HC Deb 22 February 1994 vol 238 cc153-244

Order for Second Reading read.

3.41 pm
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Douglas Hurd)


Madam Speaker

Order. Will hon. Members who are leaving do so quickly and quietly, and share the joke with me later?

Mr. Hurd

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

The Intelligence Services Bill fulfils the pledge of the Prime Minister to put the Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6, and the Government communications headquarters on a statutory basis. It complements the arrangements in the Security Service Act 1989, so that, if the Bill is passed, for the first time, all three security and intelligence agencies will be covered by a statutory regime.

The Bill is the latest in a series of steps marking the Government's commitment to greater openness on security and intelligence matters. To change the metaphor and make it more personal, I am just a little proud to be the parent of three related reforming measures. The first two of my offspring are flourishing, and I hope that the Bill, the third of the trio, will soon follow the others at the font to receive the blessing of Parliament.

The first of those offspring was the reform of the Official Secrets Act 1911. Then came the Security Service Act 1989, which, as Home Secretary, I introduced to the House, placing the Security Service on a statutory basis. The Bill closely follows the provisions of that Act. In May 1992, the Prime Minister avowed the existence of the SIS and made a commitment to introduce legislation for the service. That July, he said that legislation would also be introduced for GCHQ.

Greater openness continued to follow. In June 1992, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster announced that Joint Intelligence Committee papers would no longer be withheld from publication indefinitely as they had been in the past. Since then, Joint Intelligence Committee records that have been cleared for release from the JIC's inception in 1936 to August 1945 have been made available in the Public Record Office. In the past 18 months, the Government have reviewed and released other previously retained security and intelligence-related records.

I have recently agreed that the records of the Foreign Office's information research department, which was closed in 1977, should be reviewed for release. I I hope that it will be possible to release the first batch of those interesting papers by the autumn.

In July 1993, the Government published a booklet about the Security Service, making available for the first time some information about its role and structure. That was followed in October by a booklet explaining the country's central intelligence machinery and detailing—again, for the first time—the terms of reference of the Joint Intelligence Committee.

In November last year, the Prime Minister announced for the first time the overall scale of expenditure by the security and intelligence agencies. He also announced that, from April this year, all expenditure on those agencies would be carried on a single published intelligence vote.

There will always be hon. and right hon. Members, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), who ask for more. That is their right, but I hope that, before they press us to do more, they will acknowledge that we have travelled a long way down this road—further than I suspect they, and certainly I, thought likely seven or eight years ago. This Bill is a further big step. Indeed, it is the next logical step in this policy of greater openness in security and intelligence matters, wherever possible.

I emphasise the importance of the words "wherever possible". We believe that the public should have access to information on security and intelligence matters when that does not pose a threat to national security or the operation of the agencies. But, by their very nature, most security and intelligence matters should remain secret. Obviously, to reveal them would be to put at risk national security, the success of operations and, in some cases, the lives of the men and women who take part in those operations and work for the security and intelligence agencies. That is why successive Governments have made the point that they cannot comment on the agencies' operational matters. The introduction of the Bill does not change that policy.

Given the clear need, which I hope and believe most hon. Members will recognise, to retain the secrecy of most intelligence and security information, we believe that, in the circumstances of 1994, there should be proper arrangements for accountability. That is why we have decided that, in addition to providing a commissioner and a tribunal for complaints—machinery contained in the Security Service Act 1989—the Bill should include for the first time provision for an oversight committee of parliamentarians to scrutinise the expenditure, administration and policy of all three security and intelligence agencies.

I shall return to that matter later. May I just add here that the chief of SIS and the director of GCHQ made it clear at a press briefing that I held when the Bill was published last November that they and the staff of the two agencies, for which I am primarily responsible under the Prime Minister, welcome the Bill, particularly the element of parliamentary oversight that it introduces.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Time and again in recent years, we have been told that it is out of the question to have any form of parliamentary scrutiny, that there was ministerial control, and that Ministers were answerable to Parliament. Although the line has slightly changed, why have the Government decided not to accept the kind of parliamentary scrutiny unanimously recommended by the Home Affairs Committee?

Is the Foreign Secretary not aware that what is now being produced is totally inadequate—an appointment by the Prime Minister in consultation with the Leader of the Opposition, with the committee reporting to the Prime Minister first? It will not satisfy those of us who are determined that, sooner or later, we will have the parliamentary scrutiny that other democracies have and which was recommended by the Select Committee on Home Affairs.

Mr. Hurd

The Bill will not satisfy those who believe that Parliament, the public or the media should be able to scrutinise the operations of the security and intelligence agencies. [Interruption.] That is not what the hon. Gentleman said, but it is the direction in which he wishes to push us. I shall return to the question of oversight in a minute. We have moved substantially from the position that I advocated as Home Secretary in 1989, and I will explain why. Before the hon. Gentleman pushes for more, he should analyse what is in the Bill and the reasons for it. However, I shall return to that point in a minute.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)

Will my right hon. Friend give way on that point?

Mr. Hurd

I shall return to the question of oversight later, but perhaps my hon. Friend wishes to intervene now? It is his bisque.

Mr. Shepherd

I wished simply to ask whether the members of the committee would be "designated persons" within the terms of the Official Secrets Act 1989.

Mr. Hurd

I think that they would have to be, but perhaps I could check that point, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy will confirm it, or deny it if I am wrong.

I should like to deal with something that perplexes some critics of the agencies—their importance in the world of 1994. It is a world which has changed, but which remains deeply turbulent and dangerous. Having looked at it with some thoroughness, we are clear there is a role for the agencies alongside the armed services and diplomatic services in protecting and furthering the interests of Britain and its citizens at home and abroad.

The threats change—as they have throughout history —and they have changed again in the past few years. They include nuclear, chemical, biological and conventional proliferation of weapons; they include terrorism and the threat to our armed forces in times of conflict, serious crime, espionage and sabotage. I know that there is scepticism in some quarters, so perhaps I could give some examples of those threats and how the agencies help to tackle them.

Clearly, weapons proliferation is a substantial threat following the break-up of the Soviet Union and its arsenal of weapons. We tried to tackle it at a diplomatic level by negotiating treaties, but intelligence helps us to act against unscrupulous Governments who aim to break those treaties.

Perhaps I should illustrate the value of intelligence work in that field. Our agencies recently provided one of our European neighbours with intelligence about a major construction contract being undertaken in a developing country by one of its national companies. Our agency was able to show from its intelligence that the proposed facilities were meant for the production of weapons of mass destruction, and as a result of that intelligence, the allied Government concerned was persuaded to frustrate the contract.

The terrorist threat is real and chilling. I do not need to give the House the list of terrorist murders and murderous attempts in recent years. I should have to add to that list the attacks which did not take place and the lives that were saved if I were to illustrate fully the work of the agencies.

Perhaps I can also give an example in that field. At the time of the Gulf war, the intelligence agencies gained access to premises occupied by a known terrorist who was living under an assumed name in the capital of a developing country. The agencies got hold of some crucial details about his contacts and associations; they passed that intelligence to the law enforcement agencies in a western European country that he was known to visit, so he was watched. As a result of that surveillance, the life of an ambassador of one of our allies was saved, because the terrorist and his group were preparing to assassinate him.

On serious crime, intelligence can be particularly important as a protection during periods of armed conflict —for example, in the Gulf war in 1991.

Intelligence about the capabilities of our enemies saved the lives of British service men and women. The contribution that the intelligence agencies make to the safety of our armed forces is greatly appreciated by those forces themselves.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

I appreciate the point that the Foreign Secretary is making about the importance of the security services in all these serious areas, but what concerns one or two people who watched what happened in the House of Lords was the reluctance of the Government to define the serious nature of these events as opposed to less serious ones.

Many people are concerned that the security forces occasionally get involved in matters that do not come into that category of seriousness. Will the Foreign Secretary at least consider in Committee whether definitions could be written into the legislation to make it clear that the security services should be concerned with the serious threats to the state, not less serious issues?

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman is perfectly right, but if he looks at the Bill, he will see that it is full of safeguards in that respect. If he looks at the provision for warrants, authorisations and the matters that now must come to the Secretary of State—with the commissioner standing over my shoulder, ensuring that what I do is in accordance with the Bill—he will see that, for the first time, the safeguards will be there.

The way in which the two agencies—the SIS and GCHQ—operate is already in line with what the hon. Gentleman wants. What will be new under the Bill is that the law and the commissioner will be able to ensure that that is so. The hon. Gentleman is on to an important point. Those agencies should not concern themselves with trivial matters.

To give another example, serious crime is increasingly international. Transnational criminal organisations operate in various countries, seeking to escape the reaches of domestic law enforcement agencies. There, our intelligence agencies support the efforts of the police and Customs and Excise to prevent and detect such serious crime.

A British law enforcement agency recently asked the SIS to help monitor a large consignment of drugs from a developing country believed to be destined for the UK. The service could not rely on the co-operation of the authorities in the country concerned, so it sent an officer there under an assumed identity.

Soon after his arrival, in difficult and dangerous circumstances, the officer was able to identify and enlist the support of an employee of the transport organisation which was innocently handling the movement of that consignment. With the help of that employee, the consignment was monitored to a point outside the country, where it was seized through international action, and the gang of traffickers involved were arrested.

There is the provision for action—the tasking of our intelligence agencies—in the interests of the economic well-being of the United Kingdom. Those who have followed these matters know that that is a well-worn provision. It is in existing legislation, and is provided for in the European Convention on Human Rights. It sometimes causes puzzlement as to what it can mean.

Examples of where it might be useful are where there is instability in a part of the world where substantial British economic interests were at stake, or where there was a crisis or a huge difficulty about the continued supply of a commodity on which our economy depended.

The House will notice that the Bill restricts the activities of the SIS and GCHQ for safeguarding the economic well-being of the country to the acts or intentions of persons outside the United Kingdom. The agencies may not and do not get involved in domestic economic, commercial or financial affairs.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

I thank the Foreign Secretary for giving way on this point, because the matter of control of the agency and the procedures to control it are quite important.

What steps are taken to ensure that the agency does not get involved in unauthorised operations? Where such unauthorised operations have taken place, what steps are taken to ensure that it does not happen again? What disciplinary action is taken? Given the nature of the operation that we are dealing with, how can we be sure that operations subsequently described by Ministers as unauthorised really were unauthorised?

Mr. Hurd

Legislation relating to the Security Service is already on the statute book. I know of no evidence to suggest that the machinery set up by the House in 1989 has proved inadequate or defective, or that security operations have fallen within that category.

The Bill primarily concerns the other two agencies, for which there is currently no statutory provision. It introduces statutory arrangements for warrants, authorisation, the appointment of a commissioner and the establishment of a tribunal—that is the novelty, in comparison with the previous arrangements—for an oversight committee. That is quite an apparatus of control.

I am already consulted if either agency wishes to authorise particularly sensitive operations, but that is not a statutory arrangement; it is just what happens. The Bill proposes that the arrangements should be elaborated, refined, extended and put on the statute book, and that machinery should be introduced to deal with any breaches.

As I have said, the commissioner will look over my shoulder, and the tribunal will examine any complaint from any member of the public that the agencies might have acted without authorisation in the manner described by the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble). That is a big step towards securing what he wants.

Before we become too enmeshed in the question of possible breaches, difficulties and dangers, I think it right to record our appreciation of the loyalty, courage and hard work of those involved. It has not been possible to do so before. That work is very dangerous, and provides few rewards—in the form of public recognition, or in any other form.

Most hon. Members know one or more of the individuals involved; it should be pointed out that their work, although unrecognised, is as essential to the public good as much of the other work that is constantly praised in the House. The terrorist attack that is prevented, the potential crime that is disrupted and the vital intelligence that is conveyed to our armed forces or aid workers do not make the news; but that work is essential to public well-being.

Let me clear up a point that is often raised, and was almost touched on by the hon. Member for Upper Bann. The SIS and GCHQ do not work to their own agenda, invent their own requirements for information or act independently without the prior knowledge and clearance of Ministers. As the Bill makes clear, they are both directly accountable to the Secretary of State; they must remain politically neutral, and they operate only within strict parameters. They do not invent adventures of their own; they carry out tasks in support of specific policies.

This is where the Joint Intelligence Committee comes in. It lays on the SIS and GCHQ detailed requirements and tasking, which are reviewed annually in a process with which I am now familiar: it combines rigorous analysis of the requirements for secret intelligence with a great deal of consultation with what are known as customer departments. From that rigorous process emerges a list of requirements, which must then be approved by Ministers.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

May I warn the Home Secretary that I shall not be present for the winding-up speeches? The Standing Committee considering the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill sits morning, noon and night.

May I ask which Ministers knew about the activity of the security services—albeit 10 years ago—in relation to the miners' strike? As, I believe, the only Member of the present Parliament who appeared for an hour and a half before the Franks committee dealing with the Falklands, may I ask in what circumstances a Minister is informed? Lord Franks and his colleagues were extremely confused about the issue.

Mr. Hurd

Both the examples that the hon. Gentleman gives have been thrashed out on the Floor of the House over and over again, and Lord Franks issued his report.

I would simply say, from my experience, which does not cover either of the examples that the hon. Gentleman mentions, that there was somewhat more consultation in the Home Office even before the passage of the Security Service Act 1989, but the Security Service Act is plain and has worked well, I think, for five years. I find now, in my present job, that there has been increasing consultation of the Secretary of State when operations are proposed that are sensitive—that could cause difficulty.

I have never known an operation to be proposed in any of the three services that infringes the principle of political neutrality. I find, however, that there is an increasing tendency to consult the Secretary of State on what might be called sensitive or controversial matters. That will now be enshrined in the Bill because of the procedures laid down in the Bill for warrants, in the case of operations against property, and for authorisations covering a rather wider field.

The Bill provides for ministerial control of the way in which the agencies act to fulfil those tasks by, as have said, a system of warrants and authorisations. In addition to those statutory provisions, the SIS will continue the existing procedure that I mentioned, whereby my specific clearance is sought for more sensitive operations.

I shall run through the Bill quickly for the convenience of the House, as is normal on Second Reading.

Mr. Peter Mandelson (Hartlepool)


Mr. Hurd

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, and then I will get on.

Mr. Mandelson

On the subject of ministerial control, which I think is very important and to which I shall return if I am lucky enough to be called, will the Foreign Secretary say, in terms of the Bill, what powers he believes the Intelligence and Security Committee will have to summons Ministers, which Ministers, and how frequently? What depth of questioning does he believe it will be acceptable for the committee to engage in for proper ministerial accountability to that committee to be secured?

Mr. Hurd

I shall mention the oversight committee later, but its job will be to examine expenditure and administration of the three agencies. The committee will therefore be able to examine and to take evidence, not as a court of law but as a matter of fact, from the agencies and those people who are responsible for the agencies—

Mr. Mandelson

And policy?

Mr. Hurd

— and policy, but not operations. When there are—

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

Is the Foreign Secretary dealing with scrutiny now? I thought it was coming later.

Mr. Hurd

No; I will discuss that in greater detail, but I am answering, in sum, the hon. Gentleman's points.

Clauses 1 and 3 provide for the continuation of the SIS —it is referred to in the Bill as "the Intelligence Service" —and Government communications headquarters, Cheltenham under the authority of the Secretary of State, and set out their respective functions. They provide that those functions will be exercisable in the interests of national security only, with special reference to the defence and foreign policies of the kingdom, in the interests of the kingdom's economic well-being, or for the purpose of preventing or detecting serious crime.

Clauses 2 and 4 provide for the appointments of the chief of SIS and the director of GCHQ and set out their responsibilities. They place specific requirements on the heads of agencies, regarding obtaining and disclosing information—both are important—and reporting to the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister, and they require the agencies to remain politically neutral.

Clauses 5 and 6 provide for the Secretary of State to issue warrants authorising entry on, or interference with, property or wireless telegraphy in pursuit of the agency's functions. They replace the similar warrant provisions of the Security Service Act, and they make warrants available in respect of the functions of all three security and intelligence agencies.

Clause 7 is a provision for warrants and for authorisations. It provides for the Secretary of State to authorise certain acts abroad that are necessary for the proper discharge of the functions of SIS.

I hope that the House will agree that those three clauses ensure that certain actions can be undertaken by the agencies under the specific authority of Ministers only.

Clauses 8, 9 and 10 provide three important safeguards on the activities of the agencies. First, clause 8 establishes a commissioner. That is familiar to the House, because there is already a Security Service Commissioner. The commissioner will review the exercise by the Secretary of State of his powers to issue warrants and authorisations for SIS and GCHQ.

In my experience as Home Secretary, and latterly as Foreign Secretary, the role of commissioner is not a cipher. The Commissioner of the Security Services oversees rigorously and the commissioner in charge of the Interception of Communications Act 1986, with whom I deal now, oversees rigorously the way in which I use the powers entrusted to me by statute. There is nothing routine, scanty or inadequate about the way in which the commissioner undertakes his task.

The commissioner will also help the tribunal, about which I shall speak in a moment, to deal with complaints. The Bill places a statutory duty on all members of the intelligence and security agencies to disclose to the commissioner any information that he needs in order to carry out his functions.

Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay)

My right hon. Friend referred to the Security Service Act 1989 and the commissioner as models for the Bill. Why is the commissioner unwilling to declare how many complaints have been made against the security services under the terms of that Act? Although we were confident when the Act was passed, some of us are no longer so confident that he has had a great many complaints to investigate. Would it not be simpler for him to declare in his annual report how many complaints there have been?

Mr. Hurd

That is a matter for the commissioner to work out for himself; I am not answerable for him. My experience of the Security Service Act 1989 and the Interception of Communications Act 1986 is that the commissioner's work is rigorous and important.

Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)

I shall try to help the right hon. Gentleman. I might be misinterpreting what the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) said, but page 2 of the Security Services Commissioner's report, dated March 1993, states the number of complaints received.

Mr. Hurd

That is a matter for the commissioner. I think that he sometimes declared them and sometimes did not. [Interruption.] I believe that the right hon. Gentleman is referring to the Commissioner for the Security Service, who is the responsibility of the Home Secretary. I am saying that it is for the commissioner to decide whether to provide particular information. Sometimes he has, and sometimes he has not, but that is a matter for him.

Sir David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)

Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the subject of the role of the commissioner, to which he has paid tribute, will he explain how it overlaps with the later provision in the Bill for a parliamentary committee? Is the parliamentary committee to be excluded from examining the same aspect as the commissioner—the use by Ministers of warrants?

Mr. Hurd

The three bits of machinery have different functions, which I am trying to describe to the House. The commissioner is responsible for the exercise by the Secretary of State of the authority given to the Secretary of State under the Bill. The tribunal is responsible for investigating complaints and may ask the commissioner to follow up the investigation of such complaints. The oversight committee, with which I shall deal later, is responsible for overseeing policy administration and expenditure.

It is an issue that hon. Members will want to debate in detail in Committee, but I do not see why there should be an overlap between the three separate functions allocated under the Bill to the three separate mechanisms, individuals or groups which the Bill proposes. I was about to deal with the second, the tribunal.

Clause 9 establishes the tribunal to deal with complaints against the intelligence service or GCHQ. It is closely modelled on the security service tribunal, which has been working effectively since its establishment under the 1989 Act. The tribunal will, for the first time, give those complaining about the activities of SIS or GCHQ the assurance of an independent review and redress in matters that could particularly affect their privacy and prospects.

The arrangements for the tribunal—now for the two agencies with which the Bill mainly deals and, formerly, for the Security Service—have regard to the European Convention on Human Rights and, we believe, fully comply with it.

Clause 10 provides something new, about which hon. Members have already asked me. It proposes an entirely new form of oversight of all three security and intelligence agencies—a committee of parliamentarians. As several hon. Members will remember, that idea was discussed in 1989, when there was considerable concern, especially among my hon. Friends, that further widening the circle of secrecy to an oversight committee might put national security at risk.

Five years ago, I shared that concern. It seemed to me that either one put such a parliamentary group inside the ring of secrecy, in which case what its members could say to the world outside, including the House, would be strictly limited, or one kept them outside the ring of secrecy, in which case they would have nothing especially important to communicate—although they would be free to communicate it. In 1989, that seemed to me a dilemma which we had not resolved.

I believe that the House will judge that, with the hindsight derived from four years' experience of the Security Service Act, and since the avowal of SIS, we have now found a way of overcoming the difficulty and reconciling those considerations. I believe that the committee proposed in the Bill will provide welcome additional and effective monitoring of the agencies, without putting national security at risk.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

For the benefit of my hon. Friends, I recall that half an hour ago the Foreign Secretary did not know whether the membership of the committee would be subject to official secrets legislation, and that it was a nod and a wink from the civil servants in the Box that affirmed the position for the House.

If the hon. Members who are to be members of the committee will be subject to official secrets legislation, why can they not have access to some operational matters? Why is that wrong in principle? Why can they not have access to some operational matters, in the same way as —[Interruption.]

Some of my hon. Friends may shake their heads, but in the United States of America, several hon. Members interviewed Congressmen and bureaucrats who were members of a committee scrutinising those very matters. Many of us believe that that can be done here, if Parliament is prepared to nominate certain Members of the House to committees on the advice of the Prime Minister, as suggested. That is not a major departure from the proposal in the Bill. If the hon. Members concerned will be covered by official secrets legislation, why, in principle, can they not have some additional rights?

Mr. Hurd

In response to the hon. Gentleman's first comment, I did not get my knowledge from the civil service Box; I do not have eyes in the back of my head. I answered by the light of my own knowledge, and I believe that I answered correctly. I was answering my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills, and I gave the answer that I believed to be correct, but I said that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster would confirm the position when he wound up.

On the hon. Gentleman's second question, he does not seem to be living in the real world. Operational matters involving secret agencies ought to remain secret. The hon. Gentleman says that they can be fully shared with all Members of the House—

Mr. Campbell-Savours

I did not say that.

Mr. Hurd

—because all Members of the House would be subject to the Official Secrets Act. That is a mechanism for shutting the stable door after the horse has gone.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

That is not what I said.

Mr. Hurd


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)


Mr. Hurd

The protection provided by the Official Secrets Act is precisely like ensuring that the stable door may always be closed after the horse has gone—that is, that somebody may be prosecuted and punished after he has done the mischief. We are concerned, as is anybody who is serious about the operation of the agencies, not about punishing the person responsible for the mischief after it has occurred but about preventing the mischief before it happens.

I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman's argument is strong, because he is relying on the ability to prosecute and punish, whereas we—

Mr. Campbell-Savours


Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman's reference to the Official Secrets Act makes sense only if that is his argument.

We are saying that we must provide against the mischief, against the revealing of secret operations, before it occurs, and that is what the Bill does.

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)

Perhaps the Foreign Secretary could tell us what criteria he will introduce for membership of the committee. If the members are not bound by the Official Secrets Act 1911, what criteria will the Secretary of State lay down for membership of that committee?

Mr. Hurd

I was coming to precisely that point. Being under the Official Secrets Act 1911 is not in itself a sufficient protection. As it says on the face of the Bill, the committee will comprise six Members from both Houses appointed by the Prime Minister after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition. That can be—

Mr. Campbell-Savours


Mr. Hurd

I have given way to the hon. Member once.

That can be argued about and will be argued about, but I believe that, when the House reflects on what we are considering—the proposal for an oversight committee for the first time—it will see that we should be anxious that that oversight committee should be effective on policy, administration and expenditure, and that it should not lead to any danger of revealing secret operations. That is the circle which we are trying to square, and what the House is after. That is what we are trying to reconcile, and what we did not succeed in reconciling in 1989.

We are coming forward with the proposal, and before hon. Members, such as the hon. Member for Workington, start rubbishing it, I hope that they will reflect on the need to reconcile those two considerations. The simple proposition on the face of the Bill is a good way in which to do what we are seeking to achieve. It is the way in which we propose to deal with the matter, and we shall defend it.

Sir Ivan Lawrence (Burton)


Mr. Hurd

I shall give way for the last time.

Sir Ivan Lawrence

I hope that my question will be more friendly and less absurd than that of the hon. Member for Workington. At the moment, MI5 is responsible to the Home Secretary, and it is in that context that the Select Committee on Home Affairs has the power of scrutiny over the work of the Home Secretary and his agencies.

In response to that, the Select Committee on Home Affairs produced a report on the scrutiny of the Security Service, to which the Government responded. The Bill appears to give the right of parliamentary scrutiny on matters of administration, expenditure and policy to the oversight committee. Does that deprive the Select Committee on Home Affairs, which is, after all, a Committee of parliamentarians of all parties and not appointed by the Government, of the right to ask the head of MI5 or any part of the Security Service questions about administration, expenditure or policy?

It should not ask about day-to-day operations. We have never sought to exercise that power, and it would have been wrong to do so. However, it seems that, if my right hon. Friend is giving a power to an oversight committee, which is not directly responsible to the House for its activities, the Government may be taking away a power of the House to control the Executive.

Mr. Hurd


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. If there are many more mini-speeches of that nature, some of the hon. and right hon. Members who are hoping to catch my eye will be unsuccessful.

Mr. Hurd

Perhaps I have given way too often, but none of the interventions in my speech has been in the least beside the point. The House is being asked to tread new ground, to reconcile considerations which we all know are important, and it is finding its way.

It is certainly not the purpose of the Bill to truncate in any way the existing responsibilities of existing Committees. I am not talking of the ambitions that Select Committees may have—that is a different matter. I am talking about their present responsibilities and it is certainly not the intention of the Bill or of clause 10 to cut in any way the existing powers and responsibilities of Select Committees.

As I said, the oversight committee will be charged with scrutinising the administration, policy and expenditure of the security service, the SIS and GCHQ. Subject to the provisions of the Bill, the heads of the three agencies will be required to disclose to the committee the necessary information to enable it to fulfil that remit. Clearly, that is one of the most important elements in the Bill.

For the rest, we are extending considerably—not totally —into the field of the two agencies, the SIS and GCHQ, what is already working well in the case of the Security Service. But here we are breaking new ground and putting the Security Service, as well as the two other agencies, under this new oversight committee.

We have thought a great deal about what would be the effective mechanism in which Parliament would have confidence but which could also be privy—this is the crucial point—to the special information necessary to enable it to carry out its job. The combination of an all-party committee of parliamentarians and unprecedented access to security and intelligence information will achieve that goal.

Dr. John Gilbert (Dudley, East)

I shall put two points to the Foreign Secretary. Although this will be a committee of parliamentarians, it certainly will not be a parliamentary committee in two important respects: first, its proceedings will not attract privilege, and, secondly, there is nothing in the Bill as far as I can see that gives the committee the power to send for persons and papers.

