HC Deb 15 December 1988 vol 143 cc1104-81

Order for Second Reading read.

Mr. Speaker

Before I call upon the Home Secretary, I must repeat to the House that, very sadly, we have a late start today, and many right hon. and hon. Members wish to participate. I regret that not all of them will be called. I shall impose a limit of 10 minutes on speeches between 7 pm and 9 pm, but I ask right hon. and hon. Members who are called before that time to bear in mind that limit in consideration of the late start that we have had today.

4.27 pm
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hurd)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill gives Parliament, for the first time this century, the opportunity to establish a framework for the Security Service and to weld it into legislation. A month ago no one suspected that we are about to launch a substantial reform of this kind. Now, so fast does the political kaleidoscope shift, those who in their hearts were amazed at the boldness of what we proposed take it for granted and press for more. Labour Members, who in their time did nothing, are particularly urgent that we should do more than we propose—and much more, of course, than they ever dreamed possible.

Before I come to the Bill, I must say a word about the Security Service. I am well aware that it is hampered by the fiction which envelops it. I have nothing against the thriller as an art form, but those who unwittingly get their ideas of the Security Service from Sapper, Le Carré or Deighton will not bring much understanding to the Bill. The Security Service is not full of latter-day Bulldog Drummonds, nor is it locked in a time warp of the 1950s, for ever fighting shadows that have long since disappeared. Still less equipped for the debate are those who feed on works of fiction paraded as if they were statements of fact.

The precursor of today's Security Service was created in the War Office just under 80 years ago to deal with German army espionage. The unit was called M05, and later became M15. In 1935, M15 was amalgamated with the section of the Metropolitan police working to counter subversion and it was in that year—although one would not always think so—that it changed its name to the Security Service. In both world wars, the Security Service was highly successful in counter-espionage and in the last war, the efforts of all the German agents sent here were frustrated.

Let me deal with the constitutional aspects of the service. At the end of the war, the work of the service was reviewed. In his report in 1963, Lord Denning quoted from a report by Sir Findlater Stewart in 1945, which crisply described the purpose of the Security Service as Defence of the Realm and nothing else". That phrase was repeated and developed in 1952 in the Home Secretary's directive to the Director-General of the Security Service—the Maxwell Fyfe directive. That directive, published in Lord Denning's report, continues to apply to the service today.

We now propose that the language of that injunction should be turned into the requirement of a statute. I share the sorrow of the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) that the rolling phrases of the 1940s and 1950s are being replaced, but I think that the term "national security" is now well recognised and understood in statute, and it appears in many Bills passed by the Labour party when in government. By its very nature, the phrase refers— and can only refer—to matters relating to the survival or well-being of the nation as a whole, and not to party-political, sectional or lesser interests.

The main responsibilities of the service for the protection of national security are clearly set out in the Bill. In addition, the Security Service must be able to act if necessary against any substantial threat to the nation as a whole. It is not primarily concerned with matters relating to defence and foreign policy but, as its history shows, it could not, and would not, stand inert in the face of threats to the nation's defence or the hostile actions of a foreign Government. It cannot act in any of those areas, however, unless the security of the nation as a whole is in question. That is what national security means.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

No one in the House, and very few people outside, would for one moment dispute the need for some kind of security service to protect national security, but how can it be argued that it was in the interests of national security for MI5 to target my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman) and Patricia Hewitt, who are bringing a case against the Government at the European Court of Human Rights? How can my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham, as legal officer of the National Council for Civil Liberties, and Patricia Hewitt, as its general secretary, possibly have undermined national security or the democratic structure of our state?

Mr. Hurd

I shall not deal with the past operations of the service or with cases that are now before the European Court. I am merely explaining what is in the Bill, and I shall be coming to the hon. Gentleman's point later.

Clauses 1 and 2 would not permit the Security Service to act against any person or organisation just because he or it has campaigned against the policies of the Government of the day. The Bill makes the political neutrality of the Security Service a statutory requirement for the first time ever. Clause 1 accurately describes the functions of the service as the protection of national security and the safeguarding of our economic well-being from outside threats.

The House knows that, in recent years, the Security Service has been at the forefront of the fight against terrorism, and the shift in the emphasis of its work towards counter-terrorism has been marked and successful. In responding to the threat from Irish terrorism, the Security Service has gained much information that has been used directly and immediately in preventing attacks and thus saving lives. I am thinking in particular of the timely news of arms shipments that have been intercepted before they could reach the island of Ireland and wreak the havoc for which they were intended.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

In the book "One Girl's War", the lady concerned says that she and other officers broke into the home of R. Palme Dutt because they understood that the main secrets of the Communist party were kept under his bed. When they examined the box under his bed, they found that it contained his marriage lines. That was the great secret that he kept. The point is that they broke into his home, just as they have broken into and bugged the homes of many other politicians and political people. The Home Secretary says that the service will be politically neutral from now on. Can he assure us that, from now on, people who express political opposition will never be subjected to that sort of thing again?

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman is being offered not an assurance from me but a Bill. We are putting these matters on the statute book for the first time. I do not intend to enter into details of what has happened in the past, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will read the passages in the Bill that are relevant to his point.

Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

The Home Secretary said that clause 1 explicitly excluded any political bias in the service. Will he read us the words that provide that?

Mr. Hurd

I referred to clauses 1 and 2. clause 2(2)(b) says that it shall be the duty of the director-general to ensure that the Service does not take any action to further the interests of any political party. That is a precise and accurate answer to the right hon. Gentleman's question.

I was dealing with the first and, at the moment, dominant role of the Security Service. I shall deal with subversion in a moment, because I know that that is the aspect that most perturbs Opposition Members.

As regards espionage, there is not much doubt about the principle involved. During the years since the war, the Security Service has provided information that has led to the possibility of successful and decisive action against hostile intelligence agents in this country. We continue to face other threats from outside the country, which relate to those who would weaken our defences, threaten our economy and suborn those whom we trust with our secrets. Here again, the service exists to protect us.

I know that one aspect that worries one of my predecessors, the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) is counter-subversion. I do not doubt that the Security Service must be able, within the limits set out in the Bill, to undertake that task. I have no doubt—we have considered the matter many times—that the definition of subversion given by Lord Harris of Greenwich in 1975 and endorsed by the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South as Home Secretary was the right one.

I am not alone in reaching that conclusion. The matter was considered by the Select Committee on Home Affairs in the 1984–85 Session. The Committee was considering police special branches and it accepted that the Harris definition was broadly correct.

Mr. Winnick

There was a minority report.

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Member would not deny that that was the conclusion of the Committee.

It is not sensible to define subversion only in terms of those who breach the criminal law. We must be able to know the plans and intentions of those who abuse the freedom that we provide under the law to infiltrate our institutions and structures. Under the definition, however, the Security Service can take an interest only in people who have a deliberate purpose and intent to undermine parliamentary democracy and who also represent a real threat to the security of the nation.

The definition is not as wide as some imagine. It is not enough that someone's actions may have the unintended effect of weakening parliamentary democracy. There must be a deliberate intention. It is not enough to have that intention if it presents no current substantial threat. Such people must represent a real threat to the security of the nation, and must intend to do so. That is a fairly narrow and precise definition.

The Security Service is not interested in the normal and proper conduct of the trade unions of this country; it is not interested in thwarting those who seek to persuade others that Government policies—including this Government's policies—are wrong or that their priorities are wrong. It is not interested in those who join together to make their views heard on, for example, the environment or on our defence policies. It is interested in any who might collectively or individually, overtly or clandestinely, be planning the deliberate overthrow of our parliamentary democracy and in doing so present a real threat to our security and safety. Those who think that such people could not exist are ill-informed. Those who think that the Security Service imagines that such people are everywhere are plain wrong.

I ask the House to recognise that clauses 1 and 2 have been carefully drafted to ensure that the Security Service is able to continue to protect the nation as a whole, and to give Parliament a clear indication of its principal concerns. The Security Service cannot get involved in lesser objectives, nor can it obtain or disclose information for lesser objectives. Nor, under clause 2(2) from which I have already quoted, can it take action intended to further the interests of any political party, including the party of the Government of the day. Those are all strong safeguards, proposed for the first time in statute, against the Security Service seeking to act outside its functions or against any Government seeking to put improper pressure on the director-general to do so.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Paisley, South)

Many of us are worried about the meaning of the words undermine parliamentary democracy by political, industrial… means", since the final arbiter will be the Secretary of State reporting to the Prime Minister, not to any Committee of the House. We would do well to keep in mind when we use the words "political" or "industrial" the fact that the Prime Minister described the miners as enemies of the state. Given that kind of definition, what trust can we have in those words?

Mr. Hurd

The change that I am coming to is fundamental, and addresses the hon. Gentleman's point. The issue of warrants for entering property to obtain information, as with the issue of warrants for interception, will be under the scrutiny of a judge. That is a substantial change, which completely alters the basis on which the hon. Gentleman made his criticism.

I ask the House not to underestimate the effect of that. We already have experience of that in the arrangements that Parliament approved in the Interception of Communications Act 1985. Our experience of that shows the real impact that the Bill will have on the Security Service and on the work of the Home Secretary.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)

Does the definition of national security continue to be that given in the White Paper on the interception of communications, which I think covered the Government's foreign and defence policies?

Mr. Hurd

Yes. If my hon. Friend reads what I said about the definition of national security earlier, he will see that I defined it rather carefully and at rather greater length than previously. He may wish to return to the point later, but I hope that he will study the words that I used at the beginning.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)


Mr. Hurd

No, I shall not give way. I must get on.

Mr. Nellist

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Without in any way wishing to repeat matters dealt with in April, is not one of the purposes of a debate such as this, particularly during the opening speech of a leading Minister, to give hon. Members the opportunity to ask factual questions? Is not the Home Secretary being selective in whom he is prepared to give way to?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

If the hon. Gentleman catches my eye later, he will be able to make his point then.

Mr. Hurd

I sometimes think that I give way too much. I want to pursue this argument. Many other hon. Members wish to speak and I want to make some progress since I have already given way generously.

I was explaining the impact of the arrangements under the Interception of Communications Act 1985, which we propose to extend under the Security Service Bill to the work of the Security Service and to my own work.

The arrangements for authorising interception warrants under the 1985 Act ensure that the Home Secretary sees the way in which the concerns and priorities work out in practice. My predecessor will know, because it is a worry that he has expressed, that that was not so in his time. I have either to agree or disagree with them. If an application for a warrant in that area is submitted to me and I am not satisfied that it is necessary for the protection of national security, I shall not issue it.

In making my decision, I know that the interception commissioner is looking over my shoulder. He has access to all the warrants and has the right to call for any document or file relating to those warrants.

In his report for 1987, the interception commissioner, the right hon. Lord Justice Lloyd, said: I have examined all the new warrants issued on the ground of major subversive activity, and I have selected other warrants for examination at random. I am satisfied that I have been given a complete list of all new warrants when making my random selection. As last year, I have not come across a single case where the Secretary of State has not been justified in regarding the issue of the warrant as being necessary in the interests of national security, or for the other purposes mentioned in Section 2(2) of the Act". That is the commissioner, an independent judge, doing his job and reporting not in a secret document but in the 1987 report which was published in March this year, was laid before Parliament, and is in the Library.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

Mr. Hurd

No, I want to get on.

If the House approves the Bill, it will have the assurance that similar rigorous procedures will also operate for the property warrant. The Security Service, the Secretary of State and Parliament will know that each and every warrant will be open to the commissioner's impartial and independent scrutiny. The hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) will have to take it from me that it is a formidable feeling to know, as I have known since 1986, that such an oversight exists under the Interception of Communications Act.

There are two major changes. First, for the first time, the decisions come from the Secretary of State, as they did not when the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) held office. Secondly, when dealing with them under the law, I know that I have the judge looking over my shoulder. Anyone who supposes that that is a comfortable, easy or platitudinous position is wrong.

The commissioner's report will cover not only warrant matters but any other matters arising out of the work of the commissioner or the tribunal as a result of their investigating any complaint. There will be in place—I hope that the House will give full weight to this—a commissioner and a tribunal able to follow up the real practical concerns of people—organisations as well as individuals—who feel in some way aggrieved as a result of what they believe the Security Service has done against them. They do not need to provide any evidence for their views or give any basis for their belief.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

The Home Secretary seems to be couching his description of the commissioner's powers much more widely than the Bill. Clause 4(3) confines them to warrants—not, as he has suggested, to the whole range of security matters. That is a serious objection to the Bill.

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman may not have read far enough. He is right that the commissioner has the job of investigating the way in which the Home Secretary exercises his warrant powers. However, the tribunal may also, as I think that he will find in schedule 1, refer to the commissioner a wider range of matters if it is felt that there are grounds for doing so. The crucial point is that his report to Parliament can cover the whole range of his activities as authorised by the Bill.

Since November 1987, we have had an independent staff counsellor to consider anxieties from within the Security Service. Now, if Parliament agrees, once the tribunal and commissioner are in place to investigate the truth of concerns felt outside the service, the case for publishing rumour and allegations is undermined. We catered for the aggrieved insider when the staff counsellor was put in position a year ago. We cater for the aggrieved outsider, the citizen who feels that the Security Service has done something against him in the Bill, with its provisions for the tribunal and the commissioner.

Of course, this is not the only possible model. Others have argued for a system of oversight and review. Some think that oversight should be by a Committee of Privy Councillors and others look for a body which draws more widely on Members of the House. Some appear to believe that all matters relating to national security, except perhaps a current operation, should be made publicly available across the Floor. Others look to the Security Commission and suggest its vote should be expanded. Those are serious proposals that deserve to be examined, but, having examined them, we do not favour them.

Secrecy is at the heart of security. It is not the result—as one might read in fiction—of some paranoia by the Security Service or by Ministers. It is fundamental to the success of the protection of the public by the service. Most people accept the case for some secrecy and they accept that any oversight body would have to respect that. During the debate on the Loyal Address, the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) accepted that Ministers should not be obliged to tell the House, for example, that they believed an alleged bomber was staying in a particular hotel. I think everyone would accept that. The difference, therefore, is not over the need for secrecy, but whether it is possible to draw an effective line between what can be kept secret and what can run free.

I hope that the House understands that we ask the Security Service to work against people and organisations who are not amateur tip and runners, or anarchists with a rush of blood to the head. We ask them, particularly in counter-terrorism, to work against people and organisations who have become highly sophisticated in their methods. Those people work hard at identifying whether they have been spotted and are skilful in taking action to evade detection once they are alerted. One does not have to announce that one knows who they are, or what outrage they are planning, to put them on their guard. They are expert at piecing together and using strands of information and evidence much more cleverly than that.

In those circumstances, which are borne in upon us day by day, it is not possible to distinguish, as some have genuinely sought to do, between policy and operations, overall resources and how they are spent, or theory and practice. Those distinctions can be made on paper and can be beguiling, but they do not work in practice. An oversight body could not steer clear of secrets by confining itself to the generalities. A body which had no access to secrets would have access to very little of interest or importance to the work of the Security Service. A body that worked and reported in ignorance would not be of much appeal to the House.

If the body was inside the necessary ring of secrecy, it would have to report in monosyllables to those outside. People could not be expected to be content with that, whether they were members of the body or those who listened to the reports.

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

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hurd

I shall give way when I have finished the argument.

I am grateful to the House, the Select Committee and the conventions of the House for helping to ensure that I, like my predecessors, am not placed in an intolerable position. Those conventions would not hold up against the pressures that would weigh on an oversight body that had to report to Parliament and the public on how it fulfilled its remit.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

In Congress and the Senate, the security services select committee examines the budget, oversees the service and has other responsibilities. If it works in America—I was told by the principal adviser to that committee in Washington that it has never leaked and that Congress and Senate were happy with its operations—why could it not work here?

Mr. Hurd

I shall deal with comparisons between the United States and the Commonwealth shortly, because I understand that they form part of the argument.

Mr. Ray Whitney (Wycombe)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his point about the difficulty involved in taking a Select Committee inside the barrier was well illustrated by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) in the Zircon affair? The right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon), the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, was taken inside the barrier and told about expenditure. That decision was questioned and seriously challenged by Opposition Members, including the hon. Member for Workington.

Mr. Hurd

My hon. Friend's point is relevant in general, but not directly to the Security Service. The illustration he has given of the difficulty in which respected Members of Parliament can find themselves is valid, even when applied to the Security Service.

Mr. Nellist

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way to me now?

Mr. Hurd

If I give way to the hon. Gentleman, will be be happy for the rest of the day?

Mr. Nellist

That is highly unlikely, but I accept the comment with the graciousness with which it was made. Will the Home Secretary answer the question I wished to ask a few minutes ago about the basic and fundamental nature of the Security Service—its subjectivity? In his opening remarks, the Secretary of State mentioned overthrowing or weakening parliamentary democracy. If I and my hon. Friends, together with members of the Labour movement outside this place, were to campaign for something that we think would strengthen parliamentary democracy but which I suspect all Conservative Members would think would weaken it—the abolition of the House of Lords—is that something for which we could be investigated under the terms of the Bill?

Mr. Hurd

No. That would not be the case under the existing system and, under the safeguards we are proposing in the Bill, which hon. Gentlemen should welcome, that would not be so because the safeguards will state that in black and white.

We are not saying that no one can step inside the barrier of secrecy. I have mentioned the interception commissioner, who is a judge, and the staff counsellor, who is not a member of the Security Service, and they are both inside. I have also mentioned the Security Commission, which is chaired by a judge, and that has been inside on specific occasions. All those people have a clear and specific job with clear terms of reference and clear lines of reporting. I do not believe that one can read across from that responsibility to a general parliamentary oversight body. Review and oversight are incompatible with the specific or narrow terms of reference held by the people I have mentioned. Review and oversight could not be confined without creating a contradiction at the heart of our security, which we should all want to avoid.

As the hon. Member for Workington said, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) is repeatedly saying, in other countries there are arrangements for oversight. In some cases it is carried out by Privy Councillors, committees of Congress or their equivalent. We should take account of that, but we should not feel that we need to follow automatically what has been proposed or put in place in other countries.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Not even if it works?

Mr. Hurd

I am coming to that. There should be no willy-nilly or automatic assumption of that sort.

The hon. Member for Workington referred to the model in the United States. The FBI is the parallel organisation to our Security Service, but it represents an entirely different response, to a different constitutional framework. However effective the arrangements may be in America, they could not be directly implemented here. The crucial point is that the United States has no equivalent to the Prime Minister or Home Secretary. There is no person present in and responsible to the House who has to propose and defend legislation in the way that I am doing.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills then says, "What about Australia or Canada, where there are parliamentary systems which are more comparable to ours?" We need to examine that carefully. The provisions in Australia are recent, and the relevant parliamentary committee has not yet met formally. Australians would agree that it is too soon to be clear about how it will work out, but it is worth noting that, among other restrictions, the committee's terms of reference prevent it from reviewing anything said to be operationally sensitive. That may suit Australia well but, in our terms, it would beg many of the questions at issue in this discussion.

Similarly, the experience in Canada is recent—no more than four years old. It provides for two separate oversight bodies, an inspector-general and his staff and a review committee, and there is discussion in Canada about whether that leads to overlapping and difficult responsibilities. The system, which is very new, is to be reviewed next year.

Of course, this was a subject of debate in 1986, and we have thought long and hard about oversight and discussed it with others. I had a conversation recently with a Minister in another country who had experience of parliamentary oversight and who said that there was an inevitable tendency—without imputing blame to anyone in particular—to draw party political advantage from the knowledge that the overseers obtained in confidence.

There is another danger that I must mention to the hon. Member for Workington: the creation of unofficial and subterranean channels of secrecy outside the framework of oversight. We are right to put aside this set of ideas and to concentrate instead on a clear statement of function, organisation and responsibility through Ministers to Parliament, and on a clear remedy for grievance—

Mr. Nellist


Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman promised to be happy, but here he is again; but I am coming to the close of my remarks. Perhaps he will succeed in catching your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I was very surprised to read in the newspapers that the Opposition had decided to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill. I clearly remember how the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) and I went off contentedly to the "Newsnight" programme on the day the Bill was published. I remember him saying then that the Labour party would not oppose the Bill on Second Reading. It is sad to see what has happened since then, but it is not a mystery.

Last week, the right hon. Gentleman made a little foray in the direction of common sense over the handling of the Prevention of Terrorism Bill. It was not exactly a memorable foray: he was persuading his colleagues to vote for a destructive reasoned amendment and to vote against Third Reading, but in the middle he urged them to stage an heroic abstention on Second Reading. Even that distinctly mouselike movement was too much for the Labour party. There was tumult; the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short), who is not in her place, wrote a rude letter to her leader. The party was again in disarray and the trumpet for retreat was sounded. So, on this Bill, the right hon. Gentleman, despite his clear statement on television and his personal acknowledgment in the House that it was a step forward, has now to slink back to the world of unreality over which he presides as deputy leader.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hurd

I shall not: I am coming to the end.

We have worked hard and soberly on the Bill for many months. We were not forced into it. We have fully taken into account the views and experiences of the Security Service. We have tried to analyse the present correctly and to look at the kinds of tasks which, as far as one can tell, the Security Service is likely to have to undertake in the years ahead.

After these months of cool consideration, we decided that the time had come to make the reform and take the step forward contained in the Bill. I hope that, whatever their criticisms, Opposition Members will acknowledge that it is a big step forward for the service, for Government and for Parliament. I hope the House will judge that this is a step which is well weighed, and I urge it to give the Bill a Second Reading.

5.5 pm

Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

The Home Secretary was right to say that on the first day of this Parliament, when the House was told of the Government's intention to introduce a Security Service Bill, I said that I hoped that the Opposition would be able to give it at least qualified support. Not only did I say that on television when I had the pleasure of appearing with the Home Secretary, but I said it in the House. I said that we hoped to support it— subject to examination of the Bill".—[Official Report, 23 November 1988; Vol. 142, c. 137.] We examined the Bill, we asked questions and I propose to tell the Home Secretary how inadequate were the answers that we received, and why, having examined the Bill as I said we would, our conclusion is, and must be in a free society, that the Opposition should vote against it.

