§ Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)
I beg to move amendment No. 46, in page 1, line 7, leave out from 'be' to end of line 11 and insert'to protect against threats to national security'.
§ The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Paul Dean)
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:
- No. 74, in page 1, line 8, leave out 'in particular'.
- No. 75, in page 1, line 10, after 'actions', insert'which threaten the safety or well-being of the state and which are'.No. 76, in page 1, line 10, leave out from 'actions' to end of line 11 and insert'which would overthrow or contemplate overthrow of government by unlawful means'.No. 77, in page 1, line 10, leave out from 'actions' to end of line 11 and insert'which are calculated to overthrow parliamentary democracy'.
- No. 81, in page 1, line 10, leave out 'or undermine'.
- No. 39, in page 1, line 11, leave out 'industrial'.
- No. 90, in page 1, line 11, after 'industrial', insert 'chemical'.
- No 47, in page 1, line 11, at end insert—'(2A) "Threats to national security" means—
but does not include lawful advocacy, protest or dissent, unless carried on in conjunction with any of the activities referred to in paragraphs (a) to (d) above;'.
- (a) espionage or sabotage that is against the United Kingdom or is detrimental to the interests of the United Kingdom or activities directed toward or in support of such espionage or sabotage;
- (b) the activities of agents of foreign powers that are detrimental to the interests of the United Kingdom and are clandestine or deceptive or involve a threat to any person;
- (c) activities within or relating to the United Kingdom directed toward or in support of the threat or use of acts of serious violence against persons or property for the purpose of achieving a political objective within the United Kingdom or a foreign state; and
- (d) activities directed toward undermining by covert unlawful acts, or directed toward or intended ultimately to lead to the destruction or overthrow by violence of parliamentary democracy,
- No. 78, in page 1, line 12, leave out subsection (3).
- No. 40, in page 1, line 14, at end insert—'(4) All members of the Service shall take an oath to the maintenance of parliamentary democracy'.No. 82, in Clause 2, page 1, line 25, at end insert'any individual, any company or any organisation'.New clause4—Right of protest, advocacy or dissent—'Nothing shall be done under this Act which undermines the right of protest, advocacy or dissent.'.
§ Mr. Shepherd
Amendments Nos. 46 and 47, read together, deal with the definition of national security. Clause 1(2) of the Bill defines the function of the service. Amendment No. 46 should be read in conjunction with amendment No. 47 which defines the threats to national security. In defining national security, the Government 181 have given the essential elements of the matters that worry us all. New clause 4 attempts to make those matters more specific. The mandate to the service should be as clear as possible. We recognise the difficulty involved in that because there are sometimes fine lines of judgment as to whether certain elements fall within the remit of the Security Service. There are also concerns about the intrusiveness that could be a feature of the service if it is not properly defined. These amendments link up with those of other hon. Members and I shall try to explain their purpose.
The first category of threats to national security involves espionage and sabotage and is defined in paragraph (a) of amendment No. 47. It is in line with what the Government propose. It refers toespionage or sabotage that is against the United Kingdom or is detrimental to the interests of the United Kingdom or activities directed toward or in support of such espionage or sabotage".That is a fairly conventional understanding of what is meant by treason.
The second category is defined in paragraph (b) asthe activities of agents of foreign powers that are detrimental to the interests of the United Kingdom and are clandestine or deceptive or involve a threat to any person".That means any foreign interference in our democratic processes which is calculated to affect those processes. It also means that any foreign interference may prejudice the conclusions we may reach during our discussion on such matters.
The third category is defined in paragraph (c) asactivities within or relating to the United Kingdom directed toward or in support of the threat or use of acts of serious violence against persons or property for the purpose of achieving a political objective within the United Kingdom or a foreign state".We link this with paragraph (d). We hope that our amendments are helpful to the Government in their definition of threats to national security.
Terrorism is a blight. It is a way in which politically motivated individuals try to subvert our normal democratic processes in an attempt to bring about a result that cannot be brought about through argument or through our normal electoral process. Espionage and sabotage are not the only forms of foreign activities that should be monitored and investigated. Foreign Governments and political organisations may, in a clandestine way, try to interfere in British political life. The Russians call that "active measures" and the Americans call it "covert action". The common link is that deception is an essential feature.
The Australians have defined foreign interference in the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation Act 1979. The definition is:clandestine or deceptive action taken by or on behalf of a foreign power to promote the interests of that power.Hon. Members supporting the amendments believe that it is appropriate for the intelligence services to give us advance warning so as to place the Government of the day in a position to counter such activities.
Our democratic process requires political objectives to be pursued through public discussion, parliamentary debate and lawful representation. That process is jeopardised when groups attempt to gain their political objectives by threatening or carrying out acts of violence or terrorism. That would be a perversion of our democratic process and control of such activities is a vital part of the remit of the Security Service.
182 Clause 1(2) defines activities directed or intended ultimately to lead to the overthrow or destruction of parliamentary democracy. I accept that there are difficulties, but I am concerned about the Government's definition in the Bill. Perhaps the Secretary of State will mention it. Clause 1(2) states that we should protect national security fromthe activities of agents of foreign powers and from actions intended to overthrow or undermine democracy by political…means.What do the Government mean by their drafting of that clause?
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
The hon. Gentleman has again put his finger on the problems involved because the Bill is highly subjective. If a Socialist Government elected by parliamentary means wanted to introduce widespread Socialism, root and branch, throughout the society, thereby overturning capitalism, would that come within the parameters of clause 1(2)?
§ Mr. Shepherd
There is always a grave problem in distinguishing between what is legitimate and what is illegitimate. Subsection (2A)(d) of amendment No. 47 mentionsthe destruction or overthrow … of parliamentary democracyand adds the important caveat which we consider should be included in the legislative framework that the definitiondoes not include lawful advocacy".If, for example, a political party were advocating through the House of Commons a Socialist system, I would oppose it, but it would be within the framework of our parliamentary democracy. Our caveat is that the definitiondoes not include lawful advocacy, protest or dissent, unless carried on in conjunction with any of the activities referred to in paragraphs (a) to (d) above".5 pm
The definition is important because it provides a marker. When people are commissioned to do a job, greater clarity of their remit is obviously to their advantage, and to their advantage, and to the advantage of the Ministers responsible for directing the services, in that the benchmark is as clear as possible. The legislatures of Australia, New Zealand and Canada have considered that concept. Our definition covers the word "subversion" which is not used in the Bill. We are trying to make the difficult decision as to what constitutes subversion. That problem exercises the mind because there is such a narrow line. If a party such as the Communist party advocates the dictatorship of the proletariat and a non-parliamentary system, because the dictatorship of the proletariat is directed by the vanguard, one has the dilemma that the Communist party is dedicated to the overthrow of parliamentary democracy.
Mr. Eric S. Heller (Liverpool, Walton)
I should like to correct the hon. Gentleman. The Communist party in Britain and in most countries has not advocated the dictatorship of the proletariat for a long time. Indeed, it no longer accepts that concept.
§ Mr. Heffer
My right hon. Friend is quite right. The Communist party is in favour of an electoral pact. If one reads the documents which argue for the dictatorship of the proletariat, first by Marx and later by Lenin—never 183 mind Stalin, who created a dictatorship over the proletariat—it is clear that they were arguing for a greater extension of democracy by the mass of workers, which they regarded as a dictatorship of the majority over the minority. I am arguing about what we mean by philosophical argument. Lord Hailsham talks about the parliamentary dictatorship of the majority, but no one would suggest that Lord Hailsham wants to overthrow parliamentary democracy. He simply has a rather funny view of it. Those who argue for the dictatorship of the proletariat have an equally funny view of it, but those arguments do not mean that parliamentary democracy is being undermined. Such people may be wrong, but it does not follow that they are subversive simply because they put forward such arguments.
§ Mr. Shepherd
I am not sure what to make of that intervention. My memories are seared by Lenin's captivating little book entitled, "What is to be done?" If one views that as a treatise of democratic persuasion in the context of a liberal democracy, one has to reject the hon. Gentleman's argument.
§ Mr. Shepherd
Nor does it argue for a liberal democracy.
I mentioned the Communist party to show that there is a difficult area in defining what is supportive of a liberal democracy. Under our constitutional arrangements, we can change the political process through the House of Commons accountable to the electorate through a definable democratic process. I consider that the fundamental purpose of the Security Service is to defend our liberal democracy. It exists so that we shall not be gainsaid by terrorists exploding bombs and we shall not change public policy in this country determined by the electorate because agents of a foreign power are trying to subvert our democratic processes. We are trying to make those definitions which we accept are difficult and would create difficulties for any Government.
The purpose of the amendment and the caveat is to reflect on the approach of other countries. A comparative approach can serve us well in examining why such matters cause anxiety in Britain and in other countries. Because Security Service agents have gone on the record or gone public on television, all hon. Members are aware that the Security Service has tapped telephones, I assume with a warrant. We have learnt that they have tapped the telephones of trade union leaders and members of CND. In all our constituencies, perfectly loyal fellow citizens are members of trade unions and members of CND. Whether one agrees with their particular objectives or not, we do not doubt—and I am sure that the security services do not doubt—that they are genuine, legitimate political activities.
§ Mr. Shepherd
As the hon. Gentleman says, I am speaking for myself, but that is how I would analyse the position. If there was telephone tapping, what mandate 184 enabled Security Service officials to interpret their duties or responsibilities to a liberal democracy as being to interfere with the privacy of perfectly loyal citizens?
§ Mr. Banks
The fact that they do not have the same liberal instincts and values as the hon. Gentleman. If the hon. Gentleman were in charge of the Security Service, the Opposition would be a damned sight more satisfied than we are at present. That is the problem. Clause 1 is all about subjective judgments and party political prejudices. That is why it is so dangerous.
§ Mr. Shepherd
That is why we have moved an amendment which tries to define the appropriate mandate which best expresses the will of the House as appropriate to or consonant with democratic behaviour.
Despite what I read, in my experience the Security Service is essentially benign. But in all large organisations there will be rogue elephants. I accept the observation from within and without the Security Service that some officials suffer from sensory deprivation and over a period of time they lose sight of the objectives of their job. That is why the amendments seek to make the objectives as clear as possible. That is just one link in the chain. Oversight, which we discussed yesterday, is another link in the chain, but the mandate is clear. It allows for legitimate dissent so that any security officer or director-general preparing a warrant, for example, is aware that the warrant has to comply with the mandate, and every time there is reference to his lines of responsibility he comes upon the concept in statute. That is the requirement in New Zealand, Australia and Canada, but it does not cover lawful advocacy, protest and dissent unless carried on in conjuction with the criminal activities of terrorists and so on.
I put in the caveat because of that anxious definition. I raised the objectives of the Communist party as I understood them—but I stand corrected—because the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat does not encompass what I understand to be the role of this Chamber and our ability every four years to change the Government and elect a government of our own choice. That was the purpose of the amendment.
My concern is that we have a court looking over our shoulders. The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has already trawled through some of this landscape in the important case of Leander v. Sweden in 1987 in which the court's decision stated that to justify any interference with a person's right of privacy on the grounds of national security it was necessary to givean adequate indication of the scope and manner of the exercise of the discretion conferred on the responsible authorities to collect, record and release information".It continued:The law has to be sufficiently clear in its terms to give ordinary citizens an adequate indication as to the circumstances in which and the conditions on which the public authorities are empowered to resort to secret and potentially dangerous interference with private life.The anxiety felt by several supporters of the amendments is that the clause as drafted is subject to broader interpretation than is appropriate and that it will bring us before the European Court of Human Rights. I am always nervous of that risk because it may be thought that that legislation embodies our perception of what is appropriate and honourable.
I do not wish to be entirely negative, but the Government's proposals do not accord even with the old Maxwell Fyfe definitions and limiting clauses, and are not 185 as broad. The Maxwell Fyfe provisions are better directed, and it would have been better if the Government had chosen to incorporate them. In New Zealand, provision is conditional. The Maxwell Fyfe directive imposes limitations in paragraph 3. Paragraph 4 states:It is essential that the Security Service should be kept absolutely free from any political bias or influence, and nothing should be done that might lend colour to any suggestion that it is concerned with the interests of any particular section of the community, or with any other matter than the Defence of the Realm as a whole.The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) said, "And a lot of good that did us—the Government can write whatever mandates, directions or instructions they like, but they have been circumvented." One is cautious on that point, but if one is chasing a fox, sometimes one gets carried away. I make no more of the point than that.
We are trying to construct a framework which, in association with other amendments concerning oversight, reviews, and the issuing of warrants, will provide proper direction to, and control over, the Security Service, and will give confidence to the public that the Security Service is working in the interests of us all, and to Ministers that the beast that they are riding is a kind and gentle one in its attitude to democracy and is not subversive.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
I and my hon. Friends support the amendments described by the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), and I shall address several others dealing with cognate points, but which are different in their emphasis and drafting, and in some cases deal with other matters entirely.
I recognise that a number of the amendments tabled in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) concern problems that are dealt with also in the amendments of the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills, but in a different way—perhaps being closer to the language of the Bill. Our amendments are offered as an alternative. The exercise in which we are engaged this afternoon is essentially constructive, and we are trying to ensure that the Security Service's mandate is clearly defined in a way that meets the concern that it shall not be engaged in supervising political activities that do not constitute a threat to the state.
As to amendment No. 46, which the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills particularly addressed, I agree with the reasoning behind it. which is based on good foreign experience—particularly that of Australia. Amendment No. 74 is designed to probe why the Government have used in clause 1(2) the words "in particular" and gives examples of the circumstances in which the Security Service can operate. By its use of the words "in particular", the subsection suggests that the service's function shall be protection of national security in ways other than those that it subsequently specifies. One questions whether inclusion of the words "in particular" broadens the scope of the service's functions so wide as to damage the confinement of the subsequent definitions. I am not clear why the subsequent definitions are given if the scope of the service is intended to be as wide as it will be if they are excluded. I trust that I make myself obscure.
Amendment No. 75 is offered as an alternative to amendment No. 46, and inserts in clause 1(2), after the word "actions", 186which threaten the safety or well-being of the state and which are.Its purpose is to deal specifically with concerns already expressed in speeches and in interventions that the Security Service could, as the clause is drafted, involve itself with actions that areintended to overthrow or undermine parliamentary democracy by political … means.That aspect was squarely addressed by the Select Committee on Home Affairs, which drew attention to the definition of subversion of Lord Harris of Greenwich in February 1975, and accepted its appropriateness, arguing that it is essentialthat both limbs of the definition shall apply before an activity can properly be regarded as subversive. Both limbs refer to activities that are defined in the guidelines as threatening the safety or well-being of the state and which are intended to undermine or overthrow parliamentary democracy.Clause 1(2) as drafted leaves us without both limbs being encompassed in the clause. The Home Secretary may hold another view, but it is a matter of drafting and I hope his intention is to ensure that both limbs are incorporated. As I construe the clause, there is an invitation to the Security Service to supervise or investigate by means authorised by warrantactions intended to overthrow or undermine parliamentary democracy by political … means",which is unacceptable.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
The hon. Gentleman supports a point that I made in an earlier intervention. The argument becomes clearer if we substitute the word "capitalism" for the term "parliamentary democracy". I do not believe that the majority of Conservative Members believe in parliamentary democracy. They go along with it for just as long as it supports capitalism. If we substitute "capitalism", we shall really know what the clause means to achieve. I am one of those who wants to undermine capitalism by political means. That is why I am a Labour Member of Parliament.
§ Mr. Maclennan
I shall not follow the hon. Gentleman down that route, which I have no doubt that he will wish to develop in a subsequent intervention.
The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills also dealt with all the "legs" of amendment No. 47, which sets out the definitions of circumstances in which it is right for the Security Service to exercise its functions. I agree particularly with what he called the caveat clause at the end, which I consider essential.
I regard amendment No. 78 as, to some extent, a probe, but it is an important amendment none the less. I am glad of the support that it has received from some Labour Members. The amendment seeks to delete subsection (3), which, rather oddly, provides thatIt shall also be the function of the Service to safeguard the economic well-being of the United Kingdom against threats posed by the actions or intentions of persons outside the British Islands.That is a very wide provision, and it is not at all clear what is meant bythe economic well-being of the United Kingdom".The subsection seems to allow the Security Service to be involved in the oversight of many matters that have certainly not been in its purview before, and to open the door very wide for its intervention in matters that do not threaten the security of the state. I should like to hear from the Home Secretary why the subsection has been included, what kind of activities he has it in mind for the service to 187 consider and why it should be involved. No doubt the House will wish to consider what he says before reaching a further view, and no doubt consideration will also have to be given in the other place.
§ Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)
I am pleased to support the amendments so ably spoken to in the first instance by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd). I also support—with one or two queries and qualifications—those tabled by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan).
