INTELLIGENCE SERVICES – SUBVERSION – 22 May 2000

Dr Julian Lewis: If he will make a statement on the capability of the Security Service to monitor subversive groups?

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr Jack Straw): The functions of the Security Service are set out in section 1 of the Security Service Act 1989 as amended by the 1996 Act. The Security Service cannot, on its own account, investigate activities, or planned activities, unless they are threats to national security.

It has been the long-standing policy of successive Governments not to comment on the operations and capabilities of the Security Service. However, I can say that I, as Home Secretary, and the Director General of the service are both content that the service is properly resourced to undertake its statutory functions.]

[SUPPLEMENTARY:] All I can say in response is that they are two people with a minority opinion. Did not the Security Service use to have as its F branch a highly effective organisation for monitoring subversion on the extreme left and the extreme right? Is not it a fact that, both last year and this year, the Home Secretary came to the House bemoaning the fact that demonstrations in the City and Whitehall were impossible properly to take precautions against because of a lack of advance knowledge of what the demonstrators were going to do? Will the Home Secretary now confirm that it was a mistake for his Government to close down F branch of the Security Service as they did, thus enfeebling the ability of the Security Service to take preventative measures, notwithstanding the grudges that he and many of his right hon. and hon. Friends have against F branch for its successful monitoring of their activities in the past?

Mr Straw: I have to explain to the hon. Gentleman that I bear few grudges and I bear no grudge against whoever it was who thought that their days could best be spent on deciding whether I was subversive. Events showed at the time, as they have since, that that was – generally speaking – a waste of public money. The hon. Gentleman's definition of subversion stretches more widely than that of the Director General of the Security Service and that in the Security Service Act 1989. The Act's definition is particular and, as the then Home Secretary – now Lord Hurd – said at the time of its passage,

"There is no power in the Bill to enable the Security Service to take any interest in any person or organisation or any activity or enterprise which presents no threat to the security of the nation as a whole." – [Official Report, 17 January 1989; Vol. 145, c. 218.]

That has been the template for the service since the Act came into force in 1989. On the other hand, the hon. Gentleman's view is that even the new Labour party is a deeply subversive organisation.