§ 2.58 p.m.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney rose to call attention to the lack of accountability of the security services; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg leave to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. Much water—not all of it clean, I am afraid—has passed under several bridges since this Motion was put down. In the other place, debates have tended to concentrate on the mistakes of the Government and on the defence of their actions, as is customary and natural in that House. But perhaps here we may concern ourselves, as the Motion suggests, with the wider question of what ought to be done about the secret services.
§ There are those who will say, "Well, yes, it does seem that all is far from well, but what can be done? How can secret services become accountable and still remain secret?" The Government's position is that nothing needs to be done; but that view is not widely held now outside the Government, and even inside it it is said that it is held with a certain lack of conviction.
I can best declare my own position by quoting, if I may, from a letter I wrote to the Cabinet Secretary in 1978. At that time it was Sir John Hunt, now Lord Hunt of Fawley, who is aware of my intention to refer to him. It was about a book I wrote, subtitled An
Experience of Government and Arts. Sir John, to whom I had, as instructed, submitted the typescript, had objected, as indeed was his duty, to certain passages. I quote my reply:
One of the objects of the book is to show how decisions are made and this cannot be done without demonstrating how advice is given by civil servants and quoting opinions expressed by Ministers. Nevertheless I am very ready to go along with the recommendations of the Committee of Privy Counsellors, whenever I can do so without damage to the public interest. I regard such damage as being done whenever information is concealed without good reason".
I went on to say that a junior Minister in an area remote from national security, the arts, was well placed to advance the reality of open government. I added:
I consider it wrong to deprive the electorate of information about the processes of government, for where they are bad they remain bad and get worse in the dark".
That remains my view. I think it all too clear that the reason why the Government are concerned not only about Mr. Peter Wright but about such smaller fry as Miss Joan Miller and Miss Cathy Massiter, is that the Government still mistakenly hang on to the view that to preserve secrecy everything must be secret. The opposite is true. To preserve secrecy only essentials must be secret. The Government must not be economical with the truth. They must be economical with secrecy.
§ As it is, we are the most secret of all those governments who profess to be open. Even the Soviet Union does not pretend to be without secret services. In that closed society the existence of the KGB and of those at the head of it is freely discussed. It is respectable to be a spy. Perhaps our attitude regarding the spy and the counter spy as opposite sides of the same coin, as people doing dirty work which has to be kept under the table, is nearer the truth. But that should not involve carrying it to the point at which we become a laughing stock, to the point at which a senior civil servant is persuaded to behave publicly and privately in a way which demeans a hitherto highly respected man, to the point at which even the word of the Prime Minister in Parliament becomes suspect. That is going too far because by seeking to cover everything up we have made the preservation of secrecy so widespread that its cloak simply will not cover the essentials, and a judge in open court calls the Government's case "baloney".
§ The quality of books about the Secret Service varies considerably. I am not an admirer of Mr. Chapman Pincher, and like Sir William Rees-Mogg, like Mr. Philip Knight—whose impressive book was impressively reviewed, if I may say so, by Lord Annan last Sunday in the Observer—and many others indeed, including the Prime Minister, I shall need more than the evidence of Mr. Peter Wright to convince me that Sir Roger Hollis was a Soviet spy. As for Lord Rothschild, the tergiversations of his role in these matters have so far defied rational explanation. If I were the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor I might be tempted to say that the whole lot of them seemed to have gone completely bonkers. As Mr. Knightley shows in his book, the risk of inter-spy lunacy is one of the dangers of a secret service which is not subject to systematic oversight and is not 176 accountable, even indirectly, to the open forum of Parliament.
§ The description by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, of the nature of the British security services in his report on the Profumo affair has stood the test of time in all but one vital respect. The noble and learned Lord says in Cmnd. 2152, paragraph 273, that the security services have no executive powers. That of course is true. But unfortunately Lord Denning goes on to say that the security services have "managed very well" without executive powers. They have not. They have assumed powers they do not legally possess. They regularly break the law.
§ The full examination of the secret services which has taken place in other countries and which must surely now take place here shows that, without exception, secret services commit crimes as a matter of course. I ask you Lordships to see The Ties that Bind by Richardson and Ball, which is available from the Library. I think it is the best comparative book obtainable on this subject.
In 1952 the Maxwell Fyfe directive set out for the first time what the general duties of our five secret service agencies are supposed to be. Clause 2 says, inter alia, that the task includes defence against dangers arising:
from actions of persons and organisations whether directed from within or without the country which may be judged to be subversive of the state".
That judgment is left to the security service itself and, as Mr. Roy Jenkins said on 3rd December in the House of Commons (at col. 959 of Hansard) that spies and counter-spies are,
entirely unfitted to judge between what is subversion and what is legitimate dissent.".
§ The record suggests that the security services judge the Conservative Party to be virtually synonymous with the state and the Labour Party to be naturally subversive. This is in spite of the fact that the Maxwell Fyfe directive goes on to say that the security services must keep themselves free from political bias. According to Mr. Andrew Roth, there are a number of ex-intelligence officers in the House of Commons. All of them are members of the Conservative Party. There are a number of Members of Parliament who have been under surveillance from time to time by the security services. All of them are members of the Labour Party.
§ When I was chairman of CND I used to talk frequently on the telephone to Dr. John Cox, who was a vice-chairman. It has since been admitted that Dr. Cox a member of the Communist Party—a rather orthodox member of that party: I believe he stood politically somewhat to my right—was bugged under an authority signed by Mr. Leon Brittan, who was Home Secretary at that time. The flat which my wife and I still occupy in Putney was the subject of a curious unacquisitive burglary about that time, with papers strewn all over the place and all drawers and cupboards open, but nothing much apparently taken. For a time after that our telephone behaved oddly with scraps of conversation heard. The police were baffled and so were my wife and I. Let us hope it was just a coincidence. I am sure no Home Secretary authorised anything.177
§ Why have the Government taken action to suppress the book One Girl's War by Joan Miller? Some copies were issued before the suppression came into effect and here is one of them obtained by the House of Lords Library being quick off the mark. There is nothing in this book which could possibly threaten the safety of the realm, for the late Miss Miller's connection and story, as the title, One Girl's War, suggests, was essentially a war-time one. Miss Miller was naïve but she was patriotic and, like Miss Cathy Massiter today, she had her own moral standards. Her stomach was turned by some of the things she had to do.
Miss Miller quite casually and almost accidentally reveals what a sleazy and irresponsible and occasionally ruthless bunch these spooks were. She worshipped her chief, Maxwell Knight, with whom she lived for some time. She described him as being anti-Semitic and much else. When he decided to drop her she began to fear for her life, for she recalled another member of the staff who:
performed some unofficial jobs for M [as he was called] such as getting rid of an unreliable double agent in the middle of the North Sea".
Well, it is peacetime now and there could not be any truth in the idea that Miss Hilda Murrell, the antinuclear rose grower, was murdered by accident by an agent of MI5, could there? Surely not!
§ I must leave to others to suggest how this can of worms can be cleansed and prevented from again falling into the smelly decay which seems to be the natural habitat of the spy. There is not time to give details of my own views, but I would suggest an outline. In another place, the committee proposed by the Alliance has been seen in two lights: first, as a committee to examine the situation and to make recommendations; and, secondly, as a permanent oversighting body. That might happen but first must come the examination and the proposals for reform.
§ Personally, for that purpose, I would settle for a committee of Privy Counsellors from both Houses, providing that they were representative of all parties. Second must be the report to Parliament—and there must be an annual report—not by the director of the security services, for he cannot be exposed, I think, to that. He should report to the committee and the committee should report to Parliament. In this way, accountability and security may both be served without breaching the principle of ministerial responsibility.
§ Finally, I would hope that one of the recommendations of the committee would be the adoption of the proposal of Mr. Roy Jenkins—and on this subject he knows what he is talking about, because he was of course a most distinguished Home Secretary—that MI5 be pulled out of its political surveillance role. It is particularly important that this nonsense should be stopped when we are lumbered with a Prime Minister who talks about "the enemy within" and about "eliminating socialism".
§ If we want to go on settling our differences by discussion and by majority voting, we must not descend to the level at which power is preserved by force and surveillance. It would be better for us all if that kind of talk and that kind of action were to stop 178 on both sides—indeed, on all sides. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.12 p.m.
§ Lord Dacre of Glanton
My Lords, finding myself, to my surprise, the first to follow the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, I am glad to take this opportunity of being the first to congratulate him on introducing a debate on this important subject. I have to be very tentative for we are moving in a world of cloaks and daggers, false names and false identities; but I think that I may be the only person here who has actually worked in both MI5 and MI6. Admittedly, that was a long time ago and in rather special circumstances. But, after all, the skeletons which come tumbling out of our cupboards to enjoy their periodical ritual dance all date from that time.
Although there have been many changes in the services since then—mostly, I think, for the better—time and observation have rather confirmed than refuted the general views which I then formed about the nature and the limitations of the work of the security services. Whatever may be the truth of recent allegations, I think it is clear that they have done great damage to the reputation and to the morale of the services. That, after all, is why we have this debate.
The root cause of the damage is, I believe, a lack of control, both external and internal, a lack of consistent policy and excessive secrecy. I find myself, again to my surprise, in agreement with many of the things—not everything but many of the things—which the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, said. The services need control not only to ensure discipline but also for their own protection—protection especially from themselves.
All professions have their occupational dangers and the occupational danger of enclosed societies is a tendency to live in a private world; hence a loss of balance and of sense of proportion. These dangers are compounded by secrecy. Secrecy takes its toll and needs its psychological compensations. It can lead to fantasy and even occasionally to paranoia.
Much of the recent trouble, I believe, has been due to fantasy; uncontrolled conspiracy theories made paranoid by unusual events. The discovery that both MI5 and MI6 had harboured traitors in responsible positions was a traumatic event. But the paranoia, I believe, has been uncontrolled and the question that we have to ask is how it can be brought under control. Obviously, it requires a more consistent discipline, a stricter chain of command, regular accountability; but mere mechanical discipline cannot of itself cure the ailment.
