HC Deb 19 July 1995 vol 263 cc1239-41W
Mr. Blair

To ask the Prime Minister if he has received the report of the Security Commission on the case of Michael John Smith. [36331]

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend the Lord President announced on 11 January 1994 that after consultation with the late leader of the Opposition, I had asked the Security Commission to investigate the circumstances in which breaches of security had, or might have, occurred arising out of the case of Michael John Smith, who was convicted on 18 November 1993 of offences under section 1 of the Official Secrets Act 1911; and to advise in the light of that investigation whether any change in security arrangements was necessary or desirable.

An appeal by Smith against his conviction was dismissed by the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) on 8 June 1995, but his appeal against sentence was allowed and the sentence was reduced from 25 years to 20 years. The Commission has now submitted its report to me and it is being published this afternoon as a Command Paper, with the exception of some technical and procedural details which it would not be in the public interest to publish on national security grounds. I am most grateful to the Chairman, Lord Lloyd, and to Sir John Blelloch. Sir Derek Boorman and Lord Tombs.

The Commission has fully examined the period of Smith's career in defence-related work. The Commission was critical of the initial failure by the Security Service to match Smith's record as a communist with his application for security clearance at EMI in 1976. The Commission felt that there was an unwarranted delay between Smith's identification as a potential threat and these facts being communicated to the Ministry of Defence and Smith's employer. It was concerned about the Security Service's eventual decision to relax its recommendations about Smith when he was put forward for clearance for work at GEC in 1986. It was also unhappy with the way in which the Ministry of Defence agreed to Smith having access to confidential information at GEC.

However, the Commission recognises that much has changed since these events took place. The threat from subversive organisations is much lower. The Soviet Union and the Warsaw pact no longer exist. In addition, the Commission has been called upon to investigate a number of other security breaches since 1978 when Smith's clearance was withdrawn and its recommendations have led to significant improvements in the areas of vetting, and more widely, in the field of protective security. Over the same period, Government Departments have also taken initiatives to improve protective security practices. In the light of all this, the Commission has made a number of recommendations. These, in summary, are:

  1. (a) that the Security Service should continue to keep its organisation and internal lines of communication under review;
  2. (b) that in cases where candidates lie during the security clearance procedure there should be a very strong presumption against the granting or reinstatement of a clearance;
  3. (c) that an interview with a subject should be used where appropriate to resolve doubts about a security clearance;
  4. (d) that the written levels of assessment of an individual should be unambiguous and that all relevant information should be made available to the relevant Government Department before a decision is made on an individual clearance;
  5. (e) that decisions on the clearance of individuals working on contracts involving access to protectively marked assets in an industrial concern should be taken by Government Departments only after appropriate consultation with the employer;
  6. (f) that levels of access granted to individuals in industry should be clear and capable of effective implementation;
  7. (g) that in any case where a security clearance is subject to any limitation, that individual's behaviour and performance should be monitored and reviewed regularly by the Security Service with the employing company;
  8. (h) that judgements based on experience should not be given excessive credence in work of the Security Service; and
  9. (i) that appeal arrangements against a decision to withhold or limit clearance both in the civil service and in industry may need to be strengthened.

The recommendations of the Security Commission have been accepted in principle by the Government subject to further consideration of some detailed points: and work is now in hand to ensure that they are effectively implemented within government and in industry.

I announced to the House on 15 December 1994 that following a comprehensive review of protective security arrangements generally, a new system for the security vetting of Government employees and contractors would be introduced from 1 January 1995. This will provide the opportunity to consider how best to implement the recommendations of the Security Commission.