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Commons Chamber

Volume 106: debated on Wednesday 3 December 1986

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House Of Commons

Wednesday 3 December 1986

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

Gairloch Harbour Order Confirmation

Mr. Secretary Rifkind presented a Bill to confirm a Provisional Order under section 7 of the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act 1936, relating to Gairloch Harbour: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be considered upon Tuesday 9 December and to be printed. [Bill 12.]

Shetland Islands Council (Ham Voe, Foula)Order Confirmation

Mr. Secretary Rifkind presented a Bill to confirm a Provisional Order under section 7 of the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act 1936, relating to Shetland Islands Council (Ham Voe, Foula): And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be considered upon Tuesday, 9 December and to be printed. [Bill 13.]

Oral Answers To Questions

Foreign And Commonwealth Affairs

Nuclear Missiles

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what is his policy towards elimination of all strategic nuclear missiles by 1966.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and President Reagan agreed at their meeting at Camp David on 15 November that NATO's strategy of forward defence and flexible response would continue to require effective nuclear deterrence based on a mix of systems.

It has been widely reported by many, including President Reagan and Secretary Shultz, that at the Reykjavik summit, before it broke down over star wars, President Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev had agreed on the elimination of all strategic nuclear missiles by 1996 without condition. If the British Government do not agree with that, on what basis was the United States able to put the proposal on the negotiating table? Why do the Government not agree to that aim and work towards it instead of increasing Britain's nuclear capacity by 800 per cent. with the purchase of Trident and sending silly notes to the Russians which effectively say "Nuclear for ever"?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will look forward to taking part in some future debate on this subject. The three important priorities of British policy and Alliance policy were clearly set out by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and President Reagan at Camp David. These were INF, 50 per cent. cuts in strategic weapons and a complete ban on chemical weapons. We should focus our attention on these priorities, and if we manage to realise them it will be an historic achievement.

When my right hon. and learned Friend is considering policy, will he bear in mind that Britain's unilateral action on the production of chemical and biological weapons has had no effect whatsoever on the Warsaw Pact nations? What hope could there be in pursuing a unilateral policy?

My hon. Friend makes precisely the point which was made more than once in our last debate on this subject. The response of the Soviet Union to the prolonged abstention from the production of chemical weapons by the United States and the United Kingdom is a classic condemnation of the folly of unilateral disarmament.

We know that the talks at Reykjavik foundered on the strategic defence initiative. On that important issue, can the Secretary of State say what representations, if any, were made to his United States counterpart on his present interpretation of the anti-ballistic missile treaty as it relates to SDI development? Will he inform the House of his present position on that?

It might be useful to draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to one of the few sensible passages in the speech made yesterday by the Leader of the Opposition, when even he said that Mr. Gorbachev was wrong to link the prospect of all arms control progress with concessions on SDI.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the credibility of the Soviet Union in calling for a nuclear-free world would be greatly enhanced if it ceased its aggression in Afghanistan, which country the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) visited recently without calling for a Russian-free Afghanistan?

My hon. Friend is right. The continued presence of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, with more than 100,000 troops, calls in question to a considerable extent the seriousness of its commitment to progress on this topic.

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that two days after President Reagan met the Prime Minister, Secretary Shultz stated, in speech in a Chicago, that it was the firm intention of the United States to seek the abolition of all ballistic missiles within 10 years? Does he really believe that the United States would provide the British Government with ballistic missiles for Trident submarines at the very moment that it was abolishing all its own ballistic missiles? Does he even believe that the United States would provide the British Government with an 800 per cent. increase in the target capability of British nuclear forces at the same time as it was cutting its own nuclear forces by 50 per cent.? Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the Defence Secretary in his speech this week confirmed the figures which I have just given?

I am aware of the fact that, at Reykjavik itself and immediately thereafter, Mr. Gorbachev affirmed the legitimacy of the presence and modernisation of Britain's nuclear strategic deterrent. Subsequently, at Camp David President Reagan reaffirmed the United States' modernisation policy in the same respect, and specifically did so in relation to Britain. I am aware also of the fact that President Reagan likewise has reaffirmed his commitment to the priorities agreed with the Prime Minister at Camp David.

Central America

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he has any plans to seek to pay an official visit to Central America.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Tim Eggar)

My right hon. and learned Friend's next visit to the area will be to Mexico in early January next year.

Before the Foreign Minister goes to Mexico in January next year, will he undertake to talk to his American counterpart and raise with him the democratic principle that a freely elected Government do not attack another freely elected Government or connive to attack such a freely elected Government? Will he make it clear that the mess that the President of America has now got himself into stems from an undemocratic arming of the so-called Contras? They are basically the people who defended the dictator, Somoza. Will he make it clear, publicly and loudly, that we do not agree with the attacks on a democratically elected Government and that that has always been the principle——

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already made clear, it is not for Ministers at the Dispatch Box to answer for United States policy. We continue to advocate political solutions to problems in Central America on the basis of Contadora objectives rather than military solutions.

Before the Minister goes to Mexico next year, will he consider the problems of El Salvador and the fact that 50,000 illegal killings have taken place in the past seven years, that 1,500 people were killed last year by death squads, and that 234 cases of torture have already been recorded this year by the Committee of the Mothers of the Disappeared? Is it correct that, in those circumstances, with the guilt so much upon the El Salvador army, the British Government should pay for the training of El Salvador army officers in this country, to go back to continue the killing and murdering of the people of El Salvador?

I imagine that the hon. Gentleman referred to the training offered to one El Salvador cadet. Similar assistance has been offered to many developing countries in many parts of the world. That assistance is entirely consistent with our wish to see improvement in the combat behaviour of the El Salvador army. Similar training facilities have been offered by Contadora group countries.

Is the Minister aware that if the Foreign Secretary were to visit Nicaragua he would confirm that many more civilians, including women and children, are being killed by the increasing ferocity of the attacks by the US-funded Contra terrorists? Does he agreee that if the terrorist leader, Arturo Cruz, is allowed to incite support for terrorists at a conference to be held this weekend in the Barbican and organised by the Committee for a Free Nicaragua, under the direction of the research assistant of the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle), it will make a total farce of the Government's claim to support the Contadora peace process? What action will the Foreign Office take to stop this terrorist leader from speaking in London?

I, too, read the press report that appeared this morning. There is, of course, no official involvement of any kind in the conference to which the hon. Gentleman refers. As the Government have repeatedly made clear, we have advocated a political rather than a military solution to the problem in Nicaragua.

South Africa

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent representations have been made by Her Majesty's Government to the Government of South Africa regarding the policy of apartheid.

We have repeatedly made known to the South African Government our abhorrence of and opposition to apartheid. Most recently on 14 November, with our European partners, we made representations to express our concern at possible forced removals from Oukasie township.

In view of the Government's declared continued opposition to the policy of apartheid and the phrase in the Queen's Speech referring to the Government's support for the independence of Namibia, what do the Government intend to do to pursue that policy and to ensure that that independence is secured as soon as possible?

We intend to maintain our pressure for the implementation of resolution 435 as part of our overall policy for progress in South Africa.

Has my right hon. and learned Friend noted the courageous and ingenious solution prepared by the multiracial conference in the town, known as Indaba? Does he share my regret that it has been rejected by President Botha? Will he offer what ecouragement and support he can to the people of the town to hold aloft the beacons of hope and reason in that country?

I have followed the progress of the Natal Indaba with interest. When I was in South Africa in the summer I discussed it with the provincial administrator of Natal, whom I have known for many years since we were at Cambridge together. Like my hon. Friend, I welcome the efforts that have been made to reach agreement between all sections and groups in Natal along the lines projected. I am surprised at the move that appears to have been made towards rejection of those proposals.

Is the Foreign Secretary going to congratulate the anti-apartheid movement on the way in which it has persuaded Barclays bank to withdraw its holdings in South Africa? Is he aware that we hope that this approach will be followed by many other companies? Has the right hon. and learned Gentleman any comments to make on the brutal killings last night of a couple in South Africa who were noted for their campaigning against apartheid?

I cannot make a specific comment on that tragedy because I am not armed with information about it, beyond what the hon. Gentleman, no doubt, has already seen. One regrets all deaths from violence in this type of situation. It has been our view that decisions of the kind to which the hon. Gentleman refers must be taken on commercial grounds. A continuation of the present policies in South Africa is not likely to discourage such decisions. We do not think that disinvestment for South Africa is likely in the long run to be in the interests of changes away from apartheid.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that before Barclays pulled out of South Africa the social policies that it adopted played no small part in persuading the South African regime to liberalise as much as it has done? What possible incentive could there now be to the South African Government to continue with those liberalising policies when the more they liberalise, the more they are attacked by Labour Members?

I note the premise from which my hon. Friend is arguing, but the failure to move away fast enough from the policy of apartheid, which the whole House deplores, is one reason why this type of difficult commercial decision is forced on companies in this position. Of course, my hon. Friend is right to commend the way in which British companies, while they remain in South Africa, have been trying to lead opinion in the right way.

Has the Foreign Secretary noticed in the past few weeks that the South African Government have shelved amendments to the Group Areas Act, have rejected the Kwazulu-Natal option and have intensified forced removals and the torture of children in detention? In the light of those movements all one way and his snub during his July visit, does he still believe that he can influence the South African Government constructively, or would he rather congratulate the anti-apartheid movement and the National Union of Students on the Barclays withdrawal, follow their course, and say that he can constructively disengage our Government from South Africa?

