HC Deb 16 January 1989 vol 145 cc32-114

4.1 pm

Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

I beg to move amendment No. 73, in page 1, line 6, leave out 'under the authority of the Secretary of State' and insert 'which shall be subject to the scrutiny of a Select Committee of the House of Commons but remain under the authority of the Secretary of State'.

The Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Harold Walker)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:

No. 45, in page 1, line 6, leave out 'Secretary of State' and insert 'Solicitor-General'.

No. 38, in page 1, line 6, at end insert 'and subject to examination by a Select Committee of the House of Commons'.

No. 48, in clause 2, page 1, line 16, leave out 'Secretary of State' and insert 'Solicitor-General'.

No. 54, in page 2, line 8, leave out 'Secretary of State' and insert 'Solicitor-General'.

No. 61, in clause 4, page 3, line 7, at end insert 'and who is responsible to the Solicitor-General'.

No. 63, in page 3, line 17, at end insert— '(4A) As soon as practicable after receiving a copy of a report from the Director-General as referred to in subsection (4) of section 2, the Inspector General shall submit to the Solicitor-General a certificate stating the extent to which he is satisfied with the report and whether any act or thing done by the Service in the course of its operational activities during the period to which the report relates is, in the opinion of the Inspector General,

  1. (a) not authorised by or under this Act or contravenes any provisions as referred to in subsection (3) of section 2; or
  2. (b) involves an unreasonable or unnecessary exercise by the Service of any of its powers.
(4B) As soon as practicable after receiving a report referred to in subsection (4) of section 2 and a certificate of the Inspector General referred to in subsection (4A) above, the Solicitor-General shall cause the report and certificate to be transmitted to the Security Service Review Committee.'.

No. 58, in page 3, line 20, at end insert— '(5A) As soon as practicable after receiving a report referred to in subsection (4) of section 1 and a certificate of the Inspector General referred to in subsection (4A) above, the Solicitor-General shall cause the report and certificate to be transmitted to the Security Service Review Committee.'.

New clause 2—The Security Service Review Committee—

'(1) There is to be established a Committee to he known as the Security Service Review Committee.

(2) Her Majesty may by letters patent appoint five members of Her Majesty's Privy Council to be members of the Review Committee. This power shall be exercisable on an address presented by the House of Commons, and no motion shall be made for such an address except by the Prime Minister after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition and the leader of each party having at least 30 members in the House of Commons.

(3) Each member of the Review Committee shall be appointed to hold office for a term not exceeding five years.

(4) A member of the Review Committee is eligible to be re-appointed for a term not exceeding five years.

(5) The functions of the Review Committee are—

  1. (a) to review generally the performance by the Service of its duties and functions and, in connection therewith;
    1. (i) to review the reports of the Director-General and the Inspector General and certificates of the Inspector General transmitted to it pursuant to subsection (5A) of section 4;
    2. (ii) to review arrangements entered into by the Service pursuant to subsection (3A) of section 2 and to monitor the provision of information and intelligence pursuant to the arrangements;
    3. (iii) to review the directions referred to in subsection (3) of section 2;
    4. (iv) to compile and analyse statistics on the operational activities of the Service;
    5. (v) to review the budget and annual total expenditure of the Service;
  2. (b) to arrange for reviews to be conducted, or to conduct reviews, pursuant to subsection (4) below;
  3. (c) to conduct investigations in relation to complaints made to the Review Committee under section 6.

(6) Subject to this Act, the Review Committee may determine the procedure to be followed in the performance of any of its duties or functions.

(7) Notwithstanding any Act of Parliament or any privilege under the law of evidence, the Review Committee is entitled—

  1. (a) to have access to any information under the control of the Service, the Solicitor General or of the Inspector General that relates to the performance of the duties and functions of the Committee and to receive from the Inspector General, the Director-General and employees such information, reports and explanations as the Committee deems necessary for the performance of its duties and functions; and
  2. (b) during any investigation referred to in paragraph (c) of subsection (5), to have access to any information under the control of the Director-General that is relevant to the investigation.

(8) For the purpose of ensuring that the activities of the Service are carried out in accordance with this Act and any provisions made under section 2(3) above and that the activities do not involve any unreasonable or unnecessary exercise by the Service of any of its powers, the Review Committee may—

  1. (a) direct the Service or Inspector General to conduct a review of specific activities of the Service and provide the Committee with a report of the review; or
  2. (b) where it considers that a review by the Service or the Inspector General would be inappropriate, conduct such a review itself.

(9) The Review Committee shall, within three months after the end of each fiscal year, submit to the Prime Minister and the Solicitor General a report of the activities of the Committee during that year and the Prime Minister shall cause a copy of each such report to be laid before each House of Parliament together with a statement as to whether any matter has been excluded from that copy in pursuance of subsection (10) below.

(10) If it appears to the Prime Minister, after consultation with the Solicitor General and the Review Committee, that the publication of any matter in a report would be prejudicial to the continued discharge of the functions of the Service, the Prime Minister may exclude that matter from the copy of the report as laid before each House of Parliament.

(11) The Review Committee may, on request by the Solicitor General or at any other time, furnish a special report to the Solicitor General concerning any matter that relates to the performance of its duties and functions.

(12) The Review Committee, after consultation with the Treasury, shall be provided with such staff as it thinks necessary for the discharge of its functions.'.

Amendment (a) to the new clause, in subsection (2), leave out '30' and insert 'seven'.

New clause 3—Investigation of complaints—

'(1) Any person may make a complaint in writing to the Review Committee with respect to any act or thing done in relation to him or any property of his by the Service and the Committee shall investigate the complaint if—

  1. (a) the complainant has made a complaint to the Director-General with respect to that act or thing and the complainant has not received a response within such period of time as the Committee considers reasonable or is dissatisfied with the response given; and
  2. (b) the Committee is satisfied that the complaint is not trivial, frivolous, vexatious or made in bad faith.

(2) Where, by reason only of the denial of a security clearance by the Service, a decision is made to deny employment to an individual or to dismiss, demote or transfer an individual or to deny a promotion or transfer to an individual, the Director-General shall send, within ten days after the decision is made, a notice informing the individual of the denial of a security clearance.

(3) A member of the Review Committee may exercise any of the powers or perform any of the duties or functions of the Committee under this section in relation to complaints.

(4) Before commencing an investigation of a complaint the Review Committee shall notifiy the Director-General of its intention to carry out the investigation and shall inform the Director-General of the substance of the complaint.

(5) Every investigation of a complaint under this section by the Review Committee shall be conducted in private.

(6) Where the complaint relates to the denial of a security clearance, the Review Committee shall, as soon as practicable after receiving a complaint, send to the complainant a statement summarising such information available to the Committee as will enable the complainant to be as fully informed as possible of the circumstances giving rise to the denial of the security clearance and shall send a copy of the statement to the Director-General.

(7) In the course of an investigation of a complaint under this section by the Review Committee, the complainant and the Director-General shall be given an opportunity to make representations to the Review Committee, to present evidence and to be heard personally or by counsel, but no one is entitled as of right to be present during, to have access to or to comment on representations made to the Review Committee by any other person.

(8) The Review Committee has, in relation to the investigation of any complaint under this section, power—

  1. (a) to summon and enforce the appearance of persons before the Committee and to compel them to give oral or written evidence on oath and to produce such documents and things as the Committee deems requisite to the full investigation and consideration of the complaint in the same manner and to the same extent as a superior court of record;
  2. (b) to administer oaths; and
  3. (c) to receive and accept such evidence and other information, whether on oath or by affidavit or otherwise, as the Commission sees fit, whether or not such evidence or information is or would be admissible in a court of law.

(9) The Review Committee shall—

  1. (a) on completion of an investigation in relation to a complaint, provide the Solicitor General and the Director-General with a report containing the findings of the investigation and any recommendations that the Committee considers appropriate, including—
    1. (i) that inquiries by the Service about the complainant to be ended and any records relating to such inquiries be destroyed; and
    2. (ii) that the complainant be paid such sum by way of compensation; and
  2. (b) at the same time as or after a report is provided pursuant to paragraph (a), report the findings of the investigation to the complainant and may, if it thinks fit, report to the complainant any recommendations referred to in that paragraph.

(10) On receiving the report from the Review Committee referred to in paragraph (a) of subsection (8) above, the Solicitor General must, unless he can show that it would not be reasonable to do so, adopt the recommendations, if any, made by the Review Committee and any such decisions made by the Solicitor General must be notified to the complainant.'

New clause 5—Parliamentary Select Committee on Security—

'(1) There is to be established a Select Committee of the House of Commons appointed to keep under review the matters referred to in subsection (3) below.

(2) The Committee shall consist of 10 Members of Parliament representing each party having at least 12 members in the House of Commons and these Members of the Committee shall be appointed by the Prime Minister after consultation with the Leader of each party so represented.

(3) The functions of the Committee are

  1. (a) to review generally the performance by the Service of its duties and functions and, in connection therewith,
    1. (i) to review the reports of the Director-General and the Commissioner;
    2. (ii) to review the provisions referred to in subsection (3) of section 2;
    3. (iii) to compile and analyse statistics on the operational activities of the Service; and
    4. (iv) to review the annual budget and expenditure of the Service.
  2. (b) to arrange for reviews to be conducted, or to conduct reviews, pursuant to subsection ( ) below.

(4) Subject to the provisions of this Act, the Committee may determine the procedure to be followed in the performance of its duties or functions.

(5) Notwithstanding any Act of Parliament of any privilege under the law of evidence, the Committee is entitled to have access to any information under the control of the Service, the Secretary of State or of the Commissioner that relates to the performance of the duties and functions of the Committee and to receive from Commissioner, Director-General and the Secretary of State and employees such information, reports and explanations as the Committee deems necessary for the performance of its duties and functions.

(6) For the purpose of ensuring that the activities of the Service are carried out in accordance with this Act and any provisions under section 2(3) above and that the activities do not involve any unreasonable or unnecessary exercise by the Service of its powers, the Committee may—

  1. (a) direct the Service or Commissioner to conduct a review of specific activities of the Service and provide the Committee with a report of the review; or
  2. (b) where it considers that a review by the Service or the Commissioner would be inappropriate, conduct such a review itself.

(7) The Committee shall, within three months after the end of each fiscal year, submit to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State a report of the activities of the Committee during that year and the Prime Minister shall cause a copy of each such report to be laid before each House of Parliament together with a statement as to whether any matter has been excluded from that copy in pursuance of subsection (8) below.

(8) If it appears to the Committee, after consultation with the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State and the Leaders of the parties represented on the Committee, that the publication of any matter in a report would be prejudicial to the continued discharge of the functions of the Service, the Committee may exclude that matter from the copy of the report as laid before the House of Parliament.

(9) The Committee may, on request by the Secretary of State or at any other time, furnish a special report to the Secretary of State concerning any matter that relates to the performance of its duties and functions.

(10) The Secretary of State shall, with the approval of the Treasury as to numbers provide the Committee with such staff as the Secretary of State thinks necessary for the discharge of its functions.'.

Mr. Hattersley

Amendment No. 73 in this group seeks to place the Security Service, MI5, under the supervision of a Select Committee of the House. I believed on Second Reading that that proposal marked a clean and clear division of opinion across the Floor of the House. I now realise that as the debate progresses, and perhaps as we approach a Division on the amendment, the merits of a halfway house will be advocated, as will the merits of oversight not by a Committee of this House or both Houses, but by a committee of Privy Councillors who may or may not be Members of Parliament. The proposal for a supervisory committee, not of this House but of outside nominees, is grouped with amendment No. 73. Other hon. Members will seek to deal with that suggestion in detail. In the interests of clarity, I want to explain briefly why the Opposition regard what I think it is fair to call the halfway house as inadequate for two distinct, but related, reasons.

First, it seems to us that a group of persons who are essentially the Prime Minister's nominees cannot provide the oversight for the Security Service that a Select Committee would make possible. Supervision by the Prime Minister's nominees—Privy Councillors; I put aside for a moment the wholly unreasonable deference to Privy Councillors that the alternative scheme embodies—is essentially supervision by insiders.

We believe that it is necessary above all else that the supervision and oversight of the Security Service should be by responsible representatives who are not part of the inside group and who do not reflect the values of it. They should be representatives answerable directly to this House and they must discharge their duties in a way that they can subsequently justify to the House.

The relationship that a nominated supervisory body would have with the Government is demonstrated by our second objection to new clause 3, which is the nature of the report which the nominated body would make to Parliament. The reports would be written by the Government with the committee of Privy Councillors being allowed to do no more than comment on the content of that report. That would be inevitable under such a scheme, because the committee's existence would depend on the Government. We do not want the committee to be responsible to the Government in that way or dependent on the Government in that way or, as I fear, with the best will on the world, deferential to the Government in that way.

The proposal embodied in amendment No. 73 and new Clause 5 would have an independence that the alternatives could not provide. The Select Committee would write its own reports.

Mr. John Wheeler (Westminster, North)

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that I have a direct vested interest in his proposal. Is not the problem with the Select Committee or Members of Parliament, regardless of their status in the House, having a direct involvement in supervising the Security Service the fact that they would have to be taken within the fold of confidentiality and secrecy and would never be able to report to the House, as a Select Committee can, but would be able only to report to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary direct? In that case, what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is proposing is adequate.

Mr. Hattersley

I made the mistake of giving way when I should have told the hon. Gentleman that I hoped that I would do my best to deal later with the point that he was likely to raise. As he raises the point now, the answer to his question, like the best answer to most questions, is "It depends". It depends on the nature of the Committee, its powers and the way in which it exercises those powers. I accept that in most cases the Committee would want to report to Parliament in a way which some critics of the Security Service might regard as anodyne. However, the important point about the Committee—and I will develop this aspect as best I can later—is that its work will be what the Home Secretary has described as looking over his shoulder. Its existence will keep the Home Secretary metaphorically on his toes. It will remind him that he must operate in a way that is consistent with Parliament's view on efficiency, prudence and civil liberties. The importance of the Committee will lie in what it does not have to do. Its existence would prevent the Security Service and the Home Secretary from doing things that they might otherwise do.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Is not one of the reasons why we need the Committee simply to avoid the kind of response given by the Minister who replied to the Second Reading debate? The Minister referred to what I said about Patricia Hewitt, the allegations made by Cathy Massiter and why my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman) was investigated when she was a legal officer for the National Council for Civil Liberties. He said that I wanted the Home Secretary to come and deal with the allegations and that that would be wholly unreasonable. Regardless of any allegations by former MI5 officials, which may be raised on the Floor of the House, all a Minister now needs to do, in the absence of a Select Committee, is to say that those are all security matters which cannot be dealt with.

Mr. Hattersley

I agree with my hon. Friend in every particular except that he invests Minister's winding-up speeches with a seriousness that they clearly do not possess. He also demonstrated, if I may say so with all humility, a point that I wanted to make to the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler). I intended to make these points later and the sensible thing for me to do is to make my speech as best I can and then discover whether my colleagues agree with it and whether Conservative Members disagree.

One of the advantages of a Select Committee in comparison with other institutions is that under our scheme it would write its reports after listening to the Government's advice about the need for security. That difference is crucial. It demonstrates the weakness of one system and the strength of the other. It is the difference between keeping the supervision of the security services within the family of the establishment or extending it to a responsible but essentially independent oversight. We want independent oversight.

The creation of our proposed Select Committee will produce three major advantages. First, it will remove much of the party political controversy that currently surrounds MI5's work. The allegation that the Security Service was, is, or could be used as a Prime Minister's private army would no longer have the plausibility that it currently has. That would be good for the country, and in my view it would be good for the Security Service.

Our intention is that the Select Committee will reflect the composition of the House, and, therefore, include at least one representative of every political party represented by 12 or more right hon. and hon. Members. The Government of the day will maintain a majority on the Select Committee, but other members will be appointed after, and only after, consultation with party leaders. The result will produce an advantage for the Security Service as well as for democracy.

The House will assume a measure of responsibility for its operation. It will be more than just critical supervision. That general responsibility will mean, in general, MI5 being detached from any accusation of one-party dominance or operation on behalf of the Government of the day.

The second advantage of our scheme relates to the fear—often justified in the past—that MI5 operates illegally, unlawfully or improperly. That fear will in large part be removed.

Thirdly, by making MI5 accountable to the House, our scheme will put the Security Service more in touch with the real world, and, as a consequence, it will be more efficient. Nobody doubts that the organisation's failures were largely the result of its insulation from reality and its belief that its operations, unchecked and unsupervised by anyone outside its magic circle, ought not to be subject to independent scrutiny. I repeat, for it is important to our case, that the service's efficiency will certainly be increased by the relationship with the real world that parliamentary scrutiny can provide.

The Government will argue that the obligations to civil liberties, efficiency and lawful conduct specified in the Bill requiring the Security Service to obtain the Home Secretary's warrant before it interferes with property or intercepts a telephone call are safeguards that will reassure reasonable people that MI5 does not act improperly. Reliance on the good will, good judgment or good intentions of a single Minister is always a bad legislative precedent. Some future Home Secretaries may be politically corrupt. All will be fallible. Many will be insensitive or obtuse in their reactions to the Bill's provisions and to their obligations if it becomes law.

The present Home Secretary gave an example of the third shortcoming on Second Reading. I acquit him of political corruption, though I am sure he will join me in admitting his own fallibility. However, political insensitivity and the Home Secretary's misunderstanding of his own role were demonstrated dramatically when I asked him about political bias or fears of political bias in the Security Service. He answered that political bias would be prevented by the operation of clause 2(2)(b), and that that clause specifically prohibited the security services from acting to further the interests of any one political party. The Home Secretary surely does not believe that prohibition of work on behalf of one political party is the same as avoidance of political bias. Whether the non sequitur with which he answered my question was the result of a genuine mistake or of simple confusion or whether it was intended to obfuscate the position, I do not know. However, it illustrates that, to ensure sensible, acceptable and democratic control, the House needs something more than just the supervision of one Minister, no matter how well-intentioned he may be.

There can be no absolute safeguard that the Security Service will not act without the Home Secretary's permission. That is the tradition of the service. The Bill is introduced because, in the past, the Security Service often operates outside the law. There need to be adequate safeguards against both the Home Secretary's possible failure and the possible failings of the service that he supervises. Without a Select Committee external to the service, no such safeguard will exist.

4.15 pm

As the debate continues, the Home Secretary will doubtless insist—and perhaps he believes—that the appointment of a commissioner and tribunal to examine his record in issuing warrants for the interception of communications and for interference with property and from time to time to cast a general eye over the Security Service's work is a safeguard with which we ought to be satisfied. He described to the House, in what I can only term plaintive language, the terrors of having a judge looking over his shoulder. I say with respect to the judiciary—which is required of me by Standing Orders, but which I feel irrespective of that obligation—that the extent of the Home Secretary's terror will depend on the judge who is selected to undertake that supervision. The views held, perfectly legitimately, by some members of the judiciary are exemplified by Mr. Justice McCowan during his summing up of the Ponting trial. He commented: The policies of the state mean the policies laid down for it by its recognised organs of Government and authority.

One of the objections in principle to much that went on during that trial is the confusion that exists between the interests of the Government and those of the nation, which characterised the Government's conduct and that summing up by the judge. Any judge who thinks that the Government and the state cannot be separated is likely to hold few terrors for the Home Secretary while looking over the right hon. Gentleman's shoulder to see how he discharges his duties in relation to the Security Service. Given that the judge who will look over the Home Secretary's shoulder will be appointed on the Home Secretary's recommendation to the Prime Minister, it will always be open to the Government of the day to find a nominee who believes that the interests of the Government and the state are identical. Such a judge will always be able to convince himself, wholly within the law, that, under the terms of the Bill, whatever the Home Secretary chooses to do is reasonable.

The protection of our liberties is too important to be left to judges. The House of Commons ought to be looking over the Home Secretary's shoulder, and it will do so if it accepts our proposed amendment and new clause. On 3 December 1986, when the Home Secretary described to the House his criticism of a Select Committee to supervise the security services, he offered three objectives. They were effectively preserving a necessary secrecy, increasing confidence in the service that it might provide, and avoiding the risk of blunting or diminishing the personal and clear responsibilities of the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary to this House."—[0fficial Report, 3 December 1986; Vol. 106, c. 948.]

I am prepared to measure our own proposals against the Home Secretary's own criteria. New clause 5 will require the Select Committee to have access to any information under the control of the Service, the Secretary of State or of the Commissioner that relates to the performance of the duties and functions of the Committee. That is a wide definition of what may be demanded by the Select Committee. However, without that wide definition, the Committee as we envisage it could not carry out the work that we wish to impose on it. I reject the implication —and I hope that the Home Secretary will also reject it—that we cannot construct a Select Committee of the House that will behave with proper discretion and have proper concern for the national interest.

Many of us hoped that the idea that intelligence information cannot be read by anyone outside the intelligence community was dispelled for ever by the procedures adopted by Lord Franks' inquiry into the Falklands war. The Prime Minister told the House that that committee was provided with all the papers relevant to its terms of reference, including a comprehensive—not selected, doctored or amended—collection of reports from the intelligence agencies. Those reports were not leaked, and I see no reason why a Committee of the House should not behave in the same responsible way.

In addition, the Select Committee system provides a precedent of a sort. When the Select Committee on Defence was set up, there was much foreboding about its ability to retain the secrecy of sensitive documents; in fact, all Select Committees have proved more leak-free than Government Departments. The Home Secretary said that many of our allies who had a proper and vested interest in the retention of secret information might be apprehensive about the results of parliamentary oversight.

I suggest that if the amendment and new clause are passed the Foreign Secretary should reassure our allies with two arguments about the new procedure. First, on the evidence, Select Committees are considerably more secure than a Department of state. Secondly, parallel systems allowing members of legislatures to investigate security matters and to maintain overall supervision of security services operate successfully in other democracies without any leakage of essential information. I hope that I am not making a populist point when I say that I retain the hope and belief that the honesty, integrity and patriotism of the House are no less than the honesty, integrity and patriotism of the Senate and Congress of the United States. If they can manage such a system without essential information being leaked, I have no doubt that we can do the same.

The Home Secretary's second criterion concerned whether a proposal for a Select Committee would increase or reduce confidence in the system—not confidence in terms of maintaining the secrecy of sensitive information, but confidence in terms of the efficiency and general obedience to the law within which the Security Service is operated.

I find it difficult to believe that both Parliament and the nation would not be reassured by the introduction of a Select Committee system. The Home Secretary knows, although it may not be possible for him to admit it, that confidence in the Security Service has diministed enormously in the recent past. That may or may not be justified, and today may not be the occasion on which to argue about the justification, but there is no doubt that it is the case, and that the lack of confidence has been intensified by two steps taken by the Government over the past few months. First, there is the provision in the Official Secrets Bill that gives absolute protection to the work of the security services without any public interest justification. On the Second Reading of that Bill, the Home Secretary conceded to me that under clause 4(3)(a) it was an indictable offence to reveal any information concerning the work of the security services—whether that work was carried on legally or illegally, was justified or unjustified, or was carried on under proper warrant or without stipulated authority. Inevitably, that increases uncertainty and doubt about the work of the service. Indeed, the Home Secretary conceded willingly and openly that were I to be told by a member of the security services that my property had been burgled or my telephone bugged I would be committing an indictable offence, punishable by imprisonment, if I revealed that to the public at large.

Mr. Ray Whitney (Wycombe)

The right hon. Gentleman said that he would not seek to set out his case for maintaining that trust and confidence in the security services had recently been eroded. I suggest that he reconsider, because such a case as he puts forward must be the whole basis and justification for changing the status quo.

I suggest that any case that the right hon. Gentleman might assemble could offer only one security problem in the last 10 years or so, and that the cases to which he has referred obliquely in his speech have been 15, 20 and 30 years old. Many of them have already been exploded by such people as his former right hon. Friend Lord Callaghan. I refer, of course, to the allegations made by Mr. Wright in his book.

Mr. Hattersley

I am tempted to pursue the case, not least because since our previous debate I have had some interesting correspondence with Mr. Anthony Cavendish—initiated by him—in which he refuted some of the points made about him by Conservative Members. He sent me copies of letters with the names discreetly and honourably blanked out, which he said had been sent to him by the more pompous members of the Conservative party. I would have looked forward to seeing which Conservative Members confessed to being the correspondents in question.