Having said that, I wish to tell the right hon. Gentleman why I hoped we could vote for the Bill and why I still wish that that were possible. In our view, the work of the Security Service is best conducted free from political controversy. That is at least part of the reason why the Labour party proposed, and continues to propose, plans which I shall explain in a minute for the supervision of the Security Service by an all-party Committee of the House. But the Home Secretary must understand that to obtain all-party agreement, even on matters for which that is highly desirable, requires something more than the Government making unilateral announcements in the expectation that the Opposition parties will lamely and meekly accept whatever they recommend.

If, as they claim, the Government really want all-party agreement on security matters, they must make real attempts to accommodate some of the strongly held views of the Opposition parties. This Bill does not even recognise the problems that the Opposition have identified —problems concerning the accountability of the security services, and problems that affect the civil liberties of the nation and the efficiency of the Service. So much was shown again this afternoon by the Home Secretary's reply to my question. He said that the Bill specifically prohibited the service from operating with political bias. When I asked him to justify that from the Bill, he read from a clause that specifically prohibited the service from acting in the interests of a political party. If the Home Secretary cannot distinguish between those two things, he is not fit to be Home Secretary.

I have never suggested that the Security Service has burnt ballot boxes, forged ballot papers or acted on behalf of Conservative candidates to obtain their success. What I have suggested, and what we all know, is that the Security Service throughout the years has operated in a way that clearly shows a political bias of a much more general but equally damaging sort. We know, for instance, that in the 1970s two great patriots, Lord Scanlon and Mr. Jack Jones, were continually under the surveillance of the security services. I do not believe that even the Security Service of that period could have been so bone-headed as to tap their telephones if it had not been operating under the political bias that assumes that trade union leaders are likely to be subversive.

That is what we are discussing, not the interests of a political party. That the Home Secretary, with his abilities, should give such an inadequate answer to the question that I raised shows how flimsy is the ground on which he stands—

Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Whitney

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hattersley

I shall give way to the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney), whose experience in these matters I respect.

Mr. Whitney

Is the right hon. Gentleman alleging that the Security Service tapped Mr. Jack Jones' telephone against the orders of the Home Secretary of the day, or deliberately obscured the knowledge of. the Home Secretary of the day, who was a Labour Home Secretary?

Mr. Hattersley

I am making the allegation that Mr. Jack Jones' telephone was tapped, a matter of general knowledge and comment. I am making the assertion that it should not have been tapped, and that no one would have tapped it who was not so befuddled by political bias that he did not understand the real threat to the country and where the real duties of the Security Service lay.

Mr. Allason


Mr. Hattersley

I shall take a few interventions at the beginning, but then follow the Home Secretary's practice and try to get on.

Mr. Allason

Without wanting to go specifically into the cases of Jack Jones and Hugh Scanlon, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is aware that leaders of the trade union movement have often been approached by hostile intelligence services and have reported these approaches to the Security Service, which has conducted operations with their consent?

Mr. Hattersley

I have no objection to that. What surprises me is that the hon. Gentleman might think that it was in any way relevant to the complaint that I was making about phones being tapped without the permission of the people who owned them.

I want to emphasise that the Government do not even get close to proposing a scheme of genuine accountability. The Home Secretary made that clear from the start. He said that he was not prepared to countenance the sort of accountability that the Opposition want. But the Bill does not even take a small step in that direction. Certainly, MI5 is to be given a statutory existence, which is progress of a sort. There were times when the Government of the day did not even acknowledge MI5's existence, let alone put it on a statutory basis. The Bill allows Parliament and the public to know no more about the security services than we know today.

The Bill's provisions will allow Parliament and the public to know nothing more about the Security Service, and it provides no more reassurance about the service's behaviour than we now possess. It is possible to argue, as I shall in a moment, that the Bill's provisions increase the Security Service's power to carry out operations that, in a free society, should be prohibited. The Bill could be used to legalise that which is presently illegal and to legitimise operations that are now wholly illegitimate and should be suppressed.

Today, MI5 exists in a form that is most clearly set out in Lord Denning's report on the Profumo affair 25 years ago. Lord Denning wrote: The members of the services are, in the eye of the law, ordinary citizens with no powers greater than anyone else. They have no special powers of arrest such as the police have. No special powers of search are given to them. They cannot enter premises without the consent of the householder even though they may suspect a spy is there. Despite that view being generally accepted by Governments and by the courts, we know from memoirs, prohibited and allowed, and from studies of the services both independent and Government-inspired, that for years MI5, in the immortal words of Peter Wright, bugged and burgled its way all over London.

MI5 did so illegally, but in the knowledge that some Governments and some Home Secretaries preferred it to behave like a private army rather than cause the embarrassment that would result from the need for MI5 to obtain explicit ministerial permission to tap a trade union leader's home or to enter the premises of a private citizen, believing him to be assisting the Soviet Union. When the Home Secretary was courteous enough to discuss those matters with me, he agreed that one of the arguments had always been that it is best to keep the service outside the law, because that way, a Minister's hands are kept clean.

Under clause 1, it will be illegal for the service to take any of the actions that I have mentioned without obtaining the Home Secretary's explicit permission. That could have been a substantial step forward but for the inhibition that, for the Home Secretary's permission to have any force, three requirements must be met. First, the criteria against which the Home Secretary should measure warrant applications should be public, precise and limited. Secondly, Parliament should be empowered to impose a measure of control over the way in which the Home Secretary exercises his powers. Thirdly, a mechanism should be created to ensure that the Security Service does not continue with its old habits and defy the new law by acting without the Home Secretary's warrant.

Later, I shall examine each of those criteria but before I do so, I make it plain—if the Home Secretary needs that to be done, because he heard the murmurs of agreement from my right hon. and hon. Friends when he mentioned this point—that we accept without qualification that much of the Security Service's work must be kept secret from all except that small group of men and women who, in that famous phrase, need to know how the service conducts itself. What divides the parties is their interpretation of the concept of the need to know.

We believe that there is a need for a small group of men and women of undoubted probity within Parliament at least to exercise a degree of general supervision of the service. We believe that that is necessary for the service's efficiency, as well as to ensure that it respects the obligations of a free society. Without that scrutiny, the secret service will be able still to act as a private army—the Prime Minister's private army, but a private army nevertheless. Without such scrutiny, the service will still be able to act improperly, without those who are aggrieved receiving proper recompense. Certainly the tribunal provisions in clause 5 will not provide anything like adequate redress.

In the past, the Government have inevitably chosen, as they have today, to conduct this debate as if MI5 was the best counter-espionage organisation in the free world and that we would be rash to make any radical changes that might in any way tarnish its record of unparalleled efficiency. The implication is that any radical change in the governance of MI5 might put at risk its present levels of performance. In truth, since the the war MI5 has been one of the worst and most ridiculed security services in the western Alliance. It has a long history of recruiting and promoting Soviet agents, and of wasting its own time and public money pursuing individuals who, by any rational analysis, constituted no threat whatsoever to national security.

MI5's errors are the errors of inbreeding. Its mistakes are the mistakes of a closed society that does not have to account for the legality or efficiency of its operations. It has often made itself ridiculous, believing that it was above scrutiny. The story of MI5 does not justify acceptance of the suggestion that it will be dangerous to tamper with its record of unequivocal success.

When the Minister replies, perhaps he will respond to just one example that I can give. It is not from the work of the bitter and discredited Peter Wright, for whom none of us has very much time, but from a monograph produced one year ago by Mr. Anthony Cavendish—a man neither embittered not vindictive, neither impoverished nor prejudiced. It is a monograph written not about the 1950s, which the Home Secretary said were days behind us, but about the 1970s. In that monograph, which was suppressed by the Government, Anthony Cavendish wrote that the Security Service was engaged in plots to destabilise the Government of the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath).

One can look at Mr. Cavendish's story in two ways. If it is true, then MI5 was engaged in treason. If it is not true, then in Mr. Cavendish, it employed and promoted a man who, by making that allegation, demonstrates himself to be at best a liar, and at worst a lunatic. I am inclined to accept the first explanation—that what he wrote was true. Whichever alternative we choose, it does not redound to the credit of MI5's employment and promotion policies.

Mr. Allason

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Mr. Anthony Cavendish has never been employed by the Security Service, and that any comments made by him must be purely speculative?

Mr. Hattersley

If the Government will allow publication of Mr. Cavendish's little book, we shall be a position to contest Mr. Cavendish's judgment on his employment with the judgments of others. Unfortunately, that book is suppressed. Since that was done without Mr. Cavendish ever being a member of the Security Service, it raises considerable questions about the justification for suppressing it in the first place.

I emphasise that making the Security Service more accountable would improve its efficiency, as well as ensuring that it plays a role consistent with existing democracy. From time to time, we are told that parliamentary control of the kind that we seek will undermine—

Mr. Heffer

; How does the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) know who is employed by the Security Service? Is he a member of the Security Service? Does he have more information than any other right hon. or hon. Member? We are entitled to know from where his information comes.

Mr. Allason

If the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to intervene again, I can give his hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller) the answer to his question.

Mr. Hattersley

No, because I want to deal with the real world, and not with the world that is inhabited by the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) in one guise or another, or under one name or another.

I wish to explain why we insist on arguing for parliamentary control. I shall deal with the argument, which is inevitably and invariably made, that to allow a measure of parliamentary control will undermine the confidence of our partners and allies in the operation of the service. I know the Government's preoccupation with that subject. I vividly recall telling the Foreign Secretary that I would be very surprised if the Soviet Union did not know at least as much about the Zircon satellite as was to be published in the New Statesman the following day. The Foreign Secretary's reply was that that was all very well, but that the Americans were disturbed by the incidence of such leaks.

Of course, the Americans have a security system controlled by a Senate committee which publishes its budget. It has an operational head whose name appears in the papers and whose address appears in the telephone directory. I do not suggest for a moment, no matter what the Home Secretary may pretend, that we can take the American system and spatchcock it on ours. Experience in Washington suggests, however, that the sort of control that we propose is not invariably less efficient than a system that provides no parliamentary accountability. All the problems described by the Home Secretary—whether the few people allowed inside the net of secrecy would tell too much or tell too little; whether it would produce less satisfaction; whether it would produce intolerable pressure on the head of the service—all those problems are overcome in Washington, and I believe that with good will they could be overcome here.

From time to time the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary insist that as they are, between them and in a not very clearly defined fashion, Ministers responsible for the Civil Service, parliamentary accountability exists. It is there, manifested by them. It is provided through the answers that they give the House on the subject. 1t was, indeed, an answer by the Prime Minister that, as much as anything else, convinced me that we would not support the Bill. She told the House that there would still be accountability, because she would be accountable. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) asked in what form that accountability would be exercised, she replied: In precisely the same way as the Home Secretary and myself have always been accountable to the House".—[Official Report, 22 November 1988; Vol. 141, c. 26.]

We know what that usual way is. All of us who have been Ministers dealing with such matters have given exactly the same answers to questions about security as the Prime Minister gave every time that she was asked. Her answer is that she does not answer. The Prime Minister is accountable in the sense that she is the Minister responsible for refusing to answer the questions. I think that even the Home Secretary will concede that that is a very limited definition of parliamentary accountability. The Bill should have provided something new and something better.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)


Mr. Hattersley

I have been saying what for the last 10 minutes, but I will gladly repeat it. The Bill should provide for a Committee of the House with a general supervisory power.

Mr. Hurd


Mr. Hattersley

I will give way to the Home Secretary after I have said this to the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway): for him to hear a case based on that requirement for 20 minutes and then, when the subject is raised, to shout, "What?" says something about either his attention or his intelligence. But we shall see whether the Home Secretary can do better.

Mr. Hurd

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has sketched his proposal for the benefit of the House, because it illustrates perfectly the contradiction hidden within it. On the one hand, he admits the need for secrecy over actual operations and says that what is required is some general oversight. On the other hand, he claims that that general oversight will prevent abuse in a particular operation. Both cannot be correct.

Mr. Hattersley

I shall do my best to demonstrate why the Home Secretary is wrong. Let me take an example—the creation of police authorities. We have never believed that a police authority is supposed to be involved in the day-to-day operation and decisions of inspectors, chief constables and superintendents, but we believe that the existence of that authority is in itself a countervailing power against unreasonable operations. This is exactly the same principle. If the Home Secretary will bear with me for a moment, I shall try to give an example of what I mean.

We believe that real accountability can come about only if and when the three criteria that I have set out are properly observed. Those three criteria are a concise and acceptable definition of when action by the Security Service can be authorised, a real check on how the Home Secretary exercises his right to issue warrants and a mechanism that ensures that the Security Service does not act outside its lawful powers.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten)

It is all in the Bill.

Mr. Hattersley

We are going to examine the criteria in a minute, if the Minister of State will contain himself.

The criteria against which the Home Secretary's action must be judged are set out, as the Minister of State so perceptively said, in clause 3 of the Bill. They are set out in a form that is vague to the point of vacuity. That which may be authorised is entry on or interference with property". "Interference" can mean virtually anything. I confess that I spent a happy hour yesterday evening looking through my Shakespeare concordance at all the alternative meanings that one English poet has given the word. I shall not give them all, but "interference" can mean whatever anyone wants it to mean. Obviously it means breaking and entering; presumably it also means the expropriation of property and the planting of monitoring devices. Unfortunately it could mean a good deal more. There is clearly no legal limit to what could be justified by the word "interference".

The rest of the clause is drawn just as widely. First, action is justified when the Home Secretary "thinks it necessary". There is no need for him to justify that view; he need only hold it. The information that the interference with property is intended to obtain must be of substantial value in assisting the Service to discharge any of its functions". The breadth of that definition—"any of its functions"—is clear only when we examine the functions of the service as set out in clause 1.

Clause 1 defines the function of the service as the protection of national security and, in particular, its protection against threats from espionage, terrorism and sabotage, from the activities of…foreign powers and from actions intended to overthrow or undermine parliamentary democracy by political [or] industrial… means.

Some newspapers have placed much emphasis on the word "particular", but I believe that with or without that word the clause gives the security services the right to do whatever they choose. I cannot imagine any circumstance that is not covered by that subsection. It is made up of word after word that has only subjective meaning. How is a threat defined? Who decides that the intention was to overthrow or undermine? The answer to all those questions is the Security Service itself, or perhaps the Home Secretary.

Mr. William Powell (Corby)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hattersley

I will not give way any more.

Neither the Home Secretary nor the Security Service is a suitable arbiter in this instance. If clause 1(2) is dangerous, clause 1(3) is simultaneously dangerous and absurd. MI5 is enjoined to safeguard the economic well-being of the United Kingdom against threats posed by the actions or intentions of persons outside the British Islands. How are we to define economic threats posed by persons outside the United Kingdom? At present a great controversy surrounds the Sultan of Brunei and the pressures which, it is alleged, were exerted on him, together with inducements, to keep his sterling balances in London. In those circumstances, would MI5 have been justified in tapping the Sultan's telephone to find out whether it was his intention to move his sterling balances?

I hope that at least we can be assured that when the Chancellor of the Exchequer goes abroad and agrees—at the New York Plaza, let us say—to damage the British economy with policies of high interest rates, MI5 will not be entitled to "interfere with his property". But in the strict context of the Bill, applying the words in a literal sense, there is no reason why it should not do so.

No doubt the Home Secretary will argue that despite such vacuous definitions we can rely on the whole business being kept in check by his exercise of moderate and reasonable authority. He will insist that he will do only what is right, and that may well be the case.

Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hattersley


It is certainly not my intention to impugn the Home Secretary's integrity, but the power provided for him in the Bill is unchecked and should not be given to any Minister. The Home Secretary has not been appointed in perpetuity. The power to authorise action at once so important to the national interest and so offensive to civil liberties ought to be exercised only by a Minister who is himself subject to supervision. The Bill does not provide adequate supervision through the tribunal, and therefore fails the second of my criteria.

In any event, it is very difficult for the Secretary of State alone to exercise effective control over the security services. His role will become the same sort of legal fiction as his theoretical position as the police authority for London, which amounts to little more than requiring him to endorse decisions taken by others.

Let the House imagine that at 9.45 am today the Home Secretary was about to leave for the Cabinet meeting, carrying with him the draft of the speech that he intended to make this afternoon, that he was suddenly presented with an application for a warrant and that he was told that the security services needed to "interfere" with somebody's property before noon. I believe that in those circumstances the Home Secretary needs some countervailing force to exert alternative pressure from that which would certainly be exerted by the security services in favour of immediate and unthinking action. The commission, operating behind a wall of secrecy in every sense of that word, cannot exert anything like effective pressure.

Several Hon. Members

Absolute rubbish.

Mr. Hind

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hattersley

No. The only effective countervailing force is a Committee of this House.

Mr. Hurd


Mr. Hattersley

I think that the Home Secretary wants to speak. I shall give way to him.

Mr. Hurd

Would a Committee of this House have examined that application between 9.45 and 10 am today?

Mr. Hattersley

I think that a Committee might consider the application if the aggrieved person wished to do so. I do not suggest for a moment that a Committee of this House should examine every action of the security services. I said so a few moments ago when I drew a parallel between the Committee that should control the behaviour of the police. It is crucial that a Committee of this House is able to deal with the complaints of an individual who says that he has been aggrieved. That is the purpose of the tribunal. It is that purpose which we believe the tribunal cannot properly fulfil.

The third criterion concerns the necessity to ensure that the security services, with their deplorable record in this particular, do not continue, despite the new legal framework, to act unlawfully. That assurance can be provided only by an official secrets Act that does not allow their covert activities permanently to be protected, whether they are lawful or unlawful. Yet we know, from the new Official Secrets Bill, that we are to debate next week, that everything that the security services do must remain an official secret. To reveal it in any circumstances will be an offence. If MI5 bugs and burgles without warrant, anybody who reveals that he has broken the law is himself or herself breaking the law. The aura of secrecy with which the Bill that is to be debated next week surrounds the security services disqualifies the Bill from our support.

It also reduces—this is the point that I was struggling to make to the Home Secretary—the tribunal's effectiveness when investigating complaints. I refer to the tribunal that is to be established under clause 5. During the debate on the Loyal Address I asked two specific questions about the tribunal: first, whether there was any appeal against its decisions and, secondly, whether its decisions could be questioned in court. The Minister of State replied to neither of those questions. I assumed that that was because he did not know the answers. I realise now that it was because he knew the answers. The tribunal's judgment cannot be questioned in court. There is no appeal against the tribunal's decision. It is farcical to suggest that, for an aggrieved party, that can be considered to be a safeguard that is comparable to supervision by a Committee of this House.

Those parts of the Bill that deal with the powers and duties of the commission and tribunal, both clauses and schedules, show how little restraint and protection those two institutions will provide. The obvious example is paragraph 3 of schedule 1. If a man or woman complains that the security services have given information to a prospective employer, the tribunal may examine whether the information is accurate. However, the real cause of complaint is not the accuracy of the information but the propriety of information about a free individual being passed from hand to hand. To examine that great abuse—the principle of improper vetting—is not within the tribunal's capabilities.

The idea that such a scheme should provide adequate recompense for offending citizens or adequate protection against wrongdoing is absurd. Against the background of a system that is cloaked in complete secrecy and of a definition of powers that gives absolute discretion to the Home Secretary, the tribunal becomes no more than window dressing.

In some ways, the Bill is window dressing from start to finish. We know—the Home Secretary confirmed it to me—that the security services wanted the Bill. I have no doubt that at last they have become conscious of the enormous and unjustified criticisms that have been recently directed towards them and that they decided that a minimum legal framework, which allowed them to operate much as they had done before, was the best way to avoid a continual campaign for greater efficiency and genuine accountability.

I want to assure the Home Secretary that a campaign to improve the performance and to increase the accountability of the security services will not go away. We shall continue to argue for a system of parliamentary scrutiny. Until we achieve it, we shall continue to press the Home Secretary properly to discharge the duties which—

Mr. William Powell

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hattersley


We shall continue to press him properly to discharge the duties that, because of this Bill, he has been able to pretend he has acquired. We shall try to question him, but he will no doubt refuse to answer—as is the practice and convention. When next there is a security scandal we shall attempt to hold him responsible, but he will no doubt say that that is not a proper subject for debate in this House. He will simply refer to the clauses that demonstrate that anything he has approved is lawful. That response will only hasten the day when we have a proper Security Service that is under proper control and proper supervision.

5.36 pm
Mr. Robert Boscawen (Somerton and Frome)

I listened with interest to the speech of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). I was quite convinced, at the end of it, of two things: either that he knows very little about the subject or that he does not want a Security Service in this country. He sought in every way to undermine what the Security Service is bound to do.

I have a few points to make about the Bill, which I believe is extremely important for the safety of every individual in this country. The Bill is timely. There are details that need to be looked at, but it gets the answers about right.

What stands out is the relevance, the succinctness and the clarity of the original Maxwell Fyfe directive that was drawn up by a former Labour Government. It is still relevant today, 36 years later, except in one respect: that it is not a statutory provision. That is what the Bill intends to put right.

It is interesting to dwell for a moment on why it has taken so long since the second world war for the Security Service to be placed on a statutory basis, in place of the directive to the Director-General of the Security Service on his appointment by the Home Secretary. This country believes, more than any other country, in a free society. It has shed as much blood as any other country to destroy the worst police states in our history. Incidentally, this country has had Labour Governments for almost 19 of the 36 years since the Maxwell Fyfe directive. For nearly 23 years since the second world war, there have been Tory Governments.

Why has it taken so long to place the Security Service on a statutory basis? The answer must be significant. The reason is the long-standing belief of no fewer than nine Prime Ministers —three of whom were Labour and six Tory—their senior permanent secretaries and a number of senior distinguished judges that Britain's Security Service, however imperfect, was best safeguarded by the Maxwell Fyfe directive. It was not until the treacheries of Blunt and others were revealed, and certain dubious revelations of illegality by worthless creatures such as Wright, and the genuine telephone tapping incident, that the requirement of a statutory basis appeared on the menu. In my view, not least of the reasons was the need for the improvement of morale and well-being among those who staffed the service and had done so for a long time.

I entirely disagree with the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook, as I consider that the legality issue is faced squarely and set down in clause 3. It is nothing new. Many of us in younger days had to be trained in security matters for previous emergencies. I can certainly vouch for the emphasis placed on the individual's responsibility for acting lawfully at all times, if necessary through the authority of the warrant system. Hence a close relationship has always been maintained with the police authorities. If all those lurid stories that sell so well on the bookstalls are true, the individuals have not been acting lawfully. If they have not been acting lawfully, they are on their own, as any individual in Britain who does not act lawfully is on his own.

