HL Deb 09 December 1993 vol 550 cc1023-79

3.31 p.m.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern)

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

A little over five years ago I presented to your Lordships' House the Security Service Bill. I described it at the time as a most important and appropriate legislative response to the desirability of putting the Security Service on a statutory basis. That step, which I believe has proved a most successful one, marked the start of this Government's policy to be as open as possible about security and intelligence matters without prejudicing national security, the effectiveness of the security and intelligence services or the safety of their staff. Since making that positive and carefully measured move, this Government have avowed the continuing existence of the Secret Intelligence Service and published booklets on the Security Service and the central intelligence machinery. The first of those booklets touched on the excellent work, some of it on new tasks, being done by the Security Service. The second described the central mechanisms for tasking, co-ordinating and resourcing the United Kingdom's intelligence services and for overseeing and reporting on the intelligence they produce.

As a further step forward in this process, I now welcome the opportunity to present the Intelligence Services Bill. This complements the Security Service Act 1989 by placing on a statutory basis the Secret Intelligence Service, also known as SIS or MI6, and the Government Communications Headquarters, more commonly known as GCHQ. While generally on the same lines as the Security Service Act, the Intelligence Services Bill introduces one important and innovative element which I believe your Lordships will welcome: a committee of parliamentarians from both Houses to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of all three services. I shall, if I may, go into that in more detail in a little while.

This Bill marks a significant stage in the distinguished history of both SIS and GCHQ. It gives Parliament the opportunity, for the first time since these services were established earlier this century, to establish a framework for them and to enshrine that framework in legislation. Let us not forget, throughout the passage of this Bill, that for any country's intelligence service to be able to do its job successfully it must be allowed to operate with a considerable degree of secrecy. The Bill placed before your Lordships contains carefully constructed and workable measures that the Government believe strike the right balance. And that balance is a crucial one: on the one hand accountability and a degree of openness and, on the other, the continued need, in this ever turbulent and unpredictable world, for the intelligence services to be able to operate effectively. Most of those who directly threaten Britain's interests, as well as those wider interests of democracy and regional stability, will not be doing so openly but in secret. Identifying and countering those threats can often be done effectively only through the adoption of similarly secretive means.

What then, your Lordships may reasonably ask, are these threats. Where do they come from now that the Cold War has apparently ended? And what are these interests that I have referred to? To start with, the British Government have all kinds of global responsibilities, through membership of various political, trade and security groupings and organisations. These bring their own obligations, some near to home, some far away. We have a particularly keen interest, shared by like-minded countries, in confronting such dangers to society as terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, international organised crime, the spread of drugs and money laundering. Some of these problems, sadly, are new ones and many of them, like the proliferation and availability of advanced weaponry, are growing. They all pose threats to British people and interests at home and abroad, threats which have to be countered.

We need to be alert too, probably more than ever, to new vagaries and uncertainties now rearing their heads around the world. The disintegration of the old integrated Soviet target is spawning a huge diversity of threats. The intelligence services, like the rest of us, are having to adapt to the changes of the past few years as the nature of the tasks and requirements placed on them by Ministers clearly show. Superpower rivalry may have created its own grim version of stability, but the collapse of communism, while reducing the scale of one particular threat, has brought new dangers: the rising tide of nationalism and fanaticism, untried alliances, untested groupings, new rivalries and new ambitions. The end of communism marked the lifting of a shadow, but it has provided the opportunity, not the achievement, of a new and more stable world order. Greed, envy and corruption and illicit arms and drugs dealing, often leading to organised crime, are as prevalent as ever. We need look no further than the former Soviet Union or the Balkans for worrisome examples, but in other parts of the world too, such as Eastern Europe, the Middle East, central and other parts of Asia, our interests and those shared with out friends face real threats of instability, unrest, disruption or outright war.

Identifying, monitoring and helping to counter these dangers to British interests is a complex and time-consuming task. Our embassies and other diplomatic missions play an important part in all of this, but the realities of life are such that in many parts of the world their overt role is not enough. Britain's involvement in United Nations operations around the globe is just one example where intelligence can play a vital role in protecting the lives of British people involved, be they soldiers or aid workers. Without supplementary covert activities, Ministers charged with responsibility for the security and economic well-being of these islands and of our people cannot be in possession of all the facts of the situation. This is where SIS and GCHQ come in: by being tasked rigorously, through the Joint Intelligence Committee mechanism, to acquire intelligence; intelligence where there are likely to be undisclosed but hostile policies which could affect British interests. The British system of intelligence tasking, probably unique in its degree of integration and co-operation, is designed to ensure that the intelligence agencies do not undertake work done more properly, more easily and more cost-effectively by other overt arms of government or by the private sector.

As I mentioned earlier, SIS is also tasked by the Joint Intelligence Committee with carrying out certain other tasks. These range from action to frustrate terrorist activities and disrupt illegal proliferation networks to influencing, sometimes in co-operation with other security and intelligence agencies, the outcome of events in Britain's favour. As someone close to the heart of the intelligence services recently said: "It is often the things that don't happen: the terrorist bomb that doesn't go off, the international treaty that goes through without disruption, the thoughts of aggression that become second thoughts and are never acted upon—these are the frequently unsung successes of the intelligence world's ceaseless struggle to protect British interests". And let us not forget that in successfully protecting those interests the intelligence services can help them to be both strengthened and extended.

Let me also touch here on Britain's economic well-being, which is of fundamental importance to us all and a key responsibility of government. Britain is the world's fifth largest trading nation and a huge provider of commercial and financial services, income from which is essential for this country's economic well-being. Some 30 million British people travel abroad each year and over 6 million live abroad. The profits of Britain' s myriad of international business interests, be they in manufacturing, research or the financial sector, and the jobs of a great many British people, are dependent on the ability to be able to continue to plan, to invest and to trade effectively without worry and without danger. They also depend on the Government and others keeping a particular eye on Britain's access to key commodities like oil or metals and on the stability of the countries from which or through which those goods are supplied. Britain's economic well-being needs protection too from both overt and covert action by those who would steal our technology or scientific know-how, not just at home but overseas too. The work of the security and intelligence services in this field should not be overlooked.

At this point I should like to place on record the Government's respect for and gratitude to the intelligence services. Theirs is not the high profile, glamorous life portrayed by James Bond. Most of what they do and most of the people involved will remain unrecognised and largely unnoticed. That is the nature of their business. It is not the intention of this Bill to open all the doors or reveal all the players and their methods. I am sure no one in this House would want that. But I believe that I speak not just for the Government but for all your Lordships when I say that the dedicated, skilled and at times courageous work done by those working for the intelligence services plays a crucial part in countering the dangers that threaten the safety of our citizens and of this nation's interests around the world. Praise for the staff of SIS and GCHQ goes largely unsung. They deserve our thanks and our understanding, as well as our support both now and in the future.

Let me move now to the objectives and content of this Bill. In a nutshell, it aims to ensure that Parliament establishes the framework within which the intelligence services must operate. It establishes clearly the arrangements for ministerial control and decides where the balance must lie between greater openness and continued secrecy. It creates a role for a commissioner and a tribunal on the same lines as that already introduced, successfully for the Security Service. And finally, in a step that goes further than the Security Service Act, it introduces what a number of your Lordships called for during the debate on that Bill in 1989: a degree of oversight by parliamentarians.

I should like, if I may, to run briefly through the clauses which give effect to those objectives. Clauses 1 to 4 deal with the continuation of SIS and GCHQ, their functions and the purposes for which those functions may be exercised. They also provide for the appointments of the chief of SIS and the director of GCHQ and set out their responsibilities. The Bill makes clear that those two services are under the overall authority of the Prime Minister, while highlighting the particular responsibilities of the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

Clauses 5 and 6 replace the warrant provisions in Section 3 of the Security Service Act 1989. They empower the Secretary of State, on the application of SIS or GCHQ, to issue warrants authorising entry on or interference with property or with wireless telegraphy, and allow the Security Service to apply for warrants, including on behalf of the other two services.

Clause 7 makes special provision for the Secretary of State to issue authorisations for SIS operations overseas. Clauses 8 and 9 follow the way paved by the Interception of Communications Act and the Security Service Act by providing for the appointment of a commissioner with functions relating to warrants and authorisations and to the investigation of complaints, and for a tribunal to consider complaints against SIS and GCHQ.

Those clauses also give effect to Schedules 1 and 2, which provide for the tribunal's powers, constitution, procedures and access, the relationship between the tribunal and the commissioner, and for the latter's responsibilities. As your Lordships will see, this independent commissioner, appointed by the Prime Minister, will be or have been a senior judge. He will be able to submit ad hoc reports to the Secretary of State on matters relating to the discharge of his functions and will make an annual report to the Prime Minister. This report, like those of the Interception of Communications Act and Security Service Act commissioners, will be laid before Parliament, subject, as your Lordships would expect, to security excisions. As for the tribunal set up to consider complaints, this is something else which has worked well under the Interception of Communications and Security Service Acts. Its extension in respect of SIS and GCHQ should be welcomed.

As for the intelligence and security committee which I mentioned earlier, that is provided for under Clause 10 and Schedule 3. It will comprise six members drawn from both Houses, who will be appointed by the Prime Minister after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition. The committee's role will be to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of all three services: SIS, GCHQ and the Security Service.

Like the commissioner, the committee will be required to make an annual report to the Prime Minister which will be laid before Parliament, subject to security excisions. It will be able to submit ad hoc reports to the Prime Minister on matters relevant to its functions. Provision is made of course to ensure the secrecy of the committee's proceedings and to enable the heads of the three services to disclose information, subject to only limited restrictions, to the committee.

Why, some of your Lordships may ask, are the Government introducing now something which less than five years ago we deemed inappropriate. I myself, your Lordships may recall, felt during the debate on the Security Service Bill that the time was not right for such a step. What has changed? In deciding in 1989 that the Security Service should continue to be accountable to Parliament through Ministers, the Government argued that to give Parliament a greater oversight role would be unsatisfactory since, in order to preserve the effectiveness of the service and the safety of those working for it, Parliament would have to respect the secrecy of certain information. An oversight body with no access to secrets would have access to little of interest or importance to the service's work and be of scarce interest to Parliament. On the other hand, a body with broad access to secrets would be unable to report in full to Parliament and therefore would also be unsatisfactory. Nonetheless, in other ways the Security Service Act was a far-reaching step in terms of greater openness and accountability, putting the service on a statutory basis and establishing a commissioner and a tribunal to deal with grievances.

But a good deal of water has passed under the bridge since then, and, as your Lordships will know, the Government have continued to look for ways to allow greater access and to disclose more information when this has been deemed compatible with national security. Back in 1989, for example, the Secret Intelligence Service had not even been avowed. Given the close co-operation between the Security Service and SIS in certain areas, oversight of the Security Service alone would clearly have led to problems. Since 1989, however, the Government have named both the director general of the Security Service and the chief of SIS; announced the moves of the respective agencies into Thames House and Vauxhall Cross; released a number of previously withheld government records; and this year, as I have already mentioned, published information booklets on both the Security Service and the central intelligence machinery. And most recently, the Government have disclosed the size of the aggregate budget for the agencies, and undertaken to bring all this expenditure onto a single Vote. The Bill has been prepared with the benefit of more than four years' experience since the Security Service Act. Things have moved on. The climate has changed. Greater openness has gained momentum. We believe that it is now right to take this further important step.

I should underline at this point that the existing system of close ministerial oversight of the work of the three services has been in place for many years, is working effectively and will continue. The provisions in the Bill supplement rather than supersede existing procedures. They in no way imply criticism of the services, nor are they aimed at imposing a ball and chain on their proper activities. It is worth emphasising that both SIS and GCHQ welcome this Bill which they have been awaiting for some time. They have of course been very closely consulted in its preparation. They see it not only as a necessary step in the Government's policy of greater openness and accountability, but also as confirmation of the Government's need for the sort of intelligence they can provide and as a sign of confidence in their activities and in those who work for them. The Bill has the enthusiastic support of all three services. The addition of an intelligence and security committee of parliamentarians to oversee their expenditure, administration and policy is intended not to replace the ministerial role but to enhance it, increasing the confidence of both Parliament and the public, while still providing proper protection for our national interests by effective and responsible intelligence and security services.

Your Lordships will, I am sure, welcome this. Some of your Lordships may think its changes go too far, others not far enough, or that there are better ways of skinning the cat. I hope that the vast majority of your Lordships, however, will think the Bill hits the right note and recognise that national security matters cannot be dealt with in the same way as other departmental affairs. The Government have given very careful consideration to this in deciding on the provisions and purposes of this Bill.

Overall, the Bill should be seen as complementing the arrangement set out in the Security Service Act 1989 so that for the first time all three intelligence and security services are covered by a statutory regime. Amendments to the Security Service Act 1989 have been confined to the minimum necessary.

In drafting the Bill the Government of course had to satisfy themselves that it was compatible with our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, for example, by providing for a complaints procedure. Recent rulings by the European Court of Human Rights have confirmed the adequacy of similar arrangements introduced in 1989 for the Security Service.

The Government have worked hard on this Bill for many months. It has not been easy. We have taken into account the views and experiences of all three services as well as earlier legislation of a similar nature. We have considered the changing nature of the world in which we live today, and of this country's intelligence needs in the face of a range of new threats and uncertainties. We have taken careful note of other countries' arrangements, while accepting that they are not necessarily right for this country. We have aimed to provide for the future, not for a raking over of the past. We have paid due attention to the fact that the Secret Intelligence Service is not purely an information-gathering service but one tasked by the Government to carry out other valuable services. These can include, for example, exchanging information with, providing advice to and receiving assistance from counterparts in friendly countries in pursuit of common goals. At the same time, the Bill makes clear that both SIS and GCHQ can exercise their functions only in relation to the purposes specified in the Bill, and then only if such action is necessary.

In short, after much careful consideration since the Prime Minister undertook to introduce legislation in May 1992, we have decided that the time is right to take the further steps contained in this Bill. Some are big steps. They are not taken lightly. But I hope that your Lordships will agree that, without damaging what we must protect in the interests of this country and its people, the Bill provides a sound and appropriate framework within which the intelligence services will be able to operate efficiently and successfully in the years ahead. On that basis, I commend the Bill to your Lordships.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(The Lord Chancellor.)

3.54 p.m.

Lord Richard

My Lords, I start by thanking the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for introducing the Bill in the way that he did. Perhaps I should say right at the outset that we are perfectly satisfied that the Government gave considerable consideration to the Bill. I have no doubt that it has been in gestation for some time. The question is not whether it has been considered by the Government; the question is whether the Government's considerations have produced the totally correct answer.

Before I deal with the Bill itself, perhaps I should say that I am sure that noble Lords on all sides of the House will join with me—as I join with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor—in paying tribute to the commitment, bravery and dedication of the men and women who work for the intelligence services of this country. We should recognise openly, firmly and clearly the debt that we owe to them for safeguarding our country's national security.

The Labour Party broadly supports the Bill. We welcome the principle that the intelligence services should be placed on a statutory basis. It is high time that we did place them on a statutory basis. It has been argued that secrecy, along with class, are the great British obsessions. I am by no means convinced that the almost total obscurity in which the security services have functioned until relatively recently was necessary, that it led to greater efficiency on the part of those services or that it led to greater security for the security services themselves. I suppose that secrecy inevitably gives rise to speculation—and speculation in turn tends to make way for fantasy. I think that an injection of exposure to the public gaze, provided that that exposure is not total and that the paths that need covering remain covered, would on the whole be thoroughly beneficial. We believe that the Bill may well reinforce the effectiveness of the security services.