Mr. Hurd

The question of privilege is not one for me, but the right hon. Gentleman's first point is fair. It is a parliamentary committee, but it is not in the same family as other Select Committees of the House. It is unique and special, and it will have a unique and special job. The Bill provides a power for the committee to examine agencies and that is its job. Therefore, I do not see that there is a mismatch between the job and the powers.

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will argue that point in Committee. I am aware that he has made it before. Having looked at the matter again this morning, I do not see how there is a mismatch between the powers of the oversight committee and the job that it will be asked to do.

I have argued that the services of the intelligence agencies are vital to the interests of our country. In a democracy, it is right that those agencies and their activities should be on a statutory basis, that there should be adequate safeguards, that there should not be unnecessary mystery, and that there should be public confidence in the way in which the agencies work and in the arrangements for their accountability and control by Ministers.

Mr. Richard Shepherd

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Hurd

No. I am going to conclude my speech.

The Bill fulfils those requirements. It is important and logical. As I said, it comes at the end of a long series of measures—some small and some big—that we have taken, especially over the past seven or eight years to open up this field. I do not say that we have got every arrangement perfect, but there has been steady progress towards greater openness.

I remember vividly the debates on the Official Secrets Bill—being told that every editor would quake in his shoes, that it was draconian, that few editors would not spend some time in prison once the Bill was passed, and that the threat to the freedom of the press was absolute. I remember some eloquent speeches on this theme, but nothing whatever has occurred to justify those premonitions. I hope that debates on this Bill will be somewhat more prosaic. It is the latest in a series of steps in the direction that I have mentioned.

We drafted the Bill after careful study of the Security Service Act 1989, after a lot of consultation in Government and with the agencies, having regard to the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights and taking account of what happens in other countries. The Bill will provide us with an effective and important piece of legislation and will complete the task set in hand of providing a good statutory framework for all our security and intelligence agencies. I commend the Bill to right hon. and hon. Members, and invite the House to give it a Second Reading.

4.28 pm
Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)

I begin by welcoming the Bill in principle. It represents an important change and makes a significant contribution to the increased scrutiny of the activities of the intelligence and security services.

The Bill proposes changes which the Opposition believe to be long overdue. I join the Foreign Secretary in praising and paying tribute to the distinguished record of the intelligence services, and to the Secret Intelligence Service and those at the Government communications headquarters who have played such important roles over many years in the interests of defending Britain, our democracy and our interests world wide. I happily and readily put that tribute on record.

We accept also the need for considerable secrecy in much of what those services do. Many of those who threaten our interests and security act in deeply secret ways in pursuit of their goals, which are often criminal or subversive. Those people are often involved in terrorism or the laundering of money, or are members of drug cartels, so there must be an element of secrecy and security in pursuit of them.

Britain retains global interests and internationally shared responsibilities with our allies in the European Union, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, the Commonwealth and the United Nations. We must be vigilant in trying to counteract and, better still, to prevent terrorism, nuclear proliferation, the weapons trade and drugs trafficking.

We accept the need for modern and efficient secret intelligence organisations in a rapidly changing, but all-too-unstable, world. The issues involved include scrutiny, oversight and accountability, and constructing a framework within which they should work and be accountable.

The background and history of the long debate about accountability are interesting. The security and intelligence services exist to protect our democracy and democratic freedoms. They exist to work in the national interest, but I, and many others in the Labour party, have long argued that they should not be outside the law.

We believe that the services should be subject to parliamentary oversight and scrutiny, and that is why we welcome the general principles of the Bill. We welcome the proposals to enable the policy, performance, objectives and budgets of the services to be held to account. I share the view of the Foreign Secretary that no parliamentary committee of whatever nature—I will come to the detailed nature of the committee later—should be involved in operational matters.

The obvious, if perhaps not totally apposite, comparison is with police authorities. We want police authorities to oversee the work of the police, but they do not involve themselves in operational matters. I do not believe that a committee of the House should do so in respect of the security and intelligence services. I believe that the objectives that I was talking about can best be met by the establishment of a parliamentary Select Committee, and I shall argue the case for that later.

Before I do that, I will discuss the list of examples that the Foreign Secretary gave to the House, and which he intended to be helpful. The list was of the different circumstances in which action had been taken in our collective interest and well-being. What was interesting was not so much the list that the right hon. Gentleman gave, but the omission. He did not mention the dog which apparently did not bark in the night. He did not mention what happened when he and his right hon. and hon. Friends were covertly arming the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq.

From what we have heard and seen written about the Scott inquiry, I do not believe that the responsibility for that matter can be laid at the door of the Secret Intelligence Service. The responsibility lies, of course, with Ministers. I hope, when Lord Justice Scott comes to report, that those Ministers will accept their responsibility and, if necessary, hand in their resignations at the appropriate time.

The Foreign Secretary made a different speech today from the one that he made on 15 December 1988 when, as Home Secretary, he introduced the Second Reading of the Security Service Bill. That is why some of his right hon. and hon. Friends had rather glum faces. On that occasion, he drove them into the Lobby against exactly what he proposes that they should go into the Lobby to support tonight. He drove them into the Lobby against any idea or suggestion that a committee of parliamentarians—a scrutiny committee—could possibly work, could possibly be accepted, could possibly be in the national interest or could possibly be effective without breaching security and putting the operations of the Security Service at risk. His speech is set out in the Official Report at great length.

The right hon. Gentleman's speech was surpassed only by the usual completely over-the-top speech of his right hon. Friend who is now the Secretary of State for Education, then the Minister of State, Home Office. The then Minister of State dismissed all rational argument and debate in sweeping, ridiculous phrases, implying that the creation of such a committee would never happen. Ministers all seem to have had a blinding conversion in the recent past.

Only in 1992, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, then Home Secretary, said in evidence to the Select Committee on Home Affairs that he did not think that policy and operational matters could be distinguished. Therefore, of course, he implied that no scrutiny committee could ever be acceptable to Her Majesty's Government. What a change today.

In his speech in 1988, the Foreign Secretary said: In those circumstances, which are borne in upon us day by day, it is not possible to distinguish, as some have genuinely sought to do, between policy and operations, overall resources and how they are spent, or theory and practice. Those distinctions can be made on paper and can be beguiling, but they do not work in practice."—[Official Report, 15 December 1988; Vol. 143, c. 1110.] Those were the right hon. Gentleman's very words. I should think that, as well as Opposition Members, some of his right hon. and hon. Friends and people outside the House may want to know why the Foreign Secretary has so totally changed his mind; why he is now standing on his head. We welcome his conversion, but his speech today was a very different performance in tone and content from that speech in 1988.

There are many more quotations with which I could pursue the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Hurd


Dr. Cunningham

I see that the right hon. Gentleman is rising to the first bit of bait. Perhaps I will save the rest for later.

Mr. Hurd

Perhaps I can help to shorten the right hon. Gentleman's speech. I dealt with the point in my speech. It is perfectly true that in 1988 I held and argued those views. But since then, over the past year or so, I have looked to see whether we could find ways in which we could form an oversight committee. I have done so because the views of the agencies have changed and the kind of work that they do has changed. I believe that we have now found a way in which we can reconcile those considerations.

The arguments remain exactly the same as when we argued the matter through in 1988. Then, the Government did not feel that there was an answer that reconciled the different needs. We now feel that there is one. Life has moved on. Our thinking has moved on. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman welcomes that. I hope that he will welcome the rest of the Bill.

Dr. Cunningham

We shall come to the rest of the Bill in a moment. I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's conversion. I probably welcome it a great deal more than some of his right hon. and hon. Friends sitting on the Benches behind him will do.

Mr. Winnick

I am sorry for interrupting my right hon. Friend's speech. Does he accept that when we debated the measure in 1988, Labour Members raised time and again the abuses that had occurred in the security services? While we recognised the work being done both at home and abroad, we brought to the attention of the House the Wright affair and the way in which my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Ms Harman) and Patricia Hewitt had been targeted by the security services because they held senior posts at the time in the National Council for Civil Liberties. There were many other examples of tittle-tattle about the private lives of those involved in the leadership of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. That had nothing to do with security. It was a misuse and abuse of our democratic procedures by people involved in the security services who were out of control. That was why we wanted parliamentary accountability.

Dr. Cunningham

I agree with my hon. Friend. Those and many other instances led us a long time ago to the conclusion that it was not only practicable but essential to have some parliamentary oversight and scrutiny of the security and intelligence services.

Mr. Ray Whitney (Wycombe)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Cunningham

In a moment.

Mr. Whitney

On this point.

Dr. Cunningham

I do not intend to stray from the point, so the hon. Gentleman should contain himself for a moment. Having read remarks made by him in 1988, I shall be very interested to see how he votes tonight. We know well that he was no supporter of the idea of a scrutiny committee.

The Times of today tells us—I suppose that it can be only an estimate as we are not allowed to know all the facts —that these activities cost the taxpayer about £900 million a year. That may be a gross exaggeration. If the Foreign Secretary is about to leap to the Dispatch Box again and tell us so, I hope that he will give us an accurate and comprehensive figure.

Mr. Hurd

The Prime Minister has given the figure. The right hon. Gentleman does not seem to be in full possession of the facts.

Dr. Cunningham

I, too, have some published figures. They are contained in the report that the research division of the House of Commons Library produced for this debate. The reality is that other people believe the amounts to be very different from those that are given. I am asking the right hon. Gentleman to say which information is accurate. He says that the Prime Minister has given the figure. Indeed, during the past few years, the Prime Minister has given the House many answers that turned out not to be valid in all circumstances.

Mr. Whitney

The right hon. Gentleman has referred to his party's views about the need for a parliamentary committee of oversight. The Labour party adopted these views after it lost power. During its period of office, successive Prime Ministers, Foreign Secretaries and Home Secretaries held quite contrary views. Can the right hon. Gentleman comment on their conversion?

Dr. Cunningham

I happily agree with the hon. Gentleman. I thought that the people to whom he has referred were wrong, and if they have not changed their minds they are still wrong. I have held my views about the powers of Parliament ever since I became a Member of the House. The powers of the House of Commons are pathetically inadequate in many respects. This is just one classic example. I dare say, without checking the record or straying too far from order, that the hon. Gentleman is one of those who have consistently voted against strengthened powers for Parliament and against increased support for Members to enable them to do their job more adequately.

Mr. Whitney

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Cunningham

I shall not give way again. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman flatters himself.

The decision to bring the Secret Intelligence Service into the daylight was welcome, but since everyone in London could see the building of the wonderful new headquarters just down the river from here it was hardly credible to maintain the fiction that the organisation did not exist. I wonder how many of us will be invited to the house-warming party.

Another interesting matter about which we need to know is the exact cost to the public purse of the building at Vauxhall cross and of the refurbishment of Thames House South and whether the public are getting value for money. For these reasons, too, I firmly believe that we should have such a committee. In any event, the public would think that we were lacking in the discharge of our responsibility to them if we were to allow sums of this magnitude to be spent without asking some very searching questions.

Turning to some details of the Bill, as did the Foreign Secretary, I shall start with clause 7 as, broadly, I accept what the right hon. Gentleman said about the earlier provisions. Clause 7 is interesting. It gives the people involved complete and very wide-ranging immunity. Apparently, they did not have such immunity previously. Perhaps the Minister of State, when he winds up, will comment on that matter.

From our researches, it seems that clause 7 may be necessary for the purpose of taking into account the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 1948. I do not know whether that is true—it is just a bit of surmise and detective work on my own part—but it would be very interesting to know why we have a long, complex and very wide-ranging clause providing these immunities if, for all these years, the members of the Secret Intelligence Service have been able to operate quite happily overseas without them. Or have those people been operating overseas without safeguards from potential prosecution in this country? Whatever the reasons, I hope that the Minister of State will tell us a little more about the provisions of clause 7 and why it is so necessary.

Clause 8 says: The Commissioner shall make an annual report … to the Prime Minister and: The Prime Minister shall lay before each House of Parliament a copy of each annual report made by the Commissioner under subsection (5) … together with a statement as to whether any matter has been excluded from that copy in pursuance of subsection (7)". I accept that the commissioner should report to the Prime Minister and that the Prime Minister should have some right of veto. This is a matter for the commissioner to decide. As I said in an intervention, the commissioner— a post provided for under the Security Service Act 1989—sets out on page 2 of his report the number of complaints received and investigated in 1992 and the number received in 1991 but investigated in 1992. So I am not clear about the purpose of the intervention of the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason).

What concerns people is not that matter or the fact that the numbers are not given—they are given—but what the commissioner has to say, later in page 2, about complaints. Incidentally, none of the complaints is upheld. Commenting on the fact that 40 complaints were referred to him, the commissioner says: In no case have I made a determination on the basis that a warrant has been issued in relation to the complainant's property. This fact may lead some to speculate that members of the service are carrying out operations involving unlawful interference with property, such as installing eavesdropping devices, without the authorisation of a warrant issued under the act. Indeed, from time to time I am asked whether I am satisfied that such operations are not being carried out. Although I cannot answer the question categorically, because it is not my function to review the operations of the service, and, in the nature of things, such operations, if they existed, would be concealed". That is what concerns the public. We need to be able to call people to account, not so that we can ask about the nature of operations but to satisfy ourselves, on the basis of inquiries by the tribunal and the commissioner and by a committee, that the public have as much assurance as it is possible to give that these organisations are acting within the law and that there is proper supervision of warrants. I am not against the warrants—it would be absurd to take that view—but I believe that we need more safeguards.

Mr. Allason

When the 1989 Act was passed, the commissioner was given very wide powers, and some of us believed that he would have power to investigate and report on complaints. In subsequent reports, there was no reference to the number of complaints. Now there is such reference, but only as a result of pressure. More to the point, the commissioner declined to investigate any complaint relating to any episode that had been initiated before 10 December 1989. So while many complaints were made, they were all ruled out of order.

Dr. Cunningham

The obvious response to that intervention is that presumably the commissioner did not have the statutory powers to investigate before then.

Clause 10 illustrates what lies at the heart of some of the differences between the two sides of the House over this legislation. That clause describes the establishment of the Intelligence and Security Committee, which will not be a Select Committee or a parliamentary committee, but will be made up of Members of Parliament. It will not, therefore, be governed by the normal rules that apply to Select Committees. Apparently, the issue of privilege will not apply, although the application of the Official Secrets Act 1989 might circumvent that problem.

What sort of committee will it be? It will not be a Select Committee or a committee of privy councillors—it will be all the better for that as neither I nor the Home Affairs Select Committee, under the chairmanship of the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence), am persuaded that every member of such a committee should be a privy councillor.

I am also worried about the size of the committee. Six members are proposed, with a quorum of three. In the circumstances, it may be difficult for it to achieve that quorum, especially since at least one member of the Lords and one Member of the Commons must be present.

We have considerable misgivings about the nature and size of the committee. It should be a Select Committee and it should be larger. We can discuss that matter in the Standing Committee, where my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) will be leading for the Opposition. We should be thinking of a membership of the order of nine members and then a quorum could be more readily achieved, as could agreement between the parties involved about who should be a member.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

May I take my right hon. Friend back to my intervention during the Foreign Secretary's speech. If the committee is neither parliamentary nor a Select Committee, but almost a quasi-departmental committee with Members of Parliament nominated to it by the Prime Minister, and if its members are subject to the Official Secrets Act—as was said in the House—why, in principle, should it not be able to ask questions about operational matters? I could understand my right hon. Friend's reservations if the committee were to be a Select Committee, but as it will be a quasi-departmental committee with Members of Parliament on it, why can it not ask questions on issues about which those Members are concerned? They will not be reporting back to Parliament.

Dr. Cunningham

As always, I give my hon. Friend full marks for persistence. Whatever the status of the committee, it should not be able to interfere in operational matters. I made that clear at the outset and I am not persuaded to change my mind.

I am also concerned that the committee will apparently not have the power to call witnesses and commission papers to be brought before it. That is another weakness for a committee that is seriously expected to deal with scrutiny or oversight. Those are all serious matters and they dramatically weaken the proposal at the heart of this legislation.

Furthermore, it is proposed that the committee should not report to Parliament but to the Prime Minister. I do not regard that as parliamentary scrutiny or oversight, because the Prime Minister has the right to veto sections of its report—I call it prime ministerial oversight and scrutiny.

If we are to have an effective parliamentary watchdog to oversee such matters and to probe and scrutinise, it should report to Parliament. It cannot legitimately be called a parliamentary committee unless it does so. That is another major difference of opinion between the Opposition and the Government over the details of the legislation.

Of course, it is okay for commissioners to report to the Prime Minister—that is what they are appointed for—but a parliamentary committee should report and be answerable to the House for the conduct of its affairs.

Mr. Andrew Hargreaves (Birmingham, Hall Green)

Does the right hon. Gentleman concede that the description of the committee in the Bill, where it states that it will examine "expenditure, administration and policy", gives it a remarkably wide brief, given that is within the wall of secrecy?

Dr. Cunningham

There would be little point in having a committee that was not within what the Foreign Secretary termed the wall of secrecy—

Mr. Michael Mates (East Hampshire)


Dr. Cunningham

Okay, whether it is a circle or a wall, there would be no point in having the committee unless it was able to penetrate whatever geometric figure that the Foreign Secretary cares to use to describe the boundaries of the activities of the security and intelligence services. That is something else which we need to redress during the passage of this legislation—

Mr. Richard Shepherd

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Cunningham

I am in danger of taking up too much time, but I shall give way.

Mr. Shepherd

The right hon. Gentleman will have noticed that the committee will look into the security and intelligence services and Government communications headquarters, Cheltenham. As I failed, could he try to tickle out from the Foreign Secretary the fact that the commissioner for GCHQ and for the intelligence services will be the same person as the commissioner for the security services? Similarly, membership of the tribunal for GCHQ and the intelligence services will be the same as that for the security services.

Dr. Cunningham

I had come to the conclusion that that was the case and that the same person and organisations would deal with both, but I am sure that the Minister of State will confirm or deny that when he replies to the debate.

I have another question on schedule 3 to the Bill which states in paragraph 3(1)(b)(ii) that information sought may be denied because the Secretary of State has determined that it should not he disclosed. That is another sweeping power. The committee will not have the right to certain documents and memorandums because the Secretary of State has the power to say no. That is another great weakness in the powers of the committee that the House is being asked to establish.

I must press on to other aspects of the proposals and to the omission in this or any other Government decision of any redress for people employed at GCHQ. To the Government's continuing shame, GCHQ employees are denied the right to join a trade union of their choice. That decade-long denial of a basic freedom and democratic right is deplorable. It is clear that the mulish obstinacy of the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary is to blame for the failure to end the stalemate that has existed for so long. Trade unions have met all the requirements that the Government have placed on them following their discussions with Sir Robin Butler—discussions established willingly after a suggestion by the Prime Minister, I believe.

Britain has been condemned and will, no doubt, be condemned again by the International Labour Organisation, which said that banning unions at GCHQ contravened article 87 and is a unique occurrence in western democracies. No other country and Government have taken such action and it does not bear even the simplest scrutiny.

The Government have given up the nonsense about threats to our security and betrayal. We know from our history that most betrayals of this country were not perpetrated by trade union members. That was always not only nonsense, but an insulting piece of nonsense. The record clearly shows from where and by whom our country has been sadly betrayed. Apparently, the Government now argue that if people were allowed to belong to a trade union of their choice, there would be a "conflict of loyalty". I cannot for the life of me see how that argument can stand the simplest test.

Why is it that the permanent secretaries of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the permanent secretaries in the Ministry of Defence, the permanent secretaries in the Home Office—who are members of the First Division Association, an organisation affiliated to the Trades Union Congress—do not have that conflict of loyalty? Why are they trusted to handle highly secret and sensitive material? Much lower ranking employees and officers at GCHQ, however, apparently pose some threat to our national security. Of course, it is absurd. A former Secretary of State for Defence, Sir John Nott, blew all the arguments about operational matters at GCHQ out of the water when he said that at no time had the efficiency of GCHQ ever been diminished as a result of trade union activities. It is a disgrace that that state of affairs continues.

In a parliamentary answer, I was pleased to be told by the Minister of State, the right hon. and learned Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) that the Government have no plans to withdraw from the International Labour Organisation."—[Official Report, 15 February 1994; Vol. 237, c. 715.] It is good news because there have been suggestions to the contrary—that the Government might avoid the international humiliation that is coming their way. Even though it may be difficult, we shall continue to pursue the matter to the end of the passage of the legislation and beyond. I reiterate unequivocally the determination of a Labour Government to restore the basic democratic right to people at GCHQ.

Mr. Hurd

The right hon. Gentleman is pursuing a false argument. Between 1979 and 1981, 10,000 staff days were lost at GCHQ through industrial action. The unions are aware that disruption occurred. When the Government withdrew union rights in 1984, they brought GCHQ in line with the other security and intelligence agencies. There is no accusation of disloyalty or betrayal; there was simply a desire to prevent the disruption at GCHQ such as had occurred in preceding years.

Dr. Cunningham

I do not know whether we take what the right hon. Gentleman said as a retraction of the accusations of disloyalty, but such accusations and threats to our security were thick on the ground. Trade unions were described as the enemy within by the former Prime Minister, Baroness Thatcher, so it is no good his trying to wipe the slate clean and pretend that the accusations were not levelled. They were levelled and formed the original basis of the Government's argument. I have made clear the position of my party on the issue. I have no doubt that the International Labour Organisation will make its position clear. The right hon. Gentleman can squirm as much as he likes, but he knows that he and his colleagues are denying people a basic human right, which they are entitled to have and which we shall restore.

Reading the speeches of Lord Callaghan of Cardiff and Lord Jenkins of Hillhead during consideration of the Bill in the House of Lords, I found confirmation that things have not always been well within the security services. We know that there have been similar problems in the Secret Intelligence Service in years gone by. The Scott inquiry should have some interesting and important things to say about more recent events. Now, I for one would like to know what the Secret Intelligence Service knows about the scandal surrounding the financing of the Pergau dam in Malaysia, a matter in which the right hon. Gentleman appears to have played a foolish, if not ignominious, role.

History tells us that we should be vigilant about our intelligence and security services because there is, and always will be, a conflict between liberty and security. The latter is pursued for the collective good, but we must be vigilant to ensure that our essential liberties are not eroded in the necessary pursuit of intelligence and security. The challenge for us all is to get the balance right. The Bill's provisions, particularly those in clause 10, do not meet that challenge.

The Bill is welcome because it is another step towards ending the deeply conservative, secretive culture of government in our country. I welcome it because it gives Parliament more, although not sufficient, powers to scrutinise what is done at taxpayers' expense and in the national interest. It is interesting that, in 1988, the Government—because the right hon. Gentleman, who was then Home Secretary, recognised that constitutional issues were involved in security services legislation—moved that the legislation should be considered by a Committee of the whole House. They should do so again today. If they do not, I shall.

The Bill represents a fundamental change of mind by the Government and the Secretary of State in particular. In that sense, it is victory for the arguments that we have advanced over the years and we shall go on advancing those detailed arguments in Committee.

5.6 pm

Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater)

I am glad that the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) welcomed the Bill in principle, but the central point of his attack on my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was extraordinarily badly judged. Near the end of his speech, the right hon. Gentleman showed that he had studied the House of Lords Hansard, which is littered with former Foreign Secretaries and Home Secretaries of a Labour persuasion saying why they were in favour of the proposals. My right hon. Friend is marked out as the only person who, in office, has taken that view and determined to do something about it. It is a matter for congratulation that he has taken responsibility and not used the ease of life on the Back Benches to reflect on what he might have done.

Today, there was a seizure of Semtex in Accrington —I do not think that it was identified by a passing panda patrol car. Undoubtedly, the intelligence services had a hand in that. Their work is vital in the fight against terrorism in these islands, in Europe and throughout the world. We do not need reminding today that that work has never been more important. The threats that we face now are of a complexity, variety and degree of danger and seriousness that mean that the importance of the intelligence services in their different roles has never been greater. Those roles will not remain the same; they will have to change in terms of emphasis and the relative roles of the Security Service, GCHQ and the Secret Intelligence Service.

My right hon. Friend referred to the risk of nuclear proliferation—not through Governments, but through private enterprise. We know that there are people who have cash and there are customers for such materials. The dissolution of the old Soviet Union and the existing massive arsenal produce a great risk of the material dissipating into unsuitable hands. Biological and chemical warfare presents challenges of a different, but incredibly, dangerous sort to society. The threat of blackmail from different groups is real. My right hon. Friend also referred to crime and drugs.

Drawing on my experience as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and, subsequently, for Defence, I recognise the debt that we owe to the Security and Intelligence Services. Indeed, I recognise the debt that many people owe, but do not know that they owe. Sir Percy Cradock said that one of the roles of the security services is to prevent things from happening that might otherwise cause great stress and suffering. Many of those can never be discussed, but let no one, by virtue of that silence, suggest that the danger does not exist.

Characteristically, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary did the House a great service in illustrating with examples, in a way that has never been done in the House before, the sort of work recently done by the security services for the protection of life and the prevention of outrage.

The security services serve our country, but are also responsible to it. The issue facing us is how to ensure that they can do their work, in which secrecy is vital, without allowing them total freedom, unaccountability or independence of action. They must be given that essential element of secrecy in their work yet sufficient accountability and structure of control that our country can have confidence that they are operating at all times in the national interest, in the fullest sense of that phrase.

By virtue of the secrecy under which they operate, they have a unique opportunity to abuse their power and authority. But they also have a unique opportunity to be abused by people who can make all sorts of allegations against them. By their nature, those can never be challenged and may never see the light of day.

It is therefore in everyone's interest that we have a structure that allows the best possible control, recognising the special circumstances in which the security services work. As my right hon. Friend said, that is the dilemma faced by other countries. The Library has done us a service in producing an analysis of other countries' attempts to work in that area. Interestingly, they are all slightly different and have sought to address the problem recognising their different circumstances.

It is essential to strike the right balance of secrecy. In the offices that I held, I discovered that the knowledge about operations and the desire to know a little more about what is going on is extremely seductive. Often, and quite rightly, Ministers have no idea about operations that are taking place. In many circumstances, it is essential that the need-to-know principle be operated as tightly as possible, not because people are trying to do things that they should not do, but because people's lives are often at risk in those operations.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) is no longer in the Chamber. In an intervention he suggested that a member of our security services should be required to undertake an operation advised on by the hon. Member in some wider committee role. I was delighted that the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) quickly made it clear that he was not in favour of a committee intruding into operational matters. Obviously, that would not be realistic.