We are talking here about the definitions of the functions of the Security Service. I think that it is common ground that we need as clear as possible a definition in the interests of a strong and effective Security Service, and also in the interests of building public trust in that service. On the face of it, the definitions in clause 1 look reasonably convincing. I think that they can be improved, but the notion that we need a Security Service to protect national security from espionage, terrorism, sabotage and the overthrow of parliamentary democracy is, at the very least, not a bad shot at defining the functions that our citizens expect a Security Service to carry out.
Is my right hon. Friend entirely confident, however, that those definitions are true and accurate? I can point to at least three instances in which the Security Service has, in the recent past, seemed to operate in areas of activity beyond those defined in the clause. For example, it is common knowledge that the service is from time to time engaged in what are known as "leak investigation procedures", when awkward pieces of information are leaked to journalists and others in the form of documents.
I remember being involved nearly 20 years ago in a court case which had nothing whatever to do with national security, let alone espionage, sabotage or terrorism. Nevertheless, not only were MI5 officers involved; when the editor of the Sunday Telegraph came to be tried at the Old Bailey it was reported in the press that the director-general of the Security Service sat in court for two or three days listening to the evidence and the barristers' arguments. There was no question of any of the functions covered by the Bill being involved in that case. It is, I think, possible to point to a good many subsequent journalistic cases in which MI5 has been involved in leak procedure investigations which have been way beyond the scope of the Bill. Is my right hon. Friend confident that the Bill will stop the previous activity of MI5?
§ Mr. Tony Banks
The hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong, but surely most leak inquiries have been initiated by Ministers.
§ Mr. Aitken
I do not think that we can blame the Security Service if in the past it has been instructed to carry out certain functions.
§ Mr. Aitken
I am at one with the hon. Gentleman. Perhaps, indeed, the definitions in the Bill are a salutary reminder not only to the Security Service but to its political masters.
§ Mr. Ray Whitney (Wycombe)
May I make a point about the activities of the Security Service in days gone by, and in particular my hon. Friend's brush with the authorities, to which he referred? The clause refers tothe protection of national security".Was not the release of a document labelled "confidential", in which my hon. Friend was involved—it may or may not have been classified correctly; that is a different argument—carried out without authorisation, as far as the authorities were concerned? That was an action in protection of national security. Is not that case covered?
§ Mr. Aitken
I do not really have to argue the case with my hon. Friend, because the prosecuting counsel—whose words I recall vividly to this day—said in his opening speech at the Old Bailey, "Members of the jury, national security is not involved in this case." He was absolutely right to say that, because there was no question of anything other than the embarrassment of the Foreign Office and, perhaps, difficulties for our diplomatic relations. I think that a good many such journalistic inquiries could be stretched into the area of national security only by the most vivid leaps and arabesques of febrile imaginations. Here, surely, we can point to one past function of the Security Service which ought to be knocked out by the Bill.
There is another area of MI5's activity which, in the past at least, has been without the definitions in clause 1. The Security Service has been involved in investigating organisations that could be said to be critical of, and perhaps hostile to, the policies of the Government of the day. I am thinking of, for example, the investigations into the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. It is, I believe, common knowledge that there was considerable soul-searching in the Security Service before it embarked on those investigations, but it was nevertheless instructed to do so.
There should also have been soul-searching before the Security Service investigated the National Council for Civil Liberties. The notion that such people as the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman) and Miss Patricia Hewitt were in some way involved in espionage, terrorism, sabotage or national security is too ridiculous to be taken seriously. Yet we know that those organisations were investigated by MI5.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
Would the hon. Gentleman not agree with me that of course it was ridiculous, but we have had absolutely no reason or justification given, except by the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) who said the National Council for Civil Liberties had been influenced by Communists, as perhaps it had been over 30 years ago. Is it not a fact that in the absence of any kind of parliamentary scrutiny all we get is the Minister of State responding to the Second Reading debate and saying he cannot possibly go into operational details?
§ Mr. Aitken
I do not want to go over yesterday's debate again today, but I do think that amendment No. 47, which is the amendment put forward by my hon. Friend the 189 Member for Aldridge-Brownhills, is extremely well drafted, because if it was in the Bill it would allow MI5 to investigate such organisations, provided they really were a threat to national security, but with the very important rider that any such activities being investigated must not of course includelawful advocacy, protest or dissent, unless carried on in conjunction with any of the activities referred to in paragraphs (a) to (d) above",and they basically cover espionage, sabotage, and so on.
§ Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay)
Is it not the case that very often the Security Service may receive information from reliable, or perhaps unreliable sources? I mentioned yesterday a boastful conversation between two suspected KGB officers, the implication being that there was some kind of contact with a particular organisation. Is it not therefore the responsibility of the Security Service to make investigations and not to continue surveillance for ever and a day. but legitimately to look at a particular organisation or a particular individual where allegations have been made, and then perhaps to clear that person? Surely we cannot limit the role of the Security Service to at least conducting that preliminary investigation.
§ Mr. Aitken
I understand the point my hon. Friend is making and I think the answer is really this. Of course we cannot blame the Security Service for chasing after what it believes to be a genuine scent for one reason or another, but at least amendment No. 47 will stop it running after a lot of false scents because it will have to remember not just what a rumour about a contact may be but its duty to make sure that the organisation concerned is not just involved in lawful advocacy, lawful dissent. So it is a good clause and a good amendment to have on the statute book.
May I now turn to a third area in which I believe MI5 tread from time to time, which again seems to be outside the terms of this Bill. I understand that the director general of the Security Service from time to time advises Ministers, and advises in particular the Prime Minister, on matters which could loosely be called security matters but are not absolutely security matters involving terrorism, sabotage, and the undermining of parliamentary democracy. For instance, I am told that the director general of the Security Service of the day regularly advises an incoming Prime Minister after an election if, in the view of the Security Service, there are any candidates around who might be considered for ministerial office who could constitute a security risk. This has certainly been true in the past, as we know, from memoirs about advice given to former Prime Minister Lord Wilson. Indeed, there was the rather hilarious case when he was advised not to continue the ministerial career of the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen). This turned out to be a confusion between a David Owen and a Will Owen.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
There was another case, of course. Harold Wilson was given advice by the security services not to appoint Judith Hart, now Baroness Hart, because the security service had confused two Harts, one of whom was a member of the Communist party named Tudor Hart. The fact is that mistakes can be made, but of course for those who are trying to climb up the greasy pole in this place they could be fatal in political terms.
§ Mr. Aitken
I take the hon. Gentleman's point, and behind it, of course, lies the important argument in this debate that any such advice, however well-meaning it may 190 be, is advice which falls outside the terms of the Bill's definition of the functions of the Security Service. Just in case Labour Members think that these kinds of mistakes are totally confined to their side of the House and to Labour Prime Ministers, they may be interested to know that I was told—I believe reliably—that just after the 1979 general election no fewer than six parliamentary colleagues from these Benches were fingered by MI5 as being in some way not quite suitable for office. I cannot believe they were all saboteurs or terrorists, or indeed that they were trying to undermine parliamentary democracy—the very process that sent them to Westminster.
§ Mr. Allason
I have no role to defend the Security Service, but it seems to me that in the cases of Hart and Owen it was not necessarily the Security Service that made a mistake. Is it not the case that Will Owen was in fact prosecuted? He was acquitted, but he subsequently admitted to having conducted espionage. Similarly, with the case of Mrs. Hart, there were two Mrs. Harts; one, Mrs. Jenifer Hart, who had been in touch with Soviet intelligence officers, and a second, Mrs. Tudor Hart, who was mentioned.
The point I am making is this: it has been assumed by the House that the blunder or error in mistaking these names or confusing these identities was a mistake made on the part of the Security Service, and that is not my information.
§ Mr. Aitken
I do not think there is necessarily anything wrong with the Security Service, if that is its defined role in law, advising Ministers or the Prime Minister that it has good grounds for believing that X or Y inside or outside this House is a security risk. The point is that these functions are not in this Bill at all. The only people they should be fingering in this way are terrorists, saboteurs, or those who are involved in espionage or threats to national security. That is a very different category from the kinds of activities I am getting at.
My serious question to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is this: is the remit of the Security Service really as narrow today as clause 1 in its present form says it is? In the past I think I have given enough indications to suggest there are areas where MI5 is operating which are outside the narrow areas of definition of this Bill, and I really do commend amendment No. 47 to my right hon. Friend. I think it would certainly provide a far better definition.
I now turn to amendment 78, which is the one tabled by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland, which is to knock out completely subsection (3), which refers to the economic well-being of the United Kingdom outside the British Isles. I want to know why MI5 should be involved in this activity at all. Surely activity outside the British islands is for the Secret Intelligence Service. Why is our domestic Security Service suddenly beng sent out to monitor the gnomes of Zurich who are speculating against sterling? I cannot understand this clause and what it is getting at.
There may be times when it is necessary to protect against threats to the well-being of the United Kingdom. For example, I hope the Security Service was on the ball when Mr. Arthur Scargill went to see Mr. Gaddafi to try to get financial assistance for what definitely was an 191 attempt to overthrow parliamentary democracy. Nevertheless, I have difficulty in understanding why the domestic Security Service is being dragged into activity outside these islands.
Finally, I would like to say a few words about amendment No. 90, which stands in my name, which attempts to strengthen the security services by giving them statutory authority over a very new and frightening area of terrorism, the threat posed to our national security by chemical agents such as poisons and nerve gases.
Until the recent Iran-Iraq war there was a comfortable assumption held by many experts to the effect that the moral obloquy of chemical and poison gas warfare could somehow preserve an uneasy international truce in this area of weaponry. But that assumption was shattered by the use of mustard gas in the Iran-Iraq war and, in particular, by the lethal gassing of civilian Kurds in March and August 1988. Soon after that terrible event President-elect Bush made an eloquent comment on the outrage that many would echo when he said:I thought we had relegated the horrors of chemical warfare to the history books. I thought we had banished for ever what we all saw only a few months ago—a mother trying to protect her child, waving her arms against the invisible winds of death.That vivid phrase,the invisible winds of deathmay be the coming horror in tomorrow's evil world of terrorist outrages. Evidence is mounting that several nations are now starting to manufacture, or are planning to manufacture, chemical agents and nerve gases for use by terrorist agents.
The world has now been alerted to the Gaddafi plant at Rabta, 40 miles south of Tripoli, which, in the view of western intelligence agencies, well-supported by my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary's testimony, is certainly not a pharmaceutical plant for peaceful commercial purposes. It is highly unlikely that any such plant would be surrounded by anti-aircraft guns and missiles.
We are not just dealing with the possibility of Colonel Gaddafi supplying chemical agents to the IRA—not unlikely in view of his track record in supplying explosives to those terrorists. Other nations with terrorist forces operating in the twilight zone of international outlawry are now in, or getting into, the chemical weapons manufacturing business. Those nations include Syria, Cuba and North Korea.
If chemical weaponry is on the march, how well prepared is our Security Service to deal with it? I accept that some uses of those chemical agents and weapons may come well outside the Security Service's remit. For example, it would be for the defence forces to counter obvious attacks such as the firing of missiles at Britain armed with biological warheads.
But what about more subtle moves to overthrow or subvert Britain by chemical agents? There is no need for terrorists to bomb the Grand hotel at Brighton if the entire sleeping Cabinet could be wiped out by dropping nerve agent pellets into the air conditioning system. One blast of an aerosol can containing lethal germs such as Dengue fever into a crowded auditorium could debilitate and ultimately kill half a Government. Our parliamentary democracy could be overthrown in that way or by 192 dropping drugs such as LSD into a city water supply causing debilitating havoc. Horrific though those Strangelovian ideas may seem, it is worth spending a moment talking about them because there is now little doubt among specialists that some are in the planning and preparation stage by tomorrow's terrorists.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Is it not also a fact that much, if not all, of the expertise for manufacturing such evil weapons is coming from the west? The technology is being exported by countries such as Western Germany, the United States and Britain. It was appalling to hear that someone could buy such weapons in some sort of market. I accept that it was not a legitimate market, but somehow they were available for sale. Perhaps the Security Service should speed up its activities in some commercial areas where so much expertise is clearly being made available to countries that want to manufacture their own gas weapons.
§ Mr. Aitken
The hon. Gentleman is right. I agree completely. I am arguing that the Security Service needs authority and power to look at this horrific new area of the expansion of terrorism. I take his point that getting to the supply line, which may well be in a western country such as ours, is vital.
How well prepared is the Security Service to deal with that potential problem? It is not sufficiently authorised by the Bill. Chemical terrorism may not necessarily be violent or industrial, certainly not in the preparatory stages. However, the preparedness of the Security Service is almost more important than the authority being given by the Bill. For example, I wonder how many MI5 officers have degrees in chemistry or pharmacology. How many have any training in counter-terrorism on chemical weapons? The precedents are not encouraging. The only reference to MI5's chemical knowledge that I have been able to trace was, as so often in the past, a somewhat comic opera one, when MI5 decided that Hugh Gaitskell had been murdered by Soviet agents using a chemical formula. MI5's response was to send a former Army signals officer to talk to the British Medical Association. That is not the kind of specialist knowledge and expertise that is necessary in today's world. We need specialisation.
The matter of supplies is vital. A quotation from George Shultz bears out the point made by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). In The Wall Street Journal on 3 January he was quoted as saying:The Europeans can still turn this thing off by denying the Libyans equipment and chemical agents and precursors.The Security Service needs the legal authority and professional capacity to turn off chemical terrorism at the supply line stage, the subversion stage and the attack stage. If anybody in Britain is selling such equipment—medium to low-technology stuff—the clause does not cover it. The word "chemical" needs to be in the Bill. I hope that the House does not think that I am guilty of futuristic scaremongering. If we can include this amendment in the Bill, it will give the Security Service a new professionalism and give a message to some of our allies, particularly the United States, that we are seriously worried about this issue.
§ Mr. Benn
The amendments touch on the nub of the Bill—what is subversion and what is national security and who should decide what is national security and who 193 should decide what is subversion? Having the Bill means that we have probably had more meaningful discussion on the Security Service than we have had in recent years.
For a long time the general public have been persuaded that it is in their interests that foreign spies and domestic terrorists should be under careful scrutiny. Communists were automatically identified with foreign spies. I imagine that if the Soviet Union had wanted spies in Britain it would not have picked members of the Communist party. However, that was one of the foolish ideas that was current. The whole thing had to be covered by the tightest security and secrecy and judges capitulated whenever they heard the magic word "security".
The amendment is important because the definition of subversion is a political decision. Who is the enemy is a political question. We do not say that the chief of staff will announce which enemy country he intends to attack. That too is a political question. After all, security is a part of defence. We have an annual defence White Paper in which we are told what resources we have at out disposal and where they are deployed. We have an annual Army order. When I was first in Parliament an Act went through every year. Now it is an annual order. If the House does not endorse that order, the discipline of the armed forces disappears on the day that the old order expires. Why does that procedure not apply to the Security Service?
What is it about the Security Service's political objectives that makes them different from the defence forces' political objectives? The answer is that the decision about what is subversive has been taken by MI5, sometimes upon the intervention of Ministers. I say without any disrespect to the Home Secretary that I would be surprised if, like his predecessors, he really knew what was going on. Certainly some of my colleagues who were his predecessors did not know what was going on, because what was going on was an attempt to get the Labour Government out of office. I cannot believe that Lord Jenkins of Hillhead or my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) was in charge of such an operation.
If one pursues the matter more fully, one finds that if pressed the Security Service would say that it is responsible not to the Home Secretary but to the Crown, a concept that I tried to explore on Second Reading. The Crown is a mysterious idea which implies a continuity of activity. The security services have really been protecting the status quo, which is not the same as parliamentary democracy. Parliamentary democracy is supposed to allow one to change the status quo by political action. If one cannot change the status quo by voting, why vote? Immediately we come to the relationship between what is called national security, which is defined as the political and economic status quo, and subversion, which, in the case of parliamentary democracy, is a legal form of trying to change the status quo. The Home Secretary knows that, or his draftsmen have worked on that basis. If one then says that parliamentary democracy is trying to change the status quo by political means, one is caught by the Bill. If one is trying to undermine parliamentary democracy by political actions, one is a subversive. The Home Secretary has put his finger on that. If one interprets parliamentary democracy as meaning that one wants to change anything, one is covered by the Bill because one is trying to undermine parliamentary democracy by political action.
194 The Home Secretary may smile and may give as many assurances as he likes, but I am defining how the Bill will work and that is how the system has worked until now.
Another aspect of the matter, which I have raised before, is that the condition under which the Americans allow us to borrow nuclear weapons is that American intelligence supervises British intelligence. The Americans have to check procedures and, for many purposes, they have to check people who are engaged in activities in which they take an interest. In a strange way, the definition in amendment No. 47 covers the Americans. It refers tothe activities of agents of foreign powers that are detrimental to the interests of the United Kingdom and are clandestine or deceptive or involve a threat to any person".That would deal with James Angleton immediately, but no British Government who wished to retain nuclear weapons could implement such an amendment.