It may intensify it and especially, I may add, when it is lifted, for it is then often that the fantasy is released. I have observed that the most advanced cases of it have occurred after such persons have retired—and I am not thinking here of one case only; I can think of several—after they have returned from the excitement of shared, continuous machination to the vacuum of retirement.
What is needed, I believe, is not only the pressure of a consistent discipline but also safety valves for the steam generated under that pressure. The operations of a secret service must necessarily be secret but the 179 services themselves need not be so. At least they need not be so all the time. The days are past when we need—if, indeed, we ever needed—to pretend that they do not exist. The whole mentality of romantic, puerile amateurism generated by a school of popular novelists, a mentality which was still cultivated, deliberately cultivated, in those services when war descended upon us, is surely out of date.
Secrecy must be reduced to its necessary minimum or it will take its revenge in a psychosis of suspicion. I believe that what is required is an indivisible package: first, firmer responsibility all the way up, both internal and external; secondly, safety valves for the evacuation of suspicion; and, thirdly, less secrecy in inessentials. On internal discipline I believe that the Government were quite right to make a stand in the case of Mr. Wright, although I believe that they should have done so in the case of Mr. Pincher and I do not understand why they did not.
He was, after all, only a pseudonym and a ghostwriter for Mr. Wright. On external discipline, I have come to the view that responsibility to Parliament through an overburdened Cabinet Minister of high rank is not enough. There must also be a body which, though external to it, enjoys the trust of the service, which sits in secret and which can hear confidential complaints, enforce attendance and give advice.
I do not think that the Security Commission can fill this role; it is too remote. Such a body would be both a watchdog and a safety valve. If such a body had existed, I think that the scandals and public exposures of recent years could have been avoided. Members of the service who suspected their own chief, or even the Prime Minister, could have gone to it. The problem could then have been either resolved internally or, if that proved impossible, referred to a judicial inquiry.
Such a system exists in America in the form of the Senate Intelligence Committee. A close friend of mine, a distinguished former intelligence chief whom I greatly respect, tells me that the intelligence community in America was at first opposed to this innovation but, now that it is reconciled to it, it finds that it is a very valuable institution and wishes to preserve it. I have no doubt that some such body would be equally valuable here.
Finally, there is secrecy. Provided that there is internal discipline, and that members of the service are forbidden by enforceable contracts to publish books or to supply matter to writers, or at least cannot do so without express authority, I believe that the fetish of security could be left to wither away. Let journalists speculate; their speculations can be treated as such. Let historians write as they do. The secrecy of the history of the security services, as distinct from their current operations, is not worth protecting. It is already open to those who know where to look. A distinguished historian, the late Sir Lewis Namier, once wrote:most secrets are in print if one knows where to look".He also observed:documents have nine lives, for they have eight carbon copies".My Cambridge colleague, Dr. Christopher Andrew, has recently published an excellent and very readable 180 history of the British Secret Service entirely from public sources, mainly in the Public Record Office. There is now a learned journal with the title, Intelligence and National Security, regularly published in London. I recommend it to your Lordships as a useful work of history and perhaps also of psychological therapy for bringing the intelligence world out of the closed mentality from which the recent traumas have grown.
§ 3.22 p.m.
§ Lord Hutchinson of Lullington
My Lords, I should also like to congratulate the noble Lord for initiating so topical a debate. I should like to say at once that I agree with a great deal of the remarkable speech we have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Dacre. My justification for speaking is that over 25 years I have had a close professional involvement in court cases involving the security services. Blake, Vassall, Martelli, Roberts and Conway were all my clients, as were the editor of the Sunday Telegraph and Mr. Duncan Campbell in the ABC case. Even Miss Keeler sought my services.
It has been my duty to cross-examine a number of security service personnel. Indeed, Mr. Turnbull's role in Sydney has at times seemed curiously familiar; though I must add that if a potential Prime Minister had sought to contact me during the currency of a case for purely political reasons and, as it now quite clearly appears, to give succour to the case against the Government, he would have received a massive flea in his presumptuous ear.
In the area of defence and terrorism, the security services are essential. Over terrorism their performance, with the special branch, has been brilliant and we all owe them a huge debt of gratitude. But their reputation overall, I suggest, no longer stands where it should in the eyes of the public. A restoration job is plainly necessary. The list of defectors and leakers is astonishing and the accumulation of credible allegations of unauthorised and mischievous operations is substantial.
My experience has led me to three conclusions. The first is that the blanket secrecy which smothers the service has become a harmful obsession and has infected responsible civil servants and Ministers in successive governments. I go along with what the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, said about that. The Maxwell Fyfe directive of 1952 lays down a far too restrictive obligation on Ministers, I suggest, based as it is on the stifling principle of the need to know. Also, the need for a safety valve for officers to channel complaints and suspicions is surely made out; and I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Dacre, takes the same view.
I will deal with those three headings shortly, but I should like to quote from an article in The Times of 29th November last by the distinguished diplomat Sir Reginald Hibbert, our last ambassador in Paris. He writes.On a strict interpretation of the Official Secrets Act, government in Britain is carried on by a process of leaks. The system depends on everyone knowing and respecting how much they are allowed to leak"—my Lords, the authentic voice of the establishment!
181 He then points out, with an exquisite use of words, that the secret and security services have,to endure the full rigours of the Official Secrets Act without ever enjoying the relief of leaking".He adds:The historical convention is that they do not exist and can neither be seen nor heard.He continues:it is not surprising that an elaborate system of controlled leaking from the top has been evolved, leaking to chosen writers and journalists"—and, I would add, politicians.
In the ABC case, it took us three days of cross-examination to convince a High Court judge that the existence, location and purpose of GCHQ could not be a state secret to be kept from the public as argued passionately by the Crown witnesses. By taking photos from public footpaths, reading unrestricted service magazines and looking at notice boards, anyone could establish which Signals unit was there at Cheltenham, the name of its commanding officer, and indeed, for any radio enthusiast, the frequency on which the station transmitted its messages. The only secret was: what were the messages received and how were they used?
My client was charged under Section 1—the most serious of all secrecy offences. After a week the judge threatened to summon the Attorney-General to court unless the prosecution withdrew the charge, which he described as oppressive. After two more weeks the judge, unprecedentedly, announced that whatever the verdict on the other charges he had no intention whatever of imposing a custodial sentence. I am sure that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Silkin, who was the Attorney-General at the time, would agree that he had not been properly briefed by the security services when he pitched the prosecution so high. We see the same thing happening daily in Sydney, Australia. The reason: obsessive secrecy, even in relation to Ministers of the Crown.
It is absurd and untenable to forbid any publication by any member of the security services, past or present, in any circumstances, whatever may be the public interest. It is absurd to deny the existence of MI6. Indeed, I am not persuaded that the noble Lord, Lord Dacre, has made what I might call another mistake. What surely is sensible is to admit the existence and location of the security services and to allow publications subject only to vetting by the service on clearly stated, sensible grounds, spelt out as a reasoned policy.
The Need to Know, the Maxwell Fyfe directive, refers to the convention that Ministers are,furnished with such information only as may be necessary for the determination of an issue on which guidance is sought.In other words, the initiative must come from the Minister. The truth is that the busy Minister does not want to know and the service does not want to tell. Those awkward political birds of passage must only know what they need to know.
The Secretary of State says that if the director general's judgment is wrong, he is answerable to the Home Secretary. But that is ex post facto. When Commander Crabbe swam under the Russian cruiser, which was ironically on a goodwill mission at 182 Portsmouth, the Russians found him out and blew the operation. The Prime Minister had to come to the House of Commons and admit, humiliatingly, that he and other Ministers knew nothing whatever about the operation.
There must surely be some political oversight, some political guidance and some sharing of responsibility. Sir Robert Armstrong, I suggest, should never have been expected to undergo a political cross-examination. Accountability means neither interference in operations nor sharing secrets; nor does it mean a total crossing of Mr. Hurd's barrier of secrecy. It is the old question that all democracies have had to answer: quis custodet and where lies the public interest. Other democracies have solved these questions, and with some political will we can do the same.
What is required is a forum which is not a court of law where these questions can be put. That would provide the watchdog and the safety valve to which the noble Lord, Lord Dacre, referred. That plus the reform of the Official Secrets Act and the passing of a freedom of information Act would restore the reputation of the security services. I ask the Minister: is the time not demonstrably overripe for some inquiry into the whole affair?
§ 3.34 p.m.
§ Lord Denning
My Lords, I too wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, for raising this topic. In 1963 the then Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, asked me, in the light of the circumstances leading to the resignation of the former Secretary of State for War, Mr. J. D. Profumo, to examine the operation of the security service. I undertook that task. Coming before me to give evidence were not only the Prime Minister but most of the members of the Cabinet, the director general of the security service and many of his staff. I visited MI5 as well. I hope that I performed that examination carefully.
The first matter to be observed is the structure of the security service. On this matter, perhaps I may repeat what I said in my report at paragraph 273:The Security Service in this country is not established by Statute nor is it recognised by Common Law. Even the Official Secrets Acts do not acknowledge its existence. The members of the Service are, in the eye of the law, ordinary citizens with no powers greater than anyone else".I had much confidential information given to me and I summarised that in the report. Until 1952 the Prime Minister was responsible for security. In 1951, a proposal was made to the Prime Minister by Sir Norman Brooke, who many of your Lordships will remember as one of our most experienced civil servants. He proposed that responsibility should be transferred to the Home Secretary. Sir David Maxwell Fyfe in 1952 gave an important directive to the director general of the security service which is set out in the report. I also had a great deal of further evidence.