It seems to me that the best way in which to proceed is by way of the argument about civil liberties and the principle of accountability. Were it not for the disquiet felt outside—justified in my view and unjustified in that of the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney), but irrefutably present, whether justified or not—many of us would think that, as a matter of principle, an organisation as powerful and potentially dangerous as the Security Service ought to be subject to some supervision. That principle ought to apply whether the record is exemplary or deplorable.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

Surely the very fact that the Government have decided to bring forward legislation is a sign that even they realise that everything is not satisfactory in the view of the general public. The real test is whether they bring forward a measure that is sufficient to allay that fear or one that simply enhances it. As the Bill stands, it will enhance rather than allay the fear, and the Government will therefore fail in their purpose.

Mr. Hattersley

My hon. Friend tempts me to move away from my most ecumenical mood. I am doing my best to put the case reasonably, not least in the hope that it will embolden some of the frailer spirits on the Conservative Benches, who have expressed arguments not dissimilar to those that I am advancing, to come into the Lobby with us. The Home Secretary—who knows his troops far better than I could ever know them—shakes his head to imply that, no matter how mollifying my comments are, in the end nerves will be lost and votes will not be cast. But I shall continue to pursue my argument with what passes with me for reason in the hope that we shall carry with us a few hon. Gentlemen—and perhaps even one or two hon. Ladies—when we vote.

I was saying—perhaps not in a total spirit of compromise—that clause 4(3)(a) of the Official Secrets Bill had done a great deal to undermine what ought to be proper confidence in the service, because the Home Secretary had said that, even when the operation of the service was unlawful, illegal, improper or carried out without warrant, it would still be an offence to reveal it to the public.

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

The right hon. Gentleman has got it wrong.

Mr. Hattersley

The Home Secretary says that I have got it wrong. I will read the passage from Hansard if he wishes, but let me put the case to him again. According to my reading of the Bill, if I am told by a member of the security services that my telephone is being tapped it is an offence for me to reveal it. Is that so, or is it not so?

Mr. Hurd

That is correct, but it is not what the right hon. Gentleman said three minutes ago.

Mr. Hattersley

As someone once said, that is all ye know and all ye need to know. If it is an offence for me to reveal that my telephone is being tapped—admittedly only when I am told so by a member of the security services—that seems to me to give the services an aura of mystery and secrecy that is wholly improper in a free society.

The position goes further than that. My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) has asked me to consider the motives behind the Bill, which are open to a number of interpretations. There are those who think that the security services themselves want it as a justification to stop my hon. Friends and me pressing for something more realistic, and those who think that the Prime Minister wants it to introduce the law of lifetime confidentiality, which she claimed was legal before the Bill, but which certainly was not. One aspect of the Bill that undermines any claim that it can protect the citizen is the clause that makes it absolutely clear that investigation by a tribunal and commissioner is not subject to appeal or liable to question in court. The entire operation of the appeal system, the entire operation of complaints against illegal or unlawful activity and the entire operation of propriety are kept within the magic circle of the Security Service and the establishment.

If the Security Service is to be properly placed under democratic surveillance it is essential that a system should be introduced and accepted that breaks out of that coterie and allows someone outside the realm of prime ministerial nominees to make judgments about wrongdoings, mistakes and inefficiency.

4.30 pm

The Home Secretary's third criterion on whether it would be acceptable to appoint a Select Committee makes sense only if the Home Secretary meant it to be ironic. He said that to introduce a Select Committee would blunt what he described as the clear ministerial responsibility of the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister. That clear ministerial responsibility is at present discharged by their refusing to answer any questions about the Security Service. The Prime Minister was explicit when she said, during the debate on the Loyal Address, that if the Bill became law, the usual rule would still apply. Anyone looking into the past to see what the usual rule is would have no doubt that that would result in no information being provided to the House. The Home Secretary and the Prime Minister invariably answer that Ministers do not comment on such matters. They are not alone in that. Almost all of us who have served in Ministries involved with foreign affairs or in the Home Office or the Ministry of Defence have answered similar questions in similar ways.

As the system is now organised, there is no question of ministerial responsibility having any real meaning and practical effect. It cannot have a practical effect if hon. Members are able to ask questions about the security services publicly and openly in the House only when they are likely to be reported throughout the world. To make practical sense of ministerial responsibility, we need a system under which the Home Secretary and Prime Minister are requuired to give evidence, if necessary in secret, to a Select Committee to justify the way in which they have discharged their duties in relation to the Security Service.

I, and supporters of the amendment and new clause, argue that they give force to the concept of ministerial responsibility for a secret service, which cannot be discharged through the normal process of the House.

The ability of the proposed Committee to take evidence is, like its power to produce a report, essential to its work. That work is the general supervision of the security services. The Committee could not, and would not, become involved in the Security Service's day-to-day operation. We constructed the new clause in such a way that, in every particular, the Committee would operate through the institutions established in the Bill to demonstrate and provide a safeguard that it would not become involved in the day-to-day operation of the Security Service. That method of operating through the commissioner and Secretary of State would provide both a safeguard against interference in the Security Service's day-to-day work and a proper check on the activities of the commission and the Home Secretary.

By any standards, the amendment and new clause are reasonable propositions which intend not only to improve the work of the Security Service, but to improve it according to the requirements of a free society. The real divide between the Government and the Opposition is whether security can be effectively organised outside the bounds of a comfortable little coterie of like-minded people. Nobody, certainly no Opposition Members, disputes the need for a service or for that service to operate generally in secrecy. The issue is whether the requirements of secrecy oblige that service to reject the normal obligations of democracy and efficiency.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Hattersley

I am about to finish. I am sure that my hon. Friend will welcome that, so that he can make his speech.

Efficiency and democracy would be extended by the introduction of a supervisory committee and that is why we support our new clause and amendments.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)

I should like to move amendments Nos. 45, 48 and 54, new clause 2, amendment (a), new clause 3 and amendments Nos. 61 and 63.

The Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. It is not appropriate to move the amendments at this stage. We are discussing them together with amendment No. 73.

Mr. Shepherd

The group of amendments in my name and that of other hon. Members—

Mr. Heffer

On a point of order, Mr. Walker. Does that mean that we will be unable to vote on those amendments and that we can vote only on amendment No. 73? Will there be one vote on all the amendments taken together?

The Chairman of Ways and Means

It does not necessarily mean that. We usually follow the convention of voting on the lead amendment. The Chair will have to take into account a number of factors when deciding whether voting will be limited to that amendment.

Mr. Shepherd

The amendments in my name form distinct threads of oversight, reviews and the definition of the purpose of a security service in a modern society. Much of the information, and the wording of the amendments, is derived from the Canadian Security and Intelligence Bill and relies for its intellectual base on the mammoth works carried out by Mr. Justice McDonald in his seminal work on the subject entitled, "Freedom and Security under the Law".

The first group of amendments in my name relates to one of the threads running through the McDonald commission's report. I take it as given that we accept the need for the Security Service and that it is vital to the preservation of our democratic institutions and that element of our national life. In the management and control of a security service, three themes should inform us. First, there should be responsible government with accountable Ministers who know what the service is doing; secondly, the rule of law should prevail in all circumstances; and, thirdly, we should recognise the freedom of legitimate or political dissent. It is in that context that my amendments are framed.

Amendments Nos. 45, 48 and 54 suggest that the responsible Minister should be the Solicitor-General. That is not an attack on my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I simply wish to raise the question of the need for a responsible and accountable Minister with the time necessary to carry out oversight and to set out the parameters within which the Security Service works. In that context, Mr. Justice McDonald said that responsible government means that responsible Ministers can know about all the practices and policies of security service and about any of their operations which raise policy or legal issues. The security system must be an open book to responsible Ministers and to the Prime Minister. No pages in that book should be sealed because security officials think they contain information too sensitive for Ministers' or Prime Ministers' eyes or ears. Responsible Ministers cannot be expected to know everything that a security agency does, but they can and must be expected to know the policies governing the operations of the security agency and to establish procedures for ensuring that operations raising difficult policy issues are brought to their attention.

In Australia, New Zealand and Canada the responsible Minister is the Solicitor-General. Delicate areas affecting the defence of our liberal democracy require an absolute knowledge of what the service is doing at any given time.

I am fascinated by the fact that we receive cards from my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and his Department when they acknowledge receipt of a constituent's letter that we may have sent. The back of the card lists the responsibilities of the Home Office which include police, criminal law and penal policy, magistrates courts, probation and prisons; fire service, civil defence; immigration, nationality and passports, community relations and equal opportunities, broadcasting, obscenity, data protection, royal matters, electoral law and liaison with the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, drugs, gambling, liquor licensing and animal welfare. That is a formidable array of duties and responsibilities. In addition, we have only to look at the legislative programme confronting the House to see how much work will have to be done.

With this Bill, the Official Secrets Bill, the first four private Members' Bills and the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Bill in Committee, the duties and responsibilities of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary are onerous and, with day-to-day political exigencies, consume much of his attention. That is why, in our amendments, we have suggested that the Solicitor-General should be the Minister to whom the security services report, and who should be responsible for monitoring them. That suggestion is not intended to be divisive. The problem is one of time, and the Minister responsible for the security services should be able to follow the task through.

New clause 2 proposes the setting up of an independent oversight review committee. The reasons behind each of our amendments hang together. New clause 2 sets out the form that such an independent oversight committee should take, which is the form that was adopted in Canada. In Canada, the Prime Minister and the leaders of the political parties nominate members to a review committee, which has wide powers. In Canada, leaders of parties with 12 or more Members of Parliament are involved, but one must realise that the Canadian Parliament has only 278 members. We have suggested for this country, on the ground of proportionality, that the leaders concerned should lead parties with more than 30 Members of Parliament, but we are not attached to a specific number.

When considering the security services, we seek to ensure that they enjoy the confidence of the spectrum of political parties in the efficacy of their policies to carry out their objectives. I shall not go through our proposals in detail because they are set out on the Amendment Paper and are explained fairly fully. However, our amendments propose that there should be two forms of oversight. First, there should be ministerial oversight through the use of a commissioner or, as we suggest, an inspector general, with a constant review of the services. Independent of that, there should be an additional review committee formed of outside members.

New clause 3 sets out the complaints procedure. It would enable the commissioner or the independent review committee to have the power to consider any complaint coming both from within the service—fulfilling some of the duties and responsibilities carried out by Sir Philip Woodfield—or from without. The difficulty of bringing such matters under the rule of law is that most of us do not know whether we are being investigated or whether our premises are being entered. We must, therefore, establish a system under which the facts can be studied and yet reassurance can be given within the circle of secrecy, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary describes it. Our proposals do not seek to breach that.

New clause 2 suggests that the oversight committee should be independent of the House, but that need not be so and the matter is open to question. The Canadians have appointed commissioners from outside who are made Privy Councillors to bring them inside the circle of secrecy but, as my right hon. Friend said rightly on Second Reading, the Canadian system is due to be reviewed next year. Some commissioners feel that their task could be carried out within Parliament, whereas some do not take that view, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) will recall from our own discussions with the commissioners.

Amendments Nos. 61 and 63 involve a change of words, but their principle is, again, to identify the functions—which come up for discussion later—of the commissioner, or the inspector general, as we call him. He is the watchdog on behalf of the Minister through which he can assure himself that warrants are properly issued and that the structures and procedures that are followed by the security services conform with their remit and with the political direction given to them by the Prime Minister or the Cabinet.

The amendments seek to set the scene for a system that will hang together through its ingredient elements. We believe that they would enforce ministerial accountability to the House by the institution of independent review procedures and a proper complaints procedure from which nothing was hidden. The amendments also seek to set out the functions and the role of the inspector general as the watchdog to ensure that as the responsible Minister cannot, as was pointed out by the McDonald commission, know every detail about what is happening, the security services conform to their principal objectives.

4.45 pm

The principal objective of the security services is to defend our liberal democracy, but there is a fine and narrow area separating that objective from a threat posed by the intrusiveness of the actions of the Security Service. We must assert, through the House, that the rule of law should prevail. As Sir John Donaldson said, it is difficult for the courts to do that because they are confronted by a service that is outside the law. That is why the House must support the Government and congratulate them on bringing forward a legislative procedure to cover the security services. Our amendments seek to ensure that it is set up in such a way that we are reassured that the rule of law prevails. We give powers to the security services to carry out burglaries, for example, so we are making burglary legal. We must, therefore, be sure when we do that such power is not used in an offensive and intrusive way against loyal subjects, or in such a way as to intimidate people and to affect our freedom of discussion. Through the amendments, we seek to assure ourselves that the Security Service is reinforced in its primary goal of defending our liberal democracy, freedom of speech and freedom of dissent.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

On behalf of my party, I rise to support the amendments about which the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) spoke. I shall seek first the common ground between those who are dissatisfied with the provisions for oversight and for the operation of the security services within the Bill. There is common ground that oversight is necessary—perhaps even the Home Secretary would agree with that—and that public confidence in the Security Service has, to some extent, been eroded by the lack of such oversight and the exiguous nature of the parliamentary accountability that he and the Prime Minister have for the conduct of the Security Service.

When moving the Opposition amendment, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) described the other amendments in the group as a halfway house. That comment shows a misunderstanding of the nature of parliamentary accountability and of the extent to which it is possible for a parliamentary Committee to act wholly independently of Government.

The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook referred to the experience of the United States Senate and Congress and their approach to the supervision and independent scrutiny of the security services, but he failed to recognise that the Congressional committees do not owe their membership to the nomination of the Executive. They are genuinely independent and their basis is quite different from that of Committees of this House, which are inclined, inevitably, to adopt an adversarial approach to the Government of the day. For that reason, they are not entirely suitable for the supervision of the Security Service. The right hon. Gentleman spoke favourably about the work of the Franks committee on the Falklands. That committee demonstrated how independent oversight, even of the most sensitive matters involving the security of the nation, could be conducted by a body that commands the support of the House of Commons and that was regarded as authoritative.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

On what basis does the hon. Gentleman have less confidence in his own colleagues in this House than, for example, American legislators have in their colleagues in Congress? What is the difference between a British Member of Parliament and a United States Congressman that prevents a parliamentary solution?

Mr. Maclennan

The hon. Gentleman has been a Member of this House, with some interruptions, for as long as I. He knows that members of parliamentary Select Committees are appointed by the Whips and that in some cases they are the home of those whose participation is designed to test their suitability for promotion and that in other cases they are designed to buy off awkward customers.

Mr. Anderson

They need not be.

Mr. Maclennan

That is true, but the hon. Gentleman is enough of a political realist to know that Select Committees of the House of Commons properly are involved in controversy and that properly they sometimes adopt partisan positions and oppose the views of the Government of the day. Ultimately, however, their membership is dependent on that Government of the day. The profound difference between Select Committees and Congressional committees is that Congressional committees are not appointed by the President, the Executive or the American equivalent of the Home Secretary.

The attractiveness of the proposition that we should look to the Canadian rather than to the American model is that constitutionally our countries are much more similar. A committee of Privy Councillors would ensure the degree of independent judgment and weight that is necessary to give confidence that the oversight of the security services is in responsible hands and that the committee will be prepared to voice uncertainty, disquiet or criticism, even though it has been appointed by senior members of the political parties, including the Government and the leaders of the Opposition parties. The Canadian system is quite young, but it is soundly based and we would be wise to follow that pattern.

The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook was unrealistic to advocate that a Committee of this House should conduct the scrutiny. I do not believe that such a concession would ever be made by a Labour Government. It is highly unlikely that such a concession would have commended itself to the right hon. Gentleman when he was in office. The route that the right hon. Gentleman has recommended would make it less likely rather than more likely that there would be any form of independent outside scrutiny in which the House of Commons could have confidence.

The recommended policy of scrutiny and oversight in new clause 2 goes a great deal further than that set out by the Government. I draw the Home Secretary's attention to the advantages of the review committee having the wide functions that are set out in subsection (5)(a) of new clause 2. Apart from dealing with specific matters, such as the issue of warrants or the handling of complaints, which is provided for to some extent in the Bill, the budget and the annual total expenditure of the Security Service would be reviewed. That is not provided for by the Government, despite the fact that we are told that the Security Service now costs about £100 million per annum. Financial control is exercised only by the issue of a certificate by the Comptroller and Auditor General, on the say-so of a Minister that the money has been spent.

The proposals for review by a committee of Privy Councillors are well worked out and should command confidence. I profoundly hope that the Minister will say that he is prepared to accept them. I hope also that it will be possible to vote separately on the amendments.

Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)

We are discussing a varied group of amendments. Their diversity means that it is open to the Home Secretary to divide and rule by seeking to make the point that there are differences of opinion among those who have tabled amendments. He will no doubt employ that tactic, but very much more unites us than divides us when it comes to the question of the type of oversight that we believe ought to be provided. It is natural that there should be some difference of emphasis as to the right form of oversight for the security services.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will probably stick to his traditional guns and say that no oversight is necessary beyond the ministerial oversight that is provided by him and the Prime Minister. That view needs to be challenged hard. Britain is now the only democracy in the English-speaking world that has no form of independent oversight of its security services. Today we are advancing arguments that one day are bound to triumph. In the light of experience, it is unacceptable for the Home Secretary of the day to continue to demand that he and he alone, with the assistance of the Prime Minister, should monitor and supervise our security services.

The fact that we need some form of parliamentry oversight is arguable: whether it is parliamentary or political oversight, or the kind of oversight that is set out in the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), or the kind of oversight that is set out in my new clause 8, which focuses on the much narrower point of improving the management and efficiency of the Security Service by means of a security commission. One could argue that all these views fall within the criteria of the Secretary of State's three points that he says must be accepted before we can deal with any form of oversight of the Security Service.

What do we mean by parliamentary oversight, as expressed by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley)? He has put forward the idea of a Select Committee. He makes a valid point from which none of us as parliamentarians can shrink without a sense of shame—that it is almost inconceivable that Parliament could not produce a committee of discreet, silent, patriotic and responsible Members to exercise such a function. Of course, if we pick the right men and women, we can have a completely suitable committee.

In the United States Senate and House, they have had parliamentary oversight, as we would call it, for some years now. It is true that there have been some unfortunate leaks from those committees, but often from staffers rather than Senators or Congressmen. It has happened, and we must concede that that has made some dent in the argument in favour of parliamentary oversight. However, the committees have done enormous good and they have been extremely effective at times.

I should like to give a not unamusing example of the effectiveness of parliamentary oversight as exercised by the US Senate. I shall quote a small passage from Mr. Bob Woodward's riveting work, "Veil". Page 265 of the book deals with the attempt of Director Casey of the Central Intelligence Agency to organise a coup in the small country of Suriname, a former Dutch colony. He was unable to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee himself, so he sent his Deputy Director, Mr. McMahon. Mr. Woodward writes: McMahon briefed the matter to the Senate Intelligence Committee. He was met by a chorus of 'You've got to be kidding.' Why several senators asked, is the Reagan Administration considering a coup in a country that has no significance? The Suriname people were primitive and gentle, much like Tahitians in the South Pacific. The population was about 350,000. That's the size of Tucson, Arizona. Goldwater, particularly, was incensed, declaring, 'That's the dumbest …idea I ever heard of in my life.'… It wasn't enough. After the briefing, the committee agreed to send a letter to protest to President Reagan, telling him of its opposition to covert action in Suriname. Goldwater sent a personal message to Reagan saying, in effect, 'Do you really need this?'… The plan was dropped, but McMahon was shaken up on the play. He rededicated himself to keeping the CIA out of comic-book operations.

I quote that passage as it is an illustration from the other side of the Atlantic of how a forceful parliamentary committee can keep the intelligence services out of what Mr. Woodward calls "comic-book operations". Comic-book operations have been undertaken by our security services, and not in the very distant past. The entire, extraordinary extravaganza of allegations concerning the former Prime Minister, Lord Wilson of Rievaulx, are part of those comic-book operations, although they were not so comic for people at the receiving end, or those in the Government involved.

The notion that there is good oversight of the security services even now is belied by an interesting letter which gives the game away about the total inadequacy, until extremely recently, of oversight by Ministers.

5 pm

My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) tried to suggest that there has been only one little slip up in the past few years and that oversight is working well. Sir Robert Armstrong sent this letter, which is addressed to Mr. Day, a former Security Service official, and dated 29 January 1986. The point of the correspondence was that Mr. Day wished to send a memorandum on the need for improved oversight to various Members of Parliament and the Home Secretary. Sir Robert Armstrong was trying to persuade him not to send one, not because there was anything confidential in it but because the notion of oversight was somehow not welcome to Sir Robert Armstrong, then the Cabinet Secretary. The vital part of the letter reads: And you would be taking this action at a time when more is being done to improve both the management of the service and the degree of awareness that some of us outside have of it than for many years past. In other words, Sir Robert Armstrong was saying that even people as close as the Cabinet Secretary have for many years past had no awareness, or no adequate awareness, of what is going on in the security services.

The notion of ministerial or Cabinet Secretary oversight is therefore not a doctrine which can be sustained on the language of the letter signed as recently as 1986 by the Cabinet Secretary. We must try to move onwards from this stubborn, "They shall not pass" defence of Ministers who maintain that ministerial oversight works magnificently.

Mr. Whitney

Is not my hon. Friend trying to have it both ways? I recall some time ago his paying tribute to what appeared, as far as we on the outside could see, to be a good shake-up in the security services conducted by Sir Antony Duff. We now have Sir Robert Armstrong referring to other improvements. Is that not to be welcomed? Are we not wrong to say, "My goodness, that shows how bad things are."?

Yet again, my hon. Friend has dragged out the dreadful Mr. Wright. We should be clear that, immediately after the allegations about Lord Wilson surfaced, Lord Callaghan scotched them and said that there was nothing in them.

Mr. Winnick

No, he did not.

Mr. Whitney

With hindsight, when the Wright allegations were published, he said, I think rather meaningfully, that when it came to choosing between the official version and the Wright version, he had no doubt about which to believe.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Aitken

Of course.

Mr. Rees

I do not know where to begin. I was involved in the inquiry. Later, when still an hon. Member of this House, Lord Callaghan said that the later revelations were not involved in the inquiry.

Mr. Whitney

No. That is wrong.

Mr. Rees

It is no use denying it—the hon. Member does not know because he was never in MI5.

Mr. Winnick

He was in MI6, though.

Mr. Rees

I do not know about that. The inquiry did not include those revelations. That is why Lord Callaghan asked for a further inquiry.

Mr. Aitken


Mr. Whitney


Mr. Aitken

I give way to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Whitney

My hon. Friend is most kind. When referring to the Wright disclosures, Lord Callaghan also said that, given a choice between the Wright version and the official one, he was in no doubt about which to accept.

Mr. Aitken

I seem to have stirred up a not insubstantial hornets nest. My argument was not based entirely on Mr. Peter Wright. Nevertheless, although he is not a completely accurate witness, he has left enough unanswered questions which what my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) calls Lord Callaghan's scotching has not entirely destroyed or diminished.

We are arguing about various possible kinds of oversight. We could no doubt have lengthy debates on each of the amendments. There is some merit in the notion of my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills that the security services should report to a less busy Minister than the Home Secretary, but I do not think that that is entirely practical in the long term because the buck has ultimately to stop on someone's desk, and I think that the Home Secretary's is the right desk on which it should stop.

The Home Secretary's position, however, unassisted by any kind of committee, and behind the barrier of secrecy in the House or anywhere else is not, I think, sustainable in the long run. Perhaps the greatest breakthrough in oversight that we have yet witnessed was in regard to the Bettaney case. An horrific series of blunders were revealed. Why was there any shake-up in the Security Service? Why were there improvements in personnel? I shall return to the subject when we discuss new clause 8, but they came about only because there was a degree of oversight, otherwise they would never have shown up on the radar screen.

The Bettaney case illustrates only too clearly that a busy Home Secretary simply could not do his job properly, not because the Home Secretary was wrong but because the system that he was asked to operate was wrong. It is not that I do not trust my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary or the Prime Minister; I do not trust the system that they are trying to operate without any monitoring assistance from people such as a Canadian inspector general or a dedicated body of senior Members of Parliament.