If nothing else, what is spelt out in clause 3 must be a confidence-building exercise, in that the Security Service must act lawfully at all times, throughout the warrant system which is also scrutinised by the Commissioner for the Security Service as is laid down in the Bill. That is what we have to aim for.

As for the contentious matter of parliamentary oversight, I believe that it would be totally wrong and would be harmful to the security of British people and must be rejected. A year or two ago, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary used the very good description, "those inside and those outside the barriers of secrecy". He was then quoted by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook. In cases of security, those inside the barriers of secrecy must be limited to the fewest possible people. The idea of matters of secrecy being open to the members of a Select Committee, however eminent and responsible they are, increases enormously the risk of secrecy being blown. That is why those who remain inside the barriers of secrecy must be as few as possible.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Boscawen

No. I shall speak for a short time, as I know that other hon. Members wish to speak, and I must get on.

More than anyone else, those with the continuous burden of the highest responsibility of office must be inside the barrier of secrecy. They would be the Prime Minister and I understand, for administrative reasons, the Home Secretary. For reasons which we have heard, the Home Secretary is the Minister responsible for issuing the warrants and is answerable for that. I do not believe that it is sensible or wise to spread information and secrecy on what the Security Service is doing, particularly in its operational duties, beyond those two Ministers.

Ex-Home Secretaries, ex-Law Officers and ex-senior Cabinet Ministers, however eminent in office, are different animals without their official pressures. They are under different pressures, often of a highly competitive nature, inside the House. Many of them are working to regain office. That is their duty. Many of them are working hard outside the House on other personal matters. I do not believe that they are the right animals to hold the tremendously responsible position inside the House of scrutinising and overseeing the Security Service.

In my humble position as an ex-Whip—after 10 years in the Whips Office, where one has the opportunity to observe human nature in the House—I certainly do not have the confidence that the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook and some other Opposition Members have in their colleagues to maintain the enormous responsibility of secrecy that would be required of them if they were to be in charge of overseeing the Security Service.

Finally, if a Select Committee was in the know, as my right hon. Friend pointed out many times, what could its members reveal to their colleagues if they had misgivings about what was going on? They could go only to the Prime Minister or the Home Secretary of the day and tell them about their misgivings. They could go to no one else, so what advantage would there be to the House and to Back Bench Members on both sides? It is a foolish proposal. It is significant that, in all its years in government, the Labour party never sought parliamentary control of the Security Service when faced with the realities of office.

The Security Service depends on the morale of those who give long years of toil within the barriers of secrecy. On it depends the better defence of freedom from the violence for political ends in Britain that is so close to us today. It is vital that nothing in the Bill undermines the value of the Security Service to the safety of our country.

5.48 pm
Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent)

The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Boscawen) and other Conservative Members have suggested that what we are proposing, or the outcome of our proposals, would be unfair to the Security Service or to people working within it. However, there have been gross injustices to people in the service in the past, in particular because of the way in which some accusations have been made in recent years.

There could not be any more serious charges against a man of distinction who served the Security Service than the charges that were made against Roger Hollis. Those charges were investigated a number of times. I remember the Prime Minister at the Dispatch Box announcing to the House that all the investigations had shown that the charges were quite false and quite misleading. None the less, charges against Roger Hollis continue. They have been taken up by Peter Wright—although some of us do not pay much attention to him—and Chapman Pincher, who is occasionally given special favours by various Governments for his work. It is grossly unfair that the charges against Roger Hollis continue.

Anthony Cavendish who I believe was employed by the Security Service, tried to come to the aid of Roger Hollis to defend his good name, but his information was suppressed. It is unwise and improper, and it does not serve the House of Commons and the nation, if that happens. The present system can be grossly unfair to former servants of the Crown. People such as Roger Hollis can be maligned in a scandalous way without any successful repudiation of the charges. I am not complaining about the Prime Minister's actions—she tried to come to the defence of Roger Hollis at one stage—but members of the Hollis family have a right to feel outraged by what was said about him and about the fact that there was insufficient right to reply.

The Home Secretary said that he would not enter into details about the past. I can well understand that, but obviously the Bill has been introduced because of some of the events of the past. If the Government were as content as the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome with what happened in the past, there would not have been any purpose in their coming forward with the Bill. They have been in a dilemma about whether to present the Bill as a great reform or as a measure that will not make much difference. The Home Secretary has done his best to make the Bill more than it is. He has tried to present this fig leaf of a Bill as though it were a virility symbol of Freudian proportions. However, the Bill has very little in it and will not make much difference to the way that the security services operate. That is one of our complaints.

We have serious complaints about what has been revealed in the recent past. There has been nothing like sufficient investigation or explanation, especially about Peter Wright's revelations and many others. It is all very well the Government saying that they will not go into past matters, that it is a matter of history and has nothing to do with the present, but those past matters are the background to the Bill. If it had not been for all the past events, the Government would not have proceeded with the legislation. In saying that he will not go into past events, the Home Secretary is saying that he will not be going into the reasons for the Bill. There is grave suspicion about the Government's actions because they have steadfastly refused to inquire into the revelations.

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South)

Does my right hon. Friend recall that, as late as 14 February this year, the Sunday Express devoted most of its front page to a photograph which had been released to it by the security services, smearing a former Labour Minister, Lord Diamond? Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be a test of the new spirit of frankness which is alleged to be abroad if, in summing up, the Minister were to tell us who leaked that photograph and why?

Mr. Foot

My hon. Friend raises an important matter. I should be happy to hear a reply by the Government, although I doubt whether they will attempt to do anything of that kind. If the Government will not give us any information about some of the matters which have been discussed throughout the country over the past year and a half, I doubt whether they will come forward with any information to answer my hon. Friend's questions.

A Government who have done what this Government have done over the past year and a half cannot wash their hands of the matter. We might have looked on the Bill with more favour if the Government had had a splendid record of defending civil liberties at every turn, of showing great sensitivity to threats to bring injunctions against newspapers and of introducing novelty in the scale of security operations. We have not had such a Government. The Government have engaged in peppering and pestering the newspapers with injunctions on a scale never seen before. The Home Secretary laughed about that, and perhaps some newspapers deserve to have their stories stopped, but I doubt whether that is a proper way for a free country and Government to operate.

The Government have refused to allow any investigation into Peter Wright's revelations and the associated revelations. The Prime Minister may say that she is weary of these issues. I have had long correspondence with her over the past year or so. When revelations were made in the Wright book about the attempted action against the Labour Government—the primary matter in the book—and other matters, I believed that it was of paramount importance that inquiries should have been made. The revelation about the Suez plan prepared by the Secret Service for the assassination of President Nasser was important, if it were true. Even if it were not, it was still important. We did not have a proper inquiry into that matter.

Only recently, judges have pronounced on the way in which the Government behaved. I am glad that some emphasised how seriously they regarded such allegations and said why it was necessary, to have some means to investigate these matters properly. Up until the present, the Government have refused to have any investigation into those charges. Now the Home Secretary tells us that he is going ahead with this legislation, and the other legislation which will be introduced next week, without giving an answer to the House of Commons about any of the revelations.

Mr. Allason

I know that the right hon. Gentleman likes to keep up to date in these matters. Is he aware that Peter Wright has admitted on television that his tale of a conspiracy against the Labour Government was sheer fiction?

Mr. Foot

If the hon. Gentleman is so inaccurate in his reporting of facts in his books as he is in the House of Commons, we shall have to watch carefully what he writes. He has misreported even Mr. Peter Wright. I fully understand that there are often good reasons for not treating Mr. Peter Wright with great respect.

The Government have been engaged in great efforts across the world, at great cost to the reputation of senior civil servants and of the law. The Wright case eventually was tried in this country. The judges' verdicts are a judgment of the way in which the Government behaved throughout the proceedings and a judgment of the case that they were asked to try. These matters cannot be brushed away as easily as the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) or anyone else has suggested. It is a great mistake that the Government have never held inquiries. So long as they refuse to do so, the matters will continue rumbling.

The Government's excuse over many months when the case was before the courts was that they could not act because it was sub judice. Again, the Prime Minister was possibly saying that we cannot have an inquiry because it may injure the operation of the secret services. Today, the House is asked to proceed to decide on what we shall do in future without any of the information or proper investigation that we would normally have for any other section of the nation's affairs.

The Home Secretary sought to reply to my right hon. Friend's proposals for proper parliamentary scrutiny, and that will become the overwhelming question for discussion. The House of Commons is a much more powerful and versatile place than the Government give it credit for. We hear Conservative Members, including Front Bench Members, especially the Prime Minister, talking as if the House is not fit to do these jobs and cannot adapt itself to carry out the proper work of surveillance over a security system. I am not saying that we should have exactly the same system as the Americans, but if they had had the same system as we have, absolute secrecy, all the revelations about their arms dealings with Iran would never have been revealed.

It would have greatly injured the relationships of the Western world if the Americans had been allowed to sell arms to terrorists without anybody knowing that they were doing so and if there had been no investigation. It would have greatly weakened the whole democratic world if the United States had not had the investigative methods that operated there, whether or not they were initiated partly by the newspapers and were operated through a Congress which had some sort of machinery. I am not saying that we should have exactly that machinery— naturally, we must adapt it for ourselves—but it is nonsense to say that the House of Commons cannot devise methods for dealing with these matters.

Mr. Ray Whitney (Wycombe)

Would the right hon. Gentleman be prepared to tell the House if, when he was a member of Labour Cabinets, he urged on his fellow Cabinet members the parliamentary mechanism for oversight which he is now recommending, or is that a secret within the Labour party?

Mr. Foot

That is not a secret. The proposal for a parliamentary surveillance of these matters was not one that I raised in Cabinet, but there is strong case for it. All the evidence and outpourings of the activities about the security services in recent years confirm the good case that my right hon. Friend has made.

Yesterday there was some talk about insults to the country. It is an insult to the House of Commons to say that we cannot devise a proper method for dealing with the Security Service and making it properly answerable. If anybody says that cannot be done, my advice is to look back at the ways in which the House of Commons in times of extreme danger has decided that it can waive rules or devise machinery to investigate dangerous affairs of this kind. That should have been done when the Peter Wright revelations were coming out.

During the first world war, a Select Committee was set up to inquire into why there had been such a catastrophe at Gallipoli and to take evidence from many different quarters about the reasons for it. The strength of the House during that war was partly because it devised a means by which it could discuss even such secret matters as the operations that led to the Gallipoli disaster and partly because it learned lessons from that. Some people at the time said, "You cannot allow a Committee of the House to inquire into these matters; they are much too secret in wartime," but fortunately for the nation, an inquiry was carried out. It was one of the most important inquiries in the war in changing the way that people looked at the conduct of the war.

During the second world war—I watched from the Gallery—the House of Commons inquired into many matters. It even had secret sittings. Some Members did not like that. It is incredible to think of a secret sitting with almost every Member present. It discussed matters of the utmost importance. Some thought that if different views were taken, it could give some advantage to the enemy. But others thought that it was much more important that the Government should establish their good faith before other hon. Members and that that risk should be taken. They thought that it was much more important that Ministers should be called to account and should give answers.

Churchill, who knew something about these matters, was prepared to act in that way. He had secret committees on many matters, inquiring into questions infinitely more sensitive than many of those covered by the Security Services. If both this Bill and next week's Bill are carried, no future Churchills will write their memoirs. If ever the historical writings of any great figure in this House were stuffed with official secrets—I bet that not every one was vetted and passed—they were Churchill's. He thought that he had a better idea of what was an official secret than any officious security officer who might tell him otherwise, and that is often the case. Above all, Churchill was answerable to this House, and he trusted it.

Even in the much lesser event of the Falklands war, it was necessary that there should be a proper inquiry into how the country got into the war. The Prime Minister was not eager that it should be the size that it was. She thought that we must have a smaller inquiry because it would be a bit dangerous to have as many as six or seven Members of Parliament investigating. Some of us persuaded her—she is not always easy to persuade—that she must have a committee that could both inquire and command the confidence of the House. If it was to have the confidence of the House, it could not consist of one or two hon. Members; it had to be a bit larger. Some of us thought that it might have been a bit larger still.

A great deal of secret information and information about security, and many official secrets went before that committee. My right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) was on that committee and will vouch for what I am saying. If that evidence had not been available, the report would have been worthless. It is not the case that this House cannot devise means of dealing with these questions.

During recent weeks and months, the Government have taken measures on a series of events to restrict the freedoms that we have previously accepted as natural, which we have taken for granted. I shall not go through the whole long list, but they include the proposed interference with the right to silence, interference with the rights of people to report terrorism in Northern Ireland, and the introduction of an identity card system. There is a list of different measures which infringe some of our elementary rights. Nobody believes that those matters, including some of the provisions in the two Bills on this subject, are the outcome of the cool analysis or—what was the phrase of the Home Secretary?—the "cool consideration" of the Home Office and the Government. They are not. They are the result of the paranoid spasms of the Prime Minister. She comes along and says, "We must settle these questions in a particular way overnight, whatever the objections, criticisms and obstacles." The Home Secretary's way of dealing with these questions over the years has been governed much more by that factor than by any so-called cool consideration of all the factors involved. I hope that that pressure will be sustained.

I have not the slightest doubt that eventually the House will have enough dignity and determination to establish over the security services the right that we have over every other activity in this country—the right of surveillance. It can be done without injuring the nation's security or the way in which it conducts its affairs. All that is needed is for hon. Members to have a little confidence in this institution, which still has the power and capacity to adapt itself to any such needs.

6.10 pm
Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)

The right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) put his finger on a curious paradox that is one of the central weaknesses of the Bill. He said that the Bill has come into existence only because of past events. Looking forward to the future—remembering, to use the right hon. Gentleman's words, what a "small fig leaf' the Bill is—there is little hope that future events will be handled differently. It is to that central weakness that I shall devote most of my attention.

I should like to give the Bill a qualified welcome. It is a sensible initiative to place the Security Service on a statutory basis for the first time in its 80-year history. When such a first attempt to legislate is made, it is perfectly natural that there should be some unease and debate about whether the activities of the Security Service, as defined in the Bill, infringe civil liberties. That unease, which has come mainly from the Opposition, would largely have been alleviated if the Bill had been drafted better. Sometimes parliamentarians criticise the Foreign Office for making a mess of legislation because it has so little experience of bringing Bills before the House. Poor old MI5 has had no experience of bringing legislation before the House, so perhaps it is not surprising that, by professional standards, the Bill has been poorly drafted and has many grave flaws.

If one wanted to choose a fundamental flaw in the drafting regarding the lack of political interference by the Security Service, one could do no better than make a comparison with the rather splendid words of the Maxwell Fyfe directive of 1952. Paragraph 4, which deals with political interference, says: It is essential that the Security Service should be kept absolutely free from any political bias or influence, and nothing should be done that might lend colour to any suggestion that it is concerned with the interests of any particular section of the community or with any matter other than the Defence of the Realm as a whole. Those words have a splendid ring to them and compare favourably with the extremely modest sentence in clause 2(2)(b), which asks the director-geneal to ensure that the Service does not take any action to further the interests of any political party. A quite different dimension of restraint of the Security Service is contained in the Bill than that contained in the famous Maxwell Fyfe directive. I dare say that we shall tidy up much of the drafting in Committee.

The big issue in the Bill, which is the first in the history of the Security Service, is probably not civil liberties but the confidence, effectiveness, efficiency and judgment of the Security Service. The Bill should be judged by what it does to improve, enhance and strengthen the Security Service, which is certainly needed in today's world. Judged by that test, the Bill is extremely disappointing.

There are many omissions in the Bill and many opportunities have been lost. The most recent controversy was the Wright brouhaha. Most observers agree that it probably would not have happened if only MI5 had had a decent and fair system of pensions. If Mr. Wright had had a pension, none of this Niagara falls of information would have fallen into the public domain. It is unlikely that many revelations from former employees of the service would have reached the ears of journalists and authors if there had been a clear contractual responsibility by which pensions could be lost following breaches of trust or disclosure of information. The Bill completely misses the opportunity to deal with possible restrictions, definitions or fairer treatment of pensions.

The Home Secretary tackled the subject of oversight very feebly indeed. When he came to this part of his speech, he tried to dismiss the Canadian experience as only four years old, the Australian experience as too new and the American experience as of no relevance. He continuously dodged the fact that we are the only democracy in the English-speaking world that has no system not merely of parliamentary oversight—it is perfectly true that there can be more than one view of this— but any system of independent oversight whatsoever. He did not admit—why should he reveal a state secret, but I will do so—that three successive directors-general of the Security Service have supported independent oversight of some type for the Security Service.

Mr. William Powell

Is my hon. Friend saying that a judge is not independent oversight? Surely a judge is.

Mr. Aitken

I do not think that my hon. Friend quite understands what is meant by "oversight". Oversight, in the sense that it is used by security services in other parts of the world, is some form of continuous monitoring body. It monitors not whether the right warrant was issued for the right telephone tap but whether the structure and operations of the service are being correctly, efficiently and most effectively carried out. At present, that function is exercised by Ministers, which is what they mean when they talk about oversight.

To some extent, I embarrassed the Government the other day, when the Home Secretary was at his peak of reminding us how wonderfully effective oversight by the Prime Minister and himself would be in the future. I quoted from the last ministerial statement made on oversight seven years ago by the then Home Office Minister, Dr. Shirley Summerskill. I will not bore the House by repeating it, but the gist of it was, "We have a completely new oversight mechanism, which has been strengthened and is working perfectly; Ministers are doing a wonderful job, and although there have been faults in the past, you can trust us and we will do oversight splendidly." That is the same old gramophone record that the Home Secretary played today and during the debate on the Gracious Speech.

However, the extraordinary catalogue of blunders, mismanagement and outbreaks of chaos which followed that statement shows that ministerial oversight failed, for the simple reason that Ministers were too preoccupied and too busy to give the continuous attention that is needed. The fight for oversight of the Security Service will not end with this Bill; it will be a continuous process, whether it be parliamentary oversight or independent oversight by a body such as the Falklands committee. That committee kept its secrets very well, and the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent reminded us that the House can perfectly well keep secrets at times of great national importance or on issues of substance.

Nothing in the Bill will improve the management, efficiency and effectiveness of the Security Service or ensure that it devotes its efforts to the right targets by the right methods. It is no secret that the Security Service has not been well managed in recent years. There are times whey it has been spectacularly badly managed. There have been five directors-general within a decade, which is an astonishing turnover in the world of counter-intelligence, where a long perspective is often needed.

Some of the Security Service's recruitment methods are out of the Boy's Own Paper days. No commercial organisation could have recruited, promoted and failed to detect an erratic, alcoholic and social misfit like Michael Bettaney. Even the expurgated version of the security commissioner's report on Michael Bettaney, published in 1985, was one of the most scathing indictments of the quality of management of any Government organisation this century.

We are told that, since Bettaney, everything has been improved. That is true to some extent. Sir Antony Duff, an outsider from the Security Service, made certain significant changes. As a result of his influence, all MI5 employees were given a 10 per cent. pay increase over and above the normal Civil Service increments, to pay them for their enhanced responsibilities —a new reward structure, which, incidentally, Ministers have never disclosed to Parliament. Sir Antony Duff then insisted that there should be a major shift of resources from counter-intelligence and subversion towards fighting terrorism. That was a wise move.

Here again—this is why Parliament should debate such issues—a caveat should be entered since Sir Antony Duff s retirement. We all agree that fighting terrorism is extremely important, but some experienced international observers fear that, with their understandably deep concern for terrorism, the present Government may not have got the balance quite right in the allocation of resources. There is a somewhat simplistic view in the Security Service today that, in this age of glasnost and perestroika, it is safe to lower our guard against Soviet penetration and subversion so that we may raise our guard against Irish terrorism. That view is not shared by intelligence experts on the other side of the Atlantic, who, incidentally, are refreshing easy to consult, in comparison with how difficult or impossible it is to get near their British equivalents.

I draw the attention of the House to a speech by Mr. Robert M. Gates, the deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency, to the Association of Former Intelligence Officers on 15 October. He said: Since Gorbachev's accession to power, the hostile intelligence threat against the US has grown. Over the past three years we have discovered more penetrations of US defence and intelligence activities than at any time in our history… Despite improved US-Soviet relations there has been an increase this year in Soviet attempts to recruit US sources. I believe the recent choice of Vladimir Kryuchov to be chairman of the KGB will mean an intensification of Soviet intelligence efforts of the US and its allies.

If Deputy Director Gates of the CIA is right about the increased intensification of KGB activities and the increased spending on the KGB by the Soviet Government, it suggests that our Security Service may be getting its priorities wrong.

Mr. Whitney

Does my hon. Friend agree that the evidence by our hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office to the Select Committee made precisely the same point as Mr. Gates? Therefore, we must assume—neither my hon. Friend nor I know—that that information, which apparently is in the possession of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, is also in the possession of other security agencies, and that they are taking appropriate action to deal with it. Why does my hon. Friend impute such ignorance or lack of wisdom to our colleagues on the Government Front Bench?

Mr. Aitken

My hon. Friend knows much more about this subject than I do. The judgment of priorities and the assessment of threats and macro-political judgments of the kind that we are talking about, is certainly not something that MI5 has done particularly well in the past. My view of MI5 is that, on the whole, it has done its best to do a decent, honest, patriotic, plodding job. The tone of MI5 is the tone of sound mediocrity, often touched with an inferiority complex about its cousins at MI6.

The retired military and police personnel who are so present in MI5 ranks are not the stuff of which deep thinkers are made, yet deep thinking is required on certain aspects of the Bill. The Bill appears to enlarge the role of MI5 and let its officers into new areas in which the qualities of intellect, expertise and specialist knowledge will be required on a scale not hitherto observed at the Curzon street headquarters.

I draw the attention of the House, as did the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) to the dramatic expansion of MI5's activities as defined in clause 1(3): It shall also be the function of the Service to safeguard the economic well-being of the United Kingdom against threats posed by the actions or intentions of persons outside the British Islands.

