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Opposition Day

Volume 106: debated on Wednesday 3 December 1986

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[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.

The right hon. Gentleman became involved in a major row. As Home Secretary, he pleaded national security as the reason for his action. The Opposition supported him because of that but several of his own supporters failed to support him. That is in vivid contrast to the Opposition's handling of the Wright case.

I do not wish to discuss the matter further. I have read carefully the long statement issued, to my surprise, by the Leader of the Opposition on Friday. I have also read what Mr. Turnbull is reported to have said about their exchanges. For two years, I was in charge of the Leader of the Opposition's office when the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) led the Conservative party. It is inconceivable that my right hon. Friend would have authorised or allowed me to enter into that sort of alliance or liaison with a lawyer in an overseas court in a case involving national security where the British Government was the plaintiff. It would have been, and it should be, inconceivable. There is an amazing mixture of inexperience and irresponsibility in the Leader of the Opposition's conduct in this matter.

No, I shall not give way. I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman.

No doubt there will be opportunities—I certainly hope so—when the case is over to look back at this and other aspects of it. The case provides the latest of a long line of regrettable examples of the breakdown of the consensus which would be necessary if any of the models which I described earlier were to be acceptable in this country.

The record shows that, compared with their predecessors, including the Government in which the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) served—although he may have had ideas of his own at that time—this Government have been open and receptive to fresh ideas in security. The discussion will continue, as it is bound to do. I am glad to have the opportunity to set out for the first time my view on how those arrangements work. We shall listen carefully to the debate and to suggestions which may be made when the Australian case is over. The public has a clear view of these matters. The public understands and—the right hon. Member for Devonport acknowledged this—they are not taken in by all this scavenging. They understand the need for a Security Service. They are becoming somewhat impatient with those who wish to undermine that service by removing the confidentiality which must lie at its core.

This is an area in which fair-sounding compromises must be carefully examined because they can be especially dangerous. The Prime Minister and I, as the points of contact between the Security Service and the House, will maintain to the full our responsibilities. In a dangerous world we shall continue to do all that we can to preserve the integrity and necessary confidentiality of that service.

4.43 pm

The Home Secretary has just enunciated to the House an extraordinary doctrine, whereby a national consensus on security matters is available from the Government provided that the House accepts that consensus as being that laid down by the Government's defence policy. As the latest opinion polls show that 13 per cent. of the electorate support the Government's defence policy, that seems extraordinary arrogance, even by the Government's standards.

This debate arises from the Government's action in the New South Wales High Court to prevent the publication of Mr. Peter Wright's book "Spycatcher." The Home Secretary said that he would dearly like to make a comment on the Australian case, but that he cannot. Instead, those comments are being made by Mr. Bernard Ingham and Mr. James Coe outside the House. They are paid by the taxpayer but they are not responsible to the House.

The mystery at the heart of the affair is why the Government decided to bring their action in Sydney. The confused and conflicting explanations have led to the miserable predicament of the Secretary to the Cabinet wriggling in the witness box as the Government chief witness and to the controversy in which the matter is now engulfed. One explanation is that the book contains material so secret that our national security would be endangered if it were to be published and become widely available. If national security was to be endangered by the book's propagation, no one could argue with the Government's action in seeking to prevent its circulation.

Reports show that the book deals principally with two matters. The first is the allegation that elements in MI5 were engaged in a conspiracy against the 1974–1976 Government of Lord Wilson. Those suspicions have been aired before. Secondly, in case by any chance they are true, it is surely right that they should be confirmed or disposed of. I would have thought that anyone, regardless of party, would have wished someone seeking to undermine a legitimately elected Government to be exposed and brought to book.

After all, such people would be involved in subversion, and the function of MI5 is to combat subversion, not to indulge in it. Any such possibility sustains demands for some form of parliamentary accountability for the security services. My right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), when he was leader of the Labour party, advocated such accountability at the time of the Prime affair, as did my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition at the time of the Bettaney affair. In 1983, the Labour party manifesto advocated a statutory basis for the security services founded upon a security Act and involving a Select Committee.

It is said that Mr. Peter Wright goes into detail about the possibility that Sir Roger Hollis, the former head of MI5, was a Soviet agent. Those two issues have been frequently aired, first in Mr. Chapman Pincher's book "Their Trade is Treachery" and since then almost ad nauseam. The latest example is Mr. Phillip Knightley's book "The Second Oldest Profession". That was published only last month and, as far as I can tell, without objection or interference from the Government.

In any case, if security requires sensitive matters to be kept secret from a potential adversary, it is difficult to understand how the suspicions about Hollis fall into that category. It is certain that the only people who know for certain whether Hollis was a Russian agent are the Russians. It appears that the Government wish to conceal from the British people what is already known to the KGB. Perhaps that is what the Prime Minister defines as national security, but an alternative explanation has been offered in connection with the book "One Girl's War", which the Government were unsuccessful in trying to suppress yesterday in the court in Dublin.

A statement from the Attorney-General's chambers said that the Government's action was
"based on the general principle that any publication of memoirs by a former member of the secret service, drawing on information acquired in that capacity, impaired the effective functioning of the service, unless it had been authorised. The claim is not based on any allegation that publication of material contained in the book will cause further and specific damage to national security."
On Monday this week, the Attorney-General said at Question Time:
"The principle concerning the book of the late Mrs. Miller is exactly the same principle in which we have started the proceedings in the Australian courts… The idea that we can allow officers or ex-officers of the security services to write books would probably end with us not having any important secrets which should be preserved."—[Official Report, 1 December 1986; Vol. 106, c. 620.]
Speaking in Sydney, Mr. Theo Simos QC, for the Crown, said that disclosure by an insider, irrespective of content, could be detrimental to the Crown. Questioned by Mr. Justice Powell, Mr. Simos said that this would be so even if it concerned a cookbook in Whitehall.

It would appear that the Government are concerned only with direct publication by someone who is serving or who has served in the security services. That point was made by the Home Secretary today. It is a curious approach. It shows that MI5 men and women are perfectly free to reveal secrets provided that they do not do so in their own names. That would open a lucrative market for members or ex-members of the security services to sell their secrets, perhaps at a high price, for others to publish. For them to do so would be a flagrant breach of the Official Secrets Act, but the attitudes of the Attorney-General and the Prime Minister to the Official Secrets Act are curiously selective.

If this approach is the one adopted by the Government, it would explain why Mr. Arthur Martin, who has been an MI5 and an MI6 officer, was not prosecuted for providing secret information for publication by Mr. Nigel West, alias Mr. Rupert Allason, who is the prospective Conservative candidate for Torbay. In the witness box in Sydney, Sir Robert Armstrong said this about Mr. Martin providing that information to Mr. West:
"He has not observed his obligation."
That approach would also explain why Mr. Peter Wright was not prosecuted for selling secrets to Mr. Chapman Pincher. It might also explain why Mr. West, alias Allason, and Mr. Pincher have not been prosecuted. They are certainly liable for prosecution for breach of the Official Secrets Act by receiving information from ex-members of the security services.

Mr. Justice Powell said of Mr. West-Allason's book that he had read it and it
"is replete with instances of agents, informers and defectors being named, and operations being disclosed."
When questioned in court, Sir Robert Armstrong said:
"I can't say as a matter of fact whether the book contains such information but I believe it to be likely. If it does contain that information, then it was obtained by a breach of confidentiality by those concerned."
So it was a breach of confidentiality, and therefore a breach of the Official Secrets Act.

Mr. West has stated frankly that he was provided by sources within MI5 with what he calls "relevant extracts" of two reports written by a senior MI5 officer, Mr. Ronnie Symonds. The report identified five possible Soviet spies in MI5. Mr. West says that those documents are in his solicitor's safe because his sources in MI5 forgot to ask for them back. Still there was no prosecution. No wonder that Sir Robert Armstrong said in Sydney:
"The policy is consistent. Only its practice varies."
That goes in spades for the Government's approach to Mr. Chapman Pincher's book, "Their Trade is Treachery". Let me make it clear that I have no criticism of Mr. West-Allason or Mr. Pincher. They did no deals with anyone to get their books published. If those books were in breach of the law, it is not their fault that no action was taken against them. It is the fault of the Government. That is why it is completely bogus for the Government to claim that the issues here are of national security. The issues relate to corrupt decision-making in government. That is why the charges that we make are charges against the Government and especially against the Prime Minister.

What do we know about Mr. Pincher's book? Mr. Pincher said that he had given up any intentions of writing more about security until he was approached by Mr. Wright. That approach is said to have come through Lord Rothschild. Questions must be asked about Lord Rothschild's role as claimed by Mr. Wright. Is it true that Lord Rothschild initiated Mr. Wright's connection with the book? Did Lord Rothschild send Mr. Wright a first-class ticket for him to fly from Tasmania to Britain? Did Lord Rothschild suggest to Mr. Wright that he should collaborate with Mr. Pincher on a book about Sir Roger Hollis? Did Lord Rothschild bring Mr. Wright and Mr. Pincher together? Did Lord Rothschild arrange for Mr. Wright's substantial pay-off to be laundered through a Swiss bank account? Was Lord Rothschild acting on his own initiative or was he acting as agent for someone else? If so, for whom? Mr. Wright says that, before sending for him, Lord Rothschild had been discussing intelligence matters with the Prime Minister. Is that true? Until those questions are answered, the issue will not go away.

In view of the Home Secretary's answer to an earlier intervention, are we not justified in asking that, at least in the reply to the debate, there should be an explanation of the Prime Minister's meeting with Lord Rothschild in his flat? Prime Ministers do not normally go to the flats of citizens, however distinguished, without a purpose. May we know what that purpose was?

I have put several questions to the Home Secretary and the Leader of the House, and before I sit down I shall put a good many more. We must ask why no action was taken to stop publication of Mr. Chapman Pincher's book. There are different versions of how the book came into the possession of Government officials. One is that the manuscript or the proofs of the book were in the Government's hands by February 1981—about six weeks before its publication. Some suggest that MI6 got hold of a copy of the book even earlier than that. In any case, it is alleged that, by February 1981, the book had been obtained illicitly—stolen—on behalf of the Government. If that is so, did the Ministers and officials who considered it know it to have been stolen?

As Sir Robert Armstrong said in the witness box in Sydney, a meeting was held involving the Prime Minister, the former Home Secretary, Lord Whitelaw, the director-general of MI5, Sir Howard Smith, and possibly Sir Robert Armstrong. Sir Robert was not clear on that point. One claim is that MI5 argued that an injunction to stop the book should not be sought since a court action would involve the admission that the book was obtained illicitly. Another version is that the Prime Minister was told that it was too late to stop the book. That is a curious argument, because the Government were perfectly ready to have Joan Miller's book withdrawn from circulation in Dublin, even after it was published and put on sale in London.

Sir Robert Armstrong says that the Prime Minister was not at all in favour of publishing Mr. Pincher's book. Mr. Pincher provides a different account. In a letter to Mr. Wright, which was read in open court in Sydney and accepted as accurate by Mr. Pincher in an article which he wrote in the Sunday Express, Mr. Pincher wrote as follows on 27 January 1983:
"On New Year's Day I was shooting with Havers, the Attorney-General, who is very friendly and told me about West's book. It is an extraordinary story and I urge you to have nothing whatever to do with West or with anything associated with him. For reasons I do not understand Martin"—
that is Mr. Arthur Martin, a former MI5 and MI6 agent—
"agreed to see West. Havers told me that they met six times and on each occasion Martin told West secret information. In addition he showed him secret documents which should not have been in his possession. West then wrote his book and in it not only quoted Martin by name but quoted from the documents saying that they were secret! West is so stupid and naive"—
that is the gentleman who is seeking entry to the House of Commons on the Conservative side, and there are other words about him in this letter which you would not permit me to quote, Mr. Deputy Speaker—
"that he then sent Martin a copy of the script for his comments. Martin was terrified and immediately took the book to the office in an effort to get himself out of the mess. The office informed Havers who then issued an injunction to have the offending parts removed for had the book been published, the Government would have had no option but to prosecute both Martin and West…Havers told me that he is still considering whether to prosecute Martin but says he cannot do that without prosecuting West, who has been adopted as a Tory candidate. Mrs. T is furious with him (West).…
I can assure you that there is no intention whatever of taking action against me"—
that is, Mr. Chapman Pincher—
"which means you too"—
that is, Mr. Peter Wright.
"I lunched with Dickie Franks"—
that is, Sir Arthur Franks, the former head of MI6—
"recently and he told me that they had my book weeks in advance and came to the conclusion that they would rather I did it than anyone else. They had heard that West, Duncan Campell Penrose etc. were on the trail and preferred my authorship".
Therefore, Mr. Pincher's book was welcomed by the authorities. Does that mean that its publication was authorised? That argument has been put forward by Mr. Justice Powell in Sydney and explains why no action was taken against it.

In a curious episode, Sir Robert Armstrong made the Government's attitude explicit. On 23 March 1981, when the Daily Mail began serialising Mr. Pincher's book, Sir Robert Armstrong telephoned Mr. William Armstrong, the managing director of the publishers Sidgwick and Jackson, asking for copies of the book, which Sidgwick and Jackson were to publish on the 26th of that month, in case the Prime Minister wished to make a statement about it.

Mr. William Armstrong refused to provide the book without a guarantee that the Government would not take action against it. Sir Robert Armstrong agreed to that and a letter was negotiated in a telephone conversation. Sir Robert went to the publishers, collected two copies of the book and left the letter there. Its key paragraph stated:
"The request (for copies of the book) is not made with a view to seeking to prevent or delay publication and I can assure you that we shall not do so."
That commitment was confirmed on the telephone to me today by Mr. William Armstrong of Sidgwick and Jackson. He read to me the full letter agreed between himself and the Secretary to the Cabinet. Mr. Jackson told me of the full circumstances surrounding that extraordinary guarantee not to proceed against "Their Trade is Treachery".

The House requires clear answers to certain important questions. I would have put my first question directly to the Attorney-General, and it is deplorable that he has not come to the House today—but no doubt my questions will be conveyed to him. First, did the Attorney-General go shooting with Mr. Pincher on new year's day 1983 and tell him that it was impossible to prosecute Mr. Arthur Martin without also prosecuting Mr. Nigel West, and that Mr. West was a Conservative candidate? Is that why the Attorney-General prosecuted neither Mr. Martin nor Mr. West?

Was the Attorney-General consulted about the letter to Mr. William Armstrong, promising not to prevent publication of Mr. Pincher's book? If so, did he assent to the guarantee? If so, why? If not, was the Attorney-General overridden? If so, did he know that he was being overridden, or was he just ignored as he had been six weeks before when the group of Ministers, under the Prime Minister, decided to take no action against Mr. Pincher?

The Attorney-General must also answer questions about his attitude to other unauthorised revelations by ex-MI5 officers. The Attorney-General has prosecuted people under the Official Secrets Act before now. He prosecuted Miss Sarah Tisdall and Mr. Clive Ponting, although neither of those civil servants had been a member of the security services. Therefore, the Attorney-General knows how to use the Act.

However, he did not prosecute Miss Cathy Massiter, although she looked tailormade for prosecution. She was a relatively recent ex-MI5 officer who had served in M15 for about 14 years. Last year, she provided a good deal of information, on camera, in a programme on Channel 4. It was very sensitive information, and included details of warrants signed by the then Home Secretary for telephone taps. She also provided information about other covert activities. Mr. Justice Taylor confirmed the accuracy of that information in the High Court only three months ago.

The right hon. Gentleman was discussing the subject of telephones. I wonder whether he could tell the House whether there have been any further calls between the office of the Leader of the Opposition and Mr. Turnbull in Australia since the 26th of last month? Is that liaison still continuing?

The hon. Gentleman's last intervention on this matter to come to my attention was when he referred to Miss Patricia Hewitt as a lickspittle. When I heard him use that epithet, I decided that it takes one to know one. As usual, the hon. Gentleman's interventions are beneath contempt.

We are discussing the failure to prosecute an ex-MI5 agent who has clearly given information away, outwith the Official Secrets Act. When Miss Massiter did that, the Independent Broadcasting Authority was so scared that it might be prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act that, at first, it banned the programme. However, on 18 March last year, the Attorney-General told the House that he would not prosecute. Why? After all, Miss Massiter met in full the criteria that the Attorney-General stated in this House two days ago in relation to the need to prevent officers and ex-officers of the security services from revealing secrets. Why is Mr. Wright not allowed to publish secrets, when Miss Massiter was allowed to do so?

The question goes farther than that. In 1984, Granada Television screened a "World in Action" programme called "The Spy Who Never Was", in which a former MI5 officer spilled the beans. Secrets simply tumbled from his lips in a programme specifically built around his revelations. He talked about Mr. Symonds' investigation into Russian infiltration of our security services, the fluency exercise, the existence of the mole code-named Elli, the GRU agent code-named Sonia, a man named Watson who was alleged to have passed naval secrets to the Russians, and much more.

No action whatever was taken against that programme, or against that ex-MI5 officer, although the Government had had advance knowledge of the disclosures in the programme. Why was that programme, which was damaging to national security according to the Government's own definition of it, permitted to go out without any interference, especially when that ex-MI5 officer was none other than Mr. Peter Wright? Why is Mr. Wright not allowed to publish secrets to thousands of Australian book buyers, when he was allowed to publish secrets to millions of British television viewers? There must be some reason for that manipulation of the law, and the Attorney-General is bound to give it.

The Prime Minister has questions to answer, too. In her maiden speech, she said that the public had the right, in the first instance, to know what its elected representatives were doing. Under this Government, the only way in which we find out what our elected representatives are doing is through paid civil servants who are briefed by the Prime Minister to smear the Leader of the Opposition while he is away from the Floor of the House.

During the past days, the Prime Minister has made much of the traditional bipartisanship on security matters. Her campaign has been aided by hon. Members who have either obtained their knighthoods, or who are hoping to do so in the reasonably near future. If the Prime Minister is so committed to bipartisanship on security matters, why did she not take the initiative and brief my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition on the background to the action against Mr. Wright, before that action was brought? Is the Prime Minister's definition of bipartisanship one-sided, to be observed by the Opposition, but not by the Government?

Why did the Prime Minister not make available to my right hon. Friend details of the proceedings in court in Sydney, so that he and the House in general could be properly informed? [Interruption.] Previous security briefings, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan), a former Prime Minister—I only wish that he were Prime Minister now—will know, have always been made on the initiative of the Prime Minister of the day. Why did the Prime Minister not provide such a briefing for my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock)? I hope that Conservative Members, whether or not their party is in government, will accept that my right hon. Friend and other hon. Members in all parties have the right to full information about an action which the taxpayers whom we represent are financing to the tune of £1 million or more.