We cannot for much longer continue defending the position that no change whatsoever is necessary. The present system does not work and some form of oversight is needed. The amendments attempt to introduce such a change and I am willing to support any proposal that makes sense.

Mr. Rees

I seek to intervene simply because I am a member of a Select Committee. I shall have to leave soon and it is discourteous to speak only for a moment. I shall make one point which I would have developed at length.

I do not know whether the amendments or the new clauses are the right way forward. However, I am concerned that security and the information available to various Home Secretaries is treated as if it were a party political matter. For example, the documents are provided by the Foreign Office to various Governments, but as soon as a new Government come into office, the documents are filed away and new documents with new references are provided for the incoming Foreign Secretary. They contain very much the same information but are produced on the ground that no information that was provided to the previous Government should be given to the new Government. Lord Carrington told the Select Committee that officials came to him and said, "We have never told you this before, sir, but in the previous Government in 1978"—in which the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) was involved—"the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary of the day took a certain action that was reported to the defence and overseas policy committee, but you must not tell the new Government that it happened." That was done on the basis that political information is not provided to a new Administration.

One of the problems for a Home Secretary or a Foreign Secretary is that information available about problems in MI5 and MI6 is not communicated to new Ministers. Therefore, when it came to appointing a new head of MI5, in which the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister play a part, we were not informed, but we now discover that in 1972 there was great concern in the Home Office about what was going on in MI5. The new Home Secretary was not told.

Whatever new system we have, it should straddle Governments, and information should be available on a long-term basis. That is extremely important because security is not a party political matter. It is of the greatest importance and should not be treated in that way. Therefore, at the very least, if the Government will not agree to some of the proposals that have been suggested, I hope that in future, when one Home Secretary succeeds another, there will be discussions between the two. There are not a large number of officials involved. One could almost say that only one is involved. What is going on is generally kept away from the Home Office and only the Home Secretary and one official are involved. It is not a party political issue. At the moment the system is fragmented and, therefore, mistakes are made.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way—

The Chairman

Order. The right hon. Gentleman said that his speech was an intervention. Now it seems that the hon. Gentleman is seeking to make an intervention on an intervention.

5.15 pm
Mr. Heffer

I find myself in some difficulty because I do not agree completely with the idea of a Select Committee or with the idea of Privy Councillors. I should like there to be a vote in the House to elect people to a review body. Who appoints the members of a Select Committee?

Mr. Richard Shepherd

It is both sides.

Mr. Heffer

The hon. Gentleman says that it is both sides, but the Whips on both sides appoint hon. Members to Select Committees. In 24 years I have been selected once to serve on a Select Committee. That indicates that I have never been particularly popular with certain people. Such a system is not good enough.

I believe that a genuine representative committee of Members should examine the security services. The hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) spoke about comic-book operations. I should like to go back still further. I read an absolutely fascinating book entitled, "One Girl's War", in which the author described how during the early part of the war she and a gentleman went around burgling people's houses. One of the people they burgled was R. Palme Dutt, who was then a member of the Communist party. They thought that the innermost secrets of the Communist party at the time were hidden under his bed.

Mr. Tony Banks

He kept them in his chamber pot.

Mr. Heffer

They were not in his chamber pot.

They went to his house and looked under his bed where they found a box which they thought contained all his innermost secrets. They got it out and inside they discovered his marriage lines. There cannot be anything more comic-book than that. That was a great discovery by MI5 at the time. One could go on about comic-book operations.

I have often said that I am sure that my telephone is bugged. I have always thought that it was bugged. If it is not bugged, why is it that, every night at about 8.30 pm, my telephone rings once and does not ring again?

Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay)

In my experience, one's telephone service actually improves when there is a warrant on the line. The advantage is that a telephone engineer comes to fix the telephone before one has even reported it broken.

Mr. Heffer

I did not say that my telephone service did not improve. However, I believe that my telephone has been bugged for a long time. Every night at about 8.30 pm my phone rings once, so my wife or I get up to answer it. I believe that it happens when one agent replaces another agent. What else can it be? It happens at exactly the same time every night. If our conversations are monitored, that is most remarkable because my wife's conversations with her mother must be very revealing, as must my conversations with my mother-in-law.

I am sorry that we do not have a third course before us. That is my fault and that of my hon. Friends for not tabling one. I shall vote either for the Select Committee, which is an advance on the present system, or for the idea of a review committee composed mainly of Privy Councillors. However, I am not keen on Privy Councillors; they have more rights in this place than they are entitled to have—

Mr. Richard Shepherd

Perhaps I did not explain my admendment very well. The Privy Councillors who will be appointed will be ordinary people from outside the House—following the Canadian experience—who, when they have been found acceptable to the Government, will be brought within the circle of secrecy. Such people might include a distinguished lawyer or the chairman of the National Council for Civil Liberties. If they were considered acceptable within the circle of confidence, they would be made Privy Councillors. So they would not necessarily be Members of Parliament.

Mr. Heffer

I support the hon. Gentleman's view up to a point, but whether they come from inside or outside the House, I am not particularly enamoured of Privy Councillors. Once they get to that position they have certain rights and privileges beyond those possessed by the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) and myself. They become tied into something that is not necessarily right.

Perhaps we should include a few trade unionists, or even members of my constituency party. That would be interesting. If it came down to it, I would vote for the Select Committee option, which is better than the proposal of the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Paisley, South)

Why not include some ex-members of the Communist party, since they know how the system works?

Mr. Tony Banks

Such as my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey).

Mr. Heffer

There are more ex-members of the Communist party than members. There are probably more ex-members of that party than members of any political party in the world.

I shall go along with the idea proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) about a Select Committee. We must have some form of control over the security services. No one can be happy about what they have done in the past. It is astonishing to read about what happened in the time of the Labour Government and Prime Minister Lord Wilson—I forget his exact title in the House of Lords, which does not matter, as I am never likely to get there myself—

Mr. Winnick

Why not?

Mr. Heffer

Because I do not intend to go there; I do not believe in it.

As I said, we need control. New clause 2 specifies the need for review of the budget and annual total expenditure of the Service". That is vital. Who knows what the budget is now? What is the money used for?

I was a Minister in a Labour Government. I have never forgotten the interesting experience I had when someone from the security services gave me and my colleagues a lecture about how careful we had to be not to be influenced by East European countries. I said that I did not disagree, but asked whether that applied equally to the Americans. There was dead silence. Why should not such an injunction apply as much to the Americans as to the Russians?

Mr. Maclennan

Has the hon. Gentleman read the account by the late Mr. William Clark, vice-president of the World Bank and formerly Anthony Eden's private secretary, detailing the similar advice that he was given when being cleared with the security services? It was provided by the late Mr. Donald Maclean.

Mr. Heffer

That underlines my point. For a long time I have believed that there should be an international meeting of the world's spies at which they should hand over their information to each other. That would save a lot of problems and expense.

Why should we get involved in this sort of nonsense? Why should not the Americans be involved in industrial espionage? Why should they not be interested in what is going on in the Department of Trade and Industry? Why should we be as close friends of the Americans as we are distant enemies of the Soviet Union? The quicker we examine these issues and institute an annual report to the House so that we can know what the security services are doing—and who they consider our enemies—the better.

Who are the subversives whom the services will scrutinise? The likes of me? I remember working as a joiner in the Liverpool office of the special branch. One of the special branch officers told me that the special branch had my record. And what was my record? I had been chairman of the Liverpool trades council, and a senior shop steward in Cammell Laird's shipyard and on big industrial sites. I had been blacklisted by the Economic League. What sort of record was that? 1 was an ordinary working fellow who left the forces in 1945 and went to work at my trade as a carpenter and joiner and I was examined by the special branch because I happened to be a Left-wing member of the Labour party.

Who are the enemies? I agree with the proposals for a review body or Select Committee because we need to know whom the security services are looking at, and why. Are we really concerned about the undermining of our national security or about people inside the country who may be dissidents? I once had an argument about Solidarity in the Polish embassy with the Polish ambassador. He told me that, by going on strike, Solidarity members were undermining the economy of the country. I said that that sounded like Mrs. Thatcher's way of talking. Solidarity members were regarded as the enemy within and no doubt were being watched by the Polish security services.

My hon. Friends are right to put forward their amendment, because we must get this whole issue into perspective—

Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the members of Solidarity did not have a commission or tribunal to look into their complaints and determine whether they were justified in complaining about breaches of civil liberties? They had no such body to decide whether an investigation was necessary. None of those safeguards is built into that sort of situation, but they are clearly built into the Bill, irrespective of the amendment that the hon. Gentleman supports.

5.30 pm
Mr. Heffer

The Poles have what they probably call the Minister of the Interior, but we call such a Minister the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State and the Minister of the Interior in Poland have exactly the same role and decide matters on behalf of their respective Governments. That is not good enough, because it is not democratic. Why should we say that because the Poles do not have something we should not have it either?

If we must have a Secretary of State we should have a Select Committee or a security review body that would have some control or influence over the Minister of the Interior—in this case the Secretary of State. That is what it is all about. If Conservative Members do not understand that, they have never really understood the ABC of democratic rights, because that is what democratic rights are all about. As a Member of Parliament I have more privileges and rights than some other people, but we are talking about the ordinary subject having the right to query what is going on, where he stands, and whether he has an interest in this question. That is what the whole subject is about.

I do not know enough about Australia to pass a judgment on what has been done there, but I suspect that it is probably a damn sight better than what we are getting. We cannot accept the Government's proposals as they stand. We are to have an apparent betterment of the situation by putting it in the hands of the Secretary of State, but that is not good enough because it puts the security services in the hands of the Government. Who is to say that the Government will not use the security services in their own interests and against the interests of the majority of society?

We need a Select Committee and if we cannot get it we need at least a review body. I should prefer a wider review body than the one that is proposed and I accept that we should have done something about that by putting down our own amendment. I shall vote for the proposal of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) because a Select Committee would be far better than what is proposed. I am worried about a Bill that makes the position worse, or at least no better. Our people want something better and want to see greater control over the security services.

Mr. William Powell (Corby)

In a perfect world gentlemen would not read other gentlemen's correspondence, as the former Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson said. However, we do not live in a perfect world and agents from hostile powers have attempted to penetrate this country in war and in peace in the 20th century. It is right that we should have security services to protect the interests of our people by way of counter-intelligence—to imagine anything else is naive.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) made a valuable point when he talked about the means by which hon. Members would be nominated to the Select Committee, which is the main proposal by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). New clause 5 tabled by the Opposition refers to the members of the Committee being appointed by the Prime Minister and not by the Select Committee on Selection. For some people that may be a fine distinction, but in my experience where patronage resides in the hands of the Prime Minister it is by invitation, whereas those who might not be nominated by means of invitation can at least apply to the Select Committee on Selection and will be considered to find out whether they are appropriate people to sit on the Committee. In talking about new clause 5 the hon. Member for Walton made it clear that the Opposition are talking about prime ministerial patronage and nothing else.

The amendments and new clauses offer us a choice of what is proposed by Treasury Ministers—which I warmly support as I told the House on Second Reading—the Canadian model advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), or the Select Committee. The Committee would be entirely right to consider some of the background to the Select Committee proposal before passing judgment upon it.

When the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook spoke on Second Reading he confided to the House that which he had confided in the debate on the Gracious Speech and on television—that originally he had hoped to be able to support the legislation to put the Security Service on a statutory basis. Not unnaturally, he said at the same time that he would wish to see the Bill and that his view would be subject to the small print. When the right hon. Gentleman spoke in the debate on the Gracious Speech the Bill had already been published, and I imagine that the right hon. Gentleman had taken advantage of that prior publication to satisfy himself on its contents.

When the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook spoke on Second Reading, he said that he would be unable to support the Government because there was a fatal flaw in the Bill—that no provision had been made for parliamentary scrutiny. Of course it is abundantly clear that the right hon. Gentleman knew that when he spoke on Second Reading and on television. It was already plain that there was no provision for parliamentary scrutiny and it was therefore extraordinary for him to say that, subject to provisions of the Bill, he hoped to support the Government. We subsequently learnt that he found some fundamental defects in the Bill which were there all the time.

That is amazing and I am forced to conclude that the right hon. Gentleman discovered, not for the first time in this Session, that his original line was proving less popular with his hon. Friends than he had anticipated. He therefore decided to back track and come forward with the preposterous idea that the Bill was fundamentally flawed because there was no provision for a Select Committee. Of course one can take that a step further. Since 1979, from time to time the Government have commented on suggestions that there might be provision for Select Committee oversight, but not once since 1979 have any of my right hon. Friends in the Treasury made the slightest suggestion that the Government would favour such a scheme.

The right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) made a valuable point, but for some reason it was overlooked by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook when he tried to pull together all the reasons for having a Select Committee. The right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South said that the proposal would provide an element of continuity, which the right hon. Gentleman advised us was much needed, from one Government to another. He said that a decisive reason in his mind for supporting a Select Committee was that element of continuity.

In the circumstances, it is amazing that the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook did not advance that argument. It is a convincing argument not for a Select Committee, but for improving the management of the security services. I am satisfied that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary have, as a result of some of the events of the past few years, taken decisive steps to ensure that they are not placed in precisely the same position as the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South said he was in from time to time.

The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook told us of his support for the judiciary, which is no more and no less than one would have expected from him. However, he then criticised the charge that was made to the jury by Mr. Justice McCowan in the Ponting case, and expressed his fear that the Government would appoint only docile judges to be the person behind the Home Secretary of the day. Mr. Justice McCowan made that charge after full legal argument. It has not been challenged in the courts and there is not the slightest doubt that it remains until it is overruled either by Parliament, in the authority of legislation, or by the appeal courts, in an accurate statement of what the law of the country is in this matter. There is no escaping that.

However, we have experience of judicial review of the security services because the Security Commission is overseen by a judge. I pay tribute to the work by Lord Diplock, Lord Bridge, the present judicial figure, Lord Justice Lloyd and Lord Justice Griffiths. Governments of all kinds have done well in their choice of senior judicial figures to carry out this onerous and responsible work. It does no credit to the House that we should seek, in a backhanded way, to suggest that the Government appoint only docile judges when there is no evidential basis for that allegation.

There has been criticism—by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook and by the hon. Member for Walton—of the suggestion that Privy Councillors should play a pre-eminent role. I concur with what they said. One of the trends in the development of our parliamentary institution is away from over-reliance upon senior and often rather remote figures from the past who happen to have been made Privy Councillors at some time, which gives them a special ability to judge these matters. I hope that we shall not seek to establish special committees of Privy Councillors to oversee these matters.

On the basis of experience, only three Members of Parliament are qualified—my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) and the right hon. Members for Morley and Leeds, South and for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), although the latter has served neither as Prime Minister nor Home Secretary. That is a limited pool. Others have become Privy Councillors because of their experience in social security, education and other subjects, but not because of their experience in security. It would be unfortunate if we were to go down that line.

Mr. Richard Shepherd

I hope that my hon. Friend's remarks were not addressed to new clause 2, the whole purpose of which is the appointment of individuals who are seen to be independent. The way to bring them within the circle of secrecy is to make them Privy Councillors subsequently. They do not have to be Privy Councillors to start with. That is the route that the Canadians have followed. Therefore, the point about them being burnt out cases or old politicians need not necessarily apply.

Mr. Powell

I appreciate my hon. Friend's point, which is that the oversight need not necessarily be parliamentary oversight. On the Canadian basis, it can be independent from Parliament. In an argument as to whether the scrutiny should come from inside or outside Parliament, I have a marginal preference for the former. On the other hand, I do not regard that as a decided argument for setting up a Select Committee. We are back to the argument of those who are within the bounds of secrecy and can be told everything, but can reveal nothing, and those who are outside, who can be told nothing, or very little, and whose usefulness is therefore limited. For that reason, it has been widely canvassed, although I am not persuaded, that the Opposition have taken on board the weighty arguments that were advanced on Second Reading.

I hope that the House will decisively reject the approach of both sets of amendments.

5.45 pm
Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)

The aim of the Bill is to put MI5 on a statutory basis and the time has come to do that. Indeed, perhaps it is a little late. Therefore, I support the Bill.

However, in passing the Bill, Parliament will be accepting that the Home Secretary will have to ratify, from time to time, action by MI5 that would normally be illegal. He will have to agree to acts taken in the national interest that will perhaps involve burglary, entering the premises of a citizen or somebody living in the country, and perhaps other practices that are, in normal circumstances, outside the law. Therefore, it seems both reasonable and rational that a democratic Parliament should consider to how much scrutiny these actions should be subjected by this or any future Home Secretary.

The central point is that, in a democracy, Parliament is charged with the scrutiny of the Executive. In this case, Parliament is charged with the scrutiny of the Home Secretary. Surely Parliament must satisfy itself about those democratic controls. The Security Service is unique, because the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister, who also bears responsibility for MI5, have made it clear, as have their predecessors over many decades, that they will not answer questions on the Floor of the House about matters relating to MI5. That is right. We cannot subject the Security Service to the detailed scrutiny to which we subject all other actions in all other departments of the Executive.

A broad range of opinion in the House believes that it is reasonable to take scrutiny of the Security Service off the Floor of the House. However, over the years, because a substantial number of parliamentarians have been dissatisfied about the control and scrutiny of the Executive, they have more often sought to discuss these matters on the Floor of the House. As a result, there has been increasing public speculation about MI5 in newspapers, on the radio and on television. Some of that has been detrimental to the conduct of the Security Service.

A growing body of people believe that if one could satisfy Parliament, we would find it easier to revert to the previous practice of not having this form of discussion and would accept a greater control of discussions in the media about MI5's activities. None of the amendments and new clauses is perfect, although I do not complain about that, as these issues would normally be dealt with by discussions between the Government and the Opposition parties. Of them all, I find myself much more in agreement with new clause 5 and its consequent amendments in the name of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). That group focuses on Parliament. It is probably unwise to focus only on the House of Commons. The other place also has a contribution to make.

It would not worry me unduly if the Government of the day decided that they would satisfy Parliament not within the sphere of a Select Committee or a parliamentary commission, but through the mechanism assembled for the Franks committee. I would put up with that. However, the mechanism must satisfy Parliament.

There is one absolute criterion. The committee must include a number of hon. Members because the House of Commons is the pre-eminent body and must be satisfied. I could live with it if it included some Lords or some external members—perhaps it would be chaired in the early days by an independent person such as a member of the judiciary—but the crucial test is whether it will satisfy Parliament. Would Parliament then be prepared to allow the matter to be conducted with a considerable measure of necessary secrecy?

The Government must readdress the problem. I shall support the Bill without there being parliamentary scrutiny, although that is a major omission. This would be an appropriate point at which to introduce such scrutiny, but, as we well know, it is not just a question of the security services; the wider gamut of Government should also be subjected to scrutiny. The matter could be dealt with much better by a resolution from the House, prepared with as much all-party agreement as possible, instead of the absurd situation in which we may be in different Lobbies although agreeing on the basics.

I hope that the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) will not press his amendment to a vote. I would support it, but I do not like having to vote on two amendments with both of which I am in broad agreement. It would be far better just to concentrate on the amendment of the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook and give an indication to the Government that we want some form of parliamentary scrutiny.

Let me deal with the question of Privy Councillors. Again, I prefer the amendment of the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook which does not refer to Privy Councillors. The need for Privy Councillors is a technical point. It is referred to specifically in Canada for the same reason as in this country. Most democratic Parliaments, certainly this one, have objected to their Members being positively vetted. We can choose. We either have positive vetting of Members of Parliament, in which case we do not need the device of the Privy Council, or we retain the Privy Council. We need co-operation with the FBI and any other friendly Governments. It has been agreed with the Americans over many decades that they accept people who are members of the Privy Council as having been, in effect, positively vetted. That was the compromise achieved when we had the problem of dealing with security information between the United States and ourselves and there was a refusal of positive vetting for Members of Parliament. No doubt the Canadian Government have much the same understanding. That is the only reason; there is no mystery about it.

I agree that we cannot have only old lags, people such as me, who have been in Government. There must be an injection of new blood if Parliament is to feel confident. The people concerned must have the confidence of the Leader of the Opposition. From time to time, it is likely that the Leader of the Opposition would want to nominate someone who had not been in Government and could not, therefore, be a Privy Councillor. Provided that the Prime Minister of the day was satisfied with the person nominated, he or she would be made a Privy Councillor, as was recommended by the Franks committee.

I believe that I am right in saying that a former civil servant, who is now a distinguished master of Oxford college, Sir Patrick Nairne, was not a Privy Councillor. He was made a Privy Councillor for the purposes of the Franks inquiry. He had to be made a Privy Councillor because he would see information from intelligence sources which might well have come from other countries. There was a particularly delicate point relating to the Franks inquiry. It inquired into actions and papers that had gone to previous Government. That was one of the sensitivities of the inquiry and explains why a unique arrangement was produced.

The fundamental issue is secrecy. The Home Secretary has always used the formula of whether a person can be taken behind the wall of secrecy. He would, therefore, be unable to divulge to the House all the information that is available to him. That is the purpose of the provision. The House of Commons is effectively saying that, as a body of 650 Members, we cannot go behind the wall of secrecy. We understand that. We shall not even be allowed to question the Home Secretary on the Floor of the House. All we are asking is that some of our trusted Members may, on a non-party basis, go behind the wall of secrecy and, thereby, constitute a form of scrutiny, not of control or of day-to-day involvement.

Ministers who have held responsibility in this area would find it beneficial to know that they could be scrutinised and questioned by their fellow parliamentarians on these matters and they would not fear that. Decisions about control in such areas have been made personally by Home Secretaries for many years. Such decisions are not even delegated to junior Ministers. There is a parallel with the Civil Service, but Ministers would welcome the opportunity of going to a wider body for discussion about the general principles. Scrutiny of the expenditure vote associated with MI5 could also be included in this.

Mr. Whitney

On the question of acceptance by the House of the oversight of a scrutiny committee, will the right hon. Gentleman consider what happened to the Public Accounts Committee and its Chairman, who is a distinguished Privy Councillor from the Opposition, when he was taken behind the scenes of the Zircon affair? His judgment was not accepted by the members of his Committee and was, therefore, a fortiori, unlikely to be accepted by the whole House. Was not that a demonstration of the problem that the right hon. Gentleman is seeking to sweep aside?

Dr. Owen

Surely the Chairman of the PAC is vested by the House with responsibility for financial, not security, matters. In that case, he was asked to go into an area which was not his responsibility. If we vested responsibility for security matters in certain people, we should have to accept that they would not be able to tell us about their investigations. There is nothing new about that. It happens in most democratic Parliaments. The House of Representatives and the Senate are thought of as pure bodies, but there are Whips there, too. As the seniority rule has been abandoned, there is a great deal of wheeling and dealing among Members there.

This is a solvable problem if the Government of the day and the Opposition parties want to solve it. We are all arguing on the same side. We want to increase national security. We want the Security Service to function effectively. We want MI5 to be respected and trusted. All those things will come about when the House is able to feel once again sufficiently confident about the running of MI5 to trust the Home Secretary and others so that they do not have to reveal information in public about that service. That will come eventually. It has been held up largely by the Prime Minister's obduracy. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House believe that the day is coming when some form of independent parliamentary scrutiny of the security services will come about. I look forward to that day. It will enrich this House when it comes, and I hope that it will be sooner rather than later.

6 pm

Mr. Allason

There appears to be a great gap between the accountability of the Home Secretary and the lack of any role for a supervising committee of the House or one outside it and it seems that three options are available to us. One is a Select Committee under new clause 5. The second is a broader group of Privy Councillors under new clause 2. The third is to take the Government's line and to say that no supervision or accountability is needed because we already have accountability in the form of the Home Secretary.

The reason why we are discussing the issue, and part of the reason why the Government have produced the Bill, is that Home Secretaries have historically been unable to exercise the necessary control. I do not want to delve back into history, but I believe that the current Home Secretary and his predecessor are to be congratulated. As far as I am aware, they are the first two Home Secretaries who have taken an interest in the Security Service. Until fairly recent times the attitude of the Home Secretary has been, "I do not wish to know about these things." When Security Service officers have had to conduct some clandestine entry they have obtained permission, but have done so through the Permanent Under-Secretary. I know that on at least one occasion the Home Secretary was consulted, but that was on the basis that he could more or less deny that he knew what was going to happen if anything went wrong.