Unless that is a quite spectacular piece of bad drafting, it means something very different from what MI5 has done in the past. What does it mean? The mind boggles. It has gone way beyond the Maxwell Fyfe directive. Is MI5 to monitor speculators against sterling? Is it to place the gnomes of Zurich under surveillance? Will Smiley be sent off to the souks of Cairo to make sure that another "Hero from Zero" does not grab hold of Harrods? Is Bulldog Drummond to be sent to the Mexican fastness of Sir James Goldsmith to make sure he is not cornering the market on salmonella-free eggs? What does it mean?

It certainly means that a new type of employee is to be required for MI5 to monitor overseas people who are posing threats to the economic well-being of this country—LSE professors— [interruption.]—yuppies, as my hon. Friend says, and certainly fiscal wizards.

When I made a few discreet inquiries about what the clause could mean, I was given the impression that I had got it wrong and that it was to do with offshore oil rigs which needed protection, and about the Channel tunnel. That would be confirmed by the rather curious reference to the "British Islands". If that is the case, it is an appalling piece of parliamentary draftsmanship to have a clause which is meant to refer to offshore installations such as oil rigs and the Channel tunnel all mixed up in economic well-being overseas.

It is not a well drafted Bill. Large parts of it are about cosmetics. Clauses 4 and 5 are a couple of sledgehammers to crack nuts. They envisage the appointment of a high judicial officer as a commissioner, three or four lawyers as a complaints tribunal, and a tribunal staff of 12 officers, at a cost of £360,000 a year.

What will they all do? After all, in the 80 years since the Security Service was founded, few real complaints about extra-judicial activities have surfaced, except in the suspect works of Peter Wright. The few genuine ones such as Cathy Massiter's complaint may not be directed at MI5 at all. It is common knowledge that MI5 had great internal doubts and debates about monitoring the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, but instructions from higher up made it do it. There is no way that the tribunal will criticise MI5 for carrying out what it was properly asked to do.

Be that as it may, I doubt whether this expensive apparatus will find more than one genuine complaint that it can uphold in the course of a year. Of course it will have complaints from plenty of nutters, paranoiacs and anti-MI5 obsessives, but it will get rid of them pretty quickly, and then it will have no real job. The tribunal will be a sort of Don Quixote tilting at windmills.

That brings me to my real grumble about the Bill and the Official Secrets Bill which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is to launch next week. There are scores of missed opportunities—certainly in this Bill. There is no oversight, no real reform of the Security Service, no management improvements, and no real expansion of citizens' rights. There is a hollow cosmetic touch to the Bill, once one has welcomed the basic, genuine legal change. It reminded me of the great speech of Lord Randolph Churchill about Mr. Gladstone whom he criticised in 1884 for chopping down trees as his recreation, particularly the famous passage which begins with the words The forest laments in order that Mr. Gladstone may perspire. Having perspired, Mr. Gladstone handed out chips as symbols of what he was doing in his wood cutting.

The Home Secretary's policies are similar. The commissioner is a chip for the civil liberties lobby. The tribunal is a chip for lawyers. Sir Philip Woodfield, the staff counsellor, is a chip to the young Turks inside the service who did not like the idea of not being able to report Mr. Bettaney, even when he was drunk and on fire, as unworthy. The legal status is a chip to appease the European Court of Human Rights. It is chips, chips, chips. The Home Secretary is good at those chips and cosmetics, but this is not a lasting reform of substance. Parliament will not be gainsaid indefinitely and fobbed off permanently with no oversight. I believe that the European Court of Human Rights will be back on some of the civil liberty issues.

As a first step, the Bill is not entirely useless, and for that reason I shall vote for it. However, although it is some progress, it is a story of missed opportunities, and I have grave reservations about it.

6.30 pm
Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) and to agree with almost every word that he has said. He was right to focus on the inadequacy of the Bill in strengthening the effectiveness of the Security Service, as well to allude to the infringements of civil rights which, undoubtedly, the Bill will do little to remove and, indeed, may make it more difficult to identify.

I and my right hon. and hon. Friends will be voting against the Bill, however, because it has failed on three counts. First, it does not properly define the role of the Security Service. If one had any doubt about that before the Home Secretary spoke, that doubt would have been strengthened by his attempt to expound the provisions of clauses 1 and 2, which, far from indicating that the Bill was squarely based on the Maxwell Fyfe principles, or the definitions of national security as set out in 1975 by Lord Harris of Greenwich, showed that the Bill goes a great deal further than that. It also has some catch-all provisions, which will enable those in the Security Service—almost unchecked—to carry out investigations on or interferences, as they are called, with individuals and their property, which almost certainly would have fallen foul of the law in the past.

Secondly, we shall vote against the Bill because, although it purports to provide a remedy for aggrieved members of the public, it is difficult to see how that remedy will be effective. It in fact removes the redress that the individual citizen has at present, by providing a system which excludes the purview of the courts.

Thirdly, we shall vote against this measure because the Bill entirely fails to provide for effective scrutiny and parliamentary accountability, which I believe is increasingly recognised, not only in this country but in other parliamentary democracies, as appropriate for the Security Service as it is for other Government services.

Mr. Hind


Mr. Maclennan

Because of your appeal, Mr. Speaker, for short speeches and the 10-minute rule which is about to—

Hon. Members

It is on.

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is not effective until 7 o'clock.

Mr. Maclennan

I am grateful. I would prefer not to give way, although I regret the brevity of the debate.

The Bill is a response to an historical situation of considerable gravity, which has been underlined not just by the revelations of the rogue Peter Wright, but by the more serious revelations of Cathy Massiter, Anthony Cavendish and many other instances of incompetence which have come to light since the end of the last world war. Of course it is correct to move towards putting the Security Service on a statutory footing, provided that the statute deals with the problems which have been highlighted, but plainly it does not. The continuing practice of the Security Service over the years to scrutinise the wrong people because they belong to a class of individuals who are suspect in certain Right-wing circles and to promote from within its ranks or into its ranks highly unsuitable people—in many cases the agents of foreign powers—suggests that something radical is needed to ensure that this self-perpetuating oligarchy, only sporadically the subject of effective scrutiny, is ended.

The role of the Security Service under the Maxwell Fyfe rubric was fairly clearly set out, and departures from the role were clearly matters that required to be remedied. However, under clause 1, there must be considerable anxiety about the extent of the powers and functions of the proposed statutory service. The use in clause 1(2) of the definition of the protection of national security, and the continuation later in that clause of the description of particular threats, appear to allow the Security Service to decide that many matters not particularised also raise issues of national security; that I am anxious about. It is an open door to pursue hares which are inappropriate.

It is disturbing, too, that the wording of the Harris of Greenwich rubric is not in fact precisely reflected in clause 1. Those provisions of the Bill provide for protection against threats from espionage, terrorism and sabotage, from the activities of agents and foreign powers and from actions intended to overthrow or undermine parliamentary democracy by political, industrial or violent means. Those are three separate categories.

The Select Committee on Home Affairs was only satisfied by the Harris of Greenwich definition of regional security because those two latter categories were linked together. The Select Committee—which the Home Secretary wrongly invoked in support of the Bill—did not consider that it was satisfactory to have these as separate categories. That last category has given rise to criticisms in the past that the Security Service has too readily focused upon political, not security, issues. That the Cathy Massiter type of revelations will continue unchecked is something that must worry us.

The concept of subversion, which clause 1 appears designed to define, has been found unhelpful in other security services. It is noticeable that, in the past year, the Canadians have specifically excluded subversion from the purview of their security service. I believe that we should have taken the opportunity to do likewise in this Bill.

I found compelling the remarks of Lord Jenkins of Hillhead in an earlier debate on the matter. Speaking as a former Home Secretary, he described the inappropriateness of those who are living and moving in the fevered world of espionage, applying their minds to whether certain behaviour was subversive or simply legitimate dissent.

I doubt whether the proposals for remedying grievances are much of an improvement on the provisions of common law. They provide limited rights but are not subject to appeal to the courts. They do not seem to provide for circumstances that have been complained of: that smear campaigns have been conducted for political purposes, or that a former Prime Minister believed that MI5 had tried to undermine his Government. Such complaints will not be examined by the tribunal that will be set up and will certainly not be examined by the commissioner. Nor will complainants be given reasons for the decisions of the tribunal.

No adequate remedy is provided, and in any event it is highly unlikely that evidence will be available on which complainants could mount a case to the tribunal—certainly in the light of the linked provisions in the Official Secrets Bill, which will come before the House next week, which make it an offence for a member of the Security Service to reveal any misdeeds in the service.

The third and most important defect of the Bill is the lack of accountability. The Home Secretary's view, which he repeated today, is that to give some accountability to any body other than himself is to breach the necessary secrecy. He has spoken repeatedly of the barrier of secrecy. Those who are within that barrier include himself, the Prime Minister and a few others for specific purposes.

I take no great comfort from the proposed appointment of the commissioner. His role is much more limited than that described by the Home Secretary. It is confined to the propriety of the handling of warrants and he is not allowed to examine policy, efficiency, value for money or any of the matters that Parliament is entitled to consider.

On value for money, it is extraordinary that a service that costs the country more than £100 million per annum is accountable to the National Audit Office only through the certificate of a Minister that the money has been spent. That will not suffice. Even the financial responsibility for the service is inadequately provided for.

The gossamer-thin arguments that the Home Secretary used to disregard the evidence of what is happening in other countries show the frailty of the Government's case in general. It is possible for individuals to be chosen by the House who are responsible and perfectly capable of straddling, or going within, the barrier of secrecy. He has preferred instead to bring within the barrier of secrecy as the commissioner someone of high judicial office.

In the debate on the Queen's Speech, the Home Secretary said, in relation to a body that may be set up to scrutinise the workings of the Security Service: If the body knew all, it would know that it could say little to the rest of Parliament without damaging results. If it knew little, it could say nothing with any conviction".—[Official Report, 23 November 1988; Vol. 142, c. 123.]

Parliament would prefer to play some part in the choice of those who are appointed to scrutinise, or to stand at the Secretary of State's shoulder, as he put it. If those great powers—they are necessary powers—are to be applied without infringing fundamental human rights and freedoms, Parliament must discharge its role more precisely by appointing a body that is accountable directly to it. We cannot simply rely upon the assertions of the Ministers that all is well.

The acceptance of that principle of Executive convenience is an abandonment of our democratic responsibilities, and that is why we shall vote against the Bill.

6.45 pm
Mr. John Wheeler (Westminster, North)

I shall resist the temptation to go down the byways of the past to review the history of the service and some recent events that may apply to it. I shall concentrate on what the House must consider.

For the first time, the Security Service will be placed on a statutory basis and Parliament is invited in clause 1, which has been carefully drafted, to define the function of the service. Clause 2 defines the role of the director-general and the line of accountablility from the person in day-to-day management of the service to the Home Secretary. That is reaffirmed as the proper form of control, and I support it. The Home Secretary and the Prime Minister are accountable to the House. They are both elected Members of Parliament, who assume that accountability by virtue of their appointment to ministerial office.

For the first time, there will be a statutory remedy for members of the public who have complaints about the service's activities against them. I welcome the Bill because it answers the anxiety that has grown in recent years about the alleged illegal activities of the service and its supposed lack of accountablility. Those allegations have followed well-publicised disclosures by former officers of the service.

There is no doubt that, in a parliamentary democracy, the House should have the opportunity to define the function of the service and to set up, as is proposed in the Bill, a procedure for investigating and remedying complaints from the public arising from its actions. Those who work for the service should clearly understand the legal basis for their activities. There should be explicit ground rules and improved procedures for accountability.

The Bill will define MI5's functions as the protection of national security, especially against the threat of espionage, terrorism and sabotage. The director-general is charged with ensuring that the service remains politically neutral.

Under the proposals, the Home Secretary will be given power to issue warrants before members of the service can enter property—something which they do not at present require. I qualify that by saying that the entry of a person on to another person's property is subject to civil law as well as, in many instances, criminal law, and both are complicated matters. An independent commissioner who is a former or serving senior judge and thus independent of the Executive—that point is important—will continually review the warrant system and report annually to the Prime Minister. His reports will be published, subject to vetting on security grounds, and the House will have the opportunity to consider those reports.

The new guidelines will follow the lines of the Interception of Communications Act 1985, which brought telephone tapping and the interception of mail by the Security Service under the law. A tribunal of up to five independent lawyers will also be appointed to consider any complaints against the service by members of the public. It will have the power to call on MI5 for relevant documentation and information. If a complaint is upheld, the tribunal can order an end to an investigation and the destruction of relevant records. Those are powerful and significant requirements.

Furthermore, compensation payments can also be granted by the tribunal, which is independent, and officers engaged in entering property without warrant authorisation may face criminal proceedings. There have been, and will continue to be, calls for a wider parliamentary role in the accountability of the service, as we have heard in the debate this afternoon. I recall that, when the Select Committee on Home Affairs carried out an inquiry into the work of special branch—which is, perhaps, the public face of the security services in some of its activities—we had great difficulty in mounting that inquiry.

One question begets another and the problem is that, before one knows where one is, one wishes to intrude into operational areas; that may put in jeopardy the interests of the nation and the very function of the service whose existence Parliament is being invited to authorise in the Bill. I do not, therefore, subscribe to the view that a special Committee of the House should be appointed or that a Select Committee—the Select Committee on Home Affairs comes to mind—should be otherwise involved in the scrutiny of the service's work.

The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) used the example of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary being accosted in the street tnd asked for a warrant at 9.45 am. The Select Committee would be in an even less favourable position if it were to be approached to authorise the grant of warrants or, worse still, to be asked to say whether the issue of that warrant should continue. The neat arrangement for the tribunal meets the legitimate concerns of members of all parties for an acceptable form of accountability.

The Select Committee on Home Affairs could look at the Estimates for the financial provision for the service, as could the Select Committee on Public Accounts, because they are a matter of public availability. The Select Committee could examine the report about the work of the tribunal and its findings, but I do not believe that it is either practical or desirable for Parliament to go beyond that.

We have heard this afternoon about the work of other democratic Parliaments and the attempts that they may have made to exercise some scrutiny over the work of their own security services. I know nothing about the details of those operations, but in the fulness of time, I may have the opportunity to examine them. However, I doubt that they could go much further than the Bill's provisions on the work of the commissioner and the tribunal. I very much doubt whether a service that is charged with the utmost secrecy to perform its functions can be made accountable operationally to a Select Committee or a committee of politicians who have other interests and other concerns as the basis of their appointment.

If the service is to remain effective and to serve the best interests of the British people, operational accountability must, strictly, arise from the director-general to the Home Secretary and, ultimately, the Prime Minister. The holders of those offices must remain accountable for their discharge on the Floor of the House of Commons. I see no way at all of avoiding those responsibilities.

6.55 pm
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

There is no dispute among the Opposition about whether there should be a Security Service. It goes without saying that even if the country was not involved in combating terrorism and drugs, the necessity for such a service would remain. The dispute is whether that service should be accountable to Parliament.

When the Select Committee on Home Affairs—of which the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) was a member—decided in 1984 to make the first ever parliamentary inquiry into the special branch of the police, the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths), who was not a member of the Committee, said that the Committee's decision could endanger the security of this country. As I have remarked previously, we carried out the inquiry, with some controversy, and produced a majority report and a minority report. Lo and behold, not a soul, including the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, has argued that any damage was done to the national interest, although the Home Secretary at the time, the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan), was hardly enthusiastic that the Select Committee should look into the special branch.

During the course of proceedings, the Home Secretary made public the Home Office guidelines on special branch. That was the first time that the guidelines had been published and the Home Secretary did not deny that the Committee's decision to look into special branch was connected with the decision to go ahead in bringing that document into the public domain. The hon. Member for Westminster, North is nodding his head in agreement.

I have some knowledge of the minority report because I wrote it. Paragraph 34 of the minority report says: The security services were outside the terms of reference for this inquiry, but the House may well wish to consider whether the present total lack of Parliamentary scrutiny over these government agencies is really desirable and if it would not be preferable for there to be some degree of accountability to Parliament which would not endanger the safety of the realm. I doubt whether the Government would have produced the Bill if the Security Service had not been the subject of such continued controversy and scandal, particularly in view of Wright's serious allegations that he and other officers in MI5 were involved in subversive activity against the Labour Government in the 1970s.

Of course, as I have said before, Wright may have been lying, and the only reason that he published such allegations may have been that he wanted his book to sell. The Government have certainly helped him to become a millionaire. However, if there is any truth in his allegations, the questions must arise about how someone like Wright was ever recruited into MI5. Can any Conservative Member say that Wright was wholly committed to parliamentary democracy? Because he did not like the Government of the day and considered it too Left-wing, he decided to commit treachery. What sort of person was he? Are there others like him in MI5? There is a good possibility that he is telling the truth and that others were involved and still remain in the Security Service.

There have also been disclosures from Cathy Massiter. I do not put these two people together. Wright is an out-and-out scoundrel, and, whether he is telling the truth or not, his basic loyalty to this country and to the democratic process must remain in considerable doubt, to say the least. Ms. Massiter,who was employed by MI5, clearly had the most serious reservations about what she was being asked to do. No one has claimed that she made any money out of her disclosures. I believe that she acted in an honourable manner and I am pleased that there are people whose conscience leads them to say that their work is wrong and that they should make that known. I have the highest respect for Ms. Massiter. However, under the Government's proposal, which will be debated next week, for the change of the Official Secrets Act, she would have had no legal defence that she had acted in the public interest. That must cause us much concern, and the Opposition will express that concern when the Bill is debated next week.

Clause 5 of the Bill establishes a tribunal to consider complaints against the Security Service. As the Home Secretary pointed out, that is very much along the lines of what was agreed in the Interception of Communications Act 1985 which also raised considerable doubts among Opposition Members both in Committee and on the Floor of the House. I do not believe that the provision in the Bill is an improvement upon the complaints procedure in that Act.

We can be assured that many complainants who apply to the Security Service tribunal will not be in a position to argue their case. Most people will not even know whether they are the subject of investigation by MI5, but even those who believe that they have a case and take it to the tribunal are most unlikely to be allowed to appear in person or—more important —to be legally represented. It will not be too difficult for the Security Service to make out a case that the national interest required such and such a person to be targeted. The tribunal will then conclude that in all the circumstances the Security Service acted in the proper way.

Our crucial concern is not of course, that the Security Service pursues spies or people who genuinely endanger the security of the country. It is right and proper that it should do that. That is what our Security Service should be all about. What worries us is that people engaged in perfectly legitimate political activities are targeted by the Security Service. That is why Cathy Massiter's disclosures are so worrying. She told us that the leaders of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament were spied upon and that, when the editor of CND's journal resigned over an internal difficulty of the kind that all organisations have, he was approached by members of the security services or special branch who were interested in all kinds of tittle-tattle; they wanted to know who had slept with whom and all about people's private lives. What has that to do with the security of the country?

Ministers have told us repeatedly that it is perfectly legitimate to campaign for nuclear disarmament. It does not matter how strongly the Government oppose nuclear disarmament; those involved in the campaign should not be spied upon or have their private lives pried into by people paid by the taxpayer who are supposed to be defending the interests of the state. Opposition Members suspect that CND was targeted because the then Secretary of State for Defence gave direct orders to MI5 to target it.

Mr. Foot


Mr. Winnick

As my right hon. Friend says, it was disgraceful.

Take the National Council for Civil Liberties. Cathy Massiter told us that anyone who was on the national executive of that organisation or who was an active member at branch level was placed on permanent record and that routine inquiries were established to identify such people, with police co-operation being sought. Just imagine that.

Why was it decided to target my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman), who was then the legal officer of the National Council for Civil Liberties, and Patricia Hewitt, who was its general secretary and who now works in the office of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition?

Mr. Allason

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Winnick

I am afraid that I cannot, because of the time limit.

Mr. Allason


Ms. Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)

He knows the answer.

Mr. Winnick

If he knows the answer, he can tell us in his own time. No doubt the House will be interested to hear his explanation.

I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham and Patricia Hewitt are bringing their case before the European Court of Human Rights and that it has been decided that there is a case for the British Government to answer. If those two were targeted, the question inevitably arises how many other people, perhaps less prominent, wer the subject of MI5 investigations or of special branch but did not find out.

Mr. Allason

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Winnick

Perhaps you, Madam Deputy Speaker, will tell me how much time I have left.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

The hon. Gentleman has six minutes.

Mr. Winnick

Then I give way to the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason).


The hon. Gentleman asked why members of the National Council for Civil Liberties should historically be targeted by the security services. The answer is quite simple. Many years ago, the NCCL was defined as a proscribed organisation by the Labour party because it was considered to be a Communist front, and the Communist party of Great Britain has always been the subject of surveillance by the Security Service.

Mr. Winnick

I am grateful for that explanation. I have never had an explanation from the Government. I wonder whether the explanation that the hon. Gentleman gave will be the one given by the Government at the European Court of Human Rights.

Mr. Allason

The NCCL was proscribed by the Labour party.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

We shall research it and find out.

Mr. Winnick

We have no need to research it; I know the answer. It is perfectly true that, rightly or wrongly, the NCCL was proscribed by the Labour party—at a time when, in all honesty, the Communist party had too much influence in the organisation. I concede that. But those events took place about 25 or 30 years ago. Can MI5 really say that matters have not changed and that my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham and Patricia Hewitt, who are as committed to parliamentary democracy and its defence as any hon. Member, should be targeted because there was too much Communist influence on the organisation 25 or 30 years ago? No one—not even the Government—could claim that the NCCL is a Communist front organisation now or has been for 20 years. The Communist party probably has no more than 4,000 or 5,000 members now, so it is hardly in a position to have front organisations. That is more a matter for the Conservative party.

No doubt if the Security Service was made accountable to Parliament, the Select Committee — presumably the Select Committee on Home Affairs—would ask the director-general the questions that I have asked. It would not be appropriate to ask about operational matters that would genuinely endanger the security of the country, and we did not ask any such questions when we carried out an inquiry into special branch.

But the broader questions are also very important, and in that respect I come to the point made by the hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken). Other Western countries, no less democratic than ours—the United States, Canada and Australia—have concluded that their security services must be made accountable to Parliament. Why should we be different? Perhaps there would be a case if it could be argued that our Security Service had never been the subject of scandal and if we had never had any Wrights; but even leaving aside the Soviet spies and all the rest of it, our Security Service has been particularly scandal prone. Canada, Australia and the United States have decided to make their security services accountable to Parliament, and we have even more reason to do that.