The hon. Gentleman is making a more than usually convoluted analysis of a situation that is difficult enough anyway. From the view point of both sides of the House, progress towards the removal of apartheid is much slower than we would wish. We make that judgment at the end of a period in which some voluntary disinvestment has taken place and some additional sanctions have been put in place and in which there has been some advocacy of all kinds. None of those had the effect on the scale that we would like. It must be said that some of the recent action by the South African Government, including the deferment of action on the Group Areas Act and the declaration made about the effective organisation status of the United Democratic Front, must be seen as discouraging. We must continue to renew our plea for an unmistakeable commitment to the abolition of apartheid and the commencement of the necessary dialogue.

As the Kwazulu-Natal plan would have brought about universal franchise and a non-racial Executive for an important province of South Africa, is not the present rejection of that plan deeply disappointing? Does my right hon. and learned Friend think that this is because of electoral considerations and a reaction to the anti-apartheid movement and some of its extreme manifestations, and will he convey to the South African Government our feeling that this is a great disappointment and that we feel that this kind of approach should be supported?

I understand precisely the point made by my hon. Friend. I cannot help him with an explanation about the reason underlying the apparent lack of enthusiasm for these proposals. However, it must be said that the party on which the South African Government depend was not taking part in the Indaba discussions. The discussions were not fully representative of all those concerned. I am sure that it is right for the South African Government to take note of the points on this topic expressed by my hon. Friends the Members for Havant (Sir I. Lloyd) and for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison), sitting as they do beside each other—spiritually as well as physically.

Immigration

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how much revenue he anticipates receiving annually from fees charged for entry clearance certificates; and if he will make a statement.

Income from entry clearance fees during the next financial year is estimated at £23 million. This is still well short of the cost of operating the entry clearance service overseas, which is about £35 million.

Is it not extraordinary that the Prime Minister should hold tea parties at Downing street to beg Americans to visit Britain and yet impose a £20 visa tax on selected black nation people who wish to visit Britain? Will the Minister investigate claims that officials of the British embassy in Islamabad are accepting visa applications from those at the head of the queue and telling the other people in the queue to come back the next day? Clearly, this allows Ministers to claim that applications are being dealt with on the day that they are lodged, but it is causing considerable inconvenience, especially to elderly people who have to travel hundreds of miles to lodge their applications.

If the hon. Gentleman would like to provide me with details of what he has just said, I shall look into the matter. It is typical of the hon. Gentleman that he does not accept that our posts in the Indian subcontinent did an excellent job during the period when the visa regime was introduced. The vast majority of applicants are processed on the day on which they apply, and any waiting times are extremely short.

Whatever view an accountant might take of this matter, does my hon. Friend agree that the justice of the visa system is widely supported in Britain? Will he also note that the letters that I have sent to him from my constituents represent a range of minority communities which support what we have done?

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's comments. The feedback that we have had from the subcontinent and from many hon. Members in all parts of the House has been positive.

If it is shown over a period of time that considerable difficulties are being encountered by those who apply for visas, will the Minister not allow the cost to deter him from taking steps to improve the situation and to reduce the waiting time? Will he make quite sure that those people who have to come in an emergency, for example, are speedily dealt with?

I am personally keeping this under very close review. We have considerably reinforced our posts throughout the subcontinent and I shall continue to keep a close watch on what is happening. In urgent, compassionate cases, of course I am always willing to receive telephone calls in my office to see if I can do anything to expedite the applications.

[Interruption.]—When my hon. Friend makes his statement will he please note that there appears to be very little objection to these proposals from the Asian community? The system seems to be settling down very well.

I am sorry that I threw such confusion into my hon. Friend's throat. I agree with what he says.

Can the Minister tell us whether all high commissions are staffed up to full complement to process visas? Secondly, can he say how many visa applications have been refused in each of the countries where they have recently been introduced?

I am afraid that at the moment I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the answer to his second question, but I shall willingly write to him with details. The staff has beeen considerably incresed and we are keeping a close watch on it. We expect an increase in applications during the summer months, because that it is traditionally the time of peak travel, and we have plans to reinforce the posts thereafter. It is not only in the area of the visitor that we are increasing staff resources, because we have seen a dramatic improvement in waiting time in Dhaka over the past year. Waiting times have been more than halved for settlement queues for the priority cases.

Is my hon. Friend aware that I was charged £20 for my entry visa to India and that if it had been refused there would have been no right of appeal? Is he further aware that it was limited to the stated purpose for which the journey was made? Does he agree that our system confers greater rights on applicants than so some of those upon which the Labour party lavish such praise?

It is a unique aspect of our visa application system that there is right of appeal. That is not shared by other countries.

Three answers ago the Under-Secretary of State said that he had support for the visa system from both sides of the House. Can he name any hon. Members on the Opposition Benches who support the system?

I have received letters from many hon. Members in which they have made it clear that they are grateful for the way in which we have been able to process applications from their constitueents.

Iran-Iraq War

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent initiatives he has taken to increase support for the existing United Nations Security Council resolutions calling for a ceasefire in the war between Iran and Iraq; and what specific steps he has taken to draw to the attention of the Security Council the use of chemical weapons in that war.

We gave our firm support to Security Council resolutions 582 and 588, both adopted this year, and shall continue to press for their implementation. We have strongly supported successive statements by the President of the Security Council condemning the use of chemical weapons in the conflict, in particular the statement on 21 March, which was subsequently supported by the Twelve.

While friends of the United States of America and Israel will greatly regret the supply of weapons to the brutal and violent regime of Ayatollah Khomeini, will my right hon. and learned Friend assure us that our hands are clean? What are the allegedly non-lethal weapons that we are allowed to supply?

I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that he requests. The guidelines that we have followed are those that were stated to the House in answer to the leader of the Liberal party on 29 October 1985. Those are the guidelines that we believe to be right and which we have followed.

Are the British Government opposed to the supply of weapons from the United States to Iran, whether or not that is related to attempts to release hostages? If they are, why was that not made clear during the Prime Minister's visit to President Reagan? Why have the British Government been supportive of President Reagan on this issue when senior members of his own Administration have been distancing themselves from him?

Our policy has never been in doubt. Since this matter has come to light the United States Government have said that they will not supply any further arms to Iran, but will make every effort to stop the supply of arms to that country from any source. That is a welcome reaffirmation of the policy that we have followed.

Can my right hon. and learned Friend comment on the fact that we are apparently not prepared to sell equipment such as that manufactured in my constituency by Leyland and Birmingham Rubber, which produces defence equipment to protect people from the affects of chemical weapons to which he referred? Surely, in the interest of humanity, let alone the possibility of us selling equipment to either of those countries which would be beneficial to them, we could make a more sensible contribution to our export drive and to humanity as well?

Neither my hon. Friend the Minister of State nor I are aware of any applications for export licences for such products. The guidelines that we apply are those to which I have already referred. We have and will continue to scrutinise rigorously all applications for export licences, applying those standards.

If President Reagan continues to reaffirm his view that it was right to sell arms to Iran so as to establish influence with the regime, does the Foreign Secretary share the Prime Minister's implicit faith in the tactic of establishing relations with the Iranians by drowning them in billions of pounds worth of arms?

I think that the hon. Gentleman has taken his gift for parody even further than usual. There is no question of the United Kingdom supporting such a policy. Our policy is exactly as I have stated. We should, of course, like to bring Iran back into better relations with the West and to see an end to the Iran-Iraq war, but that is no reason for us to depart from the guidelines that I have enunciated again today. We are responsible for the policies of this country, not of the United States.

Disarmament

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations Her Majesty's Government have received from their allies on the United Kingdom's attitude to arms negotiations; and if he will make a statement.

Since the Reykjavik meeting between President Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev, the process of close Alliance consultations on arms control has continued both multilaterally and bilaterally. That has included the meeting of the North Atlantic Council on 13 October and the Nuclear Planning Group meeting in Gleneagles on 21–22 October. There have, of course, been several bilateral contacts with the USA and France.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the concerns and attitudes of our European allies, including the Socialist Governments of Spain and France, show that the policies of the Labour party are out of touch with European as well as United States opinion and will undermine rather than assist arms control?

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend. The attitude of Socialist Governments throughout Europe shows how far from reality the Labour party now finds itself.

Have the Government had representations from their allies about their apparent reluctance to endorse the zero-zero option on intermediate-range nuclear weapons? Does the Foreign Secretary accept the repeated statement of the Secretary-General of NATO, Lord Carrington, that zero-zero was implicit in NATO's original twin track decision of December 1979? Are the Government now going back on their oft repeated statements that cruise and Pershing deployment could be halted, reduced or totally eliminated if the Soviet Union was prepared to remove its SS20 missiles?

No. I am only disappointed that the hon. Gentleman, careful student that he is of the observations of the Secretary-General of NATO, had not studied so closely my own observations in the debate on 14 November, when I stated plainly that the Government have no doubt about the legitimacy of going for the zero-zero agreement on the basis discussed at Reykjavik. The hon. Gentleman is right in that that has been the policy of the Alliance at least since 1979 and it has been our consistent objective since then—on the right terms, including dealing with Soviet shorter-range weapons.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend recall that a few minutes ago the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) referred to a speech in which Secretary Shultz declared his determination to secure the abolition of certain categories of nuclear weapons within 10 years? The right hon. Gentleman concluded that that statement threatened the future of our Trident programme, but does my right hon. and learned Friend also recall that in the 1960s both superpowers declared their firm intention to secure general and complete disarmament within 10 years or so?

I recall that. It has been an oft-proclaimed objective not just of both superpowers but of Governments of all parties in this country, but we must proceed in that direction by realistic steps, and they are as defined and agreed by President Reagan and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at Camp David.

Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that the Prime Minister is in favour of the zero-zero option only after the next general election and that she went to Camp David to persuade the United States President not to follow up the Reykjavik negotiations before the general election as it would jeopardise her campaign to keep the bomb and Britain's independent nuclear deterrent and prevent the Tories from running a scaremongering campaign against the Labour party on that issue? Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the Prime Minister is against multilateral as well as unilateral disarmament?

The hon. Gentleman compounds a series of absurd propositions. The Government have been, and are; committed to further progress in the direction of arms control on the basis of the clear priorities set out after the Camp David meeting. In the absence of advance in that direction, it is also Government policy to recognise the necessity for the nuclear deterrent to remain in place as part of the West's defensive policy. That is recognised by virtually every Government and party in the Alliance, save that to which the hon. Gentleman has the misfortune to belong.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that there is some irony—which compounds the absurd position to which my right hon. and learned Friend referred—in the Leader of the Opposition cavorting around the United States advocating a policy that was denied even by General Secretary Gorbachev when he conceded that we should have the nuclear deterrent? Furthermore, does he agree that the idea of a European ditch has as much chance of success as the Maginot line or Offa's dyke?

Yes, that is one of the most astonishing aspects of the various propositions to which the Leader of the Opposition has been committing himself. The way in which he is arguing in favour of a ban of United States nuclear forces from this country gravely jeopardises the presence of United States conventional forces in defence of NATO, gravely jeopardises the Alliance, and gravely jeopardises the security of this country.

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman confirm that his unwillingness and inability to answer my earlier question was due to the fact that the Government are so frightened that President Reagan will cancel Trident, as Skybolt was cancelled some years ago, that, according to the Daily Telegraph, they are investigating the possibility of reviewing Britain's deterrent to some sort of cruise programme? Is he aware that the Prime Minister herself, in this week's issue of Janes Defence Weekly, rightly pointed out that a deterrent based on cruise would be much more expensive than Trident and would come into service much too late to be of any value?

It is encouraging to have the confirmation of the right hon. Gentleman, with his distinguished expert knowledge of the matter, of the wisdom of the United Kingdom remaining committed to the Trident programme with the full support of the President of the United States.

Iran-Iraq (Service Personnel)

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how many members of the armed forces of (a) Iraq and (b) Iran have received military training in the United Kingdom since 1980.

Some members of the Iraqi armed forces received training at Ministry of Defence establishments in the United Kingdom in each of the years 1981 to 1986. A small number of Iranian military personnel also received training at these establishments in the United Kingdom between 1981 and 1984.

Upon what moral principle has the Government's policy been based? Will the hon. Gentleman assure the House that no further military personnel from Iraq or Iran will be trained in this country? Will he investigate the activities of Jackob Nimrodi, who has a flat in London, and who I understand negotiates 80 per cent. of Iran's import of arms procurement from an office in Victoria street? Will he arrange that that office is closed forthwith?

The training of military personnel in this country is done only in line with the defence guidelines to which my right hon. and learned Friend has already referred. Such training is essentially non-combat related.

On the hon. Gentleman's last point, I assure him—and I have read the newspaper cuttings very carefully, too—that we have no evidence whatsoever of any illegal activity in respect of the purchase of arms, either for Iraq or Iran, through this country. Such purchasing arrangements are not illegal, but it would be illegal to try to export without an export licence. Were there any evidence of that it would be investigated immediately.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is in British and Western interests to seek to break down the self-imposed barriers of isolation in Iran?

Yes, my hon. Friend is right. As a long-term objective we will seek to establish a better relationship with the Iranian Government so that once this dreadful war is ended—a war which both sides of the House bitterly regret—we may have a reasonable relationship with a country that will be of extreme importance in the middle east.

What is the difference between America and Israel selling arms to both sides and us training the personnel of both sides? Would it not be better to do something more specific to try to bring peace to that area?

I repeat again that the numbers in training have been extremely limited, and that the training itself is essentially not combat-related. It is carried out only in accordance with the very clear guidelines that were first put into effect in December 1984, which were enunciated to the House by my right hon. and learned Friend in late 1985, and which he has just repeated.

Does my hon. Friend have any evidence that training in the use of very sophisticated weapons is taking place by other European countries, particularly France? Will he tell the House anything he may know about that?

As my hon. Friend will be aware, we are not responsible either for training in other countries or for defence sales from other countries. As part of the campaign in which we have taken part, not least in the United Nations, we urge that all countries that are suppliers of military equipment to either side should exercise guidelines that are as strict as ours. I must stress that such guidelines have lost British manufacturers orders worth many hundreds of millions of pounds in recent years, but none the less we believe that such guidelines are right and are morally defensible.

How can the Minister equate this training programme with his right hon. and learned Friend's enthusiasm, as expressed at the Dispatch Box today, for resolutions 582 and 588 of the Security Council especially when one country is sponsoring terrorism in Nicaragua?

As I have already explained, there has been no military training of Iranians at all in Britain since 1984. The numbers that have subsequently come here from Iraq have been very limited indeed, and their training is essentially non-combat related.

Falkland Islands

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he has any plans to visit the Falkland Islands.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend believe that the response of the Argentine Government to the British proposal for an agreed multilateral fisheries conservation regime in the south Atlantic suggests that the Argentine Government are more interested in pursuing propaganda about Falklands sovereignty than in reducing tension in the area?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that the Argentine response was disappointing, but perhaps inevitable. It was no doubt intended to rally domestic opinion and, perhaps, to mobilise international support. We have made known our willingness to review with them the best way forward on conservation policy and other ways of restoring our relationships to a more normal basis.

Will the Secretary of State press the Falkland Islands Development Corporation to accept the plans of my constituent, Captain E. P. Carlisle, for a ship-based slaughterhouse to slaughter sheep on the Falkland Island as the beginning of a new meat industry?

I am sure that the plans to which the hon. Gentleman has referred deserve study.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend reject absolutely and completely the criticism from Opposition parties and internationally about the imposition of the exclusive fishing zone around the Falklands, as that must make sense for the conservation of these very valuable fish resources?

I shall certainly do that. As I made plain to the House when we announced the decision, the decision was taken because of the urgent need for conservation. We had tried for a long time to achieve a collaborative and co-operative solution. We would have preferred multilateral arrangements under the auspices of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, without prejudice to the question of sovereignty, and we would still like to put in place a multilateral alternative.

Does not failure to talk play into the hands of the Argentine military, who have not gone away?

No. I am always astonished at those who assert that the posture of the United Kingdom in relation to the Falkland Islands has, or might have, a decisive effect on the future of Argentine democracy. We hope that Argentine democracy is more securely established than that. We hope that it is sufficiently securely established to recognise the right of the Falkland islanders to their own democratic rights.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend also confirm that the institution of a fishing zone around the Falkland Islands is the most obvious way to bring income to the Falkland islanders, thus enabling them to become more independent of support from this country?

My hon. Friend is quite right to draw attention to that additional beneficial possibility as a result of the establishment of the multilateral regime.

Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that he has now received from the Food and Agriculture Organisation a draft proposal for a multilteral fisheries regime in the south Atlantic? In view of the refusal of the Soviet Union to recognise our unilateral regime or to apply for licences, would it not be better to think again and to proceed on a multilateral basis? Finally, will he have a copy of the FAO report placed in the Library, or is he afraid to have it published because it underlines the Government's foolish and dangerous policy on this issue?

We have not received the FAO report, although we have seen a first draft of it. It broadly confirms our assessment of the need for conservation steps to be taken in the south Atlantic.

Multilaterally, of course. From the moment that we made the announcement we said that we would prefer a multilateral regime. During the past 18 months we have been striving to establish a multilateral regime. We have failed to obtain a response on that from the Argentine Government. We would still like such a regime. If the hon. Gentleman would like to address his case to the Argentine Government instead of to this one he might be more effective in his advocacy.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend recall that when the fisheries regime was sensibly introduced, the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) spoke of dire consequences, of conflict, and even of conflict with the Soviet Union? Will my right hon. and learned Friend tell the House how the regime is progressing?

There are increasing signs of willingness from all countries involved, especially those involved in fishing, to make applications for licences on the basis of the regime that we have outlined.

Intermediate Nuclear Forces

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs his policy towards the zero-zero option for intermediate nuclear forces.

NATO partners have consistently made it clear that arrangements on INF must include equal and global limits. An agreement for the elimination of longer-range intermediate nuclear forces in Europe would have to include tight constraints on the numbers of SS20s in Soviet Asia, and on Soviet shorter-range intermediate nuclear forces. Effective verification will be essential.

Was not President Reagan's unilateral action in breaking the SALT 2 agreement a retrograde step? Likewise, have not the British Government been equally destructive regarding agreement on a zero-zero option by linking it with conventional reductions? Is it not time for a constructive dialogue on those important issues?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman's last point. That is precisely what has been happening in recent weeks, and what we hope will continue to happen in the months ahead. On SALT 2, we have repeatedly made it clear that the SALT agreements should be observed by both sides. We have also made it clear that the Soviet Union has a case to answer as regards possible breaches and that it should respond to legitimate United States anxieties about Soviet compliance. On zero-zero, it is clear that as we move, as I hope we shall, in the months ahead to long-term elimination of long-range weapons and constraints on short-range weapons, the disparities in conventional weapons and conventional manpower, which are much in favour of the Soviets at present, must be confronted at the same time, especially if central Europe is to become a safer place.

Can my hon. Friend think of any conceivable reason why the Warsaw Pact should reduce its INF deployments to zero if the west adopted the policy advocated by the Opposition of reducing ours to zero without any conditionality on the Soviets or any negotiations with them?

That is right, of course. The fact that NATO countries were so firm in deploying cruise and Pershing in western Europe has brought the Soviets back to the negotiating table and will, we hope, lead to an eventual zero-zero intermediate forces agreement.