It is essential that we give the confidence that secrecy will be protected, not just to those who serve at present, whose lives as we stand here now are at risk in various ways, but in the interests of future recruitment to the service. It is alleged that, when the United States Congress was moving down a route that some people in the Central Intelligence Agency feared was too expansionist, our intelligence services recruited a number of their people who felt that their lives and security could be at risk if the freedom of information legislation removed the protection that secrecy gave them.

That issue is important if we are to have effective intelligence services in the future. This is a competition. Some people can make effective agents and they are known in other countries. We know that some of them sell their services, but they will be concerned to know that if they commit their lives to a service in that way, it is a service with an employer they can trust and who will protect their secrecy and their lives for the service that they give. That is a key issue in the effectiveness of our security services.

Today, we are discussing how our country can feel confident that the security services that we fund, which provide our country's defence and protect its national interests, operate in a proper and acceptable way. No matter what the calibre and integrity of the Ministers responsible or the directors whom the Secretary of State appoints, to satisfy public confidence there needs to be a separate assessment and an ability to assess. Although it is difficult to get the balance right, the proposals of the commissioner, the tribunal and the committee are a sensible way to start. They may develop, but I believe that the balance is right to start this new development.

The key elements in the committee's obligations are expenditure and administration policy. The right hon. Member for Copeland referred to the alleged cost. One article said that it was not Her Majesty's Secret Service but "Her Majesty's expensive service", and that is true. I shall break one element of secrecy about my past responsibilities. My right hon. Friend may remember the most ludicrous meeting that I have ever attended—the public expenditure survey round. I was sitting with a poor benighted Chief Secretary, faced by the great Secretaries of State, the permanent secretaries and the directors general of the various agencies arguing about correct expenditure levels for our country's security and intelligence services. It is extremely important that that be conducted in a more careful and continuous way.

We need to consider the balance to be struck between confidence in the cost—the service is expensive—and confidence in the quality of the administration and control. The right hon. Member for Copeland referred to examples of certain elements of the service. Whether those concerned factional disputes or unclear authority, clearly the administration and organisation were inadequate. The public have a right to feel that they are adequate and that the policies pursued are in our national interest.

A number of amendments were moved in another place about whether it was a significant economic issue or of significant national interest. The right hon. Member for Copeland will no doubt move such amendments, but I do not know whether they need to be framed in legislation. Nobody could argue that those points are not valid, but it is a question of judgment. We need an external assessment before we can be confident that those judgments are being correctly made.

Mr Rogers

In relation to important issues for the economic well-being of the country, the Foreign Secretary in another guise said that the Bill applied to such matters as key commodities, yet during discussion of the Bill in another place the Lord Chancellor said that there were also other considerations. Perhaps from his great and vast experience, the right hon. Gentleman could give us some idea of what he considers would effect the economic well-being of the country.

Mr. King

It has been specifically determined by Congress and the United States Administration, which directed the United States intelligence agencies to combat industrial espionage against United States technology. Different economic considerations may be regarded as key areas of importance to our national economic situation.

The importance of establishing confidence in the intelligence services has another aspect. A feature of terrorism that I know well from my own experience is that terrorists have a twin-track ambition. The first is, by the nature of their activities, to terrorise, to intimidate and to compel. At the same time, they actively try to undermine the institutions of our free society that defend us and to seek to frustrate them. It is no coincidence that at a time of heightened terrorism, various allegations are made not just against the police and the system of law and justice, but against the intelligence services. It is part of the campaign that terrorists wage to undermine the institutions that we value to protect our way of life and our democratic society.

It is no good simply complaining that it must be an unfair attack on the intelligence services; we need to take the necessary steps. My right hon. Friend is showing great intelligence in recognising in his proposals the need to respond to that and to bolster the defences of democracy. His proposals are not just in the interests of Parliament or greater public accountability, but in the interests of the services themselves, so that they can command greater public respect and confidence and thereby be more resistant to the charges, challenges and allegations that may be made against them.

The Bill will put a heavy responsibility on members of both Houses. It will be difficult for the Committee Members, within or outside the wall of secrecy, to master the responsibilities that the Bill lays upon them, but I believe that it is the right structure.

I query only one small point. In another place, it was suggested by the Lord Chancellor that the committee might include one member of another House and that it might not be an equal division of three and three. The Bill requires a quorum which must include one member of the House of Lords, and that if he is not there the committee will not be able to meet. It is a small technical point, but I am sure that my right hon. Friend will understand.

The Bill refers to the laying of an annual report. It requires that the committee shall make an annual report on the discharge of their functions to the Prime Minister and may at any time report to him on any matter relating to the discharge of their functions. It then states: The Prime Minister shall lay before each House of Parliament a copy of each annual report". It does not say the Prime Minister shall lay before each House of Parliament any other report that the committee may make at any time. I appreciate that the point may be raised in Committee, but I hope that my right hon. Friend will deal with it today.

As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said, the Bill marks a further step in the progress that he has made, and for which he deserves great credit, away from the lunacy of the unavowed services with which we have lived for so long. I suspect that the answer to the question from the right hon. Member for Copeland about whether people have committed unauthorised acts overseas is that they did not have to be authorised because they were not avowed, and if they did not exist they could not have been authorised to do things. That is now ready to be changed and I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on a measure that is in the interests of our country and the intelligence services.

5.24 pm
Dr. John Gilbert (Dudley, East)

I begin by endorsing what has been said by both Front-Bench spokesmen about the patriotism, courage, devotion and skill of members of the security services. It comes as no surprise that the leaders of those services welcome the Bill.

Let me say straight away that I welcome the Bill. I am prepared to congratulate the Government, and particularly the Prime Minister. The hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) put his finger on it accurately when he said that previous Prime Ministers of all political persuasions have been extraordinarily timid about releasing control of the security and intelligence services, even to selected and supposedly perfectly reliable Members of the House—not that I am suggesting that there are any unreliable Members.

I propose for the purposes of today's debate to confine my remarks to clause 10 and schedule 3, which relate to the establishment of the committee. Having congratulated the Prime Minister on his forward step, I think that he is being far more timid than necessary.

The Foreign Secretary has had to defend the proposition that the committee should not be a Select Committee of the House. I have yet to hear any reason at all why it should not be a Select Committee.

Every single one of the various elements in setting up a committee—its size, the people to be nominated to it, its powers and the publication of the report—can be totally protected by the Prime Minister. His interests and the interests of the Government and the security services need be at risk in no way, as I shall seek to show, by giving the committee the powers of a Select Committee.

For example, it would not have to rely on the Committee of Selection for its size or membership; that can be determined by prime ministerial resolution. It would not have to go through the Committee of Selection, the independence of which some hon. Members on both sides of the House have been sceptical about from time to time with respect to the influence of the Whips. I am glad that my Chief Whip is not here to hear me say that.

Everyone knows that the membership of the committee will be decided by the Prime Minister, and that nobody will get on the committee without his approval having to be enshrined in primary legislation. Nothing is laid down in the Standing Orders of the House about the size of a Select Committee; that can be determined by prime ministerial resolution.

The Government cannot be sensitive about the publication of the report, because clearly sidelining would apply. No committee would produce a report containing sensitive passages that the Government say should not be published. I consider that absolutely inconceivable, and I pray in aid my experience on Defence Committees.

The only thing about which the Government may be sensitive in giving the committee the powers of a Select Committee is the timing of a report. The right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) may have come close to the nub a few moments ago, when he pointed out that the Bill provides for the Prime Minister to publish, suitably excised of course, the committee's annual report, but makes no provision whatever for requiring him to publish any interim reports.

The committee has a remedy in its own hands; it can tack on to its report anything that was in the interim reports, if it so decides. I cannot imagine that only the timing is inhibiting the Government from giving the committee the powers of a Select Committee. I should like to know what other reason there is.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)

One point that will be different from the normal conventions of a Select Committee—perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can say whether this would be brought within his proposed changes to procedure—is that, in effect, the Prime Minister can replace a member of the committee.

Dr. Gilbert

I have observed that point, and I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman, but those things could also be done by resolution of the House or prime ministerial motion at any time—for example, by saying that X shall no longer be a member, and that Y shall be appointed in his or her place.

I shall make a few brief Committee-type points on clause 10 and schedule 3. I raised earlier the question of privilege. I do not consider that an unimportant matter, unless it is conceived that the only witnesses that the committee will interview will be the heads of the security services.

I do not know whether that is at the back of the Government's mind, but if so, clearly, questions of privilege would be otiose. In any case, the Prime Minister will have control over the excising from the report of any matters that he considers to be sensitive, and therefore anything that he would consider to be a breach of privilege and defamatory.

It escapes me why the committee's proceedings should not be covered by privilege. That relates to witnesses other than official witnesses whose evidence might be published in the report. It seems inconceivable that the committee will merely report to the Prime Minister a set of conclusions. Presumably when it sends its report to the Prime Minister, it will give the reasons and the evidence that lie beneath those conclusions. That is why one needs, in my judgment, the protection of privilege if one is to interview any witnesses other than the heads of the security services.

The other question that concerns me is the powers of this committee of parliamentarians. There is nothing in the Bill to give the committee the power to send for persons and papers. That is a fundamental power of any parliamentary committee. If the committee is not to have that power, is that because it is conceived that the only people from whom the committee will take evidence are the heads of the security and intelligence services and GCHQ? I cannot imagine that that is the case, because I have reason to believe that there will be provision in the Bill for the committee to travel.

Obviously, if one is to inquire into the efficiency of those services, one must have discussions with official representatives of the services abroad, with whom they will have co-operated, unless one is to take everything on face value—and only a pretty spineless committee would do that. One will also need to discuss with members of other oversight committees in other countries. Therefore, it seems essential that, if the committee is to go outside the restricted range of the heads of the two services and GCHQ, it must have powers to send for persons and papers.

The right hon. Member for Bridgwater made an important point about the quorum. I, too, have made that point elsewhere before now, and I hope that that matter will be taken care of in Committee.

I shall now deal with a couple of other important points that are not touched on in the Bill. The first is access. In another place, the Lord Chancellor said that the committee would have access to the Prime Minister at all times. It is in the Bill that it will be able to send reports to the Prime Minister at any time that it considers suitable. I hope that the access is intended to go wider than that.

From the language that the Lord Chancellor used, I take it that the right of immediate access to the Prime Minister is similar to the right of access that the chiefs of staff have to the Prime Minister on matters that they consider necessary and which are urgently to be brought to his attention. I should be grateful if we could have confirmation that that is the Government's view, and their interpretation of what the Lord Chancellor said.

Secondly, I think it extremely important that the committee has access to the Comptroller and Auditor General, because no Committee in the House has anything like the number of staff at its disposal that the CAG has. He already has access to the operations of the services. Without that access specifically awarded to the committee, its powers will be considerably diminished.

On membership of the committee, like my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), I congratulate the Government on not confining membership to Privy Councillors. There is an incredible mystique in this place about Privy Councillors. Personally, I would not trust some of them within miles of the committee—I will not name them, but they are to be found on both sides of the House.

An awful lot of thoroughly respectable and reliable hon. Members are not Privy Councillors, and I would welcome seeing them on the committee. When one sees how cavalier some Privy Councillors are with their Privy Councillor's oath—they shall be nameless, but there are those who rush out to commit their Cabinet memories to their publishers —it is extraordinary that they were ever of a mind to take the oath in the first place.

Mr. Winnick

My right hon. Friend makes the point that the committee is not confined to Privy Councillors, although the Bill does not say that. Does he agree that it is almost certain that the majority of the six will be former Cabinet Ministers, who will almost certainly be Privy Councillors? I for one will be extremely surprised if more than one member is not a Privy Councillor. Although that is not in the Bill, for obvious reasons, I do not share my right hon. Friend's optimism.

Dr. Gilbert

I am obliged as always to the wisdom coming from my hon. Friend and parliamentary neighbour who is the Member for Walsall, North. If he has recommendations to make to the Prime Minister about the membership of the committee, no doubt he will make them.

One piece of ambiguity that arose today was from what the Foreign Secretary said compared to what the Lord Chancellor said. I should be grateful for clarification. I can assure the House that I am not quoting the Lord Chancellor out of context, but he said: the committee will have access to operational information but only in so far as that does not transgress the criteria for sensitivity and the other criteria for withholding information, which are specified".—[Official Report, House of Lords, 3 February 1994; Vol. 551, c. 1414.] That seems to mean that there will be a whole lot of areas in which the committee will have access to operation information.

In other words, the words of the Lord Chancellor, which are repeated elsewhere in his intervention, seem unambiguous. But schedule 3(4) says: The following information is sensitive information for the purposes of paragraph 3 above— (b) information about particular operations which have been, are being or are proposed to be undertaken in pursuance of any of the functions of those bodies". That seems to be a pretty blanket elimination of any operational information whatever.

On the face of it, the Lord Chancellor's assurance in the other place is worthless, unless the Government are proposing at least to remove paragraph 4(b) from schedule 3. I quite understand paragraph 4(a), which relates to the ability to identify individual members of the service or their operational methods. When the Minister is winding up, I should be grateful if he could shed some light on that.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

That may be qualified by schedule 3(1)(b)(i), which refers to information that, as well as being sensitive, in his opinion"— that is, the opinion of the director of GCHQ or that of the director-general of the security service— should not be made available under paragraph (a)".

Dr. Gilbert

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his assistance. However, I had already read that passage in conjunction with the paragraph to which I referred, and I should like to hear the Minister's interpretation rather than the hon. Gentleman's.

I hope that we shall be given an assurance about the sidelining of the report. I trust that the Government envisage a natural discussion between the Committee and the Prime Minister's officials—not him personally, of course—about how much of the report will be published.

I have a few years' experience, having been a member of the Defence Select Committee and, before that, a member of the defence and external affairs sub-committee of the Select Committee on Expenditure. When we produced a report, we would produce it in toto—with no sidelining—and then send it to the officials in the executive branch to find out what they thought.

A perfectly proper process of negotiation and debate would follow. We would say, "For heaven's sake, you need not take this bit out; what on earth is secret about it?", and they would say, "You don't understand: it relates to this and that." A trading process would then occur. The hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates) has been a distinguished member of the Defence Select Committee for many years, and took part in many such negotiations; he will confirm what I have said. I hope that the Government will make the same procedure available to the oversight committee.

I am disappointed that the Government have not felt able to trust hon. Members more. As well as spending several years on the Committees that I mentioned during the 1974–79 Parliament, I spent eight years on the Defence Select Committee after 1979; in the intervening time, I spent nearly three years at the Ministry of Defence.

In all that time, I was not aware of a single leak of classified information from a single one of those Committees; all the leaks of official information came from the Ministry itself. That must be the experience of anyone who has been a Defence Minister. I challenge any hon. Member to quarrel with my account of events—and I cannot believe that much has changed since then.

I hope that the Government will show a little more confidence in the House, and give the committee's members more power and authority. They will not lose any serious powers of control. I assure the Government that their fears are entirely unnecessary; but, having said that, let me add that I hope the House will give the Bill a fair wind.

5.42 pm
Sir Archibald Hamilton (Epsom and Ewell)

I welcome the Bill. I am pretty sure that I would not have done so 10 years ago, but I believe that the international security position has changed dramatically since then. I feel that we can now risk greater openness in regard to the operations of our intelligence services, for there is no doubt that a degree of risk is involved in appointing any kind of parliamentary committee to oversee their activities.

Despite the disintegration of the Soviet threat, other threats are emerging—not the least being terrorism, the expansion of the drug trade and the failure of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. We must face up to that failure. As a Minister, I had to say that the treaty was working very well, but I do not really believe that; I believe that it has been a failure in general. Alarmingly, it does not seem to be stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons across the world: many nations are acquiring a nuclear capability.

I am also concerned to note that, despite the efforts of our intelligence services, we do not seem to know the details of other countries' nuclear weapon-developing capabilities. At the beginning of the Gulf war, an assessment suggested that Iraq was still 10 years away from nuclear capability; after the war, when we were able to probe deeply into the whole operation, we found that the country was within 12 months of being able to produce nuclear weapons. That is very alarming, and suggests that our assessments of other countries may be proved inaccurate as well: they may be much nearer to nuclear capability than we think.

It must be right to put security and intelligence service employees on to a statutory basis. I am very pleased that they feel comfortable with the Bill, which will make their duties much clearer and less equivocal. Let me echo my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr.King) in stressing the risks and threats involved in the work of many of those employees: some risk their lives for little return, material or otherwise. We owe them a great debt. It is easy to be harshly critical of intelligence service workers, and to believe any malicious rumours that may be circulating; they are in an extremely difficult position, in that they cannot defend themselves publicly. The Bill, to some extent, recognises the debt that we owe them.

It is important that GCHQ is being brought under the statutory umbrella. Given the technical nature of its operations and its relatively small interface with the public, I doubt whether it will produce many problems. I suspect that the secret intelligence services are in a rather different category, in that there will always be people who feel that they are being victimised in one way or another by those services. There is bound to be a constant stream of complaints, imaginary or otherwise. That problem must be dealt with, but I think that the Bill does so to some extent.

It is excellent that we are putting the whole business of the Foreign Secretary's issue of warrants on to a statutory basis, and that his authorisation of intelligence operations is being put on a more sensible footing. It must be right to appoint a commissioner—much along the lines proposed in the Security Service Act 1989—to examine the question of warrants and authorisations, and to allow the tribunal to investigate complaints. I feel strongly that the investigation of complaints should be the task of the tribunal. It has some powers to deal with such matters, but not enough, and it is sensible to place the onus there. I should be concerned if it were shifted to a parliamentary committee which is not in the position—or should not put itself into a position—of having to handle such matters.

It has already been pointed out that the tribunal has not the power to compel witnesses to attend, or to call for papers. Perhaps the Ministers will consider giving it extra powers; we should feel very much more comfortable if it had them.

I come now to the question of the committee of parliamentarians and the great debate as to whether its members should be Privy Councillors. It will obviously be of great benefit to keep the committee relatively small. The more members the committee has, the more likely it is that leaks or mistakes will be made by Members of Parliament —who, let us face it, are not renowned for their discretion. Briefing the press seems to occupy most of the daylight hours of many of my colleagues. It will be quite a cultural change for them to become involved in any part of the Government's activities in which people are not briefing the press day and night. The smaller the committee is, therefore, the more likely it is to be secure. There seems to be an almost direct relationship between the size of a committee and the likelihood that it will operate in a reasonably secure way.

The establishment of the committee will be a useful step towards parliamentary scrutiny and will, to some extent, meet the criticisms of people who are worried that the security services have been operating with no parliamentary oversight.

The remit of the committee seems to be very broad. I echo the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater in saying that it is important that the committee operates on a need-to-know basis. I do not think that that extends to detailed operational matters. It would be a great onus on the members of the committee if they knew about detailed operational matters because if, by some misfortune, they were to let any of that information slip it could result in agents being betrayed and killed. That is not a responsibility which I would want.

I think back to the time of the Gulf war. If my right hon. Friend and I had made one small mistake in the information that we gave, we could have put men's lives in danger. That is not a responsibility which I should like to have if I were a member of the committee. I would not wish to be continuously apprised of all the secret information about operational matters.

Parliament needs to scrutinise the considerable sums of money that are spent by the security services—as the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) mentioned. It is right that Parliament has a scrutiny to ensure that we obtain value for money.

It is important for the committee to convince itself that correct procedures are being followed in operational matters, but it is more important than anything else to have some parliamentary input into the setting of priorities in the operations of our security and intelligence services. The pattern of threats to our security changes daily. It does no harm to broaden the debate about what our priorities should be, where the money should be spent and where people should be deployed and things done. It is difficult to achieve a balance in the allocation of resources to our intelligence services. I believe that it would be of great benefit if that debate were broadened by a parliamentary committee, so I very much welcome the Bill and congratulate my right hon. Friends on bringing it forward.

5.53 pm
Sir David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)

The right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Sir A. Hamilton) has a well-deserved reputation in the House for parliamentary candour, but he took quite a few breaths away a few moments ago when he announced that what he had told us so recently from the Front Bench about the nuclear non-proliferation treaty was something which he did not really believe. That is characteristic of him.

I recall a celebrated occasion, before the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell was a Minister, when he presented to the House a petition on behalf of his constituents opposing the construction of the M25, and a week later he popped up and presented another petition on behalf of his constituents in favour of the construction of the M25. There were puzzled faces in the House. I well remember his saying that we were entitled to know his own position, and that he had decided resolutely to remain on the fence as it was the only comfortable place to be in the circumstances. I believe, therefore, that he has demonstrated, then and again this afternoon, that he would be an excellent member of the committee that is proposed in the Bill.

I must not be tempted to stray from the few words that I want to address to the House. Let me begin by saying, on behalf of the Liberal Democrat party, that I join the Foreign Secretary and the shadow Foreign Secretary in paying tribute to the work of the intelligence services at every level. The fact that we are discussing scrutiny mechanisms is not a reflection on their dedication or competence. I pay all members of the intelligence services, past and present, full tribute—including the 14 sacked trade unionists at GCHQ Cheltenham, a subject to which I will return later.

My party gives an unqualified welcome to the principle of the Bill. We will support it tonight, because we have a long-standing policy and a long-standing view that there is a need for parliamentary scrutiny of the security services.

My mind goes back to when our anxieties were first provoked. It was during the period of the Labour Government—I think it was the Labour Government under Harold Wilson—when there was great anxiety in the House, in the press and among the public about the scale of telephone tapping. Naturally, it was impossible to get Ministers to answer on the subject and no one knew whether the scale of telephone tapping, which was excessive, was authorised or unauthorised. There was no way in which the anxieties of the House could be resolved. If we had had a committee at that time, it would at least have been able to make a report on the matter.

Our view was that the proper course was to have a committee of Privy Councillors, and that was the view that we took when I was leader of the party. I will say later why we took that view. As recently as the passage of the Security Service Act 1989, the lack of parliamentary scrutiny caused us to vote against the legislation.

I therefore welcome the Government's change of heart and the broad outline of the Bill, but I wish to ask some questions, which I hope that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will answer later, about the definition of expenditure, administration and policy, the words used in the Bill.

First, we need to be sure how wide are the remits and the powers of the scrutiny that is proposed. As to policy, for example, reference has already been made to events in Iraq before the invasion of Kuwait. To what extent were the security services involved in the decisions? I do not want to trespass on the ground being covered by the Scott inquiry, but it is obvious that the intelligence services must have given advice to Ministers about the process of rearming Iraq after the Iran-Iraq war, as a counterbalance, supposedly, to the growing power of Iran.

Secondly, there is the subject of GCHQ and unionisation there. A few months ago, it appeared that the Government were likely to reach some agreement on the basis of a no-strike agreement at GCHQ, but that possibility fizzled out and came to nothing. Will the committee be able to consider a happy resolution of that matter as a matter of policy?

I agree with the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell about priorities. Will the committee be able to examine the remit of the security services, especially in the sectors of political surveillance and the internal political intelligence role? I ask that question because of what was said by the former Home Secretary, my noble Friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, when he recounted in another place his experience, which he could best describe as an inherent lack of frankness, an ingrowing mono-culture and a confidence-destroying tendency to engage in the most devastating internal feuds — pretty strong language from someone who was in charge of the service. He argued that he was doubtful about the internal political intelligence role. He said that he assumed that the object was to help Ministers with useful information, but he went on to say that, in his experience, the organisation concerned consumed far more of his time as a Minister with its own internal squabbles than any useful information which it ever provided. The balance was distinctly negative."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 9 December 1993; Vol. 550, c. 1034.] That is merely the view of one former Home Secretary, but we must take it seriously. I should have thought that one of the early objectives of the new committee should be to ensure that the policy of the services in those spheres was correct. I should like confirmation of how wide the definition of policy is to be.

Similarly, is what we all know to be the widespread practice that was revealed in the Matrix Churchill case —the employment of business men in foreign countries as part-time agents—a sensible form of administration? Will the committee ever enjoy the power of the relative committee in the United States Congress of overseeing the appointment of senior officials? Is that to be part of administration? Will the committee be able to examine individual cases? I am referring not to complaints of the kind to be dealt with by the tribunal but to individual operational cases that have gone wrong—not current cases —in order that lessons may be learnt for the future.

I was not happy with the Foreign Secretary's reply to my intervention. I should like to know whether the committee, like the commissioner, will be able to question the use, and the scale of use, of warrants issued by the Secretaries of State or whether that matter is to be reserved for the commissioner and denied to the committee. If so, that would be wrong. We need a little more clarification of what is meant by administration.

As for expenditure, various figures have been bandied about. The largest that I have heard is £900 million, which I find difficult to believe. The cold war has ended and, although that does not necessarily mean that all threats have disappeared, the taxpayer has the right to ask who is scrutinising the expenditure. The former Secretary of State for Defence gave us an insight into a meeting with a Chief Secretary about a public expenditure round which he thought was unsatisfactory. Clearly there is a great deal of work to be done.

Lord Howe of Aberavon, the former Foreign Secretary, said that there was a danger that the intelligence services would find new targets to replace those that had gone, in order to keep people busy. I do not think that that is too much of a danger. Like, I am sure, many others, I am deeply disappointed by the global picture left after the end of the cold war. There are new areas where the intelligence services are, sadly, now needed in order to find out exactly what is going on following the disintegration of the cold war super-power structure. I believe that the great majority of people will accept that the security services are needed in the war against drugs and terrorism and against arms traffic, particularly the traffic of nuclear and chemical weapons. However, if the secret service is to be worth having, it must remain secret, and here I come back to the difficulty of how the committee will operate.

To be fair, the Government have made a pretty good stab at solving the problem, but they have not necessarily got it quite right yet. I hope that they will be generous in Committee in allowing consideration of the many suggestions, some of which have been made today and others that will no doubt be made in the form of amendments.

I agree with the right hon. Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert) that if the committee is not covered by privilege—I do not understand why it should not be—it must be. If it does not yet have the power to send for persons and papers, such a power should be written into the Bill in Committee because the committee will not be able to operate effectively without it.

I suspect that I shall be in a minority, and I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman in this case, but I believe that there is a case for the committee's being composed of Privy Councillors. I do not say that because I believe that they have any particular wisdom, and I do not share the view that they belong to a cosy, conspiratorial club, but, unless the members are Privy Councillors, we might find that the fact that there are non-Privy Councillors on the committee is used as an excuse for failing to provide the committee with the information that it needs. I think I am right in saying that one of the members of the Franks inquiry was made a Privy Councillor after his appointment so that that very danger could be avoided. The House should consider the matter very carefully.

I am also concerned about the reference in the schedules to how the members of the committee are to be fired. There is a reference to members vacating their post if required to do so by the Prime Minister. In other words, the House will have no say in the matter, which will be decided by Prime Minister's fiat. One is bound to ask the rather odd question, what security of office will the members of the security committee have? If there are awkward members on the committee—the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) catches my eye, and he is a good example—will they find that their security of tenure suddenly comes to an end? I do not have an easy solution, but we should explore the problem further in Committee.