The present definition of subversion is far too wide. I prefer the definition agreed to before the one decided upon by Lord Harris. Lord Denning's definition of subversive seems perfectly all right to me: one who would overthrow or contemplate the overthrow of government by unlawful means. That definition would give the security services a far more narrow remit and less scope to dabble in matters that do not concern them.

Britain's security services will remain the subject of controversy as long as parliamentary accountability is lacking. The Bill will not change the position. When the Bill becomes an Act, as it obviously will, Opposition Members will still have Adjournment debates, ten-minute Bills, and all that we are entitled to do. We shall continue to do all that, because we believe that, as in other western democracies, it is essential for those who carry out the sort of work that I have been describing—the broad range of which I do not question —to be subject to parliamentary accountability. We shall continue to press that point at every opportunity.

7.10 pm
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)

The Government are right to want to legislate, or rather, to put the security services on a statutory basis. Whether they are going about it in the right way I shall come to, but we recognise the pressures that are upon them to do just that.

When Sir John Donaldson, then a High Court judge, now Lord Donaldson, said that we would be naive to suppose that burglary and bugging do not take place, a man sworn to uphold the rule of law has denied it in the courts of Britain. That is remarkable.

But the Government are confronted with something more pressing than that. As has been pointed out a couple of times today, we had two cases before the European Court of Human Rights in which it was argued that it is admissible to take a complaint to that court on the basis that we no longer have the judicial remedies to protect the freedoms and liberties of our own citizens.

It is shocking that the United Kingdom, an early signatory to basic rights and freedoms and recognitions of who we are as a people, is now almost arraigned in front of the European Court defending our processes and practices.

The Bill is a minimalist attempt to meet the contentions before that court. We have seen it happen before, in what The Times called an insult, in the Interception of Communications Act. That too was minimalist, and one day that too will come before the European Court and we shall be found wanting.

My fear is that the Government, by not taking a direct and central grasp of the real issues that affect the relationship of the security services to a democracy, will also, in time, find that they are again in front of the European Court.

I was interested to hear that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary had had his official servants canvass the world to see what other procedures exist. I noticed how, within a couple of minutes, he was able to dispense with those, roll his hands and say, "Well done, we're pretty well done here."

I shall not follow the line of the American experience, but let us take the Canadian one. One difficulty that has always confronted Parliament is that we are unique in having a parliamentary democracy with ministerial responsibility. Therefore, let us take a country which has just such a system, Canada.

Canada had isolated incidents that sadly turned out to be not so isolated when a Royal Canadian mounted policeman, then responsible for his country's security services, unfortunately bombed someone's house. The Government said that those were isolated incidents, but they turned out not to be and the McDonald Commission was set up. Its report was telling. It was called "Freedom and Security under the Law". The concepts are there.

Did we hear my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary of the United Kingdom say today that freedom as a concept must be weighed with security? No, we did not. That is what has been worrying me about my right hon. Friend's proposal. He is not weighing the central contentions for the House and for our society. After all, what is the Security Service for? It is to defend our liberal democracy. What is our liberal democracy? It is freedom of speech. It is also freedom to dissent. Let us never forget that. It is an important right that we try to exercise when we are assembled in the House. That is the function of the security services.

When we weigh up the right organisation and the right arrangements to embrace a necessary protector, that is subordinate to the needs of us, as citizens, and to the House of Commons as an expression of what the citizens wish. That is one thing that the Bill does not do.

Let me look at one definition. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) rightly drew our attention to clause 1(2). There is an elision here from what the previous Home Secretary said to the Select Committee on Home Affairs. Two branches, or limbs—as I think he called them—are not there in that definition. I do not propose to go over it other than to take from the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service Bill, with which the Home Secretary will be familiar, the definition of threats to the security of Canada. For that let us read threats to the security of the United Kingdom. That means our freedom. That is what we are defending.

The Bill deals with the understandable threats of espionage and treachery. Then it comes to the difficult area of what constitutes subversion. Sub-paragraph (d) defines it thus: activities directed toward undermining by covert unlawful acts"— note the insertion of "unlawful acts"— or directly toward. or intended ultimately to lead to the destruction or overtħrow by violence of, the constitutionally established system of government in Canada".

There is a final important caveat. The passage goes on: but does not include lawful advocacy, protest or dissent, unless carried on in conjunction with any of the activities referred to in paragraphs (a) to (d)" (d) being the one that I have just quoted. That is a proper definition of the purpose of the Security Service.

When my right hon. Friend and the Government come to weigh those matters in Committee I ask them to look in a more friendly manner on the necessary balances. Having listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Boscawen), previously a distinguished Whip, I cannot imagine that the House of Commons to which I am a party, can be so subservient as to say that there are things that we must not know or should not look at. The McDonald Commission, in 1,000 pages, asserted vigorously the right to know—the right even of the Opposition to know—what the security services are getting up to, because they touch on our freedoms in the most intimate way. They touch on our privacies and our rights.

How can we be self-respecting if we say, "I must shield myself on the basis of a concept that there are only two people in Britain who must know"? The truth of the matter is that we know that they do not know. The experience of the noble Baron Armstrong in Australia was riveting because we knew what he did not know. So much did he not know that he had to have an instruction from the previous Attorney-General, the subsequent Lord Chancellor, to retract his evidence.

The Bill confirms arrangements that a deferential House has accepted in the past. I notice that the focus for the Bill is the responsibility of the Home Secretary again. Canada and Australia used the Solicitor-General. I just add, in the spirit of Christmas goodwill, that perhaps that responsibility should fall to the Solicitor-General, who can give the time, interest and direction to those matters.

At the end of the day the balance has to be right and that requires—I argue the Canadian course—an independent review committee and an inspector-general with warrants judicially issued and reviewed throughout, and a report to Parliament. That independent review committee of Privy Councillors is presently outside Parliament. That comes up for review next year, five years after it was introduced. I have heard commissioners say, first, that the system works and, secondly, that they see no reason why those nominated Privy Councillors should not be found from within the body of the House of Commons in Canada. We should respect the experience of our cousins, who come from our own institutions and who have pioneered a way better than we have today.

7.18 pm
Ms. Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)

The Secretary of State described the Bill as a big step forward for the Security Service. Having read the Bill and listened carefully to his remarks, I would argue that rather than a big step forward it is something of a sideways shuffle.

I have read the Bill carefully. Since it comes from a Government who pride themselves on cutting legislation to a minimum, the question that comes to someone such as me, unversed in security matters, is, what is it for? The Bill provides for no improvements in the effectiveness, efficiency or management of the service. Above all, it says nothing about parliamentary oversight. Who, among Conservative Members, can seriously say that there is no need for improvement in the management and efficiency of the security services? To show the need for improvement, I have only to reel off the names of past scandals such as those involving Maclean, Burgess, Philby and Blunt. I remind Conservative Members, that the case of Blunt was kept secret from the Government and the House for 15 years.

The recurrent history of appalling scandals of KGB infiltration of the service ought to make responsible Members consider the need for improvements in management and efficiency. In addition, one senses from reading a number of different accounts that at any given time there will be elements in the service who do not consider themselves accountable to the Government. One does not have to believe a fraction of what Wright had to say, either to Chapman Pincher or in the book, against which an unsuccessful prosecution was brought in Australia, to know that there were elements, even if only half a dozen people, who did not consider themselves accountable to Wilson's Government. How could a Security Service that was serious about being accountable to the Government of the day keep the details of the Hollis investigation from the Prime Minister for as long as it did?

There have been recurrent scandals, and a lack of a sense throughout the service of being accountable to the Government rather than a notional accountability to the Crown. There is an anti-Labour theme running through the activities of some of the members of the security services. When Sir John Hunt, the Cabinet Secretary, was asked to examine the Security Service's activities, one of his suggestions was that the recruitment system needed to be reformed to prevent anti-Labour factions from forming. Do we know what reforms were carried out or how effective they were? Leonard McCoy, an ex-deputy head of the CIA, when interviewed, said that, when briefed by James Angleton, head of CIA, he was told that Harold Wilson was a Soviet Agent. I am not a 100 per cent. unreconstructed admirer of Harold Wilson, but it is an extraordinary way to describe a sturdy west Yorkshire patriot.

How can one take the activities and the loyalty of the security services seriously when remarks such as that come from foreign security agents that work hand in glove with them?

I shall touch lightly on the question of madness in the security services. Sir Martin Furnival, an ex-head of MI5, said, and he should know, that possibly four or five years in counter-espionage is too long because it causes insanity. I shall not pursue the matter further.

The hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) talked about the bad drafting of the Bill. That is cruel to the civil servants in the Box. I am obliged, as an ex-Home Office administration trainee, to stand up for my one-time colleagues and remind hon. Members that drafting can only be as clear and elegant as the political intentions behind the legislation. The Opposition believe that the political intentions behind the legislation are neither clear, elegant nor coherent. It will not do for hon. Members to criticise hard-working, underpaid members of the Home Office by talking about poor drafting.

The drafting, including that of clause 1(2). is quite extraordinary. It says: The function of the Service shall be …protection against threats from espionage, terrorism and sabotage from the activities of agents of foreign powers". That is fine. However, it goes on to refer subjectively to undermining parliamentary democracy by political, industrial or violent means. Some Opposition Members might say that by abolishing tiers of local government the Government are seriously undermining our system of democracy.

The clause continues by saying that the function of the service is to safeguard the economic well-being of the United Kingdom against threats posed by the actions or intentions of persons outside the British Islands. What does that mean? Is the Security Service licensed to bug and burgle innocent New York stockbrokers who may be engaged in speculation against our short-term economic interest? The drafting is extraordinary, but I blame the politicians.

Schedule 1, which deal with the working of the tribunal, is equally strange. Paragraph 2(4) contains a circular argument. The service can investigate someone because he or she is part of a category of persons regarded by the Service as requiring investigation". Under paragraph 2(4) that is acceptable to the tribunal. There is no provision for an appeal to find out what categories of person the service deems to be worthy of investigation. It is as if the service is judge and jury. For example, if the service found a category such as ex-general secretaries of the National Council for Civil Liberties worthy of investigation, that would be acceptable under the terms of the schedule. Therefore, as I have said, the drafting is extraordinary, but I blame the politicians.

There has been much talk by Conservative Members about what Labour Governments did or did not do when they had the chance. As somebody who was not horn when some of those Labour Governments were in power, I cannot take seriously Conservative Members' claim that what Labour Governments did not do is an infallible guide to what the Government should do.

The Bill and speeches made by Conservative Members refer to fears about the undermining of parliamentary democracy. I am sure that I speak for all my right hon. and hon. Friends when I say that we all take that seriously. What more serious threat is there to the respect and esteem in which parliamentary democracy is held than for the Government to say that Members of Parliament cannot be trusted with scrutiny or oversight of the Security Service? That has been requested by three ex-directors of the Security Service and is found in every English-speaking democracy. The Secretary of State has undermined parliamentary democracy by saying that elected Members of Parliament, the heart of our parliamentary system, cannot be trusted with what every other English-speaking democracy has. That is an unfounded smear. The Bill represents no great leap forward but a crab-like shuffle sideways. I hope that, even at this late stage. the Government will reconsider.

7.28 pm
Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

I am pleased that the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) said that what Labour Governments have not done should not be a guide to what this Government should do. One thing is clear—the previous Labour Government did nothing about secrecy or the Security Service.

We enjoy with great amusement and pleasure the books and films about spies. Some of them are real and some are fictional. This has been a light-hearted debate. I remember Art Buchwald saying that the best thing that we could do would be to give the Russians our secrets because that would put them three years behind.

But the security of the state and the lives of the people who protect us in the Security Service are precious and important for the existence of the nation. And so we must pay proper regard to the seriousness of the matter that we are discussing.

I believe that most people, including even, the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), accept that there must be secrets and that they should remain secret. Most people accept that those who work in the Secret Service should be trusted to keep these secrets, although I do not think that the hon. Member for Walsall, North necessarily agrees with that. However, people are concerned that only things that should necessarily be secret should remain so. Many people believe that criminal sanctions should apply only in cases for which they are absolutely necessary.

Many believe that if the Security Service does wrong there should be redress and that that redress will come only if there are visible signs of accountability. There have not been such signs, and it was to remedy that that the Government brought forward this Bill which, in principle, we should all support.

There is argument about how this acceptability should be achieved. We can all agree that putting the Secret Service on a statutory basis for the first time is thoroughly good. We can all agree that its functions should be set out to protect national security, not political parties. They should be so set out to protect us against espionage, terrorism, and sabotage, and against the undermining of parliamentary democracy. Some of us also think that the state should be protected against economic subversion, although as has been pointed out, the wording in clause 1(2) is somewhat mysterious.

Most of us can agree that there should be a director-general, as there now is, with statutory requirements that he must follow, that information will be available only for certain limited purposes, and that once they have been fulfilled, that information should be destroyed. So there is a great deal of the Bill about which we must all agree—but there is disagreement about the instruments for achieving accountability.

Most Conservative Members do not believe that a parliamentary Select Committee is the best way of achieving accountability, mainly because we are all intensely party-political and adversarial. That is the strength of this place, but we all know that the best of us are liable, in moments of over-enthusiasm and of political bias, to make misjudgments which can be serious if peoples' lives are at stake. I do not want to embarrass any hon. Member, but we all know of many occasions in the past few months alone—let alone in the rather longer time that some of us have been here—when some hon. Members have made asses of themselves although, in the normal way, they are the most upright, sensible and balanced colleagues. This happens because we sometimes become detached by our political and adversarial status—

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman accept that Ministers are Members of Parliament? Surely, if they can be trusted with secrets, when they are out of office they can also be trusted with them.

Mr. Lawrence

Yes, the hon. Gentleman is quite right. He will notice that in the Bill which will be published next week the Government propose to take away ministerial certificates which allowed Ministers to say that they were the best judges of what constituted a secret. The Government propose to give that decision to juries. So now, the fact that people—genuinely or otherwise—might sometimes think that a Minister was biased in his assessment of what a secret was, has been recognised, and the decision on that will be left to an unpolitical, independent, objective and unbiased body of people—the jury.

Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North)

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that Ministers have Departments with large numbers of civil servans who can advise them in a considered way, whereas Members of Parliament, who are busy and rushed, have little support?

Mr. Lawrence

I accept that excellent point in support of my argument.

The Government propose an independent and objective structure for accountability. It is evident from the Bill that there are a number of ways in which people will be protected—ordinary people and people in the Security Service. The operation is under the control of a director-general, who is appointed by the Secretary of State who, usually, if not always, and whichever party is in power, has a general sense of balance and reliability when he appoints important people to important positions. The Secretary of State will have the power to authorise warrants for obtaining information from private property.

A commissioner will review the Secretary of State's use of his warrant power—that is new. The commissioner is a senior judge, past or present. He has a duty to be supplied with all documents and information that he thinks necessary. He is required to make an annual report to the Prime Minister which will be laid before Parliament. So the public and Security Service personnel will be protected at a series of stages.

Next, there is a tribunal to consider complaints about activities of the Security Service. If, in the past, CND or the NCCL or anyone else have been unfairly supervised and have had reason for complaint, there is now a structure to deal with that—a tribunal composed of the most wonderful people in our society: four or five lawyers, utterly independent, not politically biased, not people who CND might say had opposite political persuasions. They will decide whether the complaint is valid, they will make the necessary inquiry and they will cause the records to be destroyed and award compensation if necessary.

So, for the first time, we have a whole ramp of protections—from the director-general and the Secretary of State to the staff counsellor, who has existed for some time and to whom the discontented service man, or woman, can go. There are also the commissioner and the tribunal, and if all that protection and accountability are insufficient, there is always the Member of Parliament. In all this discussion, people have lost sight of the fact that we in this House have direct access to Cabinet Ministers and, in important cases, to the Prime Minister. If secret agents had legitimate complaints to make—

Mr. Campbell-Savours

They cannot come to us.

Mr. Lawrence

They could, and they could be authorised to release their information to a Cabinet Minister, to the Prime Minister or even to us. They could not be stopped from doing that.

Some of this ramp of protections never existed before; most have now been put into place in this Bill; and they are all there for the purpose that concerns us all—accountability.

There may be problems in the legislation—of definition and of scope. They can be sorted out as the Bill goes through Parliament, as most of these problems usually are. There is also the practical problem of unbalanced people. I represent a constituency with a lower proportion of unbalanced people than any other in the country—if that were not so, I would not have been voted into this place as its Member of Parliament. But there are still some people who believe that the Security Service spies on them through their television sets and who think that the noises they hear at night are specially directed at them by the Service. Sometimes they think that the electric currents are directed against them. This is a psychiatric illness, for which the only remedy is to suggest to such people that they wear wellington boots around the house so that the currents will not be conducted through them and cause them any disturbance. All those nuts will have access to the tribunal. The American figures show, I believe, that 30 per cent. of complaints fall into that category.

It is beyond denial that the Bill will provide better protection for state servants who feel that wrong is being done, and for people who are wronged by the secret service. It is not perfect—no legislation ever is, but it will—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman is reaching the end of his remarks.

Mr. Lawrence

I am, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am reaching my last two or three sentences, though I did have to give way to one or two interventions.

The Bill will help to strengthen public confidence in a way that a political all-party committee of the House would not. It is because public confidence is so important to us all that I support the Bill.

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

I cannot join the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) who, in not expressing a vote of confidence in other right hon. and hon. Members, felt that they are incapable of maintaining the integrity of information divulged in the secret proceedings of a committee. However, I join the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) in supporting in principle a Bill that places the security service on a statutory footing.

I confess that when the Bill was published, I thought it likely that I would support it in the Division Lobbies, and I stated as much on a television programme. However. the more I read of the Bill's detail, the more I realised that the absence of parliamentary accountability is a fatal flaw. I drew that conclusion after my visit to Washington during the summer, when I was able to discuss the matter with Mr. Thomas Latimer, staff director of the congressional select committee on intelligence, and to discuss that committee's operations with certain Members of Congress who had business with the committee—if I may put it that way.

The general view expressed to me was that the system worked. One of the reasons why it does not leak is that its members are required to sign a complex document that is exactly the same as that which members of the American security services sign. Committee Members feel bound by that document, and they are people whom Congress feels it can trust.

My own proposals for parliamentary scrutiny can be found in appendix 6 of the first report from the Select Committee of Privileges 1986–87, when it carried out its inquiry into the Zircon affair. During the course of its proceedings, members of the Select Committee were asked to make their own submissions. I made one based on establishing a scrutiny committee that, in its early days or years, would have special responsibility for three areas of activity. They are, first, matters such as the Zircon project, which are reported to the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee in confidence but are not referred to the PAC's general membership. In making such a reference to the Chairman only, parliamentary accountability is currently provided for—but I believe that that duty should be removed from the PAC Chairman and transferred to the committee that I thought should be established.

The second area is the sums of money shown under defence Votes as applying to areas of expenditure to which they are not in fact allocated; that is to say, laundered money within the defence budget that does not show up precisely under the specified project definition. That area of expenditure was drawn to my attention by the minutes of two previous PAC hearings in, I believe, 1947 and 1963. Clearly, there are laundered areas of expenditure—to which I do not object, if that is the way it must be done to hide expenditure that otherwise would fall under the secret Vote.

The third area of expenditure that could be subject to the proposed committee's scrutiny is the secret Vote itself, which I understand now totals about £100 million annually. So there are three areas that, in the proposed committee's early years, could be under scrutiny without risking too much and, if I am honest about it, without unsettling people in the Security Service and perhaps even in the Government.

Those three areas could have come under scrutiny in order to build within the Security Service and the Department, and among Ministers, confidence in the fact that parliamentary accountability can work. However, there has been no response by the Government to that proposal. I have asked Ministers whether they are prepared to take on board the principle behind my proposals, but to date there has been no positive response. Financial accountability is the way in to scrutiny of the security services. That scrutiny can be undertaken only once that first hurdle has been cleared.

I refer next to subversion, and draw attention to conflicting statements that right hon. and hon. Members may wish to consider. The first concerns the interpretation of subversion by the Prime Minister when she announced new vetting procedures in 1985. Referring to her own belief of what constitutes subversion, she spoke of an individual who is or has been a Member of the Communist Party or a fascist organisation or of a subversive group, or is or has recently been sympathetic to or associated with members or sympathisers of such organisations or groups in such a way as to raise reasonable doubt about his or her reliability, or people who are susceptible to pressure from such organisations or groups. I believe that that is the secret interpretation of what constitutes subversion.

That belief is reinforced by a letter that was sent to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), and quoted in the latest book by Richard Norton-Taylor, who researched this subject area in depth. The then Home Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan), wrote to him that special branches are not interested in trade unionists "as such", but only in such activities of individuals within trade unions (as within any other group or section in society) as are relevant to the tasks laid upon them by the guidelines. The right hon. and learned Gentleman acknowledged: The definition of subversion is not limited to possible acts of a criminal nature. In an open society such as ours it is all too easy to use tactics which are not themselves unlawful for subversive ends … Those who are entrusted with safeguarding our democratic institutions from subversive attack must not be prevented from looking into the activities of those whose real aim it to harm our democracy but who, for tactical or other reasons, choose to keep (either in the long or the short term) within the letter of the law in what they do. Also, in a letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), the right hon. and learned Gentleman's predecessor as Home Secretary, now Viscount Whitelaw, wrote: The preservation of public order may require information to be kept on individuals who are active in a political movement, not because of the views they hold, but because the activities of the group could be such as to encourage public disorder. Those are two different interpretations of subversion.

If one adds to them the interpretation given by the present Home Secretary when addressing the House this afternoon, there are three. I submit that the interpretation that will be applied is that of the Prime Minister. That will sow confusion in the minds of the public. In my view, that is the intention, because through confusion the Government will secure what they want—and that is, no change.

7.49 pm
Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay)

Although by the Home Secretary's admission, the Bill is some 79 years late, I welcome it enormously. I should like, however, to know the Government's motiviation. Is it the impending judgment in the European Court? Alternatively, is it the controversy earlier this year relating to the royal prerogative? Since its inception in 1909, members of the Security Service have been told that their work is covered not by statute but by the royal prerogative, but earlier this year that plank was well and truly demolished legally. One of the Bill's advantages is that it will give a boost to morale in the Security Service, which for years has in effect been working without strict legal backing.

