HL Deb 01 February 1990 vol 515 cc434-44

4.30 p.m.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement being made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence in another place about the case of Mr. Colin Wallace. The Statement is as follows:

"Mr. Speaker, with permission I should like to make a statement about the case of Mr. Colin Wallace.

"In a Written Answer on Tuesday to the honourable member for Arundel, my honourable friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces said that records had been found which brought to light information of material significance to the case of Mr. Wallace. Because those records had been overlooked, some misleading information had unwittingly been given to Members of this House by Ministers.

"As regards Mr. Wallace's employment in the Civil Service, the papers revealed no evidence that the decision to terminate it in 1975 was taken for reasons other than the offence with which he was charged; namely, disclosing classified information to the media without proper authority and at a time when he had already relinquished his post at Headquarters Northern Ireland. Nevertheless, in the light of the new information about his duties which has now come to light, the Government have decided to ask Mr. David Calcutt QC to examine the papers relating to Mr. Wallace's case so that he can consider whether its presentation to the Civil Service Appeal Board may have resulted in any injustice to Mr. Wallace and, if so, whether compensation should be paid.

"My honourable friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces in a long Written Answer in Hansard [col. 110 of 30th January] set out the position that had now emerged over Mr. Wallace's case. He set out also the distinct issues as they emerge from a special re-examination of departmental records by senior officials. This re-examination indicated:

"First, that papers previously overlooked showed that their earlier statements and letters need to be corrected (the Government have come forward to the House on this as early as possible and an inquiry is in hand within my department into how the papers were overlooked);

"Secondly, that the newly-found information raises a question-mark over the presentation of Mr. Wallace's case to the Civil Service Appeal Board, and Mr. Calcutt will review these matters;

"Thirdly, that no information has been found to substantiate Mr. Wallace's allegations of a cover-up relating to the Kincora Boys' Home in Belfast or to call in question the thoroughness of the major inquiries already made into that affair, including those of Sir George Terry and Judge Hughes;

"Fourthly, that no information was found to call into question Mr. Wallace's conviction for manslaughter on which my right honourable friend the Home Secretary advised the House on Tuesday; and

"Fifthly, that none of it calls into question the conclusion stated to the House by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister on 6th May 1987, following a special report to her by the Director-General of the Security Service, that there is no evidence to support suggestions of attempts to undermine or discredit Ministers or former Ministers.

"Mr. Speaker, my Statement follows the detailed answer given by my honourable friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces and my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and the published letters to right honourable and honourable Members to whom the previous incorrect answers were given. In their actions, which relate to events some 15 years ago and the administrations of that time, the Government have sought to respond promptly and candidly to meet the responsibilities that fall to them as a result of the new information and in particular to tackle the question of possible injustice to Mr. Wallace in his Civil Service appeal."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.35 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I believe that the House will be grateful to the Minister for repeating so clearly the Statement which has just been made in another place. First, does the Minister acknowledge that we are dealing with a major constitutional matter which ranges over all governments and leading parliamentarians for the past 20 years? Will the Minister confirm that the Prime Minister was made aware of the matters which caused the statements to be made this week as far back as last summer when Sir Michael Quinlan, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Defence, urged Sir Robin Butler, the Cabinet Secretary and his deputy, Mr. Len Appleyard, to support an inquiry into these matters?

Can the Minister say at what precise date the Prime Minister was told of the unease of Sir Michael Quinlan? Can the Minister further explain why such a serious and potentially security-related matter was dealt with in such an offensive way to the dignity and rights of Parliament; namely, a Written Answer to a planted Question, which is acknowledged as the lowest form of response? At col. 726 of Hansard of 6th May 1987, in a statement on state security, the Prime Minister said that it was time to stop raking over the embers of events then 10 years old.

What does the Minister say now that these embers have burst into flame? In the same paragraph she asserted her confidence in the security service and in its skill and loyalty in carrying out its tasks. Can the Minister tell us how the Prime Minister and other Ministers evaluate advice from the security service? Can he say whether that advice is ever questioned or challenged?

