserting total confidence in the Security Service. I have nothing further to add.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)

The Prime Minister has reminded the House that, in July 1977, two articles appeared in The Observer and thus were public knowledge. They were mentioned on the Floor of the House by the right hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker) and, I believe, two other hon. Members. The matters that were raised on the Floor of the House and were inquired into were public knowledge. If there is nothing new in Mr. Wright's book, why not let it be published?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman is well aware that, if we did not contest the case of a former member of the service who, owing a lifelong duty of confidentiality to the Crown, wished to give an account of anything it suited him to say, there would be no security services left in the kingdom.

Sir Edward Gardner (Fylde)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that all the events that are the subject of the present allegations took place under a Labour Government and were inquired into by a Labour Prime Minister, and that all the personalities involved were either Labour supporters or even Ministers? Is it not a fact, therefore, that the Government have nothing to fear from having an inquiry? Are not the difficulties of an inquiry that, if it is to be a public inquiry, the interests of the Security Service will seriously be put at risk, and, if it is to be a private inquiry, it is unlikely to satisfy anybody and might be misunderstood as a cover-up?

The Prime Minister

I confirm that the events referred to took place before my time in office as Prime Minister. I therefore have no responsibility for them. I have responsibility for the morale of and confidence in the Security Service, and I gladly reassert that confidence. I had hoped that, in a bipartisan spirit, the whole House would do so, because we owe a great deal to those who work in those services.

Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent)

I think that the Prime Minister is making a grave mistake in not responding to the appeal of my right hon. Friend, and I still hope that she will, in a few days, change her mind on this subject, as she has changed it already, but what will she and her Law Officers now do about the newspapers in this and other countries that continue to discuss the matter? Are we to have an endless series of prosecutions against three newspapers in this country which are determined to continue discussing the matter freely, as they have done over the past few weeks? Does she think that that will be a service to our security services?

The Prime Minister

There are those who wish to undermine the security services, and they will go on and on regardless of any inquiry. Their purpose is different from ours, which is to uphold the security services. The security and intelligence services deserve our recognition and gratitude.

I have made a longer statement about this matter, in more detail, than any previous Prime Minister. I ask the House to accept it with the bipartisan attitude that Ministers in the previous Labour Administration expected and received from us.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I must have regard for the subsequent business of the House. The private notice question is an extension of Question Time, and we have now had over 25 minutes on it. I must have regard to the fact that we have before us a very important debate on Northern Ireland, and that there is a great demand from right hon. and hon. Members to take part in it. We must now move on.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I cannot hear what is being said.

Mr. Dalyell

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. During your Speakership, you have always said that you are a champion of Back Benchers. Is it satisfactory that only Privy Councillors should ask questions on a subject such as this?

Mr. Speaker

Order. There will be other opportunities, even tomorrow, for Back Benchers to ask questions about the matter. I must have regard to other hon. Members. This is not the only important topic that hon. Members wish to discuss.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

You will appreciate, Mr. Speaker, that the mood is very bitter over what is seen by some of my colleagues as an attempt at a cover-up. It seems an abuse to the House that many of the Back Benchers who have been most prominent in the investigations and inquiries which have led to today's statement have been denied the opportunity to ask supplementary questions. I think that you should reconsider your ruling, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

The whole House knows that for private notice questions I normally allow no more than 15 minutes. This is an extension of Question Time. If it had been a statement, it would be a different matter. I have to have regard for all hon. Members in this House. I appreciate that this is a matter of much interest to many hon. Members, but there will be other opportunities to discuss it. The House may not have another opportunity for an Irish debate.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I shall take the point of order of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours).