The general principle, which I ventured to state in paragraph 239, was as follows:(1) The head of the Security Service is responsible directly to the Home Secretary for the efficient and proper working of the Service and not in the ordinary way to the Prime Minister.183(2) The Security Service is, however, not a department of the Home Office. It operates independently under its own Director-General, but he can and does seek direction and guidance from the Home Secretary, subject always to the proviso that its activities must be absolutely free from any political bias or influence.(3) The function of the Security Service is to defend the Realm as a whole from dangers which threaten it as a whole, such as espionage on behalf of a foreign Power, or internal organisations subversive of the State. For this purpose it must collect information about individuals, and give it to those concerned. But it must not, even at the behest of a Minister or a Government Department, take part in investigating the private lives of individuals except in a matter bearing on the Defence of the Realm as a whole".The burden of the report is that the security service is not to investigate the private morals or private lives of individuals or their political aspirations. It must be quite independent of any moral or political bias whatsoever. The director general of the service is answerable to the Home Secretary. In matters of prime importance, the last section of paragraph 239 of the report states:The head of the Security Service may approach the Prime Minister himself on matters of supreme importance and delicacy".I venture to think that that report and those recommendations still hold good and that there is no need for a further or more elaborate chain of accountability. I saw all those witnesses in connection with that report, and I saw the director general, Sir Robert Hollis, myself. I saw his staff. They were keeping in touch from the very beginning with the situation involving Stephen Ward and the Russian, Ivanov, and with the happenings in Ward's flat with such people as Christine Keeler and the like. They were reporting on the situation to the proper people—to the Foreign Office and to Admiralty House, where the Prime Minister then was. They took the line all along that it was not their function to investigate either the private morals or the private lives of any individual. Having regard to the whole of the circumstances, they came to the conclusion that there was no security risk involved in anything that Mr. Profumo did. I hope that all those suspicions were cleared away by that report.
Having seen Sir Roger Hollis, his staff and how they worked with him, I have complete confidence in his integrity and uprightness, and indeed in Lord Trend's subsequent vindication of him. So much for that inquiry.
As regards the matters which are the subject of controversy today, I shall not go into them. There is undoubtedly unease about disclosures that have been made. Do they require another inquiry? All I would say is that any senior officer of the service who has any doubts about the loyalty of his superiors and others should immediately report them to the Home Secretary or to the Prime Minister, rather than waiting until after people are dead and unable to answer for themselves. That is what anyone who was uneasy about the conduct of persons in office should have done, rather waiting until after such persons were dead and unable to answer for themselves.
I hope that the House will accept the importance of people in the security service maintaining complete confidence not only during their period in the service but for their whole lives. In the circumstances, I hope that those principles will be established firmly throughout.
184 To come back to the question of whether there is any need for further accountability, I venture to think that the system I described in my report still holds good. In exceptional cases, there may be need for an inquiry, as there was in the case in question, but as a general rule let the position go on as it is. It is very good on the whole and has withstood the test of time.
§ 3.40 p.m.
Lord Campbell of Croy
My Lords, our gratitude is due to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, for having raised the question of accountability of the security service, which is an important subject. We have to ask ourselves how best to balance the need for some basic secrecy with the proper supervision of such a service in a democracy.
The noble Lord in the Motion and in his speech has used the plural, "services". I shall refer to the "security service" in the singular, the organisation concerned with counter-espionage, also known as MI5. As regards any other organisations involved in gathering intelligence, I shall refer simply to the British intelligence system.
In the limited time available to each speaker I hope that I can make a thoughtful contribution, because my work in public service has at times brought me in touch with the security service and our intelligence system, in particular when I was Private Secretary to Sir Norman Brooke, then Secretary to the Cabinet. I should make it clear that I have never myself been a member of the organisations concerned. I saw something of their problems and their successes, and I benefited from the products of their work.
In speaking today, I am very conscious of being subject to the restraints of the Official Secrets Act, imposed when I entered the Foreign Office in 1946. Since 1970, I have also been bound by the Privy Counsellor's oath. Consequently, your Lordships will understand that I tread with care, and will speak in general, not in detail.
Because of the positions that I have held, my interest has been engaged, and continues to be engaged, in the nagging question: how can the activities of the security service and the intelligence system be satisfactorily supervised and accounted for? There is no straight-forward solution of the orthodox kind because we must recognise that there are two special requirements. First, most of their important work must be secret, otherwise they could not carry out their functions. There would be no point in their existence. Secondly, they ought to have discretion to carry out covert activities, and be able to act quickly, in accordance with understood guidelines.
Their accountability at present, as in the past, is to certain Ministers through designated officials. The Ministers are of course accountable to Parliament, but they do not discuss the work of the organisations in Parliament, or elsewhere in public, since this would make it impossible to retain the necessary secrecy. That convention has always been accepted by governments and official oppositions.
From time to time there have been suggestions for a Select Committee or a parliamentary commission. The same difficulty, I suggest, arises as for the Floor of either House. It is not a suitable place for a discussion 185 of matters most of which are secret and are being ardently sought after by certain hostile organisations and individuals.
Another proposal suggested in another place in the debate on 3rd December, and again today the preference of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, is a conference of Privy Counsellors. I happen to be in an excellent position to comment because I was the secretary of the first such body to be appointed at the end of 1955, and so was involved in drafting its report, produced four months later. The conference was on security. It was established after the Soviet Government had suddenly produced in Moscow Burgess and Maclean, who some three years earlier had disappeared. The Russians obviously did this in order to embarrass the West. Their appearance certainly caused headlines, confusion and calls for an inquiry.
The problem, however, was how an inquiry could be unbiased, yet consist of people who could be informed about very secret matters. An internal investigation within government was not considered acceptable, though party politics did not arise at that stage because the events to be examined occurred during periods in office of different governments. The Privy Counsellors appointed were as follows: three members of the Conservative Government of the day, the Lord President, the Lord Chancellor and the Home Secretary; three former Labour Cabinet Ministers, including Lord Jowitt, a former Lord Chancellor, and Mr. Morrison, a former Foreign Secretary. The seventh Privy Counsellor was Sir Edward Bridges, who was head of the Civil Service as well as Permanent Secretary to the Treasury. One member was Lord Kilmuir, who, as Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, had been the Home Secretary who formulated in 1952 the directive to the security service which I understand still governs its operations today.
The report of the conference making recommendations on security in the public service was published as a parliamentary paper, Cmnd. 9715. Incidentally, I had met both Burgess and Maclean in my work in the Foreign Office in the late 1940s. A similar formula was used when another conference of Privy Counsellors was appointed a few years later on telephone tapping. Again, sensitive secret matters were to be looked into.
Having had a hand in thinking up this kind of body, the first one in 1955, I favour it as a formula for certain occasions but not as a permanent body. It was clearly suitable as a means of investigating a particular situation or episode, but I believe it is not appropriate as a body attempting permanently to monitor and supervise the security service. It would make little if any addition, I think, to accountability to Parliament. For completeness, I should mention that a similar group of Privy Counsellors was established immediately after the Falklands conflict where an inquiry was clearly needed and defence and security secrets were involved. An internal government inquiry might have been seen as a whitewash.
At that time, I was aware of the same climate of concern as in 1955. I am sure that the Government had it in mind, but in case the formula had been overlooked I reminded the appropriate quarter of the 1955 conference. I was therefore gratified to find that 186 this was eventually adopted even to the equivalent of Sir Edward Bridges—for Sir Patrick Nairne, the civil servant, was appointed a Privy Counsellor and made a member of the committee.
I have spoken of secrecy. Your Lordships will know from Question Time that I am one of those who have been trying to get Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act replaced. Indeed, the Government introduced a Bill to do that in 1979. They made a worthy effort, but ran into difficulties.
I believe that those who are recruited and work in the security service should not be free to release sensitive information or write memoirs, including such information after retiring. If they have an urge to write about their work they should go into another occupation. I also believe that some blame attaches to publishers if they press for memoirs with the maximum number of names, rumours and allegations. The effect is to reduce to some extent the security of the 55 million people living in this country. The effectiveness of our security service is diminished and other countries will be less willing to share secret information with us.
Perhaps I may express a final thought about past relationships with the Soviet Union. During the war, from 1941 to 1945, the Russians were our allies and presumably military intelligence and other useful intelligence was passed to them. Those who worked in our intelligence system had to readjust after 1945. That could be illustrated by my own case because I was an ordinary regimental soldier from the beginning of the war until the end of the war in Europe. I was wounded during the assault across the Elbe on the day before Hitler committed suicide.
What was our objective? My division was due to meet the Russians near Lübeck, which happened within two days. I departed with a bullet through my middle which kept me in hospital for more than a year. A year and a half after that sudden departure from the army I entered the Foreign Office, having been successful in the entrance exam, and was immediately sent to the Eastern European department where I found myself dealing with the Russians on a quite different basis. They had changed from being wartime allies to being potential enemies with whom we had to be very careful.
I accept that there is a place for special inquiries on particular subjects and episodes and that membership can be devised suitable for receiving secret information. But I do not think a workable system can be set up permanently for supervision and accountability which would improve upon the present arrangements for ministerial responsibility.
§ 3.51 p.m.
§ Lord Hooson
My Lords, I should like to join in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, for initiating this debate. It seems to have come at a particularly appropriate time not so much because of the affair that is going on in Australia but because in the other place there is an early-day motion, headed by the very respected former Home Secretary Mr. Merlyn Rees, calling for an inquiry into the alleged political surveillance of the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Rievaulx, when he was Prime Minister of this country. As your 187 Lordships will recollect, Mr. Merlyn Rees was the Home Secretary who reported to the succeeding Prime Minister, Mr. James Callaghan, that everything was all right because it had been reported to Mr. Rees—and I have had words with Mr. Rees about this—by the director general of M15 that there was nothing to report. The fact that his name now heads an early-day motion calling for an inquiry into the matter underlines the seriousness of the affair.
I found the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Dacre, with his excellent knowledge and experience, totally convincing. The Government would do well to heed his very wise words in regard to the security services. I should like to underline the point that has been made that there is excessive secrecy. I was engaged last year in my professional duties, defending in the so-called Cyprus spy trial of young servicemen charged with Section 1 offences. The way senior officials of the intelligence services had to deny the existence of facts that could be simply proved by producing newspaper reports and government announcements over a number of years was ludicrous. The jury and everybody else in the court found it ludicrous. There is excessive secrecy.