Although a good deal of both optimism and pessimism has been expressed here today, we have not heard much realism. I want to examine a little of the background to the secrecy of the Security Service. The service has not always been cloaked in secrecy. Before the war Colonel Edward Hinchley-Cooke was a regular figure in the media as the representative of the service, and after the war Jim Skardon would give evidence on its behalf without having to be described as witness A, B, or C. Similarly, in the early 1950s the director-general of the Security Service, Sir Percy Sillitoe, was given official permission to write his memoirs.

I do not want to get involved in the business of accountability; I have never believed that the Security Service has been truly accountable to the House. I would, however, like to congratulate the Home Secretary on constructing a bridge over the barrier of secrecy. Last year he told me that it was impossible to bridge. I gave him various ideas then about the introduction of two people whom I described as "non-executive directors" who could be involved in the work of the Security Service, on its directorate, and at the same time could write a report each year that could be supplied to the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister. I very much regret that instead of two non-executive directors we appear to be getting just one commissioner, but I hope that that omission will be rectified in Committee.

From whom, though, is any oversight committee to hear evidence? If the suggestions that have been made today are followed, evidence will be heard from the director-general, but I feel that that suggestion is fatally flawed, because experience tells us that the word of individual directors-general simply cannot be relied on. Let me cite two examples.

In 1949 Klaus Fuchs was arrested in an espionage case. At the time the director-general of the Security Service was prevailed upon by senior officers to lie to the Prime Minister, because it was believed that if it was revealed that there had been a major blunder and that Fuchs could have been arrested in 1944 or 1945, the morale of the service would be undermined. That is a clear example of the Prime Minister being misled. I might add that the director-general at that time had severe reservations about what happened.

Another much later case is on the public record. It is one of the most disgraceful documents to be publicly available, and was written by the Security Service. I refer to the White Paper on Burgess and Maclean. I urge hon. Members to read it if they believe that advice from the Security Service can always be relied on. It details no fewer than 17 major instances of deception.

Let me explain why I feel that two commissioners are needed. I have described how reports from the director-general cannot always be relied upon, and I do not believe that we can necessarily rely on reports from a single commissioner working alone. Lord Denning, for instance, was taken for a ride by the Security Service. That was the view of many senior officers at the time. A little pantomime was prepared—a completely bogus operation —for him to witness, which he describes in the report in glowing detail. That is another example of a single person being duped by the Security Service.

What about the judicial qualification suggested in clause 4(1)? While I believe that it is a good old-fashioned British tradition to rely on a judge in such matters, I am not as sanguine as that, or as confident in judges. I would much rather have two commissioners, and I would not restrict their qualification to the law—with the greatest respect to hon. and learned Members on both sides of the House.

I should like the role of commissioner to be greatly widened. It seems to me from reading the Bill that that role will be limited to dealing with the supervision of warrants and with complaints brought by the tribunal. I should like to return to the idea of two non-executive directors who would be involved not in operational matters but certainly in matters of policy judgment, and I hope that that suggestion will be considered in Committee.

The Bill says nothing about what could go into the annual report of the commissioner or commissioners. We know from our experience of the Interception of Communications Act 1985 that the reports by the commissioner under the Act supply less information than we had before. I should like certain detailed questions to be answered on an annual basis in the report. Again, that could be considered in Committee.

There is, for example, the marvellous euphemism "interference with property". I think that it should be a statutory responsibility of the commissioner to mention in his report every year exactly how many warrants have been issued. I do not think that the disclosure of that detail would necessarily undermine operational prowess. It would, however, be of great reassurance to the public to know that there will he rather more in the report than the view across Gower street and the Euston road.

Let me now deal with the Security Service itself. Many reforms have been introduced by Sir Antony Duff in the wake of the Bettaney affair. I remind hon Members who are not aware of quite how appalling that case was that this was a senior Security Service officer operating in the most senior branch of the service, who was promoted although he had two criminal convictions for deception—having also been convicted of drunkenness—and who consumed a bottle of whisky a day. I urge hon. Members to read the Security Commission report on that, because it is utterly damning.

The Security Commission has often been mentioned as having some kind of oversight role, yet within the Security Service it has been suggested that the commission is nothing more than a stable-locking operation. I suggest that anyone who does not agree with that reads the Security Commission report on Michael Bettaney, which illustrates one of the dilemmas placed before the commission. The report contains the statement that Bettaney's erratic behaviour drew attention to him and he was therefore denounced by colleagues, and that that was how the investigation was pursued. What seems odd about that is that we now know in the light of subsequent events that it was Oleg Gordievsky in the Soviet embassy, the KGB resident in London, who tipped off the security authorities to the existence of a traitor in their midst.

That prompts the following question: did the Security Commission lie when it stated that Bettaney's investigation had been initiated as a consequence of the diligence and vigilance of his colleagues? Alternatively, were they lied to, with the best of motives, because the Security Service wished to protect a source? That is a very difficult operational dilemma, but again it calls into question the system of reporting and the difficulties of oversight.

The United States has recently been subjected to the Iran-Contra scandal. What is so odd about that incident is that, although the law, as supplied by the Senate, was broken, there were no penalties for Oliver North or for John Poindexter. I hope that in Committee penal ties will be incorporated in the Bill.

I warmly welcome the Bill. At long last it provides the Security Service with a legal status. It provides for the appointment of a commissioner, which I welcome, although I hope that in Committee we can add a second commissioner. The Bill provides for the creation of a tribunal, which is also warmly to be welcomed. Therefore, I urge the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.

8 pm

Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie)

I cannot, as did the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason), claim to have immersed myself in this subject for many years. I have to consider it in a very simple way. According to the Bill, the purpose of the Security Service is to protect parliamentary democracy. However, the Security Service has a unique power with which to undermine parliamentary democracy. We have to ask ourselves whether the Bill—which hon. Members have welcomed in principle, if not for its content—furthers parliamentary democracy. The answer to that question must he that it does not do so.

Because of its limited powers, the Bill asks us to trust the Government. That request ought not to be made. We should not be asked to trust any Government at any time in any parliamentary democracy, nor should we be obliged to trust any Government. We should be able to ask the Government to tell us what they are doing and to spell out their policies, and then we should be able to subject their policies to scrutiny. The Bill makes no provision for such scrutiny.

In recent years a litany of names, associated with the Security Service, have passed on confidential information. Bettaney has just been mentioned. Ponting, Tisdall, Stalker, Massiter, Wright and Campbell also revealed confidential information. The Government behaved badly in public in those cases, yet they ask us to trust them in private. That is extremely difficult to do.

A Select Committee of senior parliamentarians should be set up to scrutinise the work of Government. To put it in psychological terms, there is a grave risk that both politics and the Security Service attract people with authoritarian personalities—those who say, "I know best," and who also say, "National security equals party interest equals my interest." For that reason an outside influence needs to be brought to bear upon such personalities, whether they are in the Security Service or at the top of the parliamentary world. There needs to be a countervailing force—a fresh wind or a fresh breeze—not to authorise the signing of warrants at 9.45 am but to examine budgets and the range of activities that are being pursued by the Security Service.

Conservative Members will have gathered that the clause in the Bill that provides that no action shall be taken to further party political interests is greeted with hollow laughter on these Benches. In recent years, organisations on the Left—trade unions, CND and other organisations that have sought to scrutinise Government policy—have been subjected, on flimsy grounds, to far too many inquiries by the Security Service. The Opposition could point to many issues where capitalist activities have undermined parliamentary democracy.

The Bill provides that a person can complain to the commissioner about the fact that he is under investigation. The commissioner can then investigate whether there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that that person belongs to a particular organisation. However, the commissioner cannot investigate whether there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that organisation.

We have to return to what was said by Harold Acton: that absolute power corrupts. That is the safest axiom to adopt. Any inwardly turned organisation becomes sloppy, corrupt and maligned unless questions are asked about it by independent observers. Any inwardly turned organisation—whether it be the Security Service, a professional organisation or a commercial firm—eventually becomes sloppy, corrupt and maligned. As great power is vested in the Security Service, it is particularly important that there should be independent scrutiny.

I am reminded not just of what Harold Acton said but of what Robert Michels said about the iron law of oligarchy—that, even in an organisation with democratic goals, power is concentrated at the top. People do not go to work each day saying to themselves, "I am pursuing the goal of national security. I am a missionary for national security." They construct ideas about national security and interpret it. That can lead to an inwardly turned, hierarchical organisation. Such people easily get out of control.

That seems to have occurred most recently over phone tapping. There have been well-documented reports about it. There were reports in The Observer earlier this year about the tapping of the phones of 30,000 individuals and organisations. The number of British Telecom engineers was reported to have more than doubled. Lord Justice Lloyd may have investigated authorised warrants, but there has been no investigation of unauthorised warrants.

The Bill contains a strange expression. It provides that investigation will not be unlawful if the Home Secretary has signed a warrant. It does not refer to an investigation being lawful if he has not signed a warrant. The result will be that certain people will believe that they are beyond scrutiny. Reference has been made to other democratic nations—Canada, Australia and the United States—which have realised that scrutiny of their secret services is inadequate. We should see this Bill for what it would be if it were introduced by any other nation. We should say that the Bill is inadequate. Even if it were to be introduced by South Africa, the Soviet Union or any other European country, we should say that it would not be able adequately to scrutinise the Security Service. For those reasons, there is growing unease on these Benches.

8.9 pm

Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West)

I have no doubt that the decision of the European Court has caused the Government to think seriously about the Bill.

I welcome the measure and I am sure that many of my hon. Friends feel as I do. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, 79 years too late we have put our secret service on a statutory basis. We should not underestimate the Bill, as it is a major step forward. For the first time, after years of secrecy, the secret service is defined by statute. For the first time the powers of the secret service and the roles of the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister in relation to it are absolutely clear. The Home Secretary's powers are clearly defined by the fact that every interference in the rights of individuals in Britain must be certified by warrant and that warrant can be questioned by the commissioner, a High Court judge. Members of the public can step in and say that they have been investigated wrongly, and there is a tribunal to investigate the incorrect use of power.

Some of my hon. Friends may have reservations about the Bill, but we must take one step at a time, and the Bill should be welcomed. In the short time I am allowed, I shall address some of the criticisms of the Bill which I do not consider valid

It has been said that we do not have a proper level of scrutiny. What level of scrutiny does Parliament wish to take to itself and how effective is that scrutiny? Probably, those who do the scrutinising will not be able to say very much about it. They will examine the work of the secret service but they will not be able to report it or tell anyone about it. As they will be inside the ring fence of secrecy protecting the activities of the secret service and protecting national secrets, clearly they cannot report it. That means that there will be no large debates about it in the House. There will not be a stop on the questions or on Adjournment debates on the activities of the secret service.

Alternatively, the scrutiny could be outside the ring of secrecy. In those circumstances, hon. Members scrutinising the secret service would be supervising only budgets and making general reports and not having a great deal of say one way or the other in the activities of the secret service. That would not be any form of scrutiny.

We have to decide. It seems to me that the first method of scrutiny could be carried out only by a very few select people and they would be tempted to question individual operations and look into day-to-day matters in the secret service. The public and the House would be totally wrong if they thought for one moment that the responsibility for any such scrutiny would rest with the whole House. We have to face the fact that it would then be outside the ring fence of secrecy.

We have a system of accountability which is not enjoyed in the United States. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) spoke about what happened in the United States and we have heard from the Opposition Front Bench spokesman, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) about what happens overseas. In the United States, members of the committee sign the same declaration that is signed by every security operative in the CIA and the FBI. They cannot tell anyone either. Unlike the United States, we have senior Ministers, members of the legislature, who are answerable to the House. We have that safeguard. They have to answer for the secret service at the Dispatch Box. We have to realise that the fewer of us who know the details of what happens in the secret service, the better it will be for the activities of the secret service. The more people who know, the less likely the secret will remain secret. We have that safeguard and we should stick by it.

The same arguments apply to accountability. If something goes wrong, Ministers have to answer to the House from the Dispatch Box. They have the support of the tribunal and the supervision of the commissioner. Quite a lot of accountability and scrutiny is provided for in the Bill. The Bill represents a major step forward. We should recognise that the House has far more control over the secret service than ever before.

I emphasise that the Bill cannot be seen in isolation from the Official Secrets Bill. A whole range of items that were excluded from section 2 of the 1911 act have been built into that measure. The test of harm will be introduced into that Bill, which must be seen in parallel with the Bill that we are considering now. Every officer who is worried about the activities of the secret service can now go to the commissioner. A civil servant who has items in his possession that he feels should be brought into the public domain can go to a Member of Parliament. He can risk facing a charge, but the test of harm and the question as to whether it is in conflict with the national interest in any way will he decided by a jury. Quite clearly, in many cases the Attorney-General will find that those matters do not necessarily do any harm and should have been brought into the public domain.

We have a new and sensible structure. It is a major step forward. I welcome it and hope that the Bill will go through the House unamended.

8.17 pm
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

First, I apologise to the House for not having listened to many of the speeches after the opening ones, but I understood that it would be very difficult to contribute to the debate.

The opening speeches were very interesting, but the Home Secretary slipped from the quality of the debate when he attacked the Opposition for being soft on terrorism. That was an unnecessary claim, and it was particularly mean of him not to give way after making that challenging statement. There is no dispute in the House about our abhorrence of terrorism and our feeling that it should be eliminated. The disagreement is about the methods. We believe that the most effective way to stamp out terrorism is to make sure that we do not slip from our high standards of civil rights and that we do not take short cuts which deny civil rights, because that helps rather than hinders the terrorist.

I wish to raise some questions with the Minister who will reply to the debate. A great many questions have been raised on clause 1—"The Security Service"—and most of the questions have been concentrated on subsection (2). I wonder whether the Minister can tell us a little more about subsection (3): It shall also be the function of the Service to safeguard the economic well-being of the United Kingdom against threats posed by the actions or intentions of persons outside the British Islands. Exactly what is the "economic well-being" of the United Kingdom is questionable. I am not sure why there should be a threat from people outside the United Kingdom rather than from people within it.

Mr. Heifer

Conservative Members.

Mr. Bennett

My hon. Friend makes the point: we are edging towards political argument. I hope that there will be more clarification in Committee.

I would have some interest in this subsection if we were anxious to deal with United States imperialism and the way in which the United States tries to impose restrictions on British companies so that they comply with United States rather than British law. I should have thought that, because our security services are often closely tied in with those of the United States, there may be some problems in practice. I hope that the Minister will throw more light on that subject.

As I understand it, the aim of the legislation is to deal with the security services. Those services must often work through the special branches of the individual police forces. The Metropolitan police are accountable to the House through the Home Secretary, but the rest of the police forces are not so accountable. Will actions carried out by the special branch officers on behalf of the security forces be covered by the Bill? They should be covered if the security services ask those officers to carry out a particular task.

I understand that a two-way process operates between the special branch and the security services. Often, individual special branch police forces initiate surveillance or an action and pass on information to the security services. Will those officers be covered by the Bill" Will the complaints procedure, although weak, cover them?

Vetting, or blacklisting, of individuals is another worry. Large numbers of people in the Civil Service and people who work directly for military contractors are subject to vetting, as are some individuals who supply services to military contractors. I know an individual in Stockport who works for a company that works for Ferranti in Stockport. Although he worked there for a considerable time and had gone in and out of the Ferranti plant, he became subject to vetting and was turned down. He was told that he could not have security clearance. It is difficult to check whether information held against an individual is genuine or whether there has been an error in the collecting of the information. It seems to me from my discussions with that individual that there can be no grounds for him being a security risk.

Under the Bill, will it be possible for such an individual to make a complaint and obtain satisfaction so that he can tell whether the information held against him is accurate? If he is a villain, that will be easy to demonstrate and he will know whether the information is accurate. If he is innocent, it will be almost impossible to tell such a person what information is held against him, and impossible for him to set out to disprove it. We need to consider the vetting procedure carefully.

What about the possibility of the security services trespassing or bugging or damaging property? What is the position with entrapment, or leading a person on so that he may commit a crime? Colin Breeze from my constituency is in custody in Miami in the United States. Clearly, he was entrapped by agents of the American Government into becoming involved in attempting to sell helicopters to Iran. His defence was that he was led on by agents of the American Government into a position where he could be convicted of a crime. What will happen in respect of warrants when what is normally an illegal activity is permissible? Will the legislation cover entrapment and provocation?

How accountable should the services he to Parliament? I have been amazed at the number of Conservative Members who have argued that Members of Parliament cannot be trusted. If we can trust a person to be Home Secretary, Members of Parliament—or some of them—can be trusted with that role. Most Governments would claim that at least half a dozen Members could be Home Secretary. If, in a parliamentary democracy, one says that a substantial number of people in government are capable of being Home Secretary, one must accept that a reasonable number of people in the Opposition can be trusted to fill that role.

Once one accepts that sufficient people can hold that office, there is no difficulty in finding a group of people who could sit on a parliamentary Select Committee to oversee the responsibilities of the security services. For Conservative Members to say that they do not believe that a group exists in the House that could be trusted with that role is to under-value the integrity of Members of Parliament. It is dangerous to say that, at any one time, only one Member of Parliament, the Home Secretary—or perhaps the Prime Minister—can be trusted with the knowledge of the security of the state.

I have heard the argument that we should not increase the number of people with knowledge of the security services, and that there is always the possibility that information will slip out. If we want to make the security services accountable and to guarantee the right of all individuals to live in a free society—after all, that is the purpose of democracy—we should have parliamentary accountability, not the weak accountability which the legislation proposes.

I hope that the Minister will answer some of my questions, and that we shall probe deeply into the rest in Committee.

8.27 pm
Mr. William Powell (Corby)

A number of hon. Members have said that the Bill may be 79 or so years late, but that is not my line. I regret the fact that the Bill has become necessary. As a high Tory traditionalist, I admire prerogative powers and the use to which they have been put through many hundreds of years of our history. I regret the fact that developments in recent years with the security services have made the use of prerogative power—which was once so effective—a matter that must be codified in statute. Therefore, I welcome the Bill.

For the reasons given by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and a number of Conservative Back Benchers, including my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Boscawen), I support the Bill. The speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome—the first speech of freedom for him in 10 years—was a powerful contribution, as were the speeches by my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr Wheeler), my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) and my hon. Friend the Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind). I support all the reasons they gave as to why the Bill sets the right balance of judgment and will be in our country's interests.

There has been considerable discussion about clause 1(2), which states: The function of the Service shall be the protection of national security and, in particular, its protection against threats from espionage, terrorism and sabotage, from the activities of agents of foreign powers and from actions' intended to overthrow or undermine parliamentary democracy by political, industrial or violent means. I hope that hon. Members will not be naive about the vulnerability to blackmail of people in the security services, who may be of assistance to agents of foreign powers. It is entirely right and proper that, in their vigilance in upholding our democracy, the security services should have regard to blackmail, as it can undermine the democracy that we seek to protect and that they are employed to protect. It is right that they should seek to inform themselves about relevant matters on that issue.

Much of the debate has dealt with accountability. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) conceded, as he had to, that when it was announced that this Bill would be introduced, he welcomed it and said, both on television and in this House, that he expected, subject to its contents, to be able to support it. The question that he was reluctant to be asked and which must be asked and answered is: when he said that, did he have any reason to suppose that the Bill would contain provisions for a parliamentary scrutiny committee? So far as I am aware, in all the discussions on security issues down the years and certainly since 1979, there has been not one word or suggestion from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, successive Home Secretaries or any person speaking on behalf of the Government that the Government would welcome, still less introduce, a parliamentary scrutiny committee.

If he gave consideration to that question and still went ahead—he must have known that there was no possibility of any Bill containing that—the right hon. Gentleman was a fool. If he gave that commitment, subject of course to the small print—never forget that, Mr. Deputy Speaker—without considering that question, the most charitable thing that can be said on his behalf is that he will go to his grave saying with Macbeth: And that which should accompany old age, As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends, I must not look to have", because he will have made a grave error.

At no stage since 1979, in any discussions on security matters, has any person speaking on behalf of Her Majesty's Government from top to bottom suggested that the Government were in favour of a parliamentary scrutiny committee. They would have been complete fools if they had, not just for the reasons given by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary but for the reasons given by my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome and recently underlined so effectively by my hon. Friend the Member for Lancashire, West.

When we listen to some right hon. and hon. Gentlemen, several of us feel that in opposition they wish to take part in security decisions or that they wish to be given privy information about matters which have properly been denied them. As my hon. Friend the Member for Lancashire, West said, if a scrutiny committee were to be established, the Opposition would be disappointed on all fronts. They would either be within the walls of secrecy, in which case they would be in the somewhat embarrassing position that the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) found himself in on the Zircon affair, or they would be outside the walls of secrecy and would have little knowledge or information about what was happening. What a most disappointing and frustrating experience that would be.

The right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), in an engagingly irrelevant speech, referred to the allegations made against Sir Roger Hollis. If we had a parliamentary scrutiny committee investigating the affairs of Sir Roger Hollis, would we be any the wiser? If it reported one way or the other, would its conclusion be the correct one? Of course not. We know that, to all intents and purposes, half of MI5 think that he was a spy and the other half are outraged by the suggestion. Only the Soviets could assist us, and even if they opened their files, several of us would conclude that disinformation was being put out and we would get no nearer the truth. A parliamentary scrutiny committee would come nowhere near resolving these issues.

Several hon. Members said that they would prefer the scope of the Bill to be wider. I am glad that it is not. These matters are properly entrusted to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and his successors. If the right hon. Members for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) and for Sparkbrook were to become First Secretary to the Treasury and Home Secretary, I would have every confidence in their abilities to carry out their constitutional functions in this area, as they would be subject, as would anybody holding those offices and having to consider these matters, to relevant pressures of a sort which I am afraid right hon. and hon. Gentlemen simply could not experience. They would be in the operational front line and would have to deal with matters as they arose in the context in which they arose. It is right and proper that those matters should be entrusted in the traditional way, and for the House to have or not to have confidence in those office holders and to be able to question them in the usual way.

The case deployed by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and subsequent right hon. and hon. Friends is overwhelming. I give this Bill my enthusiastic support on its Second Reading.

8.37 pm
Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

When I heard the Queen's Speech and the proposal for this Bill, I turned to several of my colleagues, some of whom are on the other side of the House, and said, "That worries me no end because we shall put power in the hands of a Minister." Although we can ask Ministers questions in the House, I do not trust this Government to act on our behalf and in our interests. I might trust them more if they were not so authoritarian, but they are one of the most authoritarian Governments that I remember.