The Prime Minister was yearning for bipartisan support for the security service in the statement which she made on 6th May 1987. Does the Minister understand that to earn that support there has to be full and frank disclosure, a measure of trust and a sense that reports are not just accepted at their face value? I sugggest that is a premise which is certainly lacking in this episode.

The Prime Minister has chosen letters and press briefings by her press secretary to tell the world that she has misled Parliament, ableit unwittingly, having been misled herself. Can the Minister say why she does not herself come to Parliament and make a statement? The second paragraph of the Statement says that misleading information had unwittingly been given to Members of this House. Can the Minister say whether that advice was given to the Prime Minister by civil servants?

Does the Minister not acknowledge that severe limitations have been placed upon the inquiry to be conducted by Mr. David Calcutt? Finally, in view of the fact that this Statement leaves more questions unanswered than otherwise, will he tell his right honourable friend that this matter can only be cleared up by a wide-ranging inquiry which will enable many of those in both governments and on all sides in both Houses to influence what is a major constitutional matter affecting both Houses, all parties and the national interest?

Lord Jenkins of Hillhead

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Earl for repeating the Statement. There now appears to be one central question and two subsidiary questions which arise from this very uneasy Statement to which we have listened. First, is it not absolutely clear that a number of people in the public service knew perfectly well, and have known for some years, that what Ministers were saying to Parliament was untrue and that they did nothing about it and were therefore, unlike Ministers, a knowing party to the deceit? What action do the Government intend to take about this? Secondly, I reiterate what the noble Lord, Lord Graham, said. On what date did Ministers, and the Prime Minister in particular, become aware that the information they had given to Parliament was untrue? The Statement referred to the promptness of the response. We shall be able to judge the promptness of the response when we receive that precise information.

Thirdly, and centrally, the Prime Minister has in the past refused to countenance any part of the allegations of Mr. Wallace relating to the so-called Clockwork Orange operation. The Government have now been forced to admit that half of those allegations were true. Why should we be expected to believe, in the absence of a full and independent inquiry, that the other half relating to the smearing of politicians and the attempted destabilising of governments of both parties is any less true? Rumours of this kind have been occurring and occasionally surfacing for years. I have been loath to believe them. But they have reappeared too frequently and from too many different sources for automatic dismissal now to be sustainable.

Of those who bore primary responsibility for the security services in the relevant period, the former Prime Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, has asked for a full judicial inquiry. He did so in 1987. So have the two Home Secretaries in that government, Mr. Merlyn Rees and myself. Mr. Calcutt's inquiry in no way meets the need. He is concerned with compensation for Mr. Wallace, which may well be appropriate, but much wider issues are at stake here. Nor is the matter in any way covered by the statement of the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, of 8th December 1977 which the Prime Minister is very fond of quoting. A good deal of new material has emerged since then. As his statement in 1987 made clear, the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, has changed his mind about the need for a further inquiry.

In all these circumstances, if the Government continue to refuse a full and proper judicial inquiry, they will be behaving with an extraordinary discourtesy towards a former Prime Minister, a discourtesy bordering on the unconstitutional. They will be behaving with a lack of regard for proper and widespread concern and without responsibility for the true interests of the public service, including the security service.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for their comments and questions on the Statement. Ministers were made aware in September last that inaccurate statements may have been made. Since then an extensive review of papers has been conducted in preparation for a Statement to the House. The matter was decided by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence concerning Mr. Wallace. I think noble Lords will agree that the Government have acted promptly and with great candour and honesty. They have come forward as soon as possible in a positive manner.

Regarding Mr. Wallace's disciplinary case, there are some grounds for concern that an injustice may have been done to Mr. Wallace in the manner in which his case was presented to the CSAB in 1975. If so, he is entitled to have that injustice remedied. That is what Mr. Calcutt is inquiring into. Mr. Calcutt's inquiry will be both thorough and impartial. He will see all the relevant papers in circumstances that will protect their confidentiality. Mr. Wallace will be able to make representations to him and Mr. Calcutt may also see other witnesses if he so wishes.

As concerns advice to Ministers, recent work in dealing with parliamentary inquiries about Mr. Wallace's case brought to light information on matters which arose under earlier Administrations. This information was found on departmental files and showed that some statements made by Ministers and officials required correction or clarification. The Ministry of Defence is making inquiries to establish how these errors occurred. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State will report the outcome to the House.