I shall make two final points relating to the committee's access to information. Schedule 3 refers to the fact that information may be denied to the committee if the Secretary of State has determined that it should not be disclosed. The phrase "Secretary of State" in an Act is a term of art, but we are entitled to know how many Secretaries of State are covered by that term. Presumably, it will not cover only the Foreign and Home Secretaries —it is likely that a large number could decide that the committee must be denied information. I should like further clarification of that issue.

The right hon. Member for Dudley, East mentioned the report that the committee will make to the Prime Minister. I agree with his description of what should occur in the nature of bargaining about its contents—"bargaining" is perhaps the wrong word; I mean "intelligent discussion" —and about what may or may not be sidelined, but I believe strongly that if the committee disagrees with the Prime Minister at any point about what should be in the report, the fact of that disagreement must be made known to the House. The right hon. Member for Dudley, East shakes his head, but it is important that both Houses—the committee will comprise Members of both Houses—should be told of any disagreement between the Prime Minister and the watchdog body that we are proposing to establish.

It is not an easy matter and I do not subscribe to the view that the committee should be a routine Select Committee. It must be unique in its authority, style and powers and it is important that in Committee the Government are generous in considering suggestions to improve the mechanism, which, as a whole, I warmly welcome.

6.7 pm

Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)

I welcome the Bill and congratulate my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on the way in which he presented it. He did so very fairly and he has done something that no one else in politics has ever done—he has brought the security services to the attention of the public and allowed what has often been the dark room of the secret services to be opened up.

I shall refer to a few of the items mentioned by the former leader of the Liberal party, the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel), but I hope that he will forgive me if I do not do so immediately.

What is to be welcomed in the Bill? For the first time, the public can know that a committee is to be structured to oversee the expenditure, the administration and the policy of all the intelligence services and Government communication headquarters. Although not a parliamentary committee, it is sensible for it to be composed of senior Members of Parliament, not only from the party in government but from the parties in opposition. For the first time, the functions and purposes of the intelligence services are to be scrutinised and their finances inspected and commented on by persons outside the establishment circle of the Prime Minister, the Secretaries of State for Foreign Affairs and for Defence and the Home Secretary.

The speech of the right hon. Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert) centred on clause 10 and schedule 3. Mine will do the same. I am pleased that the committee will not investigate individual complaints that may be made against the intelligence services. That is to be done elsewhere. If the committee had to deal with those, heaven knows where it would be.

It seems to have been fair game for anyone to criticise the secret services and to make allegations that, on the whole—unless the Prime Minister sees fit to intervene, which more or less never happens—are not rebutted. It seems to have been open season for people to write whatever they like. That situation should not be accepted, now or in the future, and the Bill takes a giant step towards blocking that loophole. Equally, full and detailed criticism of the policy and overall management of any of the services can now be assessed and examined in a way that has never been possible before. That should be welcomed by hon. Members on both sides of the House, as it has been so far.

There is some disagreement about whether the committee should be a Select Committee. However, there is no doubt that if the committee is to do its job properly, most of the time it will be considering highly confidential information of particular concern for the security of the country as a whole. I remind right hon. and hon. Members that over the past three or four years there have been a great many leaks from the reports of Select Committees and that although they have been investigated by the Select Committees concerned and referred both to the Procedure Committee and to the Liaison Committee, it has not been possible to do anything to stop them. Indeed, the press has refused to refrain from publishing leaks of details from draft reports, which often have no real standing, and such leaks continue to be published.

Could not leaks from the committee—

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Peter Emery

May I finish what I was saying?

Could not leaks from the new committee cause great harm to the work of the intelligence services and to the interests of the country? I suspect that in the real world much confidential and secret material would not be made available to the committee if it were a House of Commons Select Committee. That is sad, but, at the moment, true.

Mr. Mullin

The right hon. Gentleman is right about the need to avoid leaks, but I am sure that he will also confirm that the intelligence service has proved extremely leaky, albeit selectively, over the past 10 years or so—to the extent that journalists have been able to write books apparently with corroboration by its serving members. Should not the rules apply to everyone, rather than to Parliament alone?

Sir Peter Emery

I am delighted to accede to the hon. Gentleman's suggestion. Indeed, perhaps the intelligence service ought to pursue a little more carefully some of its own activities.

I shall now deal with the manning of the committee. Six seems a sensible number; it should not be too large. I am glad that there is to be a member of the other place on the committee, but I urge that that person should not have to be permanently present for there to be a quorum. That would put much too great a load on whoever was nominated.

The Canadian Parliament provides the example that is in many ways closest to our own and I recall that in the late 1970s it went through a similar exercise and decided to have a committee of five. As the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale, the former leader of the Liberal party, said, everyone on the Canadian committee had to be a Privy Councillor. I believe that there is some benefit in appointing senior Members of Parliament, although perhaps not necessarily Privy Councillors, so that the committee does not appear to be an old establishment club. However, having been appointed, perhaps its members should be made Privy Councillors for the purposes of the committee. If they are good enough to be given the security information, they are probably worthy of such recognition.

If the committee is to carry out its work fully, it will consider much information in great depth, which will be time consuming and will require a great deal of reading. The work could well take half a day every day of the week if it were done fully. The management of an industrial organisation spending £900 million a year would spend that sort of time examining its administration, policies and financing.

In that connection, I note that the Bill allows for payment to the commissioner, but not to any of the other members of the committee. That may be all right for Members of the House of Commons, who receive a parliamentary salary, but we in this House might make a case on behalf of the poor member from the House of Lords, who will not have a parliamentary salary and who will be entitled to payment only by attending the other place, which his duties on the committee are likely to prevent him from doing. In Committee, we should consider the possibility of funding for that purpose.

When the committee reports, is it satisfactory that it should do so first and only to the Prime Minister? It is important that the Prime Minister should publish its reports. I was led to understand that he would publish all of them, and I ask my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to tell us, when he answers the debate, whether that is the case.

I am certain that nothing in the Bill will take away the committee's ability, if dissatisfied with the amount of information vetted and removed from its annual report by the Prime Minister, to return to the subject and, if necessary, to make a further report so that the matter can be considered. Nothing in the Bill takes the ultimate responsibility away from the Prime Minister, so it should be the Prime Minister who decides what comes to Parliament. It is right and proper that reporting should work in that way.

Will the Minister give me an assurance that knowledge of documents and the classification of documents will be made available to the new committee? That question arises from certain facts that have emerged in the United States in connection with the working of the Freedom of Information Act. There, it has become evident that information has been upgraded to "secret" or "highly secret" so as to cover up—I use the American term "a balls-up". One can imagine some managers being willing to take that approach here if they have made a mess of their work. We need the Minister to give us an assurance that if there is any evidence or proof that that has happened, the strongest action will be taken against any perpetrator?

I shall now come quickly to my conclusion, because I know that other hon. Members wish to speak. Having welcomed the Bill, I have tried to analyse some parts of it. If the Intelligence and Security Committee is to be seen and judged as more than a cosmetic protective facade for the security services, it must be seen to have teeth. I agree with the right hon. Members for Dudley, East and for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale that there is no reason why the committee should not have the same powers as a Select Committee to call for persons and papers. Clearly it will have the power, which we see in use all the time, to call for the heads of the services. Also, in calling for persons and papers, the committee should not be able to call for serving members of the security forces, who must be protected and should be represented by the Minister or by the heads of their departments.

If there is a public outcry about the adminstration of certain aspects of the security forces, whether by the press, journalists or authors, I see every reason for the committee having the power to be able to call before it the perpetrators of those especial accusations so that it is able to inquire more fully. The perpetrators could be invited to appear, but, if they refuse that invitation, the committee ought to have the power to ensure that they attend.

The committee should be staffed adequately and have funds to carry out its duties. That may well mean that it needs to pay advisers for certain aspects of its work. It needs to be able to authorise persons to disclose information that would otherwise be covered by the Official Secrets Act 1989. Paragraph 5 of schedule 4 would amend the existing law by adding the tribunal to the bodies that may give official authorisation to persons to disclose information the disclosure of which would otherwise be unlawful under the Official Secrets Act. Surely, if that power is to be given to the tribunal, it ought also to be given to the committee. Otherwise, certain evidence may not be as apparent as it ought to be.

It must also be seen that the members of the committee are reporting only to the Prime Minister and that, when they are approached, as they will be, by the media on any sort on any matter, they should say only that they are investigating and that they shall be reporting to the Prime Minister. They will be urged to say this, that and the other, and their position will be difficult unless they stand firm and say they have no comments to make on matters, that the investigation is for them and that a report is to be made to the Prime Minister. When the Prime Minister publishes that report, the committee members may comment on it, but until that point, they should be given the safeguard of not being badgered by the press to make comments about what is or is not being considered by the committee.

Given those powers and that the committee, when appointed, is manned by persons who are known and have been seen to be of independent mien—persons who are considered to be good House of Commons men and, if I may say, the committee should not be a resting place for former senior Ministers—the structure of the Bill will allow the public to have confidence and know that there is adequate supervision so that the nation's security forces are acting for our defence and for the defence of the nation.

6.22 pm
Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South)

The speech of the right hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) was so nearly a perfect replica of the Government's position that I have a feeling that he may be destined for a place on this distinguished committee. At one point, I even thought that he was negotiating the remuneration. Should he be so fortunate as to catch the Prime Minister's eye, I am sure that he would make a suitable member.

I welcome the Bill as a first and long-overdue step along the road towards rendering our security establishment democratically accountable. The measures outlined in the Bill provide the barest minimum of accountability, but, when measured against past experience, it is quite a large step forward, since we have never previously taken any forward steps that I have been able to detect.

However, we have a long way to go before our security services are worthy of a modern democracy. What is proposed falls a long way short of what is taken for granted in the United States, Canada, Australia and other democracies which we profess to admire. One of the ironies is that the Russians always seem to know more about our security services than do Parliament or the British people. That was so in the past. I hope that that will not be the case in future, as the Russian services have been a little less efficient recently.

One of the difficulties with the security services has always been that, while demanding the right to absolute secrecy, their members have always felt at liberty to talk to selected journalists and to selected Members of Parliament. However, when the Select Committee on Home Affairs, of which I am a member, asked a while ago whether it could interview the head of MI5, it was initially told by the Home Office that it could not do so under any circumstances and that hell would freeze over before that was possible. I rang round a few newspaper editors and found that the head of MI5 had been dining with them. We also discovered that the previous head of MI5, Sir Patrick Walker, had given the farewell speech at the retirement party of Sir David Nicholas, the former editor of ITN, at the Savoy and had begun his speech with the words: My name is Patrick Walker, I am the head of MI5". When we put that to the Home Secretary, we subsequently received an invitation to lunch with Stella Rimington, for which we were extremely grateful. However, as we said in our report, that was no substitute for proper accountability.

It will not have escaped the attention of students of such matters that over the years—I do not suggest that the problems necessarily exist today, as there has been quite a large clear-out in the past few years, for which we must be grateful—there have been a few problems with our security services. One of the problems in dealing with the security services is that they spend a large amount of public money. It is, by and large, unaccounted for, although we have had a few global figures every so often. If one strains over the Terrace, one may have a glimpse of the lavish new MI6 headquarters near Vauxhall bridge and there is the new MI5 building on Millbank which one cannot see from the Terrace.

Having large sums of money and not being accountable to anyone for spending it inevitably leads to bad habits; it would happen whatever the regime. When the committee studies the financing of the Security Service, it will need to be rigorous, but it is not unknown for security services to exercise some ingenuity in burying inconvenient expenditure in other budgets.

Over the years, there has also been evidence of gross incompetence. The right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel) quoted his hon. Friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead as saying that the security services in his time were much preoccupied with internal feuding. Such evidence as has been published suggests that, for a period in the 1970s and the 1980s, they were paralysed by internal feuding on a scale that one might have expected from small Trotskyist groups. Evidence suggested that they became extremely introverted and their employees only mixed in circles where their views were never seriously challenged, because, for most of the time, they were with people of identical views. A former Tory Home Secretary said to me a while ago that there had been a great deal of dead wood—his expression not mine—but that it had been cleared up a little, and I welcome that.

Secrecy has been used over the years to disguise incompetence, apart from anything else, and we are entitled to know that the vast sums being spent are being spent to achieve proper security of the country and are not financing unrelated ventures. I am not satisfied that the quality of the intelligence service has always been as high as it has been made out to be. I remember during the Gulf war when a number of people of Iraqi origin were seized arbitrarily and plonked in Pentonville prison. Three of them were my constituents, one of whom ran a kebab shop somewhere in Sunderland, which was thought to be subversive to the national interest. They all had to be released eventually because it was discovered that the information supplied by the security services on most, if not all, of those seized, was wholly inaccurate. That does not give us grounds for confidence at the time of a national emergency.

The third problem that is a matter of record is that in years gone by—I hope that it has changed; indeed, I am confident that it has changed—the security services have been targeted to some extent against members of the elected Government. There was a series of smear campaigns against a former Labour Prime Minister—that has been well documented—a former Home Secretary, Lord Merlyn-Rees, my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme) and the former Conservative Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath). I do not think that it is right—I am sure that no one would justify this—that persons who are paid to defend the security of the state should waste time and resources on attempting to undermine members of the elected Government.

As recently as three or four years ago—I think it was in 1989 when we were debating the Official Secrets Bill—on the front page of the Sunday Express there was a headline about a lady spy and a Labour Minister and a picture of a noble Lord who defected to the SDP because he was such a great threat to our democracy. Obviously, the picture had come from a security source—it had been taken 10 or 20 years previously. I cannot imagine why someone thought it worth while to put the picture on the front pages of the Sunday Express I think that it was to tell us that not so much had changed as was being alleged.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman's overall point, but he is repeating what may turn out to be no more than gossip and allegations. I am surprised that he quoted from the Sunday Express. I do not believe everything that I read in newspapers and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not either. I think that a lot of this is possibly a wild allegation.

Mr. Mullin

My point is that the photograph appeared on the front page of the Sunday Express. It is open to the hon. Gentleman to look it up in the Library if he so wishes. I have a copy somewhere—it is not controversial. One can see that the photograph was not taken by a photographer from the Sunday Express. I do not want to make a big deal of what is simply a little illustration of a wider problem.

The fourth problem that has been with us over the years is that in the past the security services have been targeted —perhaps Ministers should take responsibility for this—against those engaged in legitimate political activity, and sometimes no political activity at all.

Some years ago, I wrote a novel which was dismissed by some at the time as typical left-wing paranoia. The book shared a similar plot to one written by the Foreign Secretary. He and I have one thing in common—we have both written novels about an attempt by the right wing to destabilise an elected Government. Among the features of my little novel was that all senior employees of the BBC were vetted by MI5. A few years ago, that turned out to be Brigadier Ronnie Stoneham occupying room 103 at Broadcasting House. I had an MI5 agent on the general council of the CND. Some years later, that turned out to be a chap called Harry Newton. As a matter of routine, I had MI5 bugging Labour Ministers. Mr. Peter Wright's book was published some time later and confirmed that at least some of that had occurred. [Interruption.] There was a grain of truth about Mr. Wright's allegations; otherwise, the Government would not have gone to such lengths to suppress them.

About three or four years ago, I went to lunch with Mr. Marmaduke Hussey, the chairman of the BBC. The purpose of the lunch was to bend my ears and those of a number of my colleagues on the subject of the Broadcasting Bill which was being introduced at the time. Halfway through the lunch, I asked who worked in room 103 now that Brigadier Stoneham had retired. All around the table, one could hear the sound of knives and forks hitting plates. Marmaduke, clearly choking on his smoked salmon, said, "Patricia, I think this one is for you". A lady down the other end of the table said that she thought it was a special assistant to the director-general. I asked, "What is his name and what does he do?"

We had the top brass of the BBC around the table and none of them could name the special assistant, let alone tell us what he did. There were some clumsy attempts to change the subject and I said, "I'll tell you what, why don't I nip down, knock on the door and see?" "Don't do that," they said, "we'll send you a letter." With a little prompting, they did. I received a letter in which the BBC was at pains to assure me that everything had changed since Brigadier Stoneham's day. However, it seemed to suggest that a man with a similar background and doing a similar job was still in place there.

I wonder whether it is necessary for all senior BBC personnel to be vetted in that way and for some of them —I speak as a former BBC employee—to be honoured with an upturned Christmas tree on their personnel file. I wonder whether that was ever necessary. As we are on the subject, I also wonder how a former head of MI5 came to be so close to the editor of ITN that he was called to give a speech at the man's retirement party. It may be that they are neighbours somewhere down in Surrey or they went to the same school, but there is another explanation that I invite hon. Members to contemplate.

It has been alleged more recently that some of the spare capacity at GCHQ has been used to bug domestic telephones, which is outside its remit. The allegation came from someone who worked in the Cabinet Office until shortly before he made the allegation. I do not know whether that is true—I only know that these matters are part of the problems that we have had with the security services over the years.

Another feature is that the security services have engaged in operations that are difficult to justify in terms of national security. I am talking about some of the arms contracts to Iraq, which have already been mentioned, and —I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Sir A. Hamilton) is not present, because I have a feeling that he has something to do with this—the training of Khmer terrorists in Thailand by British soldiers. That went on from about 1982 until the present Foreign Secretary came to power—God bless him—and put a stop to it in 1989.

I do not know how that could ever have been justified in terms of national security. We had no possible national security interest unless we owed a few favours to the Americans in return for what they did for us in the Falklands war, which they were calling in.

Mr. William Cash (Stafford)

Did the hon. Gentleman note the article written by Boris Johnson a week last Sunday in which he suggested that questions of espionage and matters relating to GCHQ and so on had been transferred, as it were, to questions arising out of the European Union, defence questions and all these other matters? Given the hon. Gentleman's interest in national security, does he regard it as significant, interesting or absurd that we are apparently transferring responsibility even to the European Union, raising questions of treason?

Mr. Mullin

I am not sure that I am qualified to say, but I express admiration for the hon. Gentleman's ingenuity in managing to get his hobby horse in to this debate.

I mentioned all the past problems that we have had with the security services because they are a matter of record. It is also a matter of record that when caught, they have casually lied about what they did in the past, as they did to Lord Callaghan. When Lord Callaghan instituted an inquiry at the end of the 1970s, he was grossly misled about what was going on. When the security services do not lie, they sometimes suppress evidence that is inconvenient to the official version of events. The Matrix Churchill case is possibly the best, most recent example of that.

The test of the Bill will be the extent to which it helps us to resolve those problems and change the culture in the security services. The culture may have already changed to some extent. Perhaps we would not have the Bill if it had not already changed, so we must be grateful for small mercies.

Under clause 8 of the Bill, a commissioner will be appointed to report to the Prime Minister, and a tribunal will be appointed to deal with complaints. As has already been said, those are features of other legislation. A tribunal was set up under the Interception of Communications Act 1985. I believe that I am right in saying—the Minister will put me right if I am not—that that tribunal has never upheld a complaint in its nine-year history.

The Security Service Commissioner was set up under the legislation in 1989. The Foreign Secretary, in opening the debate, said that the commissioner had given him a hard time—I think rigorous was the word used by the right hon. Gentleman. It was not so rigorous that any word reached the outside world, or was reflected in the rather bland reports that sometimes find their way into the Library.

There are two possibilities. The first is that both the previous complaints tribunal and the one under the Bill are presiding over a nearly perfect system. That may explain why no complaint has ever been upheld at any of the tribunals. The other is that perhaps the scrutiny that they have exercised so far has not been as rigorous as it should.

The Intelligence and Security Committee, which will be set up under clause 10, has been referred to by other hon. Members. The committee will have six Members appointed, and dismissed, by the Prime Minister. It will report to the Prime Minister, who may exclude any item he wishes before a report is laid before Parliament. The committee will deal with expenditure, administration and policy, but not operations.

No hon. Member can seriously expect that the committee should have a detailed knowledge of operations. Clearly that does not make sense, but there is a grey area between operations and policy as was mentioned by the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel). When does a policy become an operation, and therefore outside the remit of the committee? Brigadier Stoneham and his heirs at the BBC—are they a policy or an operation? That area ought to come within the remit of the committee. I would hate committee members to be told after raising a subject that it was an operation and outside their remit.

I share the view given by most hon. Members that the committee should be a Select Committee, which is appointed by, and accountable to, Parliament.

Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin)

Will my hon. Friend serve on it?

Mr. Mullin

My hon. and very good friend asks me if I would be willing to serve on the Committee. I do not think that I shall be flooded with invitations, so the House must not consider this to be a job application.

The committee should be accountable to Parliament and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert) has said, it should have powers to send for persons and papers and should be covered by privilege. Reference has been made to the staff who will work for the committee. That is an important point which has not been touched on in the debate so far. Who will be the staff? Will persons be sent down from Millbank or Vauxhall to service the committee? Will it be people who are employed by Parliament, and who share Parliament's desire for scrutiny? Will they come from the Cabinet Office in Whitehall?

That is rather important, because hon. Members who serve on Select Committees know the extent to which we are dependent upon those who staff those Committees. Obviously, hon. Members could be easily led astray, or the committee could be led into complacency, if the staff were not of a suitably rigorous frame of mind.

Dr. Gilbert

There is another point on the question of staff to which my hon. Friend has not alluded. Will not it be necessary for the committee to have at least one member of staff from this place to advise it on procedure?

Mr. Mullin

That is right. Who staffs the committee is nearly as important as who sits on it.

As the committee will not be a Select Committee, it will not be accountable to Parliament, will not have powers to send for persons and papers that are not covered by privilege and may not have the power to select its staff, we will be dependent entirely on those lucky people who are appointed to sit on the committee.

If the Government are serious in their desire to make the intelligence services accountable to the people whose interests they are supposed to serve, I hope that those who are appointed to the committee will be of a sufficiently rigorous and inquiring frame of mind. I hope that they will not be tame pussycats who will roll over to have their tummies tickled at the first sound of the magic words "national security" being whispered in their ears.

Some names have been canvassed already, and I make no comment on any of them. Some of them look worthy, but it does trouble me slightly how predictable it seems. When the subject was first raised more than a year ago —about the time of the Home Affairs Select Committee report—the same old names came up. I may be pleasantly surprised, and find that my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) and inquiring and rigorous minds of that nature are appointed. I am also prepared for the possibility that I may not be all that surprised.

Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde)

My hon. Friend has probably had the same type of letter that I received from a constituent. My constituent worked at Coulport for a few months, where bombs and weapons are made. He was told that he had been fired because he had not been given a security pass. I wrote to find out why, and was told that it was because of national security. However, my constituent got his job back because somebody had made a tragic mistake.

Unfortunately, there seem to be lots of those tragic mistakes when people have been denied the opportunity to work. Hon. Members do not get satisfactory answers or conclusive statements to allow us to make a case, and so we drop the cases. We are not really looking after our constituents properly because of the bland replies.

Mr. Mullin

My hon. Friend is certainly right that one of the effects of blanket secrecy is that mistakes get made and covered up, although that is not necessarily intentional. I hope that that culture will change under whatever system is established.

I will conclude on this note. As I said at the outset—and we should not be churlish—this is a small step in the right direction. Those of us who are reformists by nature will be grateful for small mercies, but we have a long way to go before we can call ourselves a modern democracy.

6.46 pm
Mr. David Howell (Guildford)

Like almost every hon. Member, I welcome the Bill in principle and, for the most part, in practice although one or two rough edges need smoothing off.

I am worried about the concept of further steps which seems to be creeping into everyone's speeches and which implies that more is to come and that we have not reached a settled order of things. It also implies that this measure is just experimental and may lead to other things. Many hon. Members have indicated clearly what they want. It seems to me that either this measure is a balance, in which case one keeps it as a balance, or it is a further step.

The problem with steps is that they tend to be followed by further steps, as the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) said when he began his delightfully anecdotal speech. The trouble with stepping off a balance is that you lose your balance. I hope that we shall lose that terminology and concentrate on the fact that this is a new arrangement for an established order of things, that we shall make it work and that it has an underlying stability. It is not healthy for the conduct of the secret intelligence services if they feel that this measure is a temporary stopping point before we rush on to other things. I hope that there will be no more talk of steps, and certainly no more from those who are trying to advocate and establish that this is where we are now and where we should dig in and stay.

I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary emphasised the continuing need for intelligence services in a world where people who have been caught up in the great spy dramas we have all enjoyed in paperbacks think that the role of the special intelligence services finished with the end of the cold war, on the day when the KGB began having open days at Ljubyanka. That is nonsense. We are in a completely new situation. Terrible things may yet happen in Russia—not a return to previous ideology, but other unpleasant things. One hopes that they will not, but they may. There are also a whole variety of new threats to which hon. Members have rightly referred.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary emphasised the modern nature of terrorism. It is, indeed, a changing phenomenon and it is spreading in weird and dangerous ways. We think that terrorism, say, in Egypt, Algeria or the Maghreb in general or the operations mounted and orchestrated out of Khartoum are remote to us. People say, "What is the threat to us?" The answer is that if such things get out of control they can be a threat to the stability of Europe, including northern Europe. There are great dangers which we need to know about well in advance.

Several hon. Members have mentioned the proliferation of weapons. That is obviously dangerous now, with the dispersal of the former Soviet nuclear arsenal. We should be aware of the proliferation not only of nuclear weapons but of all sorts of other weapons of mass destruction. We are living in a world in which, just as we seek to use preventive diplomacy to halt really nasty conflicts before they escalate, we need preventive secrecy to operate on a highly efficient basis and to be allowed to proceed in ways that permit the operational freedom necessary to be in advance of any nasty developments that could come out into the open, which would mean that we were too late. That means secret work. Secret work means a careful and sensitive scrutiny, and it is on that aspect that I wish to make a few remarks. I shall not detain the House long.

First, I wish to ask a question about accounts and cost. I am glad that a single published figure for the cost of security is to become available. Hitherto, little bits of the cost popped into the estimates which come before the various Select Committees, including the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, on which I serve. Then, suddenly, great lumps such as the vast cost of the new establishment at Vauxhall Cross appeared, sitting unhappily and out of context in the middle of the Foreign Office Vote or some other Vote.

If the overall figure is available, the policy makers and Ministers will have to keep justifying the secret service and the case for it in new conditions. Otherwise, people will ask—this has already been hinted at in some speeches—"Why do we need to continue spending this amount of money? What are these people doing?" The emergence of a single figure will require in parallel with it a sustained, systematic and regular justification of expenditure on the intelligence services. The two things must go together. Otherwise, there will be growing doubts and scepticism when the figures are bandied about.