In those circumstances, if the Government were not proffering the information, how else was my right hon. Friend to obtain the information? Was he to rely on a leak from MI5? After all, we know that the Prime Minister authorises those leaks on a selective basis only, so he could not be sure of having access to one. Or did the Prime Minister not brief my right hon. Friend on these matters because there were matters which, even under a bipartisan policy, she did not want him to know? The House has the right to know.

The House expects the Prime Minister to tell us why she sent poor Sir Robert Armstrong to make a fool of himself in the witness box in Sydney and to leave in public tatters the previously prestigious and important office of Secretary to the Cabinet.

No.

Will the Prime Minister say why, after Sir Robert Armstrong failed to tell the truth about the Attorney-General's role in relation to "Their Trade is Treachery", she allowed that untruth to remain on the record for 11 days, although she knew that it was an untruth? She knew it was an untruth because she was present at the meeting that decided not to proceed against Mr. Pincher's book and the Attorney-General was not. Therefore, she knew that Sir Robert had not told the truth when he said that the Attorney-General was involved in that decision. Why did the Prime Minister not take the tiniest step to put that untruth right? Would she ever have put it right, if the Attorney-General had not gone to her and told her that he had had enough? Would she have allowed that untruth to remain on the record?

Why did the Prime Minister exclude the Attorney-General from the meeting that made the decision not to proceed against Mr. Pincher? On Monday, the Attorney-General told the House:
"When I am wearing my hat as Attorney-General and prosecutor, nobody can influence me and I would not accept any attempt to influence me from anybody."—[Official Report, 1 December 1986; Vol. 106, c. 619.]
Is that why the Prime Minister excluded him? Was she afraid that he would not give her the advice she wanted? Did she remember the Westland affair in which the Attorney-General warned that he would bring the police into No. 10 unless there was an inquiry? Was she afraid of her own Attorney-General?

That brings us to the key question. Why did that meeting, at which the Prime Minister was present and at which, as Prime Minister, she presumably presided, decide not to proceed against Mr. Pincher's book? Was the Prime Minister a party to Sir Robert Armstrong's guarantee to Sidgwick and Jackson not to prevent the book's publication? If neither the Prime Minister nor the Attorney-General were a party to that guarantee, what authority did Sir Robert Armstrong have to make that guarantee? If he had the Prime Minister's authority, why did she give him that authority? We have the right to know the answers to all those questions.

The security services also want to know the answers to those questions. Far from safeguarding them, the Prime Minister has exposed the country's security services to international ridicule by the court action in Sydney. When she took action against trade unionists at GCHQ, she focused more attention on the activities at GCHQ than ever before in its history. Now this court action, purporting to safeguard state secrets and the integrity of our security services, has exposed to the gaze of the world more state secrets of the British security services than ever before in its history.

The nation has the right to ask why the Prime Minister has done that, and the nation is waiting for the answers.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. When the late Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller and the late Sir John Hobson were Law Officers in difficult circumstances, they sat on the Government Front Bench. Could——

Order. This is a short debate and many right hon. and hon. Members are waiting to catch my eye——

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that the presence of individual hon. Members in the House is not a matter for me.

5.15 pm

These are deep waters and the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) has prudently chosen only to paddle in them. The right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) raised a serious issue—whether there should be a parliamentary Committee to supervise the secret services, but the right hon. Member for Gorton did not address himself for one minute to that. He raised only two questions about possible mistakes made by the secret services. First, was Sir Roger Hollis a Soviet agent and, secondly, was the Prime Minister of the day bugged by the secret services? He did not tell us whether he thought a Committee would assist in finding that out. He merely paraded his rather journalistic opinions about a trial that is going on in Australia and provided a second-rate supplementary brief to that of Mr. Turnbull, who is a cleverer lawyer than the right hon. Gentleman.

I have never served in either the counter-espionage or the secret services. For 45 years I have had close associations with both of them—during the war, later when I was in office, and otherwise. I have been tremendously impressed by their development over the years. At first they comprised venturesome amateurs who were recruited during the war from universities, businesses and elsewhere. They have grown into highly professional organisations. Indeed, they have had to, because they have had to face both the most professional secret services that the world has ever seen and the threat of terrorism.

Public opinion tends to focus on the arms race. People tend to forget the escalation in the competition of espionage and counter-espionage forced on the West by the fantastic effort which the Soviet Union and its satellites have put into this type of war. The weapons have piled up—thank God they have not been used—but underground warfare has been continuous for the past 45 years.

It is difficult to assess whether the secret services are working successfully. So long as they do their job, nothing becomes news. Their work should remain secret. When a Colonel Penkovsky is caught and shot in Moscow it may seem to be a triumph for the secret services, but it is a disaster, because it is a line of information that has been cut. Mr. Gordievsky had to take refuge with us, and that is another line of information cut. When my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary—or, in bygone days Lord Home—repatriates Soviet diplomats or near-diplomats, that, too, is a disaster, because we are probably watching them to note their contacts, and so on. The successes that we know about are rare, and we must hope that there are not too many that become obvious.

If the head of the Security Service goes to see the Prime Minister and, rubbing his hands, says, "Oh, is it not marvellous, we have caught a spy, one of our men, in one of our high Government offices," the Prime Minister's heart must sink.

He or she must say, "Do you know what you have done? There will be a charge, a trial and an appeal, and it will be all over the press. It is a disaster." I think that it was Harold Macmillan who used the analogy that when his gamekeeper shot a fox he buried it and did not hang it up for the hunt to see. Unfortunately, our democratic institutions do not allow us to bury the people whom we catch in the same way. I sometimes wish that they did.

The right hon. Member for Devonport proposed a Committee of both Houses. The question is who is to serve on it, and who is to appoint its members? There are some difficulties in that regard. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that it should be made up of Privy Councillors. I am a great admirer of Privy Councillors; they are a very fine body of men. If the right hon. Member for Devonport and I were the only members of that Committee it might do very well, but I amused myself in my bath this morning thinking of Privy Councillors who might be selected from this House and the other place. Some of them are rather old, and some have dubious pasts. The shadow Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) would qualify because of his experience as Secretary of State for Defence and because, as a young man, he was watched by the security services. We could find other Privy Councillors with interesting backgrounds. Some would obviously be no good at all. Consequently, I wonder whether such a Committee would be a good idea.

When I was younger, I often hoped to see the revival of the Committee of Imperial Defence. That was a great organisation. The leaders of the political parties met to receive information on defence policy. They were briefed on it, and it gave them an opportunity to exchange opinions. What would this proposed Committee do? Would it send for people and so identify the principal figures in our counter-intelligence and intelligence services? Would it send for papers? I hope to goodness that there are not too many papers about, as it might be very dangerous if they were distributed.

What would be the object of the exercise? How to cope with defectors? I do not think that the Committee would be likely to pinpoint weaknesses in the service. Would it consider how to advise on co-operation with the CIA or the French and German intelligence services, or how to advise on the telephone tapping and surveillance of potential enemies? I cannot see a Committee of Privy Councillors—let alone a Committee diluted by others who are not Privy Councillors—doing that. Could the Committee avoid blunders? Could it settle the problem of whether Hollis was a Russian agent? Could it have avoided, if there was such a thing, the bugging of the Prime Minister's room? I have been able to identify only one major blunder, and that involved Commander Crabbe. Mr. Gough Whitlam has told us that Anthony Eden wanted to have Nasser and Grivas assassinated. Good thing too if he had done it; but I cannot see a Committee of Privy Councillors endorsing such an operation.

The most that it could do would be to carry out a postmortem on what had happened, but that is dangerous, and that is why we have the 30-year rule. I remember—if I may be anecdotal in my old age—that when I was in Albania during the war, an Albanian chief told me that he had a friend in a particular area who could help us. He said that he would send a message to him. I asked who he was and where his house was. He said, "I won't tell you as I might need him again, and he helped me 30 years ago."

I have some doubt about whether any committee, however distinguished, could be leakproof. Along with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, I have had the advantage of serving on the Committee of Privileges. In the short time that we worked together I was astonished to discover how many leaks there had been from different Committees.

The right hon. Member for Devonport may say that the Americans have a committee that invigilates the CIA. However, I wonder whether it works well. It is certainly time-consuming. When the committee is sitting, 40 members of the CIA sit on Capitol Hill all day, the next day, and the day after, tendering advice. We could hardly afford that, given the shoestring on which our secret services operate. As far as I know, the CIA regard that committee as being castrating.

Let us look at what has been happening. This morning's edition of the Herald Tribune tells us that Mr. Casey, the head of the CIA, admitted in cross-examination that the CIA gave some marginal help in the operation with Iran that led to funds being paid to the Contras in Nicaragua. If the CIA had not been subject to congressional control, I wonder whether Mr. McFarlane and Colonel North would have gone off on their own. If the secret services are muzzled too much, Governments may well be pushed into less reputable means of proceeding.

In every aspect of political life there is, of course, a strong case to be made for democratic control, but there is also a strong case to be made against it. There is certainly a strong case to be made for democratic control in internal affairs. The tendency is to delay, to call for public inquiries, and so on. It does not matter much. Even if the Government make a mistake they can amend it later. However, if mistakes are made abroad one does not always get the chance to rectify them. If I have any criticism of our secret services, it is that they are too cautious and restrained. That may be a fault on the right side, but we do not want to make them even more cautious then they already are.

We would do well to stick to our present methods of control. The Home Secretary supervises the Security Service, and the Foreign Secretary supervises the intelligence service. They have their links to the Cabinet Office and No. 10 Downing street. Political control should be strengthened only informally, so that it does not become the subject of yet more questioning in the House. It is for the Secretaries of State of those Departments to delegate a little more to their Ministers of State and to ask them to concentrate more on those services. Lord Home did that to me when I was at the Foreign Office, but it was an entirely informal arrangement. It would be a great mistake to make such an arrangement formal. That would only weaken services which, by their very nature, have to be secret if they are to fulfil their duties and functions.

5.28 pm

In my experience, most security eruptions have been short-term affairs, convulsing the House and dominating the headlines for a short time, and then going away as quickly as they came, but I have a strong and growing feeling that this one is rather different. About 15 days ago, when I used the phrase "this foolish mission" about the excursion on which the Prime Minister had sent Sir Robert Armstrong, I had hardly begun to comprehend the enormity of the foolishness involved, or the vast capacity for damage, both private and public, which a combination of exceptional ill-judgment and exceptional stubbornness at the head of the Government—a unique and deadly mix—was capable of inflicting.

Recent events are, for once, unlikely to be a summer storm, quickly coming and going, first, because of the light that has been shone, cumulatively with the Westland affair, on the Prime Minister's methods of Government, and, secondly, because of the destructive blows, partly self-inflicted, partly inflicted by the misjudgments of the Government, to which the Security Service has been subjected, and which means that it will no longer be able to operate in the old shape. It is to these two aspects of the matter—the Prime Minister's habits of government, as revealed, and the blows to the Security Service—that I shall devote my speech.

I have hardly started my speech. I must make my first point.

The Prime Minister's habits as head of Government are my first subject. I shall refer to her a good deal, but I shall also refer to the Attorney-General. I am bound to reiterate a view previously expressed, in good temper, that it is extraordinary that neither of them has come to the Chamber. The Government treat this House with a discourtesy that I have never seen paralleled in 39 years in the House. They are responsible, and should be here. I hope that the Leader of the House will take note of this, because it is an unnecessary pattern of behaviour that does not reflect credit on the Government or help the proceedings of the House.

The Prime Minister has shown herself wholly incapable of applying consistent standards by which she judges herself as she judges other people. This inconsistency is the core of the weakness of the Government's case in Australia, and that has already been touched on by my right hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) and by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). A particular example has been the Prime Minister's inability in the past two weeks or so to stick to a clear line about what she will or will not discuss about security matters. She was far more explicit about the Blunt case in 1979 than any Prime Minister had been before about security matters. On the whole, she was right to be so in the circumstances. However, by doing so, she inevitably created a new climate, but within that climate she showed inconsistency.

In the past two weeks, since the Prime Minister was driven off the sub judice point, which she took in an extraordinarily ill-briefed way to begin with, she has fallen back to saying that she cannot discuss anything to do with the issue. That is her right, as it is the right of any Minister, not only on security matters, but in answer to any question, to judge what to say and to say no more. However, the Prime Minister has not been able to stick to that. Whenever a good point has come into her mind she has chased off after it, like somebody chasing a butterfly, but immediately, in the next breath, she has said that she cannot discuss security matters or anything to do with the case. That has not prevented her from denouncing Mr. Wright, who is very much a point at issue, and the Leader of the Opposition. I happen to believe that, in differing ways, they both rather deserve it, but that is not the point about her inconsistent treatment of the matter.

This habit of the Prime Minister is venial compared with a number of others that have emerged. First among these is her extraordinary capacity to expose to danger, and perhaps even to mutilation beyond hope of recovery, those who are closely associated with her. To some extent this applies to Ministers, as we can see from the case of the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorkshire (Mr. Brittan), but I am concerned, not with Ministers, but with civil servants. Sir Robert Armstrong, as the Prime Minister must now know well, should never have been sent to Australia, but it is not only he. Private secretaries and press officers are treated like junior officers, constantly called upon to go over the top in desperate partisan assaults not made more attractive by the fact that the primary orders are to safeguard the political life of their colonel-in-chief, the Prime Minister. My advice to the substantial number of notable civil servants who worked with or for me is, "Do not get too close to this Prime Minister. She is a upas tree—the branches may look splendid, but contact can be deadly."

The conduct of the Attorney-General does not always suggest wisdom or foresight. Leaving aside for the moment the conduct of the case in Australia, his belief that it was sensible to go to the Dublin courts about a book relating to the last war seems to show a sad deficiency of both geographical and historical knowledge. He is the senior Law Officer of the Crown, carrying all the traditions, responsibilities and powers of that office, which, with our unique mixing up of Executive, legislative and judicial arrangements, is an office of peculiar delicacy. As has been shown both here and in the Westland case, the Prime Minister does not begin to comprehend these nuances. She sees the Law Officers as junior Ministers who are in danger of getting too big for their boots, and who should be available to be wheeled out when they are useful to her, and to shut up when they are not.

This conflict of view has produced two remarkable performances from the Attorney-General during this year alone. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is not generally thought of as a Savonarola come among us. His reputation for agreeable indiscretion is perhaps greater than that for the fearsome austerity of his pronouncements. However, twice, once when he threatened to call the police into No. 10 Downing street, and last week when he telephoned or sent some message to Australia, he has felt constrained to blow a whistle. When he has done so, on both occasions everybody has stood transfixed, as though the last trump has been sounded in some allegorical painting by Blake and, for the moment, stopped doing the apparently dreadful things that they had been doing a moment before. It casts an interesting and extraordinary light on the home life of our own dear Government that a rather unshockable Attorney-General should twice be so deeply and effectively shocked. It also makes me wonder what happens about which he does not yet know.

Lessons are to be learnt from the recent events and their effect on the future of the Security Service. The first is that it becomes increasingly clear that security can rarely be maintained through the courts. It can sometimes be done by mutual trust, and it is desirable that it is done in that way, perhaps fortified by better pensions. Occasionally it can be done in British courts, particularly if one finds a reasonably Executive-minded judge. The Government are certainly unlikely to find such a judge in Sydney or Dublin. That might be a reasonable precaution to think of and to take beforehand.

Secondly, the British Government try to keep far too many secrets. They are the most secretive Government in the Western world, but as a result they are certainly not the most efficient. By trying to keep back too many secrets they devalue the few which, in my view, they try legitimately to safeguard. This secrecy obsession demonstrates itslf under this Government in the peculiarly unacceptable hypocrisy of a Prime Minister whose stock-in-trade is leaks from the top accompanied by prosecutions lower down.

Thirdly, the security services, and MI5 especially, have suffered grave damage to their reputation and credibility. As I said in the House just over two weeks ago, I believe that there is a strong probability of Sir Roger Hollis's innocence. It is hardly ever possible, however, to prove a negative, and certainly not at this distance of time, and there are a number of MI5 ex-officers who believe the reverse. That hardly points to a coherent or convincing organisation.

We have Mr. Wright's allegation that a surveillance operation was mounted against Lord Wilson of Rievaulx when he was Prime Minister in the mid-1970s. As I understand it, Mr. Wright says that he was attracted by such an operation, but resiled from it. That hardly enhances his reputation. During most of the period at issue I was Home Secretary, and I need hardly say that I knew nothing of any such operation involving Lord Wilson. Therefore, if it took place it was wholly illegal. I would add that if it did take place, it could have been conceived and mounted only by people with dangerously unbalanced minds.

Many criticisms can be made of Lord Wilson's stewardship—I have made some in the past and I have no doubt that I may make some more in future—but the view that he, with his too persistent record of maintaining Britain's imperial commitments across the world, with his over-loyal lieutenancy to Lyndon Johnson, with his fervent royalism, and with his light ideological luggage, was a likely candidate to be a Russian or Communist agent is one that can be entertained only by someone with a mind diseased by partisanship or unhinged by living for too long in an Alice-Through-the-Looking-glass world in which falsehood becomes truth, fact becomes fiction and fantasy becomes reality.

The result of the allegation has been substantially to fortify the view that I expressed in a letter to The Times 18 months ago, which is that MI5 should now be pulled totally out of its political surveillance role.

In his analysis of the allegation that he has mentioned, the right hon. Gentleman has not referred to the statement which was made by the Prime Minister of the day, which appears in Hansard of 8 December 1977. The then Prime Minister reported the detailed inquiries which he had made into the allegation and his conclusion that he was satisfied that at no time had the Security Service, or any other agency, undertaken the sort of surveillance that had been suggested.

The Prime Minister of the day is here and he can speak for himself. I am sure that I would accept entirely what he said in December 1977. I would think it incredible that this was in any way an official operation, but there are possibilities of an unofficial operation, and I think that they should now be examined. The fact that people who held senior positions in MI5 talked about these matters cannot be dismissed as being of negligible importance.

I took the view before these recent events emerged that it was advisable that MI5 should be pulled out of its political surveillance role. I had been doubtful of the value of that role for some time. I am convinced now that an organisation of people who lived in the fevered world of espionage and counter-espionage, is entirely unfitted to judge between what is subversion and what is legitimate dissent.

Nor is the associated political intelligence role worth while, in my view. The object of this is presumably to help Ministers with useful information. In my experience, however, the organisation wastes a great deal of Ministers' time in dealing with its own peccadillos, which detracts from any benefit which it provides. The balance sheet is distinctly negative.

There remain other activities——

Will the right hon. Gentleman take into account the bringing to book of Mr. Hindawi recently in the El Al case, which was partly attributable to the good surveillance of the counter-espionage system?

That is not to do with political surveillance in this country. That is not to do with internal political surveillance. I was about to say, had the right hon. Gentleman not interrupted me—I make no complaint that he did so—that that leaves the other two main aspects of MI5's work, which are anti-terrorist activities and spy catching. Its anti-terrorism activities are clearly crucial and vital, but how much room is there for an organisation which is entirely separate from the special branch, and not always wholly co-operative with it? I do not express judgment on that, but I think that it might be useful to have some independent advice from some body of the sort that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I are suggesting.

