|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): Unlike other Back Benchers who have spoken so far, I am not a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee. I hope to have the indulgence of the House in doing what I usually do, which is to talk primarily about intelligence and security issues rather than the work of the Committee. However, I shall touch on one aspect of the Committee's work before I conclude.
The topics that I wish to address are MI5 and subversion, with reference to some recent and on-going developments; some historical topics relating to the retention of files and the examination of foreign archives; and oversight and the problems of reconciling it with the needs of security.
An acknowledgement that this line of MI5 business has gone out of fashion will be made clear in the third edition of the Security Service booklet to be published in March".
At the moment, I have no firm information to suggest that a recurrence of those demonstrations is likely in the foreseeable future. However, I intend to hold further consultations with the Commissioner and the police service, to ensure that everything possible is done to protect the safety of the public and the businesses in the City and elsewhere in London . . .
The London police . . . have a fine record of co-operating fully with peaceful demonstrations. But the refusal of the organisers of that demonstration even to discuss with the police how the event was to be handled was wholly irresponsible, and showed a contempt for peaceful protest and for democracy."--[Official Report, 21 June 1999; Vol.333, c.778.]
In the questioning that followed that statement, I pointed out to the Home Secretary that perhaps we were having a problem with non-co-operation of demonstrators taking part in mass and illegal action because F branch of the Security Service had effectively been closed down. I urged him to recognise that that was a mistake and that, when such riots were being surreptitiously organised, the counter-measures that were required were those which that part of the Security Service had specialised in, but no longer carried out.
I was evidently wasting my breath, because the same thing happened all over again the following year. On 2 May, the Home Secretary once again made a statement to the House about demonstrations in London and Manchester. He said:
None of the organisers was willing to discuss preparations in advance with the police, who therefore had to make their plans on the basis of the best information obtained by them."--[Official Report, 2 May 2000; Vol. 349, c. 21.]
Police have uncovered plans for more than 15,000 extremists to converge on London from all over Europe on May 1."
My information is that it would take the most powerful computers of the American National Security Agency or our own GCHQ at least 24 hours to break such a code. We are therefore facing the possibility of quite major, planned disruption that could well spill over into the day on which the general election may be held. However, our police are having to make do without the advice of the Security Service that they would have had in the past if the decision--erroneous, in my view, and in that of others with an interest in this subject--had not been taken to destroy the counter-subversion arm of MI5.
I have been interested to note that some of the events of past subversive activities still have knock-on effects today. A letter published in The Guardian yesterday was headed "Log on to keeptheToriesout.com, the democratic way". It encouraged people to visit the website of something called "tacticalvoter.net".
I visited the website, to see what it was all about. Naturally, I had a degree of personal interest, given what the site might have contained with regard to my constituency. The site's home page revealed a commendable degree of honesty in stating that the aims of the organisation are to
I thought that the name New Politics Network rang a bell, and I was reminded of an excellent article that appeared not in a right-wing or reactionary magazine but in the New Statesman, that journal of progressivism, on 23 October last year. The article was by Nick Cohen, an investigative journalist of the left with a commendably independent spirit. The article was headlined, "Up for grabs: £3.5 Million of Stalin's gold; New Politics Network funded by smuggled Russian gold."
I doubt if one person in 100,000 has heard of the New Politics Network. The all but unrecognisable remnant of the once militant communist Party of Great Britain has been rebranded and repackaged like a flagging line of groceries . . . The network matters because it has money--£3.5 million, to be precise--the residue of the Moscow gold smuggled from the Kremlin to the British communist Party. To socialists, £3.5 million is a fantastic sum. Outside the trade union movement, no organisation on the left can match the network's wealth."
In the course of this Parliament, a number of other interesting cases have arisen out of cold war history. The case that has interested me a great deal is the targeting by the Stasi of certain activists and individuals in the United Kingdom.
The Home Secretary, whom I am delighted to see back on the Treasury Bench, will remember our pleasant debate on the retention of MI5 files. In the early days of this Parliament, it looked as though those files might not be retained--indeed, some quarters on the left exerted a great deal of pressure to destroy the cold war files of the Security Service. Having secured a half-hour Adjournment debate on whether the files should be retained or destroyed, I had the experience--intriguing to me, as a relatively new Back Bencher--of being fortunate enough to have none other than the Home Secretary himself responding to that debate.
I am not sure whether any other Back Bencher has been so fortunate as to have a Cabinet Minister respond in person to an Adjournment debate chosen by ballot, but I certainly felt duly privileged. Furthermore, I was delighted with the outcome: the Home Secretary took it on himself to refer the question of whether or not the files should be retained for future use by historians or destroyed to a proper committee of academics working in conjunction with the Public Record Office. Although it will be many years before those files are open to academic historians, I am sure that the Home Secretary concedes that it is as a result of that chain of events that a substantial part of the MI5 archive is now to be retained.
A similar process went on in the former communist East Germany in respect of the Stasi files held in Berlin. A large quantity of files was retained and has gradually been worked through by scholars, historians and some intelligence agencies. I shall not rehearse the revelations that have emerged during the course of this Parliament about the role of various people in British public life acting as agents for the Stasi, although as recently as September 2000, my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) and I were intrigued to be identified as people who had attracted Stasi attention because of our work combating unilateral nuclear disarmament in the 1980s.
My final point arises from those positive developments. Early in the debate, the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) seemed to suggest that the question of who was appointed to the Intelligence and Security Committee should be a matter for a simple vote by parliamentarians. I was greatly impressed by the comment by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell- Savours)--I am often greatly impressed by his comments--that one member of the Committee could completely destroy its integrity. I have always been concerned to ensure that, if we are to have oversight of the intelligence and security services, we are satisfied that those who undertake the job are themselves as thoroughly discreet and reliable, and have been vetted in a similar way, as those who are privy to the secrets of the agencies themselves. Otherwise, we build a weak link into the agencies' operational security. Although I hasten to emphasise that, in my following remarks, I shall not say anything to identify any individual, I should like to speak in support of the view expressed by the hon. Member for Workington as to a potential danger.
The point we should bear in mind is that the people who made those reports to a hostile foreign intelligence agency regarded the possibility of getting sympathetic Members of Parliament on to a sensitive Select Committee as a potential opening for the obtaining of classified information. I am happy to say that I am not aware of any document in the archive that shows that any such breach of security ever took place.