Here we have the problem. Either we have some form of accountability or we do not. I may be completely wrong in my opinion of why the Government have introduced the Bill and I may be misjudging them. They may have other motives and reasons for bringing it forward. It has been suggested that the Government have been obliged to introduce it because of an impending hearing before the European Court. Another explanation is the rather distressing disclosure or admission last year that officers of the Security Service who conducted clandestine operations were not authorised to do so, having been told from 1909 that they were, and did not have the authority of the royal prerogative to break the law. We know now that officers are equal under the law, and perhaps that is as it should be. Perhaps that is the Government's motive in bringing forward the Bill.

I have never been an advocate of any sort of parliamentary oversight. That is partly because I have been persuaded by members of the agencies that that oversight does not work. In America, there was great anxiety in the intelligence community in the immediate post-Watergate era that politicians would interfere and that the system would go badly wrong. It was felt that officers would be inhibited from conducting operations. It seems that that has not happened.

We have had also the examples of Australia and Canada. The experience in those two countries has been broadly beneficial. Last year, I had long discussions with members of the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service, CSIS, and I have been in touch with the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation, ASIO. Their experiences have been good ones, although they had been extremely worried.

One wonders why the Home Secretary appears to be so determined not to share the burdens of his office. It has been said several times that he has many responsibilities that cover a range of issues. It has been questioned whether he would sleep easier in his bed at night in the knowledge that there was a group with which he could share the burden of his responsibilities. He has spoken about the wall of secrecy, and that is a valid argument, but the time has come when we must bring a trusted group behind the wall of secrecy.

As I said, I have never been an advocate of oversight or supervision, but I agreed with my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) when he said we are the last to be left without any sort of supervision mechanism, and that sooner or later we shall have one. I am persuaded by my hon. Friend. A few years ago I found myself in trouble for advocating the appointment of an individual who I chose to describe as a non-executive director of the Security Service. I envisaged that someone in that position would sit in on the decisions of the Security Service but would be independent and would act as a safety valve. I found myself in considerable trouble when I advocated that in 1981.

Last year I was in touch with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. Although he was sympathetic and always courteous, he gave the view that what I advocated was not on. I find to my astonishment that the appointment of a non-executive director, inspector general or commissioner, call him what you will, has suddenly become Government policy. It seems that a few Conservative Members, including myself, are slightly ahead of their time in advocating some form of oversight. I was not convinced until recently that oversight was necessary, but I was persuaded that it was by the annual report of the CSIS. It is a remarkable document and I hope that it will become the basis of the document that the commissioner or commissioners will have to supply to the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister. I hope also that a part of the document—whatever can be published subject to security provisions—will be supplied to the rest of the public.

We are left with options. We can accept the Home Secretary's word that things are safe in his hands and that, although there may have been one or two awkward problems in the past, there is accountability through him. Alternatively, we can opt for one of the two new clauses, or both of them.

Mr. Aitken

Given my hon. Friend's great knowledge of the security world, is he able to confirm something which I believe to be true? Does my hon. Friend know that three former directors of the Security Service have in various ways supported a form of oversight for our security services? If he feels that that is true or likely to be true, does it not add to the growing chorus of those who say that it is inevitable that oversight will be introduced sooner or later, even if the Government have to be kicked good and hard to get them to accept that?

Mr. Allason

To my knowledge, two former directors general of the Security Service have said that they would not object to a degree of oversight, but in the immortal words of the late Lord Astor, "Well, they would, wouldn't they?" They are not likely to say to a parliamentarian that they distrust politicians, disapprove of parliamentary Committees or do not like the idea of a Select Committee.

It is my experience that members of the intelligence community in the United Kingdom are pretty well opposed to any form of oversight. The senior management was brought kicking and screaming to the appointment of Sir Philip Woodfield. That concession was granted after much difficult discussion. It was finally agreed that some form of safety valve was needed internally so that individuals could let off steam without having to go public, as had happened previously.

My opposition to oversight in the past has been the practicalities of it. Is it likely that a committee would be consulted if MI5 decided that it wanted, for example, to mount a coup in Surinam? I very much doubt whether that would happen and it would be very difficult to enforce. Would such a committee prevent comic-book operations? Again, I very much doubt it.

We have heard glowing tributes to the Security Commission. However, why was the Security Commission created in the first place? It was because a series of monumental blunders had occurred. Several things went very badly wrong and a series of committees were created. Eventually it was decided that there should be a permanent standing Security Commission. However, that organisation is treated with derision within the Security Service. The Security Commission has been described to me as "a stable door operation."

On occasions the Security Commission has been completely misled. Should any of my colleagues say that that is disgraceful and that they take the Security Commission quite seriously, can they tell me why the Government have consistently ignored its recommendations? In particular, it ignored the introduction of polygraph testing for certain types of access to top secret atomic information. That recommendation was made in the wake of the Geoffrey Prime affair. The Government have done nothing about that recommendation. Recently the Government sneaked past an announcement, which hardly anyone noticed, that polygraph testing in the Security Service had in some way failed and that there was no chance of the Security Commission's recommendation being introduced.

There are numerous other historical examples of the Security Commission being deliberately misled. Perhaps the most recent example was over the Michael Bettaney case. I am sorry to labour my point, but the Secretary of State cannot tell us that everything is safe in his hands. Although we trust him, believe him and know that he has taken an interest in these matters and visited MI5 headquarters—and that was a great step forward and good for morale—in the past accountability simply has not worked.

It is no good saying that we have marvellous accountability when any hon. Member who gets to his feet and tries to ask a question or even tries to write to the Secretary of State on this issue is told that it is out of order for any such questions to be tabled or discussed. I do not call that accountability.

There is a tremendous gap and I am a very late convert to the introduction of some kind of oversight or scrutiny. I know that in due course we will hear assurances from my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. However, I hope that he will have taken the trouble to consider how his predecessors have fared. I should be delighted to give my right hon. Friend chapter and verse, should he wish it. about cases in which his predecessors were actively misled. Appointing a docile or other member of the judiciary to consider the matter or to look over my right hon. Friend's shoulder has not worked. The experience of Lord Denning's case springs to mind in that respect.

I urge the House to consider seriously voting for new clause 2 or new clause 5, or both of them. Although there may be some opposition within the intelligence community to begin with, I recommend hon. Members to examine the Canadian and Australian experiences. I should be delighted to contribute my copy of the annual report of the Canadian security and intelligence review committee to the Library so that hon. Members may be persuaded of my case.

6.15 pm
Mr. Buchan

We should not consider this Bill in isolation. It is part of a series of measures dealing with secrecy and intelligence. The Bill's provisions run across all the anxiety that has been expressed about governmental secrecy over the past few years. The "Spycatcher" revelations aroused expectations. A great deal of money was wasted over two years waiting for the "Spycatcher" judgment. The revelations did not shatter Western democracy. The rest of the world knew what had happened, but we went through a charade.

As we witnessed the "Spycatcher" revelations, there was an expectation that the Home Secretary might listen to what the Law Lords said about the judgment. He has ignored their advice in the new Official Secrets Bill. The picture of MI5 bungling, burglaring and bugging in London, whether true or not, hardly brought credit to the Security Service or to this country. We expected some action to be taken.

The action that has been taken is to make the activities of the Security Service legal, but to leave its control in the hands of the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister, both of whom are already pledged to secrecy. While there was an expectation that MI5 would be made more accountable, we hoped that it would be made more democratically accountable. We did not expect its behaviour simply to be sanctified in law and leave the same apparatus of secrecy in existence.

We must also bear in mind the fact that the purpose of secrecy is presumably to defend the secrecy of the secret service. That has not been very successful, has it? What about Burgess, Philby and Maclean? It has not been such a successful apparatus that it should be kept so secret. It has not worked even from a practical, sensible, material point of view.

The Bill is faulty on several counts. It fails to deal with the security weaknesses in the intelligence services over the past couple of decades. The Bill is also lacking in its response to the question of making the behaviour of MI5 accountable. "Spycatcher" made serious statements. It was not a very important book. Its importance is that it made us aware of such an extent of obsession in the Government that they were prepared to humiliate their most senior civil servant over the years. That obsession probably raised our consciousness and anxiety about these issues.

"Spycatcher" also made certain suggestions and allegations about the behaviour of MI5 in relation to the Governments of the day and specifically in relation to the Government of Harold Wilson. While the book was not very important, it alerted people to certain things and made an accusation which had to be dealt with. We still have had no inquiry into the astonishing accusation that sections of MI5 believed that part of their job was to subvert Governments.

We must also consider the apparent belief, particularly of the Prime Minister and perhaps of the Home Secretary, that they accept the judgment in the Ponting case—and I do not mean the jury's judgment, but the judge's judgment—that the interests of the state and of the Government of the day were synonymous. Those factors are not incorporated in the series of discussions in relation to the Official Secrets Bill and this Bill today. The Ministers themselves were subject to pressure, which is why the Bill was introduced—but we cannot see it as anything other than a whitewashing operation.

I sympathise with my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), partly because we have the same political background and experience. I had been only a short time in the House when I was made a Minister in charge of Scottish home affairs, and therefore in charge of Scotland's police. A few years later, I took a short holiday in Skye, where a friend by the name of Brian Wilson, who is now the Member of Parliament for Cunninghame, North, was editing a paper to which I had given some help in the past. One morning, on our way to a village shop, my hon. Friend told me, "An interesting chap runs the shop. He was a police inspector in Glasgow. I believe that he knows you. His name is Robertson, and he was involved in special branch."

When we entered the shop, a slow smile spread across the face of the man behind the counter, and he said to my hon. Friend, "You are in bad company." I laughed, and replied, "I suppose you knew me before, when I was in charge of the police for two or three years." He answered, "No, I knew you a long time before that." He knew that I had been a member of the Communist party. I was a very innocent member of that party, in the sense of any secret activities. My main job was to educate people in Socialist philosophies. I spent most my time doing that, and occasionally whitewashing the streets with good slogans.

In the context of a former Prime Minister, we know that the concept of the security services—of special branch and of MI5—extends a great deal further than issues of state secrecy, in which they have not been very successful. Therefore, we must examine also how the Security Service will be controlled under its new legislation. We note that, under clause 1(2), a function of the service will be to protect against actions intended to overthrow or undermine parliamentary democracy by political, industrial or violent means. That emanates from a Prime Minister who describes the miners as the enemy within. So we have reason for not permitting the legalisation of Secret Service activities to be left in the hands of a Home Secretary or Prime Minister—particularly the present Prime Minister.

Mr. Winnick

My hon. Friend refers to targeting when he was in the Communist party. Whatever may have been the rights or wrongs at that time, when the British Communist party's first loyalty was to the Soviet Union and not to Britain—it has changed somewhat in the last few years—it is more disturbing that at present, as Cathy Massiter revealed, people involved in mainstream organisations also are being targeted. The only reason why my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman) was targeted was that she held down the job of legal officer of the National Council for Civil Liberties. No one claimed she was trying to overthrow parliamentary democracy.

Mr. Buchan

Part of the problem occurs the moment one tries defining the role of the Security Service in protecting the state or even parliamentary democracy, because we may wish to change the nature of parliamenary democracy.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) has no great love for the House of Lords, and he made a number of strange allies in preventing the Lords from having greater powers. As a junior Minister, sometimes I had to reply to my right hon. Friend and to prove, in my inept way, why he might be wrong. It was not a pleasant task, because he was absolutely right. What will happen if we want to change the present parliamentary democracy but leave matters to a democratically uncontrolled body that believes such change is to overthrow or undermine parliamentary democracy by political…means"?

Mr. Tony Banks

My hon. Friend goes to the centre of the conflict that could arise. There is the assumption in the amendments that there is a consensus within and across the House about what constitutes the national interest. What exactly is meant by loyalty to a particular system? The politics divide us. The Opposition are concerned that the Government so often view national interests as being the interests of the Government, and therefore of the Tory party.

Mr. Buchan

I am not sure whether my hon. Friend was in the Chamber when I started my speech, but almost the first point I made was that the Government accept the proposition put by the judge to the jury in the Ponting case that the interests of the state are the interests of the Government of the day. The good, common-sense jury said, "We are not having that." The judge clearly directed the jury to return a guilty verdict, but they would have none of it. The Government have not even taken on board the judgment of those 12 good men and true—people speaking on behalf of Britain—that it is ridiculous and dangerous to draw the analogy made by the judge in that case, and of a kind so often made by judges. One should never look for too much wisdom below a wig.

We are dealing with profound matters requiring a form of democratic accountability. We cannot leave them only to a Home Secretary and to a Prime Minister, to whom he will report. Nor can those matters be dealt with by a commissioner charged with dealing with problems as they arise. The parallel Official Secrets Bill automatically makes illegal action such as that of which Ponting was found to be innocent. Such a person will no longer be saved by normal British justice, with 12 good men and true saying, "Your judgment is nonsense, m'lud." The Government are making it inevitable that someone in a Ponting situation will automatically be found guilty. That is the apparatus of secrecy that is developing.

We must ask ourselves what is so good about the present system of secrecy, which has not worked and has produced more leaks than ever. Enormous damage has been done to the nation by accepting the policies of successive Governments over the past 25 years. If there is to be a system of control, it must be realised that one man sitting on the Treasury Bench, any more than one judge, is no more capable of reaching the right solutions than any other individual. Instead, the system must be brought under the control of people outside the Executive, who can examine, scrutinise and judge it. That more and more powers are being given to the Executive by Bills of this kind is a matter of serious concern.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) welcomes the Bill on the ground that at least it legalises certain security activities. However, there will be greater dangers if we cannot bring those activities under democratic control, especially given not just the incidence of bugging and burglary but the development of new techniques and technologies for the acquisition of information and knowledge. My hon. Friend the Member for Walton said that he knew he was being bugged because at 8.30 every night his telephone rang once. I believe that even MI5 are efficient enough to vary the time, but I have no doubt that he was bugged, with MI5 sharing the Government's attitude in the past. Such abuses can be overcome only by bringing the service's activities under democratic control. It is a question of making MI5's activities not simply legal, but accountable.

As to the argument about the two kinds of committee, I hope that when Conservative Members enter the Lobby tonight they will acknowledge the point made by many of their hon. Friends—that the Security Service must be subject to a form of responsible scrutiny. I do not understand why those who are so supportive of the American system in other areas are not openly equally supportive of America's system of openness on security matters.

It is not just a question of such matters being brought into Senate and Congressional activity, but of the openness with which that is done. Within months of Colonel North's being accused of funding the Contras, he was not only in front of a Congressional committee—not only in front of five good men and true, whether privy councillors or not; he was in front of the television cameras and the American nation, and, although he exploited his position, the people were able to make a judgment. It is a question not merely of the immediate structure but of the apparatus of democracy beyond that, and we do not have a very good democracy here. We are asked to support parliamentary democracy, but we have one of the weakest democracies in the West, and it is becoming even weaker and more dangerous.

6.30 pm

The present Government and Prime Minister have discovered that the sovereignty of Parliament for which many of us have argued for so long as against formal structures—"Leave it to Parliament"—can swiftly become the sovereignty of the Executive.

Mr. Tony Banks

My hon. Friend's points confirm my belief that he is one of the wisest Members of the House. Although I am a stern critic of United States foreign policy, particularly in respect of central America, I am also a great admirer of the openness of a political system that allows someone like Oliver North to come before the Senate. If that happened in this country, I doubt whether we would even hear about it, and if we heard about it there would be nothing that we could do about it.

Mr. Buchan

I doubt very much whether either Irangate or Watergate would have been divulged in this country, but I am equally sure that if they had been we would not have been able to draw our own conclusions and take the necessary measures. The United States may be a reactionary country in many ways, but it is immensely open compared with ours. The fact that people can make wrong judgments is not a reason for preventing the opportunity to make them. That is the only place where safety lies, and it is safety that we are talking about—not just the safety of the nation's intelligence and security, but that of democracy.

Looking at the past 10 years, we see openness, discussion, scrutiny, understanding and awareness being limited day after day by legal action and other intervention. Let us consider what happened following the "Death on the Rock" incident. Not only did the Government pull in one of our leading Sunday papers, God help us—with Andrew Neil taking time off from trying to damage the schools in my constituency, because he went to one of them, to try to rubbish broadcasts. They also formed a subcommittee to rubbish the evidence brought forward in the programme about the Gibraltar incident.

The weakness of the popular media is exposed when they are controlled by three people. Terror has been inspired in broadcasters by the intervention of the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) over Libya, and the general pressure being brought by Government. Self-censorship is creeping in, and the media are becoming increasingly unable to perform their role. The British democratic system cannot develop means of scrutiny over the Executive. On top of that, we have an Executive willing to exploit the position—to use friendship and its power over the media—not only to prevent things from being known but to support what is wrong, evil and undemocratic.

Once upon a time we had an independent voice on the Right in Lord Beaverbrook and the Daily Express, and an independent and iconoclastic voice on the Left in the Daily Mirror. Now we have toadies in the Executive. We have a broadcasting system that is frightened into removing controversy, and we are about to sell it out to commercial interests which have already subverted our popular press.

We cannot hand over legality to the security services—with all the authority that that gives—and leave control, understanding and knowledge solely in the hands of the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister. Some method must be found for scrutiny to take place.

It has been suggested that a committee of Privy Councillors would go some way towards overcoming the worries of this curiously timid Cabinet, but a much more intelligent suggestion is a committee representative of the House. We are being insulted when we are told that such matters cannot be left to hon. Members. What is the difference between us and the people and politicians of America? Why is it that they can do what we cannot? That is insulting to both the British people and the House of Commons.

Mr. Maclennan

One point has not been made as effectively as it might have been by advocates of the committee of Privy Councillors. Privy Councillors are perhaps less subject than other Members of Parliament to promises of preferment and to the appeal of patronage. They are capable of independence. As the hon. Gentleman knows, some hon. Members are much less independent of the party machine.

Mr. Buchan

I find that even more insulting. It has been left to the "democratic" party to suggest that Members of Parliament are suborned by bribery and corruption, or the thought of it. What nonsense. If the hon. Gentleman wants to make a comparison, there is as much pork barrelling on Capitol Hill in Washington as there is here. I find that suggestion grossly insulting, and I am sorry that it came from the hon. Gentleman. I wish—for his sake, not mine—that I had not given way.

It is nonsense to suggest that Members of Parliament cannot perform their function of scrutiny. Even if they did so inefficiently, they could not do worse than this Government and successive Governments have done over the years.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

This place might not be very efficient in its scrutiny, but is it not important to have public accountability in respect of a service so drastically inefficient that it thought that Harold Wilson would be a danger in 1974? If the service contains people like that, it must have some degree of accountability, because we do not know what they are doing.

Mr. Buchan

I am not sure into what category we two fall, but I take the point.

As most people know, I resigned immediately after the October 1974 election. I had, as I thought, prepared the Government's policy on agriculture in the Common Market. I spent a long time preparing the briefing and the analysis. But—as Minister of State, not Secretary of State—I could not see the relevant papers. I spent some days trying to find out why not. I then received a telephone call from an Under-Secretary in another Department asking whether I knew what was happening about the Common Market policy. I said, "No. I wrote it, and I wish I knew what was happening to it." For some weeks I tried to find out. Then I said, "May I see the Cabinet papers?"

All hell broke loose. The Minister of State wanted to see the Cabinet minutes. The Permanent Secretary was consulted; he thought not. I pressed the matter, and eventually they agreed to let me see the minutes. The Cabinet minutes are pretty boring. They are not very full: they are almost like the kind of open, explicit material we get from this lot publicly. They do not say much. But they were ceremoniously carried down by a junior civil servant, a very attractive young lady. She brought the Cabinet box to my room, opened it with a key and stood there while I read the papers. There was I, a Minister of State aged 50, having to sit and read the minutes while a young lass who had already seen them waited beside me, presumably in case I whipped some of them off to the photocopying machine. That is the background of the nonsensical secrecy that developed. It was not unrelated to my political past, as my hon. Friend the Member for Walton knows.

Long before I resigned I wrote a minute signifying my resignation. I was a senior Minister and if I had stayed instead of resigning two days after the 1974 general election—I could not resign before because I did not want to make a political stramash and the Labour party had to beat the Conservatives as well as some of its own members—I would have become a Privy Councillor. As such, I would have been fit, apparently, to scrutinise the intelligence people, but I cannot scrutinise them now because I resigned before I became a Privy Councillor. I was three weeks away from being safe, secure, intelligent, rational, unbribable and incorruptible.

Mr. Tony Banks

My hon. Friend would have been called first in debates.

Mr. Buchan

Yes. I would also have been called more often in debates. What nonsense that is.

I hope that when the Home Secretary replies he will give intelligent answers. More importantly, I hope that he will take an intelligent and independent line and not be afraid of his mistress.

Mr. Hind

The hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) seems to epitomise what in the past—certainly during my time in the House—has appeared to be the Labour party's paranoia about everything secret. One point that I wish to make to the hon. Member for Paisley, South—whose failure to understand is obvious—and other Opposition Members is that the Bill should not be taken in isolation. The Security Service Bill must be put side by side with the Official Secrets Bill. The hon. Gentleman spoke about his experiences and ignored the rest of the legislation that the House will consider. He considered the Bill in isolation. The Government's proposals must be taken as a total package, a major reform and step forward, and the past must be excluded.

Mr. Buchan

The burden of my speech was that the Bill must not be taken in isolation. I said that the Bill should be taken together with the general conduct of the Cabinet, and, specifically, alongside the Official Secrets Bill.

Mr. Hind

Most of the hon. Gentleman's arguments were pitched in such a way that the Official Secrets Bill and the major reform that it will introduce—taking out of secrecy so many Government papers and activities and introducing more open government generally—were ignored.

The hon. Member for Paisley, South referred to the cases of Cathy Massiter and Clive Ponting. If those cases occurred under the new legislation that will, I hope, pass through the House, an entirely different approach would be taken. The tests that would be applied to guilt or innocence would be enirely different and, accordingly, we would be dealing with entirely different circumstances. Let us forget about the past and the paranoia.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) referred to the time when he worked in a special branch office in Liverpool. That was probably 20 or 30 years ago. Again, that is in the past. We should forget about the past and look forward to the major reform with which we are dealing.

Mr. Heffer

The hon. Member should be aware of the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan), myself and others, when we were in government, argued that we should change the Official Secrets Act and that we should introduce something on the lines of what we are arguing for today. It is not a question of forgetting the past. We are arguing today what we argued then. The Government have only just caught up with what we were arguing then. They have not gone as far as we were suggesting.

Mr. Hind

When the Labour party was in government, it could not agree to bring forward the major reform for which the hon. Gentleman argues. It took this Government to sort it out, and to bring forward the radical proposition that we are able to debate today. Although the hon. Gentleman may have been advocating it, he was involved in a dialogue with the deaf. Many Opposition Members were obviously not listening to what he had to say.

It has taken this Government to come forward with a proposition—this Bill and the Official Secrets Bill—that has been given the overwhelming support of my Conservative colleagues. That must be borne in mind.

We should forget the paranoia that lies behind the novel, "A Very British Coup" written by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin). Throughout the debate we have heard the suggestion that there is something going on behind the scenes which will undermine the system.

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

6.45 pm
Mr. Hind

I have already given way several times. Please allow me to make progress. I shall give way shortly.

I reject the amendment for the simple reason that the total package being presented to the House, including the Bill, is sufficiently radical and open in its approach and there is no need to go further than is proposed by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

For the first time, we will have a statutory basis for the secret service. The Home Secretary, in order to carry out a secret operational matter, has to apply for a warrant. Standing behind him there is a commissioner—a High Court Judge—who has the power to review his actions and, if necessary, to write a report examining his actions which can be put before the House. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) forgets that in Britain judges have a fundamental role. He said that the protection of the liberties of the people is too important to be left to judges. What arrogant nonsense. One has only to look at the court cases brought against the Government by private individuals which the Government have lost to see that the judges are independent of the Executive. They are the protectors of the ordinary man in the street, and they enforce the rights of the individual against the Executive. They are there to protect those rights and the commissioner, whose role will be fundamental, will be important in enforcing those rights.

