Security

– in the House of Commons at 4:39 pm on 27th April 1987.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire 4:39 pm, 27th April 1987

It might be helpful to the House if I state that, having noted the comments made by the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) and those made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, I recognise that there is in the House a very general desire for a debate on security matters in Northern Ireland. I hope that that can he arranged shortly through the usual channels.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. I will take the application under Standing Order No. 20 first and then take any points of order.

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Chesterfield 4:40 pm, 27th April 1987

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely, the decision of the Prime Minister to suppress information about the disloyal and illegal activities by the security services and hence to mislead Parliament and the public. My request arises from the report in The Independent this morning written by three distinguished journalists who have read the book written by Mr. Peter Wright in which he reveals: Thirty senior staff of MI5 were engaged in a politically-motivated … plot to hound Harold Wilson from office as Prime Minister in 1974". I quote again: Assassination plots, burglaries and bugging of allies and enemies, are all described at first hand in the Wright manuscript. I quote again: Plans to assassinate President Nasser at the time of Suez … are confirmed with first-hand detail in the book. Because of the nature of these charges, the Government have used the courts to try to silence and harass the press and journalists who brought this matter to light. It is my opinion that it is much to the credit of The Independent that it published the article. Some of the actions were directed against Members of this House, including Harold Wilson and others, some of whom are still Members of the House. The article is the first direct evidence available which discloses what is in the book which the Prime Minister has sought to suppress.

My request for a debate relates not to the case, but to the evidence that has now reached us. For many years it has been suspected that this was going on, but the Ministers responsible were either not told or knew and chose not to disclose it. In either case, a serious offence was committed. However, we know that the Prime Minister knew the book's contents because she personally Sent the Cabinet Secretary to Australia to get it suppressed. The argument that this was a breach of confidentiality was put about the real charge of illegality, disloyalty and possibly treason against Her Majesty's Government.

I conclude by stating that this is a matter of fundamental importance to the House, whose protector you are, Mr. Speaker. When you claim the privileges of the House, you ask that the most favourable construction be placed upon our proceedings, and nothing could be more clearly covered in that category than Ministers being accountable to the House of Commons. I believe that the Wright book, coming on top of other revelations, reveals a situation within MI5 and MI6 and its relations with the Central Intelligence Agency which amount to a threat to parliamentary democracy. f submit that the House must debate the matter. I hope that you will reflect, Mr. Speaker, that as the events that will unfold as a result of the book become clearer, it would be inconceivable to observers that Parliament should not have discussed the matter at the earliest possible occasion.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

The right hon. Member asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believes should have urgent consideration, namely, the decision of the Prime Minister to suppress information about disloyal activities by the security services and hence to mislead Parliament and the public. As the House and the right hon. Gentleman know, my only duty in adjudicating upon a Standing Order No. 20 application is whether to give it precedence over the business set down for today or tomorrow. I regret that I do not consider the matter that he has raised is appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 20 and I cannot, therefore, submit his application to the House.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

May I tell the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) that, after the Leader of the House had risen to make his comments about a debate, I was not certain whether the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley was rising to raise his Standing Order No. 20 application or to ask a question. If he was rising to ask a question, I should have called him.

Photo of Mr James Molyneaux Mr James Molyneaux , Lagan Valley

I would like to thank the Leader of the House on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends for the suggestion that he has made, which is agreeable to us. In the light of that, with your leave, Mr. Speaker, I shall not now proceed to make application for a debate under Standing Order No. 20.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

On a point of order.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. I am not taking points of order now. However, in fairness to the House, I will take any questions to the Leader of the House on his statement about the change of business. If the point of order from the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) is encompassed within that, he may ask his question of the Leader of the House.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

I find myself in some difficulty. I wanted to ask you, Sir, what I do as a Member of this House when members of the security forces have planned to discredit and assassinate me. What do I do under those circumstances? Do I appeal to you, Mr. Speaker, for protection? On the other matter—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member wants to stand up and say something, let him stand up and not remain seated.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. The hon. Gentleman should put a question to the Leader of the House.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

My other point is that today, in the House, we heard a statement which can only lead to grave fears on behalf of many people in Northern Ireland. This House was deliberately misled by the Secretary of State. I want to say that the sooner that we have a debate—

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. The hon. Gentleman has made his point. No hon. Member from either side of the House deliberately misleads this House. We are all right hon. and hon. Members.

Several Hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Standing Order No. 20 application—Rev. William McCrea.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

My question relates to parliamentary business in relation to one of our former colleagues, Lord Glenamara, whose position is—

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that he cannot ask a question except on the statement that was made. I will hear the Standing Order No. 20 application.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

It was on that business statement.

Photo of Mr Barry Porter Mr Barry Porter , Wirral South

On a very mundane level, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will take account of the fact that there are some local elections in the fairly near future. I hope that, when determining the time and date of the debate, he will bear in mind that many English Unionists might care to take part in it. Thursday 7 May would not be an appropriate date.

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

I am certain that that will be one of the factors to be considered by the usual channels.

Photo of Mr James Kilfedder Mr James Kilfedder , North Down

On the statement made by the Leader of the House, may I state that it would be my wish, and the wish of my constituents and of the people of Northern Ireland, that a debate should take place immediately. None the less, I am glad to note that the Government have acceded to the request of the Members from Northern Ireland and agreed to the debate.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

On a point of order.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

I will take points of order in their normal place after the Standing Order No. 20 applications.

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

But it is in relation to the statement.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Then do not raise a point of order; ask a question.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. Questions on this matter must be addressed to the Leader of the House.

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

But you have got them mixed up, haven't you?

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. I did get them mixed up; that is why I went back and called questions to the Leader of the House.

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

Well then, let us get back to this afterwards.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Does it relate to the Irish statement?

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

Yes, it does. As the Leader of the House made a judgment about the importance of debating the situation on Northern Ireland, is it not a matter for comparative judgment—and equally important—that we debate the issue raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn)?

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I find it remarkable that we are now asking questions of the Leader of the House, who has not replied to a single one of the questions that have been raised. It is a cock-eyed state of affairs. I want to ask him this: when he arranges the debate on Northern Ireland, will he make sure that it does not conflict with one of the many requests that will be made under Standing Order No. 20 for a debate on the scandal that emerged today in The Independent and other newspapers in relation to MI5 and all the rest of it? Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), I believe that it is necessary for Labour Members to expose what has taken place with these so-called spycatchers and all the rest—

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. That is wide of the question.

Photo of Mr Ian Gow Mr Ian Gow , Eastbourne

Yes. Can my right hon. Friend say whether the forthcoming debate on Northern Ireland will be a half-day debate or a whole-day debate?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

That matter will be considered by the usual channels.

Photo of John Taylor John Taylor , Strangford

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Not a point of order—a question to the Leader of the House?

Photo of John Taylor John Taylor , Strangford

Yes, a question to the Leader of the House. Will the right hon. Gentleman give us an assurance that the debate on the Anglo-Irish Agreement and the lack of security in Northern Ireland will be held before the general election?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

I shall ensure that the usual channels consider that observation among all others.

Photo of William McCrea William McCrea , Mid Ulster

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely, the terrorist murders committed by the IRA in my Mid-Ulster constituency which have resulted in a civilian being buried and a UDR man brutally murdered since the House rose on Friday last. On behalf of the family of a UDR man who live in my constituency, may I say that I am deeply hurt that the Secretary of State came to the House today and failed to say that the last person to be murdered in Ulster was a member of the Ulster Defence Regiment. He was forgotten about and not mentioned, and I believe that that was absolutely disgraceful. Indeed, the Secretary of State should apologise to the widow and the two children, who have suffered because of a dastardly and brutal murder by the sewer crawlers of the IRA.

Many hon. Members have said today that they sympathise. In all the years since the troubles started in the Province, how many Members of Parliament have been across to Ulster, taken a widow by the hand and sympathised with her and her children after another brutal murder by the IRA? There is a widow sitting in my constituency today, but not one Minister will be present to sympathise with her. I have a message from that widow to the Secretary of State. He can keep his officials from her door—she does not want to see them. She said, "He is no good to me; he is no good to my children; he is no good to the widows of the RUC men; he is no good to the widows of the UDR; he is no good to the orphans—until he stops talking and starts acting against the murderers and puts them where they belong—six feet under." Then my constituents will listen to the Secretary of State. We are looking not for words, but for action against the sewer crawlers of Republican terrorism.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

The hon. Gentleman asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believes should have urgent consideration, namely, the terrorist murders committed by the IRA in the Mid-Ulster constituency which have resulted in a civilian being buried and a UDR man brutally murdered since the House rose last Friday. I have listened—[Interruption.] Order. I have listened with deep concern to what the hon. Gentleman said on behalf of his constituents, but I regret that I do not consider the matter which he has raised as appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 20 and I cannot, therefore, submit his application to the House.

Later

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

I wanted to ask you something, Mr. Speaker, arising from what my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) said. I do not challenge your ruling, but you were careful to say that you could not make a decision today for a debate tomorrow. Are you saying that if this matter—it is of the greatest importance to the future of the country that the security services should not be involved in trying to undermine an elected Government — is raised tomorrow or the day after, it will be given greater consideration than it has been given today? It is vital that the nation should debate this matter which is an undermining of our democratic way of life.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

On the same point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

It has been reported in the press that the Attorney-General was considering taking the matter of what has appeared in The Independent to court. As you will be the first to recognise, Mr. Speaker, you are first and foremost the custodian of parliamentary democracy and the rights of this House. If it is true, as Mr. Wright has alleged, that up to 30 MI5 officers were engaged in the worst form of treachery — the overthrow of a democratically elected Government—and were conspiring to undermine and destroy a Prime Minister, surely this must be a matter of deep concern.

If it was alleged that the general council of the TUC had been conspiring to carry out assassinations or to destroy a democratically elected Government by treachery and subversion, Conservative Members would not hestitate constantly to urge that the matter should be debated. These events did not take place 300 or 100 years ago but took place within the last 10 or 12 years. Mr. Wright has left MI5, but if it is true that these events took place and if it is true, as stated, that a number of those who conspired to commit treachery remain in MI5, is it not a matter of the utmost importance that, as my right hon. and hon. Friends have urged, this matter should be debated as quickly as possible and before the general election?

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

On the same issue. It is a direct question to you, Mr. Speaker. You will understand that, arising out of what has been written in relation to the Wright situation, we are in a new position in relation to the sub judice rule. May I ask for some guidance about how you intend to interpret the sub judice rule now that it has really been breached by a coach and four?

May I also ask whether there should be a statement about the position of the Security Commission, because there is certainly reference to the fact that the Security Commission has been impotent? Because I think that it is the business of the Chair, perhaps later today you could give a considered statement about the sub judice rule that you normally and legitimately adopt.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Yes. It is linked to what has been asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), that here we are with the possibility of action being taken by the Attorney-General against these newspapers. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) has asked for a Standing Order 20 debate and that request has been refused. We are approaching a general election and it is clear that there is a cover-up of gigantic proportions. The last thing that the Chair should become involved and embroiled in is part of that gagging and cover up. I suggest, Mr. Speaker

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. I hope that the hon. Member is not suggesting that.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Let me finish, Mr. Speaker. I am suggesting that it will be seen outside by millions of people that this Government—

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order! I am not having that from the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman should raise a point of order that I can answer as a matter of order.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

What I am saying is that in this climate and in this environment millions of people will ask why on earth the House of Commons cannot discuss a most important issue that has been revealed by sections of the the press. They will ask why we, in this so-called mother of Parliaments, this free Parliament that people talk about, cannot find ways of discussing it. All I am saying is that, if the Government are going to get the Attorney-General to stop this issue being debated, the net result will he that neither you nor anybody else will be able to ensure that this matter is discussed. All I am saying to you is to get on your bike and get it discussed quickly.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. And I say to the hon. Gentleman that as the custodian of the Chair I am not prepared to be involved in political controversy.[Interruption.] This is a matter for the Government. It is not a question for the Chair. I have given my ruling about whether this matter should take precedence over the business set down for today or tomorrow, and that is the end of it.

Photo of Alan Williams Alan Williams , Swansea West

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. I shall take Mr. Steel first.

Photo of Mr David Steel Mr David Steel Leader of the Liberal Party

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Chair is placed in difficulty because the Government have indicated that they are considering taking action against The Independent. This morning, before that was known, I tabled an early day motion suggesting that the current appeal that the Government intend to pursue against the judgment in Australia is itself now a waste of money. It would he extremely helpful to the Chair and to the House if these further legal proceedings were withdrawn and the House were then able to debate the matter.

Photo of Alan Williams Alan Williams , Swansea West

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We all appreciate the difficulty that you face, Mr. Speaker, in avoiding being drawn into political controversy. The point that my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) makes is a valid one. It is that acts of sedition are not matters of political controversy. They strike at the very core of the democratic system and you, Mr. Speaker, are the custodian of this House, the prime institution of our democratic society. Therefore, when we have clear and new evidence from people who were involved at the time that acts of sedition took place, then we on the Opposition Front Bench and our hon. Friends on the Back Benches strongly feel that this is a matter of such importance—not necessarily in a party political sense — that it deserves priority. We understand your problems, Mr. Speaker, but it is likely that we will return to this issue tomorrow and the day after and even the day after that.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

May I say to the hon. Gentleman and to the whole House, but specifically to the Opposition Front Bench, that they have their remedy? They have an Opposition day virtually every week — [Interruption.] Order.—and it is perfectly open to the Opposition to choose this subject for debate. I find it reprehensible that an hon. Member should seek to involve the Chair in a matter that is plainly one of political controversy.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Were you deflected from the answer that you were about to give me about the sub judice rule?

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

As far as I am aware, no action has been set down in the English courts, and the matter is not sub judice.