—especially in the intermediate nuclear forces zero-zero option? Given that those are not directly linked to SDI, what initiative are the Government making in respect of the Geneva talks to put that question back on to the agenda?

I am sorry, but due to the interruptions of hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), I did not hear the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question.

What are the gains for Europe in the zero-zero option on intermediate nuclear forces? What initiatives are the British Government taking?

Of course, there are great dangers to Europe in moving towards the removal of long-range intermediate nuclear forces. Secretary Shultz consulted extensively NATO allies after the Reykjavik talks and the Vienna talks. The Americans have shown considerable willingness to listen to west European NATO allies' points of view on that subject. Most recently, the statement arrived at by President Reagan and the Prime Minister at Camp David was a positive step forward that has been welcomed by our European allies.

As we move towards zero-zero in intermediate weapons, are there any discussions with the Soviets on short-range nuclear weapons—the SS21, 22, 23 and 24—which must be linked with any reductions in intermediate weapons?

My hon. Friend is right. There must be an agreement to limit short-range intermediate nuclear weapons. We would like to have an INF agreement that would incorporate a freeze on Soviet SS22 and SS23 systems. This would circumvent agreement on long-range intermediate nuclear weapons and, at the same time, there would be an agreed right, if necessary, for the United States to match the figures that the Soviets have at present.

Nuclear Weapons

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what is Her Majesty's Government's policy concerning proposals for a nuclear weapon-free corridor in central Europe.

Proposals for a nuclear weapon-free corridor or zone would not enhance NATO security. Such areas could still be targeted by weapons located outside the zone. Such weapons could also be moved into those areas at short notice, and at a time of crisis. Real progress will be made only through significant, balanced and verifiable reductions in nuclear armaments.

It is unfortunate that such a negative answer should be given by the Minister. I am sure he will know that the recommendation came from the Olaf Palme commission, which called for, as part of the entire strategy, a 300-mile corridor in Europe. Indeed, that policy has been picked up by the SDP in West Germany, which has come to some arrangement with regard to a 150-mile corridor, if it is in a position to implement it. Although that would be only a small but significant step towards the elimination of nuclear weapons, will the Government rethink their position in a more positive light, not the negative position that has been given from the Dispatch Box?

I must tell the hon. Gentleman that the Foreign Minister of the German Democratic Republic, Mr. Fischer, who was with us last week, did not once mention a nuclear-free corridor. The reason is that such corridors only give the illusion of security. Where the weapons are targeted matters far more than where they are based. The hon. Gentleman represents part of the city of Sheffield, which has declared itself a nuclear weapon-free zone. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that, rather than spend £250,000 a year on a peace budget and £500 on a CND balloon on nuclear free-zone day, the hard-pressed residents of Sheffield would prefer a reduction in their rates.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the nuclear issues and emergency planning committee of the city of Bradford metropolitan council is actively promoting its own foreign policy and recently met Herr Schneidratus of the East German embassy, when Councillor Rye and his colleagues on the committee responded enthusiastically to the idea of a nuclear-free corridor in central Europe? Is that not a naive reaction, bearing in mind that the idea of a nuclear-free zone in central Europe is completely discredited and that it would involve the withdrawal of our deterrent from central Europe while the Warsaw Pact retained its intermediate weapons to the east of the Urals, which can hit anywhere in Europe?

I notice, too, that Manchester is promoting a nuclear-free Europe at a cost of at least £500,000. The city's nuclear-free zone is being guarded by five full-time staff at a cost of £95,000 a year. The inhabitants of eastern Europe, notably the German Democratic Republic, would prefer, not a nuclear weapon-free zone or corridor, but the withdrawal of some of the 400,000 Soviet troops who are stationed in that country.

Instead of sneering at genuine efforts to promote peace and understanding in Europe, can the Minister give a more constructive response to a proposal which would help to reduce risks and tension in Europe by increasing the time span for taking decisions on the central front? Is there not something to be said for a policy which unites the SDP of West Germany, the Communist party of East Germany and the leader of the British Social Democratic party, who endorsed it in the Palme commission report?

I wonder whether the policy also has the support of the Liberal party. The hon. Gentleman is far too intelligent not to know that nuclear weapon-free corridors 300 km wide mean absolutely nothing in the event of hostilities being declared. Weapons that have been moved out can be moved back quickly. What matters is where the weapons are targeted, not where they are based. It is significant that the Cristian Democrats in the Federal Republic have not shown any inclination to back those proposals.

Iran-Iraq War

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has made to the authorities in Iran and Iraq on the use of chemical warfare.

We take every suitable opportunity to express our views on the use of chemical weapons to the Iraqis and Iranians. My right hon. and learned Friend last raised the issue with the Iraqi Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Tariq Aziz, when he met him at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, on 24 September.

I am grateful for that reply. Is it not time to go beyond the presidential statements and guidelines to which the Foreign Secretary referred in reply to a previous question? Should we not be getting together with our friends and allies to find some way of stopping or reducing the supply from Europe to either or both of those countries of chemical weapons, equipment to make them or equipment to adapt fertiliser factories to make them? Should we not be doing something instead of just talking?

It is a pleasure to find myself in agreement with the hon. Gentleman. He will know that at present we impose export controls on 10 chemicals which are capable of being used in the manufacture of lethal chemical agents. A longer warning list has been circulated to the chemical industry and traders, and similar measures have been taken by other industrialised countries. More important, as the hon. Gentleman knows, we have taken the lead at the conference on disarmament in Geneva of seeking a worldwide ban on the production and storing of chemical weapons. In that context we have tabled our initiative about challenge inspection and we look forward to discussing it with other countries in the months ahead. This is an area in which the United Kingdom is in the lead.

Will my hon. Friend press on with the Government's initiative to have a worldwide ban on chemical weapons? In particular, will he make representations to the Soviet Union that it should not assist any country in the middle east to develop its chemical warfare potential?

Yes, I can assure my hon. Friend that we are already in detailed discussion with the Soviet Union about some of the clauses in the regime for challenge inspection that we have tabled at Geneva. We shall continue to press the Soviets not to do anything to facilitate the export of ingredients which can be used in chemical weapon manufacturing.

If industrial countries are not supplying chemical weapons or the means to make them to Iran or Iraq, does the Minister accept that they are getting the weapons from somewhere? Can we not widen our efforts and ensure that they cannot get those weapons from anywhere? Does he agree that even if we must raise the issue at the United Nations, we should do so?

Yes. The hon. Gentleman judges on a difficult point. The problem is that many chemical ingredients can be used either for genuine ordinary chemical manufacture or for the manufacture of dangerous chemical agents. In producing the warning list that is now circulated to the chemical industry we tried to establish which chemicals were particularly dangerous in this area. We constantly consider the list and we shall do everything we can to make international export controls more effective prior to arranging a worldwide ban on chemical weapon production, which must be verifiable. That is the answer to the problem that the hon. Gentleman identified.

South Africa

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he is yet satisfied that sufficient progress has been made by the South African Government towards the dismantling of apartheid to warrant the withdrawal of economic and other sanctions; and if he will make a statement.

No, Sir. While we do not believe that general economic sanctions would be effective as a means to end apartheid, measures of the kind agreed by the Twelve on 16 September are an important means of signalling to the South African Government the urgent need for change.

Does my hon. Friend accept that it would be better to dismantle the apartheid system at a time of economic prosperity than at a time of unemployment, poverty and financial disaster, which the sanctions policy will bring? Will she reject the Barclays bank way of walking away from the problem and support BP's policy for far greater investment and prosperity for those of all races in South Africa?

The decision by Barclays bank was an entirely commercial decision for it. It is true that any weakening of the economy brings enormous suffering, particularly to the black South Africans. I must say that BP's ideas, and its intention to spend £30 million on community projects, represent a welcome initiative. There should be more. However, it should be realised that the South African Government have fenced themselves into a corner. Although they have changed some of the restrictive laws, they have sought to introduce new restrictions, such as defining the parameters for black settlement in urban areas. Until the apartheid system in South Africa is replaced by a system with which all South Africans can agree, we shall not see, in South Africa, further investment strength or, indeed, the peace for which we all long.

Rate Support Grant

3.31 pm

(by private notice) asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on his latest proposals for the rate support grant settlement for 1987–88.

In response to the representations that I have received on the proposals that I made on 3 October, and in the light of new information affecting the data upon which grant is distributed, I have today announced revised proposals on which I am consulting local authorities afresh.

Is not this situation quite unprecedented? No previous Secretary of State has needed three consultation documents between July and December in order to make up his mind. Is that not an indictment of the Secretary of State's incompetence? Was not his attempt to try to sneak the information out by way of a written answer an act of political cowardice and a disgrace? Is not his reply an indictment of the appalling mess to which this Government have reduced local government finance?

As the right hon. Gentleman only put forward his second proposals in October, and gave local authorities barely three weeks in which to reply, why has he now changed his mind yet again? What is the purpose of the proposed changes? Which authorities will benefit? Is not the reality that the majority of authorities will lose under his new proposals? Are not the reasons really a combination of his own ineptitude and a political pay-off to his Tory friends in marginal seats?

Will the Secretary of State tell the House when we shall now learn of his final decisions? Does he still intend, for example, to abolish grant recycling which, according to the treasurer of Somerset county council, will reduce the extra grant that he is purporting to give local authorities by at least £400 million next year, and will result in higher rates for many millions of families? Does not this whole sorry story make nonsense of all the bluster and bravado that we had from the right hon. Gentleman in July?