It is not only the theory of the matter that is interesting but the practice. In Field Marshal Lord Carver's television broadcast after his resignation as chief of the general staff, he said that for most of history Britain's armed forces were concerned with domestic security. He pointed out—and this point was interesting to me—that there have not been many foreign wars in which the British Army has been engaged. We fought the French and, a couple of times, the Germans, but for most of our history the armed forces have performed the function of security forces. That is why Parliament, in 1688, resolved that it did not want a standing army. That domestic function has been far greater, in the mind of the security services, over a long period. We have been told that the Russians were planning to invade. I do not know how many people now believe that Mr. Gorbachev is planning an attack on London. According to opinion polls, only 2 per cent. think that a Russian attack is very likely.
The concept of the "enemy within" is central to the issue. The present Prime Minister has made it explicit that the "enemy within" became the dominant consideration of the security services at the time when there was a Socialist challenge to the status quo. Trade unions are, by definition, considered to be potentially subversive by the security services. I know that because my private secretary in one of my Departments tried to take advantage of the scheme for interchange with industry. He said that he did not want an interchange with industry, but that he wanted to go to a trade union for a time. He was warned off because, in the eyes of the establishment that still runs the security services, trade unionism was subversive in itself. I am saying not that the security services believe that every trade unionist is subversive, but that the purpose of trade unionism is subversive.
I want to deal next with the peace movement. The right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), when he was Secretary of State for Defence, was able to instruct MI5 to bug the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament—the Cathy Massiter case. That shows that anyone whose view of the world differs from the view that peace has been retained by nuclear weapons against the Red Army is a subversive—and that view is still held. No one should imagine that Peter Wright's story ended with his retirement or with the acquisition of power by the present Government.
§ Mr. Allason
I do not want the case of Cathy Massiter to be misrepresented or misinterpreted. Was it not the case that my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), who was then Secretary of State for Defence, requested information from the Security Service relating to 195 CND and that the Security Service—quite rightly—declined to give any classified information? There was a disagreement and thereafter the Security Service agreed to supply information about CND to the section in the Ministry of Defence that had been set up to combat it, but only if the information came from open sources. The Security Service acted properly in declining to supply any classified information, and that was the judgment of the person who subsequently investigated Cathy Massiter's allegations, which were then dismissed.
§ Mr. Benn
The hon. Member may have more knowledge of these matters than I have, as he speaks with such confidence about what happened, and that illustrates my point. We should have known the information to which, apparently, the hon. Gentleman is privy and we should have had a chance to test the matter. I do not believe for a moment what he has said, but I cannot prove that, and he cannot prove the validity of his remarks, because the whole matter is covered by secrecy.
The next category of people who are considered to be subversive are the various types of Socialists. It is funny that the Communist party is held to be subversive now. As far as I can make out, it is advocating electoral pacts, so the security services do not seem to be up to date. But the people in the security services are not politically clever. I was once invited, as a Minister, to attend a conference of the Socialist International, a respectable body which was then presided over by Willy Brandt. My private secretary said to me that MI5 would not let me go. He said that the reason was that the International Socialists were on our list. He did not know the difference between the International Socialists and the Socialist International. That does not show a high level of political intelligence. There may be a need for more chemists in MI5. Perhaps it would not be a bad idea if MI5 were also to employ people who understand Socialism and realise that there are many varieties of Socialism.
I remember the case of a woman who was refused employment by the Civil Service because her father read The Daily Worker. We should not deceive ourselves that the amendment will be passed, but we can use Parliament to make available through Hansard—the only publicly owned newspaper that has not yet been acquired by Rupert Murdoch—to those who bother to read our speeches the truth about what is happening.
§ Mr. Benn
I shall just finish this point.
The security services go to universities and ask teachers about the political activities of particular students who may have applied for a job in the defence industry or the Civil Service. Lecturers have told me that MI5 was sniffing around to find out whether Mr. Jones or Mr. Smith was reliable. If one has a friend who is keen to join the Civil Service, the first advice to give such a young man is, "Don't go to political meetings, my friend, because if you do, you may not get into the Civil Service." One reason why the security services and the Civil Service are so ignorant about political argument is that, to join the security services, one must have an unblemished record. One must not even read Campaign Group News or Tribune because that might suggest that one wanted to change the status quo.
§ Mr. Benn
Let me finish going through the categories of subversives.
Another category is those who are known to be politically active on an issue that may appear to be harmless. People may be against vivisection, for example, but it is always possible, in the minds of those who sniff around, that such people might take part in other activities that could be threatening. What is misleading is to pretend that the activities of the security services in the past, or the way in which they will operate in future, has anything to do with protecting the people's democratic rights. They are designed to protect the status quo.
§ Mr. Winnick
My right hon. Friend will probably not remember an incident that took place in the 1960s when he succeeded Frank Cousins as Minister of Technology. I brought it to his notice that somebody who wanted to work in a rather junior capacity in the Civil Service had apparently been refused a job, not because she was a member of the Labour party but because her father had been born abroad. Like many others, he had come here from Tsarist Russia before 1917, for pretty obvious reasons. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend intervened or not, but I am glad to say that that person eventually received an offer of employment.
§ 6 pm
§ Mr. Benn
That is absolutely right. We have not yet discussed the question of vetting. The employees of the BBC are vetted. One cannot get a senior job at the BBC until one has been cleared by the security services. Do they imagine that a lot of terrorists are about to be made head of news and current affairs? The Clerks in this House are vetted. I know that from the evidence given to the Committee of Privileges. Members' research assistants are vetted. What has that to do with terrorism or espionage?
§ Mr. Benn
I do not want to detain the House. I am merely trying to put a few fruits on the harvest festival altar so that people may observe them later.
The next question is, "What is parliamentary democracy?" It has been defined in many different ways. Last summer, we celebrated the tercentenary of 1688—apparently the year of the birth of parliamentary democracy. I should have thought that William of Orange would have been regarded as one of these foreigners trying to disturb parliamentary democracy, but it turns out that he was in at its birth. I am reminded of the sayingWhy does treason never prosper?
Here's the reason:
For if it prosper, none dare call it treason. The other day I went through the Second Reading of the Reform Bill. The Conservatives of the time were opposed to the Reform Bill because they thought that it would undermine parliamentary democracy. Mr. Asquith, the great Liberal leader, opposed votes for women on the ground that that proposal would upset parliamentary democracy.
Parliamentary democracy has been defined to mean the status quo at the time. What is it in practice? The Crown in Parliament is sovereign and the powers of the Crown—except for the power to dissolve Parliament or to ask someone to form a Government—are not personal to the 197 sovereign. Every Prime Minister—I do not differentiate between the present Prime Minister and her predecessors in this respect—uses the powers of the Crown to do all sorts of things that have nothing to do with Parliament and nothing to do with democracy. The Prime Minister appoints the Archbishop of Canterbury. What has that to do with Parliament or democracy? The Prime Minister appoints the judges and the chairman of the BBC. She appoints Lord Chalfont to the IBA. The Prime Minister can go to war without consulting Parliament or sign treaties without consulting Parliament. The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) signed the treaty of accession to the Common Market before it was even published. All such activities are undertaken under the Crown prerogative.
Suppose that we say that we do not like the use of that prerogative. Is that an attempt to undermine parliamentary democracy by political action? I have long been a republican and I believe that the Queen should be the head of the Commonwealth. Is that subversive? Is it subversive to want to abolish the House of Lords, which has no democratic base in society? Many Liberals have argued for a single Chamber or two elected Chambers. Is that subversive? Is it subversive if I say that the Church should not be established? The other day, I looked up the coronation oath and found that the only pledge that the Queen gives is that she will uphold the rights of the bishops. That is most interesting. It was clearly not applied in the Viraj Mendis case, but that is another matter. There is no democracy in the sense that in a democracy the electorate has the final say. The truth is that the status quo covers a semi-feudal system which is not subject to normal public means of accountability under the Bill.
In a democracy, the ultimate responsibility for deciding the interests of the state lies with the electorate. That is what democracy means. If the electorate is to decide what is in the interests of national security and what is subversive, the electorate must know enough to know what goes on. This Bill tries to entrench in statute a rotten little directive of Maxwell Fyfe, who told them to get on with it and not bother him and a rotten definition by Lord Harris of Greenwich, who used virtually the same phrase as appears in clause 1. On that basis, the Home Secretary hopes to entrench in statute powers that have been exercised under the Crown prerogative for years, and dress it up as the entrenchment of the protection of parliamentary democracy against subversion.
The Home Secretary will not be affected by my arguments, but I hope that people outside will realise when they read them that the Bill is not what it is made out to be. It is not an advance. It is the entrenchment in statute of powers that no democratic Government have the right to exercise.
§ Mr. Allason
The second group of amendments is important, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) for raising these matters. I am concerned at some of the myths and legends mentioned by the Opposition. Perhaps I may clarify. It is certainly not their fault—it is not even the fault of the Security Service—that there is so much secrecy and mythology surrounding MI5. Many years ago, when I started my research I visited a retired director-general of the Security Service who was apparently terribly reluctant even to tell me the three functions of the Security Service at the time—counter-espionage, counter-sabotage and 198 counter-subversion. The role of the Security Service and its functions have been defined only twice—first, in the Maxwell Fyfe directive, which was secret and was not disclosed until the Denning report, and, secondly, in the evidence put before Lord Franks.
It is curious to note that people have not noticed the metamorphosis that has taken place in the intervening years. Counter-terrorism is to be included in the Bill. Counter-terrorism is a very important, very specific and very professional activity and it has never been an activity in which the Security Service has been involved. Counter-terrorism has traditionally been left to special branch and the anti-terrorist squad. I do not argue that the acquisition of information relating to terrorism should not be gathered by the Security Service but the House should be mindful of the change that is taking place. Surely the role of the Security Service is simply to gather information and supply that information to the relevant quarters. Its objective is often to obtain a conviction in the courts, but traditionally the Security Service has not been able to fulfil the role of supplying witnesses and that is why it has not indulged in counter-terrorism in the past.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South made several other points about the new uses of the Security Service. One of them leaves me feeling very anxious. My humble view is that the business of leak inquiries is in direct contravention of the Maxwell Fyfe directive. A short time ago a document was leaked from the Department of Health and Social Security. It seems that if the Government leak a document it is all right, whereas if someone else leaks it it is not. Surely such leaks cannot be described as affecting national security or involve the defence of the realm. It never occurred to me that the Security Service would be involved in the investigation. I was appalled to read in the newspaper the name of the "Cabinet official" who was to be conducting it, because I happened to know that he was a long-standing member of the Security Service. Such activities are not a proper function of the Security Service.
Two very important activities of the Security Service are not covered in the Bill. First, much has been said about positive vetting. Some hon. Members will be surprised to learn about it. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) mentioned visits to universities in pursuit of positive vetting inquiries. Those inquiries are riot conducted by the Security Service. The Security Service has always taken the view that it is too secret to conduct positive vetting inquiries. The reality is that a small group of field inquirers, based at the Procurement Executive of the Ministry of Defence, conducts the positive vetting inquiries. The Security Service's argument has always been that security is too important to be left to the experts. It has said that there should be security departments in all Ministries and in all areas of Government, and that it will give those Departments advice.
It seems to me that the most sensible arrangement would be for the Security Service to conduct the positive vetting and to make the field inquiries. There have been countless examples. Indeed, virtually every major spy case since 1953 has involved somebody who has not just cleared his or her positive vetting, but sailed through it. The examples are legion so I shall not bother to give them. Another clear example—
§ Mr. Buchan
Several of us have been increasingly intrigued—and now disturbed—by the hon. Gentleman's apparent inside knowledge of the security services. We know of his past service in relation to this and about the books that he has written. However, into almost every speech—and at almost each moment—the hon. Gentleman drops in another piece of ex cathedra information about what the security services do or do not look after. Is the hon. Gentleman a member of MI5?
§ Mr. Buchan
The first question is, is the hon. Gentleman a member of MI5? The second is, if not, and if he is in possession of all that information, which has been leaked—presumably illegally—from MI5, has he reported those leaks, and, if not, why not?
§ Mr. Allason
The short answer is, "No, I am not.", but I have conducted research over a period of 10 years. I hope that many hon. Members recognise that security is an important issue and one worth researching. It is not a matter of clandestine sources. I have written 10 books on this subject. I would honestly recommend that the hon. Gentleman buys them because they are good value.
I turn now to another area that is important in relation to security and vetting—
§ Mr. Allason
Three years ago, after a bomb was placed on board an Air India jet flying across the Atlantic from Canada, the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service decided that it would vet all airside personnel, that seems a proper occupation for it. About 14,000 people per year in Canada are routinely vetted because they have airside access to aircraft. Surely that is an area of professional expertise in which the Security Service should be taking an interest because it seems to me to be be at the heart of the defence of the realm. However, once again that aspect has been left to amateurs because the Security Service has taken the view that it is too secret to involve itself.
I turn now to a couple of cases that have been raised about which I shall try to dispel some of the myths. Some facetious remarks have been made about the connection between the Communist party of Great Britain and foreign espionage. The fact is that over the years no fewer than two national organisers of the Communist party of Great Britain have been convicted of espionage and have served long terms of imprisonment. Because of that historical precedent, the Security Service has traditionally taken an interest in the Communist party—which seems not entirely unreasonable.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South mentioned the vetting of potential Ministers. Once again, the examples given suggested that they were not espionage cases, but the two cases that my hon. Friend cited were 200 exactly that. The case of Will Owen is fairly well known. He was acquitted of several charges under the Official Secrets Act. Thereafter, the Security Service invited him to attend a meeting at which he was invited to supply more detailed information. He was reluctant to go and took with him a colleague from the Labour Benches. He visited the Security Service and gave a detailed confession.
Two Harts are involved in the next case, one of whom, Mrs. Jenifer Hart, supplied information to the Security Service. She admitted once having been employed in the Home Office and of having had illicit meetings with a man who was a suspected Soviet intelligence officer. Those are two clear cases within the responsibility of the Security Service in which information was supplied. It seems to me to be perfectly proper for the service to be involved.
We heard yesterday—we have heard again today—the tremendous myths of the Peter Wright attempts to undermine the Labour Administration. I watched the tape again last night to make absolutely certain that there was no mistake about what Peter Wright admitted when he was being cross-examined by John Ware on the "Panorama" programme. It was interesting that Peter Wright admitted that there was no truth in the so-called plot and that it was wrong to have claimed in his book that 30 officers were attempting to undermine the Labour Government. He said that it was himself and perhaps one other officer, who got cold feet, who were prepared to consider leaking detrimental information about Harold Wilson. David Leigh's book on this subject mentions several case histories, all relating to Labour Ministers and Labour Members of Parliament who had been investigated by the Security Service in some way or other. In each case, there was justification for that pursuit under Maxwell Fyfe.
§ Ms. Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the problem about Peter Wright is working out when he is telling the truth? Sometimes I wonder whether Peter Wright himself knows when he is telling the truth. Clearly, Peter Wright did give an interview in which he said that the Wilson plot was a fantasy, but he has also said on other occasions that, on balance, he is anxious not to give information which, overall, would damage the Security Service. Could the fact that he is now moving away from his original claims about the Wilson plot be in response to all kinds of external pressures, and the fact that he said—
§ Ms. Abbott
Yes. My hon. Friend has intervened to say that Peter Wright has now made his money and so he can afford to withdraw his claims.
One cannot judge the truth by what Peter Wright says from one day to another. However, it is a fact that a whole host of stories were leaked to the press during the 10 years in which Wilson was Prime Minister that served to undermine him. That is a fact that nobody can deny.
§ Mr. Allason
It is not denied that there were many rumours relating to Harold Wilson, but his own conduct inspired many of those rumours— [Interruption.] Well, I shall give hon. Members a small example. Harold Wilson made 14 visits behind the Iron Curtain— [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Of course, there is nothing suspicious about that, but at that time many business men were approached by 201 the Soviets and it was believed that perhaps he had been approached, yet he made no report on that subject. When an analysis was made of his movements behind the Iron Curtain, it was difficult to trace exactly where he had been or what he had been doing.
That is the kind of basis that was used by Peter Wright. When one turns that into the allegations in his book, one sees that they do not hold water at all. Under cross-examination by John Ware, Peter Wright collapsed like a pack of cards and, when he was asked why he had mentioned the 30 officers, he said that he did not believe that it would have caused a fuss.
