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5.25 pm

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): Although I am not a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee and am perhaps to bat last before the Front Benchers wind up, I hope that the House will be a little patient with me if I do not use quite the conversational tone that has characterised this very fine debate and trespass into some spheres that I think are germane to it.

First, however, as one who hopes to be a survivor and return after the general election, I should like to express my great respect for both the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) and my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours). I first knew of them from newspaper reports of by-elections. The right hon. Gentleman won one, whereas, initially, my hon. Friend was a casualty of one. They are distinguished parliamentarians. I hope to be able to say that, in a week or two, to other hon. Members, but I say it particularly to them. It has been an honour and a pleasure to serve in Parliament with them. I have learned a great deal from them and from other colleagues who may soon be leaving. I hope that they will have a resurrection in the tranquil waters of another place.

My next point might sound like a matter of levity, but I make it most seriously. There is both a light and a serious aspect to it. It has become almost a badge of office for my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench to be able to boast that, in years past, they were the subject of scrutiny by the security and intelligence services. I deeply regret that I was not so scrutinised. However, although it is amazing how people can become a part of the establishment, and things have moved on, those events are still within living memory. I remain to be persuaded that I can be confident that--among those who freelanced in our security and intelligence services 30-odd years ago--there is no residue of the contempt and arrogance that allowed them to dip into the private lives of people who posed no threat, but who are probably loyal and committed public servants with pride in their United Kingdom citizenship.

Therefore, although I am not a Committee member and accept that things have moved on--a process in which the Intelligence and Security Committee has been an important element--I am concerned that, within living memory, there has been a capacity for people to delve into the lives of students and, I believe, to try to undermine the Labour Government of 1966 to 1970. I have spoken at some length to Lady Castle about that matter and I know that she shares that view. Some very deep forces which were not unrelated to the security and intelligence services had a capacity to try to undermine that democratic Government.

I should like to make a point that touches on the way in which I approach Parliament. When some hon. Members were involved in the 1968 demonstrations, I was working and earning a crust. I did not go to university. I remember being summoned by the deputy clerk of Surrey county council, for which I worked. His summons was equivalent to a papal summons because, although I had worked there for three years, he had never spoken to me.

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Basically, I was called in and asked to spy on the students at Guildford art school who were participating in a sit-in with students at Hornsey art school. I think that the Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs might have been one of them. I am also told that the Home Secretary said that he was organising them. However, the serious point is that the establishment was making a concerted effort to deal with the students.

I was required to telephone students to entice them to reveal the names of the principal organisers of the sit-in. Although the request caused me great trauma, the next day, I went back and politely but firmly told the deputy clerk of Surrey county council that the answer was no. I deeply resented the request, but the incident has always been a lesson to me and served as an example when I have had to stand up to those who were trying to lean on me, both outside and inside this place.

We have dwelt for some time on the nature of the Committee itself. One Conservative speaker said that whether it was a Select Committee or a body appointed by the Executive was a distinction without a difference. I listened very carefully to both the right hon. Member for Bridgwater and the hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates) on the subject. It might surprise them to learn that I am not too exercised by the matter, in that I understand their point, which was also made by my hon. Friends the Members for Workington and for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron), that there is a dynamic--things are moving on--and we need to show some confidence.

I hope none the less that in the next Session the House will dwell on the fact that, human nature being what it is, Prime Ministers, no matter how fine, always feel the need to appoint someone who is not a maverick, a loose cannon, eccentric or bloody-minded--someone who is not, as one distinguished Prime Minister put it, neanderthal. If we could remove responsibility for that appointment from the Executive, it would be a healthy constitutional development.

Of course, we are all on Committees by patronage, perhaps from the Whips Office or party groups. Many of us want to minimise that patronage. Whatever mechanism we have for appointment, common sense must ultimately prevail. We must have confidence in our capacity, collectively, not to appoint those who are reckless and undisciplined, as distinct from those who are inquisitorial and determined to promote and protect the rights of Parliament without fear or favour.