The committee of parliamentarians has preoccupied us all. It has been rightly pointed out that it will not be a Committee of Parliament. It will not be a Select Committee. It will be a rather new animal. It is hard to think of an analogue for this group of people who will be Members of both Houses of Parliament and will be appointed by the Government. That sounds as if they will be part of the Executive; yet somehow they are supposed to be a filter which will exert a degree of accountability that will satisfy Parliament.

The committee will report annually, as we know, but it will not report to Parliament. It will report to the Prime Minister and it will have a task of oversight which will be extremely large. It will examine the whole range of expenditure. We are apparently talking about hundreds of millions of pounds, although we are not sure how much. The committee will examine administration, which will be a very large operation. It will also look at policy.

The committee will stand aside from operational matters. However, those hon. Members who have said that there is a grey area are right. There is always a grey area between policy and detailed operations. It is not always easy to draw the line. All that looks to me like work, and a great deal of work. The committee will have a very considerable task if it is really to have oversight. It will have large responsibilities.

Contrary to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Sir A. Hamilton) said about the need for a small committee, I believe that my right hon. and hon. Friends may have to consider adding a couple more members to the committee. They will certainly have to consider something slightly larger. I believe that the tasks are very considerable. One could be looking at an extremely time-consuming occupation and not the sort of thing that can be taken on by someone who already sits on six other committees. The members of the committee will not be able to pop in like, dare I say it, a non-executive director in rather more casual circumstances—this is not always a good idea—who has fiduciary responsibilities but little power because he or she does not have access to the detailed executive and management accounts.

The oversight will therefore be quite a tricky operation. It is experimental in the sense that it is a new system. I do not mean that it is experimental in the sense that it will be temporary. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on the boldness of his thought in tackling the matter.

With his usual persuasive elegance, the right hon. Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert) said that we should go the whole hog and have a Select Committee. But that is something completely different in philosophy and design from what Ministers had in mind. There may be a case for it, but a Select Committee is completely different. I was previously a little doubtful about Select Committees. It will surprise no one to learn that I am now rather an enthusiast about the way in which they have developed. I certainly do not hold the view that one of my senior colleagues held when we were constructing the predecessors to the Select Committees back in the early 1970s. He thought that they were merely a useful device for keeping people out of mischief and giving work to idle hands.

Select Committees are rather effective, but they report to Parliament. We are driven—I speak for the Select Committee on which I serve—in directing our work and questions by what we have picked up by a process of osmosis from the House as a whole. We pick up from all parties what Parliament is interested in and concerned about. We report to Parliament. We are staffed by servants of Parliament. Although one has to exercise some restraint, we are open to outside comment and views and accessible to outside lobbies. Of course, we are also open to the press, which is bound, in the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) to badger the committee once the identities of the persons involved are known. The press will constantly ask questions which the members will not be allowed to answer.

The committee's report will not be a report to Parliament. It will be a report to the Prime Minister, who will be able to excise any necessary bits before he presents it to the House of Commons. So it will be a tough line to hold. That is why I am worried about all this talk of steps. The committee's responsibilities will be considerable. Like other hon. Members, I am not clear about the nature of its powers. Expenditure, administration and policy are enormous areas. One wonders how the six good men and women will tackle the vast budget, which will be as big as that of many medium and large-sized companies.

If the committee had powers to send for persons and papers, which it does not have under the Bill now, which ones would it send for and how would it know what to send for? It is a difficult matter. Those who are appointed will have a hard and unfamiliar path to follow. They will need a great deal of support and encouragement from Ministers if they are to do their work effectively.

In principle, I welcome the Bill. It is a real attempt to achieve a balance between two almost irreconcilable things —the absolute and overriding need for operational secrecy, so that we can have an effective intelligence service to protect this island in an increasingly dangerous world, and the prefectly natural desire of a free Parliament to call to account people who act in the name of the state and spend taxpayers' money. There is no solution. If one went the whole Select Committee way, one would go too far into the, to my mind, enjoyable area of accountability and I am convinced that that would undermine the effective secrecy of the operation. If one took the attitude that nothing could be done—that no parliamentary figures at all were to be involved—we would remain where we are now, but that is not what the House wants. People want movement and it is to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary's great credit that he has produced movement and come up with a new idea. However, very careful and energetic establishment will be necessary. This should not be paraded as just a step to something else: it is a balance, which will have to be kept with the utmost skill.

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

I welcome the production of this important Bill, which will lead to greater openness. I believe that the Prime Minister has got it right by making the move at this time, and the structure of the Bill is about right. The idea of a commissioner, a tribunal and a parliamentary committee was debated at great length by some of us during the passage of the Security Service Act 1989.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

It is not a parliamentary committee.

Mr. Randall

I accept that. Indeed, this committee is unique. Part of its uniqueness lies in the fact that there must be a balance between the openness that so many hon. Members have called for and the effectiveness of the Secret Intelligence Service. That is what this is all about.

The right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) talked about steps. I believe that that is indeed what we are discussing. The first step must be all about confidence-building. This subject must be looked at from the point of view not only of parliamentarians but of those who work in the Secret Intelligence Service, GCHQ and the Security Service. Our top priority must be to ensure that the confidence of the people working in these services is retained. We must not rush fences. At heart, I am a fairly liberal person and I normally like to rush fences. However, in this case, confidence-building is the road which we must take.

There will be so much to learn. This is a brand new exercise, and there will be many responsibilities in the provision of parliamentary oversight. At this stage, I am happy that the step-by-step approach should involve saying yes if, for confidence reasons, the Prime Minister has to carry out a vetting operation. I shall live with that. I hope that, in practice, the committee will be sufficiently mature and professional to make it unnecessary for the Prime Minister ever to intervene. However, this is a necessary start.

I have skipped through some stuff about Canada, which has a system slightly similar to ours. The Canadians' steps towards democratisation and accountability have lowered the performance of their intelligence and security services. That is something which we in this country must not allow to happen.

I believe that the new committee will be able to establish its own procedure. On the question of its being able to call for persons and papers, my interpretation of the terms of reference is that that will be possible in special circumstances. But we are not talking about operational matters. It would be absurd to think for one moment that the committee should delve into such matters. Its concern must be the three areas—policy, administration and expenditure—that are highlighted in the Bill.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert) made a good point about the Comptroller and Auditor General—one that I had not thought about. We are talking about a very large organisation, with a massive budget. If one of the priorities of the new committee is to look at the whole question of expenditure, it will be necessary to have mechanisms for appropriate auditing work.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

My hon. Friend talks about this committee as if it will be able to assume that it has a right to call upon Ministers or civil servants to provide information. I cannot see where in this legislation that right is enshrined. If my hon. Friend can point to such a provision in any of the schedules, I shall be prepared to concede.

Mr. Randall

I refer my hon. Friend to schedule 3, which refers to what the new committee will be able to do, including the setting of its priorities and procedures. One procedure could be that of calling for persons and papers. I do not know the detail. I have referred to what I think is implicit. We ought not to guess, but, instead, should ask the Minister of State to explain the Government's thinking. However, this is how I look at the matter. I very much hope that there will be flexibility, so that the committee may be as effective as possible.

Mr. Rogers

I hope that my hon. Friend will not go much further down this road. Although he is quite right to say that the second part of schedule 3 provides that the Committee may determine their own procedure", the part of the schedule dealing with access to information says that information can come to the committee only with the permission of the director-general of the Security Service, the chief of the intelligence service, the director of GCHQ and the Secretary of State together.

The only material that will go to the committee is that which has been—if I may use the term—positively vetted and which the Secretary of State determines can be disclosed. If the Secretary of State says that information cannot be disclosed, it will not be disclosed, and the committee will have no right to aquire it. This is one of the Opposition's main objections to the Bill.

Mr. Randall

I can see that my hon. Friend is referring to the part of schedule 3 that is entitled "Access to information" and to the part entitled "Sensitive information". When one reads these provisions, one sees that there is discretion. I should like the Minister of State to tell us how he sees the powers. I do not want to speculate, but it seems to me that there is a good deal of discretion.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Randall

I must proceed, as other hon. Members want to contribute to the debate.

I believe that the Bill will pave the way to correction of the massive errors that the Government made when they imposed their restrictions on trade unions at GCHQ. The assertion that trade unionism is incompatible with national security caused deep offence to many trade unionists—people who are as loyal and patriotic as anybody in the House.

It is a disgrace that 14 people were dismissed for insisting on retaining the right to trade union membership. I hope that those men will get redress before too long. The Government are a signatory to the International Labour Organisation's convention 87, which deals with freedom of association. It is therefore unacceptable that this anomaly should be allowed to continue. At that time, it was important to recognise that what was happening at GCHQ was not in any way damaging to national security.

I should like to deal briefly with the question of the committee. A membership of six seems rather on the small side. Indeed, it is very small. However, I agree with the right hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) that we must be careful about leaks, which could take place through the committee. The security of the committee must be handled properly, and I want the Minister to tell us how that can best be done.

Perhaps it is a good idea that we are not restricting the committee to Privy Councillors. There is one practical reason why we should not do so. The Labour party has been out of power for 14 years, and has created a mere handful of Privy Councillors, so it would create some problems for us. Also, why would we need to restrict membership in that way? If the work of the committee is to be covered by the Official Secrets Act 1989, there is a mechanism to provide that protection. The oath one takes when one becomes a Privy Councillor is not as secure as signing the Official Secrets Act.

Perhaps this is a matter for the committee, but the quorum of three, including one peer—although only one member might be a peer—does not sound practical. What do the Government think about that? Surely we must consider changing it.

The role of the committee is to scrutinise expenditure, administration and policy. I jotted down a few policy matters that it might need to look into. For example, what role does it have now that the cold war is over? I do not know what has been happening in the various organisations. Since the end of the cold war, we have had "Options for Change" and other defence reviews. Have we carried out a comparable review of our intelligence and security services? I do not know the answer, but perhaps that would be one area for work.

In a debate in another place, Lord Callaghan criticised the size and bureaucracy of Government communications headquarters, Cheltenham. Presumably he knew what he was talking about, as he had served as both Foreign Secretary and Home Secretary. The only other question is whether £900 million is a true figure. It seems to be a large amount, and that is another possible area for investigation.

Russia still has a massive military capability, which is under questionable control. We knew where we were with the old Soviet communist system, but that has been replaced by fanatical nationalism and by defence policies which are nothing short of a muddle. As a consequence, there may be instability, unrest and disruption in that area —possibly even war.

Hon. Members have mentioned terrorism, but I shall skim over that subject because I think that Ministers understand it.

We know that there is much co-operation between various agencies in this country and their sister organisations in the European Community. Now that we have joined the European Union, how far has that co-operation gone? I do not know. I spent five years shadowing the Minister with responsibility for the security services, so my experience of such matters is theoretical, to say the least. I usually deal with complaints by taking them to the Minister concerned. I do not know the extent to which the security services are co-operating.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

My hon. Friend spent five years shadowing on such matters. I cannot grasp why it was so vital for members of the security services not to mix with Members of Parliament. Why would that have been wrong in principle? The Foreign Office invites people here for social functions, where we can meet and discuss matters. Why should it he wrong for my hon. Friend to be invited to the Departments to discuss aspects of such matters with members of the security services? I do not see anything wrong with that.

Half the problem is that many hon Members are suspicious of the security services, and people in those services are suspicious of Parliament. The relationship has broken down because of mutual suspicion. I cannot believe that it is beyond the wit of man and woman to devise a system based on a little more contact between the two.

Mr. Randall

I do not want to answer that intervention, except to say that I used to have useful discussions with Ministers and other officials, often on Privy Councillor terms. That procedure had to be followed, and I cannot add to that.

People are not quite so hung up as the newspapers make out, provided that such matters are dealt with reasonably reliably. Retired Labour Cabinet Ministers say that, in the main, the agencies—the main ones are MI5 and MI6—employ people who have very good reputations. Of course, there have been a few rotten apples—there are a few in every barrel—but those Labour Ministers al ways expressed great admiration for the people they dealt with, and said that they had great integrity.

A former Minister with responsibility for security in Northern Ireland is present. It does not take much imagination for any hon. Member to guess at the work going on there. We have a lot to thank the people responsible for as they are providing protection. Security is about the bombs we do not hear about, not those that go off. It would be wrong if hon. Members did not take that into account and recognise the brilliant work going on.

A free and open society becomes susceptible to abuse and subversion. That is why we need the security and intelligence services—to ensure that our society is as free and open as possible. Those people who threaten Britain's political and social interests and who attempt to destabilise our society do not operate openly, but in secret. That is why our intelligence services must also operate secretly. We must accept that, and we must not attempt to undermine that secrecy.

We are debating the introduction of a parliamentary system of accountability, monitoring and oversight. Government govern, and Parliament must oversee; that is what we are attempting to do.

Attitudes have developed. In 1987 and 1988, when we debated the security services, I was frustrated by the way in which the then Home Secretary responded to us. His responses did not seem to hang together. However, there has been some movement, and hon. Members must welcome the steps that we are taking in the Bill.

The key is to start by recognising that there must be a confidence-building exercise. We cannot go at it too fast: it must be measured and careful, because this is a very important matter. It we make mistakes, the consequences could be serious. The intelligence and security services are too important for us to make mistakes, so we must go about the process in the right way. The Bill paves the way for that progress.

7.18 pm
Mr. Michael Mates (East Hampshire)

I join other hon. Members who have welcomed the fact that the Government have introduced the Bill, although it is not the route that I would have taken.

The Executive must account to Government and Government must account to Parliament. I have long advocated that there should be a Minister responsible for the oversight of the security services, who should report here on what they are and are not doing. However, that is not the way that we have gone. Perhaps it is too late for that because of events and our experience of the Security Service Act 1989, which we have been living with for four or five years. That said, I welcome what the Government are doing.

I could make some wide-ranging remarks about the Bill, as other colleagues have done, but I want to be brief, so I shall confine my comments to clause 10, particularly subsection (3). I understand and fully accept why the proposed committee will not be a Select Committee. The Government could not have given the committee the powers rightly held by other such committees because of the sensitivity of the information involved and the need to maintain the security, and confidentiality of almost all the work that is undertaken by the three agencies. I accept that.

That said, I beg my right hon. Friend and the Government, when they consider the matter more closely and scrutinise the Bill in Committee, not to be afraid of many of the ways in which Select Committees operate. It is fine and acceptable that the committee will not be a Select Committee, but the Government have decided that they must not give it a Select Committee's powers or it will look like a Select Committee. I can draw on my experience of serving on a Select Committee that dealt routinely with top-secret information over a wide range of highly sensitive subjects. The Government may be fearing unnecessarily the consequences of what some of us are asking them to do.

The committee should be appointed and discharged by the Prime Minister, not the House, through the Committee of Selection and a motion—as happens routinely with all departmental committees. Such a motion can be debated. To try to remove an hon. Member other than with his or his party's consent, which has not happened during the course of a Parliament, would be very difficult. I acknowledge that.

The appointment of the chairman needs to be discussed. In all other Committees of the House, the Chairman or Chairwoman is chosen by the members. The chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee is to be appointed. I do not quarrel with that—

Mr. Campbell-Savours

It will not be a Committee of the House.

Mr. Mates

I know that, but—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

Order. Seated interventions are not helpful.

Mr. Mates

The committee will be different in that its chairman will be appointed by the Government. If we are not careful, the chairman's relationship with the members of the committee will be different from that of a Select Committee Chairman, who serves at the pleasure of his colleagues.

Many hon. Members have mentioned that the committee will have six members. Whether it contains one or two members from the other place is a detail. I do not know why that element has been introduced, but it has and I accept that it is now there to stay. A committee of six is marginally too small for the workload that will be involved, although I accept the need to keep the committee small because of the circle of secrecy, to which the Foreign Secretary referred, and which I endorse.

The membership needs to be an odd number because there is provision in the Bill for the chairman to have a casting vote. I do not think that the committee will take many votes—most sensible Select Committees do not. But there are the odd Committees where the Chairman constantly makes the casting vote in favour of the Government of the day, because that is where the majority lies. That would not make for a good working relationship in the committee. At the very least, the committee should have seven members so that we do not face that problem.

The committee must also have a clerk who comes from this place because the procedural advice given has to be professional and professionally delivered. If the staff of the committee were to come from outside the House, it would not work. I commend that course to my right hon. Friend.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) talked about leaks. That is not something that the House or Government need to fear. There have been leaks from Select Committees, but they have never involved security. I shall tell the House an anecdote. In my 12 years on the Select Committee on Defence, nothing of a sensitive nature was ever leaked. I was present when the Committee system began in 1979. Initially, the Ministry of Defence was a little suspicious about letting us see things here and there, but we worked our way through that and by 1987 there was nothing that we did not see. On a cross-party basis, we were shown information of the most highly sensitive nature because we had shown ourselves to be trustworthy. The Labour party, in its wisdom, then decided to submit for appointment two members of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. An enormous frisson went through the MOD as if things could never be the same again, and its good working relationship with the Committee was going to stop.

A very senior person in the organisation, who had better remain nameless, asked me what we should do. I said, "You must carry on as before until the trust is broken. That is the only way in which we can proceed, and if we do not a number of members of the Committee will explain vociferously." We went on sharing the most sensitive and highly secret information and there was never any form of leak.

Some of my hon. Friends may have been nervous about the information that was passed over, and it was not always done with the best grace, but it was passed over and nobody was let down. [Laughter.] I am glad that the jovial reaction of my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Sir A. Hamilton) confirms that. The Government might be being unnecessarily fearful about the nature of the information that they will have to share with the members of the committee. I hope that they will put those fears behind them.

The powers to send for persons and papers and to summon witnesses have been excluded from the Bill because they would make it look too like a Select Committee. The Government had better give the committee the right to make such requests, or there is little point in setting it up. It will lose its credibility before it has began its work. If members of the committee have the power to make such requests, it will cause some chagrin in official circles, but the Government always have the power not to respond. The Government and Ministers may refuse to answer questions.

There have been celebrated occasions in the Select Committee on Defence when distinguished hon. Members have come before it and refused to answer questions. Whether that did the individual more harm than the Committee is another matter, but it happened and it is everybody's right so to act. The powers of the committee are not something that anybody needs to fear, particularly as I cannot imagine that the committee will very often sit in public. Its public session would probably be confined to once a year when it announced its report and published details of its work. For the rest of the time, it would sit in private, as the Select Committee on Defence did for much of the time. It would ask questions in private, its proceedings would be private and its report to the Prime Minister would be private. There will follow a process with which those who have served on the Defence Committee will be familiar. It will ask how the exclusion of particular information can be considered when it is published elsewhere. The argument will go backwards and forwards before a solution is reached, with the Government always having the final say.

The fears that I suspect have caused the Government not to give the committee the powers that it needs are groundless. I ask the Ministers to consider the matter in a far more realistic way when the Bill is scrutinised in Committee. While the committee will not be a Select Committee, for the reasons that I described earlier, it will nevertheless function like a Select Committee. The Government do not need to be afraid to give it the powers that no Select Committee has misused to the detriment of national security and secrecy in the 14 years that the Select Committee system has existed. I am certain that the committee would not misuse those powers.

I hope that the Government will listen to the constructive remarks that have been made in the debate, take them into account and get the committee, which is not a Select Committee, off to the best possible start.

7.29 pm
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

I accept that, despite the historical changes that have taken place in eastern Europe since we debated this matter some five years ago, work clearly remains to be undertaken by the security services. As I have pointed out in previous debates, some of which I initiated, I know of no democracy, let alone dictatorship, that does not find it necessary for such activities to be undertaken in some form, quite apart from what is necessary to deal with the continuing curse of terrorism. Whether those activities are carried out by MI5 or what is usually referred to as MI6, they must be undertaken for the defence of this island.

Many people, particularly Opposition Members, are worried about political bias. Long before the Wright affair, people felt that far too many senior members of the security services were not only right wing but extremely so. The Wright affair showed that the opinions of a few —I hope that it was just a few—were more than extremely right wing. During the 1970s, some officers in the Security Service were outright disloyal, subversive and out of control. To them, the enemy was here in Britain—it was the Labour Government and much of the Labour movement, if not the entire Labour movement. That is why they did tremendous harm to the reputation and work of the Security Service.

It is not just me who says that. On Second Reading of the Bill in another place, Lord Callaghan said that such officers chose the wrong side of the line between right and wrong and that they damaged the Security Service and democracy. As Prime Minister of the day, he was head of the Security Service, so I presume that he knew precisely what he was talking about.

Hence the campaign over many years for parliamentary scrutiny of the security services. Every time that this matter has been raised. the standard ministerial response has been that parliamentary scrutiny was unnecessary and that ministerial control of the security services meant that Ministers were answerable to Parliament. We were asked what we were concerned about. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) said earlier, when we debated a previous Bill that would have put MI5 on a statutory basis the Government were strenuously opposed to any form of parliamentary scrutiny. They said that it was totally unnecessary and irrelevant.

It is simple to judge our ability to monitor the Security Service. If we go to the Table Office and try to put down a question about it, we find that we cannot even get to first base. I criticise neither officers of the House responsible for the Table Office nor the other Clerks. Once Ministers have decided that they will not answer questions on the Security Service, future questions are blocked and that is the end of the matter. In the main, Members of Parliament cannot pursue such questions on the Floor of the House, although they can initiate Adjournment debates.

Allegations of bias come not only from the wretched Wright. What sort of person can he and others like him have been to have been recruited to the security services in the first place and to have remained in a senior position for so long? In addition to the Wright affair, I have mentioned in previous debates how some members of the security services dealt with CND. Although many hon. Members accept that Britain should have nuclear weapons, the current Prime Minister has accepted that it is a perfectly legitimate argument to oppose that. The Security Service, however, pried into the private lives of senior officials involved in CND. I have raised such matters on the Floor of the House and they have been well publicised on other occasions in the press.

My hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Ms Harman) and Patricia Hewitt were also targeted. Were they subversive? They must have been considered subversive by those who held positions in the security services at the time. They were targeted because they held senior posts in the then National Council for Civil Liberties. No Conservative Member could say that that was justified.

Mr. Allason

I remind the hon. Gentleman that the National Council for Civil Liberties was an organisation prescribed by the Labour party at one stage.

Mr. Winnick

The hon. Gentleman should get his facts right. I have not read his books on intelligence matters but I hope that before he writes them he does his research or gets someone else to do it for him. Some 30 or 35 years ago, or more, the National Council for Civil Liberties could have been described as closely allied to the Communist party. Although there may have been a case to argue then, that has not been the case since the mid-1950s as it was not prescribed by the Labour party from the mid-1950s onwards—

Mr. Allason

I did not say that it was.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. My remark about seated interventions applies to both sides of the House.

Mr. Winnick

The hon. Gentleman puts forward the weakest possible argument. I said that I did not think that any Conservative Member would try to justify prying into the lives of my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham and of Patricia Hewitt, but the hon. Gentleman tries to justify what the Government are ashamed and embarrassed about. Those two people were targeted by the security services under this Government simply because of their senior positions in the National Council for Civil Liberties. I am pleased that they took their case to the European Court.

The Scott inquiry will no doubt refer to the role of the security services, but will be far more critical, I am sure, of ministerial conduct, including ministerial responsibility for the security services.

Much of the emphasis in this debate has been on clause 10. I am particularly unhappy about it because it will not provide the genuine parliamentary scrutiny that is needed. The clause sets up a committee of six members, but what does it add up to? As I said in an intervention, there are unlikely to be any non-Privy Councillors serving on that small committee. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Kinston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) will not mind my saying that, given his defence of the arrangements, he may be one of the few non-Privy Councillors invited to join it. We shall wait and see. Moreover, it will be a joint committee with the House of Lords.

When the Home Affairs Committee, with a Conservative majority, reported at the end of 1992, it recommended that that scrutiny of the security services should be by the Committee and criticised any joint committee with Members of the House of Lords. It said: We believe that it would not be appropriate for a Committee containing Peers to consider matters of expenditure. It then went on to say: We do not believe that there is any general right or need to know what the service does on a day to day basis. But we do believe that establishing a form of parliamentary scrutiny of the service would meet an important public interest and help to protect against any possible future abuse of power. Not surprisingly, I agree with those recommendations.

The Prime Minister will be responsible for appointments to the proposed committee after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition. The Prime Minister may also decide who will be its chairman. That is most inappropriate. Even on the basis of what is being proposed, the Prime Minister should not have the power to decide who out of the six should be the chairman, but no doubt that will be pursued in Committee. The committee will report not directly to the House but to the Prime Minister, who will then decide what should be left out of its report. How on earth can all that be described as genuine parliamentary scrutiny? That is why I remain critical of the Bill.

Schedule 3 makes it quite clear that information can be withheld from the committee. I can draw many examples from the recent past, such as the arms sales to the criminal regime in Iraq. It could well have been argued that had such a committee existed at the time, there would have been a feeling among Ministers and senior officials that the information was far too sensitive to be given to that committee. Therefore, we should be on our guard about what is contained in schedule 3.

What we are debating tonight will not end the controversy. Had the committee been anywhere near what was recommended by the Home Affairs Committee, to a large extent the political controversy would be over. What is now being proposed will mean that, in effect, the issue will keep returning.

When the committee has been set up, those of us who are not satisfied—that will be the case if no major modifications are made in Standing Committee—although we may not be as persistent as previously, will not say simply that, although we did not get what we wanted we achieved a halfway house and that is the end of the issue. We do not believe that it is a halfway house. If the Government believe that a controversy is being concluded as a result of the committee being established as set out in clause 10, they will discover that that is not the case.

Finally, I raise two other matters. I was pleased that my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland mentioned GCHQ. On 25 January, I introduced a ten-minute Bill—no Conservative Member voted against it—to lift the ban on trade union membership at GCHQ. The Government's decision 10 years ago was quite wrong and shameful; it brought into question the loyalty of the people at GCHQ and there was no justification of any such questioning.

Ministers may have taken the view 10 years ago that the controversy would simmer down after a while, so it is interesting to note that nothing of the kind has happened. The controversy has continued. Some three or four days after my speech, there was a rally in Cheltenham where my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition made it perfectly clear that a Labour Government would remove that ban. There is no possible justification for what was done on 25 January 1984. The sooner the ban is lifted the better.

Mr. Robathan

First, let me correct the hon. Gentleman. I was a Teller on that occasion and about 85 Conservative Members voted against his Bill. I know that the hon. Gentleman is particularly concerned about the GCHQ dispute in which a large number of working days were lost. The whole purpose of GCHQ—to defend the national interest—was negated because working days were lost. GCHQ might just as well have closed down because of industrial action. If the hon. Gentleman believes in the need for national security to be paramount, he should agree that it was necessary to ban trade unions at GCHQ. Otherwise, we might not have bothered to spend the money on it.

