Orders of the Day — Mr. Colin Wallace

– in the House of Commons at 9:59 pm on 12th February 1990.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Kenneth Carlisle.]

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow 10:14 pm, 12th February 1990

As this debate relates to the North of Ireland, I am sure that my colleagues will not take it amiss if I refer, with sadness, to the passing of our friend, Harold McCusker. Shortly after he was elected a Member of Parliament I spent the day with him, as did others, in his constituency. It was an interesting experience because he was a marvellous host, and we learnt a lot. We mourn the passing of this courageous and brave colleague.

On Wednesday 15 November 1989, Hansard records that I asked the Prime Minister what recent representations have been received by her Cabinet secretariat relating to events at the Kincora boys' home in Northern Ireland. The Prime Minister replied: I am advised that there have been no such representations from Members of Parliament and members of the public."—[Official Report, 15 November 1989; Vol. 160, c. 269.] The word "such" was underlined. I cannot assert that never, in a parliamentary answer, has one word been underlined, but never in the recollection of four of the most senior Clerks of the House of Commons—not in the recollection of Sir Clifford Boulton, Mr. Sweetman, Mr. Limon or Mr. Winnifrith—has a word ever been underlined. Therefore, we must ask why that happened.

On 27 November 1989 I asked the Prime Minister why, in her answer, Official Report, 15 November, relating to representations received by the Cabinet Secretariat relating to events at the Kincora boys' home she underlined the word 'such'". The answer will not come as a shock to my hon. Friends. She said: I have nothing further to add to the reply I gave the hon. Member on 15 November at column 269.—[Official Report, 27 November 1989; Vol. 162, c. 92.] As there were no such representations, the question that I wanted to put down but, under the Table Office rules, could not was to ask why there were representations frotn Sir Michael Quinlan, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence, and Mr. Len Appleyard, the deputy secretary in the Cabinet Office. The question of which I have given the Minister warning is this: if there were no such representations, what representations were made and what were the terms of reference?

The second question of which I gave notice to the Attorney-General's office, to whom this Adjournment debate was addressed, was to ask about the letter of the shadow Attorney-General, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris)—and I thank him for his presence. He wrote on 1 February: Dear Prime Minister,I have read with care your letter of 30 January 1990 to Mr. Terence Higgins. Since the issues raised cover a number of departmental responsibilities I am writing to seek clarification of certain aspects of your letter.I would be glad if you could clear up the following:—

  1. 1. Which statements in your letters, Ministerial statements and official correspondence were in each case either incorrect or require clarification?
  2. 2. What in each of the said letters, Ministerial statements and official correspondence was either incorrect or requires clarification?
  3. 3. Which, if any, of the Ministerial statements referred to were made in the House?"
I remind the House of what the Prime Minister said on 30 January in her letter to my right hon. and learned Friend: I regret to say that a re-examination of Departmental papers has brought to light information which shows that there were a number of statements in my letterss, and in other Ministerial statements and official correspondence, which were incorrect or required clarification. My right hon. and learned Friend received an answer to his questions on the very same day: Dear Mr. Morris,I am writing on the Prime Minister's behalf to thank you for your letter of 1 February"— he does not yet have an answer. This is receiving attention and I shall ensure that a reply is sent to you as soon as possible. Even Conservative Members will understand that this was not quite a routine letter. How many of them receive letters from the Prime Minister's secretary signed, "Yours sincerely, Charles Powell." Mr. Charles Powell does not spend his time acknowledging routine letters. What on earth did the principal private secretary to the Prime Minister, responsible for foreign affairs, have to do with the case of Colin Wallace and the statements made by the Prime Minister on it?

I can only imagine that the Prime Minister said to him, "Charles, this is a matter for you to handle. After all, you have all the expertise from the Westland affair." So regurgitate my right hon. and learned Friend's letter and I ask for a full explanation. I shall give the Minister plenty of time in which to reply, and I am sure that he will welcome the opportunity to answer me fully.

I wish to ask the Minister a final question of which he has had notice: why on earth was General Gerald Whiteley, the director of Army legal services, ever involved in the case of Colin Wallace? What on earth was he doing meddling with the Court of Appeal?

These are serious questions; the House of Commons deserves a full answer to them.

Photo of Sir Archie Hamilton Sir Archie Hamilton The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence 10:23 pm, 12th February 1990

First, I echo the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) about the loss of our colleague Harold McCusker. We send our condolences to his wife and family.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Linlithgow [Interruption.] Were it not for his intervention in this matter I would not have read "War Without Honour", about the exploits of Captain Holroyd, or "Who Framed Colin Wallace?" by Paul Foot. The hon. Gentleman has raised a number of issues about the case of Colin Wallace, and, with his usual courtesy, he gave notice on Friday of the three particular questions to which he seeks answers. I shall deal with the latter tonight and with any other essential issues as time permits.