Mr. Mullin

The hon. Gentleman referred to my novel "A Very British Coup". The Home Secretary and I do not have much in common, but we are both the authors of novels which suppose that an elected Government is destabilised by a Right-wing plot of some sort.

Mr. Hurd

In my novel the plot fails.

Mr. Mullin

The Home Secretary's book is a good read, and at one point the king is found in a box under the bed. The right hon. Gentleman's book is called "Send Him Victorious" and I commend it to the House.

Mr. Hind

The point made by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South was destroyed by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. As he said, in his book the Right-wing plot fails. In "A Very British Coup" the plot succeeds.

Mr. Tony Banks


Mr. Hind

We must look at what is contained in the Bill. The tribunal is another major step forward in the preservation of the rights of individuals. The hon. Member for Walton complained earlier about the investigation into his activities, and the hon. Member for Paisley, South complained that special branch knew about him. Under the new system, both hon. Gentlemen would be able to go to the tribunal and make a complaint, which would then be investigated. The hon. Member for Paisley, South would be able to tell the tribunal that he was an innocent member of the Communist party—which presupposes the existence of guilty members of the Communist party and shows the need for the Security Service.

The point is that there will be a right of investigation. Never before has there been the opportunity to make representations or for those representations to be examined. That is a major step forward. The commissioner will be able to publish a report and, with the exception of certain parts that may have to be removed because it is not in the public interest for them to be published, it will be considered in the House.

Mr. Allason


Mr. Hind

In addition, the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister are answerable in the House for the actions of the Security Service. Some hon. Members do not consider that to be important, but it is an important safeguard for the House. I argue against extending that safeguard any further.

What is the most important function of the secret service? It is to protect the national interest. We must not do anything to weaken our defences by allowing the exposure of operational secrets, which would increase the risk from terrorism and other threats. The more people who learn about secrets, the less likely they are to remain secrets.

Mr. Tony Banks

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hind

That is the problem that we face in the House. We talk about a wall of secrecy, but that wall is there to protect the interests of the public and the state. What would happen if a committee was introduced, as the amendments propose?

Mr. Allason

My hon. Friend has made an important point about the role of the report that will be published by the commissioner. I draw his attention to amendment No. 12. We hope that the report will be extremely important, but there is nothing in the Bill that gives the parameters of the topics that the report will cover. As the Bill is drafted, the commissioner can say more or less anything he wants in the report. It would be better to describe the topics that can be examined.

My hon. Friend is anxious about compromising security, but I point out to him that the Bill allows for parts of the report that might compromise security not to be published, but to be read only by the Home Secretary or the Prime Minister. Does my hon. Friend agree that the drafting of the Bill is rather vague and that it might be a good idea to specify the topics that should be examined?

The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Paul Dean)

Order. I hope that, in responding to that intervention, the hon. Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind) will not anticipate our later debate on amendment No. 12.

Mr. Hind

I shall observe your ruling, Sir Paul. I shall merely say to my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) that he has made his point and will, no doubt, raise it again when amendment No. 12 is debated.

The important problem that is created by new clause 5 is that it breaches the wall of secrecy considerably. There are more than sufficient safeguards for the public built into the Bill without new clause 5. Let us consider carefully what is proposed in new clause 5. We must ask ourselves whether we, as hon. Members, can dissociate ourselves from party interest in dealing with matters of secrecy. I do not believe that party interest can be excluded from our deliberations on this matter. It would be nice to follow the views of the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) and to believe that there could be an objective, non-partisan view about matters of secrecy, but, bearing in mind the Labour party's paranoia about matters of secrecy, I do not believe that we could have objective scrutiny.

Mr. Tony Banks

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hind

No. I shall give way in a minute.

What concerns me most is that the review committee would be entitled to receive from the Commissioner, the Director-General and the Secretary of State and employees such information, reports and explanations as the Committee deems necessary for the performance of its duties and functions. If we consider that alongside new clause 5(6)(b), which says that the committee could where it considers that a review by the Service or the Commissioner would be inappropriate, conduct such a review itself, we see that it would, in effect, look in detail into every operational matter of the secret service. New clause 5 suggests that members of the committee could call for any document, any explanation and any investigation into the day-to-day running of the secret service. It would be able to call for witnesses and papers and, when not satisfied with the investigations of the commissioner or the director-general, it could instigate an investigation itself. I cannot agree with that because the committee would be going far deeper than would appear to be necessary.

Most important of all, the number of people who would learn about the detailed day-to-day activities of the secret services would become greater and that would put at risk many of the operations and, most important of all, the lives of many agents, such as those working under cover in Ireland. That is where problems would arise.

Mr. Tony Banks

I want to take the hon. Gentleman back to the point that he made several times about the Labour party's paranoia about secrecy. I know that he is a man of some integrity, so I hope that he will answer my question honestly. If he believed that a Conservative Government had been undermined and that attempts had been made to destabilise that Government, would he not have taken exactly the same attitude as Labour Members have and have called for some form of public inquiry? [Interruption.] I am sorry, one of my teeth has just come out.

Mr. Hind

I would share the concern of the hon. Member were it not for the fact that Lord Callaghan, who was the leader of the Labour party at the time of the allegations, came to the House and said that, as far as he was aware, there was no truth in the allegations. They were investigated and rejected. I understand that Peter Wright is casting doubt on the allegations.

To a certain extent, we have to rely on the integrity of the people in the secret service. The allegations about undermining the Government of Lord Wilson of Rievaulx were investigated by Lord Wilson when he was Prime Minister and subsequently by Lord Callaghan. It makes a very good story. The public want to read about the Security Service. It makes good novels and it makes good press, but that does not mean that the allegations are true.

7 pm

Mr. Allason

Is it not time that the whole fiction of the Wilson plot was knocked on the head once and for all? Peter Wright has admitted on television that the so-called plot consisted of himself and that there was no enormous group of fellow conspirators. A book has been published recently by David Leigh which completely debunks the myth of the Wilson plot. None of the allegations about misconduct has turned out to be true. The investigations that were conducted by the Security Service at the time were extremely relevant and appropriate.

Mr. Hind

A great deal of doubt has been cast on Mr. Wright's allegations, even by himself. Most hon. Members accept that his allegations have been discredited. It is wrong that hon. Members should frame a new clause that is based on Mr. Peter Wright's allegations.

Lastly, I want to refer to that part of new clause 5 which deals with reports that are laid before the House. An annual report on the activities of the secret service would be brought before the House, with certain parts of it—after consultation with the Prime Minister—left out. Many hon. Members believe that scrutiny would involve detailed consideration and debate of what had happened in the secret service. The major problem over scrutiny is that the secret service cannot be debated without undermining the country's security and without the exposure of information that would damage the national interest.

More than adequate supervision is provided by the Bill. It is a major reform. Therefore, I urge the House to reject the amendment.

Mr. Winnick

First, I welcome you, Mr. Hogg, to the Chair. I congratulate the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) on saying, surprisingly, that he is a convert, albeit a late one, to an oversight system. The fact that it took him some time to be converted is beside the point. Because of his detailed knowledge of the intelligence community, we welcome the fact that he recognises that oversight is necessary. Some may say cynically that he will find it difficult to get information for his books if there is a lifelong confidentiality rule for intelligence agents. Be that as it may, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman was perfectly genuine when he made that statement.

Mr. Allason

It is important that the hon. Gentleman should be aware of their Lordships' judgment on the suggestion that lifelong confidentiality is the same as lifelong silence. It is not. It is quite clear from their Lordships' judgment in the "Spycatcher" case that members of the Security Service and the intelligence service are perfectly at liberty to make disclosures, to write books and to do whatever else they want, provided that they do not disclose new material.

Mr. Winnick

I take the hon. Gentleman's point, to which I am sure we shall return in later debates.

I have long advocated parliamentary scrutiny of the Security Service. My amendment No. 38 deals with that question. If such a Select Committee were formed, its membership should consist of hon. Members who have been here since 4 o'clock or 4.30 this afternoon. They are all very much interested in security matters. [Interruption.] I should be quite happy if a dissident such as the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) were to serve on that Committee. If I were able to decide who should be its chairman, who better could I choose than my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) whose dedication to parliamentary democracy and freedom is second to none? He would be an ideal chairman for the Committee.

Whether the Home Secretary likes it or not, he ought to recognise that in recent years MI5 has become the subject of intense political controversy. No Opposition Member argues that there should not be a Security Service. Even if we were not concerned about sabotage and terrorism—particularly by the Provisional IRA—the need for a Security Service would be clear. I hope that the Home Secretary or the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten), will not argue that Opposition Members would like MI5 to be abolished. That is not so. It goes without saying that we need MI5 or a similar organisation. However, that organisation ought to be accountable.

The purpose of MI5 is to defend the integrity of parliamentary democracy. It is odd that, although MI5 is supposed to defend parliamentary democracy and our democratic way of life, we are told that the House of Commons is neither a fit nor an appropriate body to scrutinise its activities. That does not say much for parliamentary democracy or for our roles as Members.

The feeling has grown in recent years that the Security Service is not nearly as politically impartial as it needs to be. The Maxwell Fyfe directive laid down in 1952 that MI5 should be politically neutral. Successive Home Secretaries have said that it is not the role of MI5 to become politically partial. However, the accusation has been made that MI5 has a bias against the Left in this country. I am referring not to the revolutionary Left but to the broad, mainstream Left. If some hon. Members say, "Left-wing Labour Members would say that," I have to ask the Home Secretary why the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) said during the Second Reading debate on the official secrets Bill that was introduced by the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) that if some members of MI5 saw somebody reading the Daily Mirror on the tube they would have to investigate that person.

Mr. Heffer

Hear, hear. I agree with that.

Mr. Winnick

Leaving aside my hon. Friend's intervention, is it not interesting that a Conservative ex-Prime Minister believes that some MI5 officials are so out of control that they have no understanding of political impartiality? That accusation is not made only by the Opposition.

It is unlikely that the Bill would have been introduced if complaints had not been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Ms Harman) and Miss Patricia Hewitt. They are taking a complaint—it has yet to be heard—to the European Court of Human Rights. One of the reasons for the Bill is that the Government will be able to explain to the European Court the changes that have taken place since those complaints were made.

I strongly believe that if the security services had been subject to parliamentary scrutiny, they would have gone about matters somewhat differently. MI5 officials know that, in practice, they are accountable to nobody. Are we really to believe that when organisations such as the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the National Council for Civil Liberties were targeted, the Home Secretary was notified or kept aware of what was going on?

Mr. Allason

I think that I can clarify that matter. The answer is yes. At one stage, the NCCL was a recognised Communist front organisation. It was banned by the Labour party. Every time there was any application for a telephone intercept warrant, evidence for that warrant had to be supplied to the Home Secretary. The short answer is yes. Successive Home Secretaries have authorised just such warrants.

Mr. Winnick

The Home Secretary may well have authorised warrants, but that does not alter the fact that he quite likely did not probe all the reasons for them.

As I said on Second Reading, when a former editor of the CND journal Sanity resigned as a result of some internal argument, that person was asked by special branch, no doubt at the request of MI5 officials, all manner of questions about leading personalities in CND and their private lives. Was the Home Secretary notified of that?

Because MI5 is not subject to parliamentary control or scrutiny, and because there is very little ministerial control of it, it has behaved in a way that has made it the subject of intense political controversy. If it is true, as has been argued by the hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken), that successive directors general of MI5 have been in favour of some kind of oversight, perhaps they have been in favour because they want to lessen the high profile of MI5, which they cannot like. Making MI5 the subject of political controversy is not, the liking of people actively involved in the Security Service.

Mr. Heffer

The hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) said that there was a time when the NCCL was on the Labour party's proscribed list. I have been a member of the Labour party for a long time. I cannot remember a time when the NCCL was on the black list. I remember that there used to be argument, certainly before the war, about some of the activities of the NCCL. The hon. Member has got it wrong. I hope that we will not go on record as saying that the NCCL was on the Labour party's proscribed list.

Mr. Winnick

I think that I answered the point on Second Reading when the hon. Member for Torbay made the same claim. I asked why my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham had been targeted when she was the legal officer of the NCCL. I understand that there was no other reason. The hon. Member for Torbay intervened and said that the organisation was once on the proscribed list. I replied that it may or may not have been. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) may be right. I conceded that, until about 30 years ago, the NCCL had what I would call an undue Communist influence. I do not wish to deny that. Is that how the Security Service works? Does it not take account of changes over 30 years? The NCCL can in no way be described as Communist influenced now.

Since Second Reading, I have had printed in the New Statesman a letter taking to task a barrister who had written defending the present Czech Government. I protested about what he said. I am disgusted about what is happening in Czechoslovakia, especially after yesterday. It is interesting to note that two others who replied in the same issue are active members of the NCCL. We must ask why, if the NCCL is targeted, the Freedom Association is not. That is the type of partiality that we are complaining about and think undesirable.

7.15 pm

Some of the most important features of parliamentary democracy are the rights of protest, advocacy and dissent. They distinguish parliamentary democracy from dictatorship. We all know that, in a dictatorship, any form of advocacy, dissent or protest is immediately denounced as subversive. We saw an example of that yesterday when the brave people of Czechoslovakia gathered on the 20th anniversary of the death of an heroic student who committed suicide in protest at the occupation of his country by Soviet troops.

In a democracy, the rights that I have mentioned have been built up over the years. They have been fought for and paid for. The Labour party wants to defend the right to protest and dissent, the right of advocacy, and the ability to disagree with the Government on important issues such as nuclear disarmament and civil liberties. Such activity is not subversive. It is subversive only if the objective is to help people abroad who are engaged in hostile action, if the aim is to bring about a form of dictatorship in Britain, be it ultra-Right or ultra-Left wing, or if its aim is to destroy our parliamentary system of government.

When the Minister replied to my Second Reading speech, he said that he was unwilling to go into matters which were for the Security Service and that he would not explore them on the Floor of the House. That is why we ask for oversight of the Security Service. When we want to know why organisations and individuals are targeted without justification, all we get is the Minister saying that he cannot go into such matters, and that they are purely for the Security Service. That will always be the response of Ministers while there is no parliamentary oversight of the Security Service.

Mr. Hind

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, even if there were a Select Committee, the same would be the case? The Committee would be new, but it would still not be open to the House to discuss these matters. If it is possible for the Security Service to mislead a Home Secretary, how come the hon. Gentleman has so much confidence that the same Civil Service that he describes as deceitful will not deceive a Select Committee?

Mr. Winnick

The point about having a Select Committee is that complaints that have recently been raised and that are now being taken to the European Court of Human Rights would be raised in a Select Committee, and it could report to the House. At the moment, if we table parliamentary questions on the subject, they are blocked or we get the sort of response that I got from the Minister on Second Reading. Parliamentary democracy is being undermined. We do not want to know what action is being taken against spies or suspected spies; we are concerned to protect civil liberties.

As for civil servants, I am not arguing that the majority of MI5 officials are deceitful. However, it has been admitted on both sides of the House that a small number of them, such as Peter Wright, were deceitful. I have not argued otherwise and it would be wrong to say that I have argued that the majority of them would intend or would be willing to deceive the Select Committee.

In 1985 The Observer gave details of how any employee or potential employee of the BBC was automatically vetted in liaison with the Security Service and that the person carrying out the vetting at the BBC was either employed by the Security Service or accountable to it. That has changed.

Mr. Allason

That is a very important point. Some years ago, a telephone tap in the Hague revealed two identified Soviet intelligence officers being indiscreet. One boasted to the other that at four days' notice he could get 12,000 people out on to the streets in Holland in an anti-nuclear demonstration. If hostile Soviet intelligence officers—it has been conceded that they are legitimate targets—are in touch with members of CND or other such organisations, surely it must be legitimate for the Home Secretary of the day to authorise warrants for those organisations to come under some form of scrutiny.

Mr. Winnick

That was a ridiculous intervention. I have already congratulated the hon. Gentleman on his conversion to oversight of the Security Service. He is suggesting that CND should be targeted. However, the Opposition believe that CND is a perfectly legitimate organisation made up of people whose loyalty to Britain and to parliamentary democracy is certainly no less than that of any Conservative Member. The old poison that members of CND are Soviet agents or could be used by Soviet authorities is nonsense. Over the years many active members of CND have been in the forefront of protesting against the way in which dissent is punished in the Soviet bloc. That is hardly the action of people who could be manipulated by the Soviet authorities.

Mr. Buchan

The intervention of the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) shows an appalling ignorance of how demonstrations work. Can my hon. Friend imagine any of us, let alone an unknown Russian agent, getting 12,000 people out on the streets at four days' notice?

Mr. Heffer

When it appeared that Cuba was about to be invaded by America, a friend of mine in Liverpool said to me, "We have to organise a big demonstration on Saturday against American intervention in Cuba." I was not too keen, but I agreed. So we tried to organise a great demonstration against American intervention in Cuba. Two dozen of us turned up with placards saying, "Hands off Cuba." We marched down the streets in Liverpool trying to get a big gap between each person so that the demonstration would look three times greater than it actually was. The idea that we were being manipulated by Soviet agents is absolutely ridiculous and the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) should be ashamed of himself. [Interruption.]

The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Norman Hogg)

Order. Will the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) return to the main point of the debate.

Mr. Winnick

Although they may not say so in the Chamber, some Conservative Members really believe that any protest that could he described as Left wing is somehow connected with the Soviet bloc. As I have said, that is absolute nonsense, and my hon. Friends have underlined that point.

If other western democracies have some oversight of their security services, why can we not do so? On 22 May 1986 the Australian Attorney-General argued for changes in Australia. He argued that there should be some parliamentary scrutiny and that a committee should be established. Obviously, given the majority of the Australian Government of the day, that was duly carried out. The Australian Attorney-General said: The Government believes"— that is the Australian Government— that the provisions provide a proper balance between greater Parliamentary involvement in the oversight of A510 and the limits of the Executive's ability, having in mind its responsibilities in regard to security matters to make sensitive information more widely accessible.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Winnick

No. I have allowed quite a number of interventions and I must get on.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) argued so strongly, the United States has an oversight committee and has had such a review of the security services for a long time, and Canada and Australia have established such systems. No one has suggested that since Australia introduced its parliamentary scrutiny committee in 1986 the security services in Australia have been undermined. If Conservative Members could produce evidence of that, it would be an argument against what has been proposed today.

I have some sympathy with the amendment tabled by the hon. Members for Thanet, South and for Aldridge-Brownhills. Any review committee is better than nothing, but I am not persuaded that a review committee made up of non-parliamentarians would improve the position much, if at all. It could be argued that if such a review committee were established—obviously the Government are not willing to accept it—it would provide a further reason why there should not be parliamentary oversight. It would be argued, "We have the Privy Councillors and the review committee; why do you continue to argue for parliamentary scrutiny of the service?"

Obviously the amendment will be voted down by the Government, but the matter simply will not go away because there is no reason why our Parliament should be treated worse than the Parliaments of other western democracies. If the Home Secretary really wants MI5 to stop being involved in political controversy, and feels that it is about time that political pressure was removed from the Security Service, he should recognise that there is a need for parliamentary scrutiny. If amendment No. 73 is not accepted today, sooner or later the matter will return to the House. Inevitably there will be some scandal and we shall repeat the arguments that we have used tonight. Finally, will the Home Secretary explain to the House why it is all right for the United States, Canada and Australia to have parliamentary oversight, but it is not right for Britain?

7.30 pm
Mr. Robert Boscawen (Somerton and Frome)

I am increasingly worried by the lack of reality in the debate. The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) rightly said that the necessity for the Security Service is clear. He said that that goes without saying, and I agree. However, we do not agree that it is an effective service. Having an effective Security Service may be one of the ugly sides of protecting a democracy, but if we are to have it at all, it must be effective and it must be privy to certain sensitive information. The tenor of the debate on new clause 5 has been to open up that information.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), who always speaks with great honesty and clarity, said that we want to know what the Security Service is up to; but if we know that, it can no longer protect our interests. Secrecy is basic to this debate. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said that a Select Committee of 12 members could always be depended upon to maintain secrecy, and that it would not know about operational matters.

Mr. Buchan

Is it not peculiar that Britain, with the most carefully controlled secrecy, has been the country most open to so-called enemies, whereas America, which has openly scrutinised its secrecy, has been relatively free of the problem? It has had no Burgess, Philby or Maclean, so the argument does not work.

Mr. Boscawen

I could not say that there was less violence or criminal activity in the United States than there has been in this country, or that there has been less military spying there. I could not verify that or back my answer with facts. There has been a great deal of these activities in the United States, and in all the western democracies.

Mr. Allason

I can clarify this point because I have done some research on the subject. I started counting the number of convictions for espionage in the United States since 1945 and stopped counting at 94. By contrast, there has been a mere handful of convictions under section 1 of the Official Secrets Act.

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)

They are all in Russia.

Mr. Allason

Some cases have been undetected, and there have been defectors, but there have been similar cases in America, too.

Mr. Boscawen

To return to my original point, certain sensitive secrets in this country are protected by our security service. If those secrets are made available to a wider selection of people—in this House, or among the so-called great and good suggested by some of my hon. Friends—they will be more at risk. Such people may have excellent records of service to the House, but they are subject to electoral pressures and to the pressures of the talking shop in which they live, so the secrets will be at risk. We should not allow that to happen. It is a grave mistake on the part of those who want to protect democracy to believe that they can do so by widening the circle in which these secrets are known. If more people know the secrets, they become less secret—

Mr. Winnick

I do not criticise the hon. Gentleman for not having read the Australian debate—he can hardly read every debate in Parliaments abroad—but if he takes the time on some occasion to read the debate of 22 May 1986 in Australia he will find that when the Attorney-General argued in favour of the establishment of a parliamentary committee, which duly happened, he pointed out that it will not be a function of the Committee to review operationally sensitive matters". So there is no question of secrets being discussed by the committee.

Mr. Boscawen

Several times in the debate I have heard the argument that such a committee would discuss only the broad principles on which the security services operate—but that does not happen in practice. The security services spend what is perhaps a large amount of money on protecting certain sensitive secrets—for example, a previous Labour Government sought to protect the secret that they were spending enormous sums on developing the atomic bomb and the H bomb. They did not tell the House, and the Security Service existed to ensure that that information, rightly or wrongly, was kept from the House.

A Select Committee could not confine its scrutiny to the broad principles that guide the security services. It will know what is going on; it will ask what large sums of money are being spent on. It will ask, for instance, why the security services are protecting knowledge about development of the H bomb. Members in the House, or the great and good outside it, who are not directly responsible to the Government, will have to keep these secrets. The risks of their being divulged inadvertently—not deliberately of course—will be a great deal higher than if these people did not know them.

Mr. Bermingham

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that anyone who becomes a Member of this House may one day become a Secretary of State, or even a Prime Minister—or, more particularly, a Home Secretary? When he does, he will become privy to these secrets. Will he be the subject of some special metamorphosis on becoming a Minister which makes him trustable with secrets of state—a metamorphosis that does not happen to other Members of Parliament, such as ex-Ministers, who would undoubtedly be members of the Select Committee?

Mr. Boscawen

I believe a metamorphosis does come over people when they are appointed to carry the burdens of the great offices of state. They know that they will have to keep these secrets to themselves, not share them among the 12 or more suggested members of the Select Committee. Acceptance of the new clause would substantially increase the risk of information being divulged.

Let us assume that the members of the Select Committee are disquieted by what is reported to them about some activity of the security services. I do not believe that they would ever discover illegal activity, but if they thought the services were hiding a Government policy that should not be hidden, for instance, how could they let the rest of the House and the country know? They would still be behind the barrier of secrecy; they could not emerge from behind it and explain that the Government were developing a nuclear bomb—as they were in the late 1940s—because they would be bound to secrecy.

I can see no advantage to members of the Labour party if the Select Committee were told that the security services were investigating the National Council for Civil Liberties because they had been informed that the council had been unknowingly penetrated by the IRA, and would have to be investigated. I suggest that the members of the Select Committee would be in an impossible position. When it came down to the practicalities, I do not think that the Select Committee could do other than go directly to the Home Secretary or the Prime Minister and say, "What is this about?" We seem to be living in a fool's world.

New clause 5 would set at risk some of the most sensitive information that we need to keep secret in order to protect our democracy. The members of the Select Committee could not make much use of information if they were bound to silence in the way that members of the Security Service, the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister are bound.