Mr. Winnick

First, I must apologise to the House. I agree that some Conservative Members voted against my Bill. As I kept a note in my diary of the vote, I apologise for misleading the House. My Bill was carried by a majority of 222 to 69. I should have thought that was an overwhelming majority but I am sorry to have given the impression that no Conservative Member voted against it.

The hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) had the courage to speak against it. Although I disagreed with him profoundly, he is to be congratulated on doing what many Conservative Members would not be willing to do. It was interesting to note how few Conservative Members, even those in no way involved in the Government—69 in all voted against my Bill—were willing to go into the Lobby against it.

As regards the hon. Gentleman's second point, some working days were lost, although the number has been much exaggerated. It was before the Falklands war. On 25 January, I quoted the then Director General of GCHQ congratulating every single employee on the excellent work undertaken during the Falklands war. That was after the days had been lost as a result of the industrial dispute.

The trade unions have gone out of their way to offer every possible compromise in an attempt to get the ban lifted. Had the Government shown any genuine willingness to agree to any such compromise, agreement could have been reached by the end of last year. I hope not only that we will try to improve the Bill in Committee but that if no major amendment is carried and my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition is invited or consulted by the Prime Minister, he will not simply comply with the Prime Minister's request, be it over names or other matters.

As regards calling for papers, my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition has a perfect and legitimate parliamentary right to pursue with the Prime Minister, if the Bill becomes law as it is, matters that have occupied the attention today of hon. Members on both sides of the House.

I wish that I could conclude by saying that while I am not entirely happy with the Bill, it is a happy compromise. I cannot draw that conclusion, hence the controversy will continue until we establish the same adequate form of parliamentary scrutiny that has been established in so many other western democracies.

7.47 pm
Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay)

GCHQ is the wartime successor to the Government code and cipher school, and it has had a long and honourable tradition dating back to the second world war. Certainly Eisenhower judged that the second world war had probably been reduced in length by a year, and many tens of thousands of lives were saved as a result of the work carried out at Bletchley Park. The work undertaken there remained secret until 1974 and the publication of "The ULTRA Secret". In the post-war era, there has been only one case of hostile penetration, and that was the case of Geoffrey Prime.

GCHQ is the jewel in the crown of the British intelligence establishment. I am disappointed that their Lordships were so preoccupied about the union ban. We should be clear that the 1984 ban was not imposed by the Government; it was requested by the director-general of GCHQ. Some 10,000 days were lost in total, and that was during a critical time for Britain—the imposition of martial law in Poland and the invasion of Afghanistan.

The Secret Intelligence Service, on the other hand, has not been so successful, and has sometimes been described, perhaps unfairly, as the second oldest profession.

When one is working at the coal face, hostile penetration is almost inevitable. We have the cases of Kim Philby, George Blake, John Cairncross, Dick Ellis and the unnamed victims of the mole hunts in the 1970s. All those cases are occupational hazards of secret intelligence.

Mr. Rogers

The hon. Gentleman has just given us a catalogue of traitors to Britain. How many of them were GCHQ trade unionists?

Mr. Allason

I have no idea. I have described only one case of hostile penetration of GCHQ—the case of Geoffrey Prime. It has been argued that the information that he betrayed over a long period was probably more damaging than anything that was betrayed by the other individuals in the secret service.

Let us not suppose for one moment that the threat of espionage has come to an end. When right hon. and hon. Members open their newspapers tomorrow, they will read about an espionage case in the United States that has been brewing for some weeks and which is regarded as one of the most serious Russian intelligence service penetrations of the American intelligence establishment. The fact is that the cloaks and daggers were not put away at the end of the cold war.

There is a continuing role for the SIS and GCHQ. One sometimes wonders how one can judge whether one is getting value for money from an intelligence agency, because Ministers invariably ask the director-general of the Security Service and the chief of the SIS how they are doing, and are told, "We are doing tremendously well. We are doing so well that we cannot tell you all the details, because, quite frankly, you do not want to know them. But, yes, you are getting value for money."

I suggest that there are ways in which one can judge the performance of a security or intelligence agency. A classic way is by the receipt of defectors. The SIS has a long and impressive record of receipt of Soviet defectors, particulary during the latter part of the cold war. If an intelligence agency is not trusted, it is unlikely to receive defectors. That one criterion is useful.

In the past 20 years, we have received Vladimir Kuzichkin, Ilya Dzhirkvelov, Oleg Lyalin, Vladimir Rezun and, in 1985, Oleg Gordievsky. Whatever one says about the bad old years, if one can run an agent for between 12 and 14 years—up until Oleg Gordievsky's defection in 1985—that says a tremendous amount about that agency. It means that it can keep a secret for that length of time. It means that, operationally, it can run an agent for that length of time. All that is to the credit of the intelligence agency and goes a long way to demonstrating its integrity.

The principal role of an intelligence agency is to avoid being taken by surprise. That is a problem for all great nations. There have been appalling examples of nations being taken by surprise, the classic being Pearl Harbour. Israel is often credited with having a tremendously impressive intelligence service, but it does not deserve that reputation. The 1973 Yom Kippur conflict is the classic textbook example of how a nation can be taken completely by surprise. The Americans were taken by surprise in Korea, and by the Tet offensive in Vietnam. The collapse of the Soviet bloc was predicted by nobody, least of all by the Central Intelligence Agency.

We were taken by surprise in the Gulf war. No amount of overhead surveillance or satellite system can penetrate the thoughts of Saddam Hussein or get close to his cabinet and discover his intentions. We were taken by surprise there in a way that we were not a decade or so earlier when troops and HMS Bulwark were deployed in the Gulf to prevent and deter aggression.

We were taken by surprise in exactly the same way during the Falklands crisis. We had few assets in south America.

Mr. Rogers

The hon. Gentleman says that we were taken by surprise in the Falklands. Is that strictly true? Many people realise that the wrong signals were being sent to Argentina. Surely the problem was more or less the stupidity of the Government rather than being taken by surprise.

Mr. Allason

I would concede that the scrapping of HMS Endurance was one of the most appalling decisions. It was misunderstood by the Argentines.

It is worth explaining one of the reasons for the Falklands conflict and the heavy reliance on GCHQ as opposed to the SIS. On that occasion, GCHQ assured the Joint Intelligence Committee that it would be able to give a considerable lead time for any planned amphibious landing on the Falklands, because it was intercepting and reading the signals of one unit—an amphibious commando unit—stationed on the Andes, overlooking the Chilean frontier.

It was judged that that unit, which was the only one that had been trained in amphibious landing by the Americans at Fort Bragg, was the one unit that would be likely to be deployed against the Falklands. On that occasion, GCHQ gave that assurance to the Joint Intelligence Committee.

But, of course, during and even after the landing at Port Stanley, only conscripts were used, and the unit remained in its position on top of the Andes throughout the conflict. So, by a reliance on technical sources of intelligence, one can disadvantage the human sources. That is where the SIS comes in. That is one of the classic reasons why intelligence is so enormously important.

The question for the House is whether the Bill will help the services to be more effective and efficient. Will it mean more financial support for the organisations that are strapped for cash at the very time when the defence intelligence staff is being chopped?

It is my belief that this is an opportunity for the House to give full support to the SIS and GCHQ, because the fact is that this is the first time, as far as I know, that there have been compulsory redundancies in the SIS. It is bad for morale and bad for this country. If we are intent on dismantling our armed services at the rate we are, it is all the more important that we should have an effective trip wire overseas to alert the Joint Intelligence Committee and the Cabinet, so that the appropriate decisions can be made in time.

I hope that one of the messages that the House will give to the SIS and GCHQ is that they are doing an extremely important job and that the resources will be available to monitor the kind of disruption that has taken place in eastern Europe, the activity of the Islamic fundamentalists right across the continent of north Africa, the near east and middle east, and to monitor our own interests in central America and the Falklands, and even in the South African continent.

The truth is that the CIA pays only lip service to oversight. It is an unwieldy and difficult system in the United States. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate have their own separate committees. They are trusted, but only because they have to be.

It is worth examining why Congress introduced oversight in the first place. It was as a result of the appalling embarrassments and misconduct that were exposed by the Pope and the Church committees. I would not want the American example to be followed. There is no reason to in this country.

As for the Canadian model, it is worth pointing out that there is no external intelligence collection service in Canada. There is, however, an effective security agency —the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service. If the Minister wants to look at a model of how a report about an intelligence agency can be published annually without giving away secrets, but with some sanitised case histories that will educate the public and politicians, I would recommend that document as good reading matter.

There have not been any significant leaks from the oversight committee in Canada, or, for that matter, from those in the United States. There has been one resignation from one of the committees in the United States because of the premature release of a report. Apart from one allegation of one CIA asset being lost in the old Soviet bloc, it is widely believed that the trust has been reciprocated and well earned.

Back in 1989, when we debated what was then the Security Service Bill, we were told that the reason for the Bill was the fact that "it was about time". We now recognise, however, that the real motive was to satisfy the European Court. I do not know the precise motive behind this Bill; perhaps my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy will explain when he winds up. I do not know whether there is any really compelling reason for its introduction

The fact is that there have been no scandals to act as a catalyst. There have been no murders; there are no dead bodies hidden away. There has simply been a lengthy police investigation of the Hilda Murrell case, after which the police clearly concluded that the Security Service had played no part in it. People on the fringes are making a good deal of mischief. Gary Murray—who served as a dog handler in the RAF police—wrote a long and mischievous book about the Hilda Murrell case, and made a series of other allegations about the Security Service. That man operates in the world of fantasy.

This country has a proud and honourable record of intelligence gathering. That is because there has been considerable ministerial oversight. It was introduced at quite a late stage in the 1940s, when a Foreign Office adviser was attached to the Secret Intelligence Service. No sensitive operation was undertaken without the consent of that adviser—who was not an SIS career officer, but someone seconded to the SIS on a temporary basis.

The one occasion on which something went wrong occurred in 1956, and involved the Buster Crabb case. Curiously enough, the system appeared to work well; but on the morning that the Foreign Office adviser received a telephone call asking for authorisation to send a diver under the Russian cruiser the Ordjonikidze in Portsmouth harbour, his father had died. When he received the call, a short time later, he was in no condition to examine the case in detail.

The Prime Minister was severely embarrassed, and considerable effort was made to ensure that there would never again be a lack of political control. Since 1956—when the director-general of the Security Service was imposed on the SIS to prevent any recurrence of what was described as misconduct—virtually all operations of that kind have involved a large element of ministerial approval.

Evidence about the Matrix Churchill case that has surfaced so far—during the trial of Paul Henderson, and at the Scott inquiry—clearly shows that both the Security Service and the Secret Intelligence Service have conducted themselves in an exemplary fashion. I am not sure that I can say the same of the Ministers who signed the public interest immunity certificates, but this may not be the appropriate time and place to refer to that aspect; Lord Justice Scott is bound to pursue it over the next six weeks.

My concern about the Bill relates to the inclusion of the Security Service, which—by its very nature—is heavily involved in political judgments. About two thirds of its operations now take place in anti-terrorism and—because it is now so firmly integrated in the criminal justice system —I wonder whether it might more appropriately be subject to the scrutiny of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, and perhaps an annual visit.

I am worried about the relationship between intelligence and security agencies—and the officers responsible for collecting the information—and the criminal justice system. Members of the special and counter-terrorist branches are all police officers; they all hold warrant cards, and they have all given evidence in the courts at one time or another.

I find it an unattractive proposition for this country's courts to be presented with evidence by Mr. A, Mr. B and Mr. C from behind screens. That is not part of our criminal justice system, and it is not understood abroad: it represents a propaganda coup for the Provisional IRA.

Mr. Rogers

What did the hon. Gentleman mean when he said that operatives were heavily involved in political judgments? Earlier in the debate, the Foreign Secretary said that the secret services did not "invent their own agenda". Surely there is a conflict between what the hon. Gentleman said and what the Foreign Secretary said.

Mr. Allason

No, there is not. One of the responsibilities of the Security Service under the 1989 Act is counter-subversion; one definition of counter-subversion was given in the other place, and another—lengthy—definition was given by the present Foreign Secretary, then Home Secretary, during the passage of that Act.

There are bound to be political judgments about whether a political organisation is determined to undermine parliamentary democracy, but they are political only to that extent. Targeting is a matter for the directorate of the Security Service and the Joint Intelligence Committee.

Mr. Rogers

I am sorry to press the hon. Gentleman, who demonstrates considerable knowledge of these matters. Perhaps he can pass that knowledge on to the House, however. Is he saying that part of the function of the secret service is to subvert political parties in this country? That is what it sounded like. I know that my Welsh dialect may be slightly different from the dialect of Torbay; but the hon. Gentleman did say that the service was involved in subversion, and made political judgments in relation to political parties.

Mr. Allason

With respect, I referred the hon. Gentleman to the 1989 Act, under which counter-subversion is one of the responsibilities of the security service.

Mr. Richard Shepherd

I do not mean to nitpick, but the Act does not use the term "counter-subversion"—although I accept that the remit involved can be interpreted in a number of ways. One of the purposes of the service is to prevent the undermining of parliamentary democracy by political, industrial or violent means. That tallies with the comments of the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers): the service is precluded from interfering in the political process.

Mr. Allason

The Security Service does not make political judgments, except to the extent that it must deal with counter-subversion. The definition of "subversion" is the definition in the 1989 Act. To that extent, the service is responsible for counter-subversion—for countering the undermining of parliamentary democracy by non-parliamentary means.

According to my interpretation of the Bill, the tribunal will be, in effect, a permanent security commission. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will explain whether the Security Commission will continue to exist. At present, it is composed of a panel, some of whose members can be called upon to conduct investigations.

Will the commission still be needed, or will the tribunal take over its role? Certainly, the panel has been made up of the great and the good, but not one of its members has a day of intelligence experience. In the past, the membership has been derided in the intelligence community as a stable door operation; it does not carry much weight. If the right people are selected for the tribunal, however, I believe that they will have a powerful role to play.

I would refer anyone who has any doubts about the way in which the Security Commission can be misled, to the Bettaney report, in which, in order to protect Oleg Gordievsky, who was a current source, the Security Commission completely misled the public about the tips that had led to Michael Bettaney.

I must also express some concern about the term "taking in washing", which in effect is what my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary described when he told the anecdote about an SIS officer being deployed abroad on a drugs surveillance operation. That causes some concern, because there is a national drugs intelligence unit arid its sole function surely is to undertake and to collect intelligence of that type.

There are also implications for the criminal justice system if SIS personnel are to be deployed abroad and to supply information that will be used in the prosecution. Are those individuals to appear in court? Will they be called as witnesses and, if so, under what circumstances?

I very much hope that the role of the commissioner will be a strong one. I hope that he will not be governed by a statutory deadline of the type that has handicapped the security commissioner in the 1989 Act. I said in an intervention that he declines to participate in the investigation of any case initiated before 10 December 1989. That precludes his investigating a very large number of complaints. I see no reason why the new commissioner should not be able to use his discretion and to investigate cases about which a file has started before the Bill goes on to the statute book.

I draw the attention of the House to a number of the damaging allegations that were mentioned earlier. I do not think that in Committee we should once again hear some of the tired old allegations that have been disproved elsewhere, that have been the subject of police investigations or, in the case of the allegations that Special Air Services officers have been training the Khmer Rouge, that have gone through the libel courts.

John Pilger has made an apology for those claims, yet one still hears allegations that the Security Service murdered Hilda Morrell, and we still hear that the Walter Mittys, such as Colin Wallace, are making serious allegations that undermine the morale of the Security Service and the Secret Intelligence Service.

I very much hope that the SIS will take the tribunal as an opportunity to ensure that there is a proper system to allow former—and current—members of those organisations to get proper clearance to be able to write their books. I hold no brief for the Peter Wrights of this world, but it is preposterous for disaffected former members of the service and others—very distinguished former members of the service—to be obliged to undergo threats from the Cabinet Office, to undergo a variety of lawsuits initiated by the Treasury Solicitor, and other experiences which are unnecessary and which cost the taxpayer an enormous amount of money.

I suggest that the tribunal should have the power to authorise individual officers to be able to make the type of non-damaging disclosures that are perfectly sensible and are allowed in the United States, Canada and elsewhere.

The Bill is a pretty good one. I regret that the Security Service is included in it, but I conclude by expressing the hope that the Bill will proceed in Committee, and that it will be a Committee of the whole House.

Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I waited until the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) finished because I have no desire to detain the House. There has come into my possession a press release, which was issued by an organisation that describes itself as a political pressure group. What disturbs me about that press release is that it attacks Members of the House, especially members of the shadow Cabinet, and the way in which they voted last night, and it gives two contact numbers, one of a Mr. Ben Lucas, the chair of the organisation, with a House of Commons telephone number, and the other of a Mrs. Cathy Ashley, a 219 number, which is also a House of Commons number. If those people are employees of the House or hon. Members, they should not be using the facilities of the House to attack Members of the House.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)

The hon. Member has made a combination of allegations. The first is a matter of privilege and I should be most grateful, if he feels that privilege is involved, if he would write formally to Madam Speaker.

As to the other matter in relation to the use of the House's facilities, the rules are quite clear. The authorities of the House will have recorded what the hon. Gentleman has said and I imagine that action will follow. I am most grateful to the hon. Member for mentioning it.

8.15 pm
Mrs. Bridget Prentice (Lewisham, East)

I shall speak in support of the Bill in principle. I will not take a walk down memory lane of the murky mystery of spy novels and people who may or may not have been involved in the security services at one time or another throughout the history of time.

Opposition Members support the Bill in principle for a number of reasons, not least of which is that we believe very much in more open government. It is especially important given the record of the Government, who have consistently refused or avoided answering questions in Parliament on so many matters.

One of my worries about the Bill, however, is the role that the Prime Minister has in appointing the committee, given that he, especially, seems to be least open to scrutiny on so many occasions. Opposition Members, on the other hand, have advocated openness and scrutiny consistently for a considerable time. It is important that security services are put on a statutory basis.

I shall speak briefly about some of my reservations about the Bill as it stands. A number of hon. Members have referred to the Home Affairs Select Committee report; the Committee had considered systems abroad in which scrutiny took place. It seemed to find no reason why parliamentary scrutiny should not be extended in this country. I believe that we should play especially close attention to the report of the Home Affairs Select Committee, whose members do not come to their decisions lightly, but have taken some time and have gone into some detail in doing so. The report says: it seems to us that the examples from abroad demonstrate that there are a number of ways in which parliamentary scrutiny of the Security Service in the United Kingdom might be improved". The House should seriously endorse that view.

The new committee should have the power to make its annual report on the way in which it carries out its duties, not to the Prime Minister, but to Parliament. Parliament is the sovereign body. It is to Parliament that any committee of the House, in whatever form, should report and I believe that that is a flaw in the Bill as it stands.

A number of hon. Members have mentioned the membership of the committee. In my view, the committee has unnecessarily few members. I very much endorsed a number of the comments made by the hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates) when he said that the committee was not a Select Committee, but would have to take on many of the attributes of a Select Committee; for example, it should be able to call in evidence, call in individuals, ask for documents, according to its own will, setting its own agenda and not according to the Security Service or under some aegis of the Prime Minister. Why is the report of the committee to be presented first to the Prime Minister, not to the House of Commons and the House of Lords?

The number of members of the committee worries us for a number of reasons. There are to be only six members, which is very few. There may be good reasons for that, such as keeping membership tight, but, given the breadth of the work to be done, I wonder whether six will be sufficient to scrutinise the services.

I found it fascinating that the right hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) felt that the committee members should be House of Commons men. I am not entirely sure what that is supposed to mean. I am not suggesting for one minute that my name should be put forward, but there are a number of hon. Ladies of all parties who would do more than a good job in scrutinising the security services. If they wish to be considered, I hope that they will be.

The committee will be discussing policy, expenditure and the management of the security services. A number of hon. Members have referred to the serious problem of the dividing line between policy and operation. We should like an assurance that there will not be constant attempts to stop the committee discussing policy on the ground that it is, in fact, operational. There must be sufficient flexibility to allow the committee to get on with its work without having to look over its shoulder and hearing the Prime Minister, the heads of the security services or someone else saying that it cannot discuss a particular issue because it is operational.

I have already referred to the disclosure of information to the committee. It is nonsensical for any committee of the House, of whatever standing, not to be able to decide of its own volition what documents it wants to see, which people it wishes to question and how it wishes to formulate its report. As the hon. Member for East Hampshire said, all other Select Committees may do so. Although the committee will not be a Select Committee, it will have to work on very similar lines.

I am surprised that the commissioner will not report to Parliament at least at the same time as he or she reports to the Prime Minister. To illustrate my point, I use as a parallel, although I know that it is not on all fours, the Select Committee on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration of which I am a member. The Commissioner comes to the Committee week in, week out, to deliver his report, respond to our questions and raise issues that he believes are of great concern in the administration of Parliament. I should have thought that the commissioner proposed under the Bill would be able to do something similar in reporting directly to the committee.

There is an omission from the Bill which my colleagues and I believe is both tragic and shameful. I refer, of course, to the reinstatement of trade unionism at GCHQ. The Prime Minister has said that he is prepared to talk to trade unions and various organisations, but, despite the fact that they have bent over backward to accommodate his concerns and those of the Government in general, he still maintains firmly that there is to be no trade unionism at GCHQ.

It is nothing short of a scandal that the workers to whom the Secretary of State today rightly paid fulsome tribute should be denied their basic right. Not one member of the Government has yet come up with a serious reason why GCHQ workers should not be members of a trade union.

It is a matter of the utmost shame for the Government and, in particular, for the Prime Minister that, after 10 years, they are still incapable of accepting that people can be trade unionists while being good patriots and professionals and able to get on with the work that the Government ask of them. You can be assured, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that my colleagues and I will be pressing that issue in Committee and beyond until those trade union rights are re-established.

The right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) was concerned that the Bill was merely a first step. As my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) said, it is a step and there are more aspects of the issue still to he developed. We have not completed the circle and there is still much more work to be done. The Bill is to be welcomed, although it is by no means perfect and much could still be added.

Finally, I ask the Minister to define the phrase "serious crimes". We might understand it to mean terrorism and the international trafficking of drugs among other things, but I should prefer it if the Bill contained something closer to a proper definition, especially in view of what is happening in relation to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill. We should know exactly whom we are targeting under the phrase "serious crimes".

Although I welcome the Bill as a first step, I regret the tragic fact that it does not reinstate the fundamental right of trade unionism for people who work on our behalf at GCHQ.

8.26 pm
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)

In a sense, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary presented the Bill as a continuum of a process enacted under the Security Service Act 1989 and reinforced by the Official Secrets Act 1989.

The House will recall that the two Acts were introduced because of episodes in our distant past. In fact, a Lord Justice advised the nation through a court judgment that we would be—I am quoting from memory—naive to suppose that a little bugging and burglary did not take place. There could be no stronger signal from the judicial process to reinforce the fact that there had been a massive breach of a concept that is important to the House arid to constitutional and democratic government—the rule of law. The judge was, of course, signifying that, under prerogative power, the security services were breaking the legislated law of the land—statute—and that that was intolerable. I am glad that my right hon. and hon. Friends who were then in government moved to regularise the position and subsequently passed the Security Service Act 1989.

I put the Bill in context because it is inconceivable that, when one is dealing with the range of the necessary defence of the nation, one does not have some form of structure that can attest to the public at large that the intelligence services are run ethically in accordance with certain basic principles.

The entire House accepts the thrust of the Bill, but I wish to explain why I think that the powers of the House and the regard in which the nation is held in the world have diminished. Executive government has an incessant need to hold the formulation of all policies and all Bills entirely unto itself. There has been no discussion with the wider and informed public about what routes we should have taken to secure the objectives that the House believes to be appropriate.

In Canada, of course, there was the McDonald commission, and even in the United States before the Church commission there was Vice-President Rockefeller's report to the then President Ford. There have also been commissions of inquiry in Australia and New Zealand.

I say all that because there has been no examination of what the security services are about, what are the guiding principles that inform their operations and their work, and what are our requirements. That is terribly important, because we are among the most important servants of the state for defending the integrity of our institutions.

When my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, as Home Secretary, introduced his original Security Service Bill, I argued—rightly, I believe—that the remit conferred on the security services was so wide that it covered almost everything. But I was pleased, and I still am, that one of the aspects of the remit, as I explained to my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason), was the recognition that one of the most important functions was to protect us from the undermining of parliamentary democracy. That is a profound principle.

If we ask ourselves what is the purpose of all those services, we must reply that it is to protect our democracy —the democratic United Kingdom of Great Britain. That is why the enunciation of principles and the manner in which we ensure that the guardians themselves are watched are important to us. I have tried to reflect on what those principles are. They have been adumbrated in other countries, and I have tried to suggest that the McDonald commission was a good enough starting point for those who, within the machinery itself, decided how to approach the problem.

I have always found it difficult to comprehend why there is such an extraordinary diffidence on the part of Ministers regarding the nature of that vital service. I do not believe that any Army Minister has the slightest compunction about following through the operational details and techniques of the armed forces. Yet, both now and in the past, we have heard Minister after Minister displaying an extraordinary attitude towards the security services. Indeed, Lord Callaghan said on television that there were many things that he would not want to know about, and did not think it appropriate to know about.

Two principles have emerged from my remarks. First, I have mentioned the Government's attention to the concept of the rule of law. Historically, we cannot have a rule of law if people are acting under prerogative powers in defiance of the legislated or statute power in the land. The Government have therefore moved to bring activities within the rule of law. I shall consider that aspect in a moment.

There is another principle underlying a democracy—surely the basic principle, the very assertion of which is now being examined at great length. I advise my right hon. Friend and other hon. Members to read the evidence from day 63 of the Scott inquiry, given by Sir Robin Butler. That is not only riveting but deeply disturbing. Sir Robin discussed what responsible, or accountable, government meant. I cannot trace through the Bill where there is an affirmation of that, and I wonder to myself. We passed the Security Service Act, and now we are considering the Intelligence Services Bill. We see common features and commmon words across the two pieces of legislation—for instance, the concept of warrants, which is essential for bringing the activity within the rule of law.

We must remember that there is no judicial interference in any of the actions in that process. Unless there is a mistake, whereby the Prime Minister determines to set up an inquiry such as that of Lord Justice Scott, we know absolutely nothing of what is happening on our behalf, at our behest and at our expense.