It is rich of the hon. Gentleman to quote precedent when sitting one away from him is the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) who, whenever he had proposals on a rate support grant settlement, came once to the House, in December, to answer a written parliamentary question stating what the Government's decision was. By contrast, this Government have consulted and we put forward a consultative paper on 3 October. We have listened to the results of that consultation and I now come forward with further proposals which, by precedent, have always been outlined by way of written parliamentary question. I shall listen to the results of further representations on these consultations. What an extraordinary example the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) wishes me to follow—of the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney's practice to slap it down on the table in December—take it or leave it and no consultation. I cannot accept that.

I shall make up my mind as to the final settlement when I have listened to consultations that may be received on the proposals that I am announcing this afternoon. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to study the document, copies are now in the Vote Office as well as in the Library, and I have written to him giving him details. The Government are proceeding with their plans to end the recycling of grant, as I announced on 22 July. I think that he will find that this is fairer, for this reason. The latest data on populations, capital allocations and expenditure in 1986–87 and on rateable values of authorities make it clear that the basis of the 3 October settlement which I proposed has been altered by the fact that the data have changed, making those authorities that did badly in October do even worse. It seemed necessary to me to correct that imbalance.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the consultation that he has had with hon. Members over the past months have been appreciated? Will he confirm that the outcome of his consultations will be that those underspending, prudent authorities will be able to spend more money, which is their due reward?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, as I am to all hon. Gentlemen who came to see me to discuss the last proposals. I hope that the House will acknowledge that I have tried, as far as possible, to listen to what hon. Members have said, and to make the necessary changes. Again, we shall be ready to hear any hon. Member who wishes to make representations on behalf of his authority in the light of the new proposals.

Was the announcement that the Secretary of State made in July not one of relative principle compared with that of today, as he said then that it would not be possible to change the system in favour of the home counties without depriving the inner cities of moneys to which, under the Act, they were entitled? Are we not about to see, next month, a new form of gerrymander, the "Ridleymander", which is buying votes in the places where the right hon. Gentleman knows that his friends would otherwise lose seats because of the system set up under statute in 1980? Is not the real reason that the Secretary of State wants to know the outcome of the teachers' dispute settlement before he knows what local authorities will require to have in their budgets to spend in the forthcoming year?

I had not intended to refer to the effects of the new proposals on the individual authorities. The hon. Gentleman accuses me of gerrymandering, but I can think of no reason, on that argument, why I should have provided extra money for the borough of Southwark, which is represented by the hon. Gentleman, and run by the Labour party. I do not see how one can gerrymander in favour of one's political opponents. The effect of the data is what the hon. Gentleman should study, and he will find that there are good reasons for the changes that I have suggested.

First, may I welcome the sensitive and flexible approach which my right hon. Friend has adopted in this matter? I hope that the further consultations that he and his Department will be having will produce a result whereby inner-city areas will be aided and prudent shire authorities will be rewarded for their prudence. Secondly, may I disabuse him of the notion, if any of his officials care to press it upon him, that any delay will take the heat out of the argument, because I assure him that it will not?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It has not been a matter of seeking to reward certain authorities and penalise others. I have to operate within the 1980 Act and ensure that I distribute the grant in accordance with the formula on a basis which is best defensible. What makes the difference between October and now is the different information on the grant likely to be received, due to changes in rateable values and other such matters which have to be taken into account, and the result is different from that which I thought was fair.

Order. I must take account of the fact that this is an Opposition day. There is an important debate to follow and I shall take two more questions from either side of the Chamber.

May I offer the Secretary of State some sympathy for having inherited an entirely unworkable rate support grant system from the right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin) and having to make a statement which he hoped would give extra money to the local authorities in some of his hon. Friend's marginal constituencies? He has had to face a rebellion that has been led by his right hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford, who is campaigning against the difficulties which the Secretary of State faced in a system which he inherited. Is it not true that the system that was honed by previous Tory Secretaries of State cannot be made to give Tory authorities extra moneys and to take moneys away from Labour authorities in the way that was hoped? There has been a Back-Bench rebellion—

—by his hon. Friends which has resulted in the Secretary of State rethinking how he can fiddle the system to enable him to take moneys away from Labour authorities to give them to authorities in Tory marginal seats.

If the hon. Gentleman feels as he says he does, I look forward to his presence in the Government Lobby after we have introduced legislation to abolish the rating system and replace it with a fairer system.

In considering alterations to the original proposals, may I express the hope to my right hon. Friend that what is now proposed will help alleviate some of the problems that Bedfordshire has had over rates for some time?

I think it best that my hon. Friend studies the document that is now in the Vote Office. It is too difficult to memorise the details of every authority, but I think that he will find that there is some help for Bedfordshire. Some counties that are run impeccably well by the finest Conservative councillors do not benefit from the proposals that I am putting forward.

As this is the season of consultation, will the Secretary of State have consultations with the Secretary of State for Transport to sort out the problem which they have caused for the West Yorkshire transport authority? The Department of Transport is saying that its expenditure should be £58 million and the Department of the Environment is saying that it should be £37 million, thereby making the authority an overspender. There is a grant from the Department of less than £8 million, which is unfair to the ratepayers and travellers of west Yorkshire. Will the right hon. Gentleman have consultaions with the transport authority to sort out the mess in which west Yorkshire has been placed, because of this misunderstanding?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and I are in total accord about all matters. We think exactly the same. There is no need to consult each other because we always agree about everything. The hon. Gentleman has mentioned sums for transport in west Yorkshire which seem enormous in relation to need in that area.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that because of the bizarre, complicated and almost byzantine nature of the calculations involved in the rate support grant system, he is to be congratulated on introducing a consultative phase, which we have never had before? That is entirely to his credit. As a result of consultation, how has Hampshire done?

I must agree entirely with my hon. Friend about the bizarre and complex nature of the system that we seek to operate.

The House seems to agree about the bizarreness and complexity of the system. I am sure that all hon. Members would wish to change to a new system that takes away rateable value as one of the bases from which the rate support grant settlement is derived. I ask my hon. Friend to examine the paper in relation to Hampshire. He will find that there is some benefit for Hampshire ratepayers in what is proposed.

Points Of Order

3.45 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that, at this time yesterday, a resolution of the House remitted to the Scottish Grand Committee the subject of agriculture and fisheries. That subject is long overdue for discussion by the Scottish Grand Committee. It is, of course, necessary, under Standing Order No. 94, for a further resolution of the House to be passed before the matter can be debated in Edinburgh at 10.30 on a Monday morning. The Government proposed to debate this matter next Monday morning, although the motion to that effect was objected to last night by my right hon. Friend the leader of the Liberal party, on the ground that insufficient notice had been given to hon. Members of this meeting next week. Last night, a card was sent to Scottish Members advising them of the meeting next Monday, before a motion had been passed by the House. We know that the Government have a large majority, but surely it is presumptuous for the business of the House to be assumed before it comes to pass.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for having given me notice of this matter. It has enabled me to examine it. A mistake was made in the Committee Office. Cards were sent out, warning Members. It was the intention to put on those cards the words, "dependent upon the House passing the necessary resolution." I apologise to the House.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Bearing in mind the importance of the subject that has just been raised in a private notice question and the fact that it should have been the Government's duty to come to the House with a statement and not rest on the back of a private notice question, and bearing in mind the fact that that £800 million—[Interruption.]

Order.—that he might have asked if I had called him. The House knows that a private notice question is an extension of Question Time. We have spent the best part of 15 minutes on it.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am glad to note that, for my point of order, which is a genuine one, the Chief Whips, the Leader of the House, and my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House are present.

My point of order relates to the form of Foreign Office questions. As you will know, Mr. Speaker, for the past year, there has been an experiment whereby the separate slot for Common Market questions was merged into Foreign Office questions. The decision to have that experiment was controversial, and a number of hon. Members disagreed with it. The experiment was confirmed to me and others, very courteously, in writing by the Leader of the House at the end of last Session and in a written answer. We note from today's Foreign Office questions that not a single question about the Common Market was reached. The confirmation of the experiment, which is now to be made permanent, means that we shall no longer have any separate slot in the proceedings of the House for any questions whatever on the Common Market. They will be merged with all other questions. That is a matter of controversy for all hon. Members. That decision was arranged by the usual channels.

The usual channels on this occasion—I cannot speak for other occasions—consisted solely of the Government and the official Opposition. The Liberal party, the Official Ulster Unionists and, I think, the Scottish National party, were not consulted. Therefore, I believe that the other minority parties were not consulted. So far as your duty to Back-Benchers is concerned Mr. Speaker, should you not ensure that, in future, when such decisions are made on matters of interest to all hon. Members, all parties are consulted through the usual channels?

Order. These are not matters for me, as the hon. Member knows. They are traditionally matters for discussion between the usual channels. What the usual channels change they can change again. The hon. Member has made his point.

On a point of order which arises out of questions, Mr. Speaker. I apologise for the fact that I was not here earlier when the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes)—I apologise for reading—mentioned my name and that of my former research assistant. May I inform you, Sir, that the hon. Gentleman's question was out of order because that man——

I crave your indulgence, Sir, and ask for your opinion whether the hon. Gentleman's question was in order, because that man, Mr. David Hoile, is not now in my employ as my research assistant.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On Monday you gave a substantive reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) and me about possible interference with the telephones of Members of Parliament. Have you been able to make any progress?

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Word has reached me that, not unusually, the Labour party feels that it is unable to vote on the motions on today's Order Paper. Is it possible——

Opposition Day

[3RD ALLOTED DAY]

Security Services (Commission)

We now move to the important debate on the motion in the names of the leaders of the alliance parties. I must announce to the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

3.51 pm

I beg to move,

That this House believes that it is desirable that a Joint Committee of both Houses, to be known as the Special Commission on the Security Services, be appointed, and that the Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records.
We all know that debates on the security services involve issues that are not easy to handle. It might help the House if I try to spell out what may well be common ground on some of the issues. At a time when there is intense terrorist activity worldwide, let alone the problems of East-West relations, we need our security services, and they have to operate with a high degree of secrecy.