I should like to make my position clear. I accept of course that the security services must necessarily be properly and effectively secretive about their legitimate operational matters. I totally accept that there must be a binding obligation for life on members of the security services not to disclose what was entrusted to them as confidential in the legitimate pursuit of their duties. But that is not the point that really arises; and we all know this to be true.
I want to concentrate on two spheres where difficulties arise. First, if the service under its director general indulges in legal activites—for example, under the guise of political surveillance—given its power and expertise, it must be very tempting at times to go beyond the bounds of legitimacy. It would be very dangerous for the country as a whole, as well as being totally and unacceptably unfair to individuals who were selected as targets, if this were allowed to go on uncontrolled. I entirely take the point that the noble Lord, Lord Dacre, so convincingly made about the need for tighter internal control. I also accept his view that there should be a measure of external control.
Secondly, there is the much more likely scenario of dissident members of the security services indulging in illegal activities—for example, if they do not seek warrants to intercept telephone calls but just do it; if they commit burglaries, and so on—in pursuit of what they subjectively consider to be acceptable aims. If a part of the service gets out of control, as it has been alleged part of the service did for one period, what is the situation of an individual member of the service who is an upright person and is deeply offended by what is going on? What is his duty? Is it to keep silent? The answer is no, it cannot be. Is it to report to his superiors? Clearly, it is.
However, what if the superiors pay no attention? Is he to take an active part in a cover-up? Is he to continue making protests when perhaps his superiors do not want to know? What is that officer's duty to the country? I have to remind your Lordships that at 188 Nuremberg, in a different context truly, the defence of superior orders was there held by all the judges to be no answer to a charge of the commission of a war crime. It is not entirely an analogous situation but there are certain situations when even in the security services it is legitimate to say that the defence of superior orders is no defence.
The danger is this. The individual involved has to reach a subjective judgment on what is or is not legitimate and on what is or is not proper for him to do. Surely the noble Lord, Lord Dacre, is right that there must be somebody to whom an officer can report, an outside body or at least an outside individual, so that an anxiety can be expressed, guidance sought and advice taken or to whom he can legitimately make a complaint about the running of the service. This appears to be the greatest single problem affecting the security services at the present time.
I go back to the allegations concerning the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Rievaulx, of whose political views and political activities I never entirely approved. I am bound to say that the allegations are that there were surveillance, interceptions and burglaries involving the houses of the Prime Minister himself. Did it happen? Surely that can be answered. Why did it happen? Was it authorised? If so, by whom? If it was not authorised, who did it? How many were involved? What disciplinary action was taken in respect of them? Surely these are matters that the public have a right to know. This House and I think the Government owe a duty to the country to make as much information available as possible so that the matter can be fairly judged.
I do not have the expertise to suggest what kind of body is appropriate for the external control but I think it should be a permanent body to which any member of the security services with true anxieties and needing real guidance can go. That would perhaps prevent the kind of scene that has presented itself in the court in Sydney, where the Government are quite legitimately trying to prevent the publication of all kinds of disclosed secrets, when if they had provided their own machinery for complaint and guidance they would not be faced with that situation.
§ 3.59 p.m.
§ Lord Beloff
My Lords, I join in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, because the subject we are discussing is important and one on which I think most people's minds are not closed. We have had a variety of suggestions as to how the situation might be improved.
I cannot claim, as have other speakers, to have had any direct involvement in any capacity with any of the security services. As a private citizen and, at the time, a university teacher I was from time to time approached with questions about a pupil or other former acquaintance of mine who was presumably being looked at with a view to confidential employment. My impression on those occasions was that the security service was employing people whose degree of political sensitivity was rather low. I should have thought that the important aspect in a security service must always be the quality of the personnel.
189 I share the admiration for Mr. Christopher Andrew's remarkable History of the Secret Service. If one reads his book one is amazed, at a time when great efforts were made to handle recruitment for the Civil Service, the armed forces and the Colonial Service, how haphazard and amateur was the procedure by which people became members of the secret services. Therefore I should have thought that if strengthening is needed that is where the strengthening is required.
What I am doubtful about—apart from this question of appeal by a dissident member, where I think the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, is probably right in saying that there ought to be such machinery—is the suggestion of a permanent body of oversight. The noble Lord, Lord Dacre, suggested the parallel of the Senate Intelligence Committee; but in spite of his praise for that institution recent revelations in the United States would not suggest that the activities of the American services are altogether free from blame. Indeed, they seem more bizarre than many of the allegations against our own service.
It does not seem to me that parliamentary surveillance is appropriate in this field. It is of course tempting—the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, referred to this—to make use of the existence of the special status of Privy Counsellors, but I can only refer to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson of Lullington; that is. when the Leader of the Opposition, who is a Privy Counsellor, associates himself and aids the presentation of an anti-government case in a security matter, as Mr. Turnbull made quite clear in court yesterday, that is very damaging to the cause of those——
§ Lord Mishcon
My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord will give way. So far this debate has taken place without any party political points being set. Will the noble Lord be careful in his language? He said that it was aiding the case against the Crown. Mr. Kinnock, to whom the noble Lord is referring, is an honourable man. He said that he was asking to correct, if necessary, information that he had. He was not giving information. Will the noble Lord please remember that and couch his terms a little more carefully?
§ Lord Beloff
My Lords, I am sorry, but I am not referring to what Mr. Kinnock said. I am referring to what Mr. Turnbull said in court yesterday. He said that were it not for the information elicited by Mr. Kinnock in questioning the Prime Minister he would not have been able to present so convincing a case. That is Mr. Turnbull's statement, not mine. I was not using it in a party sense. I was using it in the sense that the Privy Counsellors' oath is perhaps insufficient.
§ Lord Mishcon
My Lords, the noble Lord is courteous in giving way but not courteous in his language. He is now referring to what was openly said in Parliament by way of question and answer. That was in public.
§ Lord Beloff
My Lords, I never indicated that it was in private. I am sorry, but I never indicated that anything was done in private. I merely said, as did the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, in rather more extreme language than I have used, that this event cast some 190 question over the possibility of using a committee of Privy Counsellors. If it had involved a Conservative, a Liberal or a Social Democrat I should have taken precisely the same view. There are problems in using the Privy Counsellors' oath in matters of this kind. It may be possible to overcome those problems, but it would be idle to pretend that they do not exist.
Another point which I believe must be made is this. I can quite understand the belief, the wish and the hope that has been expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, that security should be limited, so far as possible, to non-political matters. Of course when it is a question of not allowing a potential enemy to have a picture of some weapon of war everything is very straightforward and few people find that to be a problem. But the history of the secret service has, alas, never been limited to that.
The first and great exponent of the British secret service was Sir Francis Walsingham, who, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, spent a great deal of public money and employed a great many perhaps doubtful people in seeking out Catholic priests who were thought to be agents in a plot to dethrone Queen Elizabeth in favour of a Catholic pretender. If one refers to the state papers of William III's reign one finds, again, an enormous amount of secret activity directed towards intercepting communications between this country and foreign courts where the Stuart pretender of the day was residing.
Therefore, whenever you have in a country a great gap between what the Government of the day or the state regard as security and some element in the population which directly challenges that view it is difficult to see how the security services can avoid being implicated. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, for example, indicated that he thought the service went beyond its brief in looking at or intercepting communications between two prominent members of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. However, in view of the fact that persons associated with that campaign have not merely made propaganda—as is their right—for a totally different set-up in our defences but have actually intercepted military convoys and endeavoured to interrupt the ordinary course of military practice, clearly at some point such people will no doubt deserve and receive the attention of the security services.
It is a very difficult area, and short of having tight ministerial control, better recruitment and, as the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, said, a proper appeal mechanism for those who feel aggrieved or feel that things are going wrong, I find it hard to see how much progress can be made.
§ 4.9 p.m.
§ Lord Wilson of Langside
My Lords, so far we have had an interesting debate. I venture to say that it will probably become even more interesting when the Minister replies to at least half of the very pointed questions put to him by the noble Lord, Lord Hooson. I hope he will have already applied his mind to that.
It has been, too, an encouraging and useful debate. Like many others, I found the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dacre, particularly encouraging and interesting. I think the question to which the House 191 will wish to have an answer, in the context of what he said, is this. Can we take it that, broadly speaking, what he said represents the Government's approach to the problems in this area with which we are concerned this afternoon? Can we take it that the Government have absorbed the lessons of the events which led to such nonsense as the trial in Australia and the various other bits of nonsense which have been visited upon us over the last 40 years? Moreover, can we take it that the Government's approach to that situation is broadly the sensible one which, as I understand it, the noble Lord, Lord Dacre, was advocating?
I found the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dacre, intriguing too because he reminded me of my own experience in the intelligence hierarchy at the very bottom of the ladder of which he was at the top. My experience, which was brief, took place when I was in my mid-20s and took the shape of the lowest form of life in the military field; namely, the regimental intelligence officer.
As the noble Lord was describing his experience, I wondered what excuse I had for participating in your Lordships' debate this afternoon. At various levels over the last 40 years or so, for my sins I have been involved in prosecuting and trying criminals and that has given me a wide experience. During this time I have often reflected upon the dangers of the establishment cover-up, which is an invention neither of the media nor yet of the anti-establishment lobby but is a fact of real life. I feel that my experience has perhaps given me some locus to participate in the debate.
More seriously, I am concerned to make only one short point to emphasise the importance of accountability in this sphere. What above all persuaded me that some government action was essential with regard to the accountability of the security services was the granting of immunity from criminal prosecution to the traitors Blunt and Philby. I thought that the circumstances surrounding that grant of immunity to both those rogues were quite outrageous. So far as they are known to the public, the circumstances will be well known to your Lordships and I shall not venture to elaborate upon them, but it is said that the Attorney-General of the day was consulted. I should dearly like to know the form that that consultation took but I know that if I asked him the Minister would not tell me, even if he knew, which I imagine he does not.