Those principles are of profound importance. The rule of law required us to put matters on a statutory basis; that is enormously important. A warrant issued by a Secretary of State—from the Home Office, for instance—makes lawful that which would otherwise be unlawful, without reference to any court. Most other societies have always required judicial intervention in that process. For instance, a warrant is sought from a justice or from a judge. That can be done in a secure way, and it is done to show that the Security Service is not merely the creature and the self-serving of executive government. As with the armed forces, it should be at the service of the whole nation. That is why we have to be so careful. In the Bill, in legislated form, we are providing a continuation of the process of making lawful that which would otherwise be unlawful. That point ought to be set up on high. We believe that there should be absolute attention to the rule of law.

I try to trace through who is actually accountable for the service. Clearly it is not the commissioner; clearly it is not the tribunal; clearly it is not what is now called, in that elegant phrase, a committee of parliamentarians. We must search further. Normally in our system of accountable government we expect a Minister who is both responsible and accountable to be accountable to the House of Commons. But in this extraordinary democratic society of ours we have always accepted that it is inappropriate to speak on security matters. That was so until 1989, and the legacy of that feeling still lingers over the House.

My right hon. Friend the Minister will remember that in the defence of that secrecy the present Secretary of State for Education, who was then Minister of State, Home Office, made some remarks that were funny at the time, but which now look nothing but hysterical and deeply shaming. I am trying to trace through who is responsible for the service. There are Ministers who say, "There are some matters that I do not wish to know about." There is no traced line that is clear and certain showing us who is responsible for the efficiency and efficacy of the service, and for the matching of warrants to the proportionate needs.

Why am I concerned about that? I am concerned because it touches on the most intimate freedoms of a free society. The ability to burgle my house or to tap my telephone is intrusive at the grandest levels, yet rightly we recognise that there are circumstances in which it is necessary for the well-being of us all that the ordinary decencies and proprieties of democratic government under a rule of law are not appropriate. Therefore, we must be assured that from within the wall of secrecy, as it is called today—the circle of secrecy was the term that we used more vigorously five years ago—someone can attest to the House and to the wider nation that what is being done is all appropriate.

After all, let us be frank about the fact that no committee would be being set up unless there were an unease within the House and within a broader public context. I do not know whether the scandals that we were led to enjoy in the early 1980s, and certainly in the Wright period of the early 1970s, were merited, but they left an unease. Lord Merlyn-Rees, for example, felt that he was the victim of over-enthusiastic or perverse military intelligence operatives. That should make us extremely conscious. I notice that that is perhaps why we have the prevention of subversion of parliamentary democracy as one of the objectives of the Security Service.

I am trying to pluck out the truth about where and who is the person who can attest to us and say with authority, "We have stood and looked and we can show—or rather, say; you must trust us on that basis—that this is appropriately managed, and does not overly intrude into the lives of citizens, that the warrant issued to make lawful that which would otherwise be unlawful was appropriately issued in respect of the threat identified in it."

As I have said, the remit covered by the two pieces of legislation is so wide that it could encompass almost anything that a Government wished to do, if it were malign. There is no question about that. It is extraordinary that we do not attempt to define the essence of national security. Other societies have tried to do that, and there is a reasonable argument that it may be a moving target, because the needs of a society change from generation to generation.

Mr. Rogers

I am following the hon. Gentleman's speech with great interest, but, unless I am misunderstanding him, he is giving the impression that the issuing of a warrant legitimises that which otherwise would not be legitimate, and then implying that attached to the issuing of a warrant is some sort of judicial intervention. However, the Bill specifically says that the warrant is issued by the Government, through the Government's agent, the Secretary of State.

Mr. Shepherd

If I conveyed that impression, I was wrong to do so. I do not believe that I did. I was saying that the issuing of a warrant makes lawful that which would be otherwise unlawful under the statute law of the country. As there is no judicial review of that—it is specifically excluded—it is a matter of the greatest sensitivity and why we need attestation that the process is conducted appropriately by those outside the services themselves and not by those so closely allied to the Executive that it may undermine the confidence of the public. I think that, because of the anxiety and the question of public confidence, there has been a move towards a committee of parliamentarians. I shall comment on that committee later.

Mr. Rogers

To follow that argument, the Secretary of State would have to authorise the release of documents to the committee. If the committee is to be the overseeing body, but cannot oversee operational matters—the issuing of a warrant is obviously directly related to an operational matter—there is no purview in any way of the process that the hon. Gentleman has outlined so clearly. The committee of the House, regardless of how it is set up and what it would do, would never be able to call for the reasons for the issuing of a warrant. Perhaps it never should. I am not arguing that it should, because that is an operational matter, but it would be wrong to give the impression that the committee would have the right to do it.

Mr. Shepherd

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has tried to follow what I am saying, because I do no think that we are at odds. I am considering the reasoning behind why we construct Bills and why society at large tries to address some of those points. I do not think that the Bill addresses some of those points, as I shall say. The sensitivity of the issuing of a warrant, which makes that which would otherwise be unlawful lawful and without judicial review, is therefore a matter of great importance and of great reflection for a democratic society.

Therefore, we need the means by which we can attest. The Bill does not meet that need at all and there is a respectable body of thought that feels that it is merely a palliative to reassure the public and hon. Members that the matters are being considered.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

On the operation of warrants, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, I find it extremely worrying that we have been told by Ministers in the Scott inquiry that they have no option but to sign warrants whatever they contain—

Mr. Mates

No, they have not said that.

Mr. Cohen

Yes, they have said that and they have said that they use the excuse that it is in the public interest or in the interests of national security. They are thus not accountable to the House or, presumably, to the committees for signing those warrants. Even worse, those warrants do not necessarily relate to one person, but can be a general warrant which, once a Minister has signed it, the security services may relate to many people. Is not that a worrying aspect of the operation of warrants?

Mr. Shepherd

Of course it is worrying. We are labouring a point that I was making as an indication of why we are considering the issue and why there are reasons to be not so glad-handed about the matter, as perhaps the House of Lords conveyed. The cross-bench, bipartisan approach also leads one to believe that the matter is settled. I accept what the Secretary of State said. It is a stepped approach and I do not think that the way in which the committee will be constructed will satisfy that basic test.

I was going to adumbrate, if I may, some of the principles involved in the Bill. First, I shall quote the Rockefeller report to President Ford about the balance, which is not evident in most of what has been said, certainly not today and certainly not in the Lords, and which is the essence of concerns to many people. The report states: While it is vital that security requirements be met", with which the House absolutely agrees, it is equally important that intelligence activity be conducted without impairing our democratic institutions and fundamental freedoms". I suggest that that is a principle which should inform all such matters. It is the most difficult balance to strike, which I accept. The Executive has real difficulty in trying to balance the needs, which often seem of the absolute imperative, for defence and security against those of the rights of a democracy. If we employ such draconian measures, as is possible and as has been alleged in the past, we impair the democracy.

That is why the debate is tremendously important; the essence of it concerns our freedoms, our liberties, our rule of law and the accountability of Ministers. In reconciling the security of the United Kingdom with the requirements of democracy, we should emphasise that we hold certain things to be absolutely fundamental to our understanding of democracy: first, responsible or accountable government; secondly, the rule of law; and, thirdly, an aspect of which we have not heard anything this afternoon, but which is important and over which we fought in the Official Secrets Act 1989, the right to lawful dissent. That is an essential and basic requirement of our democracy. It is not in the Security Service Act 1989. No allusion is made to it in the Bill. It is important that, in setting out the statutes relating to the conduct of matters which must be of a secret nature, there must be, in a declaratory forma an explanation of the principles on which we operate.

On the question of responsible government, I again refer to day 63 of Lord Scott's inquiry where there was a rehearsal of those arguments that I held dear and had learned from Wade and Phillips and Ivor Jennings among others, about responsible and accountable government. It means that a Minister must, if he wishes, know absolutely everything that is happening—the details of any operation if necessary—because he is accountable to the House. It does not mean that he will tell us the details of that operation, but anything of a political sensitivity must be by some mechanism instantly referred to him. That is one of the conditions that I am setting out as necessary. It does not seem to be accepted on the Floor of the House and it is certainly not accepted in the Lords.

Ministers are also proud to declare that certain things are either too secret or too important or too tendentious for them to wish to know. They may endanger the security of an act by the security or intelligence services. That self-abnegation reduces accountable government to a nonsense. If one is to have accountable government, Ministers must know everything that is happening if they wish. The principle is that they should know everything that is sensitive and likely to beg questions relating to the greatest sensitivities of our personal freedoms in this democracy.

That principle is held at arm's length and is not yet regarded by the House. I do not understand why that is, if we examine our function here to hold Ministers to account. Those Ministers control and are responsible and accountable for a service that may move into the most important facets of our liberties, freedoms and privacy. That is not outside the circle of secrecy or telling the public or even hon. Members what an operation is, what its nature is or about its details. There is no possibility of a leak.

I was trying to identify what I understood by responsible government. Lord Scott will give us another view of what it means, by the non-responsibility of Ministers for so much of what they have done over recent years.

The rule of law as the other principle is important because until the Security Service Act, unlawful acts took place. It is as simple as that. I have given the expression of a judge and we know why we had to address that issue. The McDonald commission report said: Responsible Government must mean that responsible Ministers can know about all the practices and policies of security agencies and about any of their operations which raise policy or legal issues. The security system must be an open book to responsible Ministers and to the Prime Minister. No pages in that book should be sealed because security officials think they contain information too sensitive for Ministers' or Prime Ministers' eyes or ears. Responsible Ministers cannot be expected to know everything a security agency does but they can and must be expected to know the policies governing the operations of the security agency and to establish procedures for ensuring that operations raising difficult policy issues are brought to their attention. On the rule of law, the McDonald commission says: Nor is the rule of law a principle that should be compromised for the sake of national security. Government agencies, including a security service, should not pick and choose which laws they will obey. We do not accept the idea that there are some 'minor', regulatory, laws which security agencies should be free to ignore when they stand in the way of security investigations. There may well be a need to change the laws so that exemptions are provided for members of a security agency or police force, but it is not for security agencies, or police forces, or even for the Ministers responsible for these agencies, to decide which laws apply to them and which do not. Under the rule of law in our system of government, the legislators … determine general rules of law, and disputes about the applications of the laws to particular cases are decided ultimately by the judges and juries. We have ruled out the judges and juries element, so we are dependent on Ministers.

Under the construction of an umbrella, as we got in these two Acts, we have learnt—the Minister of State was kind enough to tell me yesterday—that the commissioner will be the same commissioner for both services and GCHQ. Similarly, the members of the tribunal will be the same for the security services, GCHQ and the intelligence services. The committee of parliamentarians which the Government envisage will also have common responsibilities across the services. I welcome that. It is cohesive. There is an understanding that this is an intelligent way in which a body of knowledge and facts grows.

I shall mention in passing the right to lawful dissent. I should like to see that emphasised—it should be included in security services legislation. I do not understand why the legislation was not consolidated so that we had a clearer expression of what we wanted.

As I said, liberal democracies face a unique challenge in maintaining security of the state. The challenge is to secure democracy against its internal and external enemies without destroying democracy in the process. It follows the requirement that all security measures must be authorised or provided by law. In a sense, the Government's Bill meets that requirement. We must ensure that the investigation of subversive activity does not interfere with the freedoms of political dissent and association which are essential to a free society.

What we have is a structural edifice of law—some institutional arrangements and administrative practices. By and large, we know nothing about the administrative practices, because they are not within the public view. The tribunal and its functions and workings are not subject to judicial review and the commissioner is not subject to judicial review. Therefore, the practice must be within the circle of secrecy.

The test that I make is how well we reconcile the requirements of security with the requirements of democracy. That can be done within a parliamentary system—other countries have done it. The Government have not invited the views of hon. Members and the wider public on the construction of this structure, and there is no commission to look at the objectives that we should have. Therefore, this Bill undermines the integrity of these systems.

By and large, the Bill has the support of both Chambers. But what is this committee of parliamentarians? It is extraordinary. We have been told that its members will be notified people. That means that anything that they say is an absolute offence when it relates to the security services or matters that come into their knowledge. I was always happy that they should be Privy Councillors because it reinforced the concept of the circle of secrecy. I am well aware that many hon. Members are nervous that matters that are vital to the state's security could in some way slip out.

We must still reconcile how we can have an account from within that is independent of the Executive, the commissioners and the tribunal, but can attest to us that this is appropriate and proper. That is why any committee that is set up will meet the circle of secrecy, whether through the Privy Councillorship route or not. We know that members of the committee will be notified as well. That degree of trust is not extended to many members of the services.

We talk constantly as though we will leak information, or that those members who are designated and perhaps Privy Councillors who are looking at this will do so. However, they are denied the means to test whether the action taken or the operation was historically appropriate and effectively run. It is a self-denying ordinance that is remarkable in a democracy. The deference that is extended by Ministers and hon. Members of the House to the services for our freedom is extraordinary. In the end, it will be self-defeating. We should have a little more courage about these matters. These are decent and honourable citizens who struggle to do their best by their duty and towards their country. We should respect that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) made an important point about publication, whether it is by "russet-coated" gentlemen or those "with little eyes". Nicholas Elliott has given a valuable oversight about the value of those services. He lists at the back of his very short book—I do not mean to do a paean of praise for it—some of the tasks identified by hon. Members that must be done in an uncertain and shifting world.

Like all other hon. Members in the House, I give a reluctant or half-hearted cheer, because this measure is not as worthy of this nation as we expect. What I am saying is that we should stand up for the people in the services. They are our servants and servants of the public, just as we are servants. We respect them and want to help them.

However, we must be able to attest to the public through some form of proper oversight committee, not the neutered committee provided for in the Bill, that these people are working effectively and efficiently on our behalf with the large sums of money that they command for that vital purpose. In many ways, what they do is more vital than some of our armed forces today in the wars that are important to us—the wars against terrorism, drugs and those who undermine society.

The construction of this structure was approached in a typical British way. We are the darkest state for secrecy. We conceive our laws in the most secret way, deliver them to the House of Commons and then fight that the House may not change a line or comma. That has brought a terrible tension to so many issues. The proposition is clear —we want effective, efficient and secure security services across the range of activities.

The House is supportive, and there is no question about that. The Bill returns to Whitehall the absolute which it must always hold and the one thing which is now causing it to crack—the need for absolute secrecy over how it comes to its judgments. It must itself determine the shape of all the legislation before the House, including that which relates to the security services.

I wonder in my heart of hearts who conceived the Bill. Was it Ministers of the Crown working on principles that we have set out in the House, or was it a secret bureaucracy? I do not mean secret in the sense of the security services but as it relates to Whitehall, which has been opened up to us in an unprecedented manner through the Scott inquiry. The deepest and most anxious thing about that inquiry is the contempt that those involved hold towards this House. We must assert that we expect ethical and open government.

8.58 pm
Mr. Peter Mandelson (Hartlepool)

It is with great pleasure that I follow the hon. Member for AldridgeBrownhills (Mr. Shepherd) and the important values that he articulated, which, I am sure, we all share.

I cannot compete with many of the hon. Members who have spoken in their knowledge of the detail of the intelligence services or, in some cases, the fantasy that they displayed about the operation of the security services. However, I have a strong and settled view of my own, which is that the intelligence services are a necessary and perfectly legitimate part of government.

People accept the secretive and potentially dangerous interference with their freedom because of the protection which they get in return from it. Hon. Members have stated the variety of threats that are posed to our country, and they do not need further repeating. I have no difficulty and, I am sure, the people whom I represent in the House have no difficulty in justifying the operation and the conduct of the intelligence services.

The question for us is what principles and framework should govern the operation of the intelligence services. What guards and protection of our civil liberties need to be erected and strengthened through the enactment of this legislation? Specifically, what important parliamentary oversight and public regulation of the security and intelligence services should follow from the Secret Intelligence Service being placed on a statutory basis, as the Security Service already is?

The framework of the Bill offers a worthwhile set of checks and balances which should be neither dismissed out of hand, as some have implied in their speeches, nor accepted without question. There are many important questions and possible amendments to the Bill which we need to consider, and there are a number of areas that we need to probe. In responding to the debate, the Minister should give some elucidation of the Government's view.

We must ask whether the three distinct provisions for oversight which are set out in the Bill—the creation of the commissioner, the tribunal and the parliamentary committee or, more appropriately, the committee of parliamentarians—have real powers which would be capable of being exercised effectively, or whether they have the pretence of powers which could be all too easily brushed aside.

The right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) referred to the variety of arrangements that exist in different countries for providing some oversight of the security services. He offered his own opinion that in each country all the arrangements are different. I suggest that in none of the countries that the right hon. Gentleman has examined are the arrangements quite so toothless—[Interruption.] I am offering that as my view, not as the view of the right hon. Gentleman.

The powers set out in the Bill may be more appropriately described as circumscribed. The Government's approach in the Bill to the oversight powers which they are seeking to establish can best be described as one of positive containment of those they are setting up and to whom they are giving powers. Of course, that makes the selection or appointment of those who will fill the various positions created in this Bill all the more important. If there is a small set of timorous individuals, the powers that have been established will be all the less significant. We must have some aggressive tigers in those roles and positions if the powers are to have any effect.

Reference has been made to clause 7 of the Bill, which enables the Secretary of State to authorise illegal activities outside Britain. I question, as others have done before me, whether the powers outlined in clause 7 are too sweeping. I ask the Minister specifically whether the terms of clause 7 refer to illegal activities authorised by the Secretary of State himself or to activities authorised in his name but not necessarily by him directly or personally. That makes an enormous difference to our attitude to that authorisation. I hope that the Minister will refer to what level of decision-making might be envisaged in the authorisation.

Thirdly, I question whether the powers of intelligence chiefs and Ministers to block information and restrict access are too great. My right hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert) referred to schedule 3. Paragraph 4 of schedule 3 refers to "sensitive information", which is by any measure extremely embracing, not to say draconian, in its sweep. I wonder whether there should be some override mechanism or some means of arbitration between the individuals and bodies proposed in the Bill. I should like to know the Minister's views on that.

Next, we should go in some detail into the issue of search and tapping warrants and ask whether it should be left exclusively in ministerial rather than judicial hands. Presumably the Government have thought the matter through and have good reasons for wanting to remove judicial hands entirely from the issue of warrants. Perhaps the Minister will explain why. I wonder whether the Commissioner should be empowered by the Bill to intervene at a slightly earlier stage than is envisaged in the Bill in the issue of such warrants.

I also wonder whether there should be greater and earlier disclosure of records if no threat to national security is involved. I wonder what criteria the Government have in mind for the disclosure of those records and what definition of national security they have in mind. A definition was set out in the Security Service Act 1989, but it is not in the Bill. We should know why and what definition of national security the Government have in mind.

An inportant matter that is of great concern to me and my hon. Friends is recognition of trade unions at Government Communications Headquarters. It is unfortunate that, following a meeting between trade union representatives and the Prime Minister before Christmas, at which possible means of resolving the disagreement involving the the creation of no-strike arrangements were floated, the Prime Minister decided to dismiss the proposals out of hand. That decision would need considerable justification by the Minister in our consideration of the Bill.

If the trust of the public in the intelligence services is to be cemented, the provisions of the Bill should be strengthened in several areas, some of which I have mentioned. Above all, if oversight is to mean anything —I do not confuse it with operational supervision, which I shall come to in a moment—I agree with the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills that the Bill should provide clear principles for the operation of the security services. It should set out clear standards below which the services are not expected to fall.

The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills referred to the Canadian royal commission, which set out some clear guidelines, and he has referred to some of those guidelines. Time does not permit me to describe others, but they commend themselves. Obviously, a great deal of thought has been given to the subject in Canada. The guidelines set out by the Canadian royal commission provide a useful rubric which might be employed by the Intelligence and Security Committee when it is set up as a result of the enactment of the Bill.

For me, the heart of the issue is not simply the external oversight of the security services, but the operational supervision—a term which I use advisedly. I share the views of my colleagues who do not believe that oversight means involvement or dabbling in the day-to-day details and activities of the security services. But operational supervision is very important indeed. Day-to-day control of the security services is not, and should not be, a function of any parliamentary committee; it is a function of Ministers, and Ministers alone.

The central and last point of my speech is that, in my view, it is a question not whether the Bill properly makes a shift from a presumption of secrecy to accountability in the operation of the security services—in theory it obviously does, and that is welcome—but whether, as a result of the shift, the intelligence services, in their day-to-day operation, will be better directed, more capably managed and more efficiently controlled by Ministers. I believe that this will depend, above all, on the performance of Ministers, the attitude they bring to their work in this crucial area of government, the discretion that they exercise and the scrupulous use of their powers and on the attitudes that are passed on to the heads of the security and intelligence services. For me, this is of paramount importance.

At the beginning of the debate, the Foreign Secretary said—I paraphrase his remarks—that the security services do not work to their own agenda, that they do not work without direction and instructions from Ministers, that they carry out their tasks in relation to specific policies. It is immensely difficult, but extremely important, to ensure that when the Intelligence and Security Committee approaches its work it will not be unduly frustrated and obfuscated by a fussy and pedantic ministerial distinction between tasks and policies. This afternoon, the Foreign Secretary established clearly that they are the two sides of the same coin. It is very difficult to disentangle from the policies laid down by Ministers the tasks that are carried out in pursuit of those policies. Both must be subject to questioning and scrutiny by the committee made up of hon. Members.

This is a crucial and central issue, which I hope that the Minister will address. The Foreign Secretary did not go into it in sufficient detail. Recorded remarks of a previous Home Secretary indicated that it was impossible to make a distinction between operation and policy. That was his argument against having any oversight at all. In moving away from that view, we need to ensure that hon. Members understand much more clearly how tasks and policies will be understood and disentangled, if at all. It is on the impact of greater openness and of opportunity to question the political control of the services that success or failure for this legislation hang.

In other areas of administration, the scrutiny and accountability of Ministers afforded by parliamentary oversight results in better government. Exactly the same applies to the intelligence and security services. A principal aim of the Bill must be that the creation of checks and balances will focus Ministers' minds and help to ensure high standards and effectiveness in operational supervision. The oversight for which the Bill provides is the means by which we shall drive Ministers to achieve those high standards and that effectiveness. If that is not achieved, the legislation will be worthless.

The intelligence services only collect information. The Joint Intelligence Committee analyses it and Ministers must decide what to do as a result of that analysis. Ministers are therefore crucial. It may well be, as some hon. Members have suggested, that before the Falklands war or the invasion of Kuwait the intelligence services were somewhat at fault. I do not know—I do not have enough knowledge to say—but I hazard a guess that if the services were at fault on those occasions they are certainly exceeded by the number of occasions, areas and subjects on which the services got it right, averted conflict and secured our country's national interest.

Ultimately, Ministers must take responsibility for their own and others' actions. Throughout the Scott inquiry, we have witnessed the ability and inclination of some Ministers to overlook matters from time to time that it would be expedient for them not to see, to react and act expediently when they so wish and when it would be politically embarrassing for them to do otherwise, and even to mislead Parliament when it suited them and then to try to shuffle off responsibility when they were found out. The Bill should guard against that happening in relation to the security and intelligence services and prevent such sloppy and cavalier attitudes on the part of some Ministers. I believe that the Bill will be extremely important, once enacted, as a means of guarding against such behaviour and arresting it.

9.16 pm
Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury)

Earlier in the debate, my right hon. Friends the Members for Bridgwater (Mr. King) and for Epsom and Ewell (Sir A. Hamilton) and my hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates) were able to speak from their direct experience of the service that the security and intelligence services have rendered.

In the days when I served as a bag carrier and general factotum to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, I was rightly never privy to the working methods of those services or to details of the information that they gained. However, I knew enough about what was happening in the Foreign Office to know this. In 1990, when British subjects were in hiding in Kuwait following the Iraqi invasion and other British subjects were being detained as hostages within Iraq, the information gleaned by our security and intelligence services helped the Government to advise and reassure relatives waiting in distress at home and to shape the diplomatic initiatives that enabled real help and comfort to be brought to those British citizens in need.

I certainly agreed with the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) when he spoke of the necessity for intelligence and security services in the British state today. I must confess that when I first studied the Bill and realised that the Government had agreed to some measure of parliamentary scrutiny of the work of those services I thought that perhaps they had gone too far. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) very fairly drew attention to the paradox that one could have two kinds of committee. One could have a committee that was privy to the innermost workings of the security and intelligence services and, for that reason, could never divulge its findings—for good or for ill—to those in a position to take the appropriate action. Alternatively, one could have a committee whose members would be excluded from detailed knowledge of the workings of those services and therefore incapable of carrying out their task.

Having listened to the assurances given by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and studied the B ill in more detail I am somewhat reassured, although I would always want to be satisfied by Ministers that they are striking the right balance between desirable openness and the very necessary secrecy that must still apply to the work of the British security and intelligence services.

I listened particularly to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater, who talked about the need for greater supervision: of the budgets of the security and intelligence services. Anyone who has in recent years watched Vauxhall palace rise brick by brick over the London skyline would support the need for such scrutiny and the need for it be rigorous.

The hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Mrs. Prentice) and my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills talked about accountability. I found myself unable to support the hon. Lady's argument that the Intelligence and Security Committee and the commissioner should report directly to Parliament rather than to the Prime Minister and to the relevant Secretaries of State. The security and intelligence services are part of the central core of what constitutes the state and, therefore, it is right that they should report to the relevant Ministers and that those Ministers be held accountable to the House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills spoke, as always, with passion and eloquence and from the noblest of motives. I differ from him in that he gave insufficient weight to the safeguards that are provided by the institutions and political culture developed through this country's history and tradition. He put too much confidence in written constitutions and statutory rules and regulations, which will prove worthless in the absence of the right culture in government, as has been shown in the histories of other states during this century.

The Government have sought correctly to strike a balance between openness and secrecy and they have displayed caution in striking that balance. Because of the nature of the services that we are debating today, that caution is amply justified and therefore I am very willing to support the Bill.

9.21 pm
Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)

The debate has been extremely interesting. Throughout the afternoon, a large number of hon. Members have been present and, for myself, it has been an education. I enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) and I shall refer to it later. His speech, as much as anyone else's, touched on some of the fundamental questions that face us when we deal with issues such as security, the balance between security and the rights of individuals, and the general concept of parliamentary democracy.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), the shadow Foreign Secretary, said in his opening remarks that the Opposition support the Bill and will not divide the House on Second Reading. We support it because we believe that it is necessary to put the secret service on a statutory basis.

