Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
Undercover policing is an essential tactic in fighting crime. However, we have known for some time that there have been serious historical failings in undercover policing and its practices. To improve the public’s confidence in undercover work, we must ensure that there is no repeat of these failings. That is why the Home Secretary established a public inquiry earlier this month—to investigate thoroughly undercover policing and the operation of the special demonstration squad. The appointment as chairman of Lord Justice Pitchford, a highly experienced criminal judge of the Court of Appeal, has been confirmed.
The scope of the inquiry, announced to Parliament on
I thank the Minister for his statement. Will he pass on to the Home Secretary my request that she ensure that the remit of the public inquiry she has announced into the operations of the special demonstration squad includes the surveillance of the MPs publicly named by Peter Francis when he was an undercover officer between 1990 and 2001?
Is the Minister aware that Mr Francis saw a special branch file on not only me but my right hon. Friend Mr Straw, who was actually Home Secretary for four of those years? He also saw files on my right hon. and learned Friend Ms Harman, my right hon. Friend Dame Joan Ruddock and my hon. Friends the Members for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) and for Bolsover (Mr Skinner), as well as former colleagues Tony Benn, Ken Livingstone and Bernie Grant.
Did the monitoring affect our ability as MPs to speak confidentially with constituents? What impact, if any, did it have on our ability to represent them properly? We know, for example, that the campaign to get justice for Stephen Lawrence, the black teenager murdered by racists, was infiltrated by the SDS and that the police blocked a proper prosecution. Did police infiltrators in the Lawrence campaign exploit private information shared by constituents or lawyers with any of us as MPs? Will the Home Office order the police to disclose all relevant information and, to each of the MPs affected, our complete individual personal registry files?
It is hardly a revelation that the special branch had a file on people like me, dating back 40 years to anti-apartheid and Anti-Nazi League activist days, because we were seen through a cold war prism as “subversive”. Even though we vigorously opposed Stalinism, that did not stop us being lumped together with Moscow sympathisers.
Surely the fact that these files were still active for at least 10 years while we were MPs raises fundamental questions about parliamentary sovereignty and privilege—principles that are vital to our democracy. It is one thing to have a police file on an MP suspected of crime, child abuse or even co-operating with terrorism, but quite another to maintain one deriving from campaigns promoting values of social justice, human rights and equal opportunities that are shared by millions of British people. Surely that means travelling down a road that endangers the liberty of us all.
The right hon. Gentleman has put his point to the House very well. It is important that the country has confidence in the way the police operate, and that is exactly why the Home Secretary has instigated the inquiry. I am sure that Lord Justice Pitchford and his officials will be contacting the right hon. Gentleman and others in this House, and those who have left this House, to make sure that their views are known as he addresses the way he is going to take his inquiry forward.
In the past year there have been a number of revelations about the police improperly hacking into journalists’ telephone calls, and improperly breaching the legal privilege of suspects and using the information they obtain from doing so. The Government have been very coy about responding to my requests about the current state of the Wilson doctrine. If the allegations that have now come out are true, that indicates that the Wilson doctrine was broken in spirit, if not in the letter. Will the Minister make sure that the inquiry comes right up to date in terms of what it looks into and that it is drawn broadly enough to ensure that none of these risks exists today?
Let me say to my right hon. Friend that I have never been coy; it is an attribute that I do not really have. On the Wilson doctrine, it is plainly obvious why we have to be careful. There is litigation in place, and we need to make sure that it goes further. By the end of July, Lord Justice Pitchford will set out his remit, including the sorts of things that my right hon. Friend alluded to. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will put them forward directly to make sure that they are part of the inquiry.
The allegations in the newspapers today will send a chill up the spine of all those who value free speech, democracy and campaigning for one’s beliefs. Being investigated not for crime but for political beliefs is quite obviously unacceptable.
Almost five years ago, before the last general election, the activities of what was then the special demonstration squad were reported in TheGuardian. Over the past few years, we have seen horrifying allegations, many looked at as part of Chief Constable Mick Creedon’s Operation Herne investigations. They include allegations that SDS officers engaged in sexual relationships, and even fathered children, then leaving the women as if the relationship had never occurred; used the identities of dead children for covert identities; and spied on the Lawrence family—the grieving parents of a cruelly murdered son.
Two years ago, the shadow Home Secretary called for stronger safeguards on undercover operations. There remains an overwhelming case, further strengthened today, for more safeguards, including independent pre-authorisation, for example by the Office of Surveillance Commissioners, especially for the small number of long-term covert operations, and then continuous, not paper-based, independent checks. I hope the Minister can respond directly on that point.