§ Mr. Maclennan
The hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) comes to this House as a self-professed expert, although he has not at any time given the House any serious indication of what is the basis of his knowledge. He does his case no good at all by the sort of smears in which he has been indulging in the case of the former Prime Minister. It is as ludicrous to accuse Lord Wilson of being a suitable subject for an inquiry as it would be to authorise the security services to survey the Prime Minister because she has said publicly of the president of Russia, Mr. Gorbachev, that he is a man with whom one can do business.
§ Mr. Allason
I entirely concede that. I believe that it is fair to say that there must be occasions when Security Service officers do not follow the correct scent and are misled. Is that not the nub of the second group of amendments, because what we are trying to do is to define the role of the Security Service? I urge the House to pay attention to the different changes that I have described in the role of the Security Service in recent years and to try to concentrate especially on the two areas that have changed recently, its new involvement in counterterrorism and its involvement in leak inquiries.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent)
My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) made a most important contribution to the debate and I do not want to be distracted by the disgraceful slurs and smears of which the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) has just spoken in his references to the former Prime Minister and leader of the Labour party. If the hon. Gentleman was revealing the minds of some of his associates in the security forces, it should make us all the more alarmed. The hon. Gentleman is out of the service now, but I believe that no hon. Member would wish to concur with the doctrine that such pursuit of politicians would be justified because of visits that they had paid to countries behind the Iron Curtain. I can only hope that I misheard the hon. Gentleman, but that does not seem very likely. I suggest that the hon. Member for Torbay should read what he has said and take the earliest opportunity to apologise to the House.
§ Mr. Foot
My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield said that this was the nub of the Bill, and I believe that he is right. Yesterday there were extremely important debates in which the House sought to establish some parliamentary control over the way in which the Bill was operated and the way in which the security services might operate. The replies from the Home Secretary to that important debate were certainly not satisfactory in terms of meeting the arguments in the debate, but they 202 were one way of dealing with the situation. I am sorry that the Government made no effort to listen to the arguments in the debate or to acknowledge the necessity for some genuine attempt at parliamentary control.
What my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield has said today about that clause makes such control all the more necessary. I do not always agree with my right hon. Friend's views on constitutional questions. Indeed, I have a difference of opinion with him about what happened in the year 1688. I believe that it was a much better affair than he is prepared to admit. It did not have anything to do with democracy—the word had not been invented—but it had a great deal to do with parliamentary accountability. The reason why I take a more generous and liberal view of the matter than my right hon. Friend does is that one of the achievements of 1688, in my view, was to establish in a special way the subordination of the Crown to Parliament. My right hon. Friend's views about that are apposite, too.
Apart from cutting off the king's head a few decades before, that was the most significant constitutional legal assertion of the supremacy of Parliament and especially the supremacy of the House of Commons. Anyone who went along to the exhibition about 1688 and heard the words put into the mouth of William III by the Bill of Rights could appreciate that the Executive was being told that it was subordinate to this House. If the words of William III were repeated all over the world, they would stick in the throat of the present Prime Minister because they mean, "I acknowledge the supremacy of Parliament and I acknowledge that in all these matters I must come to Parliament and get Parliament's approval". What was said in 1688 was thus extremely relevant to this Bill.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield has illustrated, under this Bill the Government are seeking to make formal and legal—that makes it all the more dangerous—what has happened in the past with the Security Service. The Minister protests that it is a liberal advance and not a retreat, but we shall be incorporating into the law of the land definitions of subversion and parliamentary democracy and what is an offence against them, which is something that we have not previously had in our constitutional procedures and rules. If we allow that to go through and do not examine in detail what the consequences may be, I believe that the Bill will be even worse than the Bill that we shall be discussing later on the freedom of information. The Official Secrets Bill is a shocking one, but if we pass this clause in these terms, after we have had a chance to examine them, the other Bill will be worse still. The next step will be a court case based upon clause 2(1), which I believe could be highly dangerous.
I hope that the Minister will be prepared on this occasion, as he was not yesterday, to listen to the case put by some of his hon. Friends, with the support of the Opposition, and seriously to consider whether he does not have an obligation to the House to change the definition.
I shall consider first clause 1(3), although I do not know what the hell it means. Clause 1(3) states:It shall also be the function of the Service to safeguard the economic well-being of the United Kingdom against the threats posed by the actions or intentions of persons outside the British Islands.I hope that we shall be told exactly what that novelty is, because that is what it is. If we need new provisions more relevant to modern times, we should consider, for example, the suggestions made earlier about chemical warfare and 203 other dangers. Those are modern developments which certainly require investigation by the Government. A secret service might have to operate in that kind of area and, if so. we should consider the matter in advance. If the Government's case is that they have put in clause 1(3) in order to cover general new eventualities, they should look at the new eventuality of that kind of warfare rather than the proposition in the clause. I have not heard a coherent explanation of what clause 1(3) means or against whom it is to be used. It seems an extraordinary provision and I should have thought that it ought to be deleted.
Even more serious are the implications that may be involved in the definition of subversion and so forth in clause 1(2), to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield has already referred. If the Bill goes through on the basis of the discussions that we have had, no one will know for certain whether the different kinds of subversion that have been mentioned, and which MI5 felt entitled to investigate, are covered by the clause. Whatever Mr. Peter Wright may have been up to, no one will know for certain which of the activities that he described are excluded or covered by the Bill.
There are other aspects of the Peter Wright affair that should be investigated and carefully examined by the Government. If we pass the Bill in the light of what happened in the past, we shall be sanctioning past events. One particularly disturbing revelation from the Peter Wright affair relates to the preparation of terrorist acts for the assassination of heads of foreign states. Peter Wright reveals that there was a plan to assassinate Nasser. If it is true that we had a secret service that was entitled, under its rules of operation, to prepare for the assassination of heads of foreign states, nothing could be more damning. If Nasser had been assassinated as a result of terrorist activities conducted by our Security Service, the consequences for our reputation throughout the middle east would be almost incalculable. Anybody who has been to Egypt knows the reputation that President Nasser had in that country, whether we liked it or not. If a British Government at that time were engaged in preparing for his assassination—an act of terrorism against a head of state —it was a monstrous affair.
Despite all the obstacles put in the way by the Home Secretary and his colleagues, the Peter Wright case eventually got to the judges, most of whom agreed with me about the implications of a possible plot to assassinate Nasser. They said that it was absolutely horrific that such an act might have been carried out by our secret service. Some of the judges questioned what would have been worse—a scheme to assassinate Nasser succeeding, or failing—and said that, either way, it would be outrageous if such activities had been authorised. They could think of nothing worse than terrorist acts against heads of other states being authorised and conducted by our secret service.
I had hoped that there would be an investigation into this matter. I wrote to the Prime Minister on a number of occasions and urged that, whatever happened at the end of the affair, she should instigate such an investigation. The Prime Minister has said that there has been an inquiry into all of Peter Wright's allegations, but when I asked whether it had incorporated an investigation into the supposed 204 preparations for the assassination of foreign heads of state she could not give any answer and, so far as I know, there has never been any proper investigation into that allegation. It is monstrous that such an inquiry has never occurred. If such things did occur, it is monstrous that, even 30 years later, this country does not have sufficient determination to protect its good name. We want that kind of thing rooted out.
The passage of the Bill has given us the chance to root out such problems by reconsidering the definition of subversion. It is important that such matters are reconsidered. If we do not deal with such questions properly now, people will come to us later and say that we had the chance to change the law when we examined it in detail. We shall be told how many hours we spent on it and told that, at the end of it all, we came up with a definition of subversion which was satisfactory to Parliament.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield has accurately cited one or two reasons why the particular words in clause 1(2) were used. My right hon. Friend said that the definition was cooked up by Lord Harris of Greenwich in another place. The idea that clause 1(2) is a considered judgment on the meaning of subversion is laughable. I cannot imagine that the Home Secretary would want to rest his case on such feeble grounds. The definition is nothing like good enough.
Let us get the definition right. The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) deserves great credit for the definition contained in amendment No. 47, which deals with the real anxieties of the nation. There are deep, justified and legitimate anxieties about. terrorism and all its modern apparatus and horror, particularly because of the way in which innocent people are drawn into terrorist acts. Of course the country wants measures taken which deal directly with such terrorism, and of course it is true that the secret services must deal with some forms of terrorist acts and operations. Those anxieties are dealt with in the first part of clause 1(2). It is all the more necessary, however, for the Government to ensure that they give an absolute defence for other people who are not engaged in terrorist activities but are engaged in perfectly legitimate criticisms of Government policy in whatever area. Such a defence must have occurred to the Home Secretary.
In attempting to achieve a new definition of subversion, we should apply our minds to whether the English language is sufficiently elaborate to enable that to be done. The current definition makes no distinction between terrorist acts and legitimate criticism in the current definition and all the objections that my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield has made against the use of that definition are perfectly justified on that count. We must accept that a court could easily uphold the current definition of subversion against legitimate criticisms. It has happened before—for example, the actions taken against supporters of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in previous years. I understand that some of those actions would still be justified under the definition outlined in clause 1(2). I do not know whether the Home Secretary will give us a direct answer on this matter. We remember that the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) set up his own private apparatus and private army to conduct a war against CND. No doubt the more money he spent on it, the more he thought that he was getting on in the Conservative party. Some of us thought that that whole operation was absolutely outrageous, especially when it spilt over into secret activities against CND supporters.
205 When the Home Secretary comes to defend the definition contained in clause 1(2) when we reach the end of this debate, I hope that operations such as those conducted against CND will be absolutely excluded. Not that judges necessarily always take account of what the Home Secretary says at the Dispatch Box—I do not share the confidence of others about the way in which judges go about this matter. Even if the right hon. Gentleman gives us that assurance, it does not go far enough.
The other virtue of the clause advanced by the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills is that it offers a defence for legitimate criticism. The amendment lists what "threats to national security" means. They are genuine threats against which the nation has every right to protect itself. However, the amendment seeks to make a sharp distinction between genuine threats and every form of political advocacy that is properly understood by everyone in the House. A sharp distinction is drawn. The end of the amendment reads:but does not include lawful advocacy, protest or dissent, unless carried on in conjunction with any activities referred to in paragraphs (a) to (d) above".If a case such as MI5's shocking activities against CND ever came before a court of law in the future, that defence would protect a member of CND and anyone included in the categories referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield—the people who could be caught under the Government's ill-defined and absurd definition of subversion.
Once again I plead with the Home Secretary. This is a new measure, which he claims is a liberalising one. We sincerely believe that if the existing operation of the law or anything like it is incorporated in the Bill in legal form, the position could be even worse. That is why we must be so careful. This is the nub of the Bill, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield emphasised. It describes what the whole security system is supposed to be about. If the Home Secretary is genuine about the case that he has made to the House and the country, he should be able to accept the amendments tabled by his hon. Friends with a good grace.
The Home Secretary may be in some difficulty because the Prime Minister also has some interest in these matters. She has clearly brought pressure to bear on the Home Secretary on a range of issues touching civil liberties, the way in which the law operates and the way in which terrorism is dealt with. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman has conceded willingly on some, if not all, of these matters. I doubt, however, whether he was so eager as the Prime Minister to concede on the right to silence, or whether he was so eager to concede on interference with the proper presentation and reporting of affairs in Northern Ireland. Today, a new change is being made. I dare say there were discussions in Government about the definition, and I do not say it will be easy for the Home Secretary to change it, but if he really meant what he said—that he wanted a proper review of the whole subject—I see no reason why the new clause cannot be incorporated. It would not solve all the questions associated with official secrecy, but it would be a big stride forward towards obtaining common assent on these matters.
I do not know whether the Government want common assent. If the right hon. Gentleman looks back at the history of official secrecy, he will see what folly it was, way back in 1910 or 1911, to rush through a Bill without proper examination, and how foolish it has been to allow this kind 206 of law to stay on the statute book ever since. Now we have a chance to do the job differently. If the Home Secretary has any respect for what is known as his liberal reputation, I plead with him to accept the new clause and thereby change the way in which we set about this business.
§ Mr. Winnick
I echo what my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) said. It is rare for the House to have an opportunity on two successive days to discuss in detail, in Government time, the activities of MI5. Usually this is a subject for Adjournment or Consolidated Fund debates. Subversion and related issues are important matters, and it is right to try to define subversion.
If time permits, I shall go up to the foreign affairs committee of the parliamentary Labour party this evening, at which two senior officials from the Soviet embassy—I hope that the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) is taking note—will tell us about the internal changes taking place in their country. If I have the chance to participate, I shall say that I hope the time will come when the internal changes in the Soviet Union will be so extensive that members in the new Parliament that is coming into being there will be able to discuss these sorts of matters—the activities of the KGB and so on. I should have liked to be able to tell those officials that we had parliamentary control over MI5; I shall not be able to. I will, however, be able to say that our democracy allows us at least to debate these issues. That is one of the reasons why we have a Parliament.
Amendment No. 40 is my suggestion thatAll members of the Service shall take an oath to the maintenance of parliamentary democracy.I entirely accept that that would not prevent scoundrels such as Wright from taking such an oath and then carrying out the sort of subversive activities in which he undoubtedly engaged. But it would do no harm to make loyalty to parliamentary democracy perfectly clear. I believe that my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) once said that we do not take here an oath to parliamentary democracy, and perhaps we should. I see no reason why MI5 officers should not. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) said earlier that he was not sure whether Conservative Members were fully committed to parliamentary democracy. I think that the majority of them are, but I would find it difficult to believe that all of them are as committed to it as we are.
One of the tests of commitment to parliamentary democracy is a commitment to its existence in all countries. It is interesting that Conservative Members often find reasons and excuses for not attacking regimes such as that in Chile. We believe that people everywhere have a right to a democratic system of government. That is why we on the Labour Benches criticise the vile regime in South Africa on one day, and what is happening in Czechoslovakia on another.
Perhaps the hon. Member for Torbay knows that Field Marshal Lord Carver, when no longer chief of the general staff, said in the late 1970s that in the early months of 1974 some junior officers spoke about the possibility of taking non-parliamentary action to resolve what they saw as the crisis in Britain. Interestingly, Christopher Walker wrote much the same thing in The Times after visiting Army barracks at that time. He reported such remarks in the 207 dying months of the Conservative Government headed by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath). His articles were confirmed by Lord Carver, who presumably knew what he was talking about. I do not know why the Home Secretary dismisses that. It would be interesting to know whether MI5 investigated these activities—or did it take the view that as the Army officers were not engaged in Left-wing plots they needed no scrutiny?
Amendment No. 76 includes a definition of subversion which is an improvement on that given by Lord Harris in 1975—if I may say so to the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield. Amendment No. 76 suggests that the definition should be Lord Denning's, which remained the definition of subversion until the change in 1974. It is far narrower than the unfortunate definition of 1975, which was continued by this Government. In another amendment I have suggested a further alternative definition which would mean actions that are calculated to overthrow parliamentary democracy.
I do not disagree that it is necessary to protect national security and to provide protection against terrorism and sabotage. I have no quarrel with that whatever and would leave in the provisions relating to it because protection is one of the basic reasons for having a Security Service. I have long maintained that the definition of subversion should be as narrow as possible and should basically deal with actions that are calculated to overthrow by one means or another parliamentary democracy.
I have no doubt myself about what parliamentary democracy means. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller) is not in the Chamber. It means the right to put forward and advocate, however strongly, views that are different from those of the Government and to be able to put them forward in Parliament and outside without fear of punishment. That is the basic difference between a parliamentary democracy and a dictatorship. I see many weaknesses in our parliamentary democracy, and I should like to see them rectified, but I have not the slightest doubt that I live in a parliamentary democracy. I have never gone in fear of being tortured by secret police. I know that in most countries that is not the case. I consider it a great blessing to live under a system of parliamentary democracy and civil liberties.
As I said earlier, I welcome the changes that are taking place in the Soviet Union and in Hungary. I see no reason for having any doubts in our minds about the definition of parliamentary democracy. One of the undoubted weaknesses in our system of democratic government is the way in which investigations and inquiries have taken place into matters that should not have been investigated. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) spoke about the Select Committee on Home Affairs and referred to the inquiry into the special branch, which was the first ever such inquiry. I take some credit for that because I was on the Committee and persuaded to my view the majority of its members who were at first reluctant to have such an inquiry. I also wrote the minority report.
208 The Committee heard evidence from Mr. Alderson, who had been the chief constable of Devon and Cornwall. He was an interesting witness and, presumably, he knows what he is talking about. He said that when he was appointed chief constable in Devon and Cornwall one of his first actions was to look through the records of special branch being held by the police there. He told the Committee that he found many records that were useless, out of date, or had absolutely nothing to do with subversion or crime. I wonder whether chief constables in other places look through such records.
§ Mr. Winnick
As the Home Secretary knows, special branch works closely with the Security Service. Special branch often carries out investigations at the request of the Security Service. Does the Home Secretary wish to challenge that in any way?