I am sure that there is some need for a continuing specialised agency to deal with counter-espionage. Perhaps we can exaggerate the role of such an agency by saying that it should be given the highest national priority, but there should certainly be one in place that is efficient and trusted. That activity must now be subject to more political supervision. That is necessary because politicians want to get their hands on things, which is something of which I am not necessarily all that much in favour, and because of the desperate need to recover confidence in the Security Service. Anyone who indulges in bluster and says that there is no problem is really talking nonsense.

In my view, the present political command is not wholly satisfactory, for two reasons. First, there is a degree of split responsibility between the Home Secretary, who is responsible for MI5, and the Foreign Secretary, who is responsible for MI6. The two organisations are different, but there can be a crack where they join, where it is quite difficult for either the Home Secretary or the Foreign Secretary to see the whole picture.

Secondly, and of more importance, there is some complication of responsibility between the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister, which is symbolised by the role of the Cabinet Secretary as the chief official, though he is in no way the servant of the Home Secretary. Some people think he ought not to be the servant of the Prime Minister either, but that raises a wider issue which I do not propose to examine at this stage. Apart from those gaps—those lacunae—there is a need to move a little outside the Executive. The motion suggests a good form of supervision. It is not the only form, but it is a sensible one.

My attention was drawn today to a matter of which I was not previously aware. I do not know whether the Home Secretary is aware of it. In 1955 the Prime Minister of the day set up a public service security conference of Privy Councillors, with three members of the Government, three members of the Opposition and the permanent secretary to the Treasury. The exact terms of reference were to examine the security procedures that applied in the public service and to consider whether any further precautions were called for and should be taken. That was after the Burgess and Maclean affair.

Certainly, therefore, a group of this sort is not without precedent. I do not suggest that this is the only solution. It is a good one, and it should hold the ground in the absence of any other. It will come. The essential question is whether this Government or another Government accept it freely and constructively, or whether it is dragged out reluctantly.

I return to the Prime Minister's style of government. The Prime Minister, with the possible exception of Anthony Eden for a few unfortunate weeks exactly 30 years ago, is undoubtedly the most self-righteous Prime Minister since Neville Chamberlain in the wholly relevant sense of despising her opponents, whoever they may be, and being convinced of her own moral superiority. In these circumstances, it is peculiarly unfortunate that, whenever attention is focused on some activity in which she has been involved, as in Westland, as here, there should be a trail of dissimulation left behind.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You may not have had the opportunity to see this, but there is a serious allegation in today's evening paper that the Leader of the Opposition has had a mole, a Mr. Greengrass, in the case in Australia——

I am asking, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if there is any way in which we can——

Order. The hon. Member must find some other time to raise this matter. We must proceed with the amendment.

Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is there any way that the Opposition can ask for a suspension of this debate until such time as the Leader of the Opposition is here to answer those allegations?

Of course there is a way. The hon. Gentleman can proceed on such a matter only by putting down a substantive motion.

5.52 pm

I wish to refer to something mentioned by the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) when he opened the debate. He spoke about the way in which Mr. Peter Wright had betrayed the secrets that he was sworn to keep.

A member of the Security Service, who is sworn to keep secrets, as Mr. Wright was, does more than bring himself into disrepute. He undermines the working of the service, which is one of the most sensitive, most important and, so it seems, one of the most vulnerable of our defences against such dangers as espionage and subversion. It exposes us to these dangers. I can see no difference between a member of the Security Service who breaks his oath and sells his secret to a publisher, and a member of the Security Service who sells his secrets to the Russians. The effect and the damage are the same in both cases. To say that it is wholly reprehensible is to put it as modestly as one can.

Does the hon. Gentleman believe that those who purchase—that is to say, authors and journalists—should be prosecuted?

I have not considered that question. My opinion on it would have no influence, and I shall certainly not give one to the House now.

The difficulties that are being faced by the Government have been faced in the past by successive Governments, and, no doubt, will be faced by Governments in future unless something is done to prevent them. There are two prime causes of these difficulties. One difficulty is section 2 of the Official Secrets Act 1911 and the other is the fact that there is no oversight of the workings of the Security Service. As we all know, section 2 is perhaps the best example of an appalling piece of legislation. The Franks committee described it as a mess, and a mess it is. It said that people cannot be sure what it means, how it operates or what action under it is likely to bring a prosecution. The Franks committee also said that this piece of legislation ought to be repealed as soon as possible by the Government. With some comfort, I heard my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary say that, when the Australian case is completed, the Government will listen to suggestions. I hope that he will consider the repeal of this legislation.

The Security Commission, which looked at the Bettaney case, concluded that the Security Service was highly efficient, but the committee had heard evidence and was critical of the internal working of the Security Service. It has been said that it is doubtful that Michael Bettaney would have tried to turn to the KGB had he had the opportunity to consult somebody such as a complaints commissioner in the Security Service. It is unlikely—this must be a charitable view, if nothing else—that Miss Massiter would have used the media if she had been able to make her complaints to someone inside the Security Service. What is more, if there had been a complaints commissioner, the suspicions that had been aroused about Sir Roger Hollis—however cogent or mistaken they may have been—could have been investigated earlier and more convincingly if there had been a complaints commissioner.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, however much we might deplore the more recent actions of Mr. Peter Wright, at an earlier stage he sought to get attention to a memorandum from the Prime Minister and others in the Government, in an apparently desperate attempt to have some attention given to a problem which, clearly at that stage, was his main motivation, namely his suspicions about Sir Roger Hollis?

It may have been earlier, but I do not accept now that that is his main motivation. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). A person who has a genuine and serious complaint would have a better chance of resolving his difficulties and alleviating his anxieties if there was someone—say, a complaints commissioner—to help him.

I return to the heart of the debate. Should we have, as has been suggested, a joint committee, comprising Privy Councillors, with the power, ability and reliability to look at the Security Service? In 1985, in Committee on the Interception of Communications Bill, I submitted that there should be a complaints commissioner who would be a person who had held high office and on whom everyone could rely. I was grateful, and was given greater confidence in submitting that point, because I had the support of the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), a former Home Secretary, and the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan), a former Home Secretary and former Prime Minister.

The idea of using a committee of Privy Councillors or a Committee of both Houses to oversee—if that is the objective—the activities and internal workings of the Security Service does not commend itself to me. The fewer people, no matter how distinguished, who know secrets, the better. I suppose that the natural way of dealing with this matter would be for the Select Committee on Home Affairs to consider it. I hope that no one makes that suggestion, because it certainly would not bring forward an enthusiastic response from me. I submit that there is a possibility of using a committee of Privy Councillors.

There is oversight of the security services in the United States and Canada and I believe that it is beneficial. I suggest—the idea is not mine, but I wish that it were—that the committee of Privy Councillors could be sent to the United States, Canada and perhaps West Germany to see how the oversight systems work there. I hope that that idea commends itself to the Government, at the end of the Australian proceedings, as one that could be of assistance in deciding whether the principle of oversight by an ombudsman or complaints commissioner—I do not mind what he is called—is a good one or is flawed.

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman remember—we are on the same Select Committee—that when we decided to look into the activities of the special branch, critics made it known inside and, no doubt, outside the House that we were in some way undermining the security of the state? Although we differed in our conclusions, as shown in the majority and minority reports, does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that, following the first parliamentary scrutiny of the special branch, which worked closely with the intelligence service, no one has yet accused us of undermining the security of the state. Does that not prove that some kind of parliamentary accountability of the intelligence service would do no harm and would safeguard our democracy?

The hon. Gentleman knows, because we have considered this matter many times, that I approach that view with great caution. The difficulty associated with disclosing any such information to Parliament is formidable, to say the least. The proposition that we should discuss in open debate in the Parliament what goes on in the security services is totally unacceptable.

I hope that, after the Australian case is completed, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will consider the suggestions which have been brought forward. I put it to him that he should consider how oversight works in Canada and the United States, ascertain whether we can benefit from such a system in this country and stop these endless difficulties and anxieties which must be disastrous for the morale of the security services.

6.5 pm

I should like to follow the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Fylde (Sir E. Gardner) on his concept of a complaints commissioner. I believe that there is something that can be done in the short term without waiting for long-term solutions. In evidence to the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan) suggested that there was a powerful case for separating the posts of Cabinet Secretary and head of the Civil Service. It so happens that in oral question No. 6 tomorrow to the Prime Minister there is a substantial question on the Order Paper, which should be reached, asking her to do precisely that.

If the post of head of the Civil Service was separate from that of Cabinet Secretary, the head of the Civil Service would be a person to whom civil servants with their grievances—call them "deep throats" or whatever—could go. Had there been such a separation, the history of the Ponting episode might have been very different, because there would have been someone to whom Clive Ponting could legitimately have gone. He felt that he could not go to Sir Robert Armstrong. Sir Robert, in his evidence to the Select Committee on Defence, said that Clive Ponting should have gone to him, but, in the circumstances, that was a bit unrealistic.

If the rumours and signs are true that Sir Robert Armstrong is likely on his return from Australia, whenever that is, to resign of his own volition—simply because that might be an opportunity to do so and because of circumstances—there would be an opportunity to split the offices of Cabinet Secretary and head of the Civil Service for precisely the reasons given by the hon. and learned Member for Fylde.

I am glad that my party will not vote on the motion. Had it done so, I should have felt unable to support it in the Lobby. A Select Committee to consider this matter could be an absurdity and unworkable. Who is to be on the Select Committee? I should like to be on it, but I might not be the first choice of my colleagues! There would be endless grousing and grumbling and we would be in danger of having first-class and second-class Members of Parliament. My hon. Friends the Members for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) and for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) and I might be deemed by others to be second-class Members of Parliament, but I do not think that any of us sees himself exactly in that light.

There are difficulties as to who is to be on the Select Committee and whether they should sign a declaration under the Official Secrets Act 1911. It might involve raking up their pasts. It is a serious issue.

Of course it is.

The Leader of the House agrees that it is a serious issue. I am afraid that I am very conventional in these matters and believe that the proper way to control the security services is, for MI5, through the Home Office. For intelligence gathering—intelligence assessment is a different matter—MI6 should be controlled through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The real way to operate an effective control is to have powerful permanent secretaries of the calibre of Sir Charles Cunningham and Sir Philip Allen, now Lord Allen of Abbeydale, and to have number twos either in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office or in the Home Office who have a certain continuity in these matters. I do not have first-hand knowledge, but I suspect that there is no chance of controlling MI5 and MI6 unless there is a certain continuity. As ephemeral politicians how can we expect to have that control?

I should like to go back to the legitimate questions asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). My point relates to Lord Rothschild. There is no question of a witch hunt against Lord Rothschild. Let me make it perfectly clear that I do not think he is the fourth, fifth, or sixth man or anything of that kind. He has a reputation in Cambridge and elsewhere for great kindness to personal friends, a man for whom friendship is most important. But it has to be asked, because rich men do not normally behave lightly in these things, why on earth did Lord Rothschild think it necessary to send a first-class fare to bring Mr. Peter Wright to Britain?

A lot of people ask if Mr. Wright has in any way a hold on Lord Rothschild and that question must be asked. Further, one must ask, what precisely is the relationship in these matters between Lord Rothschild and the Prime Minister? Here we have over the public print that she went to him to ask for his advice or whatever. It does not bear directly on the Australian case, but it deserves to be cleared up. It happened rather before the Australian case, and the questions that my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton thought right to put deserve to be answered either tonight, or this week by letter.

The next issue I should like to raise is the Government policy of state burglary. It is accepted that five weeks before "There Trade is Treachery" was published there was a break-in at the office of Sidgwick and Jackson, the publishers of the book.

It is also accepted that a draft proof was stolen or purloined and that two or three days before publication there was a request from 10 Downing street for a copy of the book.

It is accepted that the publishers and Mr. Pincher said, "If we give you a copy of the book how can we be certain that you will not slap an injunction on it?" They were told, "We will give you a written guarantee within two hours that there will be no injunction." The publishers and Mr. Chapman asked, "How on earth can you give a guarantee if you have not read it?" They were told, "We have read it."

How did they get hold of the copy? Of course they could not go and tell the Attorney-General because he would have the sense to ask where they got the copy and would be an accessory after burglary. We are talking about state burglary and my hon. Friends and I and a number of other people want to know the exact Government policy on state burglary. If it was carried out without ministerial authority it raises the most acute questions of control. Are we saying that MI5, MI6 or whoever can go, for whatever reasons and pinch draft copies of books, however awkward they may be, without ministerial authority? Was there ministerial authority?

My next question is about the Attorney-General. I tried to raise a point of order and I think it was a substantial one. I remember that as a new Member of Parliament I saw the Law Officers Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller and Sir John Hobson being on the Front Bench the whole time when they had to face the music. I had a high regard for Sir John Hobson. He was an honourable man and, as the Leader of the House will remember, he thought it his duty to be present in the House for awkward matters.

I do not wish to prolong the hon. Gentleman's speech, but in fairness to my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General I must say that this motion is about the establishment of a commission and it is appropriate that the Home Secretary should respond to the debate and that I, as Leader of the House, should wind up. Of course my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General will take a keen interest in what has been said in the debate, but the hon. Gentleman is quite incorrect to say that the Attorney-General should assume that every hon. Member would speak as widely on the terms of the motion as he is doing.

If the Attorney-General takes such a keen interest, what better does he have to do than to be present for three hours in the House? This matter is a bit more than the amour propre of hon. Members. The Attorney-General is an honourable man and I believe that he would have wished to be here. Frankly, the conclusion that some of us draw is that he has been told to keep out of the light—[AN HON. MEMBER: "That is a silly point."]—It is not a silly point. It is a re-run of something else spoken about by my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton about what has happened over Westland. We must see these things in context.

I have repeatedly tried to ask the Prime Minister and others how the heck it comes about that the Attorney-General, our senior Law Officer, finds it necessary to go to the lengths of threatening Sir Robert Armstrong with action by the Director of Public Prosecutions or the police unless an inquiry into the Law Officer's letter was authorised.

It is not every day of the week that the constabulary threaten to go to 10 Downing street, and that at least deserves some explanation. My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) and other hon. Members smile at that, but the Law Officers threatened to go to 10 Downing street. This is not some fantasy of a fevered conspiratorial MP. Truth is stranger than fiction.

I listened to the speech by the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins). It may be within his recollection that I went to see him during the period of office of the first Wilson Government at a time when I was asking awkward questions about variable geometry aircraft on Aldabra atoll. I was being the proverbial bloody nuisance to my own Government. [HON. MEMBERS: "Never."] I asked why I thought that my lines of communication were being interfered with. He gave me a civil hearing but I should like to come back to his point. There is a difference between subversion and genuine political dissent.

As one of the regular dissenters in the House, I am in favour of a charter for proper dissenters. Dissension is very different from subversion. That is why some of us hope that if this Government do not, at least my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton and some of his colleagues will make jolly sure that the security services, which have a legitimate job to do, are brought under control in respect of political dissenters like me who are not a whit less patriotic than anyone else.

Before I call the next speaker, may I remind the House that a large number of other hon. Gentlemen wish to take part in this debate, and I appeal for short contributions.

6.18 pm

I shall certainly endeavour to follow your injunction, Mr. Speaker.

In many areas the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) is unconventional, but in this area he is conventional. I welcome that and his support, in essence, for the existing arrangements and his opposition to the motion. There is widespread agreement about the need for effective and efficient security services, although that agreement is not universal and, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, outside this House it has become conventional at a certain sophisticated level of commentators to ask why we need security services at all.

The reaction of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), with his sniggering and shallow quips, suggests that sympathy for the existence and objectives of the security services is questionable. However, I accept that basically there is widespread agreement on the need for effective security services, and the problem is therefore one of control. That is the longstanding problem in this as in every other democracy, and it is not one with which we can deal comfortably. However, it is important to recognise that the problem that faced our predecessors in 1945 is not the same as that which faces us now. Today's problem is very much more difficult.

The right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) suggested that the arrangements are not sustainable, and have not been sustainable for years. I suggest that he is looking in the wrong direction. The arrangements of 1945 and 1952 are very much more necessary today. The nature of today's threat is infinitely more sophisticated and more damaging. The challenges of subversion and political warfare represent a wider range of threats to our society. That is much more significant than the simple stealing of the odd secret and dropping it in a dead-letter box, as John Le Carré describes.

We must consider the mechanism involved. The mechanism has been investigated from the time of Attlee onwards. The Maxwell Fyfe rules were established, and as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary reminded us, these have been followed by successive Governments. We have heard today from four previous Home Secretaries and from the right hon. Member for Devonport, who moved the motion, who was a Foreign Secretary. At no time during their tenures of office did they suggest any significant changes to the arrangements.

As we have learnt, Lord Wilson of Rievaulx, as he now is, after he left office, made extraordinary complaints about what had happened during the first tenure of Home Secretaryship of the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins). The right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan), the then Prime Minister, completely failed to react, and told Lord Wilson that there were no problems at all. More light has now been thrown on that subject by the right hon. Member for Hillhead, who said that the action may not have been official, but perhaps it was unofficial.

There were certainly problems in the 1970s and they were problems for the Labour party. They are not today's problems. There are problems facing the administration of the security services and problems of recruitment. However, the right hon. Member for Devonport accepted that the problems with Prime and Bettaney would not have been avoided had a Security Commission existed. What on earth do the right hon. and hon. Members who have proposed the motion think that the commission will achieve? What mechanisms will be available? Those are the problems that face all security services from time to time.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that such a Committee, perhaps before, at the same time as, or at least after these events might have found out whether MI5 positively vetted its recruits?

Great progress has been made in security and positive vetting. It was not necessary to have an all-party Committee to achieve those aims. The improvements are in train, and I believe there are other areas where improvements can be made. The important point is that they could not have been achieved through a parliamentary Committee.

I believe that the importance of this subject is such that we must recognise that any dangers at this juncture of exposing our security services, through parliamentary scrutiny, are far greater than the dangers of the services getting out of control. I suggest that the House should take cognisance of the fact that nothing of significance in terms of a security threat to this country has actually happened. We are experiencing a re-run of the mistakes of 20, 30 and 40 years ago.

I invite the House to consider where the threat originates. To whose advantage is it to run and re-run, and run yet again, these tired old stories? It is not to this country's advantage or to the advantage of our security services. We must take account of that. We must also take account of what has been achieved by the appointment of the new director-general and consider what internal administrative improvements might be made to aid him. The very last thing that we wish to do is to make the mistake made by other countries and open up our security services. That would destroy them.