If that circumstance is true I find it profoundly disturbing that a Law Officer of the Crown should have concurred in such a step. To me it suggests a degree of irresponsibility that sits ill with such an office. In the other place on Monday, after dealing with the statement of 23rd August 1977 made by the then Prime Minister, Mr. Callaghan, a statement of which so much was made by the Government in debates in the other place and outside, the Minister of State at the Home Office said:No one is above the law in this country, and members of the Security Service are no more immune from prosecution than anyone else if they commit criminal offences".That is from the Official Report of the House of Commons, of 15th December 1986, col. 796. The question that I put to the Minister—and I hope that he will attempt to answer it—is what warrant there is in 192 the law of any part of the United Kingdom for the grant of that immunity to those two traitors.
§ 4.16 p.m.
§ Lord Annan
My Lords, I am very much in agreement with the speakers who have opened this debate and particularly with the noble Lord, Lord Dacre. The problem we are facing stems from the fact that there has been a change in the position of the security services. In the period before 1914 spies were people who were paid by nations to extract information, whereas after 1919 spies were motivated by ideology. One of the greatest disservices done to their country by the Cambridge spies was to create within the security services a profound sense of unease about who was or was not loyal within the service. That is one reason why things have changed.
The second reason is that we are no longer living in a society which respects confidentiality in the way that it was once respected. It is no good hoping that those days will return. I know perfectly well from my academic life that if I send a confidential letter about someone's merits or demerits for a particular academic post that letter will be leaked probably right back to the person about whom it was written. Times have changed and we are unlikely to return to a time when one can rely on secrecy and confidentiality being preserved. It is not preserved in Government. We all know the way in which government is conducted by leaks.
There is a point on which I slightly dissent from the noble Lord, Lord Dacre. He expressed surprise that Mr. Chapman Pincher had not been prosecuted. I am not a lawyer but I cannot see how he could have been prosecuted, because he has nothing to do with the security services and was merely retailing what he heard. I would guess that one reason why it would have been so unwise to prosecute is because the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, might well have been the counsel who would have been briefed for his defence. The noble Lord has had the most astonishing and remarkable forensic successes in security matters.
We live in a free country. So when the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, asked why it was that Blunt was not prosecuted, the answer must be that in a court of law Blunt would have won his case with ease because he would have refused to admit anything. It was only by a promise of immunity that information which, in the opinion of the security services was of great value to the state, could have been extracted from him. There is an inconsistency about the way in which confidential material has been regarded by the Crown. The first notable book on secret matters which appeared was that written by the late Sir John Masterman who was a great pillar of the Establishment, the Provost of Worcester and the tutor in history of the noble Lord, Lord Dacre of Glanton—from whom no doubt, he learned a great deal! Sir John was the person who first revealed the secrets of the double-cross during the war—the use of double agents to deceive the German Army.
Then we had the revelations of Group Captain Winterbottom who revealed that there was a place called Bletchley and that the cryptographers who worked there produced the remarkable traffic known today as Ultra. Those of us like myself who did not 193 produce but consumed Ultra knew that its existence was known to hundreds of people, and yet not one of them ever said a word about this. Was the Group Captain Winterbottom told that he might write his book? Was he told that unofficially? I do not think he could have been told it officially because the official history is now being written by Sir Harry Hinsley.
There is the case of another person. We all know that many operations of great gallantry were performed during the war by officers in Greece. Mr. Paddy Leigh Fermor is famous for having captured General Kreipe in Crete, and wrote an enthralling book about it. Colonel Monty Woodhouse wrote an extremely good book about his operations with ELAS. Another officer wrote a book about his operations in the Epirus. Why was it that there was an attempt to stop publication of this last book? The reason an attempt was made to stop it was that after the war (not during the war) that officer joined the security services. The book was in no way connected with anything he did while in the service. It really is very strange when there is such inconsistency to know what line is likely to be taken about publication.
Mr. Wright is undoubtedly someone who has broken his trust. He is also someone who, as the noble Lord, Lord Dacre, said, is paranoid that his view of what happened in the years between 1950 and 1970 is not accepted by his superiors. So long as we try and maintain, as the noble Lord, Lord Dacre, said, total secrecy about these matters there will be rows and confusion. We must move more towards the American system whereby an officer of the CIA submits any book he wishes to write about his life to the CIA which judges what parts of it, if any, should be excised. If we go on saying that nothing can be published of any kind, we shall have another case like that in Sydney again on our hands.
I therefore very much approve of the proposal that there should be a more thorough system of surveillance of security matters than exists today. I should hope to see any such commission headed by one of Her Majesty's judges, perhaps with two Privy Counsellors in attendance, because I think that judicial wisdom is required there. We need someone who can ask the right questions of the security chiefs, and particularly so since it is always difficult to know what the right questions are.
There is one last point I should like to make which concerns political surveillance. It is not entirely true that the security services are interested only in Left-wing organisations. In 1939 a former member of the security services, Admiral Sir Barry Domville was interned for the duration of the war, and Joan Miller was used by MI5 to infiltrate a ludicrous fascist cell.
When one comes to the business of political surveillance, one needs to remember that people come under suspicion very often because of those they associate with. Having associated during my life with disreputable company, I would not be at all surprised if at any time the security services began to investigate me.
§ Lord Dacre of Glanton
My Lords, before the noble Lord. Lord Annan, sits down, may I correct a small point? I never suggested—or at least I never meant to 194 suggest—that Mr. Chapman Pincher should have been prosecuted. My point was that his book should have been prevented in the way that an attempt is being made to prevent the publication of Mr. Wright's book; or if that had failed, that Mr. Wright should have been prosecuted then, rather than pursued now.
§ 4.26 p.m.
§ Lord Birdwood
My Lords, this is not the first time I have had reason to thank the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, for initiating a topic of exceptional interest, nor is it the first time in which I find myself in profound disagreement with him.
The use of the word "accountability" in the Motion before the House is in the height of political fashion. The Left uses is as a petulant taunt to any body which does not go through the Left's own play acting at democracy. It is no surprise that a universal feature of Left-wing totalitarianism is complete, obliterative secrecy in all its actions. But the word "accountability" is scarcely safer in the hands of the Right wing ideologues. This is the accountability of super pragmatism, of any means to achieve ideological ends.
There is a popular surge of feeling in our times for openness in all the mechanisms of authority. We are told that public demand will not be served, and cannot be served, until all the levers and cogs of state become public knowledge. Anybody who questions this headlong rush to disclosure is pointed out as a conspirator, a plotter, a concealer, an enemy of the people. Openness has become confused with honour. Discretion has become confused with conspiracy.
Let me give your Lordships' House a personal perception of reality not fantasy. To start with, the reality is that we are discussing an arm of state which is properly called the secret services. The Official Secrets Act is an oath of secrecy, openly, willingly taken. It is not some temporary condition of employment such as travel warrants. Your Lordships have heard a lot about "wrestling with conscience" or "deeper loyalties". In the areas of behaviour covered by the Official Secrets Act, breaking that oath is the first step to treason. It is a clear choice between reality and fantasy. It is an oath of secrecy. There are anomalies which make good copy—but they are not the anomalies of tyranny.
Every so often, a debate in this House allows us to peer briefly into our deeper ideas of values, and one of these ideas is our judgment of what makes tyranny and what makes freedom. Do we seriously believe that accountability of our secret services would somehow promote freedom? I suggest that reality—perhaps one should say Realpolitik—shows us that invariably these activities go into deeper and ever deeper concealment.
The Left on this matter likes to play the American card. Its posture is: here is the society you say you want to emulate. Go ahead: show us the British equivalent of the Senate Intelligence Committee. In an outstanding essay in Time Magazine a few days ago this notion is blown out the water. While we are fiddling with schemes of letting light in on our intelligence activities, the Americans are realising that in their maturity of global power there is now an absolute responsibility of secrecy.
195 Another authoritative article in The Times newspaper dissected the issue of secrecy and concluded incontrovertibly that if some regulatory hand is ceaselessly monitoring every action in detail we shall get not better government but worse.
I have listened to the argument supporting the Congressional Intelligence Committee system and, closer to home, the Franks Committee remodelling of the Joint Intelligence Organisation. Nowhere do I find an able, cogent case for a permanent programme or accountability—what is sometimes called the "oversight" body. It may come about that there is a need to mount specific ad hoc investigations. We have the capability to do it in the existence of our senior legal voices—the judges, the inheritors of nine hundred years of holding truth to be important.
The reality is that I am a British citizen. This is not the time to talk about all that this means to me. But in my defence of this state of mind are vigilance, subtlety, perseverance and honour. Perhaps, for me, it is part of being British that I trust in the un-elected components of this nation's machinery of state, and trust that its secrets are kept.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Lord Gladwyn
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Dacre—whose speech we all so greatly admired—I should perhaps start, even after the lapse of about half a century, and subject, of course to the Official Secrets Act, by declaring a certain limited interest. During 1938, 1939 and the early part of 1940 I was, in fact, as private secretary to the head of the Foreign Office, Sir Alexander Cadogan, the sole direct link with what is now, I understand, known as MI6, but not with MI5, which was responsible to the Home Secretary. In that capacity, I was assisted by one lady typist and, as war approached, by an elderly retired diplomat. That was all the assistance I had!
In those far-off days the relationship of the government with what were then called "the friends" was, on the whole, a happy one. The organisation was perhaps not all that important. Its reports were quite valuable but on the whole they did not add a very great deal to our existing knowledge of what was going on in Nazi Germany. On the other hand, from about the middle of 1940 onwards, as is now common knowledge, their reports became a major importance owing to the organisation's immense success in cracking the German and many other ciphers.
Certainly the "friends" were in a general way accountable—that is the word used by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins—in that we in the Foreign Office were conscious of what we were doing in a general way even though they could rightly be repudiated if anything went seriously wrong—which in my time I do not think it did. It never occurred to us that there might be defectors or enemy agents in the ranks of the "friends". In so far as such defectors were at that time, as we now know, pro-Soviet and not pro-Nazi, no doubt their existence did not matter very much until after the war was over. I have no idea what the position now is. In fact, I do not even know for certain—apparently with the Government—that MI6 exists! But I imagine that by this time all possible 196 precautions have been taken as regards treachery. We must assume that that is so.