§ Mr. Winnick
Special branch acts for the Security Service and I can understand why. I am not criticising that, but I criticise the keeping of records which Mr. Alderson said had absolutely no relevance to combating subversion. I wish that other chief constables would take the same attitude. Mr. Alderson told us that special branch had to report daily on industrial disputes and on the number of pickets involved in such disputes. He said that on some occasions daily reports were sent to the Home Office and always to police headquarters on all industrial disputes. That occurred in Mr. Alderson's time, and presumably things have not changed.
My reason for putting forward amendment No. 39 is to omit the word "industrial" from the definition of subversion. It is quite wrong that people should be investigated because they engage in perfectly legitimate trade union activity or industrial disputes. I do not take the view that when one engages in legitimate industrial activity—one of the rights of a parliamentary democracy —one is engaging in subversion or something close to it.
Why were MI5 files kept on Jack Jones and on Hugh Scanlon, now Lord Scanlon? Were they subversives? Is it suggested that Jack Jones, who at an early age went to fight Fascism in Spain, and who has always been in favour of our parliamentary system of democracy, is a subversive in the pay of Moscow? What about Hugh Scanlon? Why were MI5 files kept on such people? There have been abuses. It would not have been thought appropriate in any circumstances for special branch and MI5 to keep files on Tory politicians, however Right-wing. However, it was considered proper and legitimate—though not by me—to keep files on such leading figures in the trade union movement as Jack Jones and Lord Scanlon.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
Does my hon. Friend agree that certain elements in the security services do not see their function as defending parliamentary democracy? As I said earlier, as they see it, their function is to defend the status quo. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and I said earlier, that means capitalism. They are defending the status quo and capitalism and not parliamentary democracy. Parliamentary democracy is acceptable to them and to many Conservative Members as long as it underpins and serves the interests of the status quo and capitalism. As soon as we start using 209 parliamentary democracy to try to introduce Socialism, we see how thin is the veneer of democracy on the Conservatives.
§ Mr. Winnick
My hon. Friend may or may not be right, and the Home Secretary may respond to his intervention. I do not want to undermine what I have said so far, which, is an indictment of some of the abuses that have occurred. However. in all fairness, there is some evidence that ultra Right-wing organisations have been investigated—and properly so—by MI5. Papers that have been brought into the public domain show that the Mosley movement was certainly the subject of investigation before the war. One assumes that the National Front is the subject of continued investigation.
Perhaps I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West and, if so, it is one of the few disagreements between us. I do not object if organisations of the ultra Left are looked into, because I am in favour of parliamentary democracy, unlike a few Conservative Members. I am totally committed to parliamentary democracy, perhaps if only for the selfish reason—although I hope not—that I know that in a dictatorship I would be one of the first people sent to a concentration camp. I trust that there are many other reasons why I am in favour of parliamentary democracy. I would certainly be joined in a concentration camp by many of my hon. Friends.
§ Mr. Winnick
I do not think that it would be a pleasure.
Perhaps I am also strengthened in my defence of parliamentary democracy because my ancestors lived in a country where there was no rule of law. They knew very well what happened when abuses occurred, and those abuses were often at the instigation of the police. I do not want to live under such a system. One of the reasons for my ancestors coming here was that they wanted to live under the rule of law and found such a life a great blessing compared to the situation in which they had lived before. I have many reasons for being grateful to this country, one of them being that it gave hospitality to my ancestors. Although they were not fleeing, they wanted to live in a different political climate.
My final point is about the right of protest, advocacy or dissent. I know that that is covered in the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills and it is also covered in new clause 4, which is mine. That new clause clearly says:Nothing shall be done under this Act which undermines the right of protest, advocacy or dissent.The Home Secretary will almost certainly say that nothing is done to undermine those democratic rights. But enough has been said in the debate today and yesterday and on previous occasions about the way in which people who legitimately engage in dissent on nuclear disarmament or civil liberties or on other matters have been investigated by MI5. It is quite likely that the Bill would not be before us if it were not for the outstanding cases to be brought by my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman) and Miss Patricia Hewitt to the European Court of Human Rights.
210 7 pm
When those cases are brought before the European Court of Human Rights—and they will not be abandoned —no doubt the Home Secretary or his agent will say, "These changes are taking place", and that will be his defence. If what I have said is right, we owe a tribute to those two women because they have demonstrated that if, in a parliamentary democracy, one is the subject of abuse, and if the state has acted against one without reason or justification, that should be pursued. That is a right that we should exercise whenever necessary.
We should say time and again as we debate the Bill that the right of protest, advocacy or dissent—no matter how much one disagrees with the Government, be they Labour or Tory—are basic rights that should be protected at every opportunity, especially as the Home Secretary would net deny that abuses have occurred in recent years.
In a foolish and stupid intervention, the hon. Member for Torbay suggested that there was some justification for investigating Lord Wilson. What was the reasoning of some MI5 official that Lord Wilson should be investigated, when even in his student days at Oxford—perhaps this is a criticism of him in relation to some of the ways in which young people of the time were protesting over what was happening in Spain and Munich—he was in no way involved? If a person such as he could be subject to investigation and suspicion-sustained suspicion, if the hon. Member for Torbay is right—simply because Lord Wilson made 18 or 19 trips behind the Iron Curtain, something must be very wrong indeed with certain officials involved with MI5 and with the attitudes of some Tory Members.
I hope that the Home Secretary will recognise why my hon. Friends and I have tabled this series of amendments and why they should be accepted.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)
I do not find it as easy as does my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) to define parliamentary democracy. Because it is so difficult to define, perhaps the Home Secretary will provide us with a definition. It may be said that parliamentary democracy can easily be recognised, but what is or is not permissible under a parliamentary democracy is more difficult to spell out.
I welcome the amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) because it represents at least an attempt to deal with clause 1(2), which is most unsatisfactory. In that connection, it is unfortunate that we are debating the Bill on the Floor of the House because that denies us the opportunity of the more detailed scrutiny of the measure that would take place in Committee upstairs, and we will not be able to return to many of these issues on Report.
There is disquiet about the way in which subsection (2) is drafted, and it is unfortunate that because of the way in which the selection of amendments has been made, of which I make no criticism, we are having to debate many important issues together. Hopefully the Home Secretary will give his definition of parliamentary democracy so that we may judge how far activities that most of my hon. Friends would consider to be perfectly legitimate might be considered as undermining parliamentary democracy.
My amendment No. 81 would delete the word "undermine" and I have tabled it in an effort to discover 211 whether what I consider to be legitimate protests would come under the definition of activities that the Security Service should be trying to thwart.
Parliamentary democracy is much more than conducting elections or having votes in Parliament to give legitimacy to measures. There could be an element in a parliamentary democracy by which the minority gives its consent to be ruled by the majority. That is a difficult concept to develop and one which the Government do not fully understand, considering the way in which they treat certain parts of the British Isles, where the majority of people do not consent to the measures which are being inflicted on them by the Government.
I will not pursue that aspect far. If the elected Government of the day impose an incomes policy and trade unions decide that such a policy is not acceptable, and they set out to try with industrial action to undermine that policy, is that a form of legitimate protest and dissent which they are entitled to pursue without being subject to scrutiny by the Security Service?
There are many areas where individuals might try to alter Government policy by taking action. They may protest and organise in peaceful ways but ways likely to cause inconvenience and difficulty to other individuals. That would seem to me to be legitimate; the tradition in this country of peaceful, passive resistance is to be admired and that would not seem to be an area in which the Security Service should intervene.
Once one moves from that area of peaceful activity to violent activity, there is every reason why the Security Service should be involved. But I am not certain that the Home Secretary shares my idea of the division between peaceful and violent protest. The definition of the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills appears to be nearer to my definition than that which the Home Secretary would probably give.
Clause 1(3) is extremely puzzling. On Second Reading several Members spoke of the economic well-being of the nation and the half answer we received from the Home Secretary was to the effect that our economic well-being was well defined and was contained in international treaty. I found that puzzling because if representatives of foreign Governments got together to cause a run on the pound or tried to create some other economic problem for us, that would be a legitimate area for the security services to investigate. But if the same people did the same thing in the City of London, it would appear not to be a legitimate area for investigation because subsection (3) refers tothreats posed by the actions or intentions of persons outside the British Islands.That is puzzling because it seems to imply that the security services, which I understand operate within the United Kingdom, should try to find out what is going on abroad, whereas if the same activity appears to be happening within the country, that is not a legitimate area for investigation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) made great play with the fact that in his view the Bill is about serving the capitalist system. I should have thought that his remarks were relevant to subsection (3), the economic well-being of the nation. The difference between our economic well-being and capitalism would, I 212 imagine, be hotly debated in this Chamber. It is an area extremely difficult to define, and that is why the Government should delete clause 1(3).
My amendment No. 82 is concerned with clause 2(2)(b) which statesthat the Service does not take any action to further the interests of any political party.Why is that provision necessary? It seems automatic that the Security Service would not take action in the interests of any political party. But if it is necessary to include such a provision—and I can see good reason for having it—it should go further and add, as I suggest, that the Security Service should not take any action in support ofany individual, any company or any organisation.In other words, the Security Service should not be partial. In recent years there has been evidence to show that some people in the Security Service have operated in a way that has favoured the interests of a particular individual.
There was a feeling that Chapman Pincher, as a reporter with the Daily Express, obtained certain pieces of information—or gave the impression that he had obtained certain pieces of information—because he was on a favourable footing with the security services. That state of affairs appeared to favour him as a journalist and to favour the security services because the information that he revealed helped them. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Torbay is not here at the moment. He gave the impression that certain people in the security forces have been more willing to talk to him than they have to other journalists. That has worked to his benefit because it has helped to build up his reputation as an expert on the security services. Presumably it has also helped the security services as they believe that they have found someone to put forward their point of view. The security services should not operate in favour of any individual in that way.
I wish to deal now with the question of how far the security services should, or should not, operate in favour of a particular company. There is probably far more talk than action about the way in which other countries want to obtain good intelligence about our military operations and capability. Other Governments are keen to obtain that information, but there are many companies involved in the armaments industry for which it is just as important to know the exact capabilities of weapons systems made by other companies so that they can further their own commercial interests. That issue becomes particularly difficult when multinational companies are involved. They want to collect information about a weapons system so that they can put forward their system as the better system or find a defect in the system so that they can find a niche in the market. The security services should not operate a policy that favours particular companies.
Those companies obtain a great deal of information from the ex-civil servants and people with a military background whom they employ. The security services should not favour any particular company or organisation. Some organisations have strong political links. It is not just political parties that contest elections, but anyone with strong political views which may be incorporated in an organisation, although such an organisation may not be recognised as a political party that puts up candidates for election.
The Government must explain why it is necessary to define a political party as not having any support from the security services and why it is not necessary to include companies or organisations in the provisions. I hope that 213 they will explain why they have included clause 1(3) and that, as a result of this debate, they will find a far better definition than is included in clause 1(2).
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hurd)
It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak now because the Committee has listened to all those hon. Members who tabled amendments. I should like to cover most of the points that have been raised.
We have all enjoyed the increasingly frequent trips of the right hon. Members for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) back into the 17th century. I know that the right hon. Member for Chesterfield is an addict because he occasionally visits, in Burford churchyard in my constituency, the place where his heroes, the levellers, were taken out and shot by the hero of the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent, Oliver Cromwell. Obviously they have composed their differences today.
The right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent said that we are taking an area of public activity out of the realm of the prerogative and putting it into the realm of statute. He described that as the process of 1688. He was right to say that, as we are proposing to do that, the House should consider carefully the definitions proposed by the Government because they are now in statute and statute is in the custody of the House.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) then carried the argument forward logically. He was too skilful to ask for details of what was done, or not done, in the past, but he used his examples to pin us down about the future. We have asked Parliament to define closely, for the benefit of Government and the Security Service, the limits within which the Security Service will have to operate in future. That is the purpose of the Bill. We are asking Parliament to set limits which will be binding in future. It is therefore perfectly legitimate that we should spend a great deal of time on how those definitions are worked out.
Then, logically, we come to the scheme produced by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd). We should be clear about the difference between his approach and that of the Government, which is not a fundamental difference of principle, but one of flexibility, or relative inflexibility. My hon. Friend put his case very reasonably. In amendments Nos. 46 and 47 he seeks to define absolutely and comprehensively the purposes of the Security Service. The Bill takes a different approach. The House should understand that; I do not want anyone to be deceived hereafter. We define the protection of national security as the objective. The Bill states:The function of the Service shall be the protection of national security".We then list a number of issues that fall into that category, which, at present, includes most of the activities of the Security Service.
Under our supposition, other activities could be included, provided that it is for the protection of national security. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) raised this point. He was modest about his exposition of the case, but he put it very clearly. If we accept the Government's approach in the Bill, and if, therefore, the Security Service is not absolutely confined 214 by the definitions of the moment—for example, the definitions in my hon. Friend's proposal—will its scope go too wide? I should like to address that point.
§ Mr. Richard Shepherd
I hope that my hon. Friend will clarify one point. Is he saying that this is only a partial definition? I should have covered the implications of the phrase "in particular" because it has tremendous implications for the issue of warrants. The Home Secretary, guided 11,nv the reference point of the statutory duty regarding the issue of warrants, controls the way in which national security is defined. The use of the phrase "in particular" appears to indicate that the provision refers to only some of the duties, albeit the principal ones. 11. implies that there are additional duties which could take. the issue much wider. It makes it difficult for the House to judge the matter in the context of the issue of warrants.
§ Mr. Hurd
I am coming to precisely that point. So far, I have set out the difference between the approach of my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills and the approach in the Bill. That difference was clearly expounded by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland.
The definition has to be comprehensive. The committee would not want to establish a description of functions that did not cover all areas in which the Security Service might, now or in the future, have to become involved. If the committee did that, it could create an intolerable position, where the Security Service might be powerless to defend us or where there might be great pressure and, therefore, strains on the way in which the legislation was interpreted and understood. It would be wrong for the committee to establish a Security Service that was unable to protect the security of the nation from whoever threatened it.
The term "national security" relates to the survival and well-being of the nation. That has been the continuing and consistent understanding of successive Governments and Parliaments. One can imagine a situation—I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills to consider this point—where everyone would expect the Security Service to take a hand in protecting the national security. No matter how clever we are now in working out allegedly comprehensive definitions, we may not succeed and the Security Service may find itself in a legal difficulty. For example, a new and devastating weapon could be secretly developed which had clear and obvious implications for the defence of this country. Unless it fell absolutely within the definitions set out by the committee if it adopted my hon. Friend's proposal, the Security Service could not do anything to identify or prevent the threat unless it involved terrorism, sabotage or the activities of agents of foreign powers.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South illustrated my point in his amendment requesting the addition of the word "chemical". He is concerned about a danger—he expressed his fear dramatically and well—which, he believes, is not only on the horizon but almost upon us. He believes that the Security Service should be trained and able, within the remit outlined in the Bill, to deal with that danger. Another hon. Member might make a similar speech about biological threats, but that issue is not dealt with in any of the amendments. My hon. Friend's point illustrates the difficulty of attempting to take into account all the uncertainties of the future.
§ Mr. Hurd
In drafting legislation that relates to the nation's security we cannot avoid recognising the fact that we cannot always foresee from where the next threat will come. If we had been drafting this legislation 30 years ago we might not have put the emphasis on terrorism as the Bill and the scheme of my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills do.
The Bill allows the Security Service to identify and, if necessary, take action to prevent such threats. It is right to do so. However, clause 1 makes it clear that the Security Service is not able to act except to protect the security of the nation and to safeguard its economic well-being from outside threats. It cannot act in support of sectional and other interests without acting outside its remit.
§ Mr. Richard Shepherd
As I understand it, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary says that the function of the Security Service shall be the protection of national security. He has added a few other words to show the extent to which that is so, but they are merely the icing on the cake. The essence of the clause is to say that the function of the Security Service is the protection of national security. That requires no definition because we have talked about it in previous debates and exigencies that we cannot now contemplate may arise in the future. Clause 1(2) cannot be an all-embracing definition, although it relates to a few serious threats to the nation. It is broad and it is not a definition of the proper function.
§ Mr. Hurd
My hon. Friend has a different approach designed to provide, in January 1989, a comprehensive breakdown of how the protection of national security should be achieved. The Bill does not do that and I have explained why. I do not think that we can do that. My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South, by trying to add to that comprehensive breakdown an aspect which he believes to be important, has illustrated my point.
