SECURITY & INTELLIGENCE SERVICES – 2 November 1998

Dr Julian Lewis: When I look at the extensive gaps on the Benches on both sides of the House, I feel like the last man monitoring subversion in MI5. I believe that even he is now out of a job.

It is always a privilege to listen to the hon. Member for Workington (Mr Campbell-Savours). I do not always agree with what he says, but his comments are always thoughtful and well considered, and deserve to be taken seriously. I endorse the remarks of the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) about the importance of retaining MI5 files when the Security Service might be minded to destroy them. She outlined the main reasons. I shall not repeat them, but I am pleased to endorse them.

As my right hon. and learned Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary said, I initiated an Adjournment debate on that issue on 25 February. I am pleased to see that paragraph 40 of the report says that there should be safeguards against MI5 using file destruction to rewrite the historical record. There should also be safeguards to prevent politicians from doing the same.

The foreword to the report is a two-and-a-half page summary of the rationale for the continued existence of the SIS, the Security Service, and GCHQ. It is the finest distillation of all the reasons why those services are essential to the nation in the future, just as they have been in years gone by. Emphasis is laid on regional wars, aid and peacekeeping, nuclear proliferation, terrorism, computer security and chemical and biological weapons.

I pay tribute to those in the SIS and the CIA who were responsible for bringing to the attention of the world community in 1993 the way in which the Russians, who had signed the 1972 biological weapons convention, had systematically flouted it for 20 years, redoubling their efforts to produce deadly bacterial weapons when other nations were honouring the agreement.

However, I find the foreword a mite over-generous in one respect. It says at the start:

"For more than 40 years, the United Kingdom and its NATO allies endured the threatening environment of the Cold War. The genuine menace of an aggressive world power, seeking to subvert and dominate Europe and the wider world, gave abundant justification for substantial defence, intelligence and security structures. In this climate, the case for foreign intelligence and internal security was generally accepted."

I am put in mind of an occasion as recent as April 1989, right at the very end of the cold war, when no fewer than 29 hon. Members saw fit to sign an early-day motion calling for the abolition not only of MI5 but of Special Branch. I am pleased to note that none of them has been appointed to the Intelligence and Security Committee.

 

I have sometimes been accused – not least by the honourable and ever-genial Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr Purchase) – of re-fighting the cold war in some of my speeches and interventions. We would be very foolish when considering the Security and Intelligence Services' future role not to look at the cold war and the lessons it has for us.

 

Several points in the Committee's report give me grounds for concern. One is that, when the report concentrates on vetting, it says in paragraph 47:

"there may be files on individuals under the age of 55 because they joined an organisation which was categorised as subversive possibly 20 years ago, and that these files may still be used for vetting and other purposes. However, no such files would be opened on somebody who joined the same organisation today."

That is a little naive. Many of the organisations that were subversive 20 years ago will no longer be around for people to join; they collapsed with the demise of the Soviet threat. There is no comparison between people who joined an organisation 20, 10 or 15 years ago, when that organisation may have been organically linked to the Soviet Union, such as many of the Soviet front organisations, and people who join a similar organisation today even though the Soviet threat has disappeared.

 

I am concerned that paragraph 17 of the Government's response to the report says:

"the Government's policy is that the Service" –

the Security Service –

"will no longer surface records in the vetting context purely on account of membership of organisations hitherto considered subversive."

Does that really mean that, if, for example, someone were being considered for appointment to a senior position in NATO, no attention whatever would be paid to whether he had previously been active in organisations classed as subversive at the height of the cold war? The fact that such checking apparently does not happen at least clears up a mystery for me about one person – an academic – who I know was appointed to a senior position in NATO despite being actively and prominently involved in seeking to undermine NATO's position at the height of the sensitive argument over European missiles.

 

Mr Allan Rogers rose –

 

Dr Lewis: Does the hon. Gentleman wish to intervene?

 

Mr Rogers: No, I am walking out on the hon. Gentleman's speech.

 

Dr Lewis: The problem with MI5 dealing with subversion was that its task was much easier in war than in peace. In war, as we now know, the Security Service succeeded in the incredible task of taking control of the German spy network in Britain by means of the double-cross system and the XX committee. The German spy network was so fully controlled that not only was no effective espionage carried out in this country, but when the time came for London Controlling Section planners to work out the strategic deception that would fool the Germans on D-day, but German agents in this country were used as the conduit for disinformation, which was fed to the Nazis and undoubtedly saved many lives.

 

It is more difficult to trumpet the achievements of the Security Services in peacetime. One tends to wish that they would be a little more forthcoming. For example, in 1961, when Colin Cross was writing his account – definitive at the time – of the fascist movement in Britain, he was still unable to say for certain that the fascists had been funded during the 1930s by Mussolini. It should not have taken the Security Services until November and December of 1983 to reveal Special Branch and Security Service reports that show that Mosley had indeed been the paid stooge of Mussolini for part of that period.

 

Similarly, I do not know, even to this day, whether the Security Service realised that, at least from 1958, right through until at least 1979, the KGB was financing the Communist Party of Great Britain. Certainly, throughout all those years, leaders of the Communist Party of Great Britain angrily denied that anything of the sort was going on. The fact came out not as a result of a revelation from the Security Service's archives, but when researchers who were looking through the archives in Moscow found reports of payments – in one year as much as £100,000 – to Reuben Falber, the bag man for the Communists at the time.

 

I understand the Security Services' need for reticence when they are touching on matters that could relate to party politics. Much of the debate until now has inevitably been a mixture of generalities and structural recommendations. I should like to describe a few examples that might illustrate the difficulties that arise when people who belong to the Security and Intelligence Services must make decisions about action and intervention.