I also pay tribute to and thank the men and women of the intelligence services who, over many years, have played a crucial part in the protection of British interests and citizens around the world. Other hon. Members have alluded to the fact that we are a secret and secretive society. That secrecy pertains not only to the matters under discussion today, but in general to the Government. Regardless of the fact that the Government have appointed a Minister with responsibility for open government, day by day, they continually, whether because of arrogance or incompetence, or because of a combination of the two, close up and become more secretive. Indeed, as some Conservative Members have said, the Government have compounded the position by subverting the parliamentary process.

We recognise that the effectiveness of the country's security and intelligence services depends on a degree of secrecy that would be unacceptable in other institutions. But that very latitude puts them in a unique position to abuse their powers and, on behalf of their political masters, to use them in ways that are no longer acceptable in a democratic society. It is therefore crucial that the need for complete secrecy is carefully considered and that all other options are explored before it is accepted.

Over the years, British society has shown that it is perfectly prepared to accept limitations on personal freedoms where those are absolutely necessary, and even the abrogation of principles of political, financial and legal accountability. Even where full accountability is not possible, the people of this country have accepted other democratic options. If the presumption of accountability is not adopted but, instead, a presumption of secrecy continues, can society be satisfied that the secret services exist to protect it, not to threaten it?

There are now too many examples of the complacency of the secret service in this country and in other countries. That matter was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) and other hon. Members on both sides of the House. Inevitably, the nature of the service is such that many of the stories put about —I shall refer later to the contribution by the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason)—are false, exaggerated or rely on fantasy. But because of the present position of the security services and the fact that they have been avowed in the past, they cannot correct those stories. That difficulty adds weight to the argument that the maximum political and legal control should be exercised and be seen to be exercised to convice society that a demand for secrecy is made only when secrecy is absolutely necessary.

Although the effectiveness of the security services depends on secrecy, our acceptance of the Bill depends on parliamentary scrutiny of the secret services. We are convinced that the Bill is not only badly drafted but does not provide for proper parliamentary scrutiny. Aften even a cursory reading of the Bill, we can see that its construction is such that it poses more questions than it answers. That fact has been mentioned by hon. Members on both sides of the House. For that reason alone, although we shall not vote against the Bill this evening, we shall seek substantial clarification and amendment in Committee. I was pleased to hear some Conservative Members say that they, too, want that to happen.

Besides its bad drafting and the many ambiguities that it contains, the Bill introduces some novel legal and constitutional concepts that are not elucidated or explained. We shall want to explore those in Committee. For example, the activities of the Security Service on mainland Britain need to be defined. We may find that, on further examination, the activities that the Bill allows in overseas countries might breach international treaties and obligations. Those are all matter for serious consideration.

Will the Minister clarify in his winding speech what is meant by "the British islands" mentioned in the Bill? As far as I have been able to ascertain, there is no legal or constitutional definition. I should like to know what exactly is meant by "the British islands". It would be extremely useful if we had a definition before we reached Committee.

The Foreign Secretary has now joined us. I enjoyed his opening remarks this afternoon. On certain occasions, I felt that he was not quite sure about the substance of the Bill that he was introducing. [Interruption.] It was fairly obvious from some of his remarks that were picked up by my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland, who asked the Foreign Secretary some questions that he was unable to answer, but perhaps that is not unusual.

One point that the Foreign Secretary made which I found perhaps not laughable but rather sad was that we needed the secret service because of weapon proliferation. I should have thought that the easiest way for a Foreign Secretary to overcome weapon proliferation was actively to pursue the control of arms and the arms trade and to introduce an arms register that could be properly supervised rather than to say that we must have a secret service to control the movement of arms. The mechanisms exist so long as the Government are honestly prepared to subscribe to them.

Mr. King

Quite apart from the question of treaty control and arms treaties—and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister instituted the proposal of a register for the sale of arms—a real problem is what might be called the free market. There is a real problem of gangster groups and others stealing weapons and seeking to sell them to the highest bidder. It is not a breach of confidence to say that out intelligence services and others have already done some important work in preventing that illicit trade.

Mr. Rogers

I accept what the right hon. Gentleman says. He brings his vast experience as an ex-Secretary of State for Defence to the debate. I am sure that he will also accept that, if the Governments of the western world applied themselves to implementing an arms register and properly controlling arms, we would be well down the road towards preventing the proliferation of weapons, particularly weapons of mass destruction—and I do not mean only nuclear weapons.

The right hon. Gentleman was right to emphasise that Russian arms, for instance, are freely available in many parts of the world. However, I am not sure that we need a secret service to tell us that. Such facts are fairly obvious, even to the Conservative party.

The Conservative party has a fairly bad record in such matters. Over the past five or six years, as the ex-Secretary of State for Defence will know, I have been asking questions about the export of arms to Iraq. As many hon. Members have said, the Scott inquiry is looking into the matter, and some right hon. and hon. Members have threatened to resign if they are criticised by the Scott inquiry. The inquiry certainly has grounds for substantial criticism of the Government.

As for weapon proliferation, perhaps it would be better if the Foreign Secretary put his own house in order before suggesting the prescription he put forward today.

Many right hon. and hon. Members have raised important points about the substance of the Bill. The whole process of accountability, for example, was rehearsed by many hon. Members, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland spoke of our general unhappiness with the Government's minimalist approach to the process of reporting to, scrutiny by and accountability to Parliament. If there is to be anything other than a charade of parliamentary accountability, a different mechanism must be introduced.

Almost every hon. Member who has spoken in the debate has said that the mechanisms in the Bill will not be adequate for proper parliamentary scrutiny and proper accountability. Accountability to Parliament is an important aspect of the Bill and of what we are all about. But there is also accountability the other way—to society and the law, not only the law of this land, but when we are talking about a foreign intelligence service, as MI6 is, accountability to the laws of other lands. The Bill does not give real and substantial control over the work of the services to Parliament. Accountability is necessary, because agents of the state who act on its behalf must be subject to adequate control by the electorate, the people of this country whom, as the hon. Member for AldridgeBrownhills said, we serve. Although there was some misunderstanding across the Dispatch Box this afternoon, we agreed that just under £1 billion a year is spent by the secret service agencies. The three services must be accountable to ensure that those large sums of money are properly accounted for so that they are used efficiently and effectively. Secrecy encourages inefficiency.

Other issues of accountability that emerged were membership, structure, functions and the role of the committee itself, which will be set up in the House under the proposals in the Bill. The appointment system will be carried out after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition, but will be solely in the hands of the Prime Minister. It is specifically provided that the Prime Minister also has the right to remove a person whom he does not want to serve on the committee. It will not be a committee of the House; it will not be responsible to the House. It will be a committee of the Prime Minister. The idea that some form of parliamentary accountability is being introduced is complete nonsense.

It is presumed that the security services will vet the members before they are put on the committee. I do not know how many hon. Members, from both sides of the House, put in their bids to be members of the committee, or for chairmanship of it, but whenever I have looked up into the Galleries and into the Box, some faces have been fairly constant. I presume that hon. Members are presently being vetted for their membership of the commitee, even as they speak. I am sorry to have to tell those hon. Members who have been absent all day and have just come in that they are non-runners. They will certainly not be joining the starting line-up. I am sure that everyone who aspires to membership of the committee recognises that its role, as the Bill says, in examining the expenditure, administration and policy will need to be defined. I think that it was the right hon. Members for Guildford (Mr. Howell) and for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) who said that membership of the committee would involve a lot of hard work, that it could not be someone dodging in and out and saying, "I'll do half an hour here and half an hour there." To have any form of scrutiny in this poorly constructed committee, it will be necessary for people to dedicate themselves to the job in hand.

When the Bill is in Committee, I hope that we will be able to get clear definitions of what we are about and the matters that we are to address. One issue that we will want to address is the committee's access to information. If what is to come to the committee will be vetted by the Prime Minister, the director-general of the relevant service and anyone else who wants to chip in before it even comes to the committee, it will be a charade; it will be nonsense. Not only will the Committee have not much of a role to play; what role it has will be worthless in any event.

If, as we have heard today, the culture of the services restricts the provision of information to a need-to-know basis, it seems to me that the committee will need to know nothing; any information that is likely to be contentious will be sidelined or removed by the Prime Minister before it can even reach the committee. Even if it percolates through that sieve, by the time the committee reports to the Prime Minister—it will not be reporting to Parliament—the whole concept of parliamentary scrutiny will have gone by the board.

I am not sure whether the Secretary of State is present in his role as Minister for open government or in his capacity as Minister for the Cabinet Office. Perhaps he or the Foreign Secretary can assure us that they are prepared to examine the serious arguments advanced by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I could deal with many serious issues that have been raised, but, because of the agreement between the Front Benches, I must close my speech. Let me end by referring to a matter that has been mentioned more by Opposition Members than by Conservatives.

I welcome the return to the Chamber of the hon. Member for Torbay. I found his "Book at Bedtime" extremely interesting.

One of the most important issues with which we shall deal in Committee is the question of trade union membership at GCHQ. I know that the former Home Secretary—who was involved in the decision about GCHQ, and who is again involved as Foreign Secretary —has a particular view, and much has been said about the matter. The Labour party, however, is completely and consistently opposed to the Government's continued stubborn refusal to see sense. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland said, when the Labour Government are elected we will end that abuse of human rights and democracy.

9.42 pm
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. William Waldegrave)

I may not be able to do full justice to the many good speeches that have been made, partly because I have been left with slightly less time than was planned.

The Bill has received a broad welcome from a variety of quarters in the House. Serious speeches were made by, for instance, the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel), my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) and the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham).

Although the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) ended his speech in a slightly eccentric way, he began by saying, "We support the Bill." The right hon. Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert)—to whose speech I shall return several times—made a formidable contribution, as did a number of my colleagues. My right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Sir A. Hamilton), along with my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), touched the tiller in the other direction, expressing anxiety lest we go too far.

There was universal support for one aspect of the legislation. In this regard, I have the backing of both my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) and the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin)—who, at one point, made me a little nervous by saying that we were taking a small step in the right direction: he does not often say that to me. Both agreed that —in the words of the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale—there was no lack of targets in the new world. Fortunately, there is no lack of new targets for serious, well-organised and well-tasked intelligence services.

I echo the tributes that many hon. Members have paid to the service provided by those whom the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) rightly described as public servants like any others—public servants, however, who often live in dangerous and hazardous conditions, and serve us very well. Given the strengths of this country in the new world—given the cards that we must play and the pieces that we can deploy on the international chess boards —our intelligence services are a major asset to the country and the free world. We should preserve and honour them.

We should therefore oversee them properly. It is to their credit that they now strongly believe that there should be proper oversight, and that they especially believe that all the services should be put on a statutory basis, which is now right.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) rightly paid tribute to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, one of whose many achievements has been completely to change round the way in which we approach those matters in this country—first the Security Service, now the other two agencies. He did so under the leadership of the present Prime Minister, but I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.

As to the operational details, there has, with one or two exceptions, been unanimity about the fact that any sensible democratic assembly will exercise, in the phrase—although he approached it with some care—of my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills, a self-denying ordinance about the investigation of operational details.

The right hon. Member for Copeland made a good analogy in a sense—it is only an analogy—with police affairs. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills is right to say that the House has the power to inspect everything, but it is the sign of a mature democracy that it sets itself some self-denying ordinances. There are many others, in less sensitive sectors, but it is right to do so in the intelligence sector above all.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall), in what I thought was an impressive speech, said that we should consider the Bill from the point of view of people working in the services, and he is right to say that we should have that perspective.

I would add another perspective. One should consider the Bill also from the point of view of someone who might, at considerable risk to himself or herself, perhaps in a totalitarian or fascist country, be considering working with one of our agencies. That situation occurs regularly, and such people do great service to freedom, and to their own countries in the end. The agent who is working with him has to be able to say that his life is secure; that there will not be too many people poking about in the works of the thing, and that the thing is properly secure.

I believe that those people who said that we should be careful about operational details were right. I believe also—in this respect I agree with the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), on one point if not on others—that there has been an atmosphere, to some extent, of mutual suspicion. If we can now get arrangements right, as I believe we are doing, that mutual suspicion, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills also referred, will diminish and—of great help to the people who do that serious work—the atmosphere of fantasy in which the work of the services is so often written about will dissolve.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is probably doing a great disservice to a productive British industry—the production of fantastical spy stories, on which we are experts. My right hon. Friend is an author of distinction, so he may damage his own sales. I hope that he will not damage the sales of the works of my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay or anyone of that type. The more openness and sensible accounting we do, the less absurd stories are generated, the less fantasy develops, the less nonsense is talked.

An argument was made about the money. One of the best ways of hiding information is to publish it in Hansard. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister answered a written question in Hansard on 30 November 1993, which said that the budget was about £900 million at the moment, so there is no great mystery about that.

Before I discuss more important matters, I shall reply to some minor arguments. The right hon. Member for Copeland quoted from the report of the Security Service Act Commissioner, Lord Justice Stuart-Smith, and chilled our blood for a moment with the first part of what he said. The commissioner said: I cannot answer the question categorically as to whether there are illegal operations because it is not my function to review the operations of the Service and in the nature of things such operations"— this was the point on which he put emphasis— if they existed, would be concealed". For some reason, the right hon. Gentleman stopped reading at that point, but Lord Justice Stuart-Smith continued: I consider that I am in a position as a result of my experience over the past three years to express an informed opinion on this question. It is my opinion that such operations are not undertaken. He then cited four reasons why he believed that to be the case. I therefore think that the right hon. Gentleman was expressing an unnecessary anxiety.

The British islands, which confused the hon. Member for Rhondda are statutorily defined. They are outlined in the Interpretation Act 1978 and are standard in legislation. They include the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.

The structure of the Bill has general support, but I shall come back to the aspects over which there is straightforward disagreement. I should not have expected the representatives of the Labour party to abandon their previous view in relation to a Select Committee. They have, quite fairly, put it to the House again today, and I make no complaint about that.

However, the structure of having a commissioner and a tribunal and an oversight committee—the right hon. Member for Copeland then argued about the nature of such a committee—has broad support. That is a considerable step forward and I hope that it will form the basis for a good deal of further agreement if we can work out some of the details in Committee.

Many of the details are technical. We must discuss in Committee the question of privilege, which was raised by the right hon. Member for Dudley, East. It is not for me to define privilege, but we must ensure that the reports from the committee can be handled properly, and that the people who come before the committee are properly protected. Such issues are exactly those which the Committee must discuss. I shall deal later with the committee, which has caused the most argument.

The hon. Member for Hartlepool made foreign comparisons, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater in his excellent speech. Everyone says, as a cliché that needs no further proof, that Britain is the most secretive society in the world. However, if the Bill is passed, as I hope it will be, we shall be far from the most secretive.

It is impossible to find any reference to the French security services in French statute, and there is no oversight of their proceedings. The French are at one extreme and the Americans at the other. If the Bill is passed, we shall be in a position not unlike that in Australia and Canada. There will be differences, but the positions will be comparable. Right hon. and hon. Members need not think that we are far out of the sensible pack in this respect.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) said that he hoped that we were offering the Bill as a considered view by which we would stick, not as a first step to something else. We have thought long and hard about the balance we needed to strike, and we believe that we have arrived at a solution which once it has been put into practice, will be seen to work, will gather authority and respect in the House and outside and will not be only a temporary change leading to something else.

The right hon. Member for Copeland teased us that we had changed our minds on some matters. That is so, but there is nothing dishonourable in our changing our minds. The Labour party should not use that argument without some care, because, as I understand it, the Labour party's present position is that it has changed its mind about everything in which it believed in the early 1980s, so it is now a different party.

That appears to cause some tension in various part of the party, but the right hon. Member for Copeland is now much more comfortable with his party's policy than he was in the early 1980s. I suspect that he believes the changes have been a good thing, but some of his colleagues may have forgotten they have changed their minds.

Let us consider the arguments for a Select Committee versus the committee proposed in the Bill. It is perfectly right to say—and best to make it absolutely clear—that the proposed committee is not a committee of Parliament in the usual sense, but a committee of parliamentarians.

It is better to be entirely clear about that. We propose to introduce a more or less unique committee. I can find no exact parallel. It was eloquently argued by the right hon. Member for Copeland and by several of his colleagues that the committee should be a Select Committee. We have considered the case for doing so, and I shall now examine the arguments.

The right hon. Member for Dudley, East put out a seductive stall, saying that we could have a Select Committee under such controls that its members would effectively be nominated by the Prime Minister, by a resolution put before the House of Commons, and its publications could be controlled by the Prime Minister, as could the sidelining. By the end of his argument, the right hon. Gentleman had persuaded himself that there would be little difference between his Select Committee and our committee, except in the timing of its publications.

In that case, I believe that those who are dissatisfied with our committee, such as the hon. Member for Workington, would soon become dissatisfied with the Select Committee suggested by the right hon. Member for Dudley, East, too. They might feel that a Select Committee should not be trammelled in that way.

The right hon. Member for Dudley, East was fair in a way, because he said that we were missing a presentational trick. However, in order to gain in presentational terms, we would run the risk—which was mentioned by several of my hon. Friends and by the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale—of losing the significant elements of control. We should not do that simply for presentational gain; I agree with the right hon. Member about that.

I have little time left, and I cannot cover many points that I should like to have discussed. I shall write to hon. Members about those. The other crucial factor concerns the committee's access to information and its powers to summon other people. We shall need to examine those matters closely in Committee.

I believe that some hon. Members have made themselves unnecessarily nervous about the Secretary of State's powers under the Bill. The provision in schedule 3, paragraph 3(1)(b)(ii), that says that he can refuse access or override information is subject to subparagraph (4), which says that he cannot do so on grounds of national security alone. He can use that power only to control the kind of information that would not be given by Ministers to a Select Committee. That does not trammel the committee, and the argument is not to do with the limitation of sensitive information, other than that limited by paragraph 4, which deals with operations. I believe that there is a broad consensus on both sides of the House on that paragraph.

The right hon. Member for Dudley, East also mentioned the Lord Chancellor's point about operations. I believe that we broadly agree that schedule 3, paragraph 4, restricts the disclosure of sensitive information to the committee only when that information is about particular operations. The hon. Member for Hartlepool used the word "tasking". As I am sure he knows, that word has a proper meaning in this sphere.

The committee will be involved in very secret areas that have never before been shared with others outside the Secretary of State's responsibilities—for example, matters to do with the tasking of the services. The committee will not only deal with high-level policy in a broad-brush way; it will be able to examine the actual tasking, the money and the organisational structures.

The committee will be fully trusted, and fully inside the secret wall. I believe that the result, while it will not establish within the House the parliamentary accountability that, for reasons that I have not had time to do more than sketch out tonight, we believe would be extremely difficult to organise, will be to spread the reassurance that senior, trusted people on both sides of the House share the secrets of the services, and have a formidable power to cause trouble for the Government.

Somebody asked earlier where the teeth were. The teeth consist of the fact that the committee, staffed by very senior Members of the House, will have the right not to publish stuff that would damage national security—which it would not want to do—but to write a report saying, "We believe that things are not being handled properly, and that Ministers are not responding properly." No Government in their senses would want to risk such criticism. That is why the committee will be powerful, and that is why I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Dr. John Cunningham

There are clear constitutional issues involved in the proposals. Therefore, I beg to move, That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the whole House.

Question put, That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the whole House:—

The House divided: Ayes 122, Noes 299.

DIVISION No. 138] [10 pm
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Cousins, Jim
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Cryer, Bob
Barnes, Harry Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)
Bayley, Hugh Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John
Bermingham, Gerald Dafis, Cynog
Betts, Clive Dalyell, Tam
Boyes, Roland Darling, Alistair
Bradley, Keith Davidson, Ian
Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E) Dixon, Don
Burden, Richard Donohoe, Brian H.
Caborn, Richard Dowd, Jim
Callaghan, Jim Eagle, Ms Angela
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Eastham, Ken
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Etherington, Bill
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Evans, John (St Helens N)
Cann, Jamie Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Chisholm, Malcolm Fatchett, Derek
Clapham, Michael Faulds, Andrew
Clark, Dr David (South Shields) Fisher, Mark
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Flynn, Paul
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Cohen, Harry Foulkes, George
Connarty, Michael George, Bruce
Corston, Ms Jean Gerrard, Neil
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Godman, Dr Norman A. Miller, Andrew
Graham, Thomas Mudie, George
Gunnell, John O'Brien, William (Normanton)
Hall, Mike O'Neill, Martin
Hanson, David Pickthall, Colin
Hardy, Peter Pike, Peter L.
Harman, Ms Harriet Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Hinchliffe, David Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E)
Home Robertson, John Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Hood, Jimmy Purchase, Ken
Hoon, Geoffrey Quin, Ms Joyce
Hoyle, Doug Randall, Stuart
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Hutton, John Rogers, Allan
Illsley, Eric Rooney, Terry
Ingram, Adam Salmond, Alex
Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side) Sedgemore, Brian
Jones, leuan Wyn (Ynys Môn) Sheerman, Barry
Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O) Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn) Short, Clare
Kilfoyle, Peter Skinner, Dennis
Lewis, Terry Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Livingstone, Ken Snape, Peter
Llwyd, Elfyn Spearing, Nigel
Loyden, Eddie Spellar, John
McAllion, John Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)
McAvoy, Thomas Steinberg, Gerry
McCartney, Ian Turner, Dennis
Macdonald, Calum Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
McLeish, Henry Welsh, Andrew
McMaster, Gordon Wicks, Malcolm
McWilliam, John Wigley, Dafydd
Mahon, Alice Winnick, David
Mandelson, Peter Wise, Audrey
Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn) Tellers for the Ayes:
Martlew, Eric Mr. Jack Thompson and Mr. Chris Mullin.
Meale, Alan
Michael, Alun
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Burt, Alistair
Aitken, Jonathan Butcher, John
Alexander, Richard Butler, Peter
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Butterfill, John
Amess, David Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Ancram, Michael Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry)
Arbuthnot, James Carlisle, John (Luton North)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Carrington, Matthew
Ashby, David Cash, William
Aspinwall, Jack Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Atkins, Robert Churchill, Mr
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E) Clappison, James
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ruclif)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North) Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Baldry, Tony Coe, Sebastian
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Colvin, Michael
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Congdon, David
Bates, Michael Conway, Derek
Batiste, Spencer Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)
Beggs, Roy Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Bellingham, Henry Cope, Rt Hon Sir John
Bendall, Vivian Cran, James
Biffen, Rt Hon John Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)
Blackburn, Dr John G. Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Davies, Quentin (Stamford)
Boswell, Tim Davis, David (Boothferry)
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Day, Stephen
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia Deva, Nirj Joseph
Bowden, Andrew Devlin, Tim
Bowis, John Dorrell, Stephen
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Brandreth, Gyles Dover, Den
Brazier, Julian Duncan, Alan
Bright, Graham Duncan-Smith, Iain
Browning, Mrs. Angela Dunn, Bob
Burns, Simon Dykes, Hugh
Elletson, Harold Knapman, Roger
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Knight, Mrs Angela (Ere wash)
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield) Knight, Greg (Derby N)
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon) Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)
Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley) Knox, Sir David
Evans, Roger (Monmouth) Kynoch, George (Kincardine)
Faber, David Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Fabricant, Michael Lawrence, Sir Ivan
Fairbaim, Sir Nicholas Legg, Barry
Fenner, Dame Peggy Leigh, Edward
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Lennox-Boyd, Mark
Fishburn, Dudley Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Forman, Nigel Lidington, David
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Lightbown, David
Forth, Eric Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Foster, Don (Bath) Lloyd, Rt Hon Peter (Fareham)
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Lord, Michael
Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring) Luff, Peter
Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley) Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Freeman, Rt Hon Roger Lynne, Ms Liz
French, Douglas MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Gale, Roger MacKay, Andrew
Gallie, Phil Maclean, David
Gardiner, Sir George McLoughlin, Patrick
Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan Maddock, Mrs Diana
Garnier, Edward Madel, Sir David
Gill, Christopher Maginnis, Ken
Gillan, Cheryl Maitland, Lady Olga
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Malone, Gerald
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Mans, Keith
Gorst, John Marland, Paul
Grant, Sir A. (Cambs SW) Marlow, Tony
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N) Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Grylls, Sir Michael Mates, Michael
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian
Hague, William Merchant, Piers
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Mills, Iain
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Hampson, Dr Keith Mitchell, Sir David (Hants NW)
Hanley, Jeremy Monro, Sir Hector
Hannam, Sir John Moss, Malcolm
Hargreaves, Andrew Nelson, Anthony
Harris, David Neubert, Sir Michael
Haselhurst, Alan Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Hawkins, Nick Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Hawksley, Warren Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Heald, Oliver Norris, Steve
Hendry, Charles Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley
Hicks, Robert Oppenheim, Phillip
Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence L. Ottaway, Richard
Hill, James (Southampton Test) Page, Richard
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham) Paice, James
Horam, John Patnick, Irvine
Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter Patten, Rt Hon John
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A) Pawsey, James
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford) Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk) Pickles, Eric
Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W) Porter, David (Waveney)
Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W) Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne) Rathbone, Tim
Hunter, Andrew Redwood, Rt Hon John
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Rendel, David
Jack, Michael Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Richards, Rod
Jenkin, Bernard Riddick, Graham
Jessel, Toby Rifkind, Rt Hon. Malcolm
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Robathan, Andrew
Johnston, Sir Russell Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham) Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr) Ross, William (E Londonderry)
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Key, Robert Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela
Kilfedder, Sir James Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
King, Rt Hon Tom Sackville, Tom
Kirkhope, Timothy Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim
Kirkwood, Archy Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas
Shaw, David (Dover) Townend, John (Bridlington)
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey) Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Tracey, Richard
Shersby, Michael Trend, Michael
Sims, Roger Trotter, Neville
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick) Twinn, Dr Ian
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Tyler, Paul
Soames, Nicholas Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Speed, Sir Keith Viggers, Peter
Spencer, Sir Derek Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset) Walden, George
Spink, Dr Robert Walker, A. Cecil (Belfast N)
Spring, Richard Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Sproat, Iain Waller, Gary
Squire, Robin (Hornchurch) Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John Waterson, Nigel
Steel, Rt Hon Sir David Watts, John
Stephen, Michael Wells, Bowen
Stern, Michael Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Stewart, Allan Whitney, Ray
Streeter, Gary Whittingdale, John
Sumberg, David Widdecombe, Ann
Sweeney, Walter Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Sykes, John Wilkinson, John
Tapsell, Sir Peter Wilshire, David
Taylor, Ian (Esher) Wolfson, Mark
Taylor, John M. (Solihull) Wood, Timothy
Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E) Yeo, Tim
Temple-Morris, Peter Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Thomason, Roy
Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V) Tellers for the Noes:
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N) Mr. Sidney Chapman and Mr. Michael Brown.
Thornton, Sir Malcolm
Thurnham, Peter

Question accordingly negatived.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No.61 (committal of Bills).