Now we also want assurances that the inquiry into the activities of the SDS led by Lord Justice Pitchford will be extended to the allegations set out in the newspapers today. As my right hon. Friend Mr Hain said, this is an affront to parliamentary democracy—to the sovereignty and independence of this House. It is also an affront to the vital principle, the breach of which can be very serious indeed, of confidentiality between a Member of Parliament and those he or she represents. Lord Justice Pitchford’s inquiry must be extended to look into the allegations as part of the investigation into the Met’s special demonstration squad. I stress again that undercover policing remains a crucial tool in combating serious and organised crime, but it must not be abused.
In conclusion, Labour has for years pressed for much stronger oversight of undercover policing, and that is all the more important in the light of today’s shocking revelations. Lord Justice Pitchford needs to be able to conduct an extensive and wide inquiry, which, crucially, should have the flexibility to investigate any allegations about undercover policing, in particular those relating to surveillance of Members of this House.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments and questions, and I think the whole House shares his concerns, but it is for Lord Pitchford to decide how he wants to take this forward. That is exactly why the concerns touched on—
The hon. Gentleman is better than that. This is a really serious inquiry. There have been concerns for many years, including when his own party was in government, but it is this Government who have established an inquiry as a result of the work of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary. We shall wait and we shall work together. If Lord Pitchford asks for more, I am sure we will give him more.
Forty years ago, when I was president of a students union, I was visited by officers from King’s Cross special branch, whose express purpose was to tell me that they had a file on me. Like Mr Hain, I do not take that desperately seriously, given the circumstances of the time, but I do take very seriously the matter of files being kept on Members of this
House and, indeed, members of the Government. As the inquiry takes shape, will Speaker’s Counsel or the Clerk of the House be involved so that if matters relating to Members’ privilege are engaged, as almost certainly they will be, this House will be able to take appropriate action?
I think that is exactly the approach that Lord Pitchford will take. If Speaker’s Counsel and the Clerks have concerns, they will certainly submit them, and, if they are asked, there will be full communication between them.
This is more important than just feeding our views to an inquiry; the question is what the Minister decides. I want him to assure me that the Government will let me see a full copy of my file. In the 1970s and ’80s, when I was at Brent law centre and then Liberty, I campaigned for the rights of women and workers and the right to demonstrate. None of that was against the law and none of it undermined our democracy; on the contrary, it was essential for our democracy. The security services do an important job and of course the Government should support them, but if they overstep the mark the Government must hold them to account. In the light of these new revelations, may I repeat to this Government a request that I made to the previous Government which was turned down? Will the Minister give me an assurance that this Government will release to me a full copy of my file?
I would love to give the right hon. and learned Lady that assurance from the Dispatch Box, but I cannot. [Interruption.] There is no point trying to shout down a Minister. Ultimately, there may be reasons for that. I was a counter-terrorism Minister in Northern Ireland, where there had to be redactions. I will make sure that as much as can be released is released. I give that assurance to the right hon. and learned Lady and I will write to her.
I have two questions for my right hon. Friend. My preliminary question is: will he, the Leader of the House or someone else tell us before I leave this place what has happened to the concept of Privy Counsellors exchanging information on Privy Council terms? Secondly, does my right hon. Friend agree that all of us need to have confidence, as do our constituents, in the integrity of the police, and that every part of every police force needs to democratically accountable and to carry out their actions lawfully? If the inquiry finds that police officers have not acted lawfully, can they be referred for possible prosecution for misconduct in public office?
On the latter point, that option remains open, but it is for others to decide. We have changed the law so that officers who have left or resigned during an investigation can be brought back. As far as I am concerned as a Privy Counsellor, Privy Council undertakings are intact and should stay so.
All I would like to say to the Minister is that he must have been a busy man to follow me to 5,000 industrial meetings in the last 30-odd years. I went to Grunwick, I did three pit strikes,
I went to Wapping—I was all over the place. When I saw the man with that posh flat cap, which looked as if he had bought it from Harrods, I always thought he might be the agent provocateur present at the meeting. The thing that has always worried me—the Minister might be able to answer this, as well as whoever looks into this matter—is why do they only seem to pursue left wingers, socialists? Is that one of the reasons why all those paedophiles managed to disappear into thin air, and why Jimmy Savile never had his collar felt?
I am tempted to treat the question—I think there was one there—with the contempt it deserves. Having been a member of the Fire Brigades Union and been on picket lines over the years, perhaps they were even watching me in the funny hat that the hon. Gentleman refers to.