I should like to deal with three main issues which emerge from the Bill: first, the structure for the services that is set out in the Bill; secondly, the problems of accountability to Parliament and the law;, and thirdly—I am sure that noble Lords opposite will not be surprised at this—with the restoration of trades union rights at GCHQ. On the first of those, the structure, I believe that the noble and learned Lord used the word, "framework". Broadly speaking, I think that the Government have got it about right. Indeed, the structure that is proposed is really a continuation of what is happening now, but put firmly on a statutory basis. It must be right now to give a statutory framework to the operations which, until now, have lacked it.

It is also right that Clause 5 provides that: No entry on or interference with property or with wireless telegraphy shall be unlawful if it i3 authorised by a warrant issued by the Secretary of State under this section". Again, the responsibility for issuing warrants is placed firmly on the Secretary of State, as indeed it should be. As a matter of drafting, I am not sure whether the provisions should read, "shall be unlawful unless and until it is authorised", rather than "if'. But perhaps that is a Committee point.

However, I am not clear about whether the intention is that the Bill should encompass ex post facto authorisation. I should be grateful if the noble and learned Lord could help us on that point when he replies to the debate. I think that we would all be somewhat unhappy with a series of retrospective authorisations if that was the trend that was to emerge from the framework as expressed in the Bill.

I turn now to the commissioner and his powers under Clause 8. We think it right that the commissioner should be a person who holds or has held high judicial office. As in the 1989 Act, there will now therefore be two commissioners —one for the Security Service and one for the Intelligence Service, each reporting directly to the Prime Minister. Additionally, he will receive the annual report on the work of GCHQ. In relation to the first two reports, under Clause 8(6), the Prime Minister has a duty to lay them before Parliament. That does not seem to be the case for GCHQ, in respect of which Parliament will not receive such a direct report. I am not quite sure why GCHQ should be omitted from that process, but clearly the object of the exercise is that there should be a formal report to Parliament on the basis of which Parliament could be better informed.

However, as the noble and learned Lord said, the Bill now goes further. In our view, the Government are right to recognise that there is now a widespread feeling that something further is needed. I do not attack the Government for having moved from the position that they took up some five years ago. It would be difficult for us to do that because we did not agree with the position that they took up five years ago of not accepting parliamentary accountability in any form. As a result of that, we now have the provisions in Clause 10 for the setting up of the intelligence and security committee. There, certain questions are raised. It is important that the intelligence and security committee should, itself, have the power to make an annual report to Parliament rather than to the Prime Minister, as the Bill suggests. I should be grateful if the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor would respond to that suggestion.

As the Home Office Select Committee in another place said in its recent report in British terms, there seem to be five main options for enhanced accountability: first, a special non-parliamentary committee of Privy Counsellors, like the Franks Committee post-Falklands. That is one option.

Then, secondly, a joint committee of both Houses, consisting of Privy Counsellors. That is the option that the Government seem to have chosen except that the committee does not have to consist of Privy Counsellors, as I understand it.

Thirdly, a Select Committee of the Commons, consisting of Privy Counsellors. Fourthly, a Select Committee, not necessarily consisting of Privy Counsellors.

Then, the one that I believe the Home Affairs Select Committee would have preferred; namely, that the present Home Affairs Committee should take on responsibility for the parliamentary oversight. Those are the five options set out. Will the Government tell us why they have chosen the one that they have, and why they have chosen the one that they have in the form that they have?

As I understand the position, if the Bill is enacted, the parliamentary committee will be set up. It will then report to the Prime Minister. When the report reaches the Prime Minister, he will be able to sanitise it. I do not object to that right. The report will then go from the Prime Minister to Parliament. That slightly downgrades the link between the committee and Parliament itself. Virtually the same result could be achieved if the committee were to report directly to Parliament, but that, en route, the Prime Minister would have the right to look at it and take out that which he thought was unduly sensitive. As I say, I do not object to his right to do that, but if the link is not direct from the committee to Parliament, first, in presentational terms, it would not appear to be as directly accountable to Parliament as it would in the alternative system.

Secondly, if we have the direct link, we may overcome all sorts of difficult problems of timing such as when the report was made to the Prime Minister, and whether the Prime Minister had sat on it for too long. One knows the arguments. One has heard them often from both sides of the House over the years. It is important that in this area we should, if at all possible, get away from such arguments.

I am not sure why the Government decided upon a committee of six. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will tell us whether he is satisfied that that number is large enough to effectively perform the committee's role.

Questions must also be asked and answered about the process of controlling the disclosure of information to the intelligence and security committee. On what basis are the members of the committee to obtain the information? Is their right to know to be totally untrammelled? If it is not, and if there is to be some restriction on their right to know, who is to exercise that restriction? Who will decide what should be presented to the committee? If it is to be the intelligence services themselves, that may undermine, if not totally destroy, the whole object of the exercise, which is that we should have parliamentary control over what is going on. If the people who are responsible for what is going on will have the right to decide what it is that the committee should see, that in itself might create some difficulties.

One could also argue that there is a case for allowing the commissioner to report to Parliament at the same time as he reports to the Prime Minister, again with the right of the Prime Minister to intervene to remove any unduly sensitive matters.

I raise those issues for one reason: it is important now, in relation to the intelligence services, that people should be satisfied that there is a direct and effectively functioning parliamentary accountability between the services and Parliament. I am not sure whether the structure proposed in the Bill meets that requirement.

In essence, the proposed committee provides a much weaker system of parliamentary scrutiny and accountability than their counterparts among our allies. I do not want to make too much of that point. It is not necessarily a determining factor, but it is an important one, and one of which the House should perhaps be aware. In Canada, for example, the Solicitor General is obliged by law to submit reports to the Security Intelligence Review Committee and to Parliament. He must also table the committee's annual report in each House of Parliament after which it becomes a public document. There is a high level of accountability for the intelligence services in Australia, Germany, and the United States of America. In the latter country, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence exercise considerable control over the American intelligence services. If other countries seem to be able to live with a greater degree of exposure than we do, unless there is strong evidence to suggest that the operation of their intelligence services is being damaged by it, and, in comparison, the operation of our intelligence services in enhanced by the absence of such accountability, then that is information and evidence which the House should perhaps consider.

Perhaps I may say a word about accountability in law, which is central to the protection of human rights. Many of the definitions in the Bill are vague. The Law Society is anxious about some of them. It has highlighted, for example, the Bill's failure to provide a definition of "serious crime". That is one factor which could cause some confusion. It will probably have to be dealt with finally in the courts. The Government must also ensure that the Intelligence Services Bill contains adequate safeguards to protect human rights. In the well known case of Leander v. Sweden in 1987, the European Court of Human Rights said that the law has to be sufficiently clear… to give ordinary citizens an adequate indication as to the circumstances in which public authorities are empowered to resort to secret and potentially dangerous interference with private life". The Government should think carefully about whether the Intelligence Services Bill meets that standard.

Probably one of the most important issues relating to the Bill, as I said a few moments ago, relates to the Government's decision, made in 1984, to outlaw trade unions at GCHQ. That remains one of the most bewildering decisions in this area that the Government have taken. In their wisdom, they concluded, without any evidence of which I am aware, or substantiation, that having trade unions at GCHQ posed a threat to national security. I am sure that I was not alone in finding that staggering.

I believe that I am entitled to remind noble Lords that trade unions functioned responsibly at GCHQ, and without any doubts cast on their patriotism, for 40 years! The continuation of that ban, therefore, represents an insult to the trade union movement, and to the millions of trade unionists who have shown absolute loyalty to this country over many years. Noble Lords may want to consider that the majority of those who are known to have betrayed this country do not seem to have been ardent trade unionists of the type that one would find in the ranks of the TGWU. It is tragic that they felt unable to give Britain the same unstinting loyalty which millions of ordinary, decent trade unionists have been doing for years.

That is something at which the Government should look again. It has been condemned, as we all know, internationally by the ILO. It does us no good internationally. It is an, insult to the trade union movement, which, if the Government wish, they could indeed remove.

While I welcome the general terms of the Bill, I hope that the Government will take on board what I have had to say about trade union rights and parliamentary accountability. We have pressed the need for greater parliamentary oversight of the security services with appropriate safeguards for secrecy on many occasions. The Labour Party's 1993 Conference, for example, passed a statement to that effect.

Clearly, it is a question of getting the balance right. The Government should adopt measures which balance the need to ensure the security of the country with the right of people to know about what is going on. I believe that broadly and in general terms the Government in their approach to the matter are probably getting the balance right. However, I am not yet entirely happy about the system of parliamentary accountability which is proposed in the Bill. Subject to that, we shall give the Bill a fair wind.

4.10 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Hillhead

My Lords, we on these Benches do not oppose the Second Reading of this Bill. However, in view of the unanimous Second Reading which your Lordships' House gave to the Education Bill on Tuesday after spending seven hours almost unanimously condemning it, that statement does not amount to a great deal. On this occasion we go somewhat further and welcome the thrust of the Bill.

Almost exactly seven years ago I made one of my last speeches in the other place. It was in favour of the proposition that there should be a parliamentary commission or committee to supervise the running of the security services. Although there was at that time a grave lack of confidence in MI5 in particular, occasioned partly by the nonsense of the Wright case and the allegation made by some who had been inside the service of illegal activities against the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, when he was Prime Minister, the Government foolishly turned down that proposition. I am recorded as saying, semi-philosophically, that such a committee would nonetheless come. Well, it has come and I welcome that.

Recently we have been in somewhat calmer waters as regards the reputation of the security services. There has been an efflux of time without much fresh scandal and there has begun the new reign of Mrs. Rimington. There is, somehow, something distinctly if not wholly rationally reassuring about the thought of a woman being in charge of a security service. One feels that she may not go along with some of the wilder pieces of phantasmagoria, which has sometimes engaged her male colleagues. In the same way, the noble Baroness, Lady Park, whether in this House or on television, gives a patina of calm responsibility to all her previously brave and occasionally bizarre exploits on behalf of MI6.

Nevertheless, many of the grave doubts which were sown in my mind as a result of my experiences as Home Secretary in the mid-1960s and again in the mid-1970s, and of the revelations which followed in the mid-1980s, still remain. I experienced in the Security Service what I can best describe as an inherent lack of frankness, an ingrowing mono-culture and a confidence-destroying tendency to engage in the most devastating internal feuds. That made me very sceptical about whether at least two of the four main roles of MI5 were appropriate to continue.

I shall deal first with MI5's political surveillance role. That involves above all a fine judgment between what is subversion and what is legitimate dissent, which in my experience is unlikely to be found in those who live in the distorting and Alice-through-the-Looking-Glass world in which falsehood becomes truth, fact becomes fiction and fantasy becomes reality. I would therefore pull MI5 totally out of its political surveillance role.

I am almost equally doubtful about the associated internal political intelligence role. Presumably the object of that is to help Ministers with useful information. However, in my experience the organisation concerned consumed far more of my time as a Minister with its own internal squabbles than any useful information which it ever provided. The balance was distinctly negative.

That leaves the other two main activities; anti-terrorism and counter-espionage. Clearly, both are still necessary, although the latter perhaps a little less urgently so than at times in the past. I do not doubt that we need some of the continuing activities of the security services. However, at a time when some of their roles have shrunk and some ought to be shrunk we should heed the wise words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, who in last month's television programme on MI6, said: We don't want to be inventing or appearing to invent new targets to keep people busy when their old targets have disappeared". People like to be kept busy in their jobs. They certainly like to have their budgets kept intact and those involved here are considerable. I am not convinced that the international crime rings are a suitable new target for the security services. I believe that the police are much more skilled and expert in dealing with crime than are the security services. It is a different range of operation from anything that they have done previously. We should be cautious about putting them into that area to provide, as it were, a substitute for other activities, some of which have become less necessary as a result of changes in the international situation.

The services, preferably in a somewhat restricted form, are still necessary but more effective supervision over them is also necessary. That is a peculiarly difficult ministerial function to discharge and perhaps I may give two examples. There is a difficult frontier. The Bill refers always to "the Secretary of State" because of the fiction that the Secretary of State is a single and undivided office, which it was at one stage in the 18th century. But two Secretaries of State are here concerned: the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs is concerned with MI6 and the Home Secretary is concerned with MI5. As a result there is a certain lacuna between the two. Both, for instance, must sign warrants for telephone tapping. They are internal warrants because a limited number are signed by the Foreign Secretary and they deal with certain needs for internal telephone surveillance.

Before my day no single Secretary of State oversaw the whole position within the country and I thought that that was unreasonable. It required some little effort—indeed, going on strike—in order to ensure that one saw the overall list, which I thought to be wholly desirable in the interests of responsible ministerial supervision.

Secondly, the principal official for dealing with the security services is not an official of the Home Secretary; he is the Secretary of the Cabinet. I am followed in this debate by a most distinguished former Secretary of the Cabinet. He will certainly confirm that the Secretary of the Cabinet, whatever else he is, is not a servant of the Home Secretary. There is room for dispute as to whether he is or should be the servant of the Prime Minister. Probably he should be the servant of the Cabinet in a much wider sense, but he is certainly not a servant of the Home Secretary. It is more difficult to exercise supervision in that very difficult field if your principal official is not someone who is working for you in the normal course of events.

I say that merely to illustrate that, by its very nature, it is a difficult job of ministerial supervision. I believe that we should welcome further parliamentary help being given.

The mechanism provided in the Bill is for the committee to be made up of six Members of both Houses of Parliament who can come, in varying proportions, from both Houses of Parliament. It is not specified, which is rather unusual in regard to these arcane matters, that they should be Privy Counsellors. I do not object to that in the least. I believe that it is probably wise not to include that provision. Apart from anything else, the number of Privy Counsellors who are not members of the Conservative Party are running rather thin. Therefore, that widens the field as regards choice.

I understand that it is proposed that three members should be from the government side of the House, two should be from the Official Opposition and I understand that it is intended that one should be from my own party.

The mechanism of appointment, as laid down, is that it should be made by the Prime Minister after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition. I assume that there will be equal consultation with the leader of any other party from which a member is to be appointed.

It seems to me that Schedule 3(2) (d) is a rather curious provision. It appears to give the Prime Minister the right to replace a member at any time. Can that really be intended? I cannot imagine that working out in practice, but it seems to be an odd infringement of the independence of a member of the committee. Of course, if he ceases to be a Member of either House, which is also provided for, he would go automatically, but it seems to me rather odd that it should be done, even in theory, at the whim of the Prime Minister.

In my view a more important point in relation to the committee is that people of a questioning, sceptical and even iconoclastic turn of mind should be appointed to it. Those qualities are in no way incompatible with full loyalty to the state and nation, but it is a field in which soft, obfuscating answers are rather part of the tradition. If the committee is to be effective, as I hope it will be, and if the Bill is to be worthwhile, as I hope it will be, we need members of the committee who will not accept such soft or obfuscating answers.

4.23 p.m.

Lord Hunt of Tanworth

My Lords, I have no hesitation in welcoming the proposal to put the intelligence services and GCHQ on a statutory basis and to provide statutory backing for the proposed commissioner and complaints tribunal. The reasons for not acknowledging and formally authorising activities conducted on behalf of the state—even though I think that that was valid at one time—have long been eroded and it will be good to see the change made. I propose to confine my brief remarks solely to the question of external oversight and its method, which is perhaps more debatable.

Unlike some Members of this House, I have never worked in the intelligence services, although I frequently had cause to welcome and appreciate their product. But for seven years I was, as Secretary of the Cabinet, the Accounting Officer for the Secret Vote. I took those duties seriously and, as adviser to the Prime Minister of the day, I was often questioned by him or her about them. However, the long-standing convention was that, unlike my fellow Permanent Secretaries, I was never grilled or questioned by anyone externally, and nor were the services for which I was accounting.