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to place on record how much I regret the fact that today I was not allowed to ask the Prime Minister a question.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. For some weeks my hon. Friends and I have felt strongly that we have been gagged, though not by you, and that we have been unable to make the points that we wanted to make arising from the very serious allegations in Mr. Wright's book. It is a shame and a scandal that hon. Members are being gagged and that they cannot raise matters that should be raised as part of their parliamentary duty. The Prime Minister has made a statement today. It may be that she was most reluctant to make it, but not a single Member who was not a Privy Councillor was called from this side of the House. If serious allegations are being made — and they will continue to be made — surely Members of Parliament have the right to use every opportunity to question the Prime Minister. We are being gagged.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman knows that he is not being gagged. There will be other opportunities, at Prime Minister's Question Time, to ask questions. If any right hon. or hon. Members feel that they are being gagged, it may be the Ulster Members, who have an equal right to the time of this House.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You have helpfully said that there will be oher opportunities to raise the matter. Would it be in order now for an hon. Member to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 20 so that it may be dealt with as an urgent matter?

Mr. Speaker

I have had no application today for the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 20. Questions are put to the Prime Minister twice every week. Arising out of her statement today, there will be plenty of opportunities for Back Benchers to ask further questions on the matter.

Mr. Dalyell

May I formally move, Mr. Speaker, the Adjournment of the House?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have to have regard for every hon. Member, and I have to be fair to the whole House. This is a day on which we have an important Irish debate. The Ulster Members are back with us, and they have an equal claim to the time of this House.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)

I listened with respect, Mr. Speaker, to what you said. All hon. Members welcome back the Ulster Unionists. We never asked them to leave, but, as I say, we welcome them back.

There is a precedent which I call to your mind. When Lord Wilson was Prime Minister, we had a debate on the Crown Agents which arose from a statement that was made on the Floor of the House. There was no opportunity to make an application to the then Speaker, as would have been the practice. Mr. Speaker allowed the then Member of Parliament for Penistone, Mr. John Mendelson, to move his Standing Order No. 9, as it then was, so that the House could debate the statement that had been made. Because of that precedent, and in view of what you have said to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), I ask you at least to allow him to move his motion and then to reach your decision.

Mr. Speaker

I have received no application under Standing Order No. 20.

Mr. Foulkes

You have, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Where is it? [HON. MEMBERS: "Here it comes."] Application under Standing Order No. 20, the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell).

Mr. Dalyell

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely, the refusal of the Prime Minister to initiate an independent inquiry. I have first to persuade you, Mr. Speaker, that the matter is urgent. It is self-evident, from the attitude of the House, that this subject will not go away and that it will have to be discussed before the general election.

Secondly, I have to persuade you that it is important. The Prime Minister left a number of gaps in her statement. Some of us are very concerned about our former colleagues—for example, about the forged bank account of Lord Glenamara, who was Ted Short. The Prime Minister will not even refer that matter to the Security Commission. In the absence of a public inquiry, some of us would like to debate why these matters should not be referred to the Security Commission under the chairmanship of Lord Griffiths of Govilon. Furthermore, why is it that the cases of Colin Wallace and Fred Holroyd cannot be referred to the Security Commission?

It is very important that we should have a debate, because in public print the Prime Minister has been personally involved on account of the information that was acquired from Colin Wallace by Airey Neave in relation to "Clockwork Orange 2". There should be a parliamentary explanation of these matters. Perhaps there is an explanation. Our fellow citizens have been reading about the involvment of Airey Neave in all these matters. That is an added reason why there should be a public inquiry.

Finally, I have to persuade you, Mr. Speaker, that the matter is definite. We had to wait until this new information was winkled out of the Prime Minister — indeed, chiselled out of her—by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Sir J. Callaghan), who had every justification for saying that, until he made his statement, the House of Commons and the British people would have been told little about it. There is much new information. If, therefore, it is to be treated properly, Parliament ought to have a debate on the matter.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely, the refusal of the Prime Minister to initiate an independent inquiry. I have listened with care to what the hon. Member has said, but I regret that I do not consider the matter that he has raised is appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 20. I cannot therefore submit his application to the House.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would you care to contemplate, Sir, why some hon. Members are less entitled to raise points of order than others? I was on my feet for 10 minutes.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman is very frequently called on points of order.

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