I know that my response will not satisfy all those who choose to see in Mr. Wallace's various allegations the evidence that they seek to justify their belief in an all-embracing conspiracy by Crown servants against the Government. That does not deter me from explaining the available facts to the House once again, since the facts are more important in this matter, rather than speculation that cannot be substantiated.

As many hon. Members know, Mr. Wallace was employed as a civil servant in the headquarters in Northern Ireland between 1968 and 1975. He served in the successive grades of assistant information officer, information officer and senior information officer.

It was worth reminding the House at this point of the situation that confronted the security forces in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s. By that time, law and order in the province had deteriorated to so great a degree that the Government concluded that it was essential to direct the Army to play a major role in support of the police to fight terrorism. That was a daunting task. The IRA was engaged in a campaign of bombings, assassinations and maiming on an unprecedented and horrific scale, supporting that violence with a campaign of virulent propaganda.

It is a tribute to the many Crown servants who served in Northern Ireland then that they put so much effort into dealing with the extreme difficulties that they faced. For them, the learning curve was steep. It was essential to regain the initiative, and effective measures were imperative to counter both the terrorists and their propaganda. Explaining the true purpose of the work of the security forces and countering IRA propaganda were key ingredients in restoring law and order in the community.

Mr. Wallace was one of a number in the Government information service who played their part. By all accounts, Mr. Wallace was an extremely hard worker. He devoted considerable personal effort to understanding any aspect of the complex world of Northern Ireland that might have been relevant to the fight against terrorism.

As each promotion increased his responsibilities, his efforts were increasingly widened. By all accounts, he took great interest in collecting any information, story, or rumour which might be of interest.

Like all information officers, his duties required him to exercise discretion when deciding how best to communicate with the media, and how much to say on each occasion. That does not mean to say that his exercise of discretion was unfettered. All information officers are expected to operate within the limits of the authority given to them, and to demonstrate constantly that they are interpreting their duties properly. In particular, the release of classified documents is not a matter which is left to the sole discretion of individual information officers.

The extent of Mr. Wallace's discretion in the handling of classified information falls within the ambit of Mr. Calcutt's inquiry.

After Mr. Wallace had been transferred to another post, and had left his job in Headquarters Northern Ireland, he provided a journalist with a classified document. He did so without seeking or receiving authority. The act was almost immediately discovered. Mr. Wallace initially denied and then admitted it.

The view was taken that his act required disciplinary action, and it was concluded that dismissal was appropriate. Mr. Wallace appealed to the Civil Service appeal board, which recommended that, in the light of his earlier good service, he should be allowed to resign. He and the Ministry of Defence accepted that recommendation, and he resigned from the Civil Service in 1975. He clearly felt that he had suffered an injustice, and he sought to air his grievances. In recent years, one of his contentions in this context has been that he was dismissed because he refused to engage in improper activities. He has alleged that during the 1970s the security forces and Crown servants serving in Northern Ireland had engaged in a variety of activities which he seemed to think improper or illegal. He has also alleged that the security forces deliberately covered up information relating to homosexual activities at Kincora. In 1981 he was convicted of manslaughter and has since contended variously that the verdict was unsound and that he was framed. More recently his letters to Government Departments have included the allegation that the project called Clockwork Orange had been undertaken by Crown servants in Northern Ireland in 1974 and had included the issue of defamatory material aimed at Ministers and Members of Parliament.

Mr. Wallace's case has been brought back into the limelight by the written answer that I gave and letters that I sent to hon. Members at the end of last month. In them I volunteered information to correct the record concerning inaccuracies in information previously given to hon. Members by Ministers. I did that because it was right to do so. In the same spirit, inquiries have been commissioned into two related matters. I must tell the House again that nothing discovered in the process leading to the public correction of those inaccuracies constitutes any evidence to corroborate Mr. Wallace's allegations about illegal activities or about the use of disinformation by Crown servants to denigrate Ministers and hon. Members.

Photo of Mr James Kilfedder Mr James Kilfedder , North Down

Mr. Colin Wallace has alleged that he informed his superiors when he was an Army information officer that he had evidence that boys in the Kincora boys' home had been abused and were being abused. Was that information acted on? Is there any record of those allegations having been made to superiors? There is grave disquiet in Northern Ireland and surely it would be much better to have a full investigation into the whole issue of the Kincora boys' home.