It has hitherto always been accepted in the House that it is an inappropriate mechanism to call the security services to account by a systematic question and answer exchange on the Floor of the House. I believe that that is still the position. However, there has been growing concern that it is no longer possible, in view of the revelations concerning the security services, for Parliament to remain the only forum in the nation that is not discussing some of these questions. It is bizarre when the newspapers, television and radio are frequently discussing these issues in considerable detail but there is no mechanism for parliamentary scrutiny.

I am sorry that the Prime Minister is not in her place, because I wish to raise certain issues. It is fair to say that it was the Prime Minister who, for understandable reasons, in 1979 broke with the precedent of not revealing information about the security services. The situation is exceptional. The Blunt case was, by any standard, an issue on which the nation would not have accepted that there should be no discussion in the House of Commons. The Prime Minister keeps quoting precedent and saying that she is abiding by it, but she must face the fact that she was the first Prime Minister to come to the Floor of the House of Commons to reveal so much information. The Prime and Bettaney cases followed and, again, more information was revealed than was previously the practice.

As in the United States and in most democratic countries, in this country more and more people have realised that the old system of totally trusting the Ministers concerned will not satisfy Parliament or the wider public. There is a strong case for us devising a mechanism whereby the House can feel confident that the security services are scrutinised and at the same time it can protect the essential confidentiality and secrecy of much of their activity. It is because of that that we have tabled this motion.

The motion is deliberately designed to involve Members of both Houses. Given the range of experience, there is positive merit in such a commission having its membership drawn from this House as well as from the House of Lords. That would also allow this House, if we thought it prudent, to have a commission chairman who was not a party political figure, or perhaps to appoint somebody who was obviously no longer in the front line of party politics—a former Prime Minister, for example.

It is also a virtue to have the potential to involve senior service men from the House of Lords or senior civil servants. A similar thought must have passed through the mind of the Government when somewhat reluctantly they accepted during the Falklands crisis the principle of having an examination to see what had gone wrong. They did that by establishing the Franks committee. The membership of that committee was drawn from the House of Commons and the House of Lords and also contained somebody from outside who at the time of appointment was not a member of the Privy Council but was made a member. That committee had available to it all forms of intelligence, security reports and internal working documents of Government, and for that reason it was thought right that its members should be Privy Councillors.

We strongly believe that the members of the commission we propose should be Privy Councillors. That is because it has hitherto been accepted that Members of Parliament are not positively vetted and that membership of the Privy Council enables one to have access to confidential information. That has been accepted by our friends and allies. We do not specifically mention that in the motion because we think it sensible that the House should be able to appoint to such a body someone who is not a Privy Councillor but who, with the agreement of the Prime Minister, may become one on appointment to this commission. That would follow precedent. That may go some way towards avoiding the charge that people who would serve would only be former Ministers or people who, if you like, are "part of the club" or "in the know". If the Leader of the Opposition or the leader of any of the other parties wished to nominate somebody who had not served in government or was not a Privy Councillor, they would be free to do so, provided there was some understanding of the nominee's overall acceptability.

Such a structure would command a good deal of support in all parts of the House, although I do not expect that to be reflected in the Lobbies at the end of this debate. Such a commission will come; the only question is when. The sooner it comes, the less will some quite serious information be divulged that is damaging to the security services. That happens because of the way we presently conduct our proceedings. Under such a system, we will not abuse the Order Paper by naming individuals in the way that has been done in recent weeks. Judging from the amendment that has been tabled, the Home Secretary does not accept this motion, but I hope that he will ponder hard on the questions that I have posed.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned Bettaney. How would the mechanism that he proposes prevent the recruitment of someone like Bettaney?

It would not have prevented his recruitment; the mere fact of having a scrutinising committee will not prevent some people from indulging in treachery. The recruitment procedures to MI5 were seriously defective and successive Prime Ministers, including the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan), to his great credit, considerably tightened the procedures. MI5 and its recruitment has been causing worry for some time, but I believe that it is now substantially better. Although we hear all about the problems associated with the security services, it is worth reminding the House that it has had some outstanding successes, including not only Penkovsky but the recent defection of somebody very high up in the KGB who was in London for a long time. Those were considerable successes.

I would like to consider the reasons for the present anxiety, which of course prompts this pressure, although I have been advocating this course now for several years. I do not advocate the appointment of this commission purely and simply because of recent incidents. I do not believe that some of the questions that have been raised publicly would be answered by such a Select Committee. They will have to be answered in another forum.

It is common ground that Mr. Peter Wright has betrayed the trust of his employers and the trust of this country. I believe that any Government would have been extremely disturbed by Mr. Peter Wright briefing Mr. Chapman Pincher for his book in 1981 and should have been considerably concerned about the television programme broadcast by Granada in July 1984. That was a flagrant breach of Mr. Peter Wright's obligations and agreements and led him to write his own book. Nothing that I say or have said is meant in any way to underwrite the conduct of Mr. Peter Wright. His conduct has been utterly disgraceful.

The Government were under considerable pressure to take the court action they have taken in Sydney. Those of us who would support the action are entitled to ask the Government why they did not take action against Mr. Peter Wright when they knew that he was the prime source of Mr. Chapman Pincher's book in 1981. This is not an easy matter for the Home Secretary. However, I put this point to him directly, as allegations have now been made in many newspapers, and most recently and clearly in the Sunday Times.

It is claimed that MI5 gained possession of the book six weeks in advance of its publication by the use of illegal methods. That raises a number of questions. First, were illegal methods used? If the Home Secretary refuses to answer that, can he tell the House what ministerial approval has to take place before MI5 can act illegally? We have asked for assurances about ministerial control over telephone tapping and interceptions. We recognise that such action must be taken and that sometimes extraordinary actions are necessary to protect the state. However, we want to know, and are entitled to know, whether any such actions are given the specific authorisation, in this case, of the Home Secretary. We are entitled to know that procedure.

A Select Committee would, in my view, be a valuable scrutiniser of those issues to examine what is happening and exercise democratic control. Can the Home Secretary tell us why, in 1981, the Attorney-General was not involved in the decision whether to take action against Mr. Peter Wright and Mr. Chapman Pincher? Quite bluntly, the distinction between a civil and criminal offence does not stand up. Procedures for Ministers are quite clear on this matter and they have applied for successive Governments.

If an issue of law is involved which has considerable repercussions through the governmental machine—and no one can doubt that the decision not to prosecute Mr. Chapman Pincher and Mr. Peter Wright has had very considerable repercussions—the Attorney-General should have been involved. Of course, the Attorney-General is right to make the distinction that in a criminal charge he, and he alone, is responsible for the decision. He is the principal Law Officer of the Government and as principal Law Officer he should have been involved in 1981. Was his exclusion deliberate? If so, did that happen because illegal action had taken place? It would not be the first time that the Attorney-General has heard of illegal action. I cannot really understand why that should be the reason. Or did the Government feel that he was likely to ask for prosecution and the then Prime Minister and the Home Secretary did not wish to face a conflict of advice from the Attorney-General. These are serious and legitimate points to raise.

The right hon. Gentleman told the House that in his view action should have been taken against Mr. Wright five years ago in 1981. As Mr. Wright was then living outside this jurisdiction, how could any action have been taken to prevent publication of Mr. Chapman Pincher's book and how could a prosecution have been effective as Mr. Wright was living outside our jurisdiction?

I linked Mr. Chapman Pincher and Mr. Peter Wright. For the reasons that the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) has described, it might have been difficult to take an immediate action against Peter Wright. However, Mr. Wright has been to this country since 1981. Indeed, in 1984 he appeared in a television programme which will be repeated by Granada tonight. Having read the transcript of that programme, I am amazed that it will be broadcast again—Granada states—without the Government making any formal challenge or representation against it.—[HON. MEMBERS: "What about Tebbit?"] What the chairman of the Conservative party should do is immaterial to the question.

Why did the then Home Secretary or the Prime Minister not take action? I consider that the Granada programme is more devastating because there is no doubt that Mr. Peter Wright was in this country.

I have already raised the specific points that I wished to raise about MI5. However, other allegations are in circulation about what may or may not emerge from the Sydney case. I shall not deal with the question of the former Prime Minister, Lord Wilson of Rievaulx. That will be dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins)—if he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker—who was Home Secretary during some of the period to which these matters relate.

I would like to raise one or two points about the case in Sydney. A reporter asked me whether I would have taken action. I suspect that I would have taken action. I was responsible for acquiescing in the decision of the then Attorney-General over the ABC trial. In retrospect, that was a mistake. Far more information came out as a result of that litigation than any of us thought possible.

We must learn from those cases and from some of the problems that have resulted from legal action. We should still be learning. "Farce" is the word most often used to describe what is happening in Sydney. The case has already damaged the reputation of a very senior and hitherto well-respected civil servant, the Cabinet Secretary. It has done a great deal of harm to the standing of the Attorney-General, although I think that many people admire the way in which he was determined that the truth should come out; when he discovered that his name had been called in aid over the original decision not to prosecute, he must have insisted that his name was cleared. All credit to him for that.

The case has not done the Government any good. However, to be honest, I do not believe that the great British public will take it out on the Government in party politics. I think that they are rather enjoying this running farce. The atmosphere is helped because we are doing well against the Australians in cricket. Indeed, the judge's florid turn of phrase may mean that the Government will have some legal redress on appeal.