We have a special responsibility because, almost uniquely among democratic legislatures, we neither sanction nor even retrospectively authorise the commitment of our armed forces abroad. I think that that is a deficiency in our constitution. I know that that is a minority view, so I shall not labour the point, but as we do not have such parliamentary endorsement--the equivalent of the United States War Powers Act or similar legislation that, as I understand from parliamentary answers, applies throughout NATO--we have an especial responsibility to be confident that we do not have arbitrary government and that there is proper prudence in our foreign and defence policy. This must not be the end of the tale: it must be the beginning of trying to promote parliamentary scrutiny in this field, as in many others.

Mr. Tom King: We have had a mini-debate about the Liaison Committee report, in which the Intelligence and

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Security Committee was mentioned. The hon. Gentleman has made the point well that the issue of patronage and who is appointed to Committees is not confined to the Intelligence and Security Committee but applies to all Select Committees. That issue needs to be tackled. The more I listen to the debate, the more I understand that there is a compromise over our Committee. I do not want to be unkind to the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, but he provides an instance of paralysis. He kept asking for things and being told that he could not have them. The Committee was supposed to be all-powerful in sending for persons and papers, but it did not get any.

Our success, if I may be allowed to claim it, is that we get all the material. One could say that we get it by virtue of a different structure, but it is a measure of confidence in who is on the Committee. We are getting over the problem. The awkward squad often attracts Back-Bench support, and there are Conservative as well as Labour Members whose appointment to the Foreign Affairs or the Intelligence and Security Committee I would not recommend. There needs to be some control there.

Mr. Mackinlay: I do not, I think, demur in principle from anything that the right hon. Gentleman has said, but his intervention invites me to amplify my remarks. Clearly, the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs has broken new ground during this Parliament, to the intense irritation--there is no point in disguising it--of both the Foreign Secretary and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

We have not succeeded in everything, but I think that what we have done has been well worth while, and I do not regret it. Probably one of my proudest moments in the House was securing the continued investigation of our involvement in Sierra Leone, despite repeated attempts--both direct and, I have to say, indirect--by the executive branch of Government to close down that inquiry. One day I shall write about it, because there is more to come out--[Interruption.] I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase), who is the Foreign Secretary's Parliamentary Private Secretary, not only that there is more to come out, but that one day it will come out. I hope that he will not provoke me, because what might follow would probably not be the most prudent thing I have done in my life. We pursued that matter, and the test will be what happens when our applications to be reappointed are submitted. It will be interesting to find out how they are treated. We shall see.

I was talking about the Official Secrets Acts, and how I have probed the Home Secretary during this Parliament about how our existing legislation can be squared with our obligations under human rights legislation. I am referring in particular to the fact that, as I understand it, we do not have a defence in law whereby a person who has disclosed information can argue that it was done in the wider public interest.

In a sense, that is where the French courts were superior. I hold no brief for the man who absconded to Paris--Mr. Shayler--but the French courts said, in effect, that the English legislation was flawed because he could not advance the defence of a wider public interest. We should remedy that, because the public interest should be an important test.

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Something that has surprised me about the Home Office over this Parliament is that when Ministers ask the advice of their lawyers, the lawyers seem to be consistently wrong. Ministers then have to eat their words, and I say, "I told you so", but no one gives me a badge for merit.

One example concerns the electoral franchise for the people of Gibraltar. The lawyers are consistently wrong. The Home Secretary ought to look into the deficiencies of the Official Secrets Acts and, early in the next Parliament, seek to remedy them in the context of human rights and the capacity to advance a defence in line with our European obligations and our obligations to justice.

In an intervention I asked a question to which I do not know the answer; it has not been answered in this debate. I mentioned my misgivings about how to draw the fine line between people or organisations that clearly pose a threat to the security of the state and prejudice the whole existence of the United Kingdom and its sovereignty, and people involved in industrial or economic disputes. We might find either or both sides in such disputes abhorrent, repugnant, irresponsible or disloyal; nevertheless, as democrats, surely we are prepared to take those disputes on the chin time and time again, because the wider interests of democracy are paramount.

We know that the security services have been used over the decades--I guess that they are still being used in this decade--in connection with trade union leaders, industrial disputes and so on. From what we can ascertain, there was some activity concerning the people who stopped the movement of essential fuel last autumn. Clearly, I do not identify with those people; I think that they were grossly irresponsible and had a hidden political agenda. None the less, in a democracy, we should strain to the very limits to allow such things to happen, without using the machinery of the state to subvert what we might find an unpalatable stance.

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