I remember when the Prime Minister referred to trade unionists as "the enemy within". I have not forgotten that. Clause 1(2) states that the function of the service is not only the protection of national security but its protection from actions intended to overthrow or undermine parliamentary democracy by political, industrial or violent means. The word "or" is used twice.

Some hon. Members may not be aware that we had to fight violently to get parliamentary democracy. People do not like to be reminded of it, but we cut off a king's head. It must be remembered that a certain amount of force was used. I am not suggesting that there should be further upheaval or that we should cut off people's heads, but there are people in this country who are not wedded to our concept of parliamentary democracy. They are democrats, but they believe that there are other forms of democracy that are better than ours. They could be regarded as subversives. Some of my friends are philosophical anarchists. In some respects, there is little difference between them and the Conservative party, because they are all individualists who believe in individualism.

Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre)

Name them.

Mr. Heffer

I could name a few anarchist Conservative Members; some of them are sitting on the Front Bench.

Philosophical anarchists do not believe in our concept of parliamentary democracy, so they could be regarded as subversives.

Industrial syndicalists believe that there should be a Parliament of working people through trade unions and argue against our idea of a centralised political regime. Are they subversives? Under the Bill, they could be treated as such.

Conservative Members may not have suffered from being on a blacklist. The Observer phoned me recently and said, "We have the list of people on the blacklist in the north-west, and your name figures twice." I said, "Only twice? I should have thought it would have figured more than twice." Where did those people get my name? Who was watching me? Special branch was watching me. I was told by one special branch officer in Liverpool: "You are on our list; your name is well there." No doubt that fact was passed on to the Economic League, which distributed it.

Some people equate parliamentary democracy with the capitalist system. They do not believe that there can be another system, equally democratic, that does not accept capital control. What is meant by "subversion"?

I accept that we must protect ourselves against invasion. When I was a Minister, a chap came along—he never said who he was—and warned us about the Russians and east Europeans. I said, "This is very interesting, and I do not disagree with a word you have said, but does it apply to the Americans and all the others?" He said, "T hat is a different matter; we must be concerned about the Russians."

I hope that the Security Service is not as it is portrayed in "Game, Set and Match". In that programme, they seem to be watching and working against each other all the time. Half the members of the Security Service believe that Hollis was a spy; the other half do not. It would be better if there was an annual congress of world spies. It would save a lot of money—they could give each other their secrets—and a lot of lives, and it would be more sensible than the present position.

I am especially worried about clause 1(2) and the idea of the enemy within. We know that members of CND have been supervised, their phones bugged and some of their houses broken into. I never thought other than that my telephone was bugged. Some of the conversations that my wife has with her mother must be very interesting. The people listening must think that they are talking in a special code. This is a very dangerous Bill.

Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)


Mr. Heffer

It is sinister.

Conservative Members have tried to knock the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), but he rightly argued for parliamentary scrutiny. It is right that we should have an extended committee. Of course it will not be able to look into every aspect of security, but it could concern itself with internal subversives, whatever that means, and who is being bugged because they are regarded as internal subversives.

The Government know that there is deep feeling in the country that something must be done about security. There is much worry and fear among people about the role of the Security Service. That worry was most apparent when the Wright story came out. We heard that people were prepared to undermine a democratically elected Government and were looking for dirt to throw at the Labour party's leaders. Mention was made earlier of an interesting book called "One Girl's War". People were entering other people's houses, going through their property and bugging their telephones quite wrongly and illegally. Under the Bill, the Government are legalising something that is fundamentally wrong.

I shall vote against Second Reading and hope that the Bill will be improved. If it is not, I hope that we will all vote against it.

8.48 pm
Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Gedling)

It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer). I am genuinely sorry that there is not more cross-party unity on this measure. The division is between those who know much about the Security Service and the rest of us who stick to important landmarks. The division is not between those who think that this is a good Bill, or those who think it is a bad Bill. Almost no hon. Member has suggested that the Bill does not have merit; the main suggestion has been that it does not go far enough.

We have had a most interesting debate. It has been much more interesting than listening to the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) at 1.15 in the morning. A number of interesting points were made about the drafting of the Bill, many of which were somewhat churlish. The Bill is relatively simple and easy to understand and is pretty clear and concise. I have had the good fortune, if those are the right words, to sit on two Standing Committees, but it seems to me that the Bill is relatively comprehensible and easier to understand than many others.

We should be clear at the outset that there has been little public pressure for the enactment of the Bill. Few hon. Members have received correspondence from droves of anxious constituents demanding this legislation. The media have hardly conducted a sustained campaign urging us to implement this measure. The public are intrigued by the Security Service. The sense of mystery and secrecy ensures that newspaper speculation about its activities is avidly read and enjoyed, but the basic truth remains that the vast majority of our constituents know and accept that the Security Service is there to protect our liberties and freedoms from those within and without who would see them destroyed. Of necessity, it carries out its duties behind a ring of secrecy.

I go further than that. In spite of the suggestions of intrigue and incompetence which emerged into daylight last year, most people in our country accept that by and large, the Security Service does a crucial and difficult job, loyally and successfully. By its nature, the bad press that the Service has had from time to time is highly partial and, almost certainly, an inaccurate assessment of its effectiveness. However, we must be protected from rotten apples without impairing the operations of the service. That is what the legislation will achieve.

Most people who have no reason to fear the security services accept the balance between the need to protect the rights of the individual and the need to protect the security of the state. They accept also that greater public accountability cannot be at the cost of breaching the security surrounding the service's operational activities. Therefore, great duty and confidence is imposed on the director-general. Nothing in the Bill changes that key aspect of our Security Service. When Sir Findlater Stewart produced his report to the then Prime Minister in 1947, he said of the post of director-general: The appointment is one of great responsibility, calling for unusual experience and a rare combination of qualities. But having got the right man, there is no alternative to giving him the widest discretion in the means he uses and the direction in which he applies them. That must be right. It underlines the fact that, in the end, the director-general is responsible to the Home Secretary for ensuring that the balance between individual freedoms and liberties and the interests of the state is maintained. I stress that I do not believe that there is any widespread disagreement about the sufficiency of that process.

What should be our attitude to the Second Reading? First, I assume from the words used by the Home Secretary during the Queen's Speech debate that the security services wish the legislation to be enacted. If true, that is to their credit and underlines their commitment to ensuring that correct procedures are followed. Secondly, the measure is part of the Government's step-by-step reform of the minefield of official secrets and related matters.

We frequently hear high-minded statements of principle from Opposition Members, when they were in Government, they were either unable or unwilling to tackle such difficult issues. This Government have grasped them. We debate official secrets next week. The Government have also rightly received credit for the Interception of Communications Act 1985. There were all sorts of dire warnings from the Labour party at the time, but the Interception of Communications Act is widely regarded as working effectively and well. In addition, on no fewer than nine occasions, the Prime Minister has made clear and concise statements on secrecy matters that were of concern to the House.

Thirdly, this measure deals with a minority unease, in certain quarters, that the service is insufficiently accountable. There has been some public concern, and some misunderstanding perhaps, about the service's role, but the Bill goes quite far enough to counter such fears. It not only gives statutory authority for the existence of the service but makes the director-general personally responsible under the law for ensuring the political neutrality of the service and underlines that it cannot be used as a party political toy. It lays down the role and functions of the Security Service, and effectively uses a definition of subversion that was used by the Labour party when it was in Government in 1975.

Above all, the Bill sets out what we might call the public's consumer protection measures—the commissioner and the tribunal. The mechanism for a member of the service who feels a need for external complaint was brought in last year. The mechanism for an aggrieved citizen who feels that he is being unfairly treated is now clearly set in place in the Bill. The tribunal, which is able to investigate all complaints except those relating to warrants—they will be investigated by a commissioner—will be able also to award compensation, to quash warrants, and to destroy wrongly kept records.

That is an important step forward. By the nature of the issues that we are considering, it is clearly difficult for an aggrieved citizen to seek redress without breaching the ring of secrecy that must inevitably exist and without which the effectiveness of the service would be undermined. The great success of this measure is that the Government have now found an ingenious formula for achieving just that. At present there is no redress for the public, but we are now enacting the necessary legislation to protect the right of the individual while not undermining the interests of the state. Opposition Members may care to consider that Socialist New Zealand is following exactly the same course as proposed in this short and sensible Bill. It deserves the support of the whole House tonight.

8.55 pm
Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

The only aspect of the Bill that I welcome is that, for the first time, it puts the Security Service on a statutory footing. I said "Security Service", but we are talking only about MI5. Does the Bill apply to MI6 and other intelligence services? There are several intelligence services scattered around the state.

When the Home Secretary introduced the Bill this afternoon, he gave a brief potted history of MI5, but he missed out a key element in the early stages of MI5—that of the Zinoviev letter, which involved MI5 interfering in the politics of the country. It was successful in bringing down a Labour Government. From that, we move on directly to the "Spycatcher" affair, which is the reason for the Bill. Central to the "Spycatcher" affair was the plot to subvert the Labour Government of Harold Wilson. There can be little doubt that MI5 acted outside its powers when it did that.

The Government spread a trail of diversion by taking "Spycatcher" through the Australian courts, claiming how terrible it was that Peter Wright had broken his pledge of silence. When we mentioned the plot to subvert the Labour Government, all we got was shock, horror. There was no action. If the boot had been on the other foot and the Conservatives had been affected, there would have been screams for court action and parliamentary scrutiny. We have had none of that.

Hon. Members know that language is important in Acts of Parliament. I draw attention to Clause 2(2)(b), which the Home Secretary quoted. It states: That the Service does not take any action to further the interests of any political party. It may not do that directly, but that does not stop it running down another political party. It could claim that it was not doing anything to the advantage of any particular party, but it could run down a party.

We know that, if the service decided to run down a party, it would be biased against the Labour Party and the trade union movement, because of the class nature of the Security Service personnel. On the one hand, there are those on the extreme Right, such as Peter Wright, who are in the service because they are cold warriors and are anti-Socialists, or there are the Oxford-Cambridge set, who we know are the ideal models to act as spies for foreign countries. Neither of those groups had its roots in the working class or in ordinary people, so there is a bias straight away against the trade union and labour movement.

I wish now to make a couple of brief but important points. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparbrook (Mr. Hattersley) about warrants, especially when he said that the criteria should be public, precise and limited before a warrant is issued. I ask the Minister whether a warrant that he signs will be authority to break or enter into the home of one person or, when he signs his name once, will it apply to everyone within a particular organisation? That is what happened, for example, in the case of the National Council for Civil Liberties when my hon. Friend the Member fcr Peckham (Mrs. Harman) had her telephone tapped. The CND, too, was the subject of bugging and phone tapping.

If it will not apply to just one person, why not? Why can the Minister, with one stroke of the pen—for instance, because he is worried about the population of Liverpool revolting against the poll tax—sign a warrant so that the Security Service can break into anyone's property in Liverpool? We need to know why it is not limited to one. The Minister should explain that to the House, because it opens up dangerous precedents.

I also agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook that there is no substitute for proper democratic accountability to the House. It was an insult to the intelligence of hon. Members and to the country when a previous Home Secretary said that Lord Bridge investigated over the weekend all the warrants for telephone tappings that had taken place since the 1950s and found not a mistake in any of them. We all know that that was nonsense and a whitewash and unacceptable. The question about the warrants is a serious one, which we need answered.

At the weekend, The Observer described the Bill as "the breaking and entering Bill" which is the serious aspect of it. The hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) said that the Bill is not so much about civil liberties. as about the efficiency and effectiveness of the service. I do not agree. if we want to sort out the efficiency and effectiveness of the service, other methods could he used, such as bringing in management consultants. The civil liberties aspect is crucial. For the first time, we are authorising people in law to break into and enter other people's homes, which is a most dangerous precedent. Authorising burglary in that way is a slippery slope, which should worry us all.

My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has raised in this House time and time again the death of Hilda Murrell. There were strong reports that her house was the subject of an investigation of a breaking and entering, perhaps by official parties. What happens when, in such a case, the security services have authorisation from a warrant and someone dies? Does the person who killed her say, "I will not go to court. The police must let me go when I am arrested, because I have been warranted to break in. The Home Secretary signed the warrant and said I could break in. I am sorry it was an awful accident and the woman died when she found out I was burgling her home, but I had authority from the Home Secretary"? The Minister should refer to those serious and new implications.

I have thought seriously about the balance argument. We should say that the threat to life could be so important that it warranted somebody breaking and entering. However, I do not believe that that is a good enough argument, because in such circumstances powers already exist in the normal course of the law. A police officer can always arrest someone and obtain a proper warrant signed by a magistrate to search legally, and not without the individual's knowledge. If someone is regarded as a serious threat to the lives of other people, the surveillance should be done properly. The authorisation of breaking and entering is the most dangerous aspect of the Bill. This is an anti-civil liberties Bill and it is wrong.

9.5 pm

Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North)

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak briefly in support of the Bill. I shall not follow the arguments of the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) except to say that he did not make it clear how parliamentary scrutiny would meet any of the criticisms that he has made. I support the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell), who spoke about the drafting of the Bill. It is clear and straightforward to understand. Although I am not a lawyer and have great difficulty understanding many Bills, the intention of this Bill is clear and for that reason I am happy to support it.

Despite having read much of the fiction mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, I hope that it is possible to be reasonably objective about the Bill. There is little doubt that, bearing in mind the fact that the Government have no more important duty than the maintenance of internal and external security, this measure is a rational response to recent events and discussion inside and outside Parliament. As a layman, it has been interesting to note the contrast between the constructive points and criticisms made by my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) and the weakness of the Opposition position during this debate.

It is especially unfortunate that the Opposition leadership, apparently following a U-turn, now wish to attack the Bill. The Opposition are on uncertain ground here and, although it was mentioned earlier by the hon. Member for Denton Reddish (Mr. Bennett), I make no apology for reminding Opposition Members that they are on uncertain ground in relation to other aspects of defence and security. One example was the Prevention of Terrorism Bill, which was debated last week, and another was the overturning of the Labour party leadership on defence issues at the Labour party conference.

It was clear from the speech of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) that the Opposition, although they may mount a critique, have no alternative proposals of any value. They depart from common sense in their approach to the matter. In recent years, MI5 has been involved in creating a network of governmental defences against threats from the extreme Left and the extreme Right. Those threats come from espionage, terrorism, sabotage and subversion. I agree with those who say that we must carefully consider the definitions of those words, and I am sure that they will be discussed in more detail in Committee. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was right to refer to the sophistication of some terrorist and related organisations.

The Bill provides greater ministerial control over the Security Service. In the words of the deputy leader of the Labour party—before his U-turn—it is a step in the right direction. Opposition Members have called repeatedly for the necessity for parliamentary control of the Security Service. The call has come at various times from people with views as diverse as those of the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) on the Right and of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) on the Left.

To widen through parliamentary scrutiny the number of people who, to use the phrase, "need to know", flies in the face of common sense. There have been many convincing speeches by Conservative Members which explain why it would be wrong to break the barrier of secrecy and to go outside the tradition in this matter. Even a person who knows little about the secret services in this country must accept that it would be wrong to do that. I have been further convinced by the arguments that I have heard this evening.

Mr. John Greenway

It has been suggested in the debate that the Security Service sought to bring down the Labour Prime Minister in the 1970s. As the head of the Security Service was unable to detect what was happening, how could a Committee of the House have any better opportunity to find out what the Security Service was doing?

Mr. Thompson

I accept that argument.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister stated in May 1985: The need for external oversight has been argued at length in the House and came up again during the passage of the Interception of Communications Bill. All Governments run the security services in the same way and on the same lines, because they know they are in power that that is the best way to run them. They must run under unified management. They cannot be referred to an external group."—[Official Report, 9 May 1985; Vol. 78, c. 897.] My hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) has emphasised that point well, and I agree with it.

The suggestion of the opponents of the Bill would risk the confidence of our allies in the secrecy of operations of our secret service. The Master of the Rolls, Sir John Donaldson, in his "Spycatcher" judgment, said: It may be that the time has come when Parliament should regularise the position of the service. That is exactly what the Bill seeks to do, and that is why it is a good Bill. I find suspect many of the criticisms that I have heard tonight.

The vital responsibilities of the modern Security Service—MI5—stem from its great and rapid expansion during the second world war, which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary described in his opening speech. The recent priorities of the Security Service have been determined by the extent to which hostile intelligence services had succeeded in the 1930s in recruiting ideologically motivated spies in the United Kingdom. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook made it clear that he did not fully understand the Bill, because he kept referring to the secret "services". It is clear from the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and from the wording of the Bill that we are discussing the secret "service"—MI5.

I believe that it is a good and well drafted Bill. The arguments, particularly by Conservative Members, mean that it should have the full-hearted support of all hon. Members tonight. It is sad that we do not have cross-party unity on this important issue affecting the defence and security of this country.

9.13 pm
Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West)

We have had an interesting and informative debate on the Security Service and the Bill. It has become clear to me that the question of scrutiny, or accountability, is now firmly on the political agenda and that it is only a question of time before some mechanism is introduced to enhance the accountability of the service. That would improve not only the confidence in the service and the outside perception of it, but the feeling of trust that we have in the service.

Every hon. Member—with no exceptions—who has taken part in the debate believes in the need for an effective and efficient Security Service to look after our national interest and protect our parliamentary democracy. There is no dispute about that. The dispute has been on the balance between national interests in security terms and civil liberties. The Government have got the skew wrong and have taken too little account of civil liberties.

During the debate on the Queen's speech, the Home Secretary referred to the Bill as "an essay in openness." Essentially, however, the Bill is about maintaining MI5 as a closed and secret society. The inevitable consequence is that the freedom of the individual is impaired through the intrusion of the state into his private life.

Mr. Whitney

The hon. Gentleman said that the Government "had the skew wrong" and implied that civil liberties were under threat. Will he cite examples to show how civil liberties have been damaged by the security services in recent years and say in what measure the Bill will fail to safeguard civil liberties better than they have been safeguarded hitherto?

Mr. Randall

I shall cite some instances in which it has been alleged that civil liberties have been impaired.

Mr. Whitney

It has been alleged.

Mr. Randall

There are other cases, too. What Cathy Massiter had to say showed unequivocally that there was an abuse of civil liberties. Such abuse has resulted in a loss of confidence in the service, and that is not good for our nation, our national security or our democracy.

The Bill is a minimalist Bill produced by the Home Secretary to deal with the pressures that are now emerging from the European Court of Human rights, especially now that the Hewitt-Harman case has been declared admissible. The Government have been forced to introduce the Bill rather hurriedly and it has not been subject to the consultation that it deserved.

The Home Secretary said that the Bill had been given "cool consideration", in conjunction with MI5. He said that one of the reasons for it was that the political kaleidoscope had changed, whatever that may mean, and added that the Government had not been forced to produce the Bill.

The Bill has been introduced in this hurried way because in the Hewitt-Harman case there is an alleged violation of civil rights by the security services in the course of their investigations. The case arises from article 13 of the European convention of human rights, which is all about right and freedoms. It says: Everyone whose rights and freedoms — are violated"— even by the Government— shall have an effective remedy before a national authority". It is that effective remedy which allegedly does not exist.

The Bill represents a wasted opportunity. The members of the Security Service accept that parliamentarians have to take civil liberties into account and I believe that many members of MI5 would not object to a more open system that allowed parliamentary or external scrutiny. I do not know who wrote the Bill, but one has the impression that it was written not by the Home Secretary but by a technocrat or a member of the Security Service who does not understand parliamentary drafting. The Bill has serious weaknesses.

The Home Secretary is letting the Security Service down in failing to restore the public's confidence and trust. In his opening speech he failed to deal adequately with the question why other countries feel that they can proceed with a more open arrangement. The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) dealt with the McDonald report in detail, saying that there were lessons to be learned from that system. Other hon. Members have referred to what is happening in Australia and elsewhere.

What is it that makes Britain so different? I hope that the Minister of State will tell us why we have gone for a closed rather than the more liberal approach that is being adopted in other friendly countries with systems based on ours.

Mr. William Powell

When the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said. both in the Chamber and outside, that he expected to support the Bill subject to its small print, did he have any reasonable cause to believe that the Bill would contain provision for parliamentary scrutiny?

Mr. Randall

At the time that that statement was made, no information was available. My right hon. Friend has said that the Bill does not meet three criteria which he laid down clearly and which everybody will be able to read in Hansard tomorrow. That is why the Opposition feel that the Bill in its present form is not acceptable. The notion of putting the Security Service on a statutory footing naturally appeals to all hon. Members because it is at least a step forward. Unfortunately, as I have already said, the Bill does not go far enough, and the skew away from civil liberties is unacceptable.

The White Paper on the interception of communications in February 1985 defined national security. It said: The Secretary of State may issue warrants on grounds of national security if he considers that the information to be acquired under the warrant is necessary in the interests of national security"— and it goes on— in support of the Government's defence and foreign policies.

What does that mean for a member of CND? That question has already been asked several times. In an earlier debate, the Home Secretary's predecessor attempted to say that CND members would not be regarded as subversives and need not fear being regarded as acting against the interests of national security.

I hope that CND members are not regarded as subversives. Although the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan) said that we can be sure that in practice CND members are not regarded as subversive, how can we be confident about that? My hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) gave us four definitions of "subversive" tonight. There are no definitions in the Bill, and that leaves us unclear about what it is all about. I hope that in Committee we shall have some definitions and that the Minister will give us some information about that tonight.

The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Boscawen) gave the impression that he believed that none of the disclosures could lead to the idea that there was something wrong with the service. Yet the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills said that Sir John Donaldson had said that we should be naive to think that bugging and burglary did not take place in the service. During the "Spycatcher" hearing, Sir John said: In defence of the realm there must be stringent limits of what breeches of the law are considered excusable … covert invasions of privacy (what Peter Wright called burglary) may in certain circumstances be a different matter … it is absurd to contend that any breeches of the law will constitute such a "wrong doing" as to deprive MI5 of the secrecy without which it cannot operate. So Sir John was saying that crimes were committed but that some of them were excusable.