6.25 pm

I had not meant to intervene in the debate, because I feel feverish. However, I must tell the House that, as I have been successful in the ballot for notices of motions, I intend to raise these matters again in my debate a week on Monday and put in context the reasons why I have been campaigning so vigorously in a way which may have unsettled many hon. Members by putting so many names on the Order Paper. I will continue to do that in future.

There is one hon. Member in the Chamber today, who has not yet caught your eye, Mr. Speaker, who I believe can tell us much about this affair. He is the hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken), and he knows the truth. He knows what happened in 1980 and he knows about the involvement of Rothschild.

The hon. Member for Thanet, South wrote a letter to the Prime Minister in early 1980 of which I have seen a copy. That letter set out his reservations about the suggestions that had been made about Sir Roger Hollis, and called upon the Prime Minister to hold some inquiry, or at least to set out the position in the public domain. If I am mistaken about that, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will intervene and correct me. I believe that the Prime Minister recognised the difficulties that arose about Sir Roger Hollis by mid-1980. I believe that at that time she thought that it was in the best interests of the public that certain information should be available in the public domain.

At that time, it was not known that it would be Mr. Chapman Pincher's book that set out the nature of the accusation. I believe that the Prime Minister conspired to secure the publication of that book. I accept that many hon. Members will say that there is no evidence of that, but it is interesting that in a speech on 26 March 1981 the right hon. Lady said:
"With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement about the security implications of the book published today that purports to give a detailed account of the investigations into the penetration of the Security Service."—[Official Report, 26 March 1981; Vol. 1, c. 1079.]
I believe that the Prime Minister knew that the book was coming out. She waited for it and the moment that it was published, she came to Parliament to make a statement. She incriminated herself in that statement, which is only relevant today—some five and a half years later—when we are faced with the crisis in the court in New South Wales.

I would like to consider what really happened. Why was no action brought in the courts to prevent publication of that book? As I understand it, two options were open to the Government. They could have brought an action by way of civil proceedings in the courts to secure an injunction to prevent the publication of the book. My hon. Friends have argued that because it was in the public interest to take such a decision, that decision should have been taken by the Attorney-General. In that respect, he failed. However, he had another responsibility, irrespective of any views expressed by members of the Cabinet in 1981. He was able to bring a criminal prosecution in the courts. Even if all the British Cabinet felt that no action should be taken to stop publication of that book, if he believed—wearing his hat as Attorney-General—that the book broke the law because it included statements clearly drawn in default of section 1 of the Official Secrets Act 1911, he had an obligation to bring criminal proceedings in the courts. I do not understand how the Attorney-General can come to the Dispatch Box——

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I must draw his attention to the motion before the House. I should have thought that his comments would be more appropriate to his own motion at a later date.

You are absolutely right, Mr. Speaker. I will go into the matter in more detail on that occasion.

The thrust of today's motion is that a parliamentary Committee of both Houses should be established to oversee these matters. That is an excellent proposition and there is a precedent for it in the Committee of Privileges. That Committee is composed of senior Members of the House, many but not all of whom are Privy Councillors, who are bound by an unwritten loyalty whereby they never produce minority reports. On leaving the Committee, they never dissent from the majority view taken by the Committee and the deliberations of the Committee are never known, apart from those published in the evidence attached to its reports. In my view, that Committee shows the way in which a group of Members of Parliament of all political persuasions, working together in what they believe to be the wider interests of Parliament, could seek to secure the fullest possible consideration of these matters.

My hon. Friend and I do not agree on this. A similar system operates in the German Parliament and in Canada. As the hon. and learned Member for Fylde (Sir E. Gardner) said, some Members—not particularly myself—may wish to visit other countries to see how the system works there.

The difference between my hon. Friend and me is that I have been before the Committee of Privileges and he has not.

My hon. Friend may not be satisfied with the treatment that he received, but he will not know what other matters were dealt with or what other statements were given to the Committee when he was the subject of its inquiries. Some of us have confidence in that Committee's ability to take a view and I believe that it points the way forward in dealing with these matters. We cannot continue on the basis of accountability to the Home Secretary because we know from Mr. Wright, who was directly involved in a campaign to destabilise the office of the Prime Minister in the mid-1970s, that actions can be taken which are against the national interest. I wish to ensure a system whereby parliamentary control and scrutiny are exercised, because the present system of accountability clearly does not work.

6.32 pm

I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), but I shall not be led into some of the highways and byways that he seemed to suggest—although we all look forward to his debate in a few days' time to discuss those points which are perhaps more appropriate to a different motion. I simply say this by way of correction. My letter to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, to which the hon. Gentleman referred and which has been in the public domain since publication of Mr. Chapman Pincher's book, refers neither to Lord Rothschild nor to Mr. Peter Wright—at that time I had no knowledge of the roles that they played—although it refers to certain suggestions in relation to Sir Roger Hollis.

The hon. Gentleman's speech highlighted a difficulty which has bedevilled this debate. It is a pity that the idea of some form of oversight of the security services, which is sensible in principle, should be introduced on the Floor of the House at a time when there is so much hysterical and highly politicised froth about on the subject of the Wright case. I was, however, encouraged by one comment made by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, when he said that the House might wish to return to these issues in a calmer atmosphere. In some circumstances, a nod is as good as a wink in this place and I believe that the deeper subject of oversight should indeed be the subject of our attention.

There is no getting away from the fact that we are dealing with two issues which have become jumbled together. One is the short-term issue of concern about the Australian court case. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was clearly right not to answer detailed questions about that today, as the Government are still a party to the case. The other is the long-term question—so long-term that it has been around for centuries—of who will guard the guards.

With regard to the Wright case, I believe that the Government were entirely correct in seeking to restrain security services personnel from publishing secrets in memoirs or giving them to journalists. That was an honourable and desirable objective and I support the Government in it. I fully understand their intention in principle in seeking to do that. Unfortunately, however, the tactics to secure that objective have gone badly wrong, due to a series of misjudgments and human errors. Frankly, they have created a shambles. The right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) called it a "farce" and I do not disagree with that description.

The Government's tactics, of which I have already been critical, remind me of an old strip cartoon in Punch. It begins with a rather unpleasant wasp invading a family picnic. The next picture shows the father seizing an umbrella and striking out in all directions. With a hail of inaccurate blows, he breaks the china, tramples the food, smashes the bottles and injures his children. As the wasp buzzes away, he stands among the mayhem and destruction that he has created saying, "At least that will teach the wasp a lesson."

That view of the Government's tactics is not entirely unfair. As a result of perfectly honourable but misguided tactics, far more damage has been done to the morale and reputation of our security services and to the keeping of their secrets than publication of Mr. Wright's odious book could ever have done, especially if cuts could have been agreed with the publishers Heinemann, in the national interest on grounds of current security.

The principle for which Britain has been fighting in the Australian courts is a good one, but that simple theoretical principle has been undermined in practice by Murphy's law, which I suspect will shortly be renamed "Armstrong's law" in Australian legal circles—that anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Indeed, so much has gone wrong that there is really only one question left for the Government. How will it all end? How can the Government get off the hook?

Even if Britain wins the Australian case—I venture to suggest that the chances of winning on appeal in the High Court of Canberra are better than many journalistic observers seem to think—the stable door will still not be shut. The Wright case has become such a worldwide cause celebre that the book will almost certainly be published, perhaps in Ireland where there seems still to be a loophole, or in some pirate version using back-street printers in any one of a dozen locations in the world which go in for black and untraceable publishing.

My advice to the Government, therefore, is to cut their losses even though it hurts and to get into damage limitation and damage control. We should draw a line around the historical revelations relating to Sir Roger Hollis and look to the future to do what we can to secure the confidentiality of security services personnel by instituting new contracts of employment which are binding in all courts and jurisdictions and possibly retrospective agreements about the terms on which retired members of the security services receive their pensions. It means a political climbdown, but it is a step up in terms of preserving future security arrangements for the security services, the operations of which are so crucial and vital to us all.

I am sympathetic to the motion before the House. Indeed, I could hardly be otherwise, as I believe that I was the first Member to argue in the House for such a proposal during the Blunt debate in 1979.

When did the hon. Gentleman last speak to Mr. Turnbull?

I am glad to have the opportunity to answer that question because it has been posed several times during the debate from sedentary positions, especially by the hon. Member for Workington.

The facts of the matter need be of no mystery, and they are as follows. Mr. Turnbull has had three telephone conversations with me in the last year. All three calls were placed at his instigation and the last call, which was made the day before yesterday, concerned a simple apology about something Mr. Turnbull had said in court about me, which was totally inaccurate. The other two conversations were, in effect, what is now well known—offers of terms of a possible deal for settling this case. I passed on those facts, in detail, to the Attorney-General.

All that I can say—as I am neither a Privy Councillor nor a Leader of the Opposition, and have been a friend of Mr. Turnbull's family for over 20 years—is that, granted that I did put everything down on paper about the two vital conversations in the memorandum to the Attorney-General, I cannot see that I have anything with which to reproach myself.

The timing of the motion is wrong, and some of the detailed arrangements—and in the speech of the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) they were left pretty blurred—are wrong. Leaving aside the method of oversight, it is right to introduce the principle of oversight of our Security Service. That welcome move would be likely to make our Security Service more, rather than less, effective.

An oversight body would be a confidential institutional replacement for what are, at present, highly personalised and individual oversight arrangements that basically rely on the personal chemistry and working methods between the Cabinet Secretary, the director-general of the Security Service and the Home Secretary. I have some confidence that those personal arrangements work well at present and that the present director-general is an exceptionally good appointment, but those arrangements have not worked so well in the past, especially in the recent past, and there is no guarantee that they will work well in the future.

The House should reflect on two episodes in recent security history and question whether they would have been better handled if an oversight body had existed. The first episode related to the long-running Hollis saga. That threw up deep divisions within MI5. A group of security officers known as the young Turks—a rather silvery-haired collection of old gentlemen these days—became deeply concerned about Soviet penetration, or alleged penetration, of MI5 at the highest level. They very much wished to bring those matters to the attention of the highest levels of the Security Service, but they had great difficulty in doing so because they believed those high levels had been penetrated.

It is wrong to portray the young Turks as obsessional old crackpots, even though one or two, especially Mr. Peter Wright, may merit that description. Some of the members of that group are deeply patriotic, highly professional security specialists who have never gone public. All they ever wanted was the chance to go to some authoritative body, other than the upper echelons of MI5, which would consider their complaint. The young Turks felt that they could not get that fair hearing because the upper echelons were, in their view, contaminated.

An extraordinary anecdote has now been published about a Mr. De Mowbray who was so burning to get his case across, that he knocked on the door of No. 10, saw a relative of his by marriage, and as a result of that was given a chance of a hearing by the Cabinet Secretary. The result of that meeting was that the Trend report eventually emerged.

If there had been a confidential outfit and forum to which those men could have gone and which would have listened to their troubles, we would never had had any of the breaches and leaks that we have had from the young Turks.

The more recent episode, the Bettaney case, preoccupied the minds of the Security Commission in May 1985. That case revealed a truly horrifying saga of personnel mismanagement in MI5. The story of how Mr. Bettaney was recruited—despite an appalling history of instability, repeated drunkenness—on one occasion he set fire to his own clothes—minor criminal offences and in the middle of his service an idealogical conversion to Communism—approved, positively vetted, positively vetted again, promoted and eventually sent to one of MI5's most sensitive outstations dealing with Soviet subversion is a mind-boggling tale. All those defects occurred at a time when top civil servants and Ministers were supposed to be exercising vigilant oversight and tight control of MI5. Obviously, they missed something. Who on earth could say that control was adequate at the time of the Bettaney case, which was only a couple of years ago?

The Bettaney case was not just a failure of individuals, but a failure of systems, procedures, and basic man management. In the restrained prose style of the May 1985 report of the Security Commission, those failings were savagely criticised. Paragraph 8.3 states:
"If it is true that the Service tends to be inflexible and resistant to change in management matters this will no doubt take time to eradicate. The necessary changes will take time to have the full effect and will be achieved only by a determined effort at the top."
I believe that that determined effort at the top has taken place with the appointment of an excellent man from outside the Security Service to become director-general.

My basic concern is that, once the impetus derived from the Security Commission report has receded and after the present director-general has retired, the old ethos, the old introspective bad habits and the self-interest of the Security Service will reassert itself. That cannot be avoided unless some new institutionalised safeguard is created. The safeguard for which I hope is that this country will, sooner or later, follow the example of all other major western democracies, especially West Germany and Canada, and set up a small, secure, oversight body to monitor the work of the intelligence community in a far more thorough way than busy Ministers have time to do.

Even if the idea is not especially well defined or crystallised in the alliance motion, the time for oversight of the security services has come. I urge the House and the Home Secretary to give it serious consideration, perhaps at a more appropriate time than today.

6.46 pm

The hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) must be congratulated on being the only Conservative Member to have shown less complacency than either the Government Front Bench or other Conservative Back Benchers. The hon. Gentleman is known to favour—he has previously stated this—there being some parliamentary accountability of the Security Service. Although I have many reservations about the motion that has been tabled by the Liberal and Social Democratic parties, I have no time for the Government's amendment, which simply reiterates their confidence in the Security Service and its responsibility to Ministers.

I do not believe that the Security Service is as politically neutral as it should be. It is interesting to remember the remarks of the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins), who was Home Secretary during part of the 1970s, concerning the possibility of the Security Service acting in a way that was totally irresponsible and, indeed, criminal. I would think that that was of some relevance.

I became interested in the subject mainly because of the case of Mrs. Haigh, who lives in the west midlands, though not in my constituency. She makes no secret of the fact that she is active in CND. She writes frequent letters to the local press, to the Ministry of Defence, and so on. It came out that Mrs. Haigh was lied to by the special branch of the police. It was a disgraceful case. Her Member of Parliament is the Secretary of State for Social Services, and it must be said to his credit that he did take up the case with the police. His initial reply from the previous chief constable of west midlands was along the lines that Mrs. Haigh was wrong. It was only as a result of that lady's persistence and the fact that the case was taken up again by the right hon. Gentleman that the chief constable admitted that the police had lied to Mrs. Haigh. Some kind of apology, for what it was worth, was given to her.

I believe that the Mrs. Haighs of this world, whether one agrees with their politics or not, are the mainstay of our democratic system. It is those who lied to her and those who put up the special branch to do so who are undermining our democratic system. That point should be borne in mind.

Inevitably, there has been a great deal of comment in the press and within the House concerning the case in Australia, but I wish also to comment on the case in Dublin. The lady who wrote the book "One Girl's War" died, I believe, two years ago. I understand that there is little in the book that has not been public knowledge for some time. It does that lady's reputation no good to give the impression that, having served her country and carried out her duties during the war years, she has betrayed her country by writing that book.

I repeat what I said during to Home Secretary's speech, that I am very pleased by the decision of the Dublin court. I certainly find it difficult to believe that the publication of that book in Ireland—I hope it will be published in due course in Britain—in any way undermines our national security. Perhaps we can have some evidence that the publication of that book is harmful to Britain's national interests. What is harmful to that interest is the way in which that case was pursued in Ireland, not to mention the long-running farce in Australia.

There may be an argument, for what it is worth, that if we paid decent pensions to some MI5 officials they would not be so keen to spill the beans. I am certainly not the defender or apologist of Mr. Wright. I doubt whether his politics are the same as mine. His motive for writing the book is indeed questionable. However, the sense in pursuing him and undertaking what is now happening in Australia is a different matter.

It must also be asked why the Cabinet Secretary initially told the Australian court that the Attorney-General had been involved in the decision five years ago over the book "Their Trade is Treachery". Surely the Cabinet Secretary of all people would know what the position was. Therefore, one must inevitably ask whether the Prime Minister put the Cabinet Secretary up to say that and to use the Attorney-General in the same way as she undoubtedly used the Solicitor-General during the Westland affair. For a Prime Minister who has always emphasised the need to respect the rule of law, she has not shown much respect this year for her Law Officers.

I do not go along with the wording of the motion, but it would be churlish of me if I omitted to say that the subject is worth while. Clearly, the interest that has been shown today demonstrates that it is a worthwhile subject to pursue, and my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) will in one way or another raise the matter again on Monday week.

It has been suggested that only Privy Councillors should sit on such a committee. I agree with the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) that some day such a committee will be formed. No one knows when, but that kind of reform will undoubtedly come. It would be unfortunate if the impression were given, however, that the only Members of the House whose patriotism could be totally relied on were Privy Councillors. I do not question their loyalty or patriotism, but what about the rest of us? Is it suggested that those of us who are proud to hold Left-wing views are somehow disloyal, that we have an affinity to a foreign state, or that we believe that the Soviet state is somehow superior to the British democratic system? Are we the likes of Burgess, Maclean, Philby and Blunt who served in the intelligence services and betrayed their country?

We must get away from the unfortunate notion that if such a committee is formed, only Privy Councillors should be members. The time will come when such a committee will be formed to oversee the security services, and in my view its membership should be widespread and representative of the House as a whole.

6.53 pm

I am delighted to be called and shall be as brief as possible. I was delighted to hear my right hon. Friend say that there will be a move—I hope not in the far distant future—to follow up the commitment in the 1970 Conservative election manifesto to reform the Official Secrets Act. I also remind the House that in his report Franks said that the OSA catches people who have no thought of harming their country. When we talk of traitors we should also think of the many men and women who throughout their lives have served their country quietly and in secrecy, and whose loyalty is often the only defence of their own lives.

A real problem in relation to our security services is in the control of those services. The management standards that have been practised over the last 40 years are not sufficient for the protection of the country, and under the present system we have the seepage of people such as Peter Wright who blandly and blithely destroy obligations that they incurred and for which they have a responsibility, not only to themselves but to others who served with them.

During the past 40 years there have been incidents such as the defection of Gouzenko and the failure of Hollis to identify who Elli was. There was the failure of Hollis to discover why the man he sent to Istanbul to interview a prime Soviet defector—that man was Philby—did not do his job properly. There is also the question of why Hollis stopped investigations into who was the top Soviet spy in his own Department. All these things should have been picked up by some form of oversight, and given such repeated incidents over the past 30 or 40 years, surely this Parliament would want a control of management standards that did not allow such events to arise again.

We are repeatedly assured that it will not happen again, but it does. In the 1970s there was the case of Mr. Jock Kane of GCHQ. I was assured that with all his patriotism, which practically cost him his job, he would be looked after and that there would be no more problems. But out of the woodwork popped Mr. Prime. He was followed by Mr. Bettaney, on whom the second positive vetting was not even completed. Repeatedly, none of the management standards are sufficient for the ordinary rank and file of the security services to believe that they are there for their protection.

There seems to be a confusion in the security services about what is secrecy and what is security. It is absolutely essential that secrecy is maintained for things that are secret, but it must not be used to protect failings in management standards. Without doubt there is no merit in a Security Commission that has no teeth. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, it does not monitor the Security Services. There is a need for audit, and I hope that it will not be long delayed.