We had a long tradition of secrecy on such matters which related both to the perceived need for deniability and the imperative to protect sources, techniques and personnel. For a long time that continued acceptance of our traditional practice of no external oversight was, in my mind, considerably buttressed by seeing what happened in some other countries. In the United States, an ill-considered dash for openness, since corrected, did great damage both to national security and to the morale and effectiveness of the CIA when that government first went overboard in opening up the intelligence world to congressional oversight committees. Conversely though, with another ally whose name I shall not mention, I saw a form of external oversight which looked splendid on paper but was frankly a charade. I do not believe that that seemed right either.

However, two things combined over the years to make me feel that the balance of the argument was changing. The first was of course the general shift in the recognition of the importance of accountability, primarily to Ministers in the first place. Those services have been accountable to Ministers but they should be accountable also to somebody outside government. The second was the growing feeling in the wake of Peter Wright and things like that that the intelligence services were being damaged by not being able, or not being required to, give an account of themselves. If reputation and morale suffer through not being able to justify the need for resources or how they are being used, efficiency will soon suffer also. Of course, any organisation may have its maverick, or a person who falls short of the standard required, but by and large my experience is that those services have a very good story to tell and, in any case, they should be enabled to tell it, good or bad.

The proposed intelligence and security committee looks something of a compromise, but I believe that a compromise, whether exactly this one or something like it, is right. There will be a need to be as frank as possible with the committee, while protecting under defined statutory arrangements certain sensitive areas relating primarily to operations. Although it is obviously a matter for Committee stage, I should have thought that paragraph 3 of Schedule 3 makes it quite clear that the onus will be on the intelligence services to justify why information is not produced, rather than the other way around.

There are those who argue for something like a more traditional type of departmental Select Committee, perhaps sitting largely in public and reporting to the whole House. But if that were successful and came about, it would be less able to probe in the way which is necessary to establish the justification for the expenditure, administration and policy of the services, and would thus risk the other alternative that I posed; namely, oversight becoming something of a charade. On the other hand, I welcome the fact that the committee will be comprised solely of parliamentarians. That recognises the need for Parliament to be satisfied that there is in fact practical and questioning oversight.

As Schedule 3 to the Bill states, the committee will have to devise its own procedure, which may have to evolve in a way which allows the maximum disclosure consistent with the protection of operations, sources and personnel. It will be essential to do whatever is necessary to satisfy the new committee about the justification for and the management of the considerable resources involved and about the people to whom they are entrusted.

We need to remember that no oversight committee can block every loophole against mismanagement or worse. It may not always be easy to draw the line between knowing enough to give the services a clean bill of health and not getting into unduly sensitive areas. In the end, you have to trust certain people to conform to the approvals and the authorities given to them by Ministers. However, I think it would be right for the oversight body to see those people, to know them, to make its own assessment of them and, above all, to be satisfied with the control procedures which they have established. On that basis, I am very happy to support the Bill.

4.31 p.m.

Lord Callaghan of Cardiff

My Lords, having heard the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Tanworth, noble Lords will understand why I always listened to him with such care and relied so heavily on. his advice during our time together, even though I did not always accept it.

I must, first, apologise to the House for the fact that I may not be present at the end of the debate. I have a long-standing engagement. I hate to do this as I believe we all should be here, but I really cannot escape on this occasion. Therefore, if I am not here at the conclusion of the debate, I trust that noble Lords will forgive me.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Tanworth, and other speakers, I very much welcome the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, said that it was seven years ago that he called for some form of parliamentary oversight. Well, if we are to enter into competition, perhaps I may tell him that in the light of the disclosures after the Blunt affair I called for it 14 years ago. However, just so that he will not take that too badly, I should like to congratulate him on receiving the Order of Merit. That combination of politics and literature honours the House. I am very glad to see it.

The Bill actually goes further than I suggested at the time, and perhaps even further than the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, suggested. It establishes not only a parliamentary committee but also a commissioner and a tribunal. I start from the premise that Parliament's role is one of oversight and not of control. The proper division of responsibility in that very special field is that Ministers control while Parliament has oversight. I respect and understand the argument of those who believe that a democratic state requires the fullest accountability from everyone, including the secret services. Indeed, I have received—as I dare say have many other noble Lords—representations from a number of interested bodies. Their arguments should be looked at both carefully and sympathetically.

We entrust substantial powers over our liberties to the secret services and to Ministers. The British people do not like giving up any part of their freedom, but they will put up with it if the cause is big enough or the reasons sufficiently convincing, just as they did throughout two world wars. They understand, paradoxically, that by not insisting on full accountability from the services they assure themselves of the even greater cause—namely, their freedom—by enabling our national security to be more effectively safeguarded.

As a footnote, I should like to add to what the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said about the question of full accountability. I was initially very much attracted by what was happening in Canada and in the United States—indeed, on paper it looked very good—until I saw the consequences. There is no doubt that it weakened the effectiveness of those services and did not really strengthen the accountability that some people wanted to achieve.

The powers that we are giving in the Bill (and those that we have already given) are given as a trust. Neither Ministers nor the services should regard them as their right. In return for that trust, a democratic society requires from those services the highest sense of integrity and prudence in their use. I go along the same lines as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, although when he spoke I was reminded of what Iain Macleod said about Enoch Powell on one occasion: that he had travelled along the same line but had got off a few stations earlier. That is rather my position in relation to the noble Lord's speech.

Some years ago when speaking about such matters the noble Lord, Lord Home, said that it is very easy to cross the line between a free society and a police state. I am very sorry that he is not able nowadays to be with us. However, my experiences in the offices that I have held is that the services stayed on the right side of the line. But, as he said, it is easy to stray across it. I reinforce what the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, said. Nearly 20 years ago a tiny handful of officers chose the wrong side of the line. By so doing they damaged the service and democracy.

Through ill-discipline and internal factional disputes, one or two bad eggs were "out of control". In due time that had an impact. It was a great misfortune that those who were concerned at the time were not absolutely candid with Ministers when asked about such matters. Of course, the serious breach of responsibility was corrected by the service itself, and those concerned have long since been out of it. A new generation has taken over.

One rather unfortunate lesson that I drew from that incident is that, where there are people whose obsession is so strong that it leads them to untruths and deceit, no amount of accountability will uncover them, at any rate not in the short run. On balance, for reasons that I have mentioned, I do not accept that the matter of accountability is so overriding that we should go much further than is intended in the Bill. However, it follows—and I have had practical experience of it—that there is an imperative need in those services for strong leadership, high morale and team spirit and also for integrity. On the only occasion that I saw that break down it had serious consequences for confidence.

I turn for a moment to the role of the proposed intelligence and security committee, and I dare to suggest some ideas for a possible agenda. I was most grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for the remarks that he made on some of the possible subjects for scrutiny. Perhaps I may tell the House about one or two of the matters with which I think the committee could deal. First, it could inquire into what changes have been made in the service since the Cold War was officially declared to be over. Let us face this fact: since the end of the Second World War both the secret and security services of the United States and of the United Kingdom have grown large and powerful, much more so than was thought likely at the time. Like the other two agencies, GCHQ is a full-blown bureaucracy. All three cost us a great deal of money. The committee could also investigate whether all the functions that GCHQ carries out today are still necessary. I would not come to a conclusion on the matter, but I believe that it is well worth looking at. I hope that the committee will do so.

Secondly, there is Russia, who has told us of her peaceful intentions yet still has a large capacity to make war. But, on the other hand, she wishes to join NATO. Although by no means yet a democracy, Russia has become a far more open society. What priority then is the intelligence service giving to this hotchpotch in its tasking and the use of its manpower? There is a ready-made subject for that parliamentary committee to scrutinise.

I pay full tribute to the work of the intelligence and security services, but there were occasions in some areas of the world when it seemed to me that a well-informed journalist travelling without much restriction could, by close observation and straight reporting, produce material more cheaply, more easily and just as valuable as intelligence sources operating under the obvious handicaps that intelligence men and women encounter.

Thirdly, as the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor reminded us, new areas of tension have emerged since the break-up of the Soviet bloc: North Korea is one. There are others and there will be more. Then there are the other issues to which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor referred such as terrorism.

The noble and learned Lord referred to a matter that I did not intend to mention but I shall do so as he referred to it. He referred to the negotiations that are conducted when international treaties are prepared. The European Union is at this very moment engaged—and will be increasingly engaged—in preparing international treaties. Who carries out the intelligence for that body? I would not care to leave it to some of the people I can think of. If the committee the noble and learned Lord referred to is to consider some of these matters, it would be well worth exploring that area to reach some agreement.

So is the Intelligence Service redeploying its resources and using them efficiently and economically? If the parliamentarians begin with an agenda somewhat on those lines, they will certainly fulfil the task laid down in Clause 10 of the Bill, to examine the expenditure, administration and policy", of the three services. That being so, I do not wish to go further into the matter of accountability at the present time for the Government have made an important advance.

I do not doubt that there will be continued dissatisfaction about the warrant procedure. But if I am to believe what I am told, the extent of the private use of bugging for industrial and commercial purposes and the growth in personal bugging, none of which is under any form of control, make the amount of security bugging look very small beer. Those who conduct this kind of bugging do not even need to have a licence, never mind the precautions we are placing upon what is happening at the present time. I believe our civil liberties may be far more in danger from private bugging than from any action of the state.

I wish to say a sentence or two about the role of Ministers. Some of them find the role of the secret services absorbing, while others do not. But I suggest that Secretaries of State, or even an over-enthusiastic Prime Minister—nothing would lead me to use the phrase of the noble Lord, Lord Lawson—should not become so fascinated by the supposed and over-magnified mystique of intelligence and security that they immerse themselves in it. Much of it, as has been hinted today, is little more than drudgery and leg work. The relationship between Ministers and the secret services should be familiar but not intimate. In that way Ministers will always be in a position properly to support those officers engaged in secret and, now and again, dangerous work, but they will also independently be able to stand, wherever necessary, between the services and the public in order to protect the rights and freedom of the citizen.

My impression is that the need to ward off too close an intimacy grows in significance when the same government stay in office for a long period. This Government have now been in power for over 14 years. The potential danger is that Ministers will become so accustomed to exercising power in this field, as in others, that they may become complacent or even cavalier in the way in which it is used. I am apprehensive that there are areas where Her Majesty's Ministers have been sailing very close to the wind recently.

I thought I heard the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor say, in connection with GCHQ, that he believed the Bill to be compatible with the Charter of Human Rights. This Bill gives us an opportunity once again to protest strongly and mightily against the Government's slur on those trade unionists who worked at GCHQ, 14 of whom were dismissed five years ago for the crime of being members of a trade union. Will the noble and learned Lord give me an assurance that the dismissal of these men will still be incompatible with the provisions of the Charter of Human Rights? I understand that the ILO has already condemned that situation. I am not sure what relationship there is between the ILO and the charter of the United Nations, but I would say to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, with respect, that this is a matter we shall certainly want to follow up closely because this is a wrong that has still to be put right. I should like to think that the Prime Minister himself would correct the injustice that has been done, but if he does not I would say to your Lordships that this matter will not be forgotten, and one day, however long it takes, redress will be secured for these 14 men.

This Bill should receive our support. It will be necessary to scrutinise it carefully in Committee, but I suggest that, with the additional safeguards it now brings forward, the services are fully entitled to our trust that their large powers will not be abused and that a framework has been provided that will continue to be an essential element of national security. I hope that it will provide some stability for years to come.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I, too, welcome the opportunity to support this important Bill and endorse what I suspect was the difficult decision to avow SIS and GCHQ. It seems but a fairly short time ago that as a Home Office Minister I sat alongside my noble friend Lord Whitelaw on the Front Bench during the passage of the Interception of Communications Bill 1985. That Bill was designed to regularise interception for which your Lordships regarded earlier legislation, most notably that contained in the Telecommunications Bill of 1984, as affording inadequate protection or the risk of inadequately authorised action. As I was involved to some extent with both Bills I obtained at least a small insight into the difficulties of legislation in this sensitive area.

Later as a Foreign Office Minister, not only did I fairly regularly read material provided by the intelligence services in the course of my duties, but I also visited SIS stations on my many trips to embassies abroad. In saying that, I accept that my role in the Foreign Office was not in any sense in the same league as that of those who have spoken earlier who had a far greater responsibility for the services that we are discussing. As my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor said, there are those who harbour overly romantic and fictional ideas about both organisations which are the material of many engaging films and incredibly complex novels. But I think that it is worth stressing from my own direct experience three aspects.

First, these agencies do not blindly devise their own tasks and ideas. They are tasked by central government through the central intelligence machinery to meet a defined set of agreed requirements within clear parameters which have been approved by Ministers. So in no sense should anyone imagine that they are cowboys operating at the whim of their own staff without strict monitoring. I would say rather that their work is properly authorised, tightly controlled and it is thoroughly supervised.

Secondly, those who work for those agencies are among the most professional and conscientious people that I have met in public service. I very much endorse the remarks of others who have said that theirs is no easy task. It can involve personal risk; it requires considerable resilience and those who have to do that work must operate within an atmosphere of secrecy which brings little opportunity for public acknowledgment, let alone reward.

Thirdly, and most importantly, with direct experience I can vouch for the fact that the results of their efforts are of immense value to Her Majesty's Government, whether it be to counter nuclear proliferation, drugs trafficking or in many other ways concerned with the security of the realm and the interests of the people of this country, as my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor described.

It is also important to emphasise one other fact which my noble and learned friend touched on. Intelligence organisations in different countries often work with one another. Our people abroad will often work in harmony with local analogous organisations in the country in which they serve. There are often mutual interests to satisfy and those concerned collaborate regularly with host country agencies.

This is a good Bill. It contains safeguards proven to be effective in earlier legislation but improved upon by the significant introduction of the committee of both Houses reporting to the Prime Minister and, through him by way of annual report, to Parliament, although it preserves secrecy where that is essential. That innovation, which has been much speculated upon, is a major advance in relation to oversight and, in these days of open government, is to be welcomed.

Any sensitive change of the kind with which this Bill is concerned is a step into the unknown, but there are precedents. The Bill is broadly welcomed by the intelligence community. It will enable the intelligence services to conduct their important work efficiently and secretly but in a manner and under a system which is more in tune with what public opinion demands. I believe that the Bill deserves a speedy and uneventful passage to the statute book.

4.51 p.m.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

My Lords, four years ago when Parliament enacted the Security Service Act it dealt with a missing dimension in British constitutional law; namely, the powers and authority of one of several covert government agencies concerned with the vital task concerning the security of the state.

The 1989 Act was passed in the wake of the Spycatcher affair in which the Government attempted again and again to persuade courts in England, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Kenya to prevent publication of the memoirs of Peter Wright. So extreme was the Government's obsession with official secrecy that they even tried to stop publication in this country after the book had become freely available throughout the rest of the world—Captain Ahab scouring the seas to destroy his, or in this case her, Moby Dick. It was a hunt which did unnecessary damage to the credibility and morale of the security and intelligence services.

However, one beneficial outcome of the Spycatcher affair was that in 1989 the Government took three important steps to legislate: first, putting MI5 on a statutory basis; secondly, establishing a system of authorisation of any interference with property; and, thirdly, giving aggrieved citizens a means of remedy involving a commissioner of high judicial rank and a security service tribunal.

I should like to pay tribute to the work done by the commissioner, Lord Justice Stuart-Smith, when reviewing the manner in which the Secretary of State exercises the sweepingly broad powers conferred upon him to issue warrants under the 1989 Act. The commissioner has done his best to ensure some measure of judicial review in this difficult area. The same is true of the very valuable work of Sir Thomas Bingham, the Master of the Rolls, and his predecessor Lord Justice Lloyd (as he then was) as commissioners under the Interception of Communications Act 1985 in ensuring that there are no unnecessary invasions of personal privacy by post or by means of a public telecommunications system. I hope that their mandate will soon be widened by further legislation to cover other forms of secret surveillance by government agencies.