It must be shocking for the MPs involved to hear these revelations, but parents grieving for their dead children still do not know whether their children’s identity was stolen by the special demonstration squad. The Met police has openly apologised to parents to whom that has happened, but they have not put in place any means by which parents worried that someone had impersonated their dead child can find out what happened or be reassured that their child’s identity was not stolen. Will the Minister ensure that the Met police use their ingenuity to find ways, without endangering security, to bring such reassurance to the many people, including constituents of mine, who still wonder whether their child was impersonated years after the sad occasion of their death?
It is exactly because of the families of the victims to whom the hon. Gentleman refers that the inquiry will take place. I hope that its recommendations will address some if not all of his concerns. I say publicly to the Met police that, as well as apologising, they should do everything they possibly can to help the families, without endangering security.
In 1981, I was elected as chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Two years later, an MI5 agent, Cathy Massiter, blew the whistle on the surveillance, the phone taps and the collection of special branch reports on me. She cited political interference in the service and said that what had happened was illegal, and she resigned. In 1987, I became a Member of this House and took the loyal oath. In 1997, I became a Minister, and I subsequently signed the Official Secrets Act. How is it that surveillance was carried out on me for all that time? I want to know and to get the Minister to understand: who authorised that surveillance, and on what grounds was it authorised? He needs to answer those questions, because this is a political issue. It is his—the Home Office’s and the Home Secretary’s—responsibility.
I am leaving this House, and I can do no more than make these points, put in a freedom of information request to the commissioner and write to the Home Secretary, but, frankly, this affects all MPs. Even though I am leaving the House, the Minister needs to do something. The future Government needs to ensure that there is a proper investigation. This should never, ever have happened to Members of this House.
That is exactly why the inquiry is being put in place—[Interruption.] Labour Members say “Pathetic” from a sedentary position, but at least the Government are doing something, unlike the previous Government. I am trying to take a sensible tone on this. I have every sympathy with Members of the House, including those who have left it, and that is why the inquiry is being held.
The House is grateful to the Minister for attending to these questions and he is discharging his responsibilities. I think there is a feeling in the House that it is a tad unfortunate that the Home Secretary is not able to be at the Dispatch Box, but the Minister is doing his duty as he thinks fit and we acknowledge that.
I am pleased that this story has finally come out. As Members of Parliament we are in a position to raise questions with the Home Office and demand that the truth come out, but unfortunately many others who—unknown to us—were under surveillance do not have that opportunity. The question is one of accountability of the Metropolitan police. Who authorised this tapping? Who knew about it? Did the Home Secretary or successive Home Secretaries know about it? If they did, why did they not accept the Wilson doctrine on MPs, and why did they allow this covert operation to go on within the Metropolitan police? I am surprised that in his answer a few moments ago, the Minister said that the files might be released to us, but that they may have to be redacted for security reasons. If I was under surveillance, or the late Bernie Grant or any of my friends, then presumably the police were at whatever meetings we attended and recorded whatever phone calls we made. I think we have a right to know about that. We represent constituents and are in a position of trust with them. That trust is betrayed by this invasion of our privacy by the Metropolitan police. I ask again: can we have a full, unredacted version of everything that was written about us and every piece of surveillance that was undertaken of us, our families and our friends?
The hon. Gentleman raises a valid point. Members of Parliament can stand in this House and ask a question, but many other victims cannot and that is why the inquiry is in place. I will do everything I can to ensure that as much information as possible is passed to current and past Members of Parliament, but I cannot give a guarantee. No Minister of any persuasion—such questions need to be asked of previous Labour Home Secretaries, and I will do everything I can to ensure that the answers come forward.
Following the observations by my hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn does the Minister accept that if the allegations are correct, we have an extraordinary situation where I as Home Secretary, and from 1997 to 2000 the police authority for the Metropolitan police, not only knew nothing about what appears to have been going on within the Metropolitan police, but may also have been subject to unlawful surveillance as Home
Secretary? That ought to be looked at, as should what appears to be the trigger and is much more serious: my decision—taken against a lot of reluctance from the Metropolitan police—to establish a full judicial inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence. It is completely unacceptable that it appears that elements of the Metropolitan police were spying on the bereaved family of Stephen Lawrence.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the tone of his comments. He knows from his experience how difficult it is, and to realise that he was in the dark about authorisations that have taken place—that is exactly what the inquiry has to consider. Lord Justice Pitchford must have full access, and even though the right hon. Gentleman will sadly be leaving the House, I am sure he will give him all the help he can in future to find out why Home Secretaries, Ministers and police managers were not informed about what was going on inside the Met. That is what the inquiry must do.