6.56 pm

The real problem of parliamentary or some other form of oversight is that it might impinge on the operational capacity of the security services. I for one agree that we cannot underestimate the importance of the work of the Security Service. We live in deeply troubled times, and its work is crucial.

At the same time it is true that we as Members of Parliament put a great burden of trust for the safeguarding of national security upon the Prime Minister and Home Secretary of the day, but all previous Administrations have resisted the prospect of oversight for the security services. In my view that has proved to have been a mistake, and on re-reading the report of the Security Commission, I really believe that certain areas should be far more closely supervised. As the Security Commission said:
"The very fact of the services comparative isolation makes it the more important that those responsible at the higher levels for management should maintain a self-critical attitude and be constantly alert to the need to keep the services organisation, practices and procedures under review."
Who is to audit to our satisfaction and the satisfaction of this House the progress or otherwise of the security services? No other institution of the state is subject to so little accountability. History and some recent events have proved that we have an unsatisfactory state of affairs.

In the last few days I have become convinced that a Parliamentary Select Committee is not the right answer. That is the fault of this House because of the absolute incapacity of hon. Members to maintain discretion and secrecy. We require a major effort of political will to devise a system that will provide proper accountability without damaging the operational effectiveness of the intelligence services. I believe that we should reconstitute the Security Commission from a body of hindsight to a body of oversight.

That would have a number of important advantages for the employees of the security services. First, the Security Commission is a body of impeccable standing with which the services are already familiar. Secondly, by having some measure of oversight the Security Commission would be able to look at the terms and conditions of employment and would quite probably recommend improvements and changes that would certainly have dealt with Wright. Thirdly, greater political control and more openness would mean fewer leaks and the better stewardship of those secrets that really matter. The most important point is that the Government must decide which of our secrets must be kept and then ensure that they are guarded like a tiger's cubs.

The integrity of our voice abroad and the relationships sustained by the quality of some of our intelligence is of great value to Britain. The emotional security and political stability of the United Kingdom entitle us to an intelligence service in which we can repose great trust. That trust has recently been wounded seriously several times to the great detriment of the service and the nation. For that reason, we should consider extending and redefining the brief of the Security Commission. Is it really satisfactory, in the age of electronic intelligence, that a directive issued in 1952 is seen to be the best way of running the security services in the 1980s?

The entire process of Government in Britain is shrouded in far too much secrecy. Reforms such as those proposed today would be an important step forward. The Government should ponder this matter. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have been encouraged by what the Home Secretary has said. The Government should consider how they can best ensure the genuine accountability of this crucial service. The morale and efficiency of the Security Service of the late 1980s and onwards will depend on how we in the House reconcile accountability with security. I shall support the Government on this matter, but with some reluctance. I have confidence, but not full confidence, in the present arrangements.

7.1 pm

Since my right hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) opened the debate, we have had ample demonstration of the interest in the subject and of the genuine concern about proper accountability for our security services. The motion has received some welcome support among Conservative Members, from the hon. and learned Member for Fylde (Sir E. Gardner), from the hon. Members for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) and for Hastings and Rye (Mr. Warren), and qualified support from the hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames), and from Labour Members such as the hon. Members for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) and for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), but of course the debate has taken place against the background of events unfolded day by day in an Australian courtroom with scenes reminiscent of "Yes, Minister", which were the subject of contributions from many hon. and right hon. Members.

The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), in his best Perry Mason style, went into all this at some length. He seemed to fancy himself in the Australian courtroom for some of the time. Unfortunately, he did not address himself sufficiently to the issue in the motion. Where do we go from here? How do we ensure that there is adequate oversight of our security services?

The right hon. Gentleman was followed in debating the issues of the Australian court case by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), the hon. Members for Workington and for Walsall, North and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins), who drew wider lessons and pointed to the unwelcome absence of the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General. I stand by the view that although the motion is not primarily directed at them, they should have been here, because they must have known to what extent matters concerning them would be raised in the debate.

In a thoughtful speech at the beginning of the debate the Home Secretary said that the issue was one to which we could return in quieter times. That was seized upon and welcomed by some of his hon. Friends. The trouble with quieter times is that they usually do not provide the impetus for reform. They provide reassurance, which is often shattered again as soon as another case comes forward.

In 1979 I argued the case for oversight of the security services, as did the hon. Member for Thanet, South. The Liberal party has argued for that since then and has published documents on the subject, and other hon. Members have shown increasing interest in it, but it usually takes some case—some cause celebre—to raise the level of interest to the point at which people can be persuaded to re-examine it. We must carry forward the impetus that arises in troubled times if any reforms are to be achieved in quiet times.

I hope that it has been common ground in the debate that we need security services and that the work that they do is vital, especially, for example, in the prevention of terrorism and the prevention of attacks upon innocent citizens in this country. I hope that it has been common ground among most hon. Members who have spoken that the Government have reason to be worried about leaking, book publishing and the supply of material for books by ex-officers of the security services. The Government have great legal difficulty in establishing a proper basis on which to protect themselves against those breaches of confidentiality, as the recent cases have proved. It is a problem, and the Government are right to be worried about it.

However, the Government have weakened their argument on the matter, first, by excessive secrecy, to which many Members on both sides of the House referred. We keep too many things secret. It remains an absurdity that the Home Secretary should open this debate and deliberately avoid any reference to MI6, the intelligence service, and to the Foreign Secretary's responsibility for it. He studiously avoided any reference at all to it, although other hon. Members referred to it several times during the debate. Why should we pretend for a moment that we do not have, and do not need, reputable intelligence services doing a proper job and responsible to the Foreign Secretary? That is an absurd pretence. To seek to maintain it makes nonsense of the case that the Government advance for the things that we must keep secret, as they have sought to do in various court cases.

The Government weakened their case also by selective prosecution, as was argued earlier in the debate, and by seeking to distinguish between officers who write books and those who supply material for other people's books, even with payment. That distinction does not stand up and it has weakened the Government's case. Most germane to the motion, the Government have weakened their case by their failure to provide an alternative route for grievances. That was the burden of the comments made by the hon. and learned Member for Fylde, and it was echoed by other hon. Members.

I questioned the Home Secretary on the internal mechanism for officers who have a grievance and a sense that something is going wrong. It appeared that even that problem has not yet been resolved and is still under discussion. But we need more than that. We need some external mechanism by which we can be satisfied with the operation of the security services. The present arrangements are a source of real frustration and they have allowed incompetence to operate. They have allowed treachery and penetration of the services and left wide open the possibility for illegal and unauthorised operations to take place.

Many long-serving, loyal officers in the security services are as frustrated by this position as is anyone who makes such comments from outside the service. The anxiety to do something about those matters is as great among people who know and are experienced in the services as it is among outside critics. There are needs which must be satisfied. There is a need for greater confidence and public support for the work that the security services are doing, a legitimate avenue for grievances and a chance for the security services to get their problems understood. As the Liaison Committee said when it argued that Select Committees of the House have a right to enter that area, if they exercise that right, they give the security services an opportunity to put the record straight.

The right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) and the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) asked what a commission such as we propose could do. It should not, of course, exercise operational control of the security services, any more than Ministers are supposed to do. That would be quite wrong. However, it could exercise oversight. I am sure that both those Members understand the distinction between oversight and operational control. It can carry on the work of the Security Commission, in which there is now no continuity, as the Home Secretary pointed out. There is no follow-on from a recommendation of the Security Commission in terms of a continuing interest by the same body in those issues, unless it is referred to again in a subsequent case.

There is plenty of scope; and the Select Committees of the House provide illustrations of the areas where the commission can operate, although they do not provide a model. The existing work of the Select Committees clearly cannot be the exact model for a body that must operate in a much more restricted way. In his speech the Home Secretary proposed three tests: that the machinery should be able to maintain secrecy, that it should be able to maintain public confidence, and that it should not blunt the responsibility of Ministers. The procedure that we are suggesting can pass all those tests. The Home Secretary asked whether such a body should go inside the boundary line of secrecy. Of course it should, as the special Franks Commission on the Falklands did. It had to go inside that boundary line. It was allowed to do so and it was essential to its work.

It cannot conceivably be claimed that our allies would be unable to co-operate with our security services if they had such a mechanism. Our allies have analogous mechanisms to these. Congress is used to such a system. The Canadians are developing their own system. Oversight is accepted as a part of life by our allies.

We have tabled a motion, and there is a Government amendment. It is a pity that the Labour party did not come out in full support or indeed give a clear sign of what it will do. If Labour Members have been recommended to abstain, as I believe they have, that is a mistake. They should come out in support of a proposition which several Labour Members have said they would like to see be put into operation.

I am concerned with the amendment, which states:
"That this House has full confidence in the present arrangements whereby the Security Service is responsible to Ministers."
Those are very complacent words. They might have been feasible in a world in which we had never had Burgess, Maclean, Philby, Blunt, Long, Bettaney or Prime. They might have been reasonable in a world in which Prime Ministers had not been set before the Dispatch Box and briefed to make statements which they subsequently found to be false or misleading through no fault of their own. That happened not only to the Earl of Stockton, but to the present Prime Minister.

There is now wide recognition that the arrangements currently in operation are insufficient. The crucial point is that accountability to Ministers depends on the accountability of Ministers to Parliament. Whether Ministers ask questions about a matter for which they are responsible is frequently related to the extent to which they will themselves be asked questions about it, and the extent to which they are aware that the matters will be probed by someone else. In security matters, it cannot be the case that those questions will flow in detail day after day on the Floor of the House. We must provide another mechanism by which we give a parliamentary buttress to ministerial responsibility. That is the purpose of the commission that we have proposed.

The Prime Minister has as good a reason as anyone to know the need for change. She has been placed before the Dispatch Box with a misleading brief and been invited to put it before the House. She should have been here to listen to the debate. Now is the time to abandon her extraordinary and cherished doctrine that one should never learn from experience. That is one of the most mistaken doctrines upon which her activities are based. She has had enough experience of these matters to know that change is necessary. We have put before the House a motion designed to secure that change, and I invite hon. Members to support it.

7.11 pm

It is only on rare occasions that the House discusses security matters, as will be well understood. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) reminded us of the reasons why we should be reticent in these affairs. However, at the outset, although I have no wish to diminish party controversy, I should say that the House should appreciate the way in which the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) introduced the debate and the terms of the motion. It suggests that we should concentrate upon an important, but restricted view of the organisation of our defence services and that we should avoid some of the more exotic distractions that come from Sydney, New South Wales.

The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), who has explained why he cannot be here for my reply—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"] He has explained with total courtesy why he cannot be here. I can best characterise his speech in as Delphic a fashion as possible, by saying that it was characteristic.

The right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins), in a totally different manner—indeed, a most elegant manner—tried to widen the debate by talking not merely about the organisation of the security services but about whether their terms of reference were appropriate in contemporary circumstances.

I shall confine myself more narrowly to a consideration of the proposition that a joint Committee of both Houses, to be known as the Special Commission on the Security Services, should be appointed. In doing so, I must follow the course of the debate, which has revealed twin principles and the challenge that they represent. The first was elaborated by the right hon. Member for Devonport. He said that we must have effective security services and that, in so doing, we should realise that it necesitates secrecy.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary elaborated on that point, when he talked of the barrier of secrecy which must cocoon those who lie at the centre of and are responsible for the direction of this activity of utmost national importance. Parallel with that principle is the desire for parliamentary accountability which will be exercised in such a way as not to impair the working efficiency of security services.

Those two broad principles, which will be entertained throughout the House, cannot be held easily in parallel application. Indeed, much of the debate has concerned the challenge of reconciling those propositions.

Several hon. Members were not slow to identify the difficulties with the membership of the proposed body. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) observed trenchantly that it would be unwise to place too great a premium upon Privy Councillors in these affairs, and he was joined in that agnosticism by the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick). My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fylde (Sir E. Gardner) thought that the proposed commission was inappropriate, but that we should have a complaints commission. My right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion, (Mr. Amery), in a most impressive and formidable speech, elaborated on the difficulties of proliferating committees and bodies in this area and, above all, on the importance of those who must carry out the work of the security services believing that there would not be an excess of ill-determined oversight.

Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the question of agnosticism, may I remind him of the specific question that was asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and me, about why Lord Rothschild should invite Mr. Peter Wright to write a book, and specifically about dealings between the Prime Minister and Lord Rothschild. Would the right hon. Gentleman care to answer that question?

I heard the question from the Front Bench and from the Back Bench and I quite understood it. It bore a clear relationship to the proceedings in Sydney, New South Wales, and on that basis I am not prepared to make any further observations.

May I return to the debate? I have elaborated, I hope reasonably fairly, on the support for and the reservations that have been expressed about the membership of the commission. I ask the House to share with me some philosophic considerations of how such a body might operate. First, would the proposed commission share the inhibitions of secrecy that restrict the Government in such matters? I understand from the right hon. Member for Devonport that that is the intention. In that case, the commission would lie within the cocoon of secrecy, which would cast some doubts on whether it could reassure the House and, more importantly, the general political processes more effectively than they are reassured under the present system. That is the first practical consideration.

Of course, there is the reverse consideration, that the commission would not share with the Government the advantages and the inhibitions of secrecy. In that case, we would be anxious about the extent to which it could judge and monitor the execution of policy in this area.

Those are some philosophic doubts about the proposition contained in the motion. I shall put to the House one practical consideration. Although the motion carefully does not mention departmental Select Committees, the concept of such Committees has been mentioned during the debate. The right hon. Member for Devonport used the concept of the Select Committees on Foreign Affairs and Defence when he intervened to say how we might fashion our security arrangements.

What I say about the operation of Committees that rely for their authority on their ability to send for persons and papers is that we have a long-established practice that civil servants who appear before those Committees do not divulge advice given to Ministers. Are we to believe that this committee, given its unique responsibility, will proceed with that long-established function? Or, do we think that the Committee will want it modified? If it wants the function modified, it will be entering into the field of directly sharing that function with those who currently have the executive responsibility for those services. Far from bringing clarity to the situation, that runs the danger of bringing confusion.

The House has had a good chance to listen to the debate and I am the only speaker to lie between the House and the denouement of Liberal defence policy that is to follow.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made a fair and measured speech—[Interruption.]—in which he gave the compelling exposition that has so discomfited the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes). We know perfectly well that he will adopt the heroic stance of abstention.

This is a serious and challenging problem and we have debated it in a mature fashion this afternoon, but we are correct to believe that it will be a continuing debate.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 24, Noes 232.

Division No. 18]

[7.20 pm

AYES

Ashdown, PaddyOwen, Rt Hon Dr David
Beith, A. J.Penhaligon, David
Bruce, MalcolmRoss, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Campbell-Savours, DaleShields, Mrs Elizabeth
Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)Steel, Rt Hon David
Freud, ClementThomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Hancock, MichaelWainwright, R.
Howells, GeraintWallace, James
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)Wigley, Dafydd
Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Hillh'd)Wrigglesworth, Ian
Kennedy, Charles
Kirkwood, ArchyTellers for the Ayes:
Livsey, RichardMr. David Alton and
Meadowcroft, MichaelMr. John Cartwright.

NOES

Adley, RobertBaker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y)
Aitken, JonathanBaker, Nicholas (Dorset N)
Alexander, RichardBaldry, Tony
Alison, Rt Hon MichaelBatiste, Spencer
Amery, Rt Hon JulianBeaumont-Dark, Anthony
Ancram, MichaelBellingham, Henry
Ashby, DavidBest, Keith
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)Bevan, David Gilroy
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)Biffen, Rt Hon John

Biggs-Davison, Sir JohnHayes, J.
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir PeterHayward, Robert
Body, Sir RichardHeath, Rt Hon Edward
Boscawen, Hon RobertHeathcoat-Amory, David
Bottomley, PeterHeddle, John
Bottomley, Mrs VirginiaHenderson, Barry
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n)Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)Hickmet, Richard
Brandon-Bravo, MartinHicks, Robert
Bright, GrahamHind, Kenneth
Brinton, TimHolland, Sir Philip (Gedling)
Brooke, Hon PeterHolt, Richard
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)Howard, Michael
Browne, JohnHowarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)
Bruinvels, PeterHowarth, Gerald (Cannock)
Bryan, Sir PaulHubbard-Miles, Peter
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A.Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Buck, Sir AntonyHunter, Andrew
Budgen, NickHurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Butcher, JohnIrving, Charles
Butler, Rt Hon Sir AdamJackson, Robert
Butterfill, JohnJenkin, Rt Hon Patrick
Carlisle, John (Luton N)Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Jones, Robert (Herts W)
Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S)Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine
Carttiss, MichaelKey, Robert
Cash, WilliamKing, Rt Hon Tom
Chalker, Mrs LyndaKnight, Greg (Derby N)
Chapman, SydneyKnowles, Michael
Chope, ChristopherKnox, David
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n)Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)Lang, Ian
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)Latham, Michael
Colvin, MichaelLawler, Geoffrey
Conway, DerekLawrence, Ivan
Coombs, SimonLee, John (Pendle)
Cope, JohnLennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Cormack, PatrickLewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)
Couchman, JamesLightbown, David
Cranborne, ViscountLilley, Peter
Currie, Mrs EdwinaLloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Dickens, GeoffreyLloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Dorrell, StephenLord, Michael
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.Macfarlane, Neil
du Cann, Rt Hon Sir EdwardMacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)
Dunn, RobertMcLoughlin, Patrick
Dykes, HughMcQuarrie, Albert
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)Madel, David
Evennett, DavidMalone, Gerald
Fairbairn, NicholasMarland, Paul
Fallon, MichaelMarlow, Antony
Farr, Sir JohnMather, Carol
Fletcher, AlexanderMellor, David
Fookes, Miss JanetMills, Iain (Meriden)
Forsyth Michael (Stirling)Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)
Franks, CecilNeale, Gerrard
Fraser, Peter (Angus East)Nelson, Anthony
Freeman, RogerNeubert, Michael
Gale, RogerNewton, Tony
Gardiner, George (Reigate)Normanton, Tom
Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)Norris, Steven
Garel-Jones, TristanPage, Richard (Herts SW)
Glyn, Dr AlanParkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
Goodhart, Sir PhilipPollock, Alexander
Goodlad, AlastairPortillo, Michael
Gorst, JohnPowley, John
Greenway, HarryPrice, Sir David
Gregory, ConalProctor, K. Harvey
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Grist, IanRathbone, Tim
Ground, PatrickRenton, Tim
Grylls, MichaelRhodes James, Robert
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Hanley, JeremyRoberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Hannam, JohnRobinson, Mark (N'port W)
Hargreaves, KennethRoe, Mrs Marion
Harris, DavidRost, Peter
Haselhurst, AlanRowe, Andrew
Hawkins, C. (High Peak)Sackville, Hon Thomas

Sainsbury, Hon TimothyTownsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.Tracey, Richard
Sayeed, JonathanTwinn, Dr Ian
Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')Waddington, David
Shelton, William (Streatham)Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)Waldegrave, Hon William
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)Walden, George
Shersby, MichaelWaller, Gary
Silvester, FredWardle, C. (Bexhill)
Sims, RogerWarren, Kenneth
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)Watson, John
Soames, Hon NicholasWatts, John
Speller, TonyWells, Bowen (Hertford)
Spencer, DerekWells, Sir John (Maidstone)
Stanley, Rt Hon JohnWheeler, John
Steen, AnthonyWhitney, Raymond
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)Wiggin, Jerry
Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)Winterton, Mrs Ann
Stewart, Ian (Hertf'dshire N)Winterton, Nicholas
Stradling Thomas, Sir JohnWolfson, Mark
Tapsell, Sir PeterWood, Timothy
Taylor, John (Solihull)Woodcock, Michael
Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)Yeo, Tim
Temple-Morris, PeterYounger, Rt Hon George
Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.
Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)Tellers for the Noes:
Thurnham, PeterMr. Tony Durant and
Townend, John (Bridlington)Mr. Francis Maude.