Clause 3(2) speaks of the authorising of actions specified in warrants. Certain actions will be unlawful unless they are covered by a warrant. What are the limits on what can be specified in a warrant? For example, may the Security Service install bugging equipment? Would it be included in the warrant? The House should note that bugging and other surveillance equipment is still unregulated by the law, despite recommendations of controls by the Royal Commission on criminal procedure, the Young committee on privacy and the Law Commission report on breach of confidence. The only guidelines we now have are the Home Office's guidelines to the police on the use of such equipment. If the service used such equipment, would not that violate article 8 of the European convention on human rights? If it would, should not the use of such devices be included in the Bill?

Why has not the Home Secretary made warrants subject to judicial authority rather than to administrative decision by himself, bearing in mind the fact that the Royal Commission on criminal procedure recommended that a person should have his interests represented by the Official Solicitor at a hearing before authorisation by judicial authority? That was the question raised by several hon. Members, who asked about the way in which the warrants should be issued and about the mechanisms for dealing with them.

Again, in the context of warrants, what criteria will the Home Secretary use in deeming it necessary for action to be taken to obtain information? Clause 3(2)(a) states that the Secretary of State may … issue a warrant … if the Secretary of State thinks it necessary". How does he decide what is necessary? Further on, the clause expands on that as necessary to obtain information which cannot reasonably be obtained". We are being asked again to sign a blank cheque for the Government. How can the House be confident that the proposals on warrants will work in the way that the Home Secretary believes they will?

I want to say a word or two about the Security Service tribunal. Schedule 1(1) states: Any person may complain to the Tribunal if he is aggrieved by anything—the Service has done—to him". How will a citizen lawfully be able to discover that he has been the subject of action by the Security Service? Does the Minister agree that the Bill's provisions make it exceedingly difficult—nay, impossible—to obtain such information? In West Germany, if a person's telephone is tapped, when the surveillance work has been completed that person is notified that it has been. Why cannot we do the same in this country?

It has been alleged that there are files on people such as CND members. What will be their status? How will that information be used by the Security Service? Would it affect job and career prospects? I want further information on that.

Mr. Mullin

Will my hon. Friend pause to contemplate the front page of the Sunday Express of 14 February 1988? It is headed: Labour MP and the Girl Reds". There is a large photograph of a former Labour Minister. The photograph is 20 years old and was leaked this year to the Sunday Express, obviously by someone in the Security Service. Is there any mechanism in the Bill to ensure that the person responsible for that leak accounts to Parliament for his actions?

Mr. Randall

My hon. Friend has asked an interesting question, and I hope that the Minister will make an appropriate comment on it.

Clause 2 refers to the director-general. Once the Bill receives Royal Assent, the service will be placed on a statutory footing. Will the director-general become a more public figure? Will he appear on television? Will he start to educate people in order to build up their trust? Those are serious questions because, until there is contact with the public, trust and confidence will be eroded. That is a practical suggestion, and if I were a Conservative Member, I would positively encourage the director-general to have more contact with the public.

There is a political section at the end of the clause. I am not sure why it has been included, but I wonder whether it is to reassure the House and the country that the Bill contains measures to prevent the overthrow by the Security Service of a future Government of any political complexion.

The Wright book contained allegations that MI5 was playing that role. How will that be enforced to ensure that there is no political bias? How will misdemeanours be brought to light? What penalties will there be if something goes wrong inside the service? Is the Home Secretary using that clause, together with Sir Philip Woodfield, the staff counsellor, to create the illusion that there will be no political bias in the Security Service? That is nothing more than window dressing.

The hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken), who is not in his seat, said that there was a divergence between clause 2 and paragraph 4 of the Maxwell Fyfe directive. The Maxwell Fyfe description is stronger, and I cannot understand why there is a divergence. I put it down to bad drafting.

The clause dealing with warrants asks Parliament to approve actions by the service that will become legal as a result of the warrants being issued. For other members of society, such actions would be regarded as illegal. Parliament is being asked to do that without any information about the extent to which illegal practices have taken place in the past. If the Minister answers no other questions, will he tell us specifically what the warrants will be used for? I do not want him to use the words in the Bill. Similarly, when a person is vetted for employment purposes, why should he not be informed subsequently that that has happened?

The Bill is a great disappointment. It is vague, it is imprecise, and it will have little effect on the way in which the Security Service operates. The Bill fails to provide adequate safeguards against abuse and illegal activity by MI5. It contains no measures to improve the service's efficiency and effectiveness. Of special importance is the fact that the Bill includes little to enhance the civil liberties and genuine freedoms of the people of Britain.

At the same time, the Bill contains no measures to introduce external oversight, which we believe is vital to the service. the Bill is a wasted opportunity, and we shall be voting against it tonight.

9.35 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) on his excellent speech. In the course of my remarks, I shall answer the one question to which he sought an answer above all else, but I shall be unable to deal with his 16 or 17 other questions, which will have to wait until the Committee stage. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the question of oversight will play a major part in our debates, which are certain to be interesting.

Several notable speeches have been made this evening, particularly by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Boscawen), my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence). There were also four short, precise and pointed speeches by my hon. Friends the Members for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind), for Corby (Mr. Powell), for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) and for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson).

I also listened with great care to the constructive criticisms made of the Bill by my hon. Friends the Members for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) and for Torbay (Mr. Allason). For one extraordinary moment, I thought that I might agree with the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), at least for the first three minutes of his speech, but that proved not to be the case.

There were misconceived speeches as well. I may tell the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) and all his right hon. and hon. Friends that I shall not comment on the security service's operational details. I shall not comment either, and nor will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department, on cases that are currently before the European Court. I say to the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen), who is not in his place at present, that my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North was right in stating that the Bill refers to the Security Service and to the Security Service alone.

The Bill is about the trust and the confidence that is placed upon Parliament and upon Government to keep our country in peace and safety.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett


Mr. Patten

I hope to respond to at least one of the points made by the hon. Gentleman in his speech. I have little time in which to reply to all right hon. and hon. Members who spoke in what has been a very full debate.

The Bill places on Parliament a responsibility for establishing the scope of the Security Service's work, upon which so many lives depend—and I do not use that phrase lightly. For the first time ever, a Government of this country are prepared to bring this issue openly to Parliament and to let Parliament decide. Upon that, almost every right hon. and hon. Member who has spoken is agreed. I welcome the fact that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) was able to go at least that far.

When this issue was first discussed during our debate on the Loyal Address, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) heard my right hon. Friend's description of the Bill and told the House that he welcomed it. I quote him exactly: This is a small concession … We welcome it and hope—hope subject to examination of the Bill—to support what the Home Secretary proposes."—[Official Report, 23 November 1988; Vol. 142. c.137.] The right hon. Gentleman's judgement was right then, but deeply flawed later. He made his statement of support both in the House and, on television to the nation later that night on "Newsnight", after my right hon. Friend's Bill was published.

The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook is a very good writer, and a very good writer generally has to be a very good and rapid reader. My right hon. Friend's Bill is very short and succinct, and I simply do not believe that the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook did not fully understand what it contained before he went on television that night. Who knows what went on around the shadow Cabinet table after Labour's fiasco over the vote on the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Bill vote?

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

It is a secret!

Mr. Patten

It is indeed a secret. This is a very sad half-turn by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook. The Bill is a liberating measure: first, it puts the Security Service on a firm statutory basis under the clear authority of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Mr. William Powell

Can my hon. Friend tell me whether at any stage since 1979 any spokesman for Her Majesty's Government has given the House any cause to believe that the Government would favour a parliamentary scrutiny committee? Was that information available at the time when the right hon. Gentleman spoke?

Mr. Patten

On no occasion has such an impression been given. We have made the information freely available, and it was of course available to the right hon. Gentleman when he spoke, both in the House and on television.

Secondly, the Bill is a liberating measure in that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will personally authorise certain actions only when he is satisfied in the light of statutory safeguards. Thirdly, it provides for the independent review by a commissioner—not a member of the Government, but a senior member of the judiciary—of the exercise of those powers. Fourthly, it allows any person or organisation to complain and to seek remedies in respect of any alleged actions by the service that have affected them.

The Bill sits alongside my right hon. Friend's proposals for restricting the scope of official secrets legislation. We shall debate those proposals next week. The true effect of the two measures together is to provide reassurance and an avenue for complaints about matters relating to the authority and control of the Security Service, while continuing to ensure that the secrets on which all our lives depend can be fully protected.

Both my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) and the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett)—and, I think, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West—raised the important issue of economic well-being and exactly what that meant. The term is embodied in article 8 of the European convention on human rights. The function defined in clause 1(3) represents no change in the work that the service has been undertaking for many years. It follows exactly the careful and narrow drafting already approved by Parliament in the Interception of Communications Act 1985, and it addresses the safeguarding of the country against hostile foreign actions and adverse developments which could affect our economic well-being. Of course, the Security Service is not solely responsible for those matters. Others are concerned—the Army, the special branch and the police. It is nevertheless essential that the service should be able to contribute where it can do so.

I must say that I welcomed the defence by the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) of the excellence of the Home Office draftsmen. The Bill is indeed excellently drafted; it is a first-rate Bill, and I hope that the hon. Lady recognises that. She, of course, spent some time as an administrative trainee in the Home Office, and I understand that she was marked down at an early stage for speedy promotion. I can reveal what could well be an official secret and get me into trouble. A member of the personnel department in the Home Office came to me recently and said that the department wanted to launch a competition for that most important of posts, my replacement principal private secretary. He said that had the hon. Lady still been in the Civil Service she might well have been a leading competitor.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills referred to the definition of national security, a matter that concerns many hon. Members. The concept of national security is recognised in the European convention on human rights. It is also recognised in legislation that was introduced by the last Labour Administration—in the industrial relations legislation, equal opportunities legislation and other measures. The definition of national security is entirely consistent with the interpretation that is referred to in the White Paper. The Bill covers more than the Security Service. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said in his opening speech that the Security Service is not primarily concerned with matters that relate to defence and foreign policy. However, the Security Service cannot be inert if it is to contribute to thwarting threats to national security.

National security is generally understood to refer to matters that relate to the survival or the well-being of the nation. That must cover matters relating to defence and foreign policy. It would be inexcusable if the Security Service were to be disbarred, in a statutory sense, from helping to thwart an armed attack on this country, or if it failed to act if it came across a possible act of sabotage, or if it failed to act if it could contribute to identifying or frustrating the hostile intentions of a foreign Government.

Mr. Richard Shepherd

The anxiety is that the words are phrased in such a way as to countenance Government policy in relation to foreign affairs and that the definition is so broad that ordinary citizens, going about the legitimate task of challenging Government policy, could be designated under the provisions of the Bill.

Mr. Patten

I can only repeat the words of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary when he responded to an earlier intervention by my hon. Friend: such an interpretation is entirely wrong. Of course, there will be an opportunity to return to these points in detail in Committee.

There can be no question of the Security Service acting in circumstances where the security of the nation as a whole is not under threat, nor could there be any circumstances in which the Security Service could act in a way that tended to further the interests of any political party. That is clearly and specifically set out in clause 2.

Mr. Mullin

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Patten

I have so many points to refer to that I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for not giving way.

I promised to reply to the point that was made by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish about the powers of police officers and the special branch. Police officers act under the authority of their own legislation. The special branch is part of the police force, which is under the authority of the chief constable. Any complaints about the special branch go to the Police Complaints Authority.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West referred to the extremely important issue of accountability. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope that the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) will not display what he is holding in his hand.

Mr. Mullin

I was just reading it, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Patten

In a Bill such as this, whose objectives must be clarity and certainty when dealing with the security of the nation, there is no place for proposals, however well intentioned, that could lead to confusion. In practice, the effective oversight of the Security Service is inseparable from overall responsibility for the Security Service. I urge the House not to accept, under the guise of what may seem to be a reasonable person's response, something that in practice turns out to be a fudge.

We cannot safely divide up the responsibility for the Security Service. That is recognised by other English-speaking parliamentary systems. My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) referred to New Zealand. Socialist New Zealand has chosen to go down a route that is similar to ours in many ways. New Zealand has a commissioner. It has also decided that there should not be parliamentary scrutiny.

The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook's points about supervision displayed a very muddled—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I must tell the hon. Gentleman that we do not display placards in the Chamber.

Mr. Mullin

It is not a placard. It is the front page of the Sunday Express. I was merely trying to remind the Minister of my intervention earlier in the hope that he would reply to it.

Mr. Lawrence

I think that the hon. Gentleman was reading a blank page.

Mr. Patten

The hon. Member for Sunderland, South is well known in the House for his frivolity and his lack of serious attention to these matters.

The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook wanted general supervision. He completely failed to understand the workings of the tribunal and barely mentioned the important role of the commissioner. He did not realise that the generalised supervision for which he was apparently calling at the beginning of his speech could never deal with the individual misdemeanours of those in the service. The only people who would ever have such information available to them would be the management of the service, the director-general, the Home Secretary and of course the commissioner, who is an independent figure, a judge from the high judiciary at the right or left shoulder of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

When the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook began to talk about general supervision, I thought that he was suggesting a body such as that which had been described to the House earlier by the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), who is not his place—a general checking body. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook then put before the House a model of that general supervision. He suggested that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary would be going off to the Cabinet at 9.45 am on a Thursday and someone would come up to him with a warrant. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook went on to say that what he expected to be interposed between my right hon. Friend and his decision-making process was some sort of parliamentary body. [Interruption.] It will be in Hansard for all to see.

If only the right hon. Gentleman could have seen the looks of amazement and then embarrassment on the faces of his colleagues. He had suggested a concept which would put parliamentary scrutiny between the bringing of a warrant and the decision by the Home Secretary of the day. No democracy in the western world operates parliamentary scrutiny over the operational decisions of the service which guards it. That was the precise remedy that the right hon. Gentleman put before the House. I dare say that he did not mean it.

The hon. Member for Walsall, North well illustrated the problem of parliamentary oversight. It was noted very carefully that he wanted to require my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to come to the House and answer allegations about the reasons for the service allegedly targeting particular individuals or organisations. What an absolute gift to any organisation which threatens our security to ask the Home Secretary through Parliament so that the Home Secretary will have to tell Parliament the exact facts. That would be a gift to anyone.

I turn to the central question about warrants that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West so wanted me to answer. In his notable speech my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North, from his considerable experience of the difficulties of the Select Committee in trying to examine the workings of special branch, encapsulated the problems that would face any parliamentary oversight should the House decide that there should be one.

Mr. Winnick

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Patten

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman must forgive me. I was replying to the point made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West and I hope that he has the decency to recognise that.

For the first time ever, Parliament will have the assurance that there is a proper statutory procedure for the examination of warrants and, for the first time ever, the commissioner, the independent judge, will make a report on such matters, subject to security exclusions, to which his report drew specific attention. That report will be published and laid before Parliament. These are important provisions, providing significant new safeguards. The House would be wise to welcome them.

The warrant procedure is public. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook asked that it should he made public, as did the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West. That provision is in clause 3. The system will provide for considerable oversight of all the warrant activities involved in the Bill.

Public confidence will be greatly improved and deepened by the Bill. It will be impossible to deal in depth with every point made by hon. Members. I hope that in the answers which I have given—I have tried to be as even-handed as I could be across the Floor of the House—I have demonstrated that I have listened with care. We shall continue to do so and to reflect on hon. Members' points during the Bill's progress. We believe that the Bill is a good answer to difficult questions about the role of the Security Service in our system. Of course they are difficult questions to answer. We have answered them by a short, comprehensible and clear Bill which is easily understandable. It apportions directly the fundamental responsibilities on matters of security and recognises this country's traditions.

The Bill and the spirit with which we have brought if forward compare ill with the carefully measured attack by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook on the record of the Security Service, which has helped this country so much. That statement will be in Hansard tomorrow. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook sits giggling. In the Europeanwide fight against terrorism—for example, in the Trevi group—my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary finds that our European partners recognise and appreciate the skill and professionalism of the Security Service. That is why they can operate with it. The right hon. Gentleman should not have attacked the Security Service. He will live to regret those words—[Horn. MEMBERS: "That is a threat."] The right hon. Gentleman should have listened carefully to the speech—

Mr. Heffer

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Surely the Minister must think carefully about the worth which he used. They can be interpreted as a threat. He should be prepared to say that he did not mean that formulation of words in the sense in which he used it.

Mr. Patten

The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook should have listened to the moving speech by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome, one of the last Members who can speak without a hint of humbug about spilling blood to defend freedom. There was a time when the Labour party could, in the interests of national security, be counted upon to put the nation's interests beyond the internal problems of its party managers, following the fiasco across that party after the muddle last week over the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Bill.

The Labour party condemns terrorism, but it does little to help. We have not a single constructive alternative to the policies which we have laid before the House in the last couple of weeks to deal with terrorism—powers to detain suspected terrorists for questioning, no; exclusion orders, no; restrictions on terrorists' access to the media, no; and now, putting the Security Service on a statutory footing, no. Whatever the reason, the Labour party shows by those attitudes that it has quit its role as the reasonable alternative party of government.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 204, Noes 105.

Division No. 21] [10 pm
Adley, Robert Favell, Tony
Aitken, Jonathan Fenner, Dame peggy
Alexander, Richard Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey
Allason, Rupert Fishburn, John Dudley
Amess, David Fookes, Miss Janet
Amos, Alan Forman, Nigel
Arbuthnot, James Forth, Eric
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Fowler, Rt Hon Norman
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Fox, Sir Marcus
Ashby, David Franks, Cecil
Atkins, Robert French, Douglas
Baldry, Tony Gale, Roger
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Gardiner, George
Batiste, Spencer Garel-Jones, Tristan
Beggs, Roy Gill, Christopher
Bellingham, Henry Goodhart, Sir Philip
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Benyon, W. Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Body, Sir Richard Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Boscawen, Hon Robert Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Bottomley, Peter Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Bowis, John Grist, Ian
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Ground, Patrick
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Grylls, Michael
Brazier, Julian Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Bright, Graham Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Hanley, Jeremy
Browne, John (Winchester) Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'Ll Gr')
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Burt, Alistair Harris, David
Butler, Chris Haselhurst, Alan
Butterfill, John Hawkins, Christopher
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Hayes, Jerry
Carrington, Matthew Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Carttiss, Michael Hayward, Robert
Cartwright, John Heathcoat-Amory, David
Cash, William Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda Hill, James
Chapman, Sydney Hind, Kenneth
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Holt, Richard
Cormack, Patrick Hordern, Sir Peter
Cran, James Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Davis, David (Boothferry) Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Devlin, Tim Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Dorrell, Stephen Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Dover, Den Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Dunn, Bob Hunter, Andrew
Durant, Tony Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Eggar, Tim Irvine, Michael
Emery, Sir Peter Jack, Michael
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd) Janman, Tim
Fallon, Michael Jessel, Toby
Jones, Robert B (Herts W) Shaw, David (Dover)
Key, Robert Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield) Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Knapman, Roger Sims, Roger
Knight, Greg (Derby North) Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Knowles, Michael Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Lawrence, Ivan Soames, Hon Nicholas
Lee, John (Pendle) Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe) Stanbrook, Ivor
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Steen, Anthony
Maclean, David Stern, Michael
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Stevens, Lewis
Mates, Michael Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Mellor, David Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Meyer, Sir Anthony Summerson, Hugo
Miller, Sir Hal Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Mills, Iain Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Mitchell, Sir David Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Moate, Roger Temple-Morris, Peter
Molyneaux, Rt Hon James Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Morrison, Sir Charles Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Morrison, Rt Hon P (Chester) Thorne, Neil
Moss, Malcolm Thurnham, Peter
Needham, Richard Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Neubert, Michael Tracey, Richard
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Trotter, Neville
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Twinn, Dr Ian
Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley Viggers, Peter
Oppenheim, Phillip Waddington, Rt hon David
Owen, Rt Hon Dr David Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Page, Richard Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Patten, John (Oxford W) Warren, Kenneth
Pawsey, James Watts, John
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Wheeler, John
Porter, David (Waveney) Whitney, Ray
Portillo, Michael Widdecombe, Ann
Powell, William (Corby) Wilkinson, John
Raffan, Keith Winterton, Mrs Ann
Redwood, John Winterton, Nicholas
Renton, Tim Wood, Timothy
Rhodes James, Robert Yeo, Tim
Riddick, Graham
Ridsdale, Sir Julian Tellers for the Ayes:
Ross, William (Londonderry E) Mr. David Lightbown and
Sackville, Hon Tom Mr. Kenneth Carlisle.
Abbott, Ms Diane Doran, Frank
Alton, David Dunnachie, Jimmy
Anderson, Donald Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth
Armstrong, Hilary Eastham, Ken
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Faulds, Andrew
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Fearn, Ronald
Barron, Kevin Fields, Terry (L'pool B'G'n)
Beckett, Margaret Fisher, Mark
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Bermingham, Gerald Foster, Derek
Boateng, Paul Foulkes, George
Boyes, Roland Fyfe, Maria
Bradley, Keith Golding, Mrs Llin
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Gould, Bryan
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Graham, Thomas
Buchan, Norman Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Hardy, Peter
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Heffer, Eric S.
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Holland, Stuart
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Cohen, Harry Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Corbett, Robin Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Corbyn, Jeremy Ingram, Adam
Cousins, Jim Jones Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Crowther, Stan Kennedy, Charles
Cryer, Bob Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Cummings, John Kirkwood, Archy
Darling, Alistair Leighton, Ron
Livingstone, Ken Sedgemore, Brian
Loyden, Eddie Sheerman, Barry
McAllion, John Sillars, Jim
McAvoy, Thomas Skinner, Dennis
Macdonald, Calum A. Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
McKelvey, William Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Maclennan, Robert Soley, Clive
McNamara, Kevin Spearing, Nigel
McWilliam, John Straw, Jack
Mahon, Mrs Alice Vaz, Keith
Marek, Dr John Wall, Pat
Meale, Alan Wallace, James
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Wareing, Robert N.
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe) Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Wigley, Dafydd
Mowlam, Marjorie Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Mullin, Chris Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Murphy, Paul Wilson, Brian
Nellist, Dave Winnick, David
Pendry, Tom Wise, Mrs Audrey
Pike, Peter L. Worthington, Tony
Quin, Ms Joyce
Randall, Stuart Tellers for the Noes:
Redmond, Martin Mr. Frank Haynes and
Rooker, Jeff Mr. Allen McKay.
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House—[Mr. Maclean.]

Committee tomorrow.