The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, referred to Clockwork Orange. Clockwork Orange appears to have been an anti-terrorist project conceived by individuals and directed at PIRA but never authorised. No evidence has been found of any Clockwork Orange II aimed at politicians or government. Regarding the wider spectrum mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, I make these positive points. A possible injustice to Mr. Wallace over his disciplinary case is being remedied by the Calcutt investigation. The Home Secretary has again reviewed the safety of Mr. Wallace's manslaughter conviction. Kincora has been investigated by the Terry and Hughes inquiries. Allegations of a cover up have not been substantiated by the review of departmental files. No information has been found to substantiate allegations of disinformation or black propaganda campaigns against politicians or Ministers of the day.

I hope that I have answered the important questions put to me. I hope noble Lords will agree that the Government are acting in a responsible manner in this case.

4.48 p.m.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement. It seems to me that he has not sufficiently or properly answered the principal question of my noble friend Lord Jenkins. Perhaps I may rephrase it. If Ministers were for 15 years misled by officials about the existence of a dirty tricks project in Northern Ireland, how can we know that they are not still being misled by officials about the existence of a dirty tricks project at national level in Britain? Is it not obvious that this question cannot be answered by the two extremely narrow inquiries being carried out? The Government repeatedly rest on the phrase that no evidence has been found to suggest that anything has happened which is worse than what has been admitted. Is it possible for either of the two inquiries which are now going forward actively to seek evidence —for instance, by calling on evidence from officials who are now retired —instead of passively glancing through the papers?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, if I did not answer one of his questions. Official researches have been very extensive, and it is believed that the main facts of Mr. Wallace's case as disclosed by the available papers have now been established and that the record has been set straight. The Government have been extremely open in volunteering this information to the House. Again no one could argue that Ministers have sought to cover up anything at all.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, perhaps I may just say to my noble friend that obviously no one ought to take lightly the fact that the Government, or Ministers, were misled by public servants of any kind. That is a serious matter and obviously ought to be looked into. But if ever there was a mare's nest it is surely the mare's nest of the dirty tricks against the previous Labour Government. I should have been one of the first to notice if any allegations had been made to the detriment of either of the two Home Secretaries, of whom the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, was one, or either of the two Prime Ministers, the noble Lords, Lord Wilson and Lord Callaghan.

I think I should have been the first to have been told of all this had there been a dirty tricks campaign actually in progress. In fact I think it is known to every single noble Lord and noble Baroness in this House that not a shred of suspicion has ever fallen upon the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, or the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead. Their reputation is wholly unsmeared. If there ever was a dirty tricks campaign, it would be difficult to imagine anything more fatuous or unsuccessful.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend on the particular points that he made. I can say that disinformation in the early 1970s seems to have been aimed at paramilitaries and consisted mainly of attempts to show terrorists in their true light—initiatives by Mr. Wallace and others to counter terrorism at the peak of PIRA attacks, when there was a lack of experience in dealing with them. No evidence —I repeat, no evidence —has been found that such campaigns were aimed at politicians or at government.

Lord Stallard

My Lords, will the Minister accept that there has been widespread agreement on his remarks about Colin Wallace and the inquiries that are about to take place? We would all accept that some inquiry must be made there, although we shall have to wait for a month or perhaps more for the Calcutt inquiry to report. However, does the Minister accept that the problem goes much deeper than that, as has been said by noble Lords on both this and the other side of the House?

It is not just a question of righting Mr. Colin Wallace's predicament, important though that is. It is a question of the whole situation surrounding these documents, the reports, and so on. It is all right for the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, to say that he would have known. How would he have known? Nobody else knew. Why would they have told the noble and learned Lord? None of us can believe that they would have sought him out to tell him that this existed when they did not tell anybody else. Therefore, I do not necessarily accept that that would have been the case. We are now all concerned, despite the Minister's assurance that this was a simple operation against the Provisional IRA. That may well be true, but we cannot now accept that without seeing the necessary documentation.