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 30 (Question on amendments):

The House proceeded to a Division:

Will the Serjeant at Arms please find out the reason for the delay in the Lobby, and report back?

The House having divided: Ayes 203, Noes 45.

Division No. 19]

[7.32 pm

AYES

Alexander, RichardCarlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S)
Alison, Rt Hon MichaelCarttiss, Michael
Amery, Rt Hon JulianCash, William
Ancram, MichaelChalker, Mrs Lynda
Ashby, DavidChapman, Sydney
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)Chope, Christopher
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n)
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y)Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)
Batiste, SpencerColvin, Michael
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyConway, Derek
Bellingham, HenryCoombs, Simon
Benyon, WilliamCope, John
Best, KeithCormack, Patrick
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnCouchman, James
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir PeterCranborne, Viscount
Body, Sir RichardCurrie, Mrs Edwina
Boscawen, Hon RobertDickens, Geoffrey
Bottomley, Mrs VirginiaDorrell, Stephen
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n)Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)du Cann, Rt Hon Sir Edward
Brandon-Bravo, MartinDunn, Robert
Bright, GrahamDurant, Tony
Brinton, TimDykes, Hugh
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)Evennett, David
Browne, JohnFairbairn, Nicholas
Bruinvels, PeterFarr, Sir John
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A.Fletcher, Alexander
Buck, Sir AntonyFookes, Miss Janet
Budgen, NickForsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Burt, AlistairFranks, Cecil
Butler, Rt Hon Sir AdamFraser, Peter (Angus East)
Butterfill, JohnFreeman, Roger
Carlisle, John (Luton N)Gale, Roger
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Gardiner, George (Reigate)

Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)Madel, David
Garel-Jones, TristanMarland, Paul
Glyn, Dr AlanMarlow, Antony
Goodhart, Sir PhilipMather, Carol
Goodlad, AlastairMaude, Hon Francis
Gorst, JohnMayhew, Sir Patrick
Gower, Sir RaymondMellor, David
Greenway, HarryMills, Iain (Meriden)
Gregory, ConalMills, Sir Peter (West Devon)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)Miscampbell, Norman
Ground, PatrickNeale, Gerrard
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)Nelson, Anthony
Hanley, JeremyNeubert, Michael
Hargreaves, KennethNewton, Tony
Harris, DavidNormanton, Tom
Haselhurst, AlanNorris, Steven
Hawkins, C. (High Peak)Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
Hayes, J.Pollock, Alexander
Hayward, RobertPortillo, Michael
Heddle, JohnPowley, John
Henderson, BarryPrice, Sir David
Heseltine, Rt Hon MichaelProctor, K. Harvey
Hickmet, RichardRathbone, Tim
Hicks, RobertRenton, Tim
Hind, KennethRhodes James, Robert
Holt, RichardRifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm
Howard, MichaelRippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)Robinson, Mark (N'port W)
Hubbard-Miles, PeterRowe, Andrew
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)Sackville, Hon Thomas
Hunter, AndrewSainsbury, Hon Timothy
Hurd, Rt Hon DouglasSt. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.
Irving, CharlesSayeed, Jonathan
Jackson, RobertShaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Jenkin, Rt Hon PatrickShelton, William (Streatham)
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Jones, Robert (Herts W)Shersby, Michael
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs ElaineSilvester, Fred
Key, RobertSims, Roger
Knight, Greg (Derby N)Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Knowles, MichaelSoames, Hon Nicholas
Knox, DavidSpeller, Tony
Lang, IanSpencer, Derek
Latham, MichaelStanley, Rt Hon John
Lawler, GeoffreyStewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Lawrence, IvanStewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Lee, John (Pendle)Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Lightbown, DavidTapsell, Sir Peter
Lilley, PeterTaylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)Temple-Morris, Peter
Macfarlane, NeilThatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.
McLoughlin, PatrickThompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
McQuarrie, AlbertThurnham, Peter

Townend, John (Bridlington)Wells, Sir John (Maidstone)
Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)Wheeler, John
Tracey, RichardWhitney, Raymond
Twinn, Dr IanWiggin, Jerry
van Straubenzee, Sir W.Winterton, Mrs Ann
Waddington, DavidWinterton, Nicholas
Wakeham, Rt Hon JohnWolfson, Mark
Waldegrave, Hon WilliamWood, Timothy
Walden, GeorgeYeo, Tim
Waller, GaryYounger, Rt Hon George
Walters, Dennis
Wardle, C. (Bexhill)Tellers for the Ayes:
Warren, KennethMr. Mark Lennox-Boyd and
Watts, JohnMr. Gerald Malone.
Wells, Bowen (Hertford)

NOES

Alton, DavidMcKelvey, William
Ashdown, PaddyMadden, Max
Ashton, JoeMaynard, Miss Joan
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Meadowcroft, Michael
Beith, A. J.Michie, William
Benn, Rt Hon TonyNellist, David
Bruce, MalcolmOwen, Rt Hon Dr David
Campbell-Savours, DalePenhaligon, David
Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)Pike, Peter
Cartwright, JohnRoss, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Clay, RobertShields, Mrs Elizabeth
Cohen, HarrySkinner, Dennis
Corbyn, JeremySteel, Rt Hon David
Freud, ClementStrang, Gavin
Hamilton, W. W. (Fife Central)Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Hancock, MichaelWainwright, R.
Heffer, Eric S.Wareing, Robert
Howells, GeraintWigley, Dafydd
Hoyle, DouglasWinnick, David
Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Hillh'd)Wrigglesworth, Ian
Kennedy, Charles
Kirkwood, ArchyTellers for the Noes:
Lewis, Terence (Worsley)Mr. Simon Hughes and
Livsey, RichardMr. James Wallace.
Loyden, Edward

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has full confidence in the present arrangements whereby the Security Service is responsible to Ministers.

Defence

I should inform the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment standing in the Prime Minister's name.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance, as do many other Conservative Members, on what procedures are available for there to be an emergency suspension of this sitting for a few minutes. I understand that the Labour party abstained on the last vote, and will abstain on the next vote, and it may wish to have some time to ring Mr. Turnbull in Australia to obtain some instructions.

That is a matter for argument, but it is not a matter for the Chair.

7.47 pm

I beg to move,

That this House reaffirms its support for Britain's continued membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation; and believes that membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the security of Britain are incompatible with a policy which combines the unilateral abandonment of Britain's nuclear deterrent, the expulsion from Britain of the United States nuclear contribution to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the rejection of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's long-standing policy of maintaining both conventional and nuclear deterrence whilst pursuing negotiated disarmament.
Incidentally, Mr. Deputy Speaker, we have just seen your admirable use of the deterrent theory applied to Labour Members, and I congratulate you on using it so effectively. It is interesting that Labour Members should be so frightened of debating their policy in the House that they have sought to limit this debate to the shortest possible time.

But I begin by tackling the amendment tabled by the Prime Minister. If the words are changed around, they are broadly in line with the words in our motion, except for the sentence that seeks to criticise, and
"rejects…the policies of the Liberal and Social Democratic Parties, which advocate the maintenance of a British nuclear capability below the minimum required to provide effective deterrence beyond the mid 1990s".
That sentence apparently makes two claims: first that our policy of deterrence would be ineffective and, secondly, that the Government have some knowledge about the state of the world beyond the mid-1990s which, I must confess, is certainly denied to me.

But it is worth concentrating for a moment on the Government's amendment. I start with what I hope is an agreed and obvious statement. One of the first obligations of Government is to provide effectively for the defence of the country. There is no question about that. We have never doubted that that is the Government's motivation and purpose, although we may disagree with them about particular decisions that they make within that framework and about particular weapons systems to which they seem attached.

I hope that the Government would also agree that there is a second obligation on any Government in this country, and that is to use their best endeavours to turn down the ratchet of the arms race and, in particular, of the nuclear arms race. It is on the second part of that heavy obligation to the public that I believe that the Government can be faulted.

The concern about the increased development of nuclear weapons, both in their capacity and quantity, on both sides of the iron curtain is not a concern limited to a few pressure groups or a few people who march on wet Saturday afternoons. There is a genuine public concern, which is even greater now in the wake of the Chernobyl accident. It is born of anxiety not that militaristic Governments, whether here, in the Soviet Union or in the United States, will suddenly unleash nuclear war on the world, but that the more of these weapons that there are about, and the more sophisticated they are, the greater is the risk of some terrible accident befalling us.

Any responsible Government must be heavily motivated towards tackling this problem in a coherent and effective manner. As a firm believer in multilateral disarmament, I have to say that those of us who are multilateralists do not have much to show for our longstanding faith. That is why it is important, whether we look as far forward as the mid-1990s or just to the next two years, for the electorate to know that there will be a Government that are prepared to make a constructive and positive contribution to a reduction in the nuclear arms race. Instead, they find themselves faced with a British Government that are committed unilaterally to increasing the nuclear arms race through the escalation of the Trident programme.

Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North) rose—

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for not giving way, but the debate was late in starting, and I have not even finished my first point.

I read the speech made by the Secretary of State for Defence in the debate that we had two or three weeks ago, and I noticed his reaction to interjections and interventions about the two-stage disarmament programme on which the super-power leaders have set themselves. The theory is that, over the next decade, in two stages, Mr. Gorbachev and Mr. Reagan might succeed between them in moving towards a completely non-nuclear world. That theory is greeted by the Secretary of State for Defence with a certain amount of understandable scepticism, but when asked what contribution Britain would make to this, he said that if the super-powers made a great deal of headway, we would consider joining them. There was no sense of initiative or direction from the British Government to make this process become a reality. I strongly object to that.

This attitude was shown most clearly not by the speech made by the Secretary of State for Defence but by the action of the Prime Minister. She rushed off to Washington to try to protect the Trident programme, even at the cost of coming to a foolish political deal with her friend the President of the United States, and agreeing to support his stance on arms shipments to Iran in return for a guarantee that the Trident programme would still be about in years to come. In other words, there is a nervousness that there might somehow be a super-power success that would result in the cancellation of the Trident programme, a prospect that terrifies the British Government. I noticed the other day a report in the Daily Telegraph, which can hardly be accused of being a subversive, Left-wing newspaper, that the Government are actively looking at non-Trident alternatives to maintaining a deterrent, in case that event should come about. In the meantime, the Prime Minister's attitude is that we must hang on to the Trident programme, come what may and regardless of the criticisms that have been made of it.

I criticised the phrase "the mid 1990s" because we must proceed on the basis that the world is not necessarily going to be the same in the mid-1990s as it is now. We must hope, and the alliance is not ashamed to hope, for a change in the American Administration. Even now, looking at the remainder of this American Administration, it is possible to see, out of the wreckage of Reykjavik, some new initiative which may yet lead to major reductions on both sides, and which would be the first major breakthrough in global nuclear arms reduction.

For all these reasons, we started from an important point of disagreement with the Government. We have always advocated the case that Europe as a whole, and Britain in particular, should maintain a minimum deterrent capacity. The Secretary of State and I have argued this point in broadcasts on many occasions, and no doubt we shall continue to do so. The basis of our argument is that he believes that it is essential that in the future Britain will maintain a deterrent capability equivalent almost to that of the United States, to be able to take out Moscow if need be.

We do not share that analysis. Because of the superiority of conventional weapons on the Warsaw pact side, it is necessary to have some deterrent capacity in Western Europe that is independent of the United States, although linked with it. A deterrent that is capable of inflicting unacceptable damage on a potential aggressor, and thereby deterring that aggression from taking place, is different from the Trident programme, which is designed to be equal to something that the United States can deliver and to duplicate an ability that it already has to attack Moscow. That is not necessary.

As long as superior Warsaw pact forces face us and as long as there is a question mark over whether the United States guarantee in Western Europe will remain indefinitely—a question mark that has been raised by many sources from Henry Kissinger to Sam Nunn most recently—it is prudent for Britain, in her present state of non-success of arms reduction talks, to maintain its capacity at a minimal level. That is clearly our policy.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that perhaps the needs of the United States and ourselves may not be the same, and it is essential that we keep the Trident programme, which protects us, but not so much the Americans?

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. the only point in maintaining a deterrent capacity is the threat of a superior conventional force that we wish to deter. That is the only reason for maintaining any independence; otherwise why do we bother to have a NATO alliance? The motion is about the effectiveness of the NATO alliance.

As long as the Polaris system exists, and continues with its modernisations, there is little problem in maintaining this position, but it becomes more difficult as Polaris comes to the end of its useful life. It is no secret that that has caused us some little problem in recent weeks and month, and there has been a serious debate. I put it to the Secretary of State that the more that I discuss this, whether with academics in the defence sector or with ex-defence chiefs or others who have strong views on this subject, the more I find that there are zealous advocates of particular post-Polaris solutions for a minimum deterrent. They all have one thing in common. They are all so zealous for their own solution that they reject all others.

It is for that reason that I, as leader of the Liberal party, and my colleague the leader of the SDP, feel that Admiral Lewin, whatever the value of his other criticisms, is right to say that the precise weapon systems are the ones that should be made and chosen by the Government in office at the right time. It is not for Opposition parties to decide, clouded as they are with conflicting advice and denied information available to Government. I am glad to see the Secretary of State nod agreement.

I have given way once, and I wish to make a short speech.

As the Secretary of State for Defence has, on previous occasions, challenged me to say what the options are, I propose to do so. I do so with the safeguard of saying that I frequently criticise some of my colleagues for making speeches on the options, because it is extremely difficult to do so without giving the appearance of being an ardent salesman for one or the other. I am not a salesman for any of them. I hope that the political and international conditions will be such, looking forward to the mid-1990s, that none of these options will be necessary. Nevertheless, we must prepare them and trawl through them.

There are six options. The first is extending the life of the existing Polaris submarines and missiles to allow continuation well into the next century. This has its drawbacks, but it is possible and has strong advocates. The second is the fitting of M4 French missiles into Vickers submarine hulls. Again this has been discussed on many occasions. The third is that British Aerospace has the capability to produce a new British ballistic missile if the Government so choose. The fourth is the purchase of American cruise missiles to be fitted either into penetration aircraft such as Tornado or to a large standoff aircraft such as a converted Airbus. The fifth is that American cruise missiles could be fitted either into Vickers submarines or into SSNs. The sixth is that British Aerospace has the capability to develop a Euro-cruise missile. It has been studying that possibility for some time, and joint co-operation with the French on that project could be feasible. I have been through these discussions on enough occasions to understand that each one of these options can be taken and dissected, and that its advocates, even within the Ministry of Defence—I have no doubt that the Secretary of State has sat through as many meetings on these options as I have—can pursue the case in favour of it to its logical conclusion.

I am saying that we do not have to take the decision now, and that there should be no pressure on the Government to take it. It is a decision, however, that may face the next Government or the one after that. That is the position on which I rest, and that is the basic disagreement between myself and the Government on the phrase "a minimum effective deterrent".

No, I shall not give way. I want to make progress and to make some other points.

I turn to the motion itself—

Before the right hon. Gentleman does so, will he allow me to intervene?

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be kind enough to indicate his preferred solution before he addresses the motion.

I shall be frank with the hon. Gentleman. I have a preferred option, as I am sure most people have who take an interest in these matters, but I do not intend to tell him which one it is. I believe that it is not a decision that should be taken by politicians who are in opposition. I cite in support of that belief the article which Admiral Lewin wrote which appeared in The Guardian only the other day. I agree with Admiral Lewin on that score.

I wish now to address the motion, having dealt with——

Order. The right hon. Gentleman has made it clear on more than one occasion that he does not intend to give way again.

The motion refers to the future of NATO policy, and that is the subject of the debate. It is proper that in this place the different political parties should bring forward different proposals for changing the policy on NATO, but it is unacceptable to abandon unilaterally the British nuclear deterrent capacity and to expel the United States nuclear bases from within the United Kingdom. It is the combination of the two acts that renders the continued cohesion of NATO impossible, in my view.

I have some good authorities for that proposition, of which I shall quote two. The first is as follows:
"Whether we like it or not, it is the stability of the military balance between NATO and the Warsaw powers which has kept Europe at peace for over 30 years when 20 million people have been killed in wars outside Europe. NATO's nuclear strategy is an essential part of that balance. To threaten to upset that balance by refusing to let America base any of her nuclear weapons in Britain would make war more likely, not less, by tempting America into other and more dangerous strategies in which she was less dependent on the co-operation of her European allies."
That is part of a speech which was delivered by the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Healey) to the Labour party's policy school in 1981.

Did my right hon. Friend intend to refer to the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey)?

Yes. I am sure that my hon. Friend subscribes to the right hon. Gentleman's view as well.

The simple question is what has changed over the past six years to make that analysis wrong. If it was right in 1981, why is it not right now? I shall refer in part to the statements made by the deputy leader of the Labour party in 1983 when he, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), was analysing what went wrong with his party's policy in the general election. The first part of his statement has been quoted frequently but the second part is equally important. He said:
"We said that NATO remained our protection. But we refused to accept our NATO obligations."
That is it in a nutshell. If we believe that NATO should be our protection, it is necessary to maintain our NATO obligations.

Why is it that the right hon. Member for Leeds, East, who has served in a Labour Government as Secretary for Defence, and the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook, who has served as a Foreign Office Minister, allowed the present leader of the Labour party to go on such an extraordinary tour around the United States, which could be subtitled "Death of a Salesman"? The right hon. Members for Leeds, East and for Sparkbrook know perfectly well the policy that Britain requires if it is to remain a member of NATO. They know that it is impossible to square the circle. It is possible to adopt a policy of abandoning entirely all nuclear weapons, or all weapons, if that is what one wishes——

No, I am not giving way.

It is possible to opt for that abandonment, but it would not then be possible to remain a loyal member of NATO.

Over the past four months I have talked to seven Foreign and Defence Ministers in Europe and not one of them believes that it is possible to pursue an abandonment policy and for NATO to remain intact as it is now That is the view of our European allies across the political spectrum, across the divide.