Regrettably, the 1989 Act did not cover MI6 or GCHQ, and that was because in 1989 the Government were still curiously unwilling to acknowledge even the existence of those public agencies. Nor, again regrettably, did the 1989 Act subject the agencies to any parliamentary oversight or scrutiny. The present Bill is therefore very welcome, if long overdue, in extending the 1989 Act to MI6 and GCHQ, and because it provides for the intelligence and security committee to scrutinise the expenditure, administration and policy of each of the three agencies. It marks a further move towards openness and accountability, building upon the open and enlightened style (irrespective of her sex) of the director-general of MI5, Mrs. Rimington. It places MI6 and GCHQ within the rule of law and provides some remedies for the misuse of their powers.

The Bill does well to recognise that the chief of the Intelligence Service and the director of GCHQ must ensure that the powers of the service are not used excessively or unnecessarily. Like any statutory scheme, of course, the safeguards contained in the Bill depend upon the integrity and professionalism of those charged with the duty to make them work.

I should like to concentrate upon one crucial aspect of the Bill—parliamentary oversight and scrutiny. Almost a year ago the Home Affairs Committee in another place produced a report on the accountability of the security and intelligence services. It recognised that nothing should be done to damage the effectiveness of the services and that operational matters should not be revealed publicly, however great interest might be in seeing these affairs discussed openly in Parliament and in the media. However, the Home Affairs Committee believed that parliamentary scrutiny of the services would meet an important public interest and protect against any possible future abuse of power.

The Government are to be commended for heeding its recommendation. However, having willed the end it is essential to will the means of achieving it. The proposed intelligence and security committee must surely have the necessary access to relevant information if it is to be able to do its important work effectively. No doubt the members of the committee will be appointed as individuals of great integrity, independence and ability, transcending party interests and possessing strong critical faculties. They will be men and women who can be trusted to come in within the ring of secrecy and to be guardians of the public interest. Their task will quite rightly be restricted to examining the expenditure, administration and policy of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ. They will rightly not be concerned with day-to-day operational matters.

However, paragraph 3(1) of Schedule 3 to the Bill proposes to give the Secretary of State a blanket and absolute power to prevent the committee from having access to any information—whether sensitive or otherwise. It also proposes to give the director-general of the Security Service, the chief of the Intelligence Service and the director of GCHQ the power to prevent the disclosure of sensitive information; and the definition of what is sensitive information is in loose terms. I find it difficult to understand why the Secretary of State needs a blanket power to block information when the heads of the agencies themselves have such ample powers.

I very much hope that those restrictions upon the committee's access to such relevant information will be narrowed during the passage of the Bill and carefully tailored to the need to protect operational activities while enabling the committee to obtain any information relevant to expenditure, administration and policy of the service. Otherwise those powers to impede the committee's access to information are, in my judgment, likely to frustrate the central purposes of parliamentary scrutiny: ensuring real and effective accountability for what is done by the agency for the security of the nation and its people, as well as providing adequate safeguards against abuses. Wide blocking powers of that kind are also likely to lead to harmful disputes and conflicts between the parliamentary committee and Ministers or the agencies themselves.

It is especially important to give the committee proper and sufficient access to relevant information because the principles upon which the legislation is based allow scope for little judicial protection or control. I see no good reason for the committee to be more fettered in its access to information than the inspector general and the Security Intelligence Review Committee established under the Canadian legislation, or, I believe, their counterparts in the United States and Germany. I know of no evidence that the work of the agencies in those countries has been impaired by their obligation to make wide disclosure to the scrutiny and oversight bodies on non-operational matters, within the ring of secrecy.

The Bill empowers the Prime Minister, after consulting with the committee, to exclude from the committee's annual reports, before they are laid before Parliament, any matter whose publication the Prime Minister considers would be prejudicial to the continued discharge of the functions of the services. The fact that Parliament and the public may be denied access to such information makes it all the more important, in my view, for the committee itself to be fully informed about all matters within its remit. There is no point in creating a committee and placing it within the ring of secrecy unless the members of that committee are treated with complete candour and openness by Ministers and public officers of the service.

As has been mentioned, the European Court of Human Rights gave an important warning some years ago, in the German Klass case, when it observed that states, parties to the European Convention on Human Rights, do not enjoy an unlimited discretion to subject persons within their jurisdiction to secret surveillance. It stated: The Court, being aware of the danger that such a law poses of undermining or even destroying democracy on the ground of defending it … [affirmed] that the Contracting States may not, in the name of the struggle against espionage and terrorism, adopt whatever measures they deem appropriate. The Court must be satisfied that, whatever system of surveillance is adopted, there exist adequate and effective guarantees against abuse". Like the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, I hope and believe that the Bill will provide those guarantees, and that they will be translated into practical reality by those who operate the legislation. But in my view it is of paramount importance that oversight and scrutiny by the Intelligence and Security Committee is really effective and that it is manifestly seen to be effective.

Finally, perhaps I may say a word about the matter raised by the noble Lords, Lord Richard and Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, namely, trade union rights at GCHQ. Speaking for myself, I entirely agree with what has been said by each of them on this subject. However, I should say that, alas, the rights of those trade unionists will not he restored to them under the European Convention on Human Rights because their claim was struck out by the European Commission. It will be restored only by the good sense and fairness of this Government or a future government; and the sooner the better in my view.

5.3 p.m.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, I am reluctant to inject an egregious note into this agreeably emollient debate. However, I have to say that. I approach the Bill with something less than the enthusiasm that has been displayed so far in your Lordships' House.

I begin from the premise that a secret service should be secret. That sounds a simple enough proposition but it is one which is not sufficiently accepted or adhered to. In my view, it is certainly not entirely at one with the spirit of the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Richard, and others mentioned, as examples of the virtues of openness, the United States, Canadian and other intelligence services. Yet, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, pointed out, those have not been entirely successful experiments. If the noble Lord, Lord Lester, really has no evidence of the damage that was done to the Central Intelligence Agency by its experiment in open government, I shall be happy to provide him with some evidence to that effect.

We are passing through a phase where, as the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said, the threat to our security has changed. As a result of our reaction to that threat, we and our allies have brought about very considerable reductions in our military resources. Anyone who has any experience of these matters will support me when I say that the smaller one's military capability becomes, the more important one's intelligence capability becomes. We are therefore moving into a phase where, although the threat may have changed, we have smaller resources to meet what threats remain.

There is one other aspect which is relevant to the question of intelligence and security. The threats that we now face present for the Intelligence Service a much more complicated and intricate problem than the problem of the threat that we faced before. The threats that we now face—they are worldwide and connected with such matters as terrorism, proliferation of nuclear weapons and the aspirations of maverick dictatorial states—are concepts and areas which are far more difficult for intelligence services to penetrate than those with which they were faced in the days of the Cold War. Therefore I believe that what we need now —I put this purely as a basis for debate—is better intelligence than ever we had before.

It is not necessary, and I shall not attempt to suggest, that the Bill reduces the effectiveness of the intelligence services. However, I should like us to consider the Bill and the clauses which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor was kind enough to present to us, and to ask ourselves whether there are not matters in the Bill to which we ought to pay a little closer attention before it passes all its stages in your Lordships' House.

I do not think that there will be many problems with the first four clauses of the Bill. After all, those merely rehearse and perpetuate the existing organisation and aims of the services concerned. I do not think that much needs to be said about Clauses 5 and 6, although I suspect that there will be a good deal of debate at Committee stage about the matter of warrants.

It is in Clause 7 that I believe some of the hidden dangers lie. It has not received too much attention in the debate so far in your Lordships' House. The impact of Clause 7 of the Bill upon the intelligence services is by definition and by the nature of things very difficult to discuss. The problem about this kind of striptease with which we are now involved in the security and intelligence services is that as one removes each garment, one gets closer to the things that ought better to be hidden. It is not even possible to discuss in detail some of the impacts that Clause 7 might have upon the operations of the Secret Intelligence Service. In passing, I note that the Bill refers now to the "Intelligence Service". Apart from on one occasion in the Bill, the word "secret" seems to have been dropped. That may be indicative of the attitude of the Government to the Intelligence Service. I do not wish to make a great point about it; I simply mention that in passing.

I believe that there is a feeling—I accept the assurance of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor—that there is great enthusiasm for these changes in the services concerned. However, I believe that among certain members of those services, there is a great worry that Clause 7 of the Bill as at present drafted, might seriously inhibit some of the necessary and important activities of the service. I believe that we shall wish to consider Clause 7 much more closely at Committee stage.

In Clauses 8 and 9, I do not believe that there is a great deal of trouble with regard to the commissioner and the tribunal although in setting up a tribunal to which people can address complaints about the intelligence services we may be treading along a somewhat dangerous path. I may have mentioned previously to your Lordships the remark made, in a totally different context, by Ernest Bevin when he said, "If you open that Pandora's Box you never know what Trojan horse will jump out". We need to look at that issue carefully. I have some experience of serving on bodies to which public complaints are addressed. I have a feeling that this measure might be used by some people, unless we handle matters very carefully, as a means of inhibiting some of the very important activities that are still carried out by our secret intelligence services.

When we come to Clause 10, on the composition of the committee, I defer to some of the more experienced advice that has been given in this House and elsewhere. As the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said, roughly speaking there were five ways in which parliamentary oversight could have been organised to deal with the problems of the operations of the Secret Intelligence Service. I wonder whether we have chosen the right one. As noble Lords have said, that may be a matter for consideration at Committee stage. I have a feeling that certain aspects may present problems. For example, as has already been mentioned, all those on the committee will serve for the duration of a Parliament. There is a provision in the Bill that people will cease to be members of the committee if they leave the House of Commons or the House of Lords. That is a perfectly obvious provision. On the other hand, I believe that noble Lords will agree that it is more usual for people to leave the House of Commons than it is for them to leave the House of Lords.

Lord Callaghan of Cardiff

Oh, I do not know, is it?

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, as the noble Lord points out, all of us will leave at some time! That is the sort of matter that we need to examine. I must confess that I have an instinctive feeling for the kind of permanency that would be implied by making the committee a committee not just of both Houses, which is indeed the only way in which it can be done, but also perhaps a committee of Privy Counsellors. I hope that noble Lords will look at the issue again when we come to Committee stage.

Having looked briefly at the Bill and pointed out where I believe some of the dangers and minefields may be hidden, I should like to ask before I sit down exactly what is the reason for this sudden access of transparency in the field of our secret intelligence services. Our SIS, or MI6, as it is sometimes called, has a reputation in the world that is second to none. It is recognised as being one of the most effective of all the intelligence services in the world. There are others about which similar claims can be made: for example, the KGB and Mossad, neither of which have been subjected to a great deal of parliamentary oversight but which still manage to be enormously effective.

What is the reason for this sudden desire to open up the ring of secrecy, as it has been put by the noble Lord, Lord Lester? The noble Lord, Lord Richard, suggested that there was a general demand for this change. I must confess that demand has escaped me. If the size of the attendance in this Chamber for this important debate is any reflection, I suggest that there is scarcely any great frenzy out there in the streets for a change in the present arrangements. But that may not be the only argument.

The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor asked rhetorically at the beginning of his remarks: what has changed? I thought that he would tell us what had changed. But of course nothing objective has changed at all. What has changed is the policy and the mind of the Government. There has been no other, objective change. I make no complaint about that. But what we face here is not an objective change in circumstances, but a change of policy. It is possible that it may be a desirable change of policy. With that I do not quarrel, subject to the fact that I believe we should look at it all a great deal more closely.

The highest praise that I can give to this Bill is that it is not actually dangerous. I do not believe that it will damage too much the operations of our Secret Intelligence Service. It preserves most of the sensitive information in a perfectly sensible and intelligent way. With the exception (as I said) of some very important implications in Clause 7, it does not inhibit the operations of the security Intelligence Service. We need to look a great deal more closely at some of these matters when the Bill passes through subsequent stages in the House.

I come back to the assurance that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor gave that the services themselves are enthusiastic about the Bill. We must accept what the noble and learned Lord said. If it is indeed true that the services enthusiastically wish this Bill to pass in its present form through this House, and if the Government and the Opposition wish the same, there does not seem to be much argument left. I can only say that my own information and researches indicate that there is some disquiet about some of the possible implications of the Bill as it is presently drafted. I hope that we shall look at it much more closely at Committee stage. I say this without any great enthusiasm, but in principle I shall support the passage of the Bill.

5.16 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I agree with my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor that there is a continuing need for this country to have secret intelligence, although the threat of global war has receded with the break-up of the Soviet Union. The security of our country can still be endangered by international terrorism and by the ambitions of irresponsible leaders of smaller countries who appear from time to time. The prime example was Idi Amin in Uganda, but fortunately he never got near to nuclear weapons.

In addition, there can be disputes—and there are disputes which continue now—in various parts of the world which lead to conflict. We need to be well-informed at an early stage, not only to forestall conflict or to ameliorate the situation if we are in a position to do so, but also to protect British interests in those areas. So we still need to have a system of secret intelligence on events abroad: MI6 and GCHQ. We also need a counter-intelligence organisation at home, and we passed the Security Service Act four years ago. The present Bill seeks to place the other two agencies on a similar basis. So far as I know, until about two years ago MI6 had never previously been publicly acknowledged as existing at all. Now there is to be some accountability. That is welcome to me, provided that it is not liable to compromise sources or endanger agents, probably foreigners, being controlled by British intelligence officers.

Here I must make it clear that I have never been in any of the three agencies (MI5, MI6 or GCHQ). My interest and out-of-date knowledge arise from a period of service in the Foreign Office when I worked closely with all three. That was many years ago, and well before I entered Parliament 34 years ago. My impartial observations then were that the members of those agencies, working quietly, out of public view, carried out conscientiously and efficiently important tasks for the benefit of our nation. I hope and assume that that tradition continues.

I should like to comment particularly on the new committee that is proposed in the Bill consisting of current parliamentarians. That is a new proposition. It is not in the Security Service Act, although the Security Service is now to be brought in.

The noble Lord, Lord Richard, referred to past experience and current proposals in which all members have been, or would be, Privy Counsellors. I believe that I can make a small contribution on this subject because I happen to have been involved in these matters from very early days, in particular the first ever conference of Privy Counsellors held nearly 40 years ago. I was then private secretary to the Secretary of the Cabinet, the late Lord Normanbrook. The Prime Minister was Sir Winston Churchill.

The concept of a Privy Counsellors' conference met an unusual security situation which had arisen. The Soviet authorities had produced Burgess and Maclean in Moscow about two years after their disappearance. This was designed by them to produce the maximum of embarrassment in London, which they succeeded in doing. There were calls in Parliament for an inquiry. But it was clear that an internal inquiry would not be satisfactory or adequate because there would be suspicions that it could be a cover-up or a whitewash. However, there was very sensitive top secret information which would have to be known to members of an inquiry. That was how the first idea of a conference of Privy Counsellors came about.

The conference which was then set up consisted of former Cabinet Ministers and present Cabinet Ministers, together with one other Privy Counsellor who was the Head of the Treasury and the Civil Service. He was the father of the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, who is to speak later in the debate. My connection was in setting up that conference. I was then made its secretary. So in addition to my normal duties, I drafted its report.

That first conference of Privy Counsellors was followed by similar ones; for example, on telephone tapping and, more recently, the Franks committee on the Falkland war. Former Ministers sat with one or two eminent former public servants who were also Privy Counsellors. As I mentioned Burgess and Maclean in this debate on the intelligence and security services, I should say that neither of them was a member of those agencies. One was an established officer in the Foreign Service as it was then called (it is now the Diplomatic Service) and the other was on a temporary contract. Noble Lords will understand therefore why I have had a continuing interest in how intelligence and security services can safely and adequately be accountable in changing world conditions.