That brings me to my final point. I would want some assurance that, when these documents that the Calcutt inquiry is to call for are produced, they will be publicised. How will the press and television be restricted in their reporting of this because by then the recently passed Official Secrets Act will be being implemented and there will no doubt be a ban on television and press and public comment on these issues generally? Can the noble Earl tell me how that will be dealt with in the light of the new Official Secrets Act? If the noble Earl takes those factors into account, is it not all the more essential that we should have a judicial inquiry as soon as possible, and that the findings should be publicly debated?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, in answer to the noble Lord on the particular point that he raises, I can tell him that Mr. Calcutt's conclusions and recommendations, and the Government's decision, will be made known to Parliament by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State.

Lord Jenkins of Hillhead

My Lords, will the noble Earl accept from me that, while I am grateful for the solicitude of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, he slightly misunderstands my concern. It is not my reputation that I am concerned about. I was not aware of any smears—whether it was because I was not a big enough target or for other reasons —that were directed at me.

What I am concerned about is not smears against me or other Ministers particularly, it is what may, or may not, have gone on in the security service for which I was the Minister responsible. On this issue, when so many rumours consistently arise, I feel that those who bore that responsibility are entitled, when they ask for it, to have a fully inquiry.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, is trying to imply that there should be a public inquiry about the whole situation. As I said before, it is most regrettable that some inaccurate information should have been given to Parliament and to Mr. Wallace, and this may call for departmental action. However, it is the Government's view that no purpose would be served by holding a public inquiry.

The possibility that an injustice may have been done to Mr. Wallace by the manner in which his appeal to the CSAB was conducted will be dealt with by Mr. Calcutt's investigation. Mr. Calcutt's inquiries could take him into sensitive and highly classified areas, and that is why there will not be a published report. It is a serious and unjustifiable aspersion on Mr. Calcutt to suggest that his investigation will not be thorough and wholly impartial.

Lord Morris

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend how long it is anticipated that Mr. Calcutt's inquiry will take? Will his responsiblities under that inquiry in any way impinge on his duties as chairman of the Takeover Panel?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I think that the second part of my noble friend's question has not much to do with the matter under discussion, if I may say so. As regards his investigations and the inquiry and the length of it, it is hoped that it will be conducted as soon as is possible once all the evidence has been taken into consideration.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that —

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that his replies so far are completely unsatisfactory? They certainly do not satisfy me, nor indeed this side of the House. Is he further aware that this is not a matter of party politics, but a matter of proper government and the role of Parliament within proper government? Is the noble Earl further aware that, over the last six months, hundreds of questions have been asked in the House of Commons about this matter? They have not been satisfactorily answered. Indeed the impression has been given that the Government have wished to evade answering proper questions.

Is the noble Earl aware that the public, as well as the House of Commons and Parliament in general, this House as well, will be more than uneasy as to what has gone on? He will know that a former Home Secretary, Mr. Merlin Rees, has just said in another place that there was clearly an attempt —in fact, not an attempt but something which actually occurred —by army officers and security forces to act outside government and outside Whitehall. That is a matter for serious concern.

When we have a situation where parliamentarians are not allowed —or perhaps they are allowed to ask questions about the security services but are never given answers —it is incumbent upon the Government, in order that the public may be properly satisfied and their confidence restored, to have a proper judicial inquiry into all aspects of this matter. Nothing else will do. If the Government do not agree to it at this stage, they will be hounded and pursued until they do.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, the Government fully realise that this is a sensitive problem, and that is why they have acted in a proper way. That is why they have brought forward the present solution. They have reviewed the problems. They have decided what to do in the circumstances. I can only repeat that they have acted in a responsible and proper way, as they should have done.

5 p.m.

Lord Elton

My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that the main issue concerning the House is not so much the inquiry about justice for Mr. Wallace, important though that is, as the issue as to whether and, if so, when, why and to what extent Ministers have been misled? Does he also not agree that in a service of this sort and over this period of time the interests of the present Government and of their predecessors and their Ministers are the same, and that therefore Ministers of previous governments could rely safely upon Ministers of the present Government to see that justice is done internally where there have been miscarriages of justice and to ensure that miscarriages of responsibility are not repeated?