There is nothing wrong with Members of this place and parties hoping to find political friends in the United States and hoping that the policies of one Government may change for another. Equally, there is no harm in hoping to enjoy a close relationship with those who may be in power in Washington. The Prime Minister had done precisely that with the present occupant of the White House. That has led us down strange avenues at times, with Libya, Iran, and an excessive worship of free market policies, but I do not criticise the basic strength of the political alliance.

Similarly, it is reasonable for Opposition parties to look for friends and allies in the United States. Over the past few months I have warmly welcomed the decision of the Democratic Institute to join Liberal International. Under that umbrella I have enjoyed conversations on these issues with people such as Walter Mondale and Senator Hart. They too have no time for the policy that is being advocated by the Opposition.

Congressman Solarz is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and a regular friend and visitor to this Parliament. In a letter to me the other day he made it clear that the American people
"could hardly be expected to permit US forces to remain in Europe if we were stripped of our capacity to deter and, if necessary, defeat an attack against them".
That is it in a nutshell. If we do not allow the United States to have bases in Britain, why should we expect them to maintain forces in Europe to help to protect us? Let us remember that Senator Sam Munn's amendment was defeated only narrowly when it was put to the vote in the American Congress.

There is no serious body of United States political opinion which supports the Opposition's policy. The task of any future Government should be to seek to increase our influence in Washington and to strengthen the European pillar of NATO. The Washington Post, in a telling editorial that was printed on the day that the Leader of the Opposition arrived in the United States, said this:
"The strength of the Western alliance has never been purely or even primarily military. It has always depended on qualities of spirit and political conviction to which the European's contributions have been essential."
The reason for our motion is that we fear very much that if we are not careful there could be a future Government of this country that would not be prepared to make any such contribution.

8.8 pm

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

"rejects the non-nuclear defence policies of the Labour Party, based as they are on the abandonment of Britain's independent nuclear deterrent, the expulsion of United States nuclear forces and bases from Britain, and the withdrawal of Britain from the protection of the American nuclear umbrella, thus jeopardising the United Kingdom's security and the cohesion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation; and the policies of the Liberal and Social Democratic Parties, which advocate the maintenance of a British nuclear capability below the minimum required to provide effective deterrence beyond the mid 1990s; and reaffirms its support for the Government's firm defence policies founded on the need to maintain credible nuclear and conventional forces for Britain within the NATO Alliance.".
I am nearer to being struck speechless at the beginning of contributing to a debate in this place than I have ever been before. That is the state in which I find myself after the truly extraordinary speech of the leader of the Liberal party, the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Etterick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel). He appears to have embarked on an odd exercise. This is one of the rare occasions on which the right hon. Gentleman can choose a subject to be debated on the Floor of the House, and he has chosen a subject in the recognition that the country has been longing for weeks, indeed for months, to learn what, if anything, is the Liberal party's policy on defence. Against that background, he has tabled a motion in which the Liberal party's policies on defence are not mentioned. I did not think that the right hon. Gentleman could cap that extraordinary feat, but he has done so by the unusually extraordinary speech which he delivered in opening the debate, about which I shall make one or two brief comments.

The right hon. Gentleman complained that the Government should be criticised for there not being any drive towards increased emphasis on arms control and a reduction in weapons. Where has he been for the last few months? There is more discussion and more debate, and more effort is being made by the negotiators for arms reduction today than there has been for 25 or 30 years. That is entirely because the Government and their allies in the West, from a position of strength, have insisted on forcing the Soviet Union back to the negotiating table. If the right hon. Gentleman does not understand that, he simply cannot be giving any attention to the matters that face the country.

The right hon. Gentleman said that he was a firm believer in multinational disarmament. Jolly good. What did he say to the Liberal party assembly in Llandudno in 1981? He said:
"The Liberal Party in Parliament, especially in future, in government, must take heed of that mood and use its best efforts to promote unilateral disarmament."
He then went on to say that he was quite sure that a deterrent was needed for sound defence. The hon. Member for Leeds West (Mr. Meadowcroft) looked distinctly uncomfortable at that moment. He probably always does. I should like to know whether the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) agree with their leader's remark that a deterrent is needed. If they are of that view, I hope that they will say that clearly at the next CND rally that they attend.

The right hon. Gentleman went on to state—this is a remarkable passage, for which we are indebted to him—his alternatives to the Trident system. He started by saying that he had talked to so many academics that he did not know which system was best or worst. He thought that he would list them all. He had heard them paddling their own canoes and their own solutions. He said that he was convinced that the parties in opposition should not, and could not, make decisions until they were in government and able to know the facts. That is great, but he has made a decision, apparently with all the ignorance of opposition—that is his own description of it—to abandon the Trident system.

If the right hon. Gentleman does not know which system to buy or which system is the right system, how does he know that the Trident system is not right? Why is there not, in his list of six items, a seventh item? Why is there not a Trident system in the list for the right hon. Gentleman to tell us that he does not know either whether it should be abandoned or adopted? This part of what he said simply fell apart, and the attitude of the House reflected that in every way. The right hon. Gentleman failed lamentably in his one opportunity to put across some idea to the country of what the Liberals' defence policy is. If it is possible, we were far less clear about what it is or is not than we were before he spoke this evening, and that surely is a pity.

There are three options before us: there is the motion tabled by the right hon. Gentleman, an amendment tabled by my right hon. Friends and myself, and also an amendment tabled by the Leader of the Opposition. "Death of a Salesman" was the right hon. Gentleman's comment on the fortunes of the Leader of the Opposition in America at the moment. The Leader of the Opposition has great competition from the right hon. Gentleman himself, if it comes to unrealistic speeches on defence. After tonight's speech, he is in the top league.

The Labour party's amendment is a sad one. This is the first time that we have had an officially backed Labour party advocating the abandonment of Britain's independent nuclear strategy. Mr. Attlee, Mr. Bevan and Mr. Gaitskell must be turning in their graves this evening.

If we move from that aspect of the right hon. Gentleman's amendment and examine the words written in it, we see that the Opposition have the courage to put into their amendment a condemnation of Her Majesty's Government for cutting expenditure on non-nuclear defence. That is rich, coming from the right hon. Gentleman, whose party's last budget for defence was about £8 billion. Today, the budget for defence is nearly £19 billion. The budget is running at 20 per cent. higher in real terms than when the Labour party left office. Opposition Members have the cheek to state in their amendment that Her Majesty's Government are cutting expenditure on non-nuclear defence. If that is an example of the veracity and correctness of the drafting in the Labour party's department for doing these things, it calls into question the remainder of what it writes.

I do not have time to list yet again the threat that we in the West face from the superiority of conventional forces that face us in Europe. It is all in the White Paper. It has been repeated many times, so I shall not repeat it tonight. Nor is there any shortage of examples of places where the Soviet Union has used its military power, or threatened to use it, to achieve political aims. We should have to be blind indeed to forget the lessons of Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Afghanistan and Poland. It would be the height of folly for any British Government to follow the advice which the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale gave and which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition is giving across the Atlantic with such a lack of success at the moment. It would be the height of folly for any British Government to gamble on the uncertain intentions of the Soviet Union by abandoning the policies that have secured our peace for over forty years.

Successive British Governments—Conservative and Labour—have pursued these policies by means of the collective security offered by membership of NATO. NATO exists solely to prevent war. Its whole strategy is defensive. For that strategy to work NATO must have—and be seen to have—sufficient forces to convince any potential aggressor that he has more to lose than to gain by an act of aggression. NATO requires for this purpose a range of forces—conventional and nuclear—to enable it to respond appropriately at whatever level aggression occurs. Of course, we cannot achieve parity with the Russians in every form of weaponry, but we must have sufficient forces to convince an aggressor that it would be in his interests to cease his attack and withdraw. The Labour party now tries to suggest that conventional forces alone can offer a credible deterrent. Even if a Labour Government spent every penny of the money that is being devoted to the Trident programme to increase conventional defence, that would do virtually nothing to alter the conventional imbalance in Europe.

Would it not also require national service to resume in this country?

My hon. Friend may be right. I would not be at all surprised if that were so. At the very most—being most generous to it—such a move might buy one or two extra armoured divisions, comprising an extra 300 tanks. What difference would 300 extra tanks make when the Soviet Union already has about 30,000 more tanks in Europe than NATO has? The Labour party is offering an uncertain protection against conventional attack, but no protection whatever against nuclear blackmail.

Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that that gap, as he sees it, can be bridged, or does he believe that it is unbridgeable?

By purely conventional means, the gap is definitely unbridgeable. It is unbridgeable even if we dig a ditch and put slurry into it—or whatever it is that the Leader of the Opposition has been trying to suggest. The concept of doubling or trebling the amount of all our hardware in Europe to try to match the vast amount of conventional hardware that meets it at present would not only be extremely difficult to achieve, and possibly involve national service, as my hon. Friend suggested, but would make life quite intolerable in those parts of western Europe where that hardware was supposed to be stationed.

In that case, why did the hon. Gentleman say to the IISS on 19 November that the gap was not unbridgeable in respect of the conventional gap?

The gap is bridged by the other means that NATO has to meet the threat. That is the point. That is not only what the right hon. Gentleman does not seem to understand, but it is the key factor in what the Leader of the Opposition patently does not understand and, as a result, is saying absurd things in America.

We yield to no one in our commitment to improve conventional defences. We have bought Tornado. We have bought new battle tanks and warships. We have bought new weapons, from small arms to artillery systems. We have made the pay of our forces fair and competitive. All these changes have made us safer, but, at the same time, we have faced the need to modernise our nuclear forces, recognising that nuclear weapons are absolutely central to NATO strategy. Britain's independent deterrent, which is committed to NATO, plays an important part in that strategy. It represents a second centre of nuclear decision-making within NATO. This complicates the ability of a potential aggressor to judge the likely response to any attack on NATO in Europe, and thereby reduces the chances of an attack.

Our deterrent is the ultimate guarantee of our security, but deterrence is a matter of perception. There can be no doubt about the commitment of the United States to the defence of Europe. The independent deterrent is our insurance policy against the risk of the Soviet Union miscalculating the strength of that commitment.

The Labour party would not just abandon our independent deterrent; it would forsake the protection of the United States nuclear shield as well. The right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) has some excuse, I suppose, for advocating such a dangerously naive policy. He has never had to shoulder the responsibilities of Government office. But there is no such excuse for the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey). I shall not repeat the apt quotation of the words of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East made by the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale. It is a tragedy that the right hon. Member for Leeds, East does not stand up for what I think he still believes—the fact that NATO's nuclear strategy is an essential part of the balance that has kept the peace for more than 40 years. It is a pity that the right hon. Gentleman is no longer prepared to make such speeches.

The alarm felt in the United States at the Labour party's policies are not by any means confined to the present Administration. The right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale made a point on that. I shall quote the words of Mr. Stephen Solarz, a leading liberal Democratic Congressman, who said:
"On this issue Mr. Weinberger speaks for most Americans. What Labour intends to do would bring the biggest crisis in the NATO Alliance since the Soviets built their wall in Berlin. The removal of our nuclear missiles would inevitably lead to the removal of all American troops from Britain. Our soldiers require the protection of the nuclear umbrella."
No wonder, with that background from a liberal Democrat, the Leader of the Opposition is having such a uniquely unsuccessful time in his efforts to sell this idea to the United States.

I hope the Labour party realises that, in effect, it is saying that if Britain were faced with the threat of aggression, a Labour Government would say to the Americans, "Stay out. We do not want the protection of your nuclear shield. We would prefer to surrender."

Not only does Britain need to retain its independent deterrent, but it needs to retain a deterrent that will work. If our capacity to deter is to remain unbroken well into the next century, we need to start modernising that deterrent now. I hope that the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale will note that point. We need to make this decision, not next week or next month, or in five or 10 years' time, but now. The right hon. Gentleman cannot put it off a day longer.

The life of our existing Polaris deterrent cannot be extended beyond the mid-1990s. By that time, Polaris will be 30 years old. The submarines will be nearing the end of their hull life, the ability of the boats to patrol undetected will be much less certain, and the ability of the missiles to penetrate strengthened anti-ballistic missile defences will be less assured than it is today. In 1980—not in 1986—this Government took the decision that Trident was the most cost-effective replacement for Polaris. It can be delivered in the time scale required and at a price we can afford. More important, it offers a deterrent with the minimum capacity necessary to remain effective in the face of improving Soviet capabilities.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the answer to the question, "What is the missile system that is needed to penetrate the increasingly sophisticated defences of Moscow?" might well be, "Trident"? If asked a slightly different question, "What do we need to deter in terms of inflicting unacceptable damage on the Soviet Union?", there is a different answer, because a range of other systems, including Polaris, open up. Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that on 12 October 1986, on "This Week, Next Week", he said that we need

"to have a larger number of warheads to be able to penetrate what will be very much more sophisticated defences. That is the whole reason why we need Trident. If we didn't have that we could carry on Polaris for a long time to come"?

I am mystified about the point that the hon. Gentleman is trying to make. What he says might carry some weight if we had some idea of his view on what we should do, but, as he has no idea, and as the leader of the Liberal party has made it clear that he has no idea and will not even try to get such an idea for years to come, the whole exercise of a defence policy in the Liberal party is a complete non-event from start to finish.

Over the life of the programme, Trident will take only 3 per cent. of the total defence budget, or 6 per cent. of the equipment budget. That is a smaller slice of the defence budget than some conventional programmes, such as Tornado. The Trident programme is well on course. It is six years since the decision was taken to purchase it. Nearly £3 billion of a total £10 billion has been spent or committed already. The first submarine keel has been laid.

Of course, there are those who suggest that this programme should be abandoned, and we heard something of that today. On that sort of logic, at this stage in the programme, in another context we should build half the Channel tunnel, then stop and start building a bridge instead. Such people suggest that Trident represents a massive escalation of our nuclear capability. Only the other day I read that the office of the Leader of the Opposition had produced an information paper claiming that Trident represented an increase in our firepower of between eight and 14 times. If that is an information paper, I think that a "misinformation paper" would be a far more accurate description.

It is no secret, and never has been, that Trident will carry more warheads than Polaris—but far less than the theoretical maximum. This means that the increase at most would be about two and a half times—nothing like the eight or 14 times that has been bandied about. I point out that, since 1970, Soviet strategic warhead numbers have increased fivefold. Even if current proposals for 50 per cent. cuts in strategic arsenals are agreed and go through, the number of Soviet warheads will be three times as high as in 1970.

This enhanced capability is essential if Britain is to continue to have a credible deterrent well into the next century. The replacement for Polaris will have to operate in a quite different environment from the one in which Polaris operates today. We have to plan for the improvements which the Soviets are making to their own defences.

Let us not forget that they possess the only deployed anti-ballistic missile system in the world. If our deterrent is to work, it must have an increased capability to penetrate increased defences. If Polaris represents the minimum deterrent in today's world, Trident is the equivalent of that minimum deterrent in tomorrow's world.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that Trident permits far greater deployment of the submarines to avoid detection than any of the schemes suggested by the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel)?

My hon. Friend is right. Indeed, I was going to touch briefly on that aspect in a moment. The alternatives of the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale were so incredible in all their aspects that we need not take them as seriously as that.

It would be perverse for any party to accept the need for Britain to have an independent deterrent and then to choose one that did not work, but that is exactly the compromise which the leader of the Liberal Party and his allies have come up with after months of wrangling—a policy to maintain a nuclear capability below the minimum required to provide an effective deterrent beyond the mid-1990s. I have explained why that is so. The latest flimsy attempt at a compromise—the so-called Liberal "defence initiative"—proposed the cancellation of Trident and the retention of a minimum nuclear capability with a capacity frozen at a level no greater than that of Polaris.

The Liberal party, as we have heard this evening, cannot even say what that capability will be. It does not know what system it will be, who will operate it, how big it will be or when it will be ready. In addition, the Liberal party wants a long time to think about it before it even decides any of these matters. It claims that a decision is not yet needed. That policy is nothing short of a policy for one-sided nuclear disarmament by the back door, and it is no wonder that the hon. Member for Leeds, West supports it and feels that he can live with it.

I have had a quick look at my 1981 speeches and find that there is no such quotation. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will get the Conservative central office to alter his briefing. Surely he accepts that if we go for a minimum deterrent capacity which does not seek to strike at Moscow we can have a level of safeguard on penetration and survivability and costs that are lower than those in the Trident programme. Let us admit that there is a difference of opinion between us, but let him not try to pretend that the system is unworkable. The right hon. Gentleman sets the ground rules, and if he wants to attack Moscow he must have Trident. We do not.

I have not mentioned attacking Moscow. We make no pretence about naming targets in our discussions on this. The problem is whether a missile system will get through the defences, never mind the target that is being attacked. It has to be realistic and credible, and the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion is not credible.

The Liberal party says that it has a number of alternatives, and in his speech the right hon. Gentleman listed some extraordinary ones. They are all a mirage. The right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) said that to use French ballistic missiles would not even be cheaper than Trident. He admitted that they would be much more expensive. I shall go further by saying that such a system could not possibly be developed in time to replace Polaris in the mid-1990s, when Polaris will be at the end of its useful life. To run Polaris beyond then is neither a realistic nor a safe option. A deterrent based on cruise missiles is also unrealistic.

The range of submarine-launched cruise missiles is shorter than Trident, the sea room in which the submarines will be forced to operate is more limited and the missiles take longer to fire. For all these reasons, cruise missiles would be more vulnerable and their ability to penetrate Soviet defences, whatever they were trying to hit, by the year 2000 could certainly not be assured. To overcome the problem would require more missiles at even greater cost, and even then it would be inconceivable that any effective cruise missile alternative could be developed and deployed in time to replace Polaris.

There are signs in the alliance of back-tracking even on this. The right hon. Member for Devonport is at last beginning to realise the truth of this awkwardness, too. What other explanation could there be for the recent shift in his position when reviewing the options for a British minimum deterrent in a BBC TV programme on 18 November? In that programme he spoke about
"a very much reduced Trident missile, with reduced deployment—three submarines and less warheads".
That seems a most extraordinary volte-face by the right hon. Gentleman and completely conflicts with what his right hon. Friend said in this debate, which amounted to an outright rejection of Trident in any circumstances.

It seems unlikely that the Liberal party would endorse any option based on Trident, and to judge from what he said I am sure that the hon. Member for Leeds, West would not do so. The recent Liberal party conference at Eastbourne repeatedly voted in support of unilateralist views. Unless the alliance can make up its mind on an issue as important as the future of the British independent deterrent, it will have no right to be taken seriously.