Mr. Tony Banks

I welcome the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Boscawen) back to the land of the living and the speaking now that he has left the Whips' Office.

Mr. Hind

My hon. Friend has been back for some time.

Mr. Banks

This is the first time that I have had the pleasure of hearing him speak since he left the Whips' Office. I apologise to the hon. Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind) for my rather unseemly rummaging on the Bench in front of me while he was speaking. It was no impoliteness on my part. Unfortunately, one of my teeth came out and I found it necessary to recover it fairly speedily. I hope that during my short speech nothing of greater anatomical significance falls off and plops down on the Bench in front of me.

Mr. Hind

As an advocate in the courts, I have had many experiences, but speaking to an audience and forcing teeth to fall out is a new experience.

The Temporary Chairman

Order. I hope that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) will not respond to that.

Mr. Banks

I would not dream of responding to such a tempting intervention. I hope that I can keep all my parts about me during my speech.

The hon. Member for Somerset and Frome misunderstands how we view the question of parliamentary scrutiny of the security services. The Opposition fervently believe, as do some Conservative Members—as the hon. Gentleman has heard—that accountability is all, is of the essence. Accountability is what this place should be all about and no force in a democracy should be unaccountable. We are talking not just about notional accountability to a Home Secretary, but about accountability in the broadest, most secure and most efficient sense of the word. It is because we do not believe that there is such accountability within the security services that we have tabled amendments. I support our amendments, and in particular new clause 5.

The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome asked how on earth a Committee that is holding the security services to account could operate efficiently without getting involved in the day-to-day operational duties of the security services. That is not what is required. One can draw some broad parallels with police committees outside the Greater London area. A police committee looks at the overall objective of the police force in its area, but does not attempt to interfere in the day-to-day running of that force. That is the responsibility of the chief constable, and constitutionally everyone understands that position and respects it. Comparisons can also be made elsewhere in areas of broadly similar activity.

There is obsessive secrecy in Britain, and an obsession with secrecy is a cancer which, if allowed to develop, destroys democratic society. When we argue for accountability, it is not because we want to get all the secrets that we can and post them off to Moscow, but because we believe that if the security services are to operate within and outside Britain—and we think that such services are necessary—they should be accountable to Parliament and the people in the way that any other force or sector of our democracy is accountable.

I spoke about an obsession with secrecy, and I shall give a small example. On the way into the Members' Cloakroom this evening, I saw on the table a Tory Whip marked "Secret". As I am not a gentleman, I read it just in case there was something there that could have been put to good use. Regrettably, there was nothing like that. There was nothing secret in the Tory Whip. Whips are readily available and Members tend to discuss the business on them.

7.45 pm

However, the Whip is marked "Secret". You will know, Mr. Hogg, from your previous incarnation as a Deputy Chief Whip, that the Labour Whip is marked "Confidential". I do not see why our business should be considered confidential while Conservative business should be looked upon as secret. Many people, of whom I am one, believe we live in the most closed society in the whole of western Europe.

Mr. Bermingham

Does my hon. Friend agree that the word "secret" seems to have some special meaning for Conservative Members? Would he not further agree, having heard the speech by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Boscawen)—

Mr. Banks

It is pronounced "Froom".

Mr. Bermingham

I apologise, Mr. Hogg. I do not understand that part of the country. It is south of the Wash. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome conceded to me that a metamorphosis seems to occur when someone becomes Secretary of State or Prime Minister. Perhaps there is a reverse metamorphosis when one loses office. Some former Home Secretaries and some former Prime Ministers are still Members of the House. Can my hon. Friend give his attention to that, because it is worrying me greatly? I do not know how this great gift descends; perhaps it is from heaven.

Mr. Banks

I think perhaps the source is someone close rather than celestial. I have just spoken to my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) who tells me that, as a former Home Secretary and Privy Councillor, he is bound by the Privy Council oath. We have heard that oath explained. What I admire most about my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South is that on more than one occasion he has told the House that he was wrong in some of the things that he did when he was Home Secretary. I cannot remember all of them because the list is perhaps too long. He had the honesty and integrity to say that, which is refreshing, because most politicians seem to believe that it is a sign of great weakness to admit that decisions that they had taken in the past were wrong. Such an admission by my right hon. Friend is a sign of great strength. We can learn from the strength that allows right hon. Members to say, "I made a mistake when I was in Government." I certainly respect that approach.

The hon. Member for Lancashire, West, who is unfortunately no longer in the Chamber, spoke about the Opposition's obsession with secrecy. He said that it was paranoia and had no basis in fact or reality. We come back to the allegations made by Peter Wright in his incredibly turgid and overpriced book. Peter Wright owes the Prime Minister an enormous debt of gratitude, because she boosted sales of that boring book. It would have gone the way of many other books, and would have remained with W. H. Smith if the Prime Minister had not stepped in and insisted that this man be pursued around the courts of the world at great expense to the taxpayer. That was unnecessary. It did not do us any good and it made the Government look fairly stupid.

The one thing that emerged time and again was the accusation that during the 1970s systematic attempts were made to undermine—or there were discussions by various people in MI5 about undermining—Harold Wilson's democratically elected Government. Those accusations have been made too often, by too many people, in too high places of authority and with too much knowledge for us to disregard them.

The hon. Member for Lancashire, West said that we were being paranoid, and that in any case these matters were investigated by Jim Callaghan when he was Prime Minister, and he found nothing untoward. I understand from my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South that he, as Home Secretary, and Jim Callaghan investigated the issues subsequently raised by Peter Wright and others. I do not know how many more times hon. Members want to hear someone who was there at the time giving an authentic account of what happened before they start to believe that, far from being paranoid, we are concerned with the fact that a democratically elected Government could have been undermined by the illegal activities of MI5.

Mr. Allason

Has the hon. Gentleman read the book by David Leigh called "The Wilson Plot", which is the most detailed analysis of all the allegations that have been made about the undermining of the Wilson Government? When one examines it in detail, it turns out that all the allegations are that a defector identified John Stonehouse as having been a probable source, that Lord Kagan was investigated because he was playing chess regularly with a suspected KGB officer and that an individual who was to be recommended for high Government office by the then Prime Minister had been denounced as having been a member of the Communist party and a possible KGB recruiter. When David Leigh examined all these allegations, they turned out to be true, but that cannot be described as undermining the Wilson Government. Surely the job of the security services is to investigate allegations, and that is what happened.

Mr. Banks

The point at issue is that it was the undermining of Harold Wilson, and, as he happened to be Prime Minister, the undermining of a democratic Government was linked. I do not believe that Mr. Leigh had access to the sort of information that my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South, a former Labour Home Secretary, has had access to. If he tells me that there are grounds for a parliamentary inquiry into the various allegations that have subsequently been made, I am convinced that we need to have an inquiry. Let us get it out.

If the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) is correct, and if it turns out that we are overly concerned, then such an inquiry will reveal it, and we shall have more confidence. Conservative Members do not seem to want to allow us to have our confidence in the security services restored. At the moment, it is at an all-time low. Many of us may not have had a high regard for them in the past, but now we have none at all. We are asking only for an inquiry into various allegations, and it seems strange that Conservative Members are not prepared to accede to that request. I am sure that if we were talking about a Conservative Prime Minister and a Conservative Government, Tory Members would be making the demand that we are making now. I only hope that their demands would have received a more ready acceptance than we have received.

Mr. Rees

I agree with my hon. Friend. The plain fact is that the inquiry did not include what came out later in the Wright book, whether it was right or wrong. There is more than that in what has happened in the past year or so. I have here some photostats of documents. One of them was printed in 1972, before there was a Labour Government, and deals with Northern Ireland. At that time, I was the shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The document is Published by Merlyn Rees, Stan Orme, David Owen and Paul Rose. This is an interesting document, although whoever wrote it was a political nincompoop. It is all about the Ulster Defence Association, the assassination of civilians, the Long Kesh concentration camp and why Britain cancelled local elections under the Heath Government. I wonder who published this. It was sent to me through the post. I had nothing to do with it. I read economics at university after the war, and if I had written this thing and handed it in, I would not have got a CSE in anything.

Another interesting document is entitled: The Labour Movement. Economics: Master or Servant of Mankind". It claims to be by Denis Healey, Tony Benn and Stan Orme". My right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme) gets into it all. Somebody wrote these documents. It has been suggested to me that it was part of a move in the early 1970s to denigrate the Opposition as well as the Government of the day, for reasons that I will not go into now. There is need to inquire into books such as these.

Mr. Banks

My right hon. Friend underlines yet again the need for accountability. More and more, as I listen to these debates, I believe that MI5 has a dirty tricks department and those who run it allow their political priorities to determine their actions. That means that they will always be looking at Labour Members and, increasingly, Conservative Members. They are allowed to set the priorities for their activities. They are allowed to intervene with their interpretation of the world as a way to influence and determine what they do.

That is unacceptable in a democracy. MI5 and MI6 are supposed to protect the national interest. They are supposed to be protecting our security, not indulging in dirty tricks against eminent Labour politicians. How anybody could believe that my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South is a dangerous subversive, I do not know. When I was not a Member of Parliament, I remember coming to see my right hon. Friend, when he was Home Secretary, about section 2 of the Official Secrets Act. I have always wanted to tell my right hon. Friend that I came away disappointed with his response and thinking, "Another typical old Right-wing Labourite Home Secretary." That is what he was, but, in the years since, he has done a great deal to atone for those sins. Now, I am one of his staunchest admirers.

One of the problems that Conservative Members have is that they do not trust Labour Members because they see us as attempting to undermine their system, and in that they are absolutely correct.

Mr. Anderson

Is not the point far more fundamental? It is not just that the Conservatives do not trust us as an Opposition. By their response, they have shown that they do not trust Parliament.

Mr. Banks

They cannot trust Parliament unless they trust us, and because they cannot trust us they cannot trust Parliament. If Parliament consisted of 650 Conservative Members of Parliament—

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

It soon will.

Mr. Banks

Perish the thought—no doubt they would quickly move to have parliamentary scrutiny of the secret services. They would then declare that Parliament had become non-political. I have always noticed, Mr. Hogg—my God, you look ill. I am sorry, it is not Mr. Hogg.

Mr. Bermingham

Does not the Minister's comment, made jokingly, give away the secret? When my hon. Friend said that if Parliament were made up of 650 Conservative Members they might trust us, the Minister clearly said, "It soon will." Perhaps we are heading towards a dictatorship. and that is all that the Government will accept.

8 pm

Mr. Banks

I apologise to you, Mr. Rhodes James. I did not realise that you had slipped into the Chair in place of Mr. Hogg. It came as a bit of a shock to me. My teeth are dropping out and my eyes are going as well. I hope that you will understand.

There is a lack of understanding and an intolerance in Government. We are not prepared to allow the Home Secretary to be our point of accountability to the House because he will see the national interest as being essentially the Government's interest, and that means the Conservative party's interest. It would be a strange Home Secretary who could disaggregate national interest from the party's interest and, in many ways, no Home Secretary could be required to do so. When we have a larger forum in which to hold the security services accountable, those interests will tend to cancel each other out.

We have no great complaint about confidentiality with regard to Select Committees. Perhaps some of the matters on which they deliberate are not as crucial as the security of the nation, but they often touch on areas of high political controversy where an element of national security is involved. Apart from the occasional leak, the system works efficiently. All Members of Parliament know their duty, but we will not be told that a group of people who have a view of politics that is not subject to any form of accountability or scrutiny in a meaningful sense—the security services—can decide what they will do and how they will do it and may place themselves above the law.

The Bill makes previous acts of illegality legal. In many ways, it is a piece of retrospective legislation. It is scandalous that we have tolerated for so long the possibility of people operating outside the law which is supposed to control and govern us all and on which our democracy is supposed to be established. I cannot accept that the Home Secretary is an adequate source of accountability to the House in respect of the security forces.

We heard a great deal earlier about comparisons with the United States. I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) that, although I have been a stern critic of the policies of the United States Government, particularly in respect of central America, I have a great admiration for the openness of that government system because it is a democracy that is confident in itself. It is prepared to have those nasty skeletons in the cupboard pulled out from time to time for all to see. When people see that, the system moves on to a stronger level of accountability and becomes a better democracy. There are many faults in the United States system. I would make mainly economic complaints from a Socialist standpoint, but we can learn much about Government accountability from the United States model. I should be happy to attain its level of accountability because it would be leagues in advance of anything that we have now or are likely to have as a result of the Government's proposals.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller) said, we can support new clause 5. We support the idea of a Committee consisting of 10 Members of Parliament representing each party having at least 12 members in the House of Commons and these Members of the Committee shall be appointed by the Prime Minister after consultation with the Leader of each party". I accept that because it is the main thing on offer, but I can see some weaknesses and inadequacies. I should like to think that, if the amendment were carried, the Prime Minister would not be able merely to overrule the Leader of the Opposition and to say, "I have consulted, but I have decided to reject the names that you have put forward." We all know the Prime Minister's attitude towards appointments; she applies the dictum, "Is he one of us?" If he is, that person is appointed. We can see all sorts of dangers in the growing accretion of prime ministerial patronage as this Prime Minister, who at one time made great play of devolving power and of taking the apparatus of the state away from its interfering role, particularly in local government, has given more power to the centre and taken more power for herself. In many ways, I consider her to be the greatest threat to democracy in this country.

My hon. Friend the Member for Walton said that it would be better if we allowed the House to decide who would be the 10 members of the Committee. That would be an improvement on the amendment of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), but I must disappoint my hon. Friend and say that I doubt whether he or I would be elected under that system. We have been trying for a long time to have ourselves elected to the committee of the parliamentary Labour party, the shadow Cabinet, and have not yet succeeded, so our chances in a wider forum to become part of the committee responsible for overseeing the security services would be doomed to failure. However, as good democrats, we are prepared to keep on trying.

I would have far more confidence in a Committee made up of Members of this House and elected by the House because I would feel more certain that they would look after the interests of our parliamentary democracy. That is what it is all about. Our case is based on an argument in which we believe. We believe passionately in parliamentary democracy and that anything that strengthens parliamentary democracy, through greater accountability, must be for the betterment of this place and of society. That is why we support the amendments. The Bill is testament to the fact that no one considers the system to be satisfactory. Although the Government's proposal is a minor improvement, it is not acceptable to us. That is why we have tabled the amendments.

Some Conservatives Members, including the hon. Member for Somerton amd Frome, said that they did not believe us when we said that we accepted the need for the security services. We accept that need, but, equally, we do not accept that those security services should set their own policies or that they should decide who is an enemy of the state or which foreign country or home politician should be destabilised. That is not their right. That should not be tolerated in a democratic society. I cannot accept that, merely because we cannot guarantee that we will be 100 per cent. successful if we have accountability through a Committee of the House, we should accept no accountability at all. I should prefer something that was almost perfect rather than something that did not even make the effort.

We cannot accept the idea that the security services should be a law unto themselves, acting illegally. The Government now also accept that position and we welcome their late conversion to our cause, but, equally, we do not believe that the Bill goes far enough. We do not want to see the security services becoming nothing more than an extension of the Tory party because they are accountable to a Conservative Home Secretary. We do not believe that effective accountability is exercised through the Home Secretary. The Home Secretary has only to come to the Dispatch Box and say, "In the interests of national security I do not believe that I should disclose that information." We do not have proper accountability at present. We have tabled the amendments because, through them, we believe that the House will have the accountability that it deserves and that will greatly strengthen our democracy.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

The first question that the House must ask is why the Government have introduced the Bill. It seems overwhelmingly clear that they have done so because they feel that society lacks confidence in the Security Service. That is the prime reason for the Bill. I know that one or two of my hon. Friends have suggested that the Government want to have a better defence at the European Court and that there is a wish also to have more effective control over the security services generally, but I adhere to the view that the Government realise that the public have lost confidence in the Security Service. They believe that the Bill will restore some of that confidence, but only a much stronger Bill will do that. If they fail to introduce such a measure, they will only fuel demands for further legislation and greater scrutiny by the House. It would be far better if at this early stage the Government were to go for an effective system of scrutiny instead of having a continuing debate for the next two or three years that in many ways will further undermine the public's confidence in the security services.

It seems that the Government have set out to minimise debate rather than to maximise it. That will fail to restore the public's confidence in the security services. Not one Government amendment has been tabled.

If I am right in assuming that the Government will resist most if not all of the Opposition's amendments, the Bill will not be considered on Report. It is a constitutional matter and the House has been allowed to debate it on the Floor of the House in Committee, but it seems that the Goverment are trying to eliminate consideration on Report. I hope that the other place will take note of the way in which the Bill proceeds through this place, take the time to scrutinise it effectively and ensure that it returns to this place with amendments so that we shall have the opportunity further to examine it. I regret that the Government have not been prepared to table their own amendments, and I shall be surprised if an eight-page Bill proves to be perfect. Have no drafting errors come to light?

It has been argued strongly by some Conservative Members that the Home Secretary is not the appropriate Minister to issue warrants for the undertaking of what otherwise would be illegal activities such as bugging, telephone tapping and burglary. I have strong sympathy with that argument. With the Home Secretary's long list of responsibilities, he does not have the time fully to examine all the possible occasions on which a warrant might be needed. He is often presented with a clash of interests. Being responsible for so many Government functions, there is often strong public pressure upon him to achieve results. If an outrage occurs, the pressure on the Government to arrive at a solution is considerable. If at the same time the Home Secretary has a warrant placed in front of him that seeks his permission for some illegal activity to go ahead, it is only human nature that he will be inclined to grant it, especially if at the back of his mind there is the possibility that someone in the security forces will leak to a journalist that he, the Home Secretary, is not over-sympathetic to a certain warrant coming forward for approval. There is considerable pressure on any individual who has a political role in governing the country and who has also to decide whether someone's civil rights should be revoked.

There is another problem for the Home Secretary in separating reasonable political intelligence from intelligence on illegal activities. Some of my hon. Friends have become extremely upset at the suggestion that there has been any bugging of organisations such as CND or other interference with them. Perhaps some of my hon. Friends are somewhat naive. In most protest groups there are those who want to pursue their process by legal democratic means, but there are sometimes smaller groups who feel equally strongly about the same issues but believe that they should be pursued peacefully through passive forms of resistance. There is, for example, the relationship between CND and the Committee of 100. In many instances there is a third and smaller group which believes that its cause is so correct that it is permissible to engage in violent forms of protest to pursue its ends.

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Mr. Tony Banks

There is another category that might be included in any one of the groups that my hon. Friend has listed. I refer to the agent provocateur who is put into an organisation to try to discredit it.

Mr. Bennett

I accept that. What I have said goes beyond CND and other such organisations and embraces groups that are concerned with the rights of animals. It seems reasonable and legitimate for a security service and for the police to be concerned with those who are at the far end of the spectrum who involve themselves in violence and breaking the law generally. Equally, the security services are not entitled to be involved with those whose activities remain within the law.

When a member of the security forces asks for a warrant to enable an illegal activity to be carried out, it must be extremely difficult to know whether the person whose telephone is to be tapped or whose home is to be burgled has been involved in illegal activity. If illegal activity is authorised by the Home Secretary, he must know the results of that authorisation. If he is told that he has unearthed a crime as a result of the illegal activity that he has authorised, the officer's action in seeking the warrant will have been justified. If no crime is discovered as a result of the illegal activity, considerable political intelligence might well be gathered concerning those who are behaving legitimately and democratically. That places someone such as the Home Secretary in an extremely difficult position. He is likely to be able to gather information as a result of actions that the security forces should not have taken that will be of great importance politically. I do not see how a Home Secretary can separate his judicial role in deciding whether telephone taps, burglaries and other such actions should he committed from his political role. It would be far better to place the duty in the hands of someone else who is not in a position to use any political intelligence that results from a misuse of the power to carry out investigations.

Is the Security Service cost effective? It is extremely difficult to judge whether we would be better to put the money into open government, for example, rather than to try to maintain great secrecy when there is no need to do so since the service is cloaked in total secrecy.

Many of my hon. Friends seem to assume that telephone tapping is widespread. That assumption is one that the Government would like to encourage. It encourages some who are involved in legitimate trade union activities to assume that their telephone is being tapped. Having arrived at that assumption, they go to considerable lengths not to make telephone calls but to pass on information in other ways. They are involved in protest, not illegal activities, but they assume that their protest activities will be reported back to the Government. Many of them would not wish such information to be reported back to the Government at a certain time. It would be amazing if anyone involved in illegal or subversive activities regularly transmitted information over the telephone. It would be far better if we knew clearly how many warrants were being issued. That would eradicate many myths and rumours.

Is this amendment absolutely necessary? As I understand it, the Select Committee on Home Affairs is entitled to ask questions about these matters. According to "Erskine May," it is clear that the Select Committee on Home Affairs is entitled to investigate any activities of the Home Office which are paid for from public funds. It seems that there is absolutely nothing in the Standing Orders to prevent the Home Affairs Select Committee investigating secrecy matters.

Since the departmental Select Committees were set up in 1979, the Home Affairs Select Committee has on one or two occasions hedged around the question whether it should investigate security issues. On almost every occasion, by using their Whips and their majority on the Committee, the Government have made it clear that it would be a waste of time for the Committee to investigate these matters because Ministers were not prepared o answer any questions and the inquiry would not make much progress,. Therefore, Members are encouraged to consider other areas for investigation.

We should not need to pass this amendment now. Instead, the members of the Select Committee should make up their minds whether they want to carry out their scrutinising role. If they were prepared to act, as some people hoped that the Select Committees would when they were established in 1979, the Committee members would be demanding that Ministers answer questions about the security services. No doubt Ministers would come to the Committee and say that they could not answer, just as they come to the Chamber and refuse to answer such questions. I suspect that a Select Committee has the power to take on the Government with a sustained and challenging assault to demand papers and information.

Mr. Buchan

I hate to destroy such optimism, but I believe that my hon. Friend is being rather sanguine. We have already experienced the way in which Select Committees can question Ministers in the case of the Select Committee on Defence and the Westland affair. Instructions were given to Ministers that no answers were to be given. On five pages of that report, a Committee member put questions to the former right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan) who would not answer them. Unless we change the nature of Select Committees so that there are occasions on which the Committee, perhaps with the imprimatur of the House, can put Ministers and civil servants under oath, I cannot see a substitute for the kind of Committee suggested in the amendment.

Mr. Bennett

My hon. Friend highlights the fact that our Select Committees are not working particularly well at the moment. That is not because they do not have the powers. If the House was to assert that it wanted the Select Committees to carry out their inquisitive roles, they could. Not only did the Select Committee back down over Westland, the House backed down as well. Part of the problem lies in the Government's majority. To a certain extent, in the amendment we have built in the Prime Minister's veto over appointments and there is still the problem with the Government majority.

It is most important that the House has the confidence to demand that the Executive is accountable. Although I will support this group of amendments together with the slightly weaker amendments of Conservative Members, at the end of the day the House must have the confidence to assert its right to control the Executive.

Until it does that, the situation in this and many other areas will continue to be unsatisfactory.

Mr. Anderson

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) that this issue is fundamental to the relationship between Parliament and the Executive.

The strongest and stoutest defence of the Government's response to public concern about the security services was made by the hon. Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind). His thesis was that, as a whole, the package, proposed by the Home Secretary is radical. He said that for the first time the Bill puts the security services on a statutory footing and warrants will have to be sought from High Court judges. He explained that there will be a tribunal with a right of appeal for members of our security services and that there will be a report from the commissioner. He said that the apex of the whole system is supervision by the Home Secretary and the Prime

However, the problem is where, if anywhere, Parliament enters that grand structure. It is clear that when faced with substantial public concern about the role of the security services, the Home Secretary has not responded by trying to find a role for Parliament and the elected representatives of the country. Instead, he has responded with a bureaucratic solution which bypasses the role of Parliament and effectively gives no role to Parliament in our democracy in the oversight of our security services. Effectively, the Home Secretary is not saying, "How can I look at the problem through democratic spectacles and see how I can build in some oversight and accountability of the security services with all the proper safeguards?" His response has been, "I must give something. What is the least I can get away with?" The Bill is his response. It represents the divide between the two sides of the House and between the parliamentarians and authoritarians in Parliament. There are clearly good parliamentarians on both sides of the Chamber as we have seen from the speeches today.