How long will this rolling farce go on? How many more facts are likely to be revealed? One of the skills of politics is to know when to cut one's losses—[Interruption.] We are all sorry that the Leader of the Opposition is not with us today. We understand that he is heavily engaged with speaking engagements—that is, if people are prepared to turn up at them—on the other side of the Atlantic.

We also regret the absence of the Prime Minister, which is very revealing.

The Prime Minister gave the impression yesterday that she intended to withdraw the normal rights of consultation with the Leader of the Opposition. Since then, there have been periodic briefings from No. 10 about the position. I find it bizarre that the Leader of the Opposition should have telephoned defence counsel in a case involving the Crown, but I take the view that he is more a fool than a knave. To pretend that that is a major issue which justifies breaking the conventions on security issues—[Interruption.] It is sad that the Leader of the Opposition is not present to justify his own actions and make a six-page personal statement. Nevertheless, I ask the Home Secretary to make it clear that the Government have no intention of acting in such a naive and juvenile way. It would be ludicrous to break the conventions on such scant grounds. It is for the Leader of the Opposition to justify his own actions, but it is in all our interests that security matters should not become an issue of party conflict and division—as, sadly, defence matters have become in recent times.

My final plea is to the Home Secretary and to all in the House who value the bipartisan tradition on security services. Let us all learn from what has happened in the greater openness and democracy of the past few years. It is not sustainable for the House of Commons to have no role in scrutinising the Executive on these matters. The Prime Minister must be told by the few members of the Conservative party—I suspect that they are very few—to whom she is prepared to listen that she must come off it and allow Parliament to exercise its proper function of scrutinising the security services. I believe that the form of inquiry that we have outlined, involving both Houses of Parliament and the maintenance of the bipartisan concept, is the right way forward, and the sooner it is achieved, the better.

4.11 pm

I beg to move, to leave out from 'House' to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:

'has full confidence in the present arrangements whereby the Security Service is responsible to Ministers.'
The right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) has called for a special commission to oversee what he has described as the security services. Although we do not accept his proposal, it is entirely reasonable that it should be made, as it has been in the past and no doubt will be in the future. Having listened to the right hon. Gentleman, I cannot say that I am much clearer as to what he envisages the proposed body doing and what it might actually achieve, but there may be other occasions on which that can be discussed in greater detail.

The right hon. Gentleman acknowledged that the timing of his motion had a lot to do with the present case in Australia. I wish to deal seriously with the underlying points that he made because they deserve to be taken seriously, but the House will appreciate that I cannot enter into argument about the progress of the case in Australia. Every Home Secretary, like every Prime Minister, works under the general constraint that we do not answer questions, however important, about the work of the Security Service. That is not new—it reflects the accepted practice of successive Governments. More particularly, we cannot answer questions currently being discussed in the court case in Australia.

You, Mr. Speaker, have ruled that these proceedings do not rate as sub judice in terms of the rules of the House, but it is absolutely clear that the Government are sub judice in that we are under the judge in Australia as plaintiff in his court. There can thus be no doubt that any answers or observations given in the House could be seen by the Australian court as an attempt to influence it or to interfere with the judicial process there.

My reply to the right hon. Gentleman's questions about that case, therefore, must be that so long as the case remains before the Australian court—despite the right hon. Gentleman's comments, it may be for some time yet—the Government must deny themselves the opportunity to deal faithfully with the extraordinary mass of stories to which the case has given rise. Faced with such a high proportion of nonsense, there are many comments that we should dearly like to make—comments which we may be free to make one day, but because of the continuing case in Australia that day is emphatically not today.

Even if I do not agree with the Home Secretary's comments about the case in Australia, the case in Ireland is certainly no longer sub judice. What purpose was served by trying to ban a book explaining events which took place during the last war, more than 40 years ago? Do not the Home Secretary and the Attorney-General realise how farcical it seemed to many people in Britain? Personally, I am very pleased at the decision reached by the Dublin court.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General has made clear the basis on which that injunction was sought, which was exactly the same basis—the principle of confidentiality—as led to the action in Australia.

What national interest is served by concealing from Parliament and the public the knowledge that the Prime Minister of the day, then Harold Wilson, had his offices and telephones intercepted and his homes burgled by the security services which were supposed to be accountable to him? What public interest makes it necessary to conceal that fact, which emerges in Mr. Wright's book and bears on the central question of whether the security services are under ministerial control?

That was directly dealt with by the Prime Minister of the day, the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan), and I understand that further comments are to be made by the former Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins).

If my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has anything to add he will be able to do so when he winds up. [HON. MEMBERS: "That is passing the buck."] The matter was thoroughly dealt with by those responsible at the time.

The right hon. Member for Devonport accepts, as all serious people must accept, the need for a Security Service to help protect Britain. I sometimes become a little weary of those worldly-wise but ignorant people who argue that Britain no longer has any secrets to protect and therefore no longer needs a Security Service. There remains a considerable risk of espionage. Moreover—this must always be in the mind of any Home Secretary—the threat of domestic and international terrorism is greater than ever before. The Security Service is an essential part of the means whereby we seek to protect the British people from terrorism. Through force of circumstances, far from declining, that role has substantially increased.

Still following the right hon. Gentleman's argument, the Security Service must be secretive to be effective. We shall not prevent arms going to the IRA or identify terrorists in this country, and, crucially, our friends and allies around the world will not give us secret information of their own which may be necessary for our protection, if the Security Service is not properly and effectively secretive about operational matters. The Security Service is not an ornament—it is a crucial means of protecting and defending our citizens and their freedom.

If it is necessary, legitimate and, indeed, fundamental for the Security Service to preserve a proper secrecy about its methods of operation or about the procedures and people from whom it obtains information, something else that is important follows from that. There must be a binding obligation on members of the Security Service—not just for the period when they are in the service but for the rest of their lives—not to disclose what was entrusted to them on a confidential basis. We are talking here not about some narrow concept of the employer's interest but about something wider—the interests of the nation as a whole, which may be damaged if a person breaks the confidentiality by which he knew that the was bound for ever when he took up the employment.

This principle, of course, as the Prime Minister and my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General made clear, lies at the heart of our proceedings against Mr. Wright. That is the only comment I can make today about the case. In real life and in common sense, there is a distinction between books written entirely by outsiders and books written by members or former members of the Security Service who, by overtly providing their own information, give it an appearance of authenticity that no outsider can pretend to do. Thus, the secrecy of operations and, in particular, the requirement of confidentiality from members of the service, are crucial to its effectiveness.

As it is clear that, over the years, Mr. Pincher has been fed classified information on the Security Service by a series of MI5 officers, will the Home Secretary tell us whether he believes the relationship that exists between Mr. Pincher and officers in the security services is defendable in every possible way?

The hon. Gentleman says, from information given by his contacts, things that he believes are clear. I cannot go beyond what I have said—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Of course I cannot go beyond what I have already said about the Australian case and the proceedings in it.

I must get on to the thesis of the right hon. Member for Devonport.

As I said, the secrecy of operations, and in particular the requirement of confidentiality, are thus crucial to the effectiveness of the Security Service. Yet we live in a democratic society where Parliament is sovereign. It would not be accepted—and it is not my argument—that secrecy should mean the total isolation of the Security Service from all our democratic institutions. There must be some means of ensuring oversight and responsibility. There must be some way of ensuring that the resources and opportunities provided for the Security Service are used for the national good. That is why the responsibility for those matters mainly lies with the Home Secretary of the day, and there are several of my predecessors in the Chamber at the moment. I know something about how they and others have approached that responsibility, and I want to explain what it means to me, in 1986.

Of course, I cannot always respond with evidence about the discharge of this responsibility for the Security Service, and some regard that as blunting that responsibility. But, in practice—as my predecessors would confirm—the Home Secretary must take that responsibility very seriously as it involves the highest trust for the protection and safety of our country.

The Security Service operates under the published directive issued in 1952 to the director general by the then Home Secretary, Sir David Maxwell Fyfe. That can be found in Lord Denning's report and it still applies today. The directive makes the director general personally responsible to the Home Secretary for the proper and efficient implementation of the tasks set out in the directive. It is mainly through that relationship that ministerial control is exercised. The director-general is expected to seek direction and guidance from the Home Secretary as to the way the service goes about its business.

There is one particular area in which the Home Secretary exercises detailed control. That is when an interception warrant is sought, when of course the Home Secretary must be given sufficient supporting information for him to judge whether the application comes within the statutory criteria. But in general, the Home Secretary is not concerned with particular cases, as paragraph 6 of the directive makes clear:
"Ministers do not concern themselves with detailed information which may be obtained by the Security Service in particular cases, but are furnished with such information only as may be necessary for the determination of any issue on which guidance is sought."
There are good reasons for that policy. The Security Service is not—contrary to what is sometimes alleged—in the business of obtaining information on behalf of the Government. It is there to protect the state against external and internal dangers, and must, as the directive makes clear, do that in a way that avoids any suggestion that it is concerned with any matter other than the defence of the realm as a whole. There must be no political bias or influence in its work. That is why the detailed control of Security Service work must be for the director general. If his judgment is wrong, he must answer to the Home Secretary.

I believe that it is right that the Home Secretary should have no role in that detailed control of the service, but it is part of his job to be well informed about what that service is doing, its priorities, how it is deploying its resources and the overall effectiveness and efficiency of its operations. It is part of the responsibility of the Home Secretary—here again, I think that I shall carry my predecessors with me—to receive reports, ask questions, meet the director-general, visit the Security Service and meet members of its staff. My regard for the dedicated and skilful work of that service. I am glad that the right hon. Member for Devonport referred to its successes—and my confidence in the care with which its members respect the terms of the published directive are thus based on personal knowledge and scrutiny.