Finally, does my noble friend accept that we on this side of the House realise that these matters, if one can be sure that they are done, are better done in private rather than debated at length in the national press, as would be the case if there was an inquiry of the sort that has been asked for?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I quite agree with the last point made by my noble friend regarding the privacy of such a case and its conduct. I can also tell my noble friend that Ministers necessarily have to rely on the advice given to them by their officials in a case of this kind. It would not be proper for them to see papers recording the advice given to, or the views expressed by, Ministers of a different party.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl, first, is he not aware of the accuracy of the point made by my noble friend Lord Jenkins —namely, that for months, if not years, some people in the public service have been fully aware of the fact that Parliament had been misled? That is absolutely obvious from the circumstances of this case. Is that not another reason why there should be an independent judicial inquiry into these matters?

Secondly, he told us a few moments ago that we are not even to hear the full truth of the Calcutt inquiry on the narrow question involving this former public servant. He has told us that we are going to see only the recommendations and that we are not in fact going to see the full report. Is the noble Earl aware that his answers today will simply stir up still more suspicion as to what has been going on and add to the climate of suspicion which now exists over these episodes?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, on the second point made by the noble Lord, I do not believe that would be right because the Government, I repeat, have acted in a proper, sensible and responsible way. I do not believe that what he envisages will actually happen. As regards Parliament being misled for many years over this particular question, to the best of my knowledge that is not the case.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that on the "The World at One" today Mr. Joe Haines, who was in the office of the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Rievaulx, for most of the time, went on record just to say that these rumours about stirring up trouble against political figures and Ministers were a load of rubbish? He also said that the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, had made inquiries of the CIA about this matter and that they also came up with the view that it was a load of rubbish. He did, I admit, accept that it was possible that one or two of them might have had and I quote —"a glass of Jameson's and mumbled something". But that is as for as these things got and I do not think we should be getting too over-excited about a rumour which has gone on and has been shown by people who were in the office concerned not to have any substance.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I can only thank my noble friend for that particluar piece of information that he brings us hot from the press.

Lord Diamond

My Lords, is it not very evident that the Government have totally underestimated the seriousness of this situation? There are two reasons for saying that. The first is that this matter, which is described by the Government as a "dirty tricks campaign", appears to uninitiated minds like my own not necessarily to be the kind of case where everybody who has succeeded in hiding something for years will now come forward voluntarily and present all the papers and information about the matter. Is it not the case that with this dirty tricks campaign the reputation of the secret services upon which this country relies will never be cleared? Is this not a constitutional matter which has been seriously misjudged and underestimated by the Government? If that were not the case, the Leader of the House would have thought it proper to take this matter up.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I think that all your Lordships would recognise the very good service that the security service has performed, and continues to perform, in this country, in spite of all the prevailing conditions. I believe that the other point made by the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, is unwarranted and unjustified for the reasons I have already given: in other words, I repeat that the Government have been frank and candid about this case and have brought it into the open so that it may be discussed.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, I understand the noble Earl's difficulties, but would he not agree on reflection that it is somewhat premature to say that a further or wider inquiry may not be necessary? Is it not the case that what Parliament and the country will hear in due course, when the distinguished lawyer Mr. Calcutt has completed his work, is a Statement by his right honourable friend and, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, has said, that the substance of that Statement and the evidence which Mr. Calcutt hears will not be made available to Parliament or to the country?

Would he not agree in all the circumstances, given the undoubtedly grave constitutional implications of this case, that a public inquiry may in due course be absolutely essential if the honour of the Government and of Parliament is to be preserved?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, as regards a further and wider inquiry, that may or may not be necessary. I believe I said "may" before, but equally it may not be. Concerning the need for a public inquiry, with respect to the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition, I have very firmly given the reasons why we consider that a public inquiry is not necessary. Perhaps I may just repeat the two most important reasons. The first is that any possible injustice to Mr. Wallace in this disciplinary case is being remedied by the Calcutt investigation. Secondly, no information has been found to substantiate allegations of disinformation or black propaganda campaigns against politicians or Ministers of the day. I gave other reasons for not having a public inquiry before which I think and I hope your Lordships understood at that time.