During this interesting debate we have addressed one of the key problems of democracy, which is who guards the guards—Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? I agree that "guards", however defined, are necessary in our democracy. However, those "guards", with statutory powers, in the security services pose a potential danger. There are indeed substantial dangers from forces seeking to subvert our democracy and we are never sure from which quarter those threats will come.

I recall being lectured as a very young diplomat by a very senior diplomat. He told me in a very avuncular way, "When you go abroad, young man, you will never know who the chief Soviet agent will be in the post to which you are assigned. In my first post the chief Soviet agent was my head of chancery, Donald Maclean." That caused a certain response from a young diplomat.

Let us accept that there is a need for secrecy. Clearly the right-to-know principle is relevant. However, should certain parliamentarians who have the confidence of this House be brought within the veil, taken to the other side of the curtain to perform a proper role within our democracy? During my time in the public services, I had to deal with a number of members of the security services. I can generalise about them. Certainly they were patriotic, but it was unlikely that people would be attracted to the security services who were of a radical disposition or who would easily find themselves broadly on the Left of politics in this country. Indeed, for the most part they had their deformation professionelle.

As the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) said on Second Reading, they would have a certain suspicion about the man reading the Daily Mirror on the Underground. They believed they were playing a role as centurions in our society against all the dark forces seeking to subvert our society. Perhaps a rather extreme example of that individual is Mr. Wright. Unfortunately, as a result of his role in "Spycatcher," he is deemed by some people to be a democrat. He was the most nasty, authoritarian Fascist imaginable. Any organisation that allows such a man, with his known views and weaknesses, to be recruited certainly needs a degree of accountability.

Mr. Bermingham

My hon. Friend fascinates me, as always. Does he agree that history has shown that democracy across the world has been attacked as often from the Right as from the Left?

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Mr. Anderson

That is precisely my point. In so far as there is deformation by those in the security services who believe that they are being patriotic, they believe that the threat to our democracy comes from the Left. They have a world view that identifies generally with the Right.

I accept that many problems surround the question of security in our democracy. There are the problems of pursuing policies, which have been set out by authors from de Tocqueville onwards, and how, in a democracy, one exerts any control over foreign relations or whether one leaves everything to the Executive. The United States, with all its problems, has solved the problem reasonably satisfactorily, as have Canada and Australia. They have in different ways sought to address themselves to 'the problems of scrutiny in a democracy and oversight of their security services. They have arrived at a form of oversight, however imperfect, so why do our country and Government feel that they must stand outside other democracies, which not only perceive the need for control but have done something about it?

Why is it that the Home Secretary, with his excellent democratic credentials, is prepared to wear the bureaucratic garb that comes with the present proposed solution? The existing accountability and oversight is inadequate. I shall listen to arguments about the precise form of parliamentary participation, whether it be individual parliamentarians who, along with other outsiders, are taken within the veil, or a Select Committee. There should be a role for Parliament, or at least for some right hon. and hon. Members.

I am not wholly persuaded by the amendment in the names of my right hon. Friend the Member of Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) and my hon. Friends which proposes that the Prime Minister should have a veto over the selection of members of the Select Committee. That would be wrong. However, I shall listen to arguments about how one should choose the Committee's membership. I am not persuaded that all members should be Privy Councillors. The right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) said that anyone appointed to the Committee who is not already a Privy Councillor should be made one, and therefore be subject to all a Privy Councillor's responsibilities. I believe that those appointed to the Committee should submit themselves to positive vetting. It would be absurd to go so far as to suggest that they should undergo a polygraph test; that would be wholy intolerable. However, Committee members should at least be subject to positive vetting, which would help overcome problems that might otherwise arise.

My view of the size of the Committee is the fewer the better. The "need to know" principle is valid, and if the Committee has a small number of members there will be less likelihood of leaks. When the hon. Member for Lancashire. West defended the Government, he did not mention the precedent set by the Falklands committee, when a distinguished parliamentarian such as my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), who served on it, was taken within the veil of secrecy. That gave a credibility to the inquiry's conclusions that they might otherwise not have enjoyed. That is not a bad precedent for involving Parliament in some way.

I also listen carefully to arguments about whether there should be a small Committee comprising only right hon. and hon. Members of this House, or whether Members of another place should be included. A number of distinguished former Members of this House now sit in another place, and I see no reason in principle why they should not be invited to join a form of small joint committee. I hope that the Home Secretary will accept the valid points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South concerning continuity. It is one that can be addressed, whether or not the Home Secretary meets the arguments we are deploying about parliamentary accountability or a parliamentary component.

The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) suggested that no form of parliamentary component is appropriate—as if there were no right hon. or hon. Members suitable to carry out such functions democratically and on behalf of the House as a whole. I do not accept his argument that, because of the partisan nature of our politics, such a Committee will necessarily be polarised and that its members will feel bound to reveal—although he did not go as far as to say this—information they learnt and to play the party game. That has not been the case in the US committee, nor was it the case in the Falklands committee. It will depend on the personnel. There are individuals who enjoy the confidence of their colleagues in the House, who clearly understand the need for national security, and who in no wise can be deemed likely to breach security during their service to the Committee.

The Government's response shows a lack of confidence in Parliament. If we are to have textured democracy that really works, we must have a series of intermediary bodies between the Executive and the citizen. Over a whole range of issues—the trade unions, the media in some cases, and certainly local government—the Government, sad to say, have sought to neuter intermediary bodies. The most important among them is Parliament itself. By giving Parliament a role in security, the Government could show a confidence in Parliament that has been regrettably lacking in other areas. The Government have betrayed a negative view of Parliament and of parliamentary sovereignty.

Does anyone seriously believe that this Government package is likely to last? My view is that it will have a relatively short life, not because of any lack of confidence in the present Home Secretary but because he is, by definition, overburdened with a vast range of responsibilities. I say with respect that any Home Secretary, because of the nature of his work, is likely to become rather remote and be drawn into the bureaucracy of the great and the good—the kind of people who serve on the Security Commission. It is a serious point, and I hope that the Home Secretary will address himself to it.

When one chooses for the Security Commission former diplomats and former judges, all of whom are no doubt patriotic, one should also look at what the French call the formation—the personal development and background of those individuals. They may not have their beginnings in a gilded background, but they develop a certain bureaucratic feeling. They become, almost necessarily, out of touch with how ordinary folk feel about issues of this nature. Part of the argument for parliamentary democracy is that we are indeed kept in touch with how ordinary folk think, move and have their being, and are able to make an input which is valuable in itself and which, almost by definition, is impossible from the great and the good—the judges who have been robed and cloistered over their career development or the diplomats who have spent a substantial part of their careers—perhaps two thirds—outside Britain and out of contact with ordinary folk in this country.

If the Government really wish to address the matter democratically and to gain the confidence of the public, they will not do so by avoiding a parliamentary component in the accountability of the security services. I am not arguing for a bureaucratic solution or for one that is the least that I can get away with at present. I urge the Government to reconsider their response. Parliament and the public will not for long be content with the plea from the Home Secretary, "Trust in me, and trust in my successors."

Mr. Bermingham

It is interesting to watch what is happening on the Government Benches—although I am sad that my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) does not entirely agree with new clause 5, for reasons that I shall return to in a moment.

The Home Secretary said a short time ago that someone with a safe Labour seat would become cocooned from life. Little does he know. The Minister of State—who earlier made the faux pas that he would only be happy when there were 650 Conservative Members of Parliament, showing his usual simultaneous combination of arrogance and ignorance—was heard to comment, "Of course, he is a barrister as well." Apparently, if someone has a Labour seat and is a barrister as well—I must declare an interest as I am both—he is cocooned and rendered utterly unsafe to others. What rubbish. That shows the conceit and arrogance of the Government once again.

Let us not mince words. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Boscawen) was kind enough to let me intervene in his speech. I said, "Everyone comes to the House as an ordinary Member. None of us comes here with anything special, magical or mythical about us; we are ordinary men and women elected by the British public." Some rise to great things, becoming Speaker of the House or a Minister of the Crown. A few rise to become Secretaries of State; the odd one or two rise to be Prime Ministers. Of course there are those who rise to become Whips, but I have nothing to say about them—nothing good, that is.

I asked the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome whether, when an hon. Member became Home Secretary, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland or Prime Minister—to be fair, I did not mention the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland then, but I mentioned the other two posts-a metamorphosis took over, and he became something even greater, not just an ordinary human being who was a Member of Parliament. Yes, he said, such a metamorphosis did take over.

The following question then crossed my mind. When a Home Secretary ceases to be Home Secretary, as surely the current Home Secretary one day will—through disagreement with the Prime Minister, through age or through some other misfortune such as getting it wrong—can the metamorphosis reverse? Does that person cease to be someone who can be trusted with secrets of state?

If that is the Government's attitude, it is arrogant and conceited. There are many right hon. Members on both sides of the House who have held high office and whose integrity is without question—who certainly kept secrets of state in their years of office, and who certainly in retirement would never dream of breaching the Official Secrets Act.

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Many Members of Parliament have, through being in one occupation or another previously, signed the Official Secrets Act. When they were made Members of Parliament, they all took an oath of loyalty to the Crown. Some of us have had to take more than one such oath. Those of us who were not born with an English passport took one when we were naturalised. Those of us who have practised as solicitors, as I did years ago, took an oath when we were admitted, as did those of us who were called to the Bar. The secrets that lawyers carry to the grave— because that is the rule—are secrets at least as grave and great as many of the minor secrets that the secret service seeks so jealously to guard.

What of the doctor and his oath of secrecy and loyalty to his patients? What of the clergyman and his oath on confessions or the lawyer and his oath of loyalty to the Crown? The Home Secretary may say that there is a lawyer preaching on behalf of his own game. My point is that in this land of ours there are many human beings who are utterly loyal to the Crown, and that within the House are a considerable number of people who have had to be keepers of others' secrets which could often have done great damage if they had got out. Is it to be said that those persons are not to be trusted, and that unless the metamorphosis has descended on an hon. Member and he has been Home Secretary pro tem—or Prime Minister pro tem, although in the current instance the time is getting rather long—he cannot be allowed to be privy to the actitivies of our most secret service?

Is not the reality that most of the secrets of our secret service are known to everyone bar us—certainly to the Americans and to the Russians? Is it not a farce that, in the latter part of the 20th century, our secret service, still clad in the cloak of the 18th century and with the thinking of the 19th, is allowed to burrow and to tunnel?

I agree with what was said earlier about Mr. Wright's book. It is the greatest load of rubbish that I have read for years. It is boring and dull. I shall not repeat the comments about its being the British Government who became the supersalesmen and made Mr. Wright a fortune. Nevertheless, is it not right that we, the British people, should know the truth? If that sort of activity is going on, does it not need to be disciplined and curtailed? If it is not going on—and I have no way of knowing whether it is or not—surely it is in the interests of the British secret service to have a committee of respectable or respected persons to whom they can report to show that the lies and slanders are not true. One must ask why the Government are frightened that anybody else should be involved.

Over the past ten years there has been a creeping erosion of freedom in one form or another. So as not to go outside the ambit of the new clause, I merely propose to give a few examples. There has been an attack on the right of silence and a curtailment of broadcasting freedom. It is lunacy. If German commentators want to ask a supporter of an idiotic cause about that cause, they can do so and it can be broadcast all over Europe and shortly it will come down out of the sky on satellite television. However, the BBC and ITV cannot be trusted. The great British public cannot be trusted to make up their own mind. The Government decided that juries could not be trusted, so the right to challenge was removed. The Government decided that juries should not be let loose on certain types of case, so they were removed.

Those are just examples of a disease. The Government fear that, if the public or the House have any say, that will somehow erode Government power. They do not want to let anyone else near the heart of our society. They do not want anyone to know the secrets. They want to huddle them away. They will have their guardians to protect the secret service and will not let anyone near it.

The Government's suggestion is circular. A will report to B who will report to C who will then report to A. It will go round and round but will never go outside the circle. I hope that when the Home Secretary speaks to the new clause he will confirm or deny—I put the question to him —the report that appeared in the newspapers over Christmas. The report said that the Government intended to agree that the telephones of Members of Parliament should not be tapped. It suggested that the undertaking of old would be given again. I hope that it is. If it is not, that report was as illusory as the report stating on 30 December that police cells were open and that there were no more prisoners in them. On 31 December the prisoners were back, and they are still there. I hope that the protection of the rights of Members of Parliament will be reinstated tonight.

There are those who seek to subvert, and we must have real accountability. My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East talked about the threat from extremes. I like to think that all hon. Members are democrats; we believe in democracy. We fear the threat from those who believe they are always right and extremists from both sides. My hon. Friend mentioned that, generally, the secret service seems to recruit from the Right because it fears that problems will come from the Left. During this century history has taught us that the threat comes from extremists on either the Left or Right. Both are enemies of democracy. If a service recruits from only one philosophical persuasion, there is the risk that anything standing in its way or anyone who does not believe in its philosophy will be seen as a danger to society. That is a load of nonsense. History has shown that extremism, be it Left or Right, arises when people think that power at any price is a worthwhile tactic.

The history of the 20th century shows that some people did not believe in democracy and thought that they had a divine right to rule and never made a mistake. They reached a point at which they were afraid of ideas that did not agree with theirs. They may genuinely have believed that they were always right. However, the doctrine of infallibility has no merit in history because we are all capable of making mistakes. I do not think that all Labour Governments have been right. Some of them have been horribly wrong on occasions. When the history of the 1980s is written, the Home Secretary and the Minister will look back at some of the decisions they have taken and find them to be wrong because events will have proved them to be so. That is human nature.

One of the decisions that will prove to be wrong is their decision to oppose new clause 5. It is not perfect, but it is a step in the right direction. It simply says that we believe that the body to whom the Security Service should be accountable is composed of men and women from this place who can be trusted. The Government do not seem to trust Parliament. That is a tragedy. I hope that the House will support new clause 5.

Mr. Cryer

I will not detain the Committee because many of the points that I wished to make have been made already. The Opposition have bent over backwards to accommodate the Government. No doubt, the Government will, as usual, kick them in the teeth at the vote. Their plea for allowing the House to be the judge and allowing Parliament to play a part in the process has been arrogantly brushed aside by the Government because they do not believe in democratic accountability or in Parliament. If Parliament had a part to play in democratic accountability, the Government would seek to burn the place down to get rid of it. Therefore, it is easier to ensure that it does very little.

The Government are attempting to bring about this cynical manoeuvre because of Peter Wright who bugged and burgled his way around London. He was able to influence the choice by a Prime Minister of the head of MI5, as he recounts in his book. I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) because I found Peter Wright's book fascinating. It is always fascinating to look behind the locked door of Whitehall and find out what is going on. Peter Wright's book has never been challenged on its authenticity. It has been challenged on its revelations and on the grounds of Peter Wright's lifelong oath of secrecy.

Now that the information that Right-wing extremist elements were operating in MI5 is out—and I shall come to other examples in a moment—the Government seek to legitimise that, and that is all they want to do. The notion that the amendments are likely to find favour is improbable.

I have always been in favour of open government and I resigned from the last Labour Government on two counts. The first was the Government's decision to close a worker co-operative with the loss of 500 jobs and they wanted me to do their dirty work for them, which I refused to do. Secondly, they were not carrying out party policy on open government. The then Prime Minister sent round a memorandum saying that we should not discuss or reveal the Cabinet system of government. Under that, 80 Cabinet committees make various decisions and are labelled by civil servants. All the labels are changed when a new Government come to office so that there can he no accountability outside or any lobbying, so the machinery of government remains isolated. I disagreed with that and showed my disagreement by resigning, so I am following a consistent line in saying that more open government is good for democracy.

Amendment No. 73 proposes scrutiny by a Select Committee. I do not want to go over the arguments about hon. Members being reasonable, decent people. When one steps through the portals of this place, one abandons certain radical attitudes because as soon as one is inside the House, one is part of the establishment.

9 pm

Mr. Tony Banks

I am not part of the establishment.

Mr. Cryer

It is true. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) may protest and cherish the illusion that he will lead the revolution at some stage, but, I am afraid, we are all tarred by the parliamentary brush to some extent.

There is, therefore, a fair range of potential candidates for the Select Committee. There is, after all, a Select Committee on Defence, and the Home Secretary knows full well that if the Government feel that somebody might be a bit radical for the Defence Committee, they get hold of the Opposition Whips and have a little chat through the usual channels. The usual channels say that they will get some safe people on to the Committee and will not have on the Committee people who might raise a few awkward questions.

I do not know what the Government are worried about. They can always fix things. They can almost always deal with the problem of an awkward customer who seems likely to become a member of the Select Committee. They cannot always do that, which is why they have some modest reservations about the system, but they usually have a good chance of ensuring that the people who become members of Select Committees are pillars of the establishment.

Mr. Tony Banks

I realise that often, in the past, good red Socialist meat has been turned into bourgeois sausages as it has gone through this place, but surely my hon. Friend would not include in his strictures about selling out to the establishment his hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) or, I should have thought, himself. I do not want to shatter the view that I have of him as a principled Socialist.

Mr. Cryer

I am sure that, as a principled Socialist, my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West would not want to put words into my mouth that I never uttered. I never said anything about selling out to the establishment, but I said that the inevitable consequence of following the conventions of being elected to Parliament was, to some degree, to be touched by the establishment, because Parliament is, basically, an establishment institution. I agree that we should use the place to improve society and to produce a Socialist and fairer society. We must take a few leaves out of the Government's book and show as much determination for our people as the Prime Minister and her cronies have shown for their people.

The House is open to change. However, there are 650 hon. Members who are all within the establishment framework to some extent and who could all be candidates for the Select Committee to scrutinise the mysterious area of Box 500, MI5 and all the rubbish and gubbins that goes with that. The truth is that our security activities need to be within a fairly narrow area. I am referring to activities such as those that would have prevented the terrible tragedy to the Pan Am aircraft over Lockerbie, for example. No one would dispute that, but I dispute the uncontrolled flights of fancy, the soaring into political and trade union areas by MI5, which are revealed in Peter Wright's book. When one realises that but for an argument over a parsimonious pension settlement that book would never have been published, one realises how narrow is the line between maintaining secrecy and allowing the complete picture to be produced.

New clause 2 suggests a review committee of Privy Councillors and I would vote for it as a second best. However, I do not think that there should be any difference between one hon. Member and another. Privy Councillors are only people who sucked up to some Prime Minister in the past, long enough to get a job. The notion that they are transmogrified into superb beings who are more trustworthy than others is absolutely nonsensical.

The notion of different ranks in Parliament is demonstrated by the deep resentment that prevails among many ordinary Back Benchers when Privy Councillors are called early in debates and given preferential treatment. If any Privy Councillor said at a general election, "I am a Privy Councillor, I get called early so I deserve your votes", it would be nonsensical. That relatively trivial matter, which rankles with many hon. Members, applies also to membership of Select Committees. Every hon. Member should be equally eligible to serve on a Select Committee. The difficulty over Privy Councillors, with some distinguished exceptions, is that they tend to be more subservient to the establishment than are other hon. Members. When Members of a Select Committee are chosen, I should prefer Privy Councillors to be ignored so that the proper scrutiny that is necessary can be achieved.

I support new clause 5. It makes accountability a little more democratic. Curious circumstances surround what MI5 has done. For example, Mr. Peter Shipley worked as an adviser at No. 10 Downing street. According to The Guardian, he was a member of the National Front. Did MI5 give him clearance? I have asked questions about that, but in the usual tactful way in which answers are blandly distorted to reveal nothing at all, the question was pushed to one side. I should have thought that those who work at No. 10 Downing street ought to be given clearance. Either MI5 was singularly inefficient in not knowing what The Guardian discovered or it acquiesced, which would be very disturbing.

Mr. Allason

Anybody who has regular access to top secret or atomic information has to be positively vetted. The fact that somebody works in a lowly position in an office at No. 10 Downing street or anywhere else does not mean that he or she is automatically clear or vetted by MI5. The Security Service does not conduct positive vetting. That is conducted by the Procurement Executive of the Ministry of Defence.

Mr. Cryer

I have been positively vetted. I do not know whether the man who arrived at the Department of Industry wearing his NHS specs—who at first refused to reveal his name because it was all very secret, so we had to insist that he provided us with a name so that he could be allowed into the building—was from the Procurement Executive. I was disappointed to discover that he warned me not against blondes or brunettes but against going on steam train excursions to Eastern Europe in case I revealed Department of Industry secrets. I wished that there had been some Department of Industry secrets to guard, but there did not seem to be many of them at the time.

I do not believe that those who work at No. 10 have not been subjected to scrutiny. It casts a reflection on MI5's political attitude that a person who was subsequently listed as a member of the National Front was able to work at No. 10.

My second point about that individual is that he was taken on as an assistant to the chairman of the Conservative party for the 1987 election. He pursued a number of dirty tricks during the campaign. I suspect, therefore, that he may not have been the kind of lowly clerk that the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) suggested. [Interruption.] Does my hon. Friend want to leave the Chamber?

The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Robert Rhodes James)

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not pursue that argument any further.

Mr. Banks

Why not?

Mr. Cryer

I shall give way to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Banks

I should never wish to leave the Chamber while my hon. Friend was speaking. He must know that. Has my hon. Friend shattered another illusion this evening—that he actually passed the positive vetting test?

Mr. Cryer

I apparently did.

My second example of the strange relationship is simply an anecdote. Somebody who was not a constituent came to see me. He had pursued a protest about a book not being published and had gone out to paint slogans "Justice for Adrian Tibbetts." on a wall in Leeds. An unmarked police car circled him twice and he, his parents and a man who worked with him on the task called Peter Maranchenko were arrested by plain clothes officers. Peter Maranchenko was connected with the British National party. The Tibbetts, who were involved, were arrested and prosecuted, but Peter Maranchenko slipped away from the police headquarters in Leeds with the agreement of the police, and was never prosecuted. To this day, the Tibbetts believe that he was an agent provocateur.

That information was given to me in good faith by people who were prosecuted for causing criminal damage whereas the person who encouraged them was not. Such problems would be dispensed with if there were more democratic accountability. The Home Secretary will brush that idea to one side because he likes to keep everything within his own little ambit. He is not much of a democrat, truth to tell, or he would accept a Select Committee of fellow Members of Parliament, with the Government having power of selection over its operation.

We shall just have to keep pressing the case until the next Labour Government institute proper, comprehensive accountability as part of a pattern of open government. We shall have to be as radical in a progressive way as the Tory Government have been radical in their attacks on ordinary people. We shall have to give ordinary people open access behind the closed doors of Whitehall.

Mr. Hurd

I was about to congratulate you, Mr. Walker, on your first appearance in the Chair, but I do not think that that would now be entirely appropriate.

The debate has been of high quality, ascending to the heart of the questions concerning responsibility for the Security Service. The Committee has considered two schemes of amendment, both of which were, I thought, ably proposed—by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd). It has emerged that both schemes are woven out of a good many shades and patches, with a certain amount of American and Canadian cloth, and an agreeable controversy developed between the two, stoked by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan).

My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills is not here at the moment. His scheme draws on the Canadian experience, as did he in his speech. I have no desire to crab or rubbish the Canadian or New Zealand models. The Canadian model has been in operation for about four years and a review is expected to be undertaken fairly shortly.

There must be some possibility of overlapping between an inspector general and a security intelligence review committee, each conducting reviews in the same area. The arrangements may or may not be sensible for Canada—that is not a matter for me or for the House. The responsibility of our Security Service and the threats to our citizens from which it seeks to protect us and the duties of Ministers in the House are not the same as those in Canada. Nor do I think it sensible to force the United Kingdom system into a Canadian mould.

There is a curious suggestion, which my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills did not dwell on, but it is in his amendment that all Executive responsibilities should be transferred to the Solicitor-General.

In Canada, the Solicitor-General has a good deal of executive responsibility. I know that because I meet him at the Trevi meetings—the European security meetings which Canada sometimes attends for preliminary discussions. The Solicitor-General in Canada is responsible for the Royal Canadian mounted police, the prison service and so on. The idea put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills that by transferring responsibility to the Solicitor-General we would be transferring it to some leisurely fellow does not reflect the experience in Canada. Of course, there would be a major difficulty here, because, as the right hon. Member for Spark brook knows, the Solicitor-General helps the Attorney-General in deciding on prosecutions which could raise questions of national security or relate to members of the Security Service.