§ Mr. Maclennan
The Home Secretary has taken issue with the attempt to define national security as set out in the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd). I prefer the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills' amendment and I put my name to it, but there is an alternative. My amendment No. 74 was designed to give effect to what the Home Secretary has just said about the breadth of the phrase "national security". The Home Secretary said that by "national security" we mean that which threatens the safety and well-being of the state. That is an objective test which was included in Lord Harris of Greenwich's definition and in the Maxwell Fyfe directive. However, for some reason which is not clear to me, the Government have departed from their earlier definition and are using the phrase "national security" as if its meaning were obvious. As a result, they are opening wide the ambit of the service to look not only at matters which by any test are a threat to national security but at matters which are not a threat to national security and should not be covered by the Bill. Why will the Home Secretary not accept the language of Lord Harris of Greenwich's definition?
§ Mr. Hurd
I have just re-read the hon. Gentleman's amendment. He seems to accept the basic point that it is difficult to define by statute all the circumstances in which the Security Service might intervene to protect national 216 security. I have given one or two examples, and my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South gave another in the form of an amendment.
Having re-read the hon. Gentleman's amendment, I do not think that it alters the position. The Bill as drafted sets out clearly the bulk of the activities of the secret service. That is not defined in a way that would prevent the service from moving into new spheres if it was found to be necessary.
§ Mr. Shepherd
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made much of the concern about the word "chemical". Paragraph (a) of amendment No. 47 provides a mandate by which to pursue anxieties involving chemical warfare. It may be defined as sabotage and may be said to be detrimental to the interests of the United Kingdom. It could be covered by paragraph (b), which involves a "threat to any person". There is a series of catch-alls for the contingency which concerns my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the House. The definitions in amendment No. 47 are wide enough.
§ Mr. Hurd
I do not think that we can be sure that they are wide enough. If a crisis arose, it might be possible to slot it into my my hon. Friend's definitions. Presumably my hon. Friend tabled the amendment because he fears that it might not be possible, and it is better to be clear beyond peradventure that it fits in. Obviously my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South was not content to take his chances with amendment No. 47. In picking up his point and the points raised by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland, I am expounding the Bill as it stands.
§ Mr. Allason
Does my right hon. Friend's definition of national security include a Security Service investigation of a leak inquiry into the loss of a DHSS document?
§ Mr. Hurd
The matter has been raised, and I have a statement of the present situation which would remain unchanged under the Bill. It is for Departments to make proper arrangements for the security of their papers before there is any question of a leak. They may take advice from the Security Service where appropriate. If there is reason to believe that departmental information has been leaked, obviously it is for that Department to deal with it. The advice and assistance of the Security Service would not be sought unless issues of national security were involved. That seems to me to be a reasonable position.
I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) and studied his amendment No. 40. Of course we are familiar with the different aspects of our national life. Indeed, in another context there is a proposal before the House concerning Northern Ireland. It is perfectly true that police constables and members of the armed services are given particular powers under the Crown. I do not consider that members of the Security 217 Service are in that category or that it would serve the purpose which the hon. Gentleman had in mind to put them, but not other civilian servants of the Crown, in that position.
I now move to the concern about subversion which has been expressed by just about every right hon. and hon. Member who has spoken in this debate. It is generally accepted that the Security Service must be able to protect the nation from those who threaten national security by seeking to undermine or overthrow parliamentary democracy. There are differences in interpretation, but I do not wish to accept the invitation of the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) to describe exactly what is meant by parliamentary democracy. If the House accepts the Bill, I do not consider that the courts will have very much difficulty on that point. The question concerns the definition of subversion. Despite their deep scepticism, I should like to allay the genuine concerns that have been expressed by the Opposition and by Conservative Members about how that is to be defined.
We start from the definition by Lord Harris of Greenwich, who has had a terrible mauling from his previous friends. When the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent was in full swing about the horrors of that definition, I noticed the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) look rather attentively at his papers because he specifically endorsed that definition when he was Home Secretary. Therefore, it has a rather more distinguished lineage than the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent gave it credit for. It states:Subversive activities are generally regarded as those which threaten the safety or well-being of the State and which are intended to undermine or overthrow Parliamentary democracy by political, industrial or violent means."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 26 February 1975; Vol 357, c. 947.]The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland was anxious that both legs of that definition—I think that he described them more elegantly as limbs—should appear in the Bill. I hope that I can persuade him that that is already the case. First,the safety or well-being of the Stateis covered by the reference in the Bill tothe protection of national security".I repeat that national security can relate only to the safety or well-being of the nation. The second limb is also spelt out in the Bill. I ask the Committee carefully to consider the restrictions in the Bill on that part of the functions of the Security Service. The Bill homes in on
actions intended to overthrow or undermine parliamentary democracy by political, industrial or violent means.Therefore, it is clear that there has to be a deliberate intention. It is not enough that a person's actions might be argued to have that unintended effect. However, if that is someone's deliberate intention, it is reasonable to include in the Bill those who seek to undermine parliamentary democracy as well as those who aim to overthrow it, otherwise there would be a weakness in our defence.
§ Mr. Hurd
I shall complete my argument before I give way to the hon. Gentleman, who has tabled amendments on this matter.
Under the provisions of the Bill, even that would not be enough to bring the Security Service into play. As clause 1 is drafted, the Security Service could do nothing unless 218 such intentions represented a real threat to the security of the nation. I consider that it is a reasonable definition. It includespolitical, industrial or violent meansbecause it would be naive to suppose that people with such a deliberate intention could not represent a threat to the security of the nation by exploiting the industrial life of the country. Under the restrictions that I have defined, it would not be sensible to accept the amendment that seeks to delete the word "industrial" because it is possible to conceive of people in that category using industrial means for their purposes. It does not mean that anyone engaged in industrial action is liable to the attention of the Security Service. I shall return to that point more positively in a moment.
§ Mr. Hurd
The hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) has not yet spoken, but I shall give way to him and to the hon. Member for Walsall, North when I have completed my argument on this point.
The Security Service should be able to identify and obtain information about those who exploit freedoms under the law to overthrow or undermine our parliamentary democracy. That is preferable to waiting, helpless and ignorant, until some illegal or violent action is taken to overthrow our democratic system. Therefore, I believe that the Bill is correct in that. I hope that I have shown the Committee that the power of the Security Service is strictly limited. We knew that that would be a particular concern, and we have spent a substantial amount of time mulling over it.
Although the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent pressed me hard to accept the amendment, he suggested that it might be useful if I spelt out the point in a more positive way. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish also came close to making that point. There is no power in the Bill to enable the Security Service to take any interest in any person or organisation or any activity or enterprise: which presents no threat to the security of the nation as a whole. It does not matter if such people have views on the structure or organisation of Parliament or if they are involved in seeking to change industrial practices in this country or to negotiate a better deal if they are members of trade unions, or if they seek to challenge or change the Government's policies relating to defence, employment, foreign policy or anything else. The narrow party political interests of the Government of the day have no part to play in deciding on the necessary involvement of the Security Service. Its sole criterion in relation to a subversive threat is whether there is a deliberate intention to undermine parliamentary democracy and whether that presents a real threat to the security of the nation.
In the light of the comments made in yesterday's debate, I asked for such a statement this morning, perhaps rather foreseeing the point made by the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent. I do not expect hon. Members to accept it in toto because that is not the nature of the debate. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members find that interpretation useful, and to some extent reassuring, in defining the purpose of the Bill. It is not meant as a declaration of ministerial policy but a statement of what the Bill contains.
§ Mr. Winnick
What has just been stated by the Home Secretary should be in the Bill itself, so that there can be no doubt or ambiguity. Also, given that Lord Harris of Greenwich's definition has become so controversial and has been abused—though the Home Secretary will not admit it—what is wrong with the original definition given by Lord Denning, which was in use until 1975 and whose terms I have included in amendment No. 76? What is wrong with amendment No. 77, which would insert, instead of Lord Harris's definition,which are calculated to overthrow Parliamentary democracy"?
§ Mr. Buchan
It is not good enough for the Home Secretary to make a statement of the kind that he has made when the interpretation he offers could be accepted and written into the Bill by a Government amendment. There is no security provided by any statement made by a Minister at the Dispatch Box. There are other ways of dealing with the matter. A schedule can be inserted for the avoidance of doubt. It could be included in the Bill, preceded by the wordsnothing in the above section means"—or something of that kind. Such an addition will provide security. Otherwise, the Home Secretary will create great anxiety and terror among many people in this country.
§ Mr. Hurd
I was not attempting to make a statement of ministerial policy. Instead —and I took some care about it —I responded to an invitation extended by the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent, though I did not know that I would be doing so. What I set out is the interpretation of the Bill. It is a description of what the Bill contains —not only in clause I but in other clauses —including that concerning political influence.
§ Mr. Foot
As the right hon. Gentleman has made his statement in the form that he has, I hope that he will consider incorporating those same words into the Bill—though whether they go as far as we would wish is something I should like to consider. If the Home Secretary incorporates those words into the Bill—and I trust that he will do so—I hope that he will then give the House an opportunity to consider them again, and to amend them if necessary. That is the proper way by which the House should legislate. I invite the right hon. Gentleman to take that course, which would be a concession that the House will greatly value.
Will the Home Secretary also tell the Committee what he proposes to do about the suggestion that the amendment of the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) deals with lawful advocacy, protest or dissent, unless it is carried on in conjunction with any of the activities to which the clause refers? Will he also undertake to ensure that such a provision, whether in the form suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) or in some other, will be included in the Bill? If he includes both, we shall be making a real advance. Certainly the Home Secretary must tell the Committee what is his view of the clause, which is designed 220 to protect liberal argument and discussion in the way that it has been understood in this country for many generations.
§ Mr. Hurd
If the right hon. Gentleman studies the Bill—I have drawn on clauses concerning political bias that we have not yet reached—he will find that the points about dissent that concern him are covered. The scope of the Security Service is as I have rather carefully stated it. The definition of national security is as I have rather carefully stated it. I do not intend improvising further on that point. I am sure that anyone studying my remarks against the background of the Bill will find in the Bill textual justification for everything that I have said. I am not attempting to add a ministerial gloss. I am simply stating the Bill's impact.
§ Mr. Benn
It is well known that, when a case goes to court, the views of a Minister when presenting a Bill to the House carry no weight with the judges, who are there to interpret the words of the statute approved by Parliament and not the opinion of the Minister, who may be a bird of passage.
By uttering words that we cannot examine in writing and amend, the Home Secretary denies us the power —even if we agree with every word of what he said—to enact in statute the assurance he gave. His assurance will not carry any weight in another place, because it was made in this House. Also, is it a collective statement? Has that statement been through the Cabinet, or is it just the Home Secretary's way of getting out of a difficulty in the light of the powerful arguments made today? I hope that the Home Secretary recognises that I am not being discourteous or unsympathetic but that we want matters affecting civil liberties to be enshrined in statute rather than rely on Lord Kilmuir or Lord Harris of Greenwich, or—dare I say it?—the present Home Secretary, whose future authority may not last for ever or be held to be adequate.
§ Mr. Hurd
Of course it will not last for ever, and I am not pretending that it will. I do not know whether the right hon. Member for Chesterfield was present in the Chamber when his right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent invited me to give the interpretation that I did. The right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent said that it was not binding in a court of law. I am not seeking to add to the Bill. I am simply explaining what the Bill contains, which is the whole purpose for which it has been worked out by the Government.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills drew attention to the European Court of Human Rights judgment in the Leanderv Sweden case in 1987. We are satisfied that the Bill meets the requirements of the convention, taking account of its terms and of case law, including the judgment to which my hon. Friend referred.
I come to the separate point concerning the nation's economic well-being, which is the subject of several amendments, and on which the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish spent some time, as did other hon. Members. The purpose is to allow the Security Service to safeguard the United Kingdom's economic well-being from hostile foreign actions and adverse developments arising outside these islands. It relates to foreign affairs and not to the domestic affairs of this country. The hon. Member for 221 Denton and Reddish made a critical point, but what would be his view if protection of the nation's economic well-being had not been confined to threats from outside these islands? He would immediately pounce on the Government for attempting to allow the Security Service to intervene in any form of industrial action that might damage the country's well-being. That aspect is deliberately restricted and confined in the way that the Bill sets out. By virtue of the reference to the United Kingdom, it must be a matter of national significance, and not something trivial or peripheral to the nation's economic well-being.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills knows that the European convention on human rights defines a nation's economic well-being as being a matter of proper concern for a public authority. However, the Bill offers a much narrower definition than does the European convention on human rights. It is proper that the Security Service should be able to join with others in safeguarding the nation's economic well-being from outside threat. It must be in a position to contribute to that objective when it is best placed to do so—and that requires an appropriate provision in the Bill.
It is not difficult to envisage the circumstances in which such a safeguard will be needed. One does not need to use one's imagination, because two such threats arose in dramatic circumstances over the past 20 years. It can happen that there is a threat from abroad in respect of a commodity upon which we are particularly dependent. One can think of oil as being such an example from the past, though not now. One thinks also of foreign powers employing covert intelligence methods to obtain scientific and technical secrets—though not by using agents, which will be covered either by the Bill or my hon. Friend's alternative.
Although such occasions may not arise frequently, it is important that the Security Service should have the necessary power, subject to the restrictions and with the definition that I have explained, particularly as it is a power envisaged by the European Court of Human Rights as one for which the state may have special responsibility.
I have tried to give way, as is right in Committee, and I hope that I have dealt with all the substantial points made on both sides of the Committee. Yesterday's debate was on a major point of principle. I do not think that questions of definition present such major points of principle, but—as the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent and my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills pointed out—they are crucially important as the legislation goes on to the statute book.
I do not wish to be polemical, but we are still in a certain amount of difficulty because of suspicions felt especially by Opposition Members, which, although they are largely unfounded, somewhat obscure their vision of the future. I hope that, as they examine the Bill—which will bind the service and Ministers in the future—as it is and as it will be interpreted by the courts, they will find that, although it does not include everything they want, such as parliamentary oversight, it is a substantial step forward that most hon. Members will welcome.
§ Mr. Foot
We still hope that, having gone so far, the right hon. Gentleman will be prepared seriously to consider incorporating in the Bill the form of words that 222 the has put forward. The Bill will have no Report stage unless an amendment is carried, and we want a chance to examine the wording.
I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman has answered the central question that I have put to him, as have other hon. Members: why do the Government refuse to include wording that underlines that lawful advocacy, protest or dissent carried on in normal ways is perfectly appropriate and that no Security Service operations can be allowed to interfere with it? Why do they not seize the opportunity to remove some fears by incorporating such a provision, in their own words if they wish? If, as he has said, that is what the Home Secretary means, why does he not say it in the Bill?
§ Mr. Hurd
The Bill sets about the problem in a different way. It sets out to say what the Security Service can do rather than what it cannot do. It uses the Harris definition, which the right hon. Gentleman so dislikes, of subversion and the restrictions of damage to the United Kingdom as a whole, and the other restrictions that I have spelt out. Although, as is the custom in statute, the Bill approaches the question by saying what a Government can do, I think that the right hon. Gentleman will find that it arrives at the same conclusion.
§ Mr. Buchan
I shall endeavour to be brief because there are many serious points to be made by my colleagues and we hope to achieve at least some progress in ministerial understanding. We have some serious words to say to the Home Secretary. He recognised, or at least said that he recognised, the genuine anxiety felt by Opposition Members. I stress that we are not engaged in a political ploy; we are desperately anxious about the present nature of the Bill and the resistance to change embodied in it. I remind the Home Secretary that we have only one opportunity to look again at the Bill in the light of his statement. If he accepts a small amendment today, we shall be able to debate the Bill on Report. There are several minor amendments which, if the right hon. Gentleman accepted them now—or accepted one of them—could be rejected on Report if he wished.
Freedom is not a simple thing. It is very fragile, and I think that the Home Secretary is taking the concepts developed in the Bill rather too lightly. Yesterday we tried to find means of controlling the Security Service; today we are considering what is to be controlled. The position is the more serious because we made no progress yesterday in allowing the operations of the service to be brought before a Committee of the House. We are faced with a double jeopardy. The Security Service will be under the sole control of the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister, with no public, representative or accountable analysis to be carried out by Parliament. Moreover, the material with which the service will be legally empowered to deal is, in our view, wide, extensive, dangerous and genuinely worrying.
This is not a political point. It is one thing for those who make up the structure of government to behave in a secretive fashion, getting up to a kind of skullduggery—as it must now be seen—and sanctifying their behaviour by the law. The state as a whole is then moved towards accepting the destruction of freedom. When that was done in an underhand way—under the counter, as it were—at 223 least the basis of freedom sanctified in nation and state was maintained. But when it is made legal the state is in a mess: it is indeed in danger.
The Bill says that the function of the Security Service is to protect the nationfrom the activities of agents of foreign powers and from actions intended to overthrow or undermine parliamentary democracy by political, industrial or violent meansIf that definition is not confined or limited, it will be an open sesame for this or any future Home Secretary. Without power to control, our parliamentary democracy cannot be regarded as safe. Parliamentary democracy is in a very weak condition. On issue after issue we have had to rely on the House of Lords to be progressive and to safeguard the well-being of the country.