When the decision for the first time to acknowledge publicly the existence of MI6, known as the SIS, was taken by the Government, presumably in the past two years—I suggest that that decision was a very significant one—it must have been accepted at the same time that a system of accountability would be required, as it was for MI5 four years ago.

Besides proposing a commissioner and a tribunal, the Bill would create the Intelligence and Security Committee, covering all three agencies. The members have to be current parliamentarians, not necessarily Privy Counsellors. Although I have been speaking of the previous conferences and commissions of Privy Counsellors, I agree that it should not be necessary for the members to be Privy Counsellors in the future proposed committee. It was helpful on the previous occasions. But those bodies were to inquire into particular situations; they were not expected to continue in existence after their work was completed.

In addition to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Tanworth, I should like tentatively to make the following suggestion. Members of the new committee should have some knowledge and experience of secret intelligence or security work. As I said, they do not need to be Privy Counsellors, although those who have been selected in the past have all been in that position. In particular, they should have a familiarity with that boundary beyond which subjects are secret and should not be mentioned or touched upon, even in the most tangential way, usually because they are connected with operations. Any lapses of that kind in security are likely to happen when such familiarity is absent.

Lapses would not be intentional and probably not due to carelessness; rather, they would be the result of inexperience in this field. For example, a chance mention of an apparently insignificant minor part of a prosaic matter, put together with other fragments of information, could be used by a hostile organisation to reach a correct conclusion to the detriment of the United Kingdom. Therefore I suggest that besides the other qualifications, members should have some background of that kind.

Under the Bill, the choice of the members is made a responsibility of the Prime Minister. He is finally answerable to the nation for its security. I expected that provision to be there. I am sure that it will be criticised and no doubt other suggestions will be made, but I believe it is correct.

There are other points that I should like to raise but I shall do so in Committee or on Report. I support the Bill in general, provided that we can be assured by the Government that it will not do damage to our secret intelligence system and that those who have been working in it for some years are content.

5.26 p.m.

Lord Merlyn-Rees

My Lords, I had responsibility for MI5 as Home Secretary and, as I shall point out in a moment, I worked very closely —it was not so at the Home Office—with MI5 in Northern Ireland. I just missed it in 1974 and discovered only subsequently that until that time MI6 had been responsible in Northern Ireland. I say that to indicate that I found it astonishing when I was a Cabinet Minister and again when I was on the Falkland inquiry that on matters like security—not party political matters—information was not passed from one government to another and from one Minister to another. One of the failures of the Government at the time of the Falklands episode was that information of actions taken by my noble friend Lord Callaghan with regard to the Argentine were not passed on until it was far too late. The convention that political information should not be passed on is understood, but for that to apply to security information is a nonsense.

In principle I welcome the Bill and wish it well. Given the attitude of mind to accountability in the security and intelligence services of even 10 years ago, it shows the power of events; it shows the power of the debates that took place in the other place—I do not know about this Chamber. People were shaken by what they read and believed they understood in certain publications.

With regard to the Intelligence Security Committee, it may be that in the course of time we shall move to a parliamentary Select Committee or Committees. We shall see. But events will take place. No Act of Parliament will stop problems arising. The nature of the organisation and control by those in the security services are what matters. I shall come to that in a moment.

I visited Canada and America. I talked about these matters in Australia but I was not there for that purpose. I was there for other reasons concerned with war crimes. There is no doubt that the movement towards more accountability happened because there was concern. Like the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, I do not suggest that there was great excitement in the streets. There never is on matters of this kind. There is no doubt that in America they went too far. When I was a Minister people were worried about passing information to the CIA because they thought that it might be leaked. But they pulled back, following a paper and discussions at Ditchley Compton. I was not there and so I am not breaking the Ditchley Rules; the information was published in the newspapers. No covert operation is believed to have been compromised since the change back. Leaking from the legislature has not occurred. If anything the leaking occurred from the executive, and we know some of the cases to which that refers. It is said that morale is up and that recruitment is up. Under the old system—referring to something to which I shall come in a moment—it was a member of the CIA, a man called Angleton, who did great harm in this country under the "dirty tricks" campaign.

Whatever we do, it is accountability and oversight about which we are talking, not operational work. As Home Secretary I certainly had no wish to have knowledge of operations. I had knowledge of operations when I was the Northern Ireland Secretary, because it was a different situation—not on every occasion, but there were occasions on which I had to be involved.

Referring to the Bill and, more precisely to the committee which will examine expenditure, administration and policy of all three agencies, I listened to the debate this evening and changed my mind two or three times in regard to the number of members. The number seemed to be too small. How will the various parties be represented? It may not be formed precisely on a party basis. Should there be a higher number? There must be room for "dissent"—for real argument and discussion. Will the small number make it too cosy, or will the large number do that? I could refer to my experience on the Falklands Inquiry, but I shall not.

With regard to the Home Office it certainly was not "hands-on". However it was kept within a small group of people within the Home Office—the Permanent Under-Secretary and the Deputy Under-Secretary. I found it a curious role, but that was because I came from Northern Ireland. In any event, the Prime Minister of the day was heavily involved, as was the Cabinet Secretary.

With regard to the committee, when information is passed on by the security services; when information comes from the Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary—I do not know about the Foreign Office; I can only deduce from what I learnt in the Falklands Inquiry—Ministers may be better informed. More information will be provided in regard to administration, finance and policy than has been presented previously, at least in my experience.

Where will accountability lie in the committee? That was a question raised by my noble friend Lord Richard. Of course sensitive information will be excised. But after that it is important that there should be political discussion. I do not refer to the nonsensical politics of which we have too much, but there should be discussion both in the other place and in this House. There is far better discussion in the United States. It reaches the pitch sometimes that if a chap reads the Guardian he is a security risk because he is that sort of person. It is astonishing. There should be far better discussion and in some way the report must be presented to Parliament.

There has been no mention of Northern Ireland. But MI5 works there; the Secretary of State works with MI5—I choose my words carefully—and telephone-tapping takes place there in exactly the same way as it does here. I presume therefore that information in relation to Northern Ireland will go to the committee. I leave Scotland alone, where the Secretary of State has his own responsibilities for certain aspects of security. As I say, in my day it was a hands-on situation. In the words of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, there was no monoculture there, despite what I may say in a moment. Discussions took place late at night with two members of MI5 on issues that were arising. How did we respond? What could we do in a day when the RUC was not well-trained and was not working as a police force?

I found no monoculture. I found the attitude to Ireland and the way that Irish matters were considered far better than the normal English attitude to Ireland. The way in which we discuss Ireland, even in our newspapers today and the way in which emotions arise—there is a solution round the corner, but the next minute all is lost—is an English approach. It does not occur to the same degree in Ireland. I want public praise for those men, and not only because of that. The canteen MI5 culture—if that is the right phrase—did not exist.

What about defence? It did not happen because, in retrospect, it would have been misconceived. I refer to the intelligence agencies of the department of defence—the MoD. In 1945 Sir Findlater Stewart recommended to Mr. Attlee that the Minister of Defence should be responsible for the security services. I read somewhere that that appealed to Mr. Attlee because of his attitude regarding the nature of the security of the realm; that it should be from defence. In any event, he had lived through the Zinoviev issue in the 1920s. The nature of that always made him extremely angry. It did not happen. But at least Sir Findlater Stewart put that forward.

The defence aspect is still important. Clause 1(2) (a) states: The functions of the Intelligence Service shall be exercisable only … in the interests of national security". What else are the Army, Navy and Air Force intelligence services working towards but precisely that? What do they do? I know, from the days when I was in the Royal Air Force and when I was Air Force Minister, exactly what the situation is. They collect information about aircraft—the range of aircraft; the new bombs on aircraft; and the new bomb sites on aircraft. Of course it is proper that that should be done. In my day as Home Secretary, the GRU —the military intelligence of the Russians—was extremely active in London. It was not only the KGB. The Government should think about defence intelligence agencies coming under the Bill, if only because of Northern Ireland.

Perhaps I can raise one other issue before turning to Northern Ireland; that is, the issue of the special branch. Like others, I had close contact with the special branch over several years and lived cheek by jowl with its members. I know the excellent work that they do. Most police forces have a special branch and the biggest is in the Met. They have a national responsibility for anti-terrorist work. I looked at the report yesterday of the HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary, which refers to the work of special branches in different police forces. The Met Commissioner of Police refers to his.

MI5 and special branch have always worked together and now MI5 takes the lead. I ask the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor to pass on to the Government that if special branch in this respect—not in crime—is involved in the work that is covered by the Bill, then in that respect also its work should be covered by the Bill. Where does the distinction lie? One distinction is that special branch makes the arrest. MI5 has no constable powers, but that matter should at least be considered.

With regard to Northern Ireland, I discovered that the "dirty tricks" campaign in Northern Ireland—I possess the papers now though I did not have them at the time—included a list of politicians in all parties. They are listed under the headings of sex, politics and finance. It is the most illiterate rubbish that I have ever read, even worse than that found in some of our national newspapers. It was quite extraordinary. A psych-ops operation was run against politicians in the south and politicians in Northern Ireland. It is no way to win the battle of Northern Ireland, let alone to get involved in politics here.

The Army were involved in that. I know that it has now stopped—I was told that it was stopped many years ago. But it was out of control and is another reason—I should have mentioned it earlier—why the Army, the defence security forces and intelligence bodies should come under this legislation.

There will be much to discuss in later stages of the Bill—GCHQ and so on. I was always concerned about recruitment, especially in the face of monoculture. At the end of the discussion I hope that we shall be clear as to the purpose of the security services. It is very easy to carry on with a purpose that is out of date. It is easy enough, because of what has happened in the Soviet Union, for us all to say "That has changed", but the problems show themselves now in a different way. The services have had to adapt to that. I hope that the setting up of the committee and the discussions that we shall have in the House in the forthcoming weeks will lead to much greater and more relevant and purposeful discussion about the needs of our security services.

I wish to do nothing that puts anyone's life at risk. On one occasion in Northern Ireland I spent three weeks discussing with senior soldiers how we could carry out an operation that would put no one's life at risk. The following day in the newspapers, briefed by the Army department, was a report that I had put the lives of soldiers at risk—a deliberate policy of double briefing. All of that is over now. I believe strongly that nothing should put the lives of those who work in the intelligence services at risk, but more accountability leads to much better discussion. I commend the Bill to the House.

5.41 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, some of your Lordships will know that I have a personal interest to declare in speaking in this debate. I was for many years a member of the Intelligence Service—the SIS—and I am proud to have served the Queen in that service. My remarks today will be chiefly, of course, relevant to SIS since that is what I know most about, just as those of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, referred to the Security Service.

I had the great privilege of working, both then and in my second career as Principal of Somerville, with courageous, dedicated, honourable and highly intelligent people, as now in this Chamber, and in all those three worlds I have found integrity to be the most valuable of all qualities. I share the satisfaction felt in general, though not always in particular perhaps, within the service today—as expressed publicly two weeks ago by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and the heads of the two services concerned—with the provisions of this Bill in that it places SIS and GCHQ on a firm statutory footing. It acknowledges the situation which has hitherto obtained—that the service is part of the public service under the Crown; that it exists to carry out the tasks placed upon it by Ministers and does not create its own agenda; and that it is fully accountable, both financially and operationally, to Ministers. Its members are disciplined public servants, performing the duties which Ministers require of them.

If I may quote from the recently published booklet Central Intelligence Machinery: The main function of the present SIS is the production of secret intelligence in support of Her Majesty's Government's security, defence, foreign and economic policies and in response to requirements laid upon it by the JIC". The JIC, of course, reflects the will of Ministers. As for ministerial oversight, there is a ministerial committee—on which incidentally the Secretaries of State for Foreign Affairs and the Home Office sit—to keep under review policy in the security and intelligence services, and a Permanent Secretaries' Committee on the Intelligence Services (the PSIS) which, scrutinises the Agencies' annual expenditure forecasts and management plans as part of the Public Expenditure Survey arrangements". I have set this out because it seems proper at the outset to establish quite clearly that this is not a Bill to regulate hitherto unregulated mavericks creating their own agenda. Because so far SIS has been required to remain unavowed, and it is the convention not to discuss these services, it has never been possible to correct this mistaken view. This is a Bill which will provide a statutory basis for the continuing operations of the Intelligence Service and GCHQ, and will provide a degree of independent oversight and review by parliamentarians over and above the existing and continuing system of accountability to Ministers. I know the services welcome that, and the support and understanding as well no doubt as the independent constructive criticism, which they can hope to receive from the new committee. They have much to be proud of.

As Sir Percy Cradock, the chairman of the JIC, has recently said: In the nature of things, intelligence successes are unsung. It's often the things that don't happen, the terrorist bomb that does not go off, the international treaty that goes through smoothly, the thoughts of aggression that become second thoughts and are never acted upon. Intelligence is a ceaseless underground struggle to protect British interests, and the fact that in the end, in a dangerous world, we are still fairly safe, and fairly secure, is in part because of the intelligence machine". The press recently reported a good example of preventive intelligence working in the terrorist field, and of the way the Intelligence Service can use its professional relationships abroad with other services—in this case, a newly forged and most valuable link with the Polish service —together with its own resources, in support of the Security Service, the police and HM Customs here at home. This was the joint operation, directed by the Security Service, which recently ended in the seizure of hundreds of guns and two tonnes of explosives destined for the Loyalist paramilitaries in Ulster.

I remember a very similar successful operation in the 1970s, on that occasion foiling a major arms and explosives shipment from Libya to the Provisional IRA. On that occasion the vessel carrying the shipment, the "Claudia", was arrested by the Irish Navy after being identified by the Intelligence Service in a European port on the basis of intelligence reports and then shadowed by the Royal Navy. Service links in Europe also played their part in that operation. I quote this because I believe that, in addressing the provisions of the Bill, it is important that the House should appreciate how intelligence activity overseas can support operations to protect the realm at home.

I believe that noble Lords may, in approaching the Bill, be asking, first: do we need an intelligence service now the Cold War is over? Many noble Lords have been saying that. Is it being needlessly maintained? Much the same questions are being asked about our defence capacity. Secondly, why cannot we rely on good diplomatic coverage and good journalism in an increasingly open world where there is no longer a Soviet or mega threat? That, too, has been suggested. Thirdly, can we afford intelligence services? Would not the money be better spent on health, education or the arts? Are these services worth the money, when we are having to make so many difficult choices in determining public spending? And last, but by no means least, why should we, the public and the representatives of that public, in these days of open government not be able to know and to ask much more about what they are doing, using our money?

I hope, my Lords, that you will allow me to offer some answers. We still need intelligence services because this is still an unstable and dangerous world. That is the assessment of the JIC, which tasks the services on behalf of Ministers and which is even adding to the continuing central strategic requirements new tasks such as reporting on proliferation and on the threat posed to our economy and that of some dependent territories by drug trafficking and the consequent laundering of dirty money, a potentially destabilising threat to our economy. Here of course the SIS will be acting abroad in support of the Security Service and the police and HM Customs at home.

Terrorism is of course always with us. Moreover, there remain the usual strategic requirements on the former Soviet Union. Though no longer the mighty foe it once was, it remains, like the Ukraine, unstable and still possesses not only 30,000 nuclear warheads, themselves already unstable in some cases, but large stocks of chemical warfare weapons which could fall into the wrong hands—though it must be said that the Russians themselves are alive to that danger.