9.15 pm

It is difficult to explain, but as all right hon. and hon. Members know such decisions are independent of Government. That has been misunderstood enough already and if we were to add to the confusion as to the existing role of the Law Officers by giving executive responsibilities over the security services to the Solicitor-General, the confusion would become absolute.

The real question before the House tonight is not whether we follow Canada, or New Zealand which has robustly declined to follow that route, but whether it would benefit us, in addition to the reforms proposed in the Bill, to have a system of parliamentary oversight alongside the responsibility of the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister, as defined in the Bill. One merit of the way in which we discuss legislation is that critics have to put forward alternative schemes. They have to leave aside generalisations and propose particular schemes.

The Opposition had an option. They did not do what I expected them to do, or what I would have done had I been in their place. I had rather expected that they would table amendments which would have produced a Select Committee concerned with broad questions of policy arid perhaps finance and not with the actual operations of the Security Service. The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) thought that that was what they had proposed. I presume that he will not be voting for the new clause now that he has read it and realises that far from making the decision to which he attached considerable importance, the Opposition go the whole hog and require that the Select Committee should see everything.

As the debate has developed, it seems that the Labour party would have been in a better position to push its proposals had the debate finished at about 7 pm. With the exception of that of the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), most of the speeches in the latter part of the debate have illustrated quite convincingly the difficulties of the Select Committee which the Labour party has proposed. Through the Opposition's general approach to the matters, the cloak of responsibility donned by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook when he. moved the amendment became rather motheaten and disintegrated as his supporters took the Floor.

The Select Committee which he proposes would be able to examine any aspect relating to the Security Service. The amendment suggests that the very existence of the Security Service would depend on that examination. The Select Committee proposed by the Opposition would be able, at any time and in any way, to question all the actions undertaken by the Security Service. All its individual operations and all its most sensitive and secret techniques, all its information, all its expenditure and management decisions would be open to investigation. In practice, by the definition in the amendment, next to nothing could be kept from the Select Committee, which would not only receive information, but be required to compile and analyse it.

Although I am probably not quoting the right hon. Gentleman correctly, I think that he used a phrase which is not in new clause 5 about sharing or taking part of the responsibility for the service. We shall see exactly what he said in Hansard tomorrow, but his speech went even further towards divided responsibility than the new clause itself. The Select Committee will be able to direct reviews by the Security Service and by the commissioner and conduct their own reviews on any matter.

These are not matters of a general nature; they involve the collection of information or the capacity of the service to protect our security, and they could be compiled and analysed only by those who were party to all the acts of the Security Service. Then the information, so far as one can follow the argument, would appear in an annual report. Obviously, there is not much point in compiling and analysing statistics on operational data if they are not largely to be published, and publication, under the Opposition's proposals, would not be a matter in which the Government would have a decisive say. They would be consulted, but it would be for the Select Committee to decide what it should publish. Ministers could make representations but the members of the Select Committee would decide.

So the Opposition propose a Select Committee which would, in effect, be completely inside the barrier of secrecy that the House has often discussed, and there would be no hold on the use that it made of the information that it acquired. To answer the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham), I do not say that hon. Members of any party would deliberately use this information to undermine the Security Service or the nation. That could happen, but I do not say that it is likely. I am saying that the risk of the service and the nation being undermined as a result of information passing into the Select Committee's hands would be substantial.

I also say that responsibility for the disclosure of information about the work of the Security Service should rest with the Executive and nowhere else; otherwise, the situation would be thoroughly confused and risky. A parallel with Lord Frank's committee, which was a single inquiry into a single set of dramatic events in the past, cannot be prayed in aid on this occasion.

Mr. Bermingham

Will the Minister be kind enough to explain why someone who has held high office of state and been entrusted with the state's secrets should, when he becomes an ordinary Member of Parliament and serves on such a Select Committee, change his attitude to the duties and responsibilities that he has had previously?

Mr. Hurd

There are many answers to the hon. Gentleman's point. One is that there is no guarantee under the Opposition's proposal—I am not talking about that of my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills—that such persons would serve. Secondly—I put this politely—the passage of time makes an enormous difference. Opposition Members would not conceivably have adopted many of the attitudes that they now express when they held office themselves or even, perhaps, when the memory of office was still fairly recent. The third answer is that which I have just outlined. I do not suggest that there would automatically be a deliberate desertion of responsibility. I merely suggest that if all this information were in the hands of the Select Committee, with no bar on the way it was used—leaving aside ill will—the position would be risky and confused. For those three reasons, the hon. Gentleman is on to a poor point.

Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West)

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that whether there would be breaches of security would depend on the type of people on the Select Committee? Does he recognise that new clause 5 includes a veto that the Prime Minister could exercise to reject anyone thought to be unsuitable?

Mr. Hurd

I understand that—I read the Opposition's proposal with care—but it does not dispose of my first argument, or touch on the other two at all. Even if the Select Committee defied the sort of advice that it might receive from the Opposition Members who spoke in the latter part of this evening and behaved entirely responsibly—in their view—it would still get itself into a remarkably difficult position. What would be the purpose of a report from the Select Committee if the Secretary of State did not respond to it? Its members would get into difficulties: they would be pressed by people such as Opposition Members to reveal information that they had highly secret operational matters; and if they did not, they would find themselves accused by most Opposition Members who spoke in the latter part of the debate of not doing their job. [Interruption.] That is the critique that we have made of this philosophy for at least two years, and it has not been answered. It has been sharpened in the Opposition proposals.

Mr. Anderson

It is wrong to ignore the Falklands precedent or to say that it was just a one-off operation. Is the Home Secretary aware of any pressures from any Labour Member on my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) who sat on the Falklands committee?

Mr. Hurd

I am not, and that is why I say it was a one-off operation for a single dramatic set of events in the past and is not in any way comparable to what the Opposition now propose.

I shall now turn to the proposition by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills. His is a more sophisticated proposition and, as my hon. Friend acknowledges, it is a less parliamentary one. He proposes a body of Privy Councillors or hon. Members who might become Privy Councillors as a result of their appointment to this committee. Since the debate in 1986 on this subject we have looked seriously at the different proposals for a committee of Privy Councillors or for some other body to oversee and review the work of the Security Service.

The point about the confusion at the heart of the nation's security remains the same whether one is talking about my hon. Friend's proposal or about the Opposition's proposal. As my hon. Friend said, he borrows from the Canadian wording and, like the proposed Select Committee, his review committee would have access to any information in the control of the Security Service. When one looks at the duties that it is expected to perform, one finds that it would be able to carry out those duties only if it had access to all the information. We would then find, although in a diluted form, the same risks and confusions that I mentioned when I spoke about the proposed Select Committee.

A review committee would cut across the line of responsibility and it would come close to what the Opposition have described as divided responsibility. It would put the director-general and the Security Service in a difficult position. If it were doing its job, it would be constantly pressing for the revelation of operational secrets to show the House and public that it was an effective watchdog.

One point becomes more relevant when we come to the complaints part of the Bill. Unlike the Opposition, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills tries to sweep up under the scope of the review committee the complaints procedure that is embodied in the Bill. His proposal would provide a worse service for the complainant with more hurdles than are proposed in the Bill. Instead of having his complaints investigated at once by the tribunal, the aggrieved citizen would not be able to turn to the Security Service review committee in lieu of the tribunal until he had first made a complaint to the director-general and had received no satisfaction. On reflection, my hon. Friend will find that that would put the director-general of the Security Service and the aggrieved citizen—the complainant—in an impossible position.

Mr. Richard Shepherd

The amendments have not just sprung out of our heads. There has been some practice and some experience of the amendments in the operation of the Canadian system. None of the objections advanced by the Home Secretary has pertained there. There have been no objections or complaints and it is a working system in situ. The hypothesis that it may not be right has to be based on something. What evidence does the Home Secretary have for saying that the Canadian system does not work?

Mr. Hurd

I am not criticising. My hon. Friend was not in the House when I dealt with this point earlier.

Mr. Buchan

The Home Secretary did not deal with it.

Mr. Hurd

I dealt specifically with what I described as the Canadian cloth from which my hon. Friend's proposal was woven. I am presently dealing with the handling of complaints. Under our proposal the aggrieved citizens would go straight to the tribunal. I think that I am right in saying that under my hon. Friend's proposal there would be no tribunal. There would be a Security Service review committee, but the aggrieved citizen would have to go to the director-general before he could go to that committee. That is a less direct and less satisfactory means of dealing with a possible grievance than that proposed in the Bill.

9.30 pm

As I listened to the debate, it became increasingly clear that there are deeply different basic approaches to the Security Service. The approach of the Opposition is not entirely that of my hon. Friends the Members for Aldridge-Brownhills and for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken), although the same thought came into their speeches. It is that the Security Service is basically an untamed and possibly dangerous animal that needs to be caged, that a searchlight needs to be trained on the cage, that keepers be employed to enter the cage and announce to the world at every stage what the animal is doing because the main fear is that the animal will escape and pounce on innocent citizens. That is a caricature of the portrait of a Security Service being built out of the speeches of Opposition Members.

The debate has been of high quality, and the only time that I felt a flicker of anger was when I listened to the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) describing the work of the Security Service. My hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) is on to a good point. I come into contact with the Security Service almost every day for various reasons, but partly as result of the Interception of Communications Act and the duties that that has laid upon it. I see a body of people who, in one way or another, are daily trying to use their ingenuity to protect us from espionage, subversion and terrorism, and the greatest of these threats is terrorism. My contact with the Security Service concerns its efforts to protect the hon. Member for Paisley, South, and me, and our constituents, from terrorism, day by day and week by week. But the hon. Gentleman showed no understanding of that dimension. When I hear him going on with all the old stories, I see that there is a substantial difference between the concepts of the two sides of the House of the work of the Security Service.

Mr. Winnick

The Home Secretary knows full well that we do not question the bravery of MI5 officials who combat terrorism and protect the security of our citizens. However, three factors give rise to our concern. The first has been put by the person for whom the Home Secretary used to work—the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), who said that there were some officials in MI5 who did not seem to understand their responsibilities. Secondly, there are Peter Wright's allegations, and, thirdly, and perhaps most important of all, what Cathy Massiter, the former MI5 official, said, which has not been challenged in any way. Should we not be concerned about such matters?

Mr. Hurd

I have heard the hon. Gentleman make his speech several times, and he has just ecapsulated it again. As to his only new point, about my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), I learnt a good deal of what I know about these matters from my right hon. Friend, and I had a fairly rigorous upbringing from him when he was in a position of responsibility. The truth about several speeches—

Mr. Winnick

Answer the question.

Mr. Hurd

I am answering the point made by the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick). What has come through in several speeches from the Opposition—from the hon. Members for Swansea, West (Mr. Anderson, for Caithness and Sutherland, the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) and from parts of the speech of the hon. Member for Walsall, North—is that there is a tension and a difficulty in the fact that the service that has the job of protecting us can do it effectively only to the extent that its operations remain secret. That difficulty is not addressed in the Opposition's solution.

Until fairly recently, we managed to get on fairly well with many of these matters in a certain obscurity, with tension coming to the surface only occasionally.

In the last year or so, we came to the conclusion that the time had come to make a substantial move forward, to put the security service on a statutory basis, to establish a system of authorisation of any interference with property by the Secretary of State and to put that warrant system under the supervision of a commissioner, who would be a judge, and to establish a system of remedy for any aggrieved citizen.

We have heard several aggrieved citizens in today's debate. The hon. Members for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) and for Paisley, South gave us long dissertations about how they believed themselves to have been aggrieved by the activities of the security services. It is no good their waiting for a Labour Government to give them any remedy. I recall no sign of movement and no effective pressure from the last Labour Government, but perhaps I am wrong about that. The two hon. Gentlemen were in and out of Government, so it was difficult to tell. There was no sign of movement, reform or democratic responsibility at that time. They have had to wait until we put forward this Bill to have an opportunity to remedy their alleged grievances.

I hope that those hon. Members will recognise, in the middle of their radicalism, that this is the first time for a long time that it has been possible to discuss these matters in any detail. I hope that they will recognise that we are putting forward three radical changes and are now deciding whether there should be a fourth. Those hon. Members should give us credit for the movement which is taking place and which provides a remedy for the first time for the particular grievances to which they devoted so much of their speeches.

Mr. Heffer

I agree with the Home Secretary. The Labour Government did nothing of any consequence to deal with this question. We argued the case time and again, but the present Government have acted only after all the revelations and the upsurge of feeling among the masses of people in this country that something had to be done.

Mr. Hurd

You could fool me, Mr. Walker, about the upsurge. The hon. Gentleman told us how he created demonstrations in Liverpool and how much difficulty he had in doing that. There has been no upsurge of popular feeling. We introduced this Bill and we are defending it on its merits because the time has come to make this substantial move forward. The idea that we have done so as a result of overwhelming popular pressure shows how out of touch the hon. Gentleman is with public opinion.

The Bill contains three substantial proposals. We are discussing whether there should be an additional scheme and, if so, whether it should be that put forward by the hon. Member for Sparkbrook or the more sophisticated one put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills. I advise the House to resist both schemes and both sets of amendments which are attempts to add a fourth major element to the Bill. If the House took that course, it would certainly blur responsibility in an area where responsibility should not be blurred and it could create substantial dangers.

Mr. Randall

I shall direct my remarks to amendment No. 73 and new clause 5 in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley).

There are three main elements in the Labour party's policy for the Security Service which it has held for some considerable time. First, the service should be on a statutory footing, secondly, its functions should be properly defined and, thirdly, the service should be accountable to Parliament. The Bill proposes putting the Security Service on a statutory footing and we welcome that. On the other two elements of our policy, the Bill fails miserably and that is why we oppose it.

Amendment No. 73 and new clause 5 deal only with scrutiny and accountability. Our belief that the operation of the Security Service should be more democratic lies at the core of the debate. The basis and fundamental guiding principle that I tend to use is that all power in our democracy must be accounted for. Without proper accountability we make the Security Service susceptible to inefficiency, ineffectiveness, corruption and abuse. More importantly to Labour Members, there is the danger of loss of freedom for some individuals in entirely unacceptable ways. A key characteristic of our democratic approach is that it would lead to more openness for the service.

It is important to add that we accept that a characteristic of the Security Service is that some of its operations must remain secret. If we intruded on that secrecy, the usefulness of the service would be impaired. I think that all hon. Members accept that. Certainly that was recognised when we formulated amendment No. 73 and new clause 5. We believe emphatically that it is possible to improve accountability while retaining necessary levels of secrecy. That assertion can be substantiated by experience in the operation of the security services in other countries on a more open and democratic basis than ours.

Our motive in tabling the amendment is twofold. We want greater democracy and we want to see improvements in the operation of the Security Service. We believe that that would be inevitable if the amendment were carried.

I am sure that improved accountability would be welcomed by the many members of the Security Service who feel that its reputation has been besmirched by various scandals over many years. The amendment would help to prevent such damaging scandals for the service in future.

The operation of the Security Service must adhere to three important criteria. First, the service must be effective and efficient in carrying out its functions. Secondly, it must both recognise and protect the civil liberties of the British people. Currently, the service is, in practice, a powerful and insular organisation which operates outside the law and, to all intents and purposes, is unaccountable to Parliament. That leaves it open to various abuses that can and have damaged the civil liberties of many of our citizens. Thirdly, and most importantly, we believe that the service must command the trust and confidence of the British people.

Our contention is that the three criteria can best be met by the Security Service if it becomes accountable to the House by means of the Select Committee that has been advocated in the amendment and the new clause. The proposal to introduce parliamentary accountability was advocated by the Labour party during the passage of the Interception of Communications Bill, which received Royal Assent in 1985. The right hon. and learned Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Waddington), the Government Chief Whip who was then a Home Office Minister, felt that it would undermine ministerial responsibility as well as the responsibility of the senior management of the Security Service. Consequently, he rejected it. He said that there was no need to add another parliamentary dimension to the existing arrangements for control and accountability."—[Official Report, 17 April 1985; Vol. 77, c. 298].

The amendment would do exactly the opposite to that which was argued by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Rather than undermine the positions of the Home Secretary and the senior management of the Security Service, it would strengthen them. The performance of the service would be enhanced through improved accountability. In response to the right hon. and learned Gentleman's argument that another parliamentary dimension to the existing arrangement is not needed, I must state that that is the same as saying that the existing system of parliamentary accountability is working satisfactorily. I firmly reject that.

9.45 pm

In reply to a question on the need for an oversight body from my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) following the statement on the Security Commission's report on the Bettaney affair, the Prime Minister said that the existing arrangements were the best way to run the Security Service because, she said, the service must he run under "unified management."

We all understand the principles under which the Select Committee system works. It is absurd to suggest that accountability to Parliament through a Select Committee along the lines proposed in amendment No. 73 would impair the unity of management of the Security Service. I have spent 35 years in business and industry and as a Member of this House. From my experience I reject the arguments put forward by the Prime Minister and the right hon. and learned Member for Ribble Valley as hollow and wrong.

Anyone who has a good grounding in management and who, through experience, understands basic human nature will appreciate the benefits that can arise through good and effective accountability. I believe that the existing arrangements are disgracefully inadequate and quite antiquated. I wonder whether when the Prime Minister and the right hon. and learned Member for Ribble Valley made their statements they had given even the most superficial consideration to the notion of improved accountability, or did they simply accept another brief from the Security Service chiefs and Permanent Secretaries without question?

It is ironic that the Government hold such rigid and out-of-date views while some of our allies, with whom we co-operate most closely, have oversight systems to improve the performance of their security and intelligence services. What is supposed to make Britain so different from the other countries? Perhaps the Minister will tell us. In particular, perhaps he will comment on remarks made by Stansfield Turner, the former CIA director, who said: It is not good enough for intelligence agencies to be accountable to the Executive. There is a need for a responsible body outside the Executive branch to make sure that Executive is not overenthusiastic in seeking to obtain information important to the national interest. Over-enthusiasm, we have seen, may lead to excess. Mr. Turner added that he believed that oversight improved the quality of CIA operations and provided against future mistakes due to the lack of accountability.

On a similar note, Harvey Barnett the former head of the Australian security and intelligence organisation said: it would be a sign of political health and commonsense to have at least occasional external scrutiny of a body which may be required for national purposes to intrude into the private lives of individuals.

Those quotes come from people with considerable experience of running organisations similar to our Security Service. The message is clear. Scrutiny and accountability along the lines proposed in amendment No. 73 and new clause 5 are vital to the effective operation of security and intelligence services and would protect the civil liberties of our people.

Perhaps the conclusion that we should draw from the Government's position is that they do not care about civil liberties and the freedom of the individual. They have wasted opportunities to introduce changes during the passage of the Bill. However, it is a minimalist Bill, designed merely to get the Government off the hook with the European Court of Human Rights now that that court has declared admissible alleged abuses or civil liberties by the Security Service. The Government have no intention of trying to achieve anything more.

What is wrong with the existing system of accountability? Why do we suggest through amendment No. 73 and new clause 5 improvements to those arrangements? The existing system relies on the Home Secretary monitoring the service on behalf of Parliament. Right hon. and hon. Members are unable to obtain from him any information about the service, except in general terms. The arrangement is shrouded in secrecy, and right hon. and hon. Members must rely on the Home Secretary doing his job efficiently.

The impression I have gained from the debate is that under the existing system of accountability the Home Secretary does not really know what is going on in the Security Service for much of the time. Perhaps the Minister will confirm whether my impression is correct by answering four basic questions. First, does he accept that power over the Security Service is concentrated away from the lines of ministerial responsibility? Secondly, will he confirm that, with security and intelligence, there are no parallel committees of Ministers and civil servants, as often happens, but only committees of officials? Thirdly, will he confirm that those committees of officials are served by Cabinet Office staff whose accountability, such as it is, is through the Cabinet Secretary and the Prime Minister? Finally, does the Minister accept that the effect of those organisational arrangements is to remove Ministers and Parliament from an opportunity to direct the Security Service?

I shall be grateful if the Minister will answer a number of additional, short questions. [Interruption.] We are in Committee, so he can do so. The information I seek is in the public domain, and I want only brief answers for the record. We must find out what the Minister thinks.

Will the Minister confirm that the various aspects of security are co-ordinated at Civil Service level, and there is no equivalent function at ministerial level? Is it true that the Minister does not direct long-term planning or become involved in short-term operations, or even in the service's budgeting? Will he confirm that he is merely fed with information according to need-to-know criteria decided by the Security Service itself? Does he agree that when Ministers are given information, they are not necessarily involved in any decision-making process?

In the context of that last question, I shall be grateful if the Minister will comment on the words of George Young, ex-deputy head of MI6, in Command 8787, "Falkland Islands Review": The higher reaches of the Civil Service undoubtedly make most of the decisions for Ministers. They put them in front of them and say, 'Minister, do you agree?' The ethos of the higher reaches of the Civil Service is not one of stirring up hornets' nests, particularly if some of your best friends are hornets, but in my experience of dealing with Ministers—and I have met a fair amount off and on over some 12 years—they don't hear what you say; you tell them something, it goes in one ear and it is out of the other, and they are busy thinking up the next Parliamentary answer to the next Parliamentary question.

Clearly Mr. George Young, who was very experienced in security and intelligence affairs, did not think much of ministerial accountability. It is a matter of great concern that the so-called system of ministerial accountability, which we are told works satisfactorily, seems to add up to Ministers receiving reports from the Security Service that say, "Everything is fine, Minister." That is quite unacceptable. Only the House has the power to introduce a system of effective accountability. That is why we tabled an amendment and a new clause to establish a Select Committee for the Security Service, I hope that it will be supported by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House.

Mr. Aitken

I think it essential that we make a more determined attempt to probe my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and to challenge some of the sweeping assertions that he made in his winding-up speech. From the point of view of dealing with the Opposition, he could be said to have made a skilful speech: it was not, after all, very difficult to pick off, one by one, some of the sitting Left-wing ducks by attacking their sillier remarks. I believe, however, that he misjudged the mood of the House and the country in ignoring some of the serious arguments put forward by, for example, the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) and the minority parties, and indeed by the libertarian wing of his own party. Although there is tremendous support for the security services, there is also considerable unease about some of the things that have gone wrong, and to make no answer to some of the major criticisms made in the debate was a glaring omission.

First, my right hon. Friend did not answer the point that a busy Secretary of State whose responsibilities span broadcasting, immigration, the police and the Channel islands might not have quite enough time to give the security services the detailed attention and monitoring demanded by the modern world. Secondly, there was not a single good argument to explain what he sees as the flaws of the Canadian system of supervision—referred to in the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd)—which is in situ and working well. Although we heard some lofty disdain, we heard no serious criticism of the system.

My right hon. Friend also did not explain why he is so complacent about the fact that Britain is the only democracy in the English-speaking world with no independent system of oversight of the security services. I find it offensive to the House for the notion of a parliamentary Select Committee to be dismissed with the attitude that "We cannot trust parliamentarians." It is wrong that my right hon. Friend should brush aside the precedent set by the Falklands committee, and suggest that that precedent in no way suggests that a similar Committee could also keep secrets well.

My right hon. Friend has emerged tonight as the King Canute of the oversight argument. Parliamentary or Privy Council oversight of the security services is an idea whose time is here now and will stay here, despite tonight's disappointing ministerial response.

Mr. Maclennan

The Home Secretary has given the debate a most disappointing conclusion. He has completely failed to address the central issues of the amendment tabled by his hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), which draws to his attention the experience of a country in our Commonwealth with a constitution very similar to ours.

The right hon. Gentleman may argue that there is something peculiar about the conduct of the Security Service that makes accountability unimportant. If there is something more important to the country than security, it is war and peace. Ministers of the Crown have always been held to be responsible to Parliament for their decisions and the exercise of their prerogative powers over war and peace. Not only was the Falklands inquiry subjected to consideration by a Committee of the House, but even when we were engaged in total war against the might of imperial Germany it was thought appropriate to establish a committee of inquiry into the Gallipoli disaster. The Committee—

It being Ten o'clock, THE CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again.

Committee report Progress.

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