HL Deb 20 April 1983 vol 441 cc561-4

2.40 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether persons attending CND demonstrations are photographed by Government agents or by agents of the American Government.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Elton)

My Lords, I can say that the police in this country do, on occasions, photograph demonstrations for operational or training purposes; and there is no reason why they should not, if appropriate, photograph those organised by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, but will the noble Lord address himself to the second part of the Question in which he was asked whether he had any reason to believe that these photographs were being taken not only by people responsible to his Government, but by people ultimately responsible to the American Government?

Lord Elton

My Lords, any activities of foreign intelligence agencies are kept under close scrutiny. If there were evidence of illegal or improper activity by any agency, the appropriate authorities would not hesitate to take action.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, can my noble friend conceive of any reason why those attending CND demonstrations should object to being photographed by anyone, including the press, British or foreign? Presumably they do not mind being seen to have attended such a demonstration, unless they are photographed carrying out something illegal or disorderly?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I have considerable sympathy with the question my noble friend has asked me. Your Lordships will be aware that where one has very large numbers of people spread over a large area the police force responsible for seeing that traffic flows and life continues normally need to be able to see what is going on all at one time. It is essential to use modern technological devices to enable the senior officer to see what is going on.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, can the noble Lord confirm that, in addition to taking photographs of demonstrations of all kinds, not just CND, the police sometimes make very detailed inquiries of the organisers, and that their questions appear to go beyond what is necessary for the purposes of control of crowds? Will the noble Lord give an undertaking that information obtained in this way or photographs taken of ordinary demonstrations for operational purposes will not be conveyed by the metropolitan police, or on their behalf, to agents of a foreign power?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I am not certain that the noble Lord's question does not go beyond the one on the Order Paper in some respects, but photographs need to be taken for operational reasons and these are used for the proper purposes. I am not certain that I have satisfied the noble Lord, but I am not sure that I have understood his question.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, I asked whether the noble Lord will give an undertaking that photographs or information obtained about demonstrations by police inquiries will not be conveyed by or on behalf of the metropolitan police to agents of any foreign power?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I would be surprised if they were. I cannot see the purpose for which they would be. The noble Lord who asked the original Question was referring to Greenham Common, which of course is not the concern of the metropolitan police, but if there is anything to be concerned about I will let the noble Lord know.

The Earl of Kimberley

My Lords, would my noble friend not agree that in the interests of the security of this country it is highly desirable that those members of the CND who are not friendly to this country should be recognised on future occasions?

Lord Renton

My Lords, might not these photographs sometimes be of interest to Interpol? In such circumstances, might it not be perfectly proper for the police forces of other countries to be told of the contents of the photographs? Would not the demonstrators be most terribly disappointed if they were not photographed by as many people as possible?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I understand that we are talking about peaceable demonstrations which are not illegal, and that, of course, cannot be of interest to Interpol.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, did I understand the noble Minister to say, and will he confirm, that photographs were taken by Government agents and if so what Ministry controls them and what do they do with the pictures that they take?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I said that some peaceful demonstrations were photographed or filmed and that such films were used for operational reasons. If the noble Lord does not follow me, if one has a human chain 14½ miles long and one senior police officer responsible for good order in the area, it is necessary to know where he should place his policemen to secure good order. That means he needs a film of what is going on. It is also very useful, with demonstrations of this sort or of a less peaceable sort, to have a record for training purposes to see how it is possible to control the movements of large bodies of people in a peaceful manner.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that there is a considerable difference of principle here between the rights of the British Government and the British police and the rights of agents of foreign Governments to photograph legal British peaceful demonstrations? Will he say plainly that he regards the second category as improper?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I have said already that anything that is improper is the subject of control by this Government. But the noble Lord is moving to questions of security in a rather detailed manner. It is the long-standing practice not to comment upon security and intelligence matters. If we replied to a specific question, then refusal to do so on another occasion could be misconstrued as either endorsement or contradiction of whatever was implied in the question.

Lord Carver

My Lords, will the Minister please confirm that in this country the police are not government agents?

Lord Elton

Indeed, they are not.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that sometimes they seem like it? Will he also accept that the series of supplementary questions seem to me to have given the matter a sufficient airing at this time and that I have no further questions to ask?

Lord Elton

My Lords, in that case, I have several further answers to give but I will not give them.

Lord Clifford of Chudleigh

My Lords, would the noble Lord agree with me that it would have been very desirable if the group of CND who broke up a local meeting of my Devon Defence Volunteers had been photographed?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I collected the statement but not the supplementary question. I have noted the statement implicit in the question.