Moreover, we still live in a dangerous world even without the former Soviet Union. A number of countries will by the end of the century possess nuclear weapons, and several already possess other weapons of mass destruction. Do they intend to use them, either actually or as a threat? They are not likely to make a public announcement about their intentions. In Libya, for instance, the intelligence services successfully reported on President Gadaffi's chemical warfare plant at. Rabta. Now there is another such plant, and another target. Can we afford not to have knowledge of the undeclared intentions and capacities of such countries, or of the activities of the various terrorist groups, where pre-emptive action based on intelligence has saved many lives?

In general, our global diplomatic activity and the presence of our troops in exposed situations mean that we need to know the secret strategic intentions of potentially unfriendly countries. No amount of satellite coverage can tell us what they are thinking. For that there must be human sources and these have to be developed over the years. They cannot be turned on like a tap when a crisis arises. Ministers decide what HMG want to know and the JIC tasks these services accordingly; they do not task themselves. Conversely, it is just as important to know the undeclared pressures and fears which may cause a country to act aggressively out of fear. To know when they are feeling threatened—an example is the KGB's paranoid fear of a NATO attack—and how they may act under pressure can enable our Government to defuse a crisis. The intelligence from Penkovsky, a courageous source, played just such a vital part in the Cuban missile crisis.

SIS is tasked to produce secret intelligence. Our Diplomatic Service—the best in the world—has immense expertise, but it is not trained to deal professionally and safely with delicate sources whose lives in some cases would be at risk if they were identified (and who would not work without the assurance of the safety afforded by professional handling); and it could not conduct professional relationships with friendly foreign intelligence services, and nor would it wish to do so. Diplomats are professionals with their own skills. The two activities are complementary. Journalists have their own skills, and they too protect their sources, but their raison d'être is publication of what they learn, not the development of quiet, behind-the-scenes, long-term relationships which may last for years and whose product must be protected.

Do the services give value for money? In the case of the Intelligence Service we are speaking of only 2,000 people. I believe that what I quoted from Sir Percy Cradock goes some way to answer that question, but there are many examples. In the Gulf War our troops knew from intelligence briefing exactly how the Iraqi armament would perform since much of it was Soviet made. Exact intelligence on the T72 tank's armour, provided by a defector earlier, also saved millions of pounds in R&D both here and in the US. The bigger our defence cuts, as the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, said, the more the country will need long lead-in intelligence on intentions. Threats will need to be combatted by secret as well as by overt means.

But the most important issue in the context of the passing of this Bill is the recognition of the vital importance of maintaining the need-to-know principle which has so far worked well. Secrecy and publicity cannot both be achieved, and as long as the country needs secret intelligence it will be necessary to be ready to forgo public scrutiny or review. The public, alas, includes enemies as well as friends. Terrorists, too, watch television and read the proceedings of Parliament and its committees. If we had not been able to offer absolute discretion we should not have succeeded in recruiting Oleg Gordievsky, and should not have enjoyed the inside knowledge of the Soviet leadership and its policies which were so vital in ensuring that the West could appreciate Gorbachev's genuine intention to change the course of Soviet policy and the forces driving him to do so.

For the intelligence services' work to be effective their operations, sources and methods need to remain secret if they are to continue to perform their task and to protect British interests and often save British lives. They must, as my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has said, be able to counter-tunnel. The new Bill is an important step in the process of trying to strike the right balance between the operational needs of the services, including their need to stay secret in what they do, and the needs of public accountability. I hope very much that the committee will be allowed to define its role broadly to take account of this. I believe that comparison with the procedure in other countries may best be dealt with at Committee stage. It is not quite so simple as some of your Lordships might suppose.

If we cannot accept that secrets have to be kept, there will be no secret intelligence; no more agents of Gordievsky's quality will work for us, and a valuable part of our national defence will be lost.

5.55 p.m.

Lord Brimelow

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Park, began with a declaration of interest. I shall begin with a disclaimer. I do so because the well-known writer, Mr. Geoffrey Moorhouse, in a book entitled The Diplomats: The Foreign Office Today, wrote, on page 127 that I had been a member of the Secret Intelligence Service and, on page 128, that some of my earlier postings, which he described as "unfashionable" had been perfect cover for a spy. I wish to assure your Lordships that I have never been a member of the Secret Intelligence Service; that my unfashionable postings were perfectly normal consular and diplomatic postings in which I did perfectly normal work and that I had no undercover functions whatsoever. My relationship with the two services which are the subject of this Bill has been that of a consumer and I will say no more than that I am satisfied that both services are essential to the defence of the interests of this country.

Turning to the Bill, like every previous speaker I welcome it. Even the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, despite his qualification, welcomed it. I welcome it because it disposes of and discards the tattered veil of secrecy which, for many years, has failed completely to conceal the existence of the fact that we do have intelligence services. I welcome the fact that it will place these services on a statutory basis. From now onwards they will be publicly acknowledged. I hope that this will lead to a more satisfactory career structure for their members, but what I chiefly appreciate is the diminution in the field of secrecy.

There was one minor point of drafting mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, which appeals to me. In Clause 1, the Bill states that there will continue to be a Secret Intelligence Service but thereafter it refers to that service as the "Intelligence Service" and not as the "Secret Intelligence Service". Henceforth the service is not secret although its operations and many of its resources and personnel still require the protection of absolute secrecy. I hope that that protection will continue to be provided by the Official Secrets Act.

I welcome the simplicity of the language used in the Bill to describe the functions of the two services, of the Secretary of State and of the Prime Minister. It is a very welcome development to see these hitherto shadowy subjects dealt with with quite exemplary clarity. The Bill does not set out the consequences of the grant of statutory status to the two services. In his opening remarks, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor did make a fairly brief reference to the future budget of the two organisations. I accept that there will be a continuing need for economy with the truth in that budget, but I hope that it will eventually mean that both Parliament and the public will have at least a general idea of the scale of the two organisations. That will show the place which they occupy within the general field of expenditure. I hope that that scale will be commensurate with the importance of the work that they do as their contribution to our security.

When I first read the Bill, I wondered whether I would come to the conclusion that it undermined the security of the operations of the services. I think that it does not. The protection for their operations, resources and personnel is provided by the Official Secrets Act and that is in no way undermined. The Bill introduces new measures of review and oversight, but they contain provisions to safeguard both the security of operations and other sensitive information. I regard those provisions as adequate, and not merely desirable but essential.

The powers granted by the Bill to the Secretary of State to issue warrants and authorisations are formidable. They could be abused, but the exercise of those powers will in future be subject to review by the commissioner. The functions and powers of the commissioner for the two services will be similar, as the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said in his introduction, to the powers of the existing commissioner for the Security Service. It seems that the work of the commissioner for the Security Service has been very satisfactory.

The Bill imposes on every member of the Security Service, on every member of GCHQ and on every official in the department of the Secretary of State the duty to disclose to the commissioner such documents or information as the commissioner may require for the purpose of enabling him to discharge his functions. I take it that that means that the Secretary of State cannot lawfully instruct officials to withhold any information from the commissioner. The commissioner has to report annually to the Prime Minister, but nothing in the Bill seems to prevent him from reporting more frequently to the Prime Minister should the need arise. The Prime Minister is required to lay a copy of the annual reports before each House of Parliament but if, after consultation with the. commissioner, he thinks—I shall follow the wording of the Bill— that the publication of any matter in a report would be prejudicial to the continued discharge of the functions of the Intelligence Service or, as the case may be, GCHQ, the Prime Minister may exclude that matter from the copy of the report as laid before … Parliament". That provision may not commend itself to those who advocate open government or the establishment of direct parliamentary oversight over the two intelligence services, but some people find it hard to keep secrets, and powers to withhold sensitive information are in my opinion not merely prudent and desirable but essential.

There is another new body, the Intelligence and Security Committee, consisting of six members, each of whom has to be a Member of either this House or the House of Commons, and none of whom is to be a Minister of the Crown. The function of the committee will be to examine—the word is "examine", not "control"—the expenditure, administration and policy of the Security Service, the Intelligence Service and GCHQ. The absence of the word "operations" from the list of things to be examined is, I imagine, intentional and significant. That point has already been mentioned in the debate.

Whereas the commissioner can demand from officials the disclosure of any information that he may require for the discharge of his functions, the supply of information to the committee can be restricted. Arrangements for the supply of information to the committee are to be made by the Secretary of State, who thereby has control over that supply. The directors of the two services can themselves decide to withhold sensitive information from the committee, although the Secretary of State has an overriding power to decide whether a given piece of information shall be disclosed or withheld, but the functions of the Secretary of State are subject to review by the commissioner.

The Bill also lays down that the Secretary of State shall not withhold information unless he is satisfied that he would be willing to withhold it from a Select Committee of the House of Commons. I think that that is a very satisfactory safeguard of the parliamentary interest, given the overriding need for the absolute protection of the security of certain aspects of the work of the two security services. Here again, the provisions for the restriction of information to the committee may not commend themselves to those who advocate freedom of information or greater parliamentary oversight, but they do commend themselves to me.

Like the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, I think that the Bill strikes a fair balance between the need for greater openness and the need to protect operations, resources, personnel and sensitive information. I support the Bill.

6.6 p.m

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, I welcome the Bill as a sensible move towards statutory recognition of the existence of the Secret Intelligence Service and GCHQ. When I was in the Navy, I had from time to time responsibility for matters connected with GCHQ and am therefore aware of the great importance to the nation of a continuance of secrecy in the details of all that GCHQ does. I am particularly concerned that the new processes preserve that secrecy and with due thought I believe that, properly handled, the new processes will do that. However, there is a very strong accent on the words "properly handled". There is no reason to suppose that they will he improperly handled, but one hopes that that will be borne in mind by all those concerned.

I take note of the words of caution of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, whose views I much respect. I particularly took his point that the more that one decreases one's Armed Forces of the Crown—and I think that that is very regrettable for quite different reasons—the more important it is that this country's Intelligence Service—whether GCHQ or other means —is improved rather than reduced. To that extent, I trust that the exercise of those processes leads to that point being properly borne in mind.

My main contribution to this debate, therefore, is to ask your Lordships to accept the Bill mainly as it stands. I noted carefully what the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said and looked carefully to see whether the worries that he seemed to have about the Bill were really justified. I would suggest to him that they are not. No doubt my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor will be able to point some of them out. I do not think that the Bill needs much in the way of amendment. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Brimelow, thoughtfully and carefully made just the right points about the distance that this Bill goes in the direction that it seeks to go without potentially harming the vital need for secrecy in these areas.

Let us pass the Bill as quickly as may be so that the new machinery can be tested in practice. We should not waste time trying to alter the Bill in detail to deal with imaginary failings which in any case are probably best not dealt with at this stage. In due course we shall discover whether the apparatus that the Bill sets up works. If it does, all well and good. If it does not, we can move on another stage and amend it further. Let. us not try to spoil what I believe to be a good and carefully crafted Bill designed to meet the needs of a service which is important to this country. I trust that all noble Lords will fully support the Bill.

6.11 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, in welcoming the Bill, it was my intention to suggest some improvements to it, but my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition and the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, have said most of what I would have said about the need to improve the Bill. Instead of going on about that, because the suggestions came from sources more authoritative than me, I propose to say just a word on a subject seldom heard in these debates; that is, surveillance.

We have heard from one or two speakers who have been concerned with the intelligence services, and know something of what it is like to be at that end of the matter. The House probably has little appreciation of what it is like to be on the receiving end. I have experience of that. It is a peculiar and unsettling experience. It began in Burma when there was a dispute within the Government as to whether the forces returning to Burma at the end of the war, led by Aung San, should be recognised or whether the old hands should return. Mountbatten supported Aung San while the old hands supported the return of the people who had been in charge before the war.

Towards the end of the war in Burma I was seconded from the RAF to Civil Affairs (Burma). I became head of English programmes at Rangoon Radio. In that capacity, I invited Aung San, who was then regarded as a communist acolyte, to broadcast his point of view. There were one or two other similar incidents, but it was not until I returned to this country that I realised what would be the consequences. When I went to Petty France to obtain a passport, I could not get one. So I sat in at Petty France until I persuaded the people there to give me a passport. I wanted to visit Czechoslovakia to see what was going on there. I was given a passport which said that I could go anywhere in the world except anywhere within the British Empire. It was evidently thought that I would set about dismantling the whole thing and so must be prevented from going. I was allowed to come back to England. There was no trouble about that.

I went to see Chris Mayhew, who at that time was a junior Minister in the Foreign Office. I told him about my passport. A few days later I received an apologetic letter which read as though some minor administrative error had occurred. The intelligence services do not give up easily. When I became involved later with the CND I soon discovered that they were on my track again, but I cannot be sure whether it was MI5 or MI6. My telephone was being intercepted. My flat in Putney was eventually burgled. Nothing was taken, but papers and documents were spread all over the place. When I read Wright's memoirs I realised what had been going on. It can be an awful nuisance. In my case the outcome was perhaps not unhappy, although it may have been for your Lordships, because I finished up in this House.

On my return, having been broadcasting in Burma, I tried to join the BBC. I was accepted, but a curtain came down after a while. I tried another department. I was accepted again. The curtain came down when I filled out the application form. So I gave up being a broadcaster and decided to become a trade union official. I drifted into politics and eventually finished up in your Lordships' House. Your Lordships have MI5 or MI6 to thank, or blame, for my presence here.

I have said all that to show that there is another side to this curious story. There is not always a happy end, although it was happy for me. It means many innocent people (for example, those in the CND) have been put under surveillance. There is the mysterious death of Hilda Murrell. It is not known how that occurred. She was a keen anti-nuclear person. She gave evidence at inquiries considering such issues. She was also a famous rose grower. She was a quiet country lady. She was murdered. No one knows how. The police have never been able to discover. But that she was also under surveillance is clear.

One thing that I should like to see put in the Bill is a provision to ensure that the secret services are precluded from employing the services of private investigators. If it is true, as many people believe, that Hilda Murrell was killed, she was killed by agents of a private investigator employed by the secret services and not by the secret services themselves.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will give way. I feel that I must make it clear that none of the intelligence services ever kills people or is authorised to kill people. That is a complete misapprehension. I cannot let it pass.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, I understand the position of the noble Baroness in this matter. It is the one that she would of course take up.

Noble Lords


Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, the noble Baroness is sincere. Her position is understood. If I were in her position, I should be saying the same thing, and I should believe it. It is believed that on this occasion the secret services employed a private detective agency to carry out the surveillance, and that Hilda Murrell was murdered by accident. It is believed that they went into the house; that she discovered them there; that a struggle took place; and that the body was transferred elsewhere. That is the end of the story. The police of course are completely baffled, and I believe genuinely baffled about what happened.

I do not for a moment suggest that the secret services themselves do such things. That is why I say that the Bill should make it necessary for them to do their own dirty work in the future. They should not farm it out to irresponsible private investigators. There is no control over private investigators in this country. We should have another Bill bringing private investigators under effective control.

I have spoken about the other side of the coin because it is important that someone should speak for those who are put under surveillance. The secret service is a necessary part of this country's defence. The work it does abroad is appreciated by us all. It is necessary, and it will have to continue. But when they start searching for the enemy within, the "nutters" become in charge. The fact that they tried to pin down the Prime Minister of this country demonstrates the lengths to which they will go. Some of those people lose touch with reality. The main purpose of the legislation is to ensure that in future reality controls. If there are any people, or organisations, who have in the past been careless in their actions, and as a result accidents have taken place, the Bill will do a great deal to ensure that such accidents do not occur in the future.

6.20 p.m.

Lord Bridges

My Lords, the Bill was presented to the House by the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, as an uncontentious piece of legislation following the example of the 1989 Act on the Security Service. All the same, the introduction of a Bill on the intelligence service is an historic event. Intelligence operations may be as old as warfare or diplomacy; but this is the first time in the history of our parliament that a Bill relating to intelligence operations has been considered. It is therefore appropriate to offer some brief, general remarks about the proposals. Like other noble Lords, I wish to make it clear that although I have seen many reports from such sources and have acted on them, I have never been engaged on their production.