However, what the Russians gained by the treachery of Burgess, Maclean, Philby and others was probably less important than what we ourselves gained from the intelligence provided over the years by the many Soviet defectors. I believe, for instance, that Penkovsky gave us more information regarding Soviet nuclear progress than they ever gleaned from the reports of Fuchs, and even from Maclean himself. Incidentally, it is possible that Maclean was acting in the interests of the Western world by presumably reporting from Washington to Moscow that the Americans were entirely serious about organising NATO and joining the Europeans in a common Atlantic defence. Perhaps that even prevented war.
In other words, we should perhaps not be too despondent about the activities of traitors in the Western camp. Some no doubt still exist in Western Germany at the moment. We should not be too despondent. Traitors may always to some extent be with us. I am talking of the Western world. Nor should we get too excited about goings on in our secret services generally.
As regards MI5, I have, as I have said, no inside information whatever, but it rather looks as though the allegations that Sir Roger Hollis was a Soviet spy are without foundation and that the exact motives of Mr. Wright in pursuing this vendetta may be open to question. What is certain is that it is quite wrong for an ex-employee of any secret service who has sworn not to talk about his experiences in the service to break his word and do precisely that. That is surely wrong and that must be admitted by everybody.
However, there remains this question. How can these secret services best be controlled and prevented from doing anything which might be considered prejudicial to the public interest? In this connection my attention has been drawn to the statement made in 1977 in the House of Commons by Dr. Shirley Summerskill, at that time Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office, when the House debated an interview between journalists and the former Prime Minister, Sir Harold Wilson, in which the latter seemed to be accusing MI5 of having insinuated that Members of his Government had had improper relations with the Soviet Union. With the permission of the House I shall quote a few sentences from this statement of Dr. Summerskill, because it seems to me to give an excellent definition of ministerial responsibility. I quote:Whatever may be the inhibitions upon our discussion of these matters in the House, honourable Members are entirely justified in seeking to be assured that Ministers are satisfied of the competence, integrity and loyalty of this service. That more than the accuracy or otherwise of allegations of what happened or did not happen on particular occasions in the past, is the serious point in all this. The House is entitled to look to the Ministers to whom the security service is answerable and accountable—that is, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and in the last resort my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister—to accept responsibility that all is well in this respect …As to that, the tradition in this country is that the service is accountable to Ministers. Parliament accepts that the accountability must be to Ministers rather than to Parliament, and trusts Ministers to discharge that responsibility faithfully.My right hon. Friends, the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary will continue to undertake a close oversight of the work of 197 the security service and will take any further action that may be required, from time to time, to assure themselves that it is staffed by persons who are competent professionally".It seems to me from this statement—which I trust is still valid—that if there are any abuses in a security service, which there would have been if the allegations regarding improper action against Lord Wilson and some of his colleagues in 1977 were at all true—then these must be rectified in the first instance by direct ministerial action.
It has, however, recently been suggested—and suggested by many noble Lords this afternoon—that there is a case for some kind of supervision over the secret services being maintained by a committee, perhaps of especially appointed Privy Counsellors, presumably responsible to Parliament.
It seems to me—and I think one or two noble Lords have said this—that such a body, if constituted, should not be concerned with the operations of such a service but rather with possible investigations into any alleged misuse of its powers, or with any major defections on the part of its staff. In this way the public, and notably Parliament, might be assured that the Government, which would still have the primary responsibility of coping with the incident, were at least taking the matter seriously.
It is presumably questionable whether the findings of such a committee should be published in extenso when transmitted to the Government. It must in any case be hoped that they would not be formulated on any party lines. May I therefore suggest that the commission, if it is ever formed, might be composed of Privy Counsellors who are also Cross-Bench Members of your Lordships' House and, after all, Members of Parliament. I think it may also be desirable that such a body, if formed, be composed of not more than possibly three or five members. I am sure that suitable Privy Counsellors of that calibre and in that number could be found among the Cross-Benchers. In this way party politics would not come into the commission's conclusions at all.
It is undoubtedly a difficult and perhaps dangerous subject to pursue, so I will conclude my brief remarks with what might perhaps be a constructive idea. It could appeal to the Government if they are going to take the proposal for some body to supervise the secret services at all seriously.
§ 4.43 p.m.
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
My Lords, I think that there is general agreement in the House that this has been a very worthwhile debate. We all owe a debt of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, for having initiated the debate.
What I want to say tonight relates primarily to MI5. It is involved in two areas of work which in my view require the highest degree of public confidence in its activities. First, it has to deal with the undoubted threat posed to this country and our colleagues in the North Atlantic Alliance by the existence in this country of Soviet and East European intelligence services. Secondly, there is the crucially important work it does in relation to the terrorist threat. In those two areas it is of the utmost importance that it gets the highest degree of public support. I think it is a matter 198 for concern that over the past few years there has been a substantial degree of dissatisfaction expressed about some of its activities. I think that we must look at some of those criticisms in the debate tonight.
I should first like to discuss the Australian case (if I may so describe it) and related matters; and, secondly, the question of the accountability of the service. I should like to begin by making my position on Mr. Wright quite clear. I do not regard the publication of books containing sensitive information by former members of MI5 and MI6 as acceptable. Indeed, I regard it as deplorable; and on that issue I very much agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, and my noble friend Lord Gladwyn, said a few moments ago.
However, in my view that does not begin to justify the activities of the Government in the courts in Australia, and indeed those in Ireland. Already one of those cases, the case in Ireland, has failed, and to put in mildly, the case in Australia does not appear to be going terribly well at the moment.
Perhaps I may quote what Mr. Justice Powell said on Monday in Sydney:How can one, after what has happened in the last five years, accept that the British Government is genuinely concerned to demonstrate that MI5 is leakproof when it has, with abundant forewarning and … abundant opportunity to do something about it, let the Pincher book go to print, the West book, in a truncated form, go to print, the Massiter interview go to air and, more to the point, Mr. Wright to go to air".
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
My Lords, I have very little time at my disposal. With great respect, the speaker of the House of Commons has already made it clear that this matter is not sub judice, and I am surprised that the noble Lord appears to be unaware of that.
That is what the trial judge said in Sydney. I think it is a matter that the House has to take very seriously. If it is right to attempt to use the Australian court in this way, why have the Government decided not to use the British courts? This is precisely the point that the noble Lord, Lord Dacre, made a few moments ago. The Government say that they acted against Mr. Wright and failed to act against Mr. Chapman Pincher for his book Their Trade is Treachery, which contained exactly the same allegations as does the book by Mr. Wright, because Mr. Wright used to work for MI5 and Mr. Chapman Pincher did not. However, as we all know—and the Government know this just as well as everyone else—Mr. Pincher was little more than a ghost writer for Mr. West. Again that was a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dacre. They even split the proceeds of the book on a fifty-fifty basis. Why did the Government not attempt to get an injunction against Mr. Pincher—not a prosecution, my Lords, but an injunction?
The judge in Australia has said that he did not understand it and we now know that the Attorney- 199 General in this country was not consulted either. There is one document which goes to Ministers in this Government as it went to previous governments, which is known as "Prime Minister's Instructions to Ministers". This document has already been leaked extensively in the British press, so one can draw upon it. It makes it quite clear that the Attorney-General must be consulted in any case where major interests of the state are involved. Yet we now know that at no stage was the Attorney-General consulted. I find that astonishing and I should like to know what reply the Government have to make to that particular point.
I believe that the Government made a further great error by sending Sir Robert Armstrong to defend their case in Sydney. I worked with Sir Robert Armstrong in two government departments. I know him to be an official of the highest degree of integrity and honour, and I think it most unfortunate that a distinguished public servant has been pushed into the firing line in this way. I hope that Ministers have experienced some degree of embarrassment for the position in which they have placed him.
Turning to the question of accountability, Mr. Justice Powell referred to the Massiter case and the Government's strange reluctance to use the courts in this country in respect of the serious allegations which she made. In this case an ex-M15 employee made allegations on Channel 4 television. She alleged that the definition of "subversion' given by me in this House as a Member of the then Government was deliberately misused in order to allow telephone interception of the CND. To reply to what the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, said, that is an organisation, which the last Home Secretary said he did not regard as subversive.
Secondly, Miss Massiter's allegation was that the Kilmuir guidelines had been deliberately breached by Ministry of Defence officials who had obtained information about the political beliefs of some CND executive members for partisan political use by Ministers. This subject was raised in this House during the debate on the Interception of Communications Bill. On that occasion, on behalf of my noble friends, I pressed for a security ombudsman on the lines proposed in the House of Commons by Sir Edward Gardner, supported by Mr. Callaghan and Mr. Rees, and by many others. I very much welcome the support given to this today by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, which makes it even more puzzling because when we put the matter to the vote last year, the noble Lord voted against us.
I think that undoubtedly progress in this direction is now of critical importance, and I believe that that has been recognised by Members on both sides of the House. The noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw—who was in his place until a few moments ago—sought on the occasion of that debate to reassure us that efforts were being made to provide internal outlets for grievances by members of MI5 and MI6. He said at col. 994 of the Official Report of 1st July 1985:He"—that is, the new director general of the security services— 200has also—and this is a crucial consideration so far as this new clause is concerned—been asked to consider and to report on what developments he proposes by way of internal outlets for the expression of grievances or anxieties by individual members of the service.The matter with which this new clause is concerned is accordingly under his examination.I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, will answer this question: what progress has been made since July of last year to fulfil that undertaking?
His right honourable friend the Home Secretary, when pressed on this particular matter in the House of Commons, said this:Discussions on that important point are still going on.That is at col. 944 of Hansard, House of Commons, on 3rd December. So, one and a half years have passed and still nothing has been done. It does not seem to indicate that there is a great deal of urgency.