Does the Minister really understand that this is a matter of parliamentary sovereignty and privilege? Action was taken by the police purely and simply for political reasons, and that is why it is so unacceptable. If the House of Commons was exercising its authority, as it would have done in previous times, the Metropolitan police commissioner would be at the Bar of the House to explain precisely why this was done and only Labour Members were targeted. It is unfortunate that that has not been done today.
We do not know if it was only Labour Members, and that is what the inquiry will find out. As Mr Straw said, we know so little because so little was passed up the food chain to Ministers. That is why we need the inquiry to find out exactly what went on.
A few months ago, I met with Herne inquiry officers who confirmed to me covert surveillance of the campaign that Mrs Reel and I set up to find out what happened to her son, Ricky, when he died 13 years ago. We were told that we were subject to “collateral intrusion”. Two weeks ago, I tabled early-day motion 899 because I was contacted by Peter Francis, the former member of the Metropolitan police’s special demonstration squad, who confirmed in a statement that covert surveillance was carried out on trade unions, including the Fire Brigades Union, the Communication Workers Union, the National Union of Teachers and Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians, as well as the families involved in justice groups, when all they were doing was seeking justice. In the Reel case, the family were simply trying to find out what happened to their unfortunately lost son.
Can the Minister confirm—and this rests with the Minister, not with the inquiry—that immunity will be given to Peter Francis, and other whistleblowers who have come forward, from any action under the Official Secrets Act when they give evidence to the inquiry?
To be fair, I answered a specific question on a specific point. The hon. Gentleman’s question does not come under my portfolio, but I will look into it and find out. He raises a valid point and I will write to him.
As one of the people under surveillance in the 1990s, I assure the House that I was never engaged in anything illegal and I certainly was not engaged in seeking to undermine democracy. On the contrary, many of the campaigns I was involved in served to reinforce democracy by engaging with people who otherwise thought they did not have a voice, notably the Stephen Lawrence campaign. I am clear in my mind that that surveillance could not have happened without authorisation at a very senior level, and I want to know who authorised it and on what grounds. Above all I feel I am entitled to an unredacted copy of my file. What happened is not just a breach of privilege, it is a breach of the privacy and confidence of the many people I have worked with down the years on the campaigning I did in the 1990s.
I think I have answered the latter point and I will do everything I can to make sure that the documents are released. I have said that and I will do everything I possibly can. On the point about who authorised it, the right hon. Member for Blackburn was the Home Secretary and he was being investigated, which someone must have authorised. That is what we have to find out. It sounds ludicrous that that should have taken place in the mother of all democracies, and we have to find out exactly what went on.
When I was a very much younger MP, I spent four years as Roy Hattersley’s deputy, as shadow Minister for policing in the shadow Home Affairs team, so I knew a little about this area. Real individual pain and anger has been expressed today, but I hope the House can signal, and not just through this inquiry, a new beginning. Personally, I believe that Labour has always supported our police. I support undercover policing if it is properly regulated. I want undercover police to be embedded within the Russian mafia who have moved to London. I want them to stop child abuse. I want them to be able to find the people who do human trafficking. Let us get the balance right. Let us back the police to do a good job. Let us regulate them well and let us be more effective in chasing criminals.
This is probably the only time since becoming Police Minister that I have not stood at the Dispatch Box and said how proud I am to be the Police Minister and what a fantastic job they do to protect us. There are some who have let us down over the years and we must find out what went wrong. Covert policing, as the hon. Gentleman says, is vital to keeping this country safe.
Like many people of my generation, I spent far too many weekends in the ’60s and ’70s on marches and demonstrations against racism, the Vietnam war and many other issues. Many of those people have now become Members of this House. How do we know whether our names are in any of these files? Some 12 years ago, I was contacted by The Sunday Times, which asked me whether I knew anything about a document in a Stasi file with my name on it that had turned up in Berlin. I would like to know whether the Stasi’s British equivalent also had documents with my name on them.
No matter what wrongdoings have been done, we do not have Stasi police in this country—thank goodness. I have no idea why the Stasi were so interested in the hon. Gentleman. Some of us were doing other things in the ’60s and ’70s. As I said, I will do everything I can to make sure as much information as possible is passed on to colleagues in this House and to those who have left this House.
Like most of us here with a lifelong trust in the integrity of the police and security services, I had the very disturbing experience a few weeks’ ago, with the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, of reading the report on Operation Tiberius. We were not allowed to have cameras or phones with us. The information in that document is deeply shocking. It is a story of decades of conspiracