The Army

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:36 pm on 17th November 1983.

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Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow 7:36 pm, 17th November 1983

I am talking about military intelligence. I also went to the Public Bill Office and discussed carefully whether my remarks would be in order.

It was not only before the war in the south Atlantic that military intelligence did its job properly. It is clear from a number of sources, including Juan Carlos Murguizur in the May issue of the International Defence Review, that during the conflict on most occasions when Argentine planes took to the air the task force was alerted beforehand. Moreover, military intelligence confirmed very rapidly what Northwood already knew—from the Nimrods with their AD470 Marconi transceiver equipment and from the Americans, whose satellite information was as good in the south Atlantic as it was in relation to the MiG fighters and the Korean airliner—that orders had gone out at 20.07 hours on Saturday 1 May from the operational commander, Rear Admiral Walter Allara, on board the "25th May" confirming that the Argentine surface group should return to Uschaia and confirmed yet again by the naval command in Buenos Aires at 01.19 am on Sunday 2 May. That was also the information of military intelligence.

For at least five hours before she ordered the torpedoing of the Belgrano the Prime Minister knew perfectly well that the vessel's orders were to return to port. Shortly before she awoke at Chequers on Sunday 2 May, the Prime Minister had — from military intelligence and other sources—knowledge of the orders which the intelligence service had intercepted and decoded. The House need not take my word for that, nor the word of Labour Weekly or Tribune. That well known Marxist-Leninist propaganda organ, the Wall Street Journal, referring to the events of 1 May, stated in its issue of 3 October: Late that same night, Admiral Anaya ordered all Argentinian naval ships to port. On the morning of May 2, Mrs. Thatcher had before her reports of the state of the peace proposals, of the Junta Meeting, and of Admiral Anaya's order. Like the rest of us, the military intelligence community is human and deeply resents the leader of the country claiming that the Falklands crisis came out of the blue on 31 March—with the implication that the intelligence community had failed to do its job. I have had many approaches from relatives of people involved in the intelligence community, often with serious service connections, who write in this vein: The son of someone in MI6 told my grandson that she had 3 weeks warning from MI6". Many service people are beginning to tumble to the extent to which the armed services of this country were "used" by the Prime Minister for her own political ends throughout the Falklands crisis.

If hon. Members do not care for my raising these matters today, they had better apply their minds to the creation of a Select Committee on intelligence.

Is it sensible to cut defence intelligence staff? In The Times, under the byline of Peter Hennessey, we read that Sir Louis Le Bailly, who was director general of intelligence between 1972 and 1975, has spoken out publicly against such cuts. The service was meant to provide practical assessments of what was "on the other side of the hill". It is fair to ask whether there may be an imbalance in British intelligence through over-reliance on Foreign Office political output and too few top people to assess intelligence material coming from the military.

Another matter that a Select Committee on intelligence should examine is the use of intelligence reports in published articles by former stratospherically senior civil servants. In The Economist of 12 November Sir Nicholas Henderson wrote: We also knew of an Argentine plan for a co-ordinated attack on the task force to be conducted by aircraft from the mainland, from carrier based aircraft, and from surface ships equipped with exocets". The House should not get me wrong. I am not for prosecuting Sir Nicholas Henderson under the Official Secrets Act, although some people have raised that as a serious question. I am simply saying that a Select Committee on intelligence could lay down guidelines on intelligence reports and Foreign Office telegrams, to which Sir Nicholas refers at least 15 times in 10 pages of The Economist. Before such material is placed in the public desmesne in future, it should be a matter for consideration by hon. Members.

As others wish to participate in the debate, I shall not elaborate on the many other tasks that a Select Committee on intelligence should carry out. For example, Parliament has never formally examined the report of the Security Commission on the Prime case, raising issues about the Government communications headquarters at Cheltenham. Again, I do not criticise the people at GCHQ, Cheltenham. It is remarkable that in a minute or a minute and a half they decoded the Argentine orders. All credit is due to them for that. Nevertheless, when thousands of people work in such a place there should be some scrutiny by Members of Parliament — even if the Select Committee consisted entirely of Privy Councillors, of whom I am not one.

Finally, a Select Committee could also fulfil a watchdog function to ensure that the activities of our intelligence services conform with the principles and practices of a democracy. That is one of the stated reasons why the United States Senate has a defence intelligence committee. I hope that in the coming weeks and months the Ministry of Defence and other Departments concerned will consider that serious proposition. It would be a great help on a number of delicate issues.