Why are we having this debate? The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal party uses precious time for this matter, but he has been exposed as an emperor without clothes. In spite of that, he has come along today to flaunt his nakedness on this vital subject. His motion puts the Government in quite a difficulty. As far as it goes, I agree wholeheartedly with the right hon. Gentleman's motion, but as a motion on defence for Britain it is totally inadequate because it does not even mention any positive policy by the party which has tabled it. For that reason I ask my hon. Friends to vote against the motion and to add the sound and sensible policy outlined in our amendment.

8.36 pm

This is not the only occasion on which we can debate the conventional balance or imbalance. It is a difficult subject and we shall have to come back to it on another occasion. Nobody denies that an imbalance exists, the question is how much and in what areas. The Secretary of State sought to give the impression that the gap was not bridgeable. He said that the only way it could be bridged—if that is the right word because one is in a different area—is by nuclear weapons.

As I understand it, that is not what the right hon. Gentleman said on 19 November when he spoke to the Institute of Strategic Studies. I have the report of that speech but I shall check it and come back to it. Quoting the right hon. Gentleman it says he said: "the gap is not unbridgeable". There is nothing there about bridging it with nuclear weapons. He also said:
"we do maintain a technological superiority in a number of key areas".
He also said something else that I was glad to read. He said:
"simple number crunching can be misleading".
That is what we have had from the Secretary of State and his predecessor in speech after speech on the Defence Estimates. They indulged in simple number crunching—how many tanks they have and how many we have. In his speech to the Institute of Strategic Studies he went on to say:
"IISS figures are broadly similar to the MoD's"
The IISS figures did not show an unbridgeable gap in conventional defence. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman should go back and check some of the things he has said in order to make sure that he is not saying one thing to a group of so-called experts and something else in this House.

The Secretary of State asked why we were having this debate. Having listened to the leader of the Liberal party it seems to be that the only reason is the right hon. Gentleman's desperate desire—although he was not very successful—to paper over the cracks in his party's defence policy and the policy of what is apparently described as the alliance. I am sorry to say that he did not make a serious contribution to these fundamental and difficult issues.

The right hon. Gentleman hardly addressed himself to the motion. The motion says nothing about Britain's independent nuclear deterrent. [Interruption.] The amendment was not tabled by the right hon. Gentleman. We are debating the motion and I shall try to stick more closely to it than did the right hon. Gentleman. Perhaps I shall get into trouble in this difficult area, but in these matters I am a masochist and I am quite happy to carry on.

The right hon. Gentleman got himself into terrible difficulties when he tried to pretend that somehow there was some alternative to Trident. We agree with the Government about Trident and believe that decisions have to be taken, if not now, pretty soon, and as far as we can see Trident is the only option if one wants to go down the road of acquiring a third generation of British nuclear weaponry. We do not think that it is necessary to go down that road, and believe for all sorts of reasons that it is foolish. We have debated that in the House before and will be quite happy to debate it again. At least the Labour party has a clear view on that and so has the Government, but the Liberal leadership and the Social Democratic party are still wallowing in a hopeless and hypocritical fudge.

The motion is quite extraordinary. The leader of the Liberal party mentioned Reykjavik. I shall come back to that. He also spoke about disarmament and the need to cut strategic weapons. However, the motion says nothing about that.

Coming from the Liberal party, the motion is quite extraordinary. Conservative Members may agree with the motion, although I understand that the Secretary of State intends to vote against it. The confusion deepens in that respect. However, the motion gives complete and unquestioning support to the NATO strategy of what is described by its advocates as the "flexible response" and by its detractors as the "strategy of first use of nuclear weapons". The choice of phrase depends upon one's position in the argument. However, the motion gives total and uncritical support to the policy of first use.

The motion appears to me to have a whiff of arrogance and absolutism. We may have heard the voice of the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel) in the Chamber today, but I detect the hand of Esau in the motion. I certainly would not have expected this kind of motion to be tabled by the leader of the Liberal party.

There is overwhelming support for the first half-sentence of the alliance motion, which reads:
"That this House reaffirms its support for Britain's continued membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation".
At conference after conference, the Labour party has by massive majorities fully supported our membership of NATO. We have repeatedly made it clear—and I do so again now—that under the next Labour Government, 95 per cent.—as under this Government—of defence expenditure will be committed to NATO in terms of men and equipment.

I am delighted to do that. I did not think that the right hon. Gentleman would give way.

An American Senator made it clear at the weekend that if American nuclear weapons were chucked out of Britain—weapons which defend American troops in this country—there is no way in which the Americans would allow us to remain in NATO.

The hon. Lady's intervention was very interesting. She said

"There is no way in which the Americans would allow us to remain in NATO."
Is she suggesting that they would not let this country—which contributes £18 billion or £19 billion, which has 55,000 troops on the Rhine, with its Air Force on the central front, with its frigates, destroyers and submarines in the eastern Atlantic—remain in NATO? I am sorry that I gave way to the hon. Lady if that is the kind of point that she wants to make. No country can do more, and we will make a contribution of 95 per cent. of our defence expenditure to NATO.

I must say that 95 per cent. or £19 billion is quite a lot. The hon. Gentleman is being very insulting to the British troops in Germany.

Not yet. He is very insulting to the British Forces in Germany who are there to defend and work within NATO and who may have to give their lives. It is extremely insulting for the hon. Gentleman to say that that is "damn all".

We do not have time to give way to people like the hon. Gentleman.

We will cancel Trident. As we have said before, we will use the money saved by the cancellation of Trident for non-nuclear defence, and in that way we shall strengthen the conventional balance—about which the Secretary of State is concerned—and especially in central Europe.

The right hon. Gentleman attacked my hon. Friend and he should give way.

Order. It is very clear to me that the right hon. Gentleman is not giving way.

We cannot support the remainder of the Liberal party motion and, it seems, neither can the Government. It gives almost total and uncritical support to the strategy of first use of nuclear weapons. Under that strategy, in the first few days of a conventional war NATO could well, and probably would, seek to fight a nuclear war in central Europe. That strategy would destroy the very territory that we would be seeking to defend and it would annihilate friend and foe alike.

Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm whether the Labour party intends to maintain defence spending—if it ever forms a Government—at the current rate in real terms?

I understand that it is Labour party policy to bring defence spending as a percentage of the gross national product in line with that of other European nations. Will he tell us the timescale involved as that would imply a reduction in defence spending?

That is not possible, and would not be possible within the lifetime of the first Labour Government. Our priority is to get rid of nuclear weapons. The corollary to that priority must be to spend on conventional forces the money saved by getting rid of nuclear weapons, thereby improving the conventional balance about which the Secretary of State is so concerned.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Will he set out precisely what that money will be spent upon as an enhancement of conventional forces?

Indeed, if the hon. Gentleman wishes me to prolong my speech I shall do that. There are areas within the Royal Navy where money could be spent. The Secretary of State will not be able to maintain even 50 frigates and destroyers. Some of the money will be spent on that. So far, the Secretary of State has put no money into the budget for the European fighter aircraft. We are committed to the European fighter aircraft. Much could also be done in the Army—[Interruption.] I know that Conservative Members do not like this, and that it is difficult for them to accept. However, I will continue to repeat in the House and in the media that the next Labour Government will maintain defence spending at present levels in real terms taking account of inflation—or whatever the phrase is—and that money will be spent on conventional forces.

As I have said clearly, we are opposed to the strategy of first use of nuclear weapons. There is a strong implication in the motion that we cannot remain in NATO with our present policy. The motion implies that, apparently, the independent sovereign and democratic states that constitute the NATO Alliance have no rights to challenge any real aspect of NATO strategy, however foolish that might appear and despite the fact that their electorates have voted for such a challenge. That is not the NATO that most of the NATO states themselves recognise or desire.

NATO is not a monolithic grouping. It is not a tight federation in which states have a veto on the policies of other members and nations. It is not the Warsaw pact—although, from the speeches of some Conservative Members, it might appear to be the Warsaw pact. It is not. It is a collection of individual nation states that make a contribution to the defence of democracy and of the West.

Does the right hon. Gentleman seriously believe that other European members of NATO would be willing to maintain their share of the nuclear umbrella while allowing a British Government under his auspices to pull out of the responsibility?

I am intrigued at the idea of a "share of the nuclear umbrella" but I will come back to that. I shall not evade the right hon. Gentleman's question, although the nuclear umbrella was not mentioned in his motion or in his speech.

NATO is not the Warsaw pact. It is made up of independent sovereign states. The worst thing that could happen and which could lead to the break-up of NATO would be if the democratic peoples of the nation states of western Europe and the United States were not allowed to change or argue for change in NATO policy. Such fetters on democratic action would endanger NATO far more than any challenge to parts of its policy.

In January 1986 the Secretary-General of NATO, Lord Carrington, said that in NATO
"anything is possible; there are no hard and fast rules".
I think that he went too far there. He was too lax about it. I should not go so far as to say that anything goes in NATO and that there are no rules at all. Of course there are rules. The rules are that each member country makes a substantial contribution, according to its resources, to the collective defence of western Europe. That is the NATO that most member states recognise. The rigidity of NATO implied in the motion does not accord with the actions of individual states in the past. Almost half the members of NATO will not have American nuclear weapons on their soil, but they are still members of NATO and still make their contributions according to their lights.

So far as I can see, the British Government take little account of the views of NATO in their defence cuts. I do not criticise the Secretary of State for his absence, as he told me why he had to leave, but it is extraordinary to pretend that there have been no cuts in defence expenditure. One has only to look at the public expenditure review for the next three years to know that. I do not recollect the Government seeking NATO approval for their cuts in defence expenditure. Sir John Nott, whose 1981 defence review would have decimated the surface fleet, paid little regard to our NATO commitments in the eastern Atlantic. He did not tell the House that he could not reduce the surface fleet because NATO would not allow it. He simply went ahead. He may have mumbled a few words about consultation, although I am not even sure about that.

As for the United States, when President Reagan made his famous star wars strategic defence initiative speech in 1983 he declared that nuclear weapons were immoral and should be made obsolete. In the first sentence of that speech he unilaterally turned on its head 40 years of NATO nuclear strategy. I do not recollect any consultation before that speech was made, and I do not criticise President Reagan on that account. I do not recall the Ministry of Defence having a forward draft of the speech. The President simply exercised his right as the head of a sovereign state to make that speech. If the Conservatives think that is all over now, they should realise that the consequences of that momentous unilateral action are only just becoming apparent. No British Prime Minister, Labour or Tory, no previous American President and perhaps even no general secretary of the Soviet Communist party had ever made such a statement, but the President of the United States unilaterally turned NATO strategy on its head.

President Reagan did the same thing at Reykjavik to such an extent that General Rogers rushed off to the Pentagon and General Metz, the German deputy supreme commander of NATO, almost had apoplexy, saying that Reagan had destroyed the whole of NATO strategy. I do not recall there being much consultation before that action, but again it was taken by a member of NATO. Perhaps Lord Carrington is right that there are no real rules.

The motion goes on to make the extraordinary claim that the abandonment of British nuclear missiles is incompatible with NATO membership.

I apologise for missing the beginning of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. He has referred to the Americans and others saying that nuclear weapons were immoral. I remind him that his own party regards nuclear energy as dangerous and is committed to phasing it out. I have asked him this several times before but have not received an answer. What would a Labour Government do about hunter-killer submarines, which are powered by nuclear energy? How does the right hon. Gentleman square his party's commitment to phasing out nuclear energy with the continuation of submarines which are, in effect, floating nuclear power stations?

The hon. Gentleman asks what we would do about hunter-killer submarines. My answer is that we shall build more of them, and we shall build them at Barrow.

The hon. Gentleman has had the answer before. If he reads his local newspapers and listens to his local radio station he will hear the answer time and again.

The motion implies that abandoning Britain's nuclear rockets, missiles, deterrent or whatever is incompatible with NATO membership.

Let us see exactly what it says, as the right hon. Gentleman never touched on this although he spoke for 20 minutes. The motion states:

"That this House…believes that membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the security of Britain are incompatible with a policy which combines"—
whatever that means—
"the unilateral abandonment of Britain's nuclear deterrent".
The implication is that if we did not abandon Britain's nuclear deterrent everything would be all right, but I will leave that point and move on.

Let us consider the next part of the motion, to which I gather the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale subscribes, which suggests that it is incompatible with membership of NATO to expel from Britain the United States nuclear contribution——

I shall consider that word in a moment, but I wish to dwell on the word "incompatible".

I notice that the Government amendment—of course the Government draft these things a little more carefully than the Opposition—does not use the word incompatible. It is not as extreme, rigid or inflexible as the motion tabled by the leader of the Liberal party. It contains some rather vague phrases about gloom, doom and so on.

I ask you for your protection, Mr. Speaker.

The Government's motion talks about cohesion and jeopardising in a rather vague way. The Government do not dare to say that not having nuclear weapons on the soil of a nation state is incompatible with membership of NATO, as they know that is not the case. The moment the Government say that it is incompatible with membership of NATO, that signifies that somewhere there are rules laid down, and presumably they have been broken by seven NATO countries including Norway and Denmark. The Government do not dare to use the word "incompatible" because they are concerned about the other countries of NATO. They, at least, have some regard for reality because they will not say—I challenge the Minister to do so—whether it is incompatible—I use that word because it is a clear word—with membership of NATO. Of course it is not, and the Government know that.

Let us consider the American nuclear contribution in Britain. We have Poseidon submarines at Holy loch, cruise missiles at Greenham common and hydrogen or nuclear bombs at Lakenheath and Upper Heyford. Our contention is that their removal from Britain would not militarily damage NATO in any way. Even the United States navy admits that Poseidon submarines at Holy loch are of rapidly diminishing importance. That navy is now in the process of being equipped with the newer Trident C4 system which, according to congressional statements can cover the potential targets on departure from their base in Kings Bay, Georgia without the need for a lengthy transit.

The cruise missiles at Greenham common should never have come here in the first place. They certainly were not placed here for military reasons. No sensible military man would put nuclear missiles on land in such a small and somewhat cramped island like Britain. Richard Perle put it clearly in the Boston Globe of 2 June 1983:
"cruise missiles never had much military utility because they are so vulnerable to attack."
In the same year, in an interview with Newsweek, Robert MacNamara said:
"There is no military requirement for NATO to deploy Pershing II and cruise missiles to maintain a stable deterrent."
Cruise missiles are at Greenham common mainly because Chancellor Schmidt, egged on by Henry Kissinger, started to have grave doubts about the American nuclear umbrella, but I gather that Dr. Kissinger does not think much about that umbrella these days.

Chancellor Schmidt thought that the rather shattered concept of a nuclear umbrella could be patched up by apparently scattering nuclear missiles all around Europe. If those missiles are in Europe, so the argument goes, an American President is more likely, or more certain, to risk the nuclear destruction of Washington in the defence of Hamburg, London or any other European city.

The presence of missiles in Britain does nothing to remove or diminish the dilemma that such a President would face. An American President, whose first duty, quite properly, is to his people, would properly make such a decision, at that time, in the interests of the American people—the people he represents.

No, I must get on. [HON. MEMBERS: "Give way."] I would be happy to give way, but others wish to speak so I must get on.

The F111 aircraft are described in the jargon of this business as being dual capable. Some are held back to drop nuclear bombs on the battlefields after the first few days of a war in Europe. It does not make any sense to drop hydrogen bombs all around the battlefields. It will not do much good for that part of Europe that we are trying to defend. It will not do much good for the 55,000 British troops stationed on the Rhine or the 200,000 American troops in Germany. It does not make any sense and it is not a credible military policy.

At one time flexible response may have made total sense. It might have made sense when the United States had a nuclear monopoly or indeed a massive nuclear superiority. It might have made sense in 1964 when the Soviet Union had 65 nuclear warheads and when, according to Kissinger, the United States had about 1,000. But it makes no sense at all today when the United States has 11,000 nuclear warheads and the Soviet Union about the same.

What I find depressing about the debate, the Liberal motion and the Government's amendment is the fact there is no recognition at all of the changes that have taken place in Europe over the last 30 years. There is no real recognition of Chernobyl—Chernobyl might not have happened and Reykjavik might not have taken place. Ironically, the real debate on these matters is, surprisingly enough, taking place within the Republican Administration of the United States and between the Republican Administration and what I call the Henry Jackson tendency within the Democratic party.

I crave the indulgence of the House merely to quote from a interview that George Shultz, the Secretary of State, gave to Frank Lehrer on American television on 17 October following the Reykjavik meeting. George Shultz said:
"But I think it would be a better world from our point of view if we didn't have these offensive ballistic missiles. And apparently the Soviets think so from their point of view too.
Lehrer: What about Senator Nunn's concern, however"——
I remind the House that as well as being a member of the Henry Jackson tendency Senator Nunn is also the Senator for Kings Bay Georgia——
"that it would make for a less stable world"
to get rid of these ballistic missiles.
"It would make for a less stable world. It would make our defense more vulnerable than they are now.
Shultz: What's so good about a world where you can be wiped out in 30 minutes? If ever anything starts, 30 minutes later it's over with these awesome ballistic misssiles, and there's nothing left of them"——
that is, the Russians——
"and there's nothing left of us. I don't see what's so good about that".
He went on:
"If you say, 'why, then, is the Soviet Union interested?' The Soviet Union has shown over many wars that they're heroic in defending their homeland. How they'll do invading somebody else is another question, but they're heroic in defending their homeland. And so they also must be concerned about the ballistic missiles that we have that can wipe that homeland out. So that's basically the essence of it."

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sure you are aware that the opening speeches from the Front Benches have now taken one hour 20 minutes, leaving 54 minutes for the replies and Back Benchers. I hope that you will give your mind to that.

I should point out that two speeches were made by the Conservative Front Bench and the Leader of the Liberal party which were highly critical of the policies of the Opposition. I think I am entitled to take slightly longer. Incidentally, there were also a number of interventions. I was chided for not giving way, although I was happy to do so. I apologise to the House, but I shall now bring my remarks to a close.

All I can say is that the debate goes on. It does not go on in the Liberal motion. The Government are burying their head in the sand and, sadly, it seems that the Liberal party is doing so as well.

9.4 pm

A lifetime on the Back Benches has at least enabled me to keep my speeches short. In The Standard yesterday there was a MORI poll on the position of the Conservative, Labour and Liberal parties. Why was that? It surely cannot be anything that we have done. Playing away in Australia is no way to win a victory, but we owe our new-found success to the defence policies of the Labour and Liberal parties. We owe it to the so-called non-nuclear defence policy of the Labour party. That non-nuclear defence policy has put a cap on the votes that the Labour party will win at the next election. I have a cheerful feeling that history is about to repeat itself. We should not forget the Liberal party. The battle at Eastbourne, otherwise described as the lightweight championship of the world, at which I was present, has done marvels for the support of the Conservative party all over the country.

What would be the effect of Labour's non-nuclear policy on the United States? To put it in a nutshell, it would add hugely to what has already become an inglorious state of confusion. NATO is a nuclear Alliance or it is nothing. For as long as our adv