Photo of Sir Archie Hamilton Sir Archie Hamilton The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I remind the hon. Gentleman that there have been two full inquiries into the Kincora boys' home, one by Chief Constable Terry from Sussex and one by Judge Hughes. The opportunity was given to Mr. Wallace to give evidence to the Hughes inquiry but he found reasons for not doing so, which were that he would not be covered by the Official Secrets Act. There have been opportunities for him to give evidence and he has not done so. To date we have no evidence whatever, any evidence on which we can work, which indicates that Mr. Wallace had the sort of evidence that we needed to gain convictions over the Kincora affair earlier than actually happened.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours , Workington

Is it true that MI5 or MI6 obstructed or blocked an inquiry into the Kincora affair in 1973, 1974 or 1975?

Photo of Sir Archie Hamilton Sir Archie Hamilton The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

Those are unsubstantiated rumours that have been put down.

Photo of Sir Archie Hamilton Sir Archie Hamilton The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

There is no evidence whatever that they are. If the hon. Gentleman has any evidence that that is the case he should present it. There is no evidence about that whatever.

Some hon. Members have intimated that we would not have commissioned the inquiry by Mr. Calcutt had it not already become clear that Mr. Wallace should not have been dismissed. That is not so. Available papers record that Mr. Wallace did provide a journalist with a classified document, and that it was felt right at the time that he should be dismissed. The reason for asking Mr. Calcutt to look into the dismissal procedure is to enable him to consider whether, with the benefit of 15 years of hindsight, the presentation of his case to the Civil Service appeal board was entirely fair. Mr. Calcutt will consider whether, in comparison with the handling of a similar case today, Mr. Wallace was hard done by. No evidence has been found which justifies the theory of a conspiracy to remove Mr. Wallace because he refused to take part in Clockwork Orange.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Linlithgow for giving me advance notice of questions. He asked me to identify those earlier ministerial statements which were incorrect and those which required clarification. As my written answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall) on 30 January made clear, Mr. Wallace undertook duties beyond those described explicitly in his formal job description. An additional job description was drafted to cover those additional duties, but they are not recorded in any subsequent approved and issued job description.

The letter that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister sent my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) on 30 March 1987 said that the job description given to the Civil Service appeal board was the only one applicable to Mr. Wallace's job. To the extent that it was the only one that formally existed, that was true, but it was felt right to acknowledge the existence of a draft that was brought to light last year.

Re-examination of files indicated that Mr. Wallace had undertaken unattributable covert briefing, which probably included disinformation designed to discredit the Provisional IRA. It was considered that this should also be put on the record to correct statements about the nature of Mr. Wallace's duties made in the Prime Minister's letter of 30 March 1987 to my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing and any misunderstandings that may unwittingly have been communicated to other right hon. and hon. Members.

My answer also explained that documents had recently come to light that made reference to a project called Clockwork Orange. Those documents made it plain that this was to have been an exercise to plant a story designed to discredit the leadership of the Provisional IRA but that its implementation was never approved. In a letter to the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone), dated 15 August 1988, my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Freeman) and in an answer given on 10 January 1989 my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert), each in his capacity as Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces, stated that they had no evidence that a project of that name had ever existed. That was a true statement of the information available to them. When information relating to Clockwork Orange was found, it was considered proper to put the record straight.

I also wrote to the hon. Member for Brent, East to add to the information that I had been able to provide previously about a mock raid on Aldergrove airport. He had asked a number of questions on the subject and it was felt appropriate to make the additional information available to him. Two errors of fact were also corrected in that letter. The records previously examined showed only that Mr. William Black had been shot in 1974 with a Sterling sub-machine gun. Papers re-examined last year contained the additional information that the weapon was a model L34A1, which is fitted with an integral suppressor or silencer. That information was pertinent to the questions that the hon. Member has asked. Other papers indicated that the Ingram MAC 10 sub-machine gun had been issued at an earlier date than had previously been indicated. That information was accordingly passed to the hon. Member to correct an answer given on 15 December 1988.

I should now like to turn to the reference made by the hon. Member for Linlithgow to the words "such representations." It is important to put that point, which the hon. Gentleman somewhat laboured, in context. The hon. Gentleman asked my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister: what recent representations have been received by her Cabinet secretariat relating to events at the Kincora boys' home in Northern Ireland. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister replied: I am advised that there have been no such representations from Members of Parliament and members of the public."—[Official Report, 15 November 1989; Vol. 160, c. 269.] That seems to be a pretty standard answer. I take the hon. Gentleman's word for it that the word "such" was underlined. He should not ask me why that was, but I have nothing further to add to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said.