My first comment relates to the limited nature of the Bill. Its procedures appear to be sensible; but they do not indicate the way in which the secret Intelligence Service fits into the government machine. There is nothing particularly secret about the general scheme, because earlier this year the Government published a paper entitled Central Intelligence Machinery, which was referred to by the noble and learned Lord. It explains in broad terms the arrangements for ministerial oversight. A cardinal element in our system is the clear line** that has been drawn between the collection of intelligence and its appraisal. That has always been an important principle for us in this country, and we have always clearly distinguished between those two functions: information gathering and assessment. Surely that is the right way for us to proceed.

However, we must note that that is not the way in which some countries have operated. More particularly, it is not the way in which the two superpowers managed their affairs throughout the whole of the Cold War. In the United States, the Central Intelligence Agency is definitely in the appraisal business. Some might even say that it is in competition with the National Security Council. In the former Soviet Union, the KGB was—and for all I know still is—much involved in the execution of foreign policy. It frequently had—I speak in the past—its agents in the ordinary departments of state and its chief sitting alongside the Foreign Minister in the Politburo. Thus, there were in effect two senior Ministers engaged in the execution of foreign policy. No doubt the noble Lord, Lord Brimelow, will correct me if I am wrong in saying that at one time the chief of the KGB was a member of the Politburo, and the Foreign Minister was not.

The general point which I seek to make is that the way in which an intelligence service operates within the government of a country is of central importance. Indeed, I suggest that it is rather more important than some of the matters dealt with in the Bill. Neither the American nor the Russian system would be at all appropriate for us, nor indeed would they be tolerable in our parliamentary democracy. The detail of our administrative arrangements is not defined by law, and I see no particular reason why it needs to be. But the arrangements are central to the future of the secret Intelligence Service and of the British system of Cabinet government. It is for that reason that I mention the broader issue, which is not addressed directly in the Bill. I have a strong belief that the principle should be adhered to in the future.

The second general matter which concerns me, and it arises from the terms of the Bill, is an issue of jurisdiction. The Bill properly seeks to define the limits of activities which might not be legal when conducted by a private citizen and to subject them to control by the Secretary of State, to scrutiny by a tribunal and to oversight by a parliamentary committee. However, a potential problem exists in the case of an organisation such as the secret Intelligence Service, which is based within our jurisdiction but which operates mainly abroad. It is not clear to me what may happen if an operation carried out by the SIS in a foreign country is uncovered and gives rise to controversy there. That has happened in the past, and it might happen in the future. The operation complained of might be illegal in the country where it took place. In such circumstances, a foreign government would have recourse directly to our own if they chose to do so. I see nothing in the Bill which will prevent an aggrieved party from making use of the domestic British machinery to be established by the Bill in order to pursue the complaint. I can see difficulties ahead if that were to happen. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord will tell the House whether he believes that chain of events to be possible or whether I have misread the Bill.

There are several minor but interesting points in the Bill to which I wish to refer more briefly. First, the phrase "the British Islands" appears in the Bill in several places. I believe that it is the intention to include the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man as well as the United Kingdom. I have it on good authority that, legally speaking, the phrase "the British Islands" includes Northern Ireland following a definition contained in a 1978 Act of Parliament. But as we all know, whatever the constitutional law may provide, the Irish regard the word "Britain" as excluding both parts of their island. Hence we use the unwieldy expression "the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland", and have done so since we were saddled with it in 1922.

I find the use of the phrase "the British Islands" to be potentially confusing. I suggest that clarification is required either by repeating on the face of the Bill the definition given in the 1978 Act; or by inserting an appropriate reference to it; or, perhaps less satisfactory, in the form of a statement relating to the meaning of the phrase made during the passage of the Bill through Parliament. That is not a matter of legal pedantry and I am not a lawyer but I believe that it is most important to avoid any possible misunderstanding of the meaning of the phrase in Ireland. That would be most undesirable for reasons which do not need elaboration.

Secondly, Clause 2(3) (a) refers to the Public Records Act 1958. It appears that the records of the Intelligence Service will normally be deposited in the Public Record Office after the usual lapse of 30 years. That is a little surprising and will certainly be a major change in policy. Is that really what the Government intend? Perhaps they intend something else, which might be to reserve a large number of papers or categories of them from deposit in the PRO. If that is their intention, is it right that the 1958 Act is applied? The whole purpose of that Act was to implant in statute law a general obligation for departments of state to deposit the bulk of their departmental records with exclusions only for exceptional items.

My final specific comment relates to the appointment of the parliamentary committee. I too find the idea of a committee of Members of both Houses commendable not least because a number of noble Lords who formerly sat in another place could make a useful contribution to the work of such a committee. However, I hope that the consultations to be conducted by the Prime Minister with the Leader of the Opposition might be extended to the leaders of other opposition or political parties as appropriate. Perhaps I may observe also that some of my noble friends on the Cross-Benches have valuable experience in that field. If it is intended that the committee might include one or more persons with direct knowledge of those matters, I hope that my noble friends will not be excluded from consideration.

I understand what the Government are seeking to do in this Bill and in principle, I believe that they are right in seeking to place an important official activity on a proper statutory basis. We have a tendency in this country to prefer administrative solutions and long-accepted practices to a correct legal foundation. That is something which often makes me uneasy, and I am glad to see it corrected in this instance.

But I have one lingering doubt that it may sometimes be difficult to define satisfactorily in our law activities which may not be wholly sanctioned by law elsewhere; perhaps one may describe them as para-legal activities. We all know that in some countries the law can be extremely oppressive, and how the two legal systems may fit together is not easy to see. I suggest that legality is not an easy concept in that area when applied across jurisdictions.

Having said that, and apart from that general reservation, I shall support the Bill when it reaches its Committee stage.

6.31 p.m.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, I too want to say that I welcome the Bill. I am glad that there seems to be an emerging consensus all round the House that the Bill should receive a welcome. My noble friend Lord Merlyn-Rees said that this area of activity should be non-party political. We need to reinforce that point.

Your Lordships may ask why I am speaking in the debate. We have had an enormous range of extremely illustrious speakers, many of whom have had direct experience of being Secretaries of State and, therefore, have direct relevant experience. I suppose that I take the role of the proverbial man in the street in the debate.

Following on my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Putney, I was trying to work out whether I had any unknown connections with the intelligence services. The only episode that I could think of happened when I was studying to be an engineer: I did a sandwich course which meant studying for six months at college and then working for six months in industry. The first industrial period that I had was with the Ministry of Defence at the British Arsenal. I must say that I received an extremely good workshop training there.

I then went back to college and was due to go back to the Ministry of Defence for my second industrial period. I went home for the weekend prior to going there and I received a telegram from the college telling me not to go to the Royal Ordnance Factory and to stay at home; and I did. It transpired that my security clearance had not come through.

To this day, I do not know why that was. The only thing that I can remember is that I had a conversation during that week with my little sister. She was going through what I call her Che Guevara phase. Perhaps Your Lordships will remember that there was an urban guerrilla whose face appeared on posters and he became something of a pin-up for young women at the time. My sister was going through that Che Guevara phase and she wanted to be a revolutionary like Che. Being a helpful elder brother, I told her that she would have to go round the country identifying all the Ministry of Defence armaments dumps so that she could break into them to get the weapons she needed to fight the revolution. Needless to say, it sounded rather too much like hard work to her and she never attempted that step on the road to revolution. But I sometimes wonder whether I was being eavesdropped on by the intelligence services and it was for that reason that I never reached the Royal Ordnance Factory. The good result of all that was that I went to Massey Ferguson. I made tractors and I spent 20 very happy years with that company as a result.

There have been some extremely good contributions to the debate. I was particularly taken by the contribution made by my noble friend Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, who suggested some areas of inquiry for the new parliamentary committee which will be set up under the Bill. I was taken also by the comments made by my noble friend Lord Merlyn-Rees, who suggested that there were other areas of secret intelligence work—namely, the military and the Special Branch—whose actions could also do with being involved in the proposed parliamentary oversight.

A number of noble Lords have paid tribute to the work of the men and women involved in the secret intelligence services. I should dearly like to join in those tributes. The problem is that I cannot, and I am not sure how any other noble Lord can pay those tributes because, by definition, nobody knows what goes on. The only three people who are effectively privy to any information on that subject are the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister; and there is nobody else who can make a judgment or say anything about it. Everybody else is covered by the Official Secrets Act and, therefore, cannot comment.

I take on board that some people who have worked for the secret services in the past can make broad comments about the way they worked. But the other side of the coin is that we have heard some fairly damaging allegations about the activities of the secret intelligence services. It must be remembered that in virtually every other sphere of public activity, whether it is the health service, the social security system or even the Ministry of Defence, there are channels of information that can inform parliamentarians when it comes to making a judgment about the spending of public money and the actions of public servants. The area about which we are speaking here is perhaps the only area in which parliamentarians, almost by definition, cannot be informed by other channels as to what is going on and whether public money is being well spent.

Therefore, we need to devise special mechanisms to ensure that the money which Parliament votes is spent—and Parliament spends large sums of money on the secret intelligence services—and the actions of the secret intelligence community are performed as Parliament wants them to be. The proposed mechanism in the Bill makes welcome progress but I suspect that it does not go quite far enough as regards the ability to reassure Parliament about what is going on in the secret domain.

I suggest three improvements which we could make. A number of noble Lords have mentioned the idea that the members of the committee should be Privy Counsellors. That is a matter which we should take on board very seriously, and I shall return to it in a few moments.

The second improvement is the need for the committee to report direct to Parliament rather than through the Prime Minister. If the committee has to report through the Prime Minister then, effectively, it is the Prime Minister's report and not the committee's report. Thirdly, the other problem that we are faced with is that the committee will have information given to it only on a restricted basis. I should have thought that it would be possible to find six parliamentarians—that is, three from the other place and three from this House—whom Parliament, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Home Secretary could trust not to divulge sensitive information and put it into the public domain.

Why are we setting up the system and what do we expect it to do? Well, as has been said, it is to ensure that the will of Parliament in terms of spending money and asking for certain activities be undertaken is carried out correctly. One of the questions that I have asked myself, and I shall pose it again this evening, is what will the committee do if a problem arises? That is why I believe that the membership needs to consist of Privy Counsellors. That is an area in which they can exert influence, and I put it no higher than that. We must be prepared for such a possibility, although I hope that the situation will never arise where at some stage in the future those six parliamentarians say to Parliament, "The system is out of control and some action needs to be taken by Parliament to resolve the problem". Given such a situation, that would effectively call into question the position of the Prime Minister. How does one challenge a Prime Minister, unless by way of the men in white coats or grey suits or by informing Parliament as a whole of the situation?

My final point is about the question of finding the right balance. If we go too far in terms of our mechanisms or oversight and if the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, the Home Secretary and the secret intelligence community feel that they are being asked too much too soon, then effectively the whole business will just go underground. Therefore, we must get the balance right so that everyone will feel that they can trust everyone else. I reinforce the point that I made earlier. The whole endeavour must be on a bipartisan basis where everyone on all sides of this House and on both sides of the other place, if I may put it that way, feels that we have the right mechanism and that we can trust it to enable Parliament to have the oversight that it needs of such secret work.

6.43 p.m.

Lord Vivian

My Lords, the Intelligence Services Bill has been drafted to accord with the policy of Her Majesty's Government of being more open about security and intelligence matters, without prejudicing national security, the effectiveness of the security and intelligence services or the safety of their staffs. When scrutinising the Bill, it is those aspects that we should have uppermost in our minds at the same time as ensuring that the Bill will be effective.

The joint intelligence committee is the main instrument for advising on the priorities of intelligence gathering and for assessing its results. It is assisted in those tasks by the functions of four agencies. Those agencies are the Security Service responsible to the Secretary of State at the Home Office; the secret intelligence services and the Government's communications headquarters responsible to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs; and the defence intelligence staff responsible to the Secretary of State for Defence. For some years, I worked in one of those agencies; namely, the defence intelligence staff and have been responsible for the production of some reports. I cannot stress enough to your Lordships the vital and essential roles that those four agencies perform in safeguarding the interests of the United Kingdom and our dependent territories.

The severe reductions that have been imposed on the armed services make it even more important that our intelligence and security services provide accurate, timely and carefully-assessed information which must not be hindered by legislation which may not be needed. Risks have been taken with the size of our future defence forces and they have been cut down too much. It would take years to reform and retrain regiments with sophisticated weaponry; it takes 10 to 15 years to research and develop new weapon systems; and it is difficult to find fluent foreign language speakers to man intelligence positions and operations without long notice and long warning times. Without sufficient Armed Forces, and with a smaller defence industrial base, we are even more dependent on high grade, swiftly flowing intelligence unhindered by legislation and bureaucratic regulation, providing the long notice and warning times from which we can build up and expand our Armed Forces, defence industries and other necessary institutions when required.

It is essential that all our agencies are funded and established at the appropriate scale to provide that long warning time. The Bill must not prevent or hinder those agencies from monitoring areas whereby early warning in sufficient time is given of the development of direct or indirect threats to British interests whether political, military or economic. Those areas must be continuously monitored to ensure that Her Majesty's Government can take timely decisions and action to counter any direct or indirect threat to the United Kingdom.

I am not an expert in scrutinising parliamentary Bills, but in this case I believe that one of the most important aspects—I might even say, the most important aspect—is to ensure that the Intelligence Services Bill does not in any way prejudice our national security; prejudice the effectiveness of the security and intelligence services; or prejudice the safety of the intelligence and security staffs.

With those facts in mind, and at this stage, I should like to comment on three particular aspects which some speakers have already mentioned. First, successful intelligence has, is and will be dependent on secrecy. Although the Bill places the Secret Intelligence Service and GCHQ on a statutory basis, there should be no prying into their operational activities and Parliament must recognise that fact. Secondly, a strict control must be retained over any press releases and over any investigations into our intelligence and security agencies by the press. Thirdly, there should be no supervision of their activities at home or overseas.

The introduction of a commissioner, who holds or has held high judicial office, will no doubt be welcome as will be the establishment of a tribunal to investigate complaints, as referred to in Clauses 8 and 9 and Schedule 2 to the Bill.

The introduction of an intelligence and security committee, referred to in Clause 10 and Schedule 3, consisting of six members each of whom shall be either a Member from your Lordships' House or from another place, is another welcome step. But here I must sound a word of caution. The committee should be constituted as a special committee, as many speakers have already said, and it should not act or proceed in the same way as a Select Committee. The Intelligence and Security Committee should confine itself to examining the expenditure, administration and policy of those agencies which should be written into the text of Clause 10. Currently, as the Bill is drafted, it only appears on the first page under the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum.

I have noted that the members of that committee will be appointed by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition. Can my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor confirm that the members of that committee will be positively vetted to the highest possible level? Consideration should also be given to selecting members for this committee from those in your Lordships' House and in another place who have worked in and have had experience of these particular agencies. Otherwise I believe we could be prejudicing the safety of the intelligence and security staffs, the effectiveness of their services and our own national security.

In conclusion, no legislation in this Bill should be imposed which would prevent Ministers being given timely warnings to enable Her Majesty's Government to take decisions to counter any threats to our economy and political ideals and to enable the Government to expand the Armed Forces and the defence industries in sufficient time to overcome any military threat to our interests. We must ensure that there are no aspects of this Bill which would prejudice the safety of these staffs and the effectiveness of the intelligence and security services, and that any risks to our national security continue to be eliminated by these highly skilled, dedicated and loyal agencies. I support this Bill as it stands.