It seems to me that it is damaging to the morale of the security service that in one and a half years there has been no move to create an internal avenue of complaint in the security service. If Miss Massiter was right in her allegations, they should have been investigated. Likewise, the grave allegations relating to activities against the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, should clearly also have been investigated if any member of the then security service was aware that they were going on.
Quite apart from this, we need an all-party watchdog committee on the lines proposed by my right honourable friends in another place and my noble friend Lord Gladwyn today. Without this, this climate of suspicion will continue to grow, and I believe that that will damage the basic interests of the security services.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ Lord Mishcon
My Lords, I think I owe it in courtesy to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, and to the House to explain why I rose in the midst of his interesting speech. It was not that I was going to plead any point of sub judice. But it seemed to me—possibly the House may think that I am right, or wrong—that it was not extremely loyal to be arguing a case against the Government while that case is still pending in Australia, and to do so by quoting statements made by the learned judge of the court trying the case when he was making remarks which seemed to be contrary to the case of Her Majesty's Government. It seemed to me rather worse than any allegation that could be made that a leader of a party communicated on the telephone with counsel for the defence. That was why I rose as I did, and I do not apologise for doing so.
If I may turn to the subject of this important debate, I do so at the commencement not merely as a matter of courtesy but in sincerity by thanking my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Putney for choosing such an important debate at this time. As is customary in this House, the debate has been conducted, with very few exceptions, in an atmosphere which is objective and contructive and which has in no way involved petty party points.
It would be wrong for this House to do anything else. Either MI5 and MI6 are inconsequential in regard to the defence of the realm—in which case why talk 201 about accountability; why not just do away with the departments?—or they are vital to the security of this country, in which case one does not try to interfere with the morale of those in the service. Nor does one, by cheap comments or by empty debates, add doubt to our allies who trust in the adequacy and efficiency of those services. It certainly only does something to aid our own possible enemies. Therefore it was the right atmosphere that we had throughout this debate, and if I may humbly say so I propose to continue in that atmosphere.
There are possibly three matters of concern. There is the Official Secrets Act. I am not going into that in any detail except to say, as nearly everybody has said who has ever talked about that Act, that Section 2 is an abomination, but an abomination that Parliament has not yet been able to rid itself of merely because the alternative has not been agreed upon. The sooner there is some consensus of opinion, whatever be the proper channel to reach it in regard to an amendment of Section 2, the better.
The next point that obviously worries everybody is the question of the channel of complaints. If something is going wrong in the services, if really there is a suspicion that people who are in a high position are doing something which instead of helping the security of this country impairs it, where is the channel if there is no accountability for complaints?
The third question that worries everybody who has been concerned with this matter—and I think that at this moment the public is concerned about it—is: what is the machinery for reviewing what MI5 and MI6 may be doing? It has been said, and correctly, that the present channels which are there—MI5, the Home Secretary, and, in case of need, the Prime Minister as the ultimate person to whom to go; MI6, the Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister, if it has to go to that level—are unsatisfactory. The unsatisfactory situation in regard to that is that Home Secretaries and Foreign Secretaries are not only busy people but they are somewhat transient. It may be that they are transient with no ambition reached, because they lose their position and everything else. It may be of course that they are translated into other spheres. If there is one thing that you need if you are dealing with accountability, especially in regard to services like these, it is some sort of permanence.
We then turn, both in regard to the complaints matter and the review matter, to the suggestion that has been made about the Privy Counsellor's committee. Obviously that ought to have quite a hit of consideration. I suppose there are two doubts that I have: first, what happens if a Prime Minister to whom the names are submitted has some doubt in regard to the adequacy (I am not talking about loyalty) of the person nominated by a political party, or indeed on behalf of the Cross-Benches, as has been mentioned? To turn down that name is really to have the innuendo about it that it has been turned down on security grounds. It is a very embarrassing position.
But the greater fault that I find—this is only a personal opinion—with any such suggestion is that if it is to be a surveillance of policy that the committee is committed to, is it to be a committee of Back-Benchers that tells Ministers of whatever government 202 what they have to do? That strikes me as a little difficult.
Therefore in an endeavour to be constructive I put forward a suggestion which did not appeal—and he dismissed it very shortly—to the noble Lord, Lord Dacre, who, as everybody who has mentioned his name in this debate said, delivered a most thoughtful, instructive and, if I may say so, literally rather beautiful speech. The noble Lord said in regard to the suggestion that we look at a body which is already there and is non-political—the security commission—that it was too distant. I was listening with great interest to hear how he was going to develop that point. Because of the time limit imposed on all of us he was presumably unable to do so.
What are the terms of reference of that commission that was set up in 1964? It was requested by the Prime Minister to investigate and report upon the circumstances in which a breach of security is known to have occurred in the public service and upon any related failure of departmental security arrangements or neglect of duty, and, in the light of any such investigation, to advise whether any change in security arrangements was necessary or desirable.
Those terms of reference could be extended to the hearing of complaints that there might be within the security service that ought to be referred to such a commission ("referred" is a word I am using deliberately)—matters of concern at that moment; or to allow the commission to take unto itself a referral of any thing to do with the security service and give it the power to call for documents and witnesses; add to its number—I shall say one word about its membership in a moment—a couple of High Court judges: I especially did not mention Lords of Appeal, in ordinary or otherwise. I mentioned High Court judges with all the robustness that some puisne judges undoubtedly have.
My last word is to tell your Lordships of the present membership of such a commission. It is not had. The reports it has produced have been worthy and helpful reports. The members are: Lord Griffiths, the right honourable Lord Justice Lloyd, Lord Allen of Abbeydale and General Sir Hugh Beach. If your Lordships add to that two High Court judges, do you not have a pretty permanent commission to which surveillance and accountability could well be brought? Add to that the duty to produce an annual report in discreet language, preserving the security of these services, and that might produce a solution which is at least worthy of government consideration.
§ 5.2 p.m.
The Minister of State, Home Office (The Earl of Caithness)
My Lords, I welcome the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, in providing the House with an opportunity to debate the issue of the accountability and control of the security service. I particularly welcome the opportunity to put on record the debt which our country owes to the security service. Its work constitutes a vital dimension of the defence of the nation. The nature of the work means that its members receive few plaudits and they deserve better than to be the butt of the present rash of stories, claims and counterclaims, rumour and innuendo.
203 The control of the security service is naturally a matter of legitimate public concern. The public has the right to expect the Government to ensure that the country is protected by an effective security service and that the service itself does not abuse the cloak of secrecy which must cover its work.
I must inform the House that I am under two constraints—one general, one particular—in what I can say today. First, I am under the general constraint, which I know your Lordships will well understand, that I cannot always give an answer to many questions which have been raised about the security service. The noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Rievaulx, wrote in his book The Governance of Britain that,the Prime Minister is occasionally questioned on matters arising out of his responsibility. His answers may be regarded as uniformally uninformative".This has been the practice under successive governments of all parties and must remain so.
A second and particular difficulty is that I cannot comment on the case currently before the courts in Australia. While we are conducting that case, for reasons which my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has explained, we may not be drawn on the matters which are currently at issue. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, will understand that. If he was still in the position that I now have the honour to hold as Minister of State at the Home Office he would have said the same as I say.
Obviously it would be nice if we lived in a world where we did not need to safeguard ourselves against espionage or to protect ourselves against terrorism. These threats continue to loom large. Indeed the threat of domestic and international terrorism is probably now greater than it has been at any time. Through force of circumstance the role of the security service in combating terrorism has grown. An effective security service is a crucial part of the defence forces of the Crown and is central to the present and future safety and security of the British people. It would be a contradiction in terms to think that the security service could carry out its operations effectively in a blaze of publicity. Publicity is anathema to sensitive intelligence gathering operations.
It is not our contention that secrecy should mean the total isolation of the security service from all our democratic institutions. There has to be some means of ensuring oversight and responsibility. There has to be some way of working out that the resources and the opportunities provided for the security service are used for the national good.
The security service operates under the directive issued to the director general by the then Home Secretary, Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe, in 1952. Ministerial responsibility operates through the director general to the Home Secretary, although on matters of extreme delicacy the director general has access to the Prime Minister. The directive was made public in the report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, and still applies today. I was very pleased to hear the excellent contribution to today's debate made by the noble and learned Lord.
The director general is expected to seek direction and guidance from the Home Secretary as to the way 204 the service goes about its business. But with one exception the Home Secretary does not concern himself with individual operations. That one exception is when an interception warrant is sought, when of course the Home Secretary must be given sufficient supporting information for him to judge whether the application comes within the established criteria. But as paragraph 6 of the directive makes clear:Ministers do not concern themselves with the detailed information which may be obtained by the Security Service in particular cases but are furnished with such information only as may be necessary for the determination of any issue on which guidance is sought".The security service is emphatically not in the business of obtaining information on behalf of the Government. It is there to protect the state against external and internal dangers and must, as the directive makes clear, do this without political bias. That is why operational judgments must be for the director general to make. If his judgment is wrong, he must answer to the Home Secretary.
Parliament is entitled to expect the Home Secretary to be well informed about what the service is doing; about its priorities, about how it is deploying its resources and about the overall effectiveness and efficiency of its operations. The Home Secretary receives reports, asks questions and meets the director general and other members of the service. My right honourable friend explained in another place on 3rd December his approach to the trust and responsibility which rests upon his shoulders in carrying out these functions.
I understand though that however high the regard in which the Home Secretary and the director general of the day are held, there is a frequent nagging desire to impose a further check upon them in their role as custodians of the public interest. It is an understandable impulse, but however wide a view one takes of the public interest in these matters it is much more difficult to design a satisfactory framework to meet the objective. It is essential to judge any proposal for radical change or external oversight against three criteria. First, will it preserve effectively the necessary secrecy of security service operations? Secondly, will it blunt or diminish the direct personal reponsibility of the Home Secretary of the day to Parliament? Thirdly, will such a change serve to increase the confidence felt by Parliament and the public in the security service?