If it is part of the Home Secretary's business to ask questions, does he think it is his business to ask why Lord Rothschild should send an air fare to someone to come from Australia to see him? Is that the kind of question that the Home Secretary would think it proper to ask?

It is a question that would occur to the Home Secretary of the day to ask, but it is certanly not a question that can be answered in the House this afternoon.

It is also well established that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister signally concerns herself, as have her predecessors, with major security service matters. The Maxwell Fyfe directive provides that the director-general may approach the Prime Minister on matters of supreme importance and delicacy. My right hon. Friend spelt out that role, in her statement on the Blunt case on 21 November 1979, by stressing the Home Secretary's responsibility to inform the Prime Minister, or make sure that the Prime Minister is informed, in that type of case. She added that, in practice, both the Home Secretary and she make a point of keeping in close touch with the director-general.

It is inevitable that in restless times those arrangements should be questioned. The Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and the director-general of the Security Service sit inside the barrier of secrecy that is essential for the work of that service.

The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) is out of his depth when the argument reaches the kind of level to which the right hon. Member for Devonport has moved it.

The Prime Minister, the Home Secretary—I must repeat this to avoid losing the train of the argument—and the director-general sit inside the necessary barrier of secrecy. Of course, there are some who want to destroy the barrier and the Security Service with it, and no concessions will satisfy them. But there are others, like the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport, who accept the need for the barrier, as he specifically did today, but want in some way to send their own representatives, or the representatives of Parliament, to take up positions inside the barrier alongside the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary. That is the dilemma. I think that we must be a little wary of supposing that foreign models will automatically provide a satisfactory way of doing that.

For example, our system would simply not be feasible in the United States because there is no way in the United States in which a member of the Administration could be responsible to Congress in the same way as the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary are responsible to this House, as this debate shows. The Americans have devised their own system to suit their own constitutional circumstances and we should not suppose that those can be successfully transplanted. So it is with each of the democracies that are in a comparable position. I have to say that there are at present particular difficulties here with our political system, to which I must return before I sit down.

I must get on, as I have given way quite freely and this is a short debate.

Different models have been suggested for some form of external review body and the right hon. Member for Devonport skated quickly over several of them. No doubt other right hon. and hon. Members will also make such suggestions.

It is not easy to discuss these matters in a sensible way under the shadow of a particular case, and it may well be that the House will want to return to the same subject in a calmer atmosphere. Sometimes it is suggested that there should be a Select Committee of senior Privy Councillors who would form this body. Sometimes it is suggested that a judicial body is needed, perhaps on the lines that we have already established under the Interception of Communications Act 1985, for that aspect of security work. Sometimes it is suggested that the role of the existing Security Commission should be expanded.

The Security Commission has been in existence for more than 20 years. Under its terms of reference, it can investigate and report upon any failures of security arrangements and advise whether any changes in those arrangements are necessary or desirable. But the Security Commission is a panel of people who are called upon ad hoc to report. They do not attempt to provide a continuous monitoring of the Security Service, nor does their role touch upon the central issue in today's debate—the relationship between Ministers and Parliament on Security Service matters. Any change in their role in that direction would be fairly fundamental and would call into question the present membership and procedures of the Security Commission.

It seems to me that, before agreeing to any such external review body, the Government and the House would need to satisfy themselves that the body would pass three tests. First, it would need to preserve effectively the necessary secrecy—and confidence among our allies in that secrecy—of the operations of the Security Service. Secondly, it would need to increase the confidence felt by this House and by the public in the Security Service; Otherwise there would be no point in making the change. Thirdly, I would need to avoid blunting or diminishing the personal and clear responsibilities of the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary to this House.

It is perhaps natural that I should feel it necessary to stress this last point. The difficulties of running a Security Service in a democratic society are sufficiently great without installing at the heart of that service a constitutional contradiction. I have spoken about the way in which the Home Secretary has to approach this question of the detailed control of the Security Service. It is not easy to see how an external review boy could become involved in that detailed control. But if it did not, its credibility among its strongest partisans would quickly weaken.

The main problem is that there is bound to be a barrier of secrecy between the Security Service and the general public. That is inevitable if the Security Service is to be any good at all. A review body has to be on one side of that barrier or the other. If it is inside the barrier, it can certainly probe and monitor, although there remains the difficulty of clashes between its responsibility and that of the Home Secretary. But if it is inside the barrier, it cannot communicate its findings convincingly to those who remain outside.

If, on the other hand, the review body is outside the barrier looking in, it will of course have great difficulty in satisfying itself that it is able to carry out its task, because it will not have access to the material that most people would judge to be necessary if it was to carry out that task successfully.

The right hon. Gentleman has used the phrase "constitutional contradiction", and I have great difficulty following that aspect of his argument. However, the House of Commons has already gone across one of the barriers in relation to defence, when it was fiercely held that there could not be a Defence Select Committee. I know that is not such a sensitive issue, but we have gone across that barrier very well and that Select Committee has been given classified information. We have also gone across the barrier in relation to the Foreign Office and diplomacy, even though it was argued that that barrier could not be crossed. Surely those two precedents establish the momentum to cross this rather more difficult barrier in a specifically devised way.

It is a much more difficult barrier. I also believe that the kind of role that the right hon. Gentleman is advocating is different from that of the other bodies that he mentioned. That is the crucial question to which, because of time, he has been unable to address himself, and the House would need to address itself very clearly to it before it made any change.

From what I have said, I hope that the House will recognise that I do not see the present arrangements as static. Indeed, there has been greater movement on this matter and greater openness under this Government than probably at any time ever before. On 21 November 1979, as has already been pointed out, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made a statement about the Blunt case —a fact of which previous Governments had been aware but had not informed Parliament. During the debate, the Prime Minister spelt out more clearly the arrangements under which the Director General of the security service reported to and consulted the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister.

Again, on 26 March 1981, during the debate on the security implications of the Chapman Pincher book "Their Trade is Treachery", my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister commented on the positive vetting arrangements and indicated that she had asked the Security Commission to review the security procedures and practices followed in the public service and to consider what, if any, changes were required.

No, I must get on.

In 1983 the Security Commission, in connection with this and other inquiries—particularly the case of Geoffrey Prime—made a number of suggestions for improving the positive vetting procedures. The Government came to Parliament and secured approval for the Interception of Communications Act 1985. For the first time this provided a statutory and public framework for authorising practices of interception of communications carried out under the authority of Ministers of successive Governments for many years. That Act made unauthorised interception a criminal offence and for the first time gave people a statutory remedy by appeal to a tribunal.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister then reported to Parliament on the results of the inquiry by the Security Commission into Bettaney, and in her statement gave an account of the Security Commission's criticisms and recommendations on management of the security service. She announced acceptance of the Security Commission's recommendations for changes in the positive vetting procedures in the service. She said that she and the Home Secretary were determined to see that action was taken to remedy management weaknesses within the Security Service. The present director-general has, with my encouragement, devoted a major part of his time to that management task, especially the personnel arrangements.

As a result, the director-general earlier this year put forward to me and the Prime Minister a report on changes in the organisation and management of the Security Service. The Prime Minister made that report available to the Security Commission. All concerned have been impressed with the considerable amount of thought and effort which the Security Service has devoted to dealing with the problems identified by the Security Commission during its inquiry into the Bettaney case. The Security Commission has informed my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister of its approval of the more open style of management which the director-general has introduced throughout the service and the changes in procedure affecting the appraisal, posting and promotion of staff. That is an important point in which several hon. Members have been interested.

The Security Commission also noted with approval that the vetting procedures were being improved following the recruitment of more investigating officers and that the division of responsibility between line management and the specialist personnel managers had been tackled and clarified. The Security Commission considers that the director-general is to be congratulated on the way that he has tackled the problems identified in its report following its inquiry into the case of Mr. Bettaney.

In the statement to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, the Prime Minister indicated that, along with the director-general, she would be looking into ways in which internal outlets could be found for the expression of grievances and anxieties by individual members of the service. As that was the source of some of the problems, will the Home Secretary say whether he believes that that problem has been dealt with?

The hon. Gentleman is entirely accurate in what he says. Discussions on that important point are still going on.

I have been quite generous in giving way, and I am coming to a close.

I hope that I have said enough to show that the principle of ministerial responsibility, which under this Government has been adapting itself to particular events and situations, continues to provide a sound model—the best model—for the Security Service. We are not at present persuaded that any of the alternative models on offer would provide marked advantages.

There is a particular reason for that which I must mention. In most of the countries which face a similar problem there is a wide consensus across the political spectrum about the essentials of national defence and national security. This is, of course, true in the United States. It is absolutely compatible with periods such as the present when there is very sharp criticism of the Administration on particular issues, as we see in Washington at the moment. But there is no questioning of the fundamentals of United States defence and security policy any more than there is questioning among the parties of the fundamentals in Canada, Australia or the principal countries in Europe. Unfortunately, that is not the position in the United Kingdom today.

As the right hon. Member for Devonport said, the Leader of the Opposition is at present in the United States, and he is there in the middle of a parliamentary Session because he feels the need to explain to Republicans and Democrats alike why he has led the Labour party outside the consensus. He is finding it hard going, just as everyone would expect, because most people can see the overwhelming advantage of preserving a common understanding among all the principal political figures in a country about the fundamentals—not the details—of defence and security.

For our part we have tried to preserve that understanding. I refer again, as has been done several times, to the support that we gave in Opposition to the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) when he decided to deport Mr. Agee and Mr. Hosenball.

The Home Secretary is right. On that occasion those two men left the country under the requirement of Immigration Act 1971, not the Official Secrets Act. My 37 colleagues who expressed anxiety about the matter were concerned about the procedures that I used, not about the details of the matter.