Photo of Ken Livingstone Ken Livingstone , Brent East

Would the Minister like to comment on today's revelations that in 1973 Mr. Wallace's superior officer, Mr. Peter Broderick, saw and initialled Mr. Wallace's report drawing attention to systematic child abuse at Kincora? Does it not worry him that that continued for a further seven years after it had been brought to the attention of senior Army officers? Has he seen the statement in today's newspapers reporting the views of Sir George Terry, who conducted one of the earlier inquiries into Kincora? He says: I am sure that in the light of all that is now being said, any inquiry that can look at everything would be a very wise step". Mr. Justice Hughes has been prayed in aid to say that we need no further inquiry. He now states that, contrary to the Government's position, he did not receive the papers that Colin Wallace submitted to the Prime Minister in 1984, although the House has been told that those papers were made available. The Minister has now told the hon. Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall) that the originals of the documents submitted to the Prime Minister have disappeared from the Prime Minister's office and cannot be traced. Is that not causing the Minister concern? There is something more important than a job description involved here.

Photo of Sir Archie Hamilton Sir Archie Hamilton The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I cannot comment on all those points. If Mr. Broderick has evidence about Kincora, he should take it to the Royal Ulster Constabulary, which is the body to deal with these matters. If he finds that difficult and feels that this is covered by the Official Secrets Act 1911, he should take the matter up with the Director of Army Security, who certaintly will help him.

It is typical of all the allegations that we have heard that people are more than happy to make statements to newspapers about what should happen, but when they are given the opportunity to present the facts—we are looking for facts—to the authorities, we do not get them. That has been the history all the way. Massive assertions are made, but people are not prepared to present the facts to the authorities, who would be more than happy to deal with them.

I should now like to turn to a number of serious allegations that were raised by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) in the Adjournment debate on Tuesday 6 February. Those allegations about the conduct of civil servants, members of the security and intelligence services and others suggest that they have been or may have been involved in the dissemination of false information about Members of Parliament. I remind the House of the points that I made last Tuesday. It is no part of the official duties of any Crown servant to disseminate false information about Members of Parliament in order to denigrate them in any way. All Governments and hon. Members on both sides of the House would regard any such action as unacceptable. Government servants are well aware of the conduct expected of them and of the severe consequences that they might suffer in any case where those standards of conduct were breached.

I had hoped that the statement that I made in the debate on Tuesday would enable hon. Members to draw a clear distinction between disinformation aimed at hon. Members and cases in the early 1970s when disinformation was used to denigrate the Provisional IRA. As I said then, the Government judge that no useful purpose would be served by an inquiry now into disinformation designed to denigrate the Provisional IRA so many years ago, under previous Administrations, in a policy framework long since changed and amid all the operational stresses of the early and peak years of a very difficult emergency.

I repeat that the Government regard disinformation aimed at Members of Parliament or former Ministers as a quite different and special matter which was dealt with by the Prime Minister's statement in 1987. I must say again that no evidence of any substance has emerged from our review of papers to put that statement into question.

Photo of Mr Max Madden Mr Max Madden , Bradford West

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Sir Archie Hamilton Sir Archie Hamilton The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I cannot give way because I have other comments to make.

There seems to be misapprehension in some Members' minds that unattributable covert briefing represents an unacceptable practice and that use of classified information in that context is improper. There is nothing wrong in using classified information during unattributable briefing, provided that the briefing is for proper purposes and that the disclosure of classified information has been properly authorised. I know of no reason to believe that, contrary to normal practice, Mr. Wallace was given total discretion to release whatever classified information he wished to disclose.

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South and Morley

May I tell the Minister plainly that the inquiry by the former Prime Minister and myself into dirty tricks certainly did not include the disinformation against Members of Parliament between 1971 and 1975? That should be inquired into, because someone authorised that to be done.

Photo of Sir Archie Hamilton Sir Archie Hamilton The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I am sorry, but I think that the right hon. Gentleman misunderstood me. I was referring to the inquiry carried out by the head of the security services, under the auspices of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. That inquiry investigated that matter in great depth and the head of the security services found no evidence that that campaign of disinformation had been carried out by his security services or even by a disaffected group within the security services.

As my right hon. Friend and I have assured the House, the papers that have come to light on the Colin Wallace case do not contain any evidence to support his allegations about a "smear" campaign about Members of Parliament. As I have described already, the only element of his claims about disinformation that has been confirmed is that an operation known as Clockwork Orange was conceived. The documents found show that that operation was, I repeat, aimed at the Provisional IRA—not at Members of Parliament—and was not approved.

The motion having been made after Ten o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, MR. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at sixteen minutes to Eleven o'clock.