6.51 p.m.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, I am jumping into the gap and will accordingly be brief. Before coming to the Bill itself I wish to say a word or two about the statement of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor on the reasons why we still need an independent, national secret intelligence service and a GCHQ at all and on the background of that. One of the reasons he gave was that as a member of the UN we had need of such sources of intelligence. Although this is true, the UN Secretariat not only has no way of gathering secret intelligence, but also has no way of gathering ordinary political information on the ground in most countries of the world. We want to be careful that the UN does not become an assemblage of nation states, all at loggerheads with one another, each wielding a secret intelligence service against the others, and the assemblage itself being deprived of all those sources of information.

I turn now to the Bill. Autobiography seems to be in order this evening and therefore I will add that it is just 50 years ago this winter that I gained my first experience of the principles and practice governing the collection, protection and utilisation of secret intelligence. That was in the Navy. I have had one other relevant experience since then which I wish to recount to the House. It occurred five years later when, at the mature age of 25, I put forward a paper suggesting that the degree of loss of security and the degree of public knowledge of one of the three services concerned in this Bill had become such that drastic steps should be taken: it should be divided between a front office, which would remain at the same address but would have no say in the collection of intelligence at all, and a back office, another headquarters elsewhere, which would actively do the work. This suggestion was, not surprisingly, turned down, but on the rather interesting ground that the experienced line officers who were doing the work would not be willing to give it up in order to man the front office and have lunch with politicians.

There was a certain ambiguity of feeling and tension even about this juvenile idea which, it occurs to me, may be relevant to what we are talking about today. The structure proposed by the Bill—partly confirmed and partly proposed anew—is quite substantial. There are the commission and the tribunals, and there are to be annual reports. There is to be the new parliamentary committee. This is rather a notable overt presence on the ground. The parliamentary committee will, of course, have to have a staff which will have to become expert. There will be the at least annual, and perhaps more than annual, coming and going about what is to be cut out of the report when it is handed on from the Prime Minster to the parliamentary committee. All these are potential leak points.

One can draw as sharp a distinction as one likes between knowledge, on the one hand, of finance and administration, and on the other hand of operations and targets. However, I notice—I draw attention to this—the presence of the word "policy" among those things which are to be surveyed by the parliamentary committee. Perhaps we should return to the word "policy" when we are discussing the relevant clause, and determine what the Government mean by it and what other members of the committee think it might mean.

I have a certain fear based on the American experience. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Tanworth, wisely reminded us of the history of the CIA. He gave the impression that, apart from a brief experiment which was soon cancelled—the "rush for openness"—everything had worked satisfactorily. I do not think it would be a good plan if the secret services of this country were to occupy the same place in the limelight as the CIA has come to occupy in the United States. Both before the dash for openness and after it, the CIA has often appeared as a kind of alternative state department. It is almost always known when the State Department and the CIA differ, and the CIA's reasons for differing, which are freely published and discussed, are often good. On the other hand, they are sometimes not as good as the State Department's reasons for advocating what it is advocating.

Throughout this new structure which we are about to set up we have to maintain an absolute distinction between policy making and policy advising in foreign affairs, on the one hand, and, on the other, the collection of intelligence, whether secret or not, and of overt information, which can support that policy making. I believe we have all noticed at different times in the United States that the difficulties between state and the CIA have become such that the Defense Intelligence Agency has occasionally been wheeled out as a possible tertium quid to hold the balance. Sometimes a President has realised that that would merely be substituting the conflict between two with a conflict among three, which would make things even worse than they had been before. The result, I submit, is that United States policy has for the past 40 years been harmed by this duality. It has caused backbiting at home and uncertainty abroad.

This is a government Bill, and I take it as a sign that the Government wish to have the help, the safeguard and the candid observation of Parliament in their work on these difficult matters. For that reason I, along with everyone else, support the Bill. I do not know whether any of my worries can be translated into meaningful amendments. That will perhaps not be possible, but I am glad to have them on the record in supporting the Bill.

6.58 p.m.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I am grateful for the large measure of support which this Bill has received from all quarters of the House and from noble Lords with many different backgrounds of experience in relation to the operation of these services and the results of that operation. I have the feeling that many of the matters that have been dealt with in the course of the speeches of your Lordships in this debate are primarily matters to be dealt with in Committee. Therefore I do not propose to examine them all in tremendous detail. However, I intend to mention some of them.

First, the Government are, of course, conscious of the concerns that the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, expressed. I was saying at the outset that we have taken some considerable time to try to get the balance right. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, correctly said that it is not the time that is taken to do that but the result that is important. I of course accept that at once, but I believe that sometimes one is apt to get a better result if one takes a reasonable time to achieve it. I, too, join with the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, in congratulating publicly—this is my first opportunity to do so—the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, on the award to him by Her Majesty of the Order of Merit. I am sure we are all glad that that has happened. I do not imagine that the way in which he was able, as Home Secretary, to change and improve the services for which he was responsible will have been left out of account in the assessment of that merit.

At the outset I should like to mention a point which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Brimelow, and the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. The parliamentary draftsman employs a certain economy of language. Most of us applaud that. I am grateful for the observation that the Bill is written in very plain language. I believe that that is true, and it is a good thing. In the desire for economy the parliamentary draftsman has said that: There shall continue to be a Secret Intelligence Service (in this Act referred to as 'the Intelligence Service'). That is an ordinary statutory technique for saving a word. It is not intended to suggest by the use of that parliamentary draftsman's technique that the Intelligence Service is no longer to be regarded as secret. The whole machinery of the Bill is intended to secure, on the one hand, reasonable accountability and, on the other, secrecy:

My noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy asked for an assurance that the Bill would not damage the intelligence services or endanger operations or individuals. My noble friend Lord Vivian made the same point. Our intention is to seek to protect those as far as possible. The size of the committee has some relevance. On the whole the more people who are involved the greater the risk. It is wise to have a small committee of people of high calibre.

I am referring to Clause 1. I am trying to go through the points which have been raised in the order of the clauses. The noble Lord, Lord Bridges, referred to the "British Islands" and the desire not to incommode any of our friends in any part of the world who might misunderstand that phrase. Again the parliamentary draftsman has used the well-known technique of adopting a phrase which is interpreted in the Interpretation Act. According to the Interpretation Act, the "British Islands" comprise the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. Therefore, anyone who wishes to enlighten someone who has questions about that matter can do so with confidence.

I turn now to Clause 2(3) (a) and the Public Record Office. Naturally I have the greatest interest in the Public Record Office, because the Lord Chancellor is the Minister primarily charged with responsibility for that body. The purpose of the provision is solely to enable the services to place their records, if and when appropriate, in the Public Record Office. If they were precluded entirely from giving away any information, the obligation at some time to send records to the Public Record Office in accordance with the rules would be overridden. That is the purpose of Clause 2(3) (a). It is not intended to change the overall position in relation to the Public Record Office which I have explained in other debates about its work.

The noble Lord, Lord Richard, was anxious about the obligation to report on GCHQ, if I understood him correctly. My understanding is that under the terms of the Bill the director of GCHQ has the same requirement to report to the Prime Minister as the director of the SIS.

Lord Richard

My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble and learned Lord for giving way. My point was that the report on the security services goes to the Prime Minister and then to Parliament. The report from GCHQ goes to the Prime Minister and stops there.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, the situation is that the commissioner has the duty to report to the Secretary of State in respect of his functions in connection with all the agencies. I shall have to look at the point precisely, but I do not believe that it is intended to make any distinction between the two. I shall look to see whether the words of the Bill operate entirely as we would wish.

The noble Lord, Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, asked about the possibility of examining the justification for the continued scale of GCHQ and the scope of its operations. He appeared to regard that as a possible subject for the new committee. I believe that it is a subject which would be worthy of the attention of such a committee when it is set up.

I now come to another aspect of GCHQ which figured in more than one of your Lordships' speeches—namely, the question of unions at GCHQ. Following the parallel of the 1989 Act, the Bill does not cover matters such as conditions of service, nor would it be appropriate for the Bill to do so. In 1984 the Government set out their objectives for GCHQ and the basis for their decision. Those objectives remain in force. The primary objective set out by the then Foreign Secretary was to ensure that staff at GCHQ would not in future be subject to the kind of pressures which had deliberately been put on them in the past—namely, pressure to engage in industrial action when involved in work affecting national security.

There was no question at any stage of doubt about the loyalty of individuals. However, being organised on a union basis, they were subject to pressure to engage in industrial action. Obviously GCHQ is an important part of the structure of government. Your Lordships will remember that the decision followed a period of severe industrial disruption at GCHQ between 1979 and 1981, when some 10,000 staff days were lost. GCHQ staff are presently represented by their own staff federation, which I believe is an effective organisation.

The Government do not accept the ILO's criticism. However, they have entered into talks with the Civil Service unions to explore whether there is scope for allowing them a renewed place in staff representation at GCHQ compatible with the objectives set out by the Government in 1984. Meetings have taken place between the unions and the Cabinet Secretary. Various suggestions have been made from both sides but as yet no agreement has been reached. I understand that those matters are likely to be taken further. Therefore, the points which your Lordships raised on that matter are being taken forward.

In connection with Clause 5, the noble Lord, Lord Richard, asked whether warrants would be issued ex post facto. My understanding of the drafting is that matters which would be unlawful but for the warrant require the warrant. Accordingly, the warrant would be required in advance in order to ensure that what was being done was in accordance with the law.

The noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, asked some questions about the powers of the commissioners. The powers are very much on the lines of those set out in the 1989 Act. I believe that it is reasonable that those powers, which have stood the test of time, should be regarded as appropriate for this Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Bridges, raised the possibility of people living abroad complaining to the tribunal. The intention is that anyone who has cause for complaint should have an opportunity to go to the tribunal, wherever he or she may live.

The noble Lord, Lord Richard, asked whether the committee might report direct to Parliament. In my submission to your Lordships, the present arrangement for the Prime Minister to see the report and for the report then to be laid before Parliament as a statutory obligation is perfectly satisfactory. It provides the opportunity to make any excisions which may be required in the interests of national security. I do not believe that there is any objection to that from your Lordships. That seems to us to be a convenient and direct means by which all the interests can be served together.

So far as concerns access to information, the Bill is drafted to give the best possible access to information in the circumstances. Your Lordships will see that the committee is enjoying a unique statutory right of access both to the agencies and in its right to report to the Prime Minister at any time on matters relating to the functions of the agencies.

The question of appointment to the committee has been raised. I do not believe that it would be right for me to say more at this stage than that the appointment of members of the committee will obviously be a matter for the Prime Minister under the terms of the Bill after discussion with the Leader of the Opposition. However, that does not necessarily mean that no appointments would be considered other than those put forward by the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition. I believe that both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition would wish to take account of the variety of expertise available in both Houses of Parliament and to secure a balanced committee.

There is no requirement in the proposed Bill that those appointed to the committee should have a background in this particular work. It would be a matter, of course, for the Prime Minister, in consultation with the Leader of the Opposition. However, I should have thought that there might be a lack of wisdom in appointing people who have a background only in such work. Obviously people with a background in that work have a good deal to contribute, as had the noble Baroness, Lady Park, to the debate. On the other hand, people with perhaps a different background—the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, described such people as those who might have the qualities for this committee—would have to be considered, whether or not they had a background in such work.

I am. grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, for suggesting various matters that the committee might look into. In addition to what I said about the matter, he illustrated important questions that such a committee could consider without endangering the work of the services, which I believe everyone in your Lordships' House is agreed is vital to the security of our country.

I was particularly glad that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Tanworth—he has great experience of these matters—and the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, welcomed the Bill. As I understood them, they both considered that we had the balance of the Bill about right.

We shall consider the issue of the Secretary of State's powers to prevent information being given to the committee in more detail at Committee stage. My understanding is that the Bill does not give the Secretary of State blanket power. The committee may see all information unless it is sensitive information. However, the Secretary of State may override the head of an agency's decision that information is sensitive and order it to be disclosed. Alternatively, he may refuse its disclosure if it is information which would not be disclosed to a departmental Select Committee. I suggest to your Lordships that those are reasonable standards to apply to the Secretary of State's provisions. I believe that they are tight provisions designed to make any decision to withhold information the exception taken only after careful consideration of the relevant facts. The committee would be selected on such a basis that reasonably full disclosure could be made to it.

Various suggestions have been made about the constitution of the committee. The idea that it might be restricted to Privy Counsellors has been mentioned. I have mentioned already the possibility of minority parties, and so on. I believe that those considerations are best left open in the circumstances of the case. It is rather a small committee. A good deal of judgment will be required to get its constitution right. I believe that the less restriction placed upon my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in making that selection the better. There are great resources available in both Houses of Parliament. They are not absolutely unlimited; but I am sure that, in association with the Leader of the Opposition, my right honourable friend can be trusted to get the matter right.

As I understand the position, the Bill meets the standards set by the European Convention on Human Rights. As I said in opening, the decisions have very much supported the adequacy of the legislation we already have in place.

Some noble Lords referred to the operation of similar oversight arrangements in other countries. I believe that to consider that issue without close examination of the whole structure of the security services in the other countries would be of limited value. For example, the role of the CIA is rather different from what we anticipate or have experience of in the Secret Intelligence Service in this country. Like the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, I believe that we would wish to retain the distinction between the assessment of the information gathered and the gathering of the information itself. We have fitted our scheme to what we require and to the circumstances of our service and the traditions that they have followed.

I believe—I think that it is generally in accordance with your Lordships' views—that, subject to matters that we shall discuss in Committee, the Bill produces a proper balance. It is welcome that the services should be put on a statutory basis. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont —he said that I asked a question and did not answer it—I had sought to do so, perhaps not entirely to his satisfaction. Let me try again. I have brought the Bill forward because I believe that, having regard to the European Convention on Human Rights and the general situation, it is desirable, in the light of present circumstances, to put the services in question on a statutory foundation with stated, clear lines of accountability and with their powers expressed in clear language in statute. That is a step forward in a developing democracy and I believe that it is wise.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

My Lords, perhaps the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will allow me to correct one matter on his survey of speeches. I did not question the powers of the commissioners. I had intended to pay tribute to their work. The only point I made was about access to information.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, that is the point with which I sought to deal—the power for commissioners to gain access to information. I entirely support the tributes to the work of the commissioners under the statutes already in place. I believe that they have proved their worth and have given satisfaction to all those who have taken an interest in their work and the standard of their reports. I certainly should like to pay tribute to all those who have served in that capacity in those very onerous offices.

Finally, perhaps I may say a word about what the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, said on a specific case. The noble Lord made, I think, an allegation of involvement by the intelligence services in the death of Mrs. Hilda Murrell. I understood him to say that he was alleging not that the security services had themselves been guilty of any criminal act, but that, according to his information, they had instructed some private investigator who, by accident, killed Mrs. Murrell. I believe that that was the allegation.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, if to report what is being said is an allegation, yes, it was an ahegation.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, that was the allegation that the noble Lord made. My understanding is entirely in accordance with what was said by the Leader of the House in another place on 9th July, 1992. He repeated the categoric assurance that was given by the Minister of State for the Home Office at the end of 1984 as to his belief that the security and intelligence services were not involved in any way in the death of Mrs. Murrell. I can only repeat that statement, and I think it right that I should do so in view of the fact that in the course of this debate the noble Lord repeated the allegation.

As I said, I welcome the support for this Bill that has been very general throughout the House. I believe that the size of attendance is not altogether a measure of the importance of the Bill. The Bill is important and I believe it right that this matter should have been put forward. I am extremely grateful to noble Lords who have expressed support for that view. Therefore, with confidence, I renew my Motion that this Bill be now read a second time.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.