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Security Service Act 1989 (Amendment)

Volume 168: debated on Wednesday 28 February 1990

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3.47 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Security Service Act 1989 to provide that a complaint may be made to the Security Service Tribunal in respect of the actions of the Service whether or not the complainant has been the subject of inquiries by the Service; to widen the orders of reference of the Tribunal to include investigation of complaints about any activity of the Service, provided that the Tribunal shall be satisfied that such complaints are neither frivolous nor vexatious; to require that reports on certain categories of investigation shall be laid before Parliament; to give Members of Parliament a right of access to the Tribunal in matters directly affecting them or their constituents; and for connected purposes.
The long preamble to the Bill represents an honest, serious stab at lessening the chances of the recurrence in future of what generically we can call the Colin Wallace affair. In plain language, an enhanced social service tribunal might act as some deterrent to the kind of thing that happened to the Wilson and Heath Governments in the 1970s—set out by Wilson in his evidence to the Royal Commission on the press in May 1977—happening to a Kinnock or, for that matter, to a Baker, a Patten or a Heseltine Government in the 1990s.

I have never indulged in blanket criticism of the security services. The late Sir Maurice Oldfield and others have been friends but, equally, prima facie it seems that elements of the security services have run amok. The proposal in my Bill is about making all elements of the security services accountable.

The tribunal route to accountability has its attractions. The tribunal is a filter. It can refuse to countenance the frivolous or vexatious. Equally, when confronted by a book such as Paul Foot's "Who Framed Colin Wallace?"—or, in my opinion, Captain Fred Holroyd's "War Without Honour"—the tribunal would surely say, "It is our job to look at this stuff properly." The cases should not be time-limited; the tribunal should be able to investigate as far back as it deems necessary.

The tribunal is already in existence, so I am not suggesting setting up some expensive new apparatus. Its members are men and women with the necessary familiarity with the security services and their modus operandi. Lord Justice Sir Murray Stuart-Smith, Mr. Justice Simon Brown, Sir Richard Gaskell, last year's president of the Law Society, and Sheriff John McInnes are all familiar with security matters. In the Wallace case, a tribunal should call Sir Percy Craddock, chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, and Sir Christopher Curwen, security co-ordinator, to ask the reasons for their advice. It should also call Mr. Dennis Payne.

The tribunal members are presumably considered sufficiently reliable to handle delicate and highly classified information. Assuming—and it is a whopper of an assumption—that the House of Commons really wants to find out the truth of what occurred in the Wallace affair, I am not enchanted by the alternatives. You yourself judge, Mr. Speaker—rightly, in my view—that the Privileges Committee is not a suitable body to conduct an investigation of what happened a quarter of a century ago and 15 years ago, and the subsequent concealment.

Should any hon. Member be interested, I can explain further—from personal experience of being hauled before the Privileges Committee and questioned by the late Duncan Sandys, Elwyn Jones and others—why the Privileges Committee should not become involved in a Wallace-type affair. I can also explain from personal experience, having given evidence before the Franks committee for one hour and 55 minutes, why I do not believe that such a committee—the committee considering the Falklands consisted of the Lords Barber, Lever and Watkinson, Sir Patrick Nairne and my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds. South (Mr. Rees)—is the ideal set-up.

At one time, I supposed that the Security Commission was a good vehicle for an investigation, but a friendly letter from its distinguished chairman and Law Lord, Lord Griffiths of Govilon, made it clear that he could act only on a reference from the Prime Minister. The House can judge how likely it is that that would be forthcoming. As for the type of inquiry held under David Calcutt QC, I heard the master of Magdalene college, Cambridge, say on the radio that he would stick precisely to his terms of reference, and that only the decision of Parliament could widen its scope.

Nor am I happy about the investigation by the Select Committee on Defence. Select Committees have many virtues, but politicians who want to keep their political noses clean with colleagues—of any and every party—are not the most impartial of investigative inquiry practitioners when the political chips may come down. None of us who heard it in the Committee Room will quickly forget the supercilious stonewalling of Sir Leon Brittan when he was asked direct questions by members of the Defence Select Committee.