Different models have been suggested by your Lordships this afternoon for some form of external review body to monitor the security service. My noble friends Lord Campbell of Croy, Lord Beloff and Lord Birdwood mentioned the possibility of an ad hoc committee. I think that something like what they were suggesting exists in the present Security Commission.
The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, made reference to a committee of Cross-Bench Privy Counsellors. After 12 minutes of trying to exploit some of the recent unease relating to the security service, the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, said that he had little time to pursue his suggestion that there should be a select committee of Privy Counsellors charged with this task. My noble friend Lord Dacre of Glanton suggested that a judicial body was the right one to take the matter forward. The idea of expanding the role of the existing 205 Security Commission was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. The noble Lord, Lord Hooson, said that something was needed but he was not quite sure what.
On the question of permanent supervision of the security service, any of these suggestions would tend to blunt—because they would share—the direct responsibility towards Parliament which rests on the Home Secretary of the day. Even if this not inconsiderable obstacle could be overcome, any form of external security body would need to have a clearly defined role in respect of the operational responsibilities of the service.
I have emphasised the need for the secrecy of operations to be maintained but there are additional practical constraints. If we start to share the director general's responsibilities with a group of outsiders, this to my mind is a sure recipe for confusing lines of command and accountability in day-to-day management. On a day-to-day basis we must leave the managers in the service working within the terms of the directive to manage their responsibilities effectively and properly.
The central problem, however, is that there must be a veil of secrecy drawn between the security service on the one hand and the debates of Parliament and the speculations of newspapers on the other. On which side of that veil should a monitoring body sit? If the monitor sat on the secret side of the veil, how would that help public accountability? Having to preserve secrecy and not being able to produce the evidence, how would it be able to satisfy the public interest in what was going on and public concern that everything was being done correctly?
Let us suppose that it was given limited review powers so that it could get access to some information but remained apart from operational details. Surely it would have little credibility if it gave the security service a certificate of probity merely on the basis of general reports by the director general without being able to check with operational statements if those reports were true. If, on the other hand, it sat on the public side of the veil it would be less well informed and less directly and personally accountable than the Home Secretary himself and therefore would perform no particularly useful functions.
I wish to dwell for a moment, if I may, on the proposal put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon; that is, to extend the role of the existing Security Commission. The commission has been in existence for more than 20 years and brings together a distinguished membership of retired senior officers and civil servants under the chairmanship of a judge. Under its terms of reference it investigates and reports on any failure of security arrangements and advises upon whether changes in these arrangements are needed. But the Security Commission does not attempt to provide a continuous monitoring of the security service. Its interventions are intended to be ad hoc. In order that its role should touch upon the central issue in today's debate, which is the relationship between Ministers and Parliament and the security service, its role would need to be fundamentally changed, thereby calling into question the present membership and structure of the commission.
206 I should also mention a further practical point relating to any parliamentary form of scrutiny. It is difficult to envisage such a change being brought about unless there were to be re-establishment of the type of consensus on the two matters of national defence and security which used to characterise dealings between the parties before 1979 and with which most other Western democratic countries are blessed.
We know that many well respected noble Lords on the Benches opposite view the policy of their party with regard to defence with nothing short of horror. This was recently made clear by the noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham. Were their party's policy to be implemented, it would place the security of our country in grave jeopardy. Were those—albeit a limited number—of members of the Labour Party who have no concern for the effectiveness of our security service in defending our country and who think only of seeking to embarrass Ministers who hold posts of influence, to be in a future government, we should all have cause to sleep uneasily in our beds. If the Labour Party's pledge to repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act were carried out, the police—
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
My Lords, I merely wish to say that we strongly resent the line which the Minister of State is taking. It is totally irrelevant to the subject of the debate.
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, with due respect to the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition, I do not think it is irrelevant to this debate. If he had let me finish, I should have tied it all in. If the Labour Party pledge to repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act were carried out, the police would be denuded of many of the powers which they need to combat the terrorism menace.
For that reason I support what the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, said when he stressed the need for continuing bipartisanship in the approach to a subject as important as these security matters. I do not wish to give the House the impression that the present arrangements for ministerial responsibility for these matters are static and uninformative. That is not so. This Government can claim to have discharged their responsibilities to Parliament in as full and open a way as is consistent with the need to preserve national security.
On 21st November 1979 my right honourable friend the Prime Minister thought it right to confirm that Blunt was a Soviet agent, a factor of which previous governments had been aware but had not informed Parliament. On 26th March 1981, during a debate on the implications of the hook Their Trade is Treachery, my right honourable friend commented that positive vetting arrangements had not been 207 reviewed since 1962 and indicated that she had asked the Security Commission to review the security procedures and practices followed in the public service.
In 1983, the Security Commission, in connection with this and other inquiries, including the Prime case, made a number of suggestions for improvements in the positive vetting procedures. In May 1985 the Prime Minister reported to Parliament on the results of the inquiry by the Security Commission into the Bettaney case and made a full statement on the commission's criticisms and suggestions for reform. My right honourable friend announced acceptance of the Security Commission's recommendations for changes in positive vetting procedures in the security service. She also said that she and my right honourable friend the then Home Secretary were determined to see that action was taken to remedy the management weakness identified within the service.
The present director general has devoted a major part of his time and energy to that management task, especially in regard to personnel arrangements. Earlier this year the director general put forward to my right honourable friends the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister a report on changes in the organisation and a management of the security service. The report was made available to the Security Commission. All concerned have been impressed with the thought and effort which the security service has devoted to dealing with the problems identified by the Security Commission during the inquiry into the Bettaney case.
The Security Commission has informed my right honourable friend the Prime Minister of its approval of a more open style of management which the director general has introduced throughout the service. The Security Commission has also noted with approval that the vetting procedures were being improved following recruitment of more investigating officers and that division of responsibility between management and specialist personnel managers had been tackled and clarified.
The commission considers that the director general is to be congratulated on the way he has tackled the problem identified in the report following the inquiry into the case of Mr. Bettaney. Finally, this Government have had the courage to bring the difficult issues raised in the Interception of Communications Act 1985 before Parliament. Interception has been undertaken for many years outside any framework of law under the authority of Ministers of successive governments. Since the 1985 Act a full statutory framework has been provided within which interceptions have to be authorised.
The decisions of Ministers are subject to two forms of outside scrutiny. Anyone who thinks his communications have been wrongly intercepted can appeal to an independent tribunal of distinguished lawyers empowered to inquire into warrants and, if it judges fit, to quash them. In addition, the interception commissioner, a senior judge, keeps all the arrangements under continuing review and has access to all material.
The Government believe that the principle of ministerial responsibility, adapting itself as it has to 208 particular events and situations, continues to provide the best model for the British security service. We are not at present persuaded that any of the alternative models would yield marked advantages. No government, when they have thought through the issues raised, have felt it right to share responsibility in these matters with some form of external review body. Within obvious restraints, this Government have, I believe, been open and receptive to fresh ideas in the field of security.
The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, and my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy, raised the question of the Official Secrets Act 1911. I have answered Questions in this House fairly recently about that, and your Lordships will recall the 1979 debate that we had on trying to reform the Act and the difficulty encountered on getting agreement, notwithstanding the work of the Franks Committee.
The noble Lords, Lord Jenkins of Putney and Lord Hooson, questioned whether the security service was out of control. The Government accept that it is certainly not. The allegations, true or false, relate to a period ending in 1976, when Mr. Wright retired. Ministers have made very clear their continuing concern to satisfy themselves that the security service operates entirely within the letter and spirit of the Maxwell Fyfe Directive.
The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, questioned whether there had been illegal actions by the security service. It is quite clear that no one is above the law in this country and that members of the security service are no more immune from prosecution than anyone else if they commit a criminal offence. It would be quite wrong for me to comment on any individual case mentioned, except the case of Mr. Blunt, which was raised by the noble and learned Lord. On that I would refer him to the debate in another place.
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, I am sorry, my time is limited in the debate. I have only 20 minutes and I must conclude. Discussion of the present—
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, I have only 20 minutes. Discussions of the present arrangements will doubtless proceed beyond this afternoon's debate. What is of overriding importance is a continuing appreciation that the conduct of security must proceed in secret. That must be the basis of a consideration of arrangements to ensure accountability.
There are two obvious dangers if we seek to elaborate the handling of security matters. The first is that by unduly widening the information generally available we prejudice the secrecy necessary for effective security service operations. The second is that by creating a new structure we blur the lines of 209 responsibility and detract from the Government's central accountability to Parliament as a whole.
Surely that is not what this country wants or deserves. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary made it clear on the 3rd December that the Government do not approach this matter with a closed mind, but our advice to the House is that we should be most cautious in considering a change in the present arrangements lest we create diversity without clear responsibility and imperil the safety of our people.
§ Lord Silkin of Dulwich
My Lords, before the Minister sits down, in view of his reference to Blunt, which might have been misconstrued when he spoke about the Prime Minister having revealed to the public the facts about Blunt, will he be good enough to confirm that immunity was granted to Blunt by the late Sir John Hobson in early 1964 and that that fact was known to all successive governments?
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, I apologise. With the leave of the House, let me say that I think it would be wrong for me to comment any further than I have at the moment.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
My Lords, it seems to me to be a pity that this debate, which has been carried out on a very high level—I thought most of us appreciated that we were trying seriously to deal with the nature of the problem—should have been terminated in a way not up to that level. That seems rather sad. That is the only thing I wish to say. It is not our custom for the mover of a short debate to be given permission to reply. Therefore I shall not attempt it, much though I should like to.
I thank those who have taken part in this debate. Most of your Lordships have taken the view that something is wrong and that something needs to be done. That is the first step.
I am very glad that the noble Earl said that the Government's mind is not closed. He could have fooled me, but I am glad I was wrong about that. It seems that he will be going to his right honourable friend in another place and it is possible that even now the Government may be coming forward with something to rectify a situation which has disquieted so many of us. It is on that note that I should like to conclude the debate and not on any note of party-political contention. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.