I was waiting to hear on what basis the Home Secretary could reject the words of safety introduced in many of the amendments, particularly those of his hon. Friends in amendment No. 47. They were not rejecting what he now says is the purport of the Bill; on the contrary, it was assumed that that should be its purpose. Amendment No. 47 defined and therefore limited it so as to bring about the safeguards that we seek.
We cannot even get it written into the Bill that industrial or political action confined to lawful advocacy, protest or dissent will not be subject to the investigations of a body subject only to control by the Prime Minister. I do not know what security that gives to industrial workers given the behaviour of the present Prime Minister at the height of the miners' strike. If the Home Secretary had visited some of the mining villages he would have known the depth and sincerity of feeling there. The Government regarded the strike as a scandalous operation, not realising that hearts and souls were involved. At the height of that action few of us could see the mining villages without being touched by the genuine decency of the whole operation, but the Prime Minister chose to describe the people there as the enemies within. We cannot trust such a Prime Minister. I believe that I could trust the Home Secretary if he was not controlled by such a Prime Minister—I think that he is displaying weakness, not evil—but we certainly cannot trust a future unknown Prime Minister.
In every way the liberties and the freedoms of this country have been whittled away. Now they are being whittled away from Parliament. We are not even given the opportunity to put into legal form the words and intentions uttered by the Home Secretary. If he means what he says, he must put it in the Bill. I too have been a Home Office Minister, or at least a home affairs Minister at the Scottish Office. Time and again one was told, "It is no use standing at the Dispatch Box explaining what you mean because no judge will listen. If that is what you mean, you must put it into legal form." What the Home Secretary means is not in the Bill. If it were, we might be discussing it or amendments to it. The Home Secretary says that it is implied in the Bill, but it is not stated in the Bill. If he wishes to state it in the Bill, there are easy ways of doing it. He could do it in a schedule. He could do it, as I said, by adding that nothing in the subsection affects the safeguarding of protest and dissent. If we examine what the Government actually believe the provision to be saying, it is for the protection of national security. His hon.
224 Friends have defined that in a series of ways and sought to limit it. His answer is that a situation might arise with new elements of terror, as in King Lear'ssuch things—what they are yet I know not, but they shall be the terrors of the earth.That is what he says, but it is nonsense. The threats are of espionage, terrorism and sabotage, but other Members have found means of qualifying that so that protest, dissent and industrial action can be permitted. We plead with the Home Secretary to do the proper thing here. He cannot do it unless he allows a Report stage because the provision is not in the Bill. His words are not in the Bill. If they were in the Bill, he would not have needed to come to the Dispatch Box to iterate them as being his point of view. Let us have a small amendment so that we can come back to the matter on Report.
The legislation introduced alongside this—the legalising of burglary, bugging and so on—is an open and eager extension of what we used to accuse the security services of doing. I have given my own experience in relation to MI5 and the security system. We said that they should not be doing such things and were told that they could not be doing such terrible things. The Bill now says that they can. I do not think that the Home Secretary has taken on board what this is doing to liberty and freedom in this country, any more than he did when he failed to understand the judgment of the Law Lords in relation to the Official Secrets Act and the defence of public interest, which he has apparently discarded.
I regret to say this to a genuinely honest and liberal Minister, but even if we come through this period without this blowing up in our faces he will still go down in history not as the most liberal Home Secretary but as the most illiberal and weak Home Secretary. He can show strength tonight by at least granting that single small concession. Let us have an amendment—there are plenty that he can accept without destroying the Bill—so that we can come back to the matter. Failing that, we must depend upon the House of Lords. What price parliamentary democracy now, when we cannot rely on the House of Commons to defend its own parliamentary democracy but have to rely on the House of Lords to do it for us? We have to look not to the heralds of freedom that we have found on these Benches in the past, but to the judges whose function should be to iterate the law. To them we must turn.
This is a sad day for the Home Secretary and a sad day for the country. I hope that he will rethink.
§ Ms. Abbott
There is always something slightly "Alice in Wonderland" about discussing the security services, and so it is this evening. About 10 minutes ago I heard a statement of policy by a Minister, who went on to assure us it was not a statement of ministerial policy, and we now understand it cannot stand up in a court of law. I am obliged to ask in all naivety, if it is not a statement of policy and it will not stand up in a court of law, why did he bother to make the statement? Is it simply to reassure us on a personal basis that the Minister is, after all, a kindly and humane man? We are not concerned with that. What I believe my hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite are concerned with is the actual text of the legislation which we are debating this evening.
It is with a certain amount of diffidence that anybody speaks in this debate, which is so full of people who have either worked for MI5 or have fantasised about working 225 for M15, and people who are Home Secretaries or have fantasised about being Home Secretaries. Nonetheless, I make a small contribution.
I listened with care to the Secretary of State explaining the tangled and subjective wording around the definition of threats to national security and, as I understood what he had to say, he gave three explanations for words which everyone who has spoken has said are lamentable and fail to meet the case. He said that the wording simply sets out what the Security Service does at the moment. Some of us might say that that is the problem. He went on to say that the wording has to do with the fact that it is, of course, impossible to be comprehensive in a Bill. We on this side would argue that that is mere sophistry. The point which is so important about amendment No. 47 is what it says the Bill does not include. The Secretary of State's final explanation for his wording is that this Bill is about what the Security Service can do, not what it cannot do.
This is the point of many of the interventions this evening. We believe that, given the very wide powers the Security Service has, given the absence of effective parliamentary scrutiny and surveillance, it is crucial that the legislation specifies what the Security Service cannot do, and that is the point of the final two sentences of amendment No. 47.
We have heard from the Secretary of State very beguiling assurances, but they are assurances which have no weight, which have no force, and, above all, would not stand up in court. We on the Labour Benches believe that it is crucial that the text of this legislation embodies something which reflects the final lines of amendment No. 47 and reflects the spirit of what the Minister has said. It is not too late—in fact, it is in all respects appropriate that at the Committee stage an amendment should be brought forward which reflects the concerns that have been expressed on both sides of the House.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
I have sat right the way through this debate getting more and more concerned by what I have heard raised on both sides of the Committee in terms of the amendments moved, and my fear and trepidation of this Bill was compounded by what the Home Secretary had to say. He gave us a considered view on what the definitions, as he saw it, were supposed to be all about. He gave us what amounted to an assurance from the Dispatch Box with regard to definitions, and yet he was not prepared to agree to a demand from both sides to incorporate such assurances, such statements, within the Bill.
There is no report stage tonight, but what the Home Secretary said earlier could be incorporated in another place. If what has been said at the Dispatch Box tonight were put in writing, we could see how it accords with our understanding of the matter and whether it meets the various poins that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee have tried to put forward tonight. If it does, it could easily be incorporated in the Bill.
The Home Secretary must have thought long and hard about his statement in view of what was said yesterday and what he knew would be said tonight. It would be a shame to waste all that careful consideration and let it pass into the annals of parliamentary history; into the Official Report, but not into the Bill.
As a number of hon. Members have already said, all the assurances in the world in Committee when legislation is being drafted mean nothing when the Act is considered in a court of law. We must all assume that the Bill will at 226 some stage be tested in court. Someone will be judging actions against the words of the legislation. We accept that the Home Secretary's intentions are honourable. but we want to make sure that those honourable intentions are enshrined in the Bill so that we can sleep more easily in our beds when it becomes an Act.
As we have said throughout, we want to try to define more narrowly the boundaries within which the security services can legally confine their activities. That is perfectly reasonable. We understand that they operate in a grey area; that is the nature of the security forces. So much more important, then, is it that we should make sure that as far as possible we define their activities within that grey area. There will always be areas of discretion. On many occasions in future the Home Secretary will have to decide whether to authorise certain actions. We accept that as well. But we cannot allow the Home Secretary in effect to say that national security means exactly what he believes it to mean. That is not an adequate definition for us.
There are many things that I could say about terminology. There is no immediate consensus between the Home Secretary, some Conservative Members and every Labour Member who has spoken tonight on parliamentary democracy. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) was right to ask what would happen if a Labour Government pressed for the abolition of the other place, which at the moment is part of Britain's parliamentary democratic set-up. If the Labour party campaigned at a general election for the abolition of the House of Lords and a Labour Government then took office determined to carry out their manifesto pledge, would they fall foul of the interests and activities of the security services? It could be said that by trying to eliminate the other place the Labour Government were undermining parliamentary democracy.
In a political forum we can never completely agree on definitions that have any form of political connotation. That is obvious. However, it is reasonable to ask the Home Secretary to accept amendment No. 47 which excludeslawful advocacy, protest or dissent, unless carried on in conjunction with any of the activities referred tofrom threats to national security which are the subject of activities by the security services.
The Opposition believe fervently and passionately i n parliamentary democracy. Some Conservative Members might not believe that, but we do and we always try to preserve parliamentary democracy. The Opposition believe so much in parliamentary democracy that we want to try to achieve Socialism through parliamentary means. Many people outside the Labour party think that we are foolish, indeed stupid, to believe that that is possible. Unless the Home Secretary makes it clear in the Bill that any legal political activities that might call for the removal of capitalism—not the violent overthrow of capitalism—are consistent with the Bill, we shall always believe that the security services will be interested in the activities or Labour party Members and Labour Governments if those Labour Governments are determined to abolish capitalism and replace it with Socialism. That is what we are interested in protecting.
As I have said, there are many who do not believe that Parliament can be used to achieve Socialism in Britain. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) said in his book "A Very British Coup", when a; 227 Labour Government threaten the status quo and the capitalist system, they will be destabilised. That is when the extra-parliamentary forces of the Conservative party will start to mobilise themselves in order to destabilise that Government. That is the time when many Labour Members consider that the belief that many Conservative Members say that they have in parliamentary democracy will be stripped away. They will support parliamentary democracy as long as that means the status quo or capitalism. As soon as it means Socialism, we could be accused of undermining parliamentary democracy and so fall foul of the Bill.
I do not expect the Home Secretary to do anything to facilitate the passage of Socialism in Britain through parliamentary or any other means, but those who believe that Parliament can be used to achieve fundamental change in our society have a right to try to achieve that fundamental change. In the end, the issue will be decided at the ballot box. The electorate will decide, not the secret service agencies or the extra-parliamentary forces of the Conservative party.
Amendment No. 47 and all those that seek to prevent the use of violence to overthrow systems that we would support should be enshrined in the Bill. But we are suspicious that, despite all that the Home Secretary has said at the Dispatch Box this evening—no doubt he means it seriously and sincerely — he is not prepared to incorporate it in the Bill. He cannot blame us for suspecting that he does not believe what he has said today and that he has no intention of enshrining it in the Bill.
§ Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West)
This issue has roused much passion in the Committee. It has been an interesting debate and I hope that there will be some movement by the Government. The matter has been considered in a completely non-partisan way. It is almost a House of Commons issue. Parliament should have its wishes taken into account in this matter and I hope that the Home Secretary will accept the amendment.
The Bill has been dealt with in a rush. It has had only two days in Committee, yet there is so much to discuss. There is little in the Bill on civil liberties, and the fact that threats to national security do not include lawful advocacy, protest and dissent, must be in the Bill if we are to make any progress on civil liberties. Undoubtedly, the Committee wants change, so I hope that the Home Secretary will do that.
Unlike some other hon. Members, I believe that the Home Secretary has not written off the matter. I listened carefully to his words and he said that we cannot be sure today. I hope that the Home Secretary will give further consideration to the matter and I believe that the House expects him to do so. My right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) spoke passionately about the matter and I know that he carried the Committee with him. I believe that, secretly, he carried the Home Secretary with him.
What does the Home Secretary consider to be the mechanisms open to us? This is a Committee of the whole House, which is a fairly unusual procedure. The Bill will not have a Report stage, so how can we deal with this matter?
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten)
§ Mr. Randall
The Minister says something about the Committee. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan), I feel strongly that we should deal with this matter in the House of Commons rather than rely on the House of Lords, so will the Home Secretary tell us how we can give further consideration to the matter?
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Norman Hogg)
Order. I am not entirely certain that the hon. Gentleman has given way. If he tells me that he has, I shall allow the intervention.
§ Mr. Randall
I think, Mr. Hogg, that my hon. Friend caught me before I reached the full stop. I give way.
§ Mr. Bennett
Will my hon. Friend accept that it is not guaranteed that there will be no Report stage? However. the signs are ominous because the Government have not tabled any amendments and unless an amendment is carried in Committee the Bill will not have a Report stage. It would be perfectly possible for the Government to facilitate a Report stage by accepting one amendment. I believe that it is even possible for the Government to table a procedural motion. Will my hon. Friend press the Home Secretary and persuade him that it would be better to have a Report stage, where action can be taken, rather than to go on to Third Reading, in which hon. Members can merely vote for or against the Bill? I imagine that it has already been fixed up through the usual channels to have a day's debate for Third Reading, but it would be better to use that day for Report and Third Reading.
§ Mr. Randall
I know that my hon. Friend is good on procedural maters. I hope, therefore, that following the point that he has made, the Home Secretary will accept the amendment. It is important that something should be done tonight. From what the Home Secretary said earlier, I believe that he may not want to rush into any action on this tonight. That has caused me some confusion. I am trying to make some optimistic sounds and I am taking the Home Secretary's words at face value. If the Home Secretary requires time to consider the suggestion, it seems that the Government will not accept an amendment tonight. The Committee is in a dilemma.
I would like the Home Secretary to explain the possible options for accepting, in particular, amendment No. 47. The Committee, unquestionably, supports that amendment. The existing wording in the Bill is open to subjective interpretation. I do not want to repeat all the arguments, expect to say that the Committee supports amendment No. 47 and the Home Secretary would do the Committee a serious disservice were he not to accept it. I believe that, in his heart of hearts, he wants to accept the amendment. It is a step in the right direction inasmuch as it concerns civil liberties—unlike the Bill. It would be good for the Committee and the country if the Home Secretary were to accept amendment No. 47.
§ Mr. Maclennan
Almost no hon. Member has raised a voice against amendment No. 47. The only hon. Member 229 who has sought to reject it is, of course, the Home Secretary. However, he is duty bound to listen to the voice of the Committee, which has been virtually unanimous on the matter. The problem has arisen because the Home Secretary has sought to incorporate in statute guidelines that have been used hitherto for the conduct of the Security Service. However appropriate the guidelines may have been for a non-statutory body—and one must call into question whether they were appropriate, in view of the embarrassments to the Security Service that there have been over the past decade from a number of its activities that took place improperly, as no one denies—it is not appropriate to incorporate them in legislation. All legislation that empowers must be precise in its language and make clear which categories of behaviour are legal and which are not.
The Home Secretary has said that he does not want to define the phrase "national security" and that is why he has rejected the approach in amendment No. 47. He has said that he does not wish to define national security because he believes that there are circumstances that cannot be taken care of, by definition, in advance. That is not so. There are no circumstances that are incapable of being provided for if the language used is sufficiently broad to cover any action that constitutes a threat to national security. Because the Home Secretary will not define national security, an immense door has been opened to abuse. It is not part of my case—nor of the case of those who have tabled the amendments—to suggest that abuse is our main concern in setting up a statutory basis for the Security Service. Our concern is that we should have a Security Service that is effective, efficient and accountable and that protects the nation against threats to its life and well-being, which we all recognise exist. If we say simply that the service exists to protect the nation and national security, we open the door to subjective judgments about wherein national security lies, and the definition of what is a threat to national security may become so wide that abuse is inevitable.
I do not accept the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) that the Home Secretary is a naturally liberal man. However, I believe that he is an extremely intelligent man who uses language with care and precision. I think that he has confused the issue slightly by suggesting that there is a definition of national security in the illustrative phrases which follow the words "in particular". He seems to be suggesting that the meaning of "national security" is set out in the references tothreats from espionage, terrorism and sabotage…the activities of agents of foreign powers and…actions intended to overthrow or undermine parliamentary democracy.Those phrases do not constitute a definition. They are only illustrations; they are examples of threats to security. They in no way qualify the general statement that it is the function of the Security Service to protect national security. The provision is too widely drawn, and in putting the Security Service on to a statutory basis Parliament has a duty to say what it means by national security.
These matters are capable of very subjective judgments. Perhaps in this debate we have sometimes lost sight of the fact that we are talking about a use of powers by the Security Service which in any other circumstances would be regarded as illegal—in some cases, as a flagrant violation of the civil liberties of our citizens. In those 230 circumstances, we need a definition—albeit a broad definition—of national security if we are not to open a door to abuse which we shall have great difficulty in closing against it subsequently.