As for parliamentary questions, whether on account of the Osmotherly rules or plain bloody-minded obstruction, the cat-and-mouse saga on Wallace suffered over the past three years by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) and myself is a disgrace to parliamentary democracy. All we ask for are some truthful and candid answers, but the resolution of the issue by means of parliamentary questions is about as likely as a quick solution to Jarndyce v. Jarndyce.

Let me give some examples of the advantages that a tribunal would have. Were Army intelligence services and MI5 really unaware of homosexual abuses at the Kincora boys home before 1980? Did General Leng order his intelligence staff to alert the police as early as 1974, after they had shown him a dossier naming the men and boys involved, and, if so, what happened? Those are some questions that the tribunal could ask; I share the widely reported distaste of Sir Michael Quinlan at the fact that nothing was done.

The tribunal could ask whether Colin Wallace's document of 8 November 1974 was a forgery, as suggested by the Hughes report. I understand that Judge Hughes is very embarrassed about that. It could also ask whether the Prime Minister's office is vulnerable to burglary, which is not a trivial question. On 24 July last year I asked the right hon. Lady:
"how many documents were received in relation to Colin Wallace and sent by or on behalf of Colin Wallace to No. 10 Downing street for onward transmission to the Hughes inquiry into the Kincora boys' home; how many were sent on to Judge Hughes; and what are the reasons for the difference between the two figures."
The Prime Minister replied:
"A file of papers relating to Mr. Cohn Wallace was submitted to my office on 1 November 1984, but was returned to the sender on 24 November. No complete record of the documents was retained. No question arose at that stage of the papers being intended for onward transmission to the Hughes inquiry. When it was subsequently requested that the papers should be sent to the inquiry, such documents as had been copied and retained were duly made available." — [Official Report, 24 July 1989, Vol. 157, c. 439.]
The tribunal should be empowered to examine such questions as whether that short answer contains three grave errors of fact.

First, in his letter of 30 January to the hon. Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall), the Minister of State for the Armed Forces conceded that the Ministry of Defence "have no reason" to doubt that Mr. Wallace's assertions that the file was not returned to him and that a copy of the file was returned. I do not want to get thrown out for had parliamentary language, but if I were to say the category that that would come under, I should be suspended for five days.

Secondly, that means that the original was retained, so a complete record of the document was retained. A similar comment applies to that.

Thirdly, we now hear from several Ministers that no documents of any importance were made available to the Hughes inquiry. Indeed, Judge Hughes made it clear that he did not see any documents from the Prime Minister's office.

What happened to the originals of those documents? The Minister of State for the Armed Forces said that no explanation has come to light. Governments really ought not to lose documents of that sensitivity. A tribunal such as I suggest could examine whether the files were stolen from No. 10 Downing street; and if so, by whom and for what reason. The copy which was returned to M r. Wallace's friend, Mr. Holroyd, was passed to his Member of Parliament, the hon. Member for Southend, East (M r. Taylor). The hon. Gentleman subsequently reported to the police that the file has gone missing after being locked tip in his House of Commons office. It reappeared mysteriously several days later, 30 miles away in the hon. Gentleman's constituency office.

All those matters should be looked at. When Monday's issue of The Times reported that the Cabinet Office is solemnly engaged in an examination of the bizarre allegation that MI5 has been using premium bond cheques, supposedly issued by ERNIE for paying freelance agents, it is really high time that the House of Commons did something.

My proposal is sensible, cautious and practical. An honest tribunal of distinguished people and capable lawyers should be able to look at the Wallace case, the Holroyd case and, if necessary, the extraordinary business of ERNIE paying out money—as printed on page 2 of The Times, which is supposedly a major paper of record—and to find out what is going on in this country. My proposal for a tribunal is democratic; it is not unduly expensive, it is practical and effective.

Question put and agreed to.