 

During the second world war, in 1944, MI5 tendered a report to Cabinet Minister Herbert Morrison on the Trotskyist movement in Britain. It was remarkable for its comprehensiveness. It especially identified a man called Edward Grant – Ted Grant, as he later became better known – the editor of Socialist Appeal, as the leading organiser of Trotskyist subversion during the war. Strangely enough, that man was still active when, in the 1970s, the Revolutionary Socialist League – the direct successor to the organisation with which he had been involved during the war – began infiltrating the Labour Party as the Militant Tendency.

 

The question that one must ask is whether it is right for a Security Service to intervene when a democratic political party is being infiltrated by people who are subversive. I am delighted to say that, 10 years after I tried to help the Labour Party to kick out activists of the Revolutionary Socialist League in the 1970s, the Labour Party finally got round to doing it itself.

 

It is very strange that one can still look back at events in the 1980s and try to criticise the Security Service for taking an interest, but forget the interest that the Security Service took in the 1970s in the undermining of the Labour Party by people who were trying to get revolutionary communists into Parliament on the back of the Labour ticket – which was finally confirmed by the all too belated expulsions from Labour's ranks.

 

Perhaps a more immediate example is that of the Soviet propaganda front organisations, such as the World Peace Council, the World Federation of Scientific Workers, the World Federation of Trade Unions and all the others that were set up in the late 1940s and 1950s to carry the Soviet propaganda message into battle against NATO and western countries. Those front organisations were banned by the Labour Party for many years, because they were communist fronts. In 1972, the proscriptions were lifted, and suddenly, once again, the Security Services had a dilemma. What would they do if an activist in a political party were also an activist in an organisation that is an acknowledged instrument of a potential adversary?

 

To give the House the flavour of my point, I shall cite what the Foreign Office said at the United Nations about the World Peace Council. In a report in 1981, the Foreign Office said that the spokesman for the World Peace Council had said that his organisation represented hundreds of millions of people. The World Parliament of Peoples was presented in the literature of the World Peace Council as a kind of rival to the United Nations itself. However, the Foreign Office said, the grand facade of the World Peace Council was no more substantial than a Hollywood film set. The report said that the World Peace Council was a disguised instrument of one country's foreign policy. It was a wolf in sheep's clothing, and its clothing had begun to look very threadbare.

 

During the confrontation of the nuclear debate in the 1980s, an organisation came into existence which was a sub-front of the World Peace Council. It was called Generals for Peace. Generals for Peace consisted of eight former NATO senior military officers, half of whom were in their own right members of the World Peace Council. They were identified at the time as people who were engaging in an operation that was directly aimed at western strategic interests, and they were being orchestrated by a man called Dr Gerhard Kade, who was well known to be active in the Soviet front network.

 

When the cold war came to an end, those of us who had been denounced for trying to point out what Generals for Peace and the World Peace Council had been up to in this respect were somewhat heartened to see a report from a felicitously named former Stasi agent called Gunther Bohnsack, who had spent 26 years in the active measures department of East German intelligence. He confessed that Generals for Peace had been

"conceived, organised and financed by the Stasi."

This had created

"a real power that was in line with Moscow's ideas",

and was

"controlled through intelligence services in Moscow and east Berlin."

Last year, the former head of the Stasi, General Markus Wolf, confirmed the truth of that.

There are those who say that there is no role for the Security Services in monitoring subversion and the past affiliations of people who may yet be appointed to sensitive posts. I should like to know what they expect of somebody who has been involved with an organisation that turns out to have been actively in the pay and control of a foreign hostile intelligence service. [Interruption.]

 

Some hon. Members want to know the direct relevance of all this; it relates to the aspect of the report which says that, in future, the Committee should have a further investigative capacity. Paragraph 69 says that the Committee lacks the ability to investigate directly different aspects of the agencies' activities:

"Without such a capability, the Committee cannot make authoritative statements on certain issues... We... intend to introduce this capability in the coming year."

If the role of the Committee and its investigator is to guard against abuses by the Security and Secret Services, quis custodiet ipsos custodes – who will guard the guardians?

 

Paragraph 26 of the report states that there will be more vetting of agency staff, more random searches and close checks, so that nobody employed by the agencies will be likely to do anything to undermine their security. I suggest that what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If the Committee, with its extra powers, wishes to take to itself the right to look absolutely, totally and deeply into individuals and cases being conducted by the Security Services, the Committee itself will have to do something to ensure that its own security is beyond reproach.

 

I have given examples of the dilemmas faced by the Security and Intelligence Services when they find their inquiries into potentially hostile organisations leading them back towards a political party. Let us imagine what the Security Services' dilemma might be if they were faced with the prospect of looking at a Member of Parliament who had, for example, sponsored a defence fund for the Trotskyist paper Militant when it was threatened with a libel action by a fellow Labour Member of Parliament; who had described the US air raid against Gaddafi as American state terrorism against Libya; who had welcomed a campaign to have Porton Down closed, thus depriving Britain of its chemical and biological defence research centre; who had supported Cuba and congratulated it on the 30th anniversary of Castro's communist revolution; who had praised the World Peace Council's own bogus remlin-organised peace congress in Copenhagen in October 1986; or who had backed a front for North Korean propaganda organisations.

 

The problem that would face the Security Services if they were looking into something of that sort is that they would find themselves investigating at least two members of the Intelligence and Security Committee itself. The Security Services will face a paradox – they must try to preserve their complete impartiality towards political parties, while doing their duty to follow the trail of hostile organisations, wherever it might lead.

 

I thank the House for its indulgence in hearing my speech. I look forward to hearing in particular the speech of the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock), whose own organisation, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, had a number of very close links with the front organisations which I have mentioned – and on that point I conclude my remarks.