HC Deb 24 February 1988 vol 128 cc306-8 3.59 pm
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to ensure effective Parliamentary scrutiny of the security services.

It is not part of my argument that there is no necessity for the security services. Even without large-scale terrorism and attempted spying by foreign powers, there would remain the need to provide protection for the state and its citizens. However, it is necessary to have complete confidence that the security services carry out their duties in a completely politically impartial manner. Indeed, they are required to do so by the Maxwell-Fyfe directive published in 1952. Paragraph 4 of that directive states: It is essential that the security service should be kept absolutely free from any political bias or influence and nothing should be done that might lend colour to any suggestion that it is concerned with the interests of any particular section of the community or with any other matter than the Defence of the Realm as a whole. As it has been questioned that such political impartiality has always operated, the security agencies have become the subject of controversy. Those doubts existed before Wright's book. In my view, and in the opinion of my right hon. and hon. Friends, there should be a full judicial inquiry into Wright's statement that MI5 officers, including himself, were involved in the attempted destabilisation of the Labour Government in the mid— 1970s. The sooner such an inquiry takes place, the better.

At the moment, there is no meaningful parliamentary accountability for the security services. Ministers are not willing to answer questions that relate to security services, therefore such questions cannot be tabled in the first place. Unlike what occurs in some other democracies, no one could argue that Parliament has any real say in these matters.

In many respects the security services are a law unto themselves. Certainly their intrusion into civil liberties must concern all those who value our democratic rights. For instance, there were the disclosures of a former employee of MI5, Miss Cathy Massiter, who resigned in protest at the work she was asked to undertake. I shall give an illustration of the sort of work which led to her decision to leave MI5. She told us publicly that anyone who was on the national executive of the National Council for Civil Liberties, who worked for that organisation, or who was an active member to the degree of being a branch secretary, would be placed on permanent record, and routine inquiries were instituted to identify such people and police help was sought.

It is no use putting a question to the Home Secretary about that. He simply would say that he was not in a position to comment either way. Are such routine inquiries still being made into the National Council for Civil Liberties? Is that a wise and correct way of spending public money?

My hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman), prior to coming to the House, was the legal officer for the National Council for Civil Liberties. There is, we are told by Miss Massiter, an MI5 file on her. Presumably there is a file on her because she was a full-time employee of the National Council for Civil Liberties. As I asked on a previous occasion, was my hon. Friend considered to be a subversive? Was she out to overthrow parliamentary democracy? Is that the proper way in which public money and time should be spent? Did the Prime Minister or the Home Secretary know that files were being kept on such people? Labour Members would be happy if all Conservative Members were as committed to parliamentary democracy and civil and democratic liberties as my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham.

What happened with the NCCL also occurred with CND, yet successive Tory Ministers have told us that campaigning for nuclear disarmament is perfectly legitimate. If that is the case, when a former editor of the CND journal resigned after some disagreement in the organisation, why was he asked questions by the special branch about the private lives of leading officials of CND? Why was he asked about the leadership style of the general secretary of CND? Why was he asked about who lived with whom and who was active in the organisation? That smacks more of a police dictatorship than a parliamentary democracy.

All that criticism does not come only from one side of the House. May I remind the House that the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath)—he should know about such matters because as former Prime Minister he was head of the security services—in the debate on the Official Secrets Act only last month gave us an illustration of some people employed in the security services. If they saw someone on the tube reading the Daily Mirror their reaction would be to say, "Get after him, that is dangerous. We must find out where he bought it." I should like to know how many other such people are employed in the security services? How many Wrights are there who cannot make a decision between legitimate dissent and genuine subversion?

Miss Massiter deserves public credit for the manner in which, as an employee of MI5, she came to the conclusion that she could not carry out the work asked of her, and in my view she did the honourable thing and resigned and made her views known publicly.

We know from her disclosures about MI5 that there is a branch F which is subdivided. F2 investigates trade unions, F7 looks into teachers, lawyers and journalists, and F4 apparently puts agents into organisations. There does not seem to be any F grouping that looks into the City, the stock exchange or multinational companies.

We need to be sure that those who hold responsibility in the security services can and do make a distinction between mainstream legitimate dissent and a few extremist groups such as the National Front, and other Fascist or racist organisations or ultra-revolutionary groups. Can anyone believe that when Wright was holding a senior position in the security services he was capable of making such a distinction? How many other such officials remain employed in the security services?

The time has come for parliamentary accountability, in my view by way of a Select Committee. In that way the security services would no longer be a law unto themselves. I see no reason why a Select Committee should not be set up. I also see no reason why those Conservative Members who state that they are in favour of parliamentary democracy should be opposed to any such committee being established. Those who are given the task of combating subversion and defending our democracy must be accountable for their actions.

As long as the security services are the subject of the controversies that I mentioned today, that is not useful for their own good or for their image. I imagine that there must be a number of people employed in the security services who believe that we should have such parliamentary accountability as exists in a number of other western democracies.

The only change that has come about in the past flew months has been the appointment of Sir Philip Woodfield as staff counsellor to the security services. I and a number of my hon. Friends wrote to Sir Philip Woodfield and asked him if he would have a meeting with us. We were asking only that the newly appointed adviser to the security services should have a meeting with Members of Parliament. I received a courteous reply, but the answer was no.

For all those reasons, I believe that I should be given permission to bring in my Bill, and that the reforms and changes for which I have argued should be carried out.

Question put and agreed to.

Mr. Speaker

Who will prepare and bring in the Bill?

Mr. Winnick

It is unanimous. I believe that the Select Committee should be established in the very near future—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has made his speech. Who will prepare and bring in the Bill?

Mr. Winnick

I was going to say that the whole House—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Who will prepare and bring in the Bill?

Mr. Winnick

A distinguished list, Mr. Speaker. Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. David Winnick, Mr. Peter Archer, Mr. Andrew F. Bennett, Mr. George J. Buckley, Mr. Tam Dalyell, Mr. Michael Foot, Dr. John Gilbert, Ms. Harriet Harman, Mr. Eric S. Heffer, Mr. Max Madden, Mr. Chris Mullin and Ms. Marjorie Mowlam.

Mr. Speaker

Second Reading what day?

Mr. Winnick

Unless there is a Select Committee then, 29 April.

Mr. David Winnick accordingly presented a Bill to ensure effective Parliamentary scrutiny of the security services: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 29 April and to be printed. [Bill 100.]