The Home Secretary says that he has sought to incorporate the concept of subversion set out in the Lord Harris of Greenwich definition. I put it to him, in all humility, that he has not achieved that. In the matter of the construction of language, I believe that he has seriously altered the definition of subversion given by Lord Harris of Greenwich. In the provision that refers toactions intended to overthrow or undermine parliamentary democracy by political, industrial or violent meansthe Home Secretary has omitted the other half of the Lord Harris of Greenwich definition, which was that such actions had to threaten the safety or well-being of the state. The exclusion of that qualification means that we have no objective test of whether the actions intended to overthrow or undermine parliamentary democracy are such that they constitute a danger or whether they are simply perceived as such by their perpetrators.
Perhaps in the light of my earlier strictures about the absence of definition of national security, the failure to define subversion in a broadly acceptable way is not of great importance. I think that the Home Secretary wished to perpetuate the definition of subversion accepted by successive Home Secretaries which was set out to the Home Affairs Committee in 1984–85 by his predecessor. I hope that he will reconsider his earlier answer because I believe that the matter is of some importance.
When Ministers have taken great care to reflect their intentions in statute and have chosen words that they believe have served well in the past, they are naturally reluctant to review these matters. However, in the simple matter of statutory construction, the Minister has not achieved what he said he set out to achieve. I hope that for that reason, if not for the wider reason that he is willing to accept some form of definition of national security— which I should prefer to be his reason—he will undertake to look again on Report at the definition of subversion and perhaps agree to accept my amendment No. 74, which does not go to the definition of national security but simply seeks to incorporate the definition of subversion as part of a concept that has stood the test of time, and stood it well. Incidentally, it would also allow the wider consideration of other matters on Report. I cannot see how the Home Secretary can resist that suggestion, as it seeks to fulfil the objectives that he himself expressed support for earlier.
§ Mr. Winnick
On a point of order, Mr. Hogg. Reference has been made to a Report stage. As I understand it, however, no provision has been made for a Report stage. This is obviously an extremely important matter, and the circumstances have clearly been altered, largely as a result of the Home Secretary's statement. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but he knows the feeling of the Opposition, and among some Conservative Members, that there is a need for a Report stage. I wonder whether you could help us, Mr. Hogg.
§ The Temporary Chairman
A Bill can have a Report stage only if it is amended. Those are the only circumstances in which a Report stage would be possible.
§ Mr. Aitken
I intervene to throw my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary a lifeline in the shape of a constructive 231 suggestion. He needs a lifeline because this Committee stage has developed into a true House of Commons exchange of views. My right hon. Friend is in the unfortunate position of the man down a deep hole all by himself, while the rest of the Committee has been making a series of valid criticisms about the highly unsatisfactory way in which the clause has been drafted. My right hon. Friend seems to acknowledge his own unsatisfactory position to some degree. He read out a rather helpful statement, which had the unhelpful dimension to it that it is not included in the Bill.
We are now faced with a clause that includes no definition of national security. I said on Second Reading that this is a badly drafted Bill. Following this Committee stage we can all say "Amen" to that. Clause I must win the prize as one of the worst drafted clauses in the history of modern legislation. I wonder whether any recent Bill has included a rhetorical flourish which the phrase "in particular" constitutes. It is as though someone were addressing a loyal group of enthusiastic supporters. In effect, all the words after "national security" are merely a rhetorical flourish—a mere illustration. The words "in particular" could perfectly well be replaced by the words "for example" or "by way of illustration". The words "singing, dancing and tightrope walking" might just as well replace the solemn definitionespionage, terrorism and sabotageThe list of activities is merely an extravagant addition, by way of illustration, to the central phrase, and the only phrase which matters —"national security"—remains without definition.
I cannot believe that the other place—with so many minds learned in the law and with so many experienced in parliamentary exchanges—will view the clause with anything other than the grave concern that has emerged in our long proceedings today. I suggest that when the Bill gets to the other place my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary gives an indication that the Government will consider carefully the criticisms that have been made with a view to improving this unsatisfactory definition. At the moment "national security" is undefined. Therefore, the Bill is, in effect, giving a blank cheque not just to the well-meaning Home Secretary of the day, but perhaps to an MI5 in the future which could exercise its formidable powers in distasteful and sinister ways quite undreamt of in the present House of Commons.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
Would the hon. Gentleman care to push his own Ministers to see whether the Home Secretary is even contemplating bringing something forward in another place along the lines that he has heard us all suggest this evening? Will the hon. Gentleman push his right hon. Friend?
§ Mr. Aitken
The hon. Gentleman is more or less taking the words out of my mouth. With my customary courtesy, I am endeavouring to give an elegant version of a push to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, but he does not often take my advice or suggestions in such matters. However, I hope that he is a good enough parliamentarian to concede that this is an unsatisfactory situation in which to leave the clause. We have had a long debate and the Home Secretary himself must feel some degree of unease, 232 otherwise he would not have popped up with that convenient definition to reassure us all that the Bill may mean something different from what it says.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will take heed of the sentiment of the Committee, which goes right across party lines, and say that in another place he will at least be willing to look at the possibility of accepting a better definition of "national security" than the one that we have now.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
I should like to return briefly to this group of amendments. Like my hon. Friends, I feel strongly that the Home Secretary should be prepared to put the words that he read out to the House on the face of the Bill. It would help our proceedings considerably this evening if he could make clear at the Dispatch Box either that he will facilitate a Report stage or that he will make that provision in the House of Lords.
I wonder whether you, Mr. Hogg, could give me some guidance on amendment No. 82. I hoped that the Home Secretary would spend at least a minute or two commenting on it, but I realise that he had a lot of other issues to reply to. I wonder now whether you, Mr. Hogg, will allow a separate vote on that amendment at the appropriate point in our consideration of the Bill. If the Home Secretary catches your eye, Mr. Hogg, in a minute or two, perhaps he will say a few words in reply to my comments which would mean that it would not be necessary for me to press for a vote on that amendment. I assume that as we are in Committee it will be possible for us to have votes on other amendments that are grouped with this first group today if we want to do so when we reach the appropriate point.
§ The Temporary Chairman
That would be a matter for whoever is in the Chair when those amendments are reached.
§ Mr. Richard Shepherd
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for giving some explanation of what his own clause meant. I had worked on the assumption that by changing to a statutory basis we were trying to put in the legislation a clear mandate of the purpose, functions and powers of our Security Service and of the way in which it defends our liberal democracy, whatever difficulties that gives to some hon. Members in its interpretation.
However, what we have learned today from my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is thatThe function of the Service shall be the protection of national security".That is the definition of the function. Nothing limits it, but my right hon. Friend referred to some judgments, opinions, directives, letters and past views of the remit within that—the definition of subversion. I must advise hon. Members of all parties that what was written in the past and what the intentions then were do not matter, nor do the intentions of my right hon. Friend. We are legislating for a law that can be interpreted by courts and what comes before the courts isThe function of the Service shall be national security".But what is national security? It is whatever the incumbent of the office of Home Secretary or of the Prime Ministership determines it to be. It is an unlimited concept. There is nothing in the Bill to limit it. What does that phrase do? It gives the security services the right to enter premises and to remove documents. That is made lawful by the Home Secretary issuing a warrant on the ground 233 that it is necessary for national security. But what is national security? We do not know. It is whatever the incumbent of the Home Office says.
That is our anxiety and it is genuine. If we are to stand for anything in this House, that anxiety must go right across the nation. When we give powers to police authorities we say what those powers are about. The Home Secretary said, "I approach this Bill somewhat differently from some hon. Members or from some of my hon. Friends." How right—he does approach it differently. However, the Bill does not set out what the security service cannot do; it sets out what it can do. We are told in the Bill that the security services can do almost anything as long as it is what the Home Secretary determines that they may do on the ground of national security. The Home Secretary would say, "We do not intend to say what they may not do." When we look at any area of our national life and at security in any form, for example, the police force, we have the rule of law and we set out what people may not do, but there is no such injunction in the Bill. Unless I am wrong and unless the Home Secretary points that out, that is an extraordinary position and I am grateful to the Home Secretary for explaining it.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary may then go on to say, "Look, here I have a carefully worded statement which will show you that we have always had good intent." I accept that that may have been so in the past and that every Home Secretary that ever was scrupulously went through every activity personally authorising and agreeing it, and only doing good acts and making smiling signs, and being benign in the context of our democracy.
However, we are going further than that. We are giving power to future generations and to future Home Secretaries and no one can assume that they will necessarily he benign. I advise the Conservative party and my hon. Friends that, although we stand for the rule of law and for our fear of the state—I have been elected three times because of the power of the state and in the belief that we were giving power back to the people—we are now saying that the state shall have every power. But who is the state? It shall he whoever is Home Secretary at any given moment. That may be a power that we shall come to regret because no court can question the basis on which this power is granted.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
Perhaps this point has been mentioned already but it follows immediately and most importantly from the points that the hon. Gentleman has just made. Is there not a grey area in the mind of any Minister between the security of the state and the security of the Administration of the day? There are fundamental democratic differences beween the two about which the Bill, as far as I can see, makes no distinction.
§ Mr. Richard Shepherd
I acknowledge what the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) has said because that has been more or less at the heart of our discussions all afternoon. We have tried to set down—it seemed to have some support from all corners of this horse—I mean house but it could be a horse if we were ridden—that there should be a limiting mandate which would try 234 to get out the specific areas of threat in a general way. Although one accepts that it cannot be precise in every detail, it should be a limiting mandate with a limiting clause. The Maxwell Fyfe directive has a limiting clause. We want something like that enshrined in the Bill. We want the functions clearly identified and limits placed on those functions in terms of the lawful dissent which is at the heart of our democracy.
I noticed that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in a carefully considered remark said that I was right to refer to the Leander judgment. I genuinely do not now believe, having reread my right hon. Friend's clause—The function of the Service shall be the protection of national security"—that it will meet the contentions of the European Court. My right hon. Friend and the Government will have the greatest difficulty in any submission before the European Court of Human Rights in saying that national security is anything that the Minister deems. In a sense, that is the problem that we are experiencing at the moment. The issuing of warrants on that basis will not and does not meet our rule of law in this area.
As my right hon. Friend rightly said, these matters were based previously on prerogative power and for some reason our courts-and Sir John Donaldson —feel that the rule of law is thrown out of the window in the face of prerogative power. Now my right hon. Friend, quite rightly—everyone must applaud it —is putting that issue on a statutory basis. The very first principle, from Dicey onwards, in the law of the constitution is the rule of law. Of course, until today we could not have a statutory definition of what "national security" means because if nothing exists or if it is only under the shadow of prerogative power, one cannot legislate for a little bit of the prerogative power and say that it is still subsumed by the prerogative power because it becomes paramount to the prerogative power.
We are now asked to try to make the paramount power the legislative power. The supremacy of Parliament is enacted as if it were subordinate to and reflective of the needs of prerogative power, but with the added protection that no judge may look behind it. There is the instruction in clause 1(2) that, whatever the Home Secretary says that national security is and issues a warrant for, it is the law of the land. It is enacted by the House, with all its powers, and will reflect the sovereignty of Parliament in clause 1(2) of the Security Service Bill. I notice that in the Official Secrets Bill it is referred to as enacted in 1988, but we can correct that, no doubt, to 1989. This Bill does not meet our contentions as to the balance of the rights of citizens. Again and again my favourite Home Secretary is educating me on the constitution in an almost malign way, because on every issue he is not weighing up that important balance between the rights of the citizen, the rights of this House and the rule of law, which is why believe that my right hon. Friend should reconsider the fact that there should be a statutory definition as to what constitutes national security.
§ Mr. Hurd
I have listened carefully to what has been said since I intervened last time. I understand clearly and I have never cast any doubts on the concerns felt on either side of the House about this matter. In my earlier. intervention I tried to deal carefully with both the main points which have, as it were, re-emerged in the speeches of the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. 235 Maclennan) and other hon. Members, and especially in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd). I set out earlier the restrictions. It is not a matter of the Home Secretary saying that they exist—they are there in the construction of the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills and other right hon. and hon. Members will be able to see that tomorrow in print. Any interested right hon. or hon. Members who re-read my speech on Second Reading will find—in slightly shorter terms, I agree —in column 1115 of the Official Report for 15 December 1988 the same exposition of what the Bill is about as I have made today in response to the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot). I do not believe that there is a procedural difficulty here of the kind that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) indicated. Indeed, the record should show that he spoke with something of a grin on his face.
We are in Committee of the whole House, and the Committee has spent today discussing a set of amendments to the Bill. I have tried patiently and at length to cover all the points, which I believe I have done, except for the point about economic well-being, about which I am courteously reminded. I believe that I can say quite honestly that the basis of the Bill and the point about national security being a matter for the United Kingdom as a whole really makes any amendment on that matter otiose.
I have set out at substantial length, point by point, why I believe that as we move towards statute the definitions and restrictions of clause 1(3) are a better way of proceeding than the way that my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills and the Opposition have put forward. I believe that that is right and will turn out to be right. I was not seeking in the statement, which was treated as though it were something new, to divert attention or to add a little piece of sweetness at the top of the Bill, but I was actually defining what was in the Bill on the matters about which the House has shown concern.
The House is in Committee. It has choices before it. If anyone wishes to press these amendments to a Division, we shall see how the Committee feels about them. When I referred to not being able to make up our minds today, I was referring to the effort made in amendment No. 47 to do that and to set out in statute today an exhaustive definition of the ways in which the Security Service should work. It was in that context that I used that phrase. There are, of course, further amendments and other important parts of the Bill to consider, but if the House approves the Bill it will go to another place, where they have eyes to see and ears to hear, and it will be considered. I cannot go further and say that we shall reconsider it, because that would give my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills, who made the suggestion, an impression that I do not want to give because I believe that it would be unfair. The Bill as drafted achieves the objectives which I stated on Second Reading and again today. I believe that I have shown that. It is now for this House and then the other place to decide whether they agree with that or whether they prefer some alternative formulation.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
Will the Home Secretary explain why all hon. Members who have spoken, on both sides of the 236 Committee, have felt the need to incorporate into the Bill the interpretation that he actually gave? Why does he believe we want that? Apart from the Home Secretary, not one hon. Member has argued against that. Has nothing that has been said on either side of the Committee given rise to one smidgen of thought in the Home Secretary's head that he should perhaps think about this a bit more and come back with an announcement later?
§ Mr. Hurd
I have listened carefully. The hon. Gentleman will admit that I have hardly left the Chamber. I have tried to deal with the points, but I am not persuaded by them. The Committee has been reasonably well attended for a debate of this kind but, of course, not overwhelmingly. A good many supporters of the Bill in its present form have not found their voices today. I make no complaint about that. That is normal. However, I am sure from my conversations with them that they have thought deeply about the Bill—as deeply as the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) has. I believe that if I amplified my answer I should be indulging in vain repetition.
I believe that the Committee has obtained from this Dispatch Box not an addition to the Bill or a change in the Bill, but a rather fuller statement than I gave on Second Reading of what the Bill contains and does not contain on the issues that those right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken have emphasised. That appears to be a profitable and useful use of an afternoon and early part of an evening by this Committee. I believe that I must rest on that.
§ Question put, That the amendment be made: —
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 141, Noes 221
|Division No. 34]||[8.58 pm|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Crowther, Stan|
|Adams, Allen (Paisley N)||Cryer, Bob|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Cummings, John|
|Armstrong, Hilary||Darling, Alistair|
|Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy||Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Dewar, Donald|
|Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)||Dixon, Don|
|Barron, Kevin||Doran, Frank|
|Beith, A. J.||Douglas, Dick|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Dunnachie, Jimmy|
|Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)||Eadie, Alexander|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Eastham, Ken|
|Blair, Tony||Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)|
|Blunkett, David||Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)|
|Boateng, Paul||Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)|
|Boyes, Roland||Flynn, Paul|
|Bradley, Keith||Foot, Rt Hon Michael|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Foster, Derek|
|Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)||Foulkes, George|
|Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)||Fyfe, Maria|
|Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)||Galbraith, Sam|
|Buchan, Norman||Galloway, George|
|Buckley, George J.||George, Bruce|
|Callaghan, Jim||Godman, Dr Norman A.|
|Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)||Golding, Mrs Llin|
|Campbell-Savours, D. N.||Gordon, Mildred|
|Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)||Graham, Thomas|
|Cartwright, John||Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)|
|Clark, Dr David (S Shields)||Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||Grocott, Bruce|
|Cohen, Harry||Hardy, Peter|
|Cook, Frank (Stockton N)||Haynes, Frank|
|Cook, Robin (Livingston)||Heffer, Eric S.|
|Corbett, Robin||Hinchliffe, David|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Home Robertson, John|
|Cousins, Jim||Hood, Jimmy|
|Cox, Tom||Howells, Geraint|
§ Questions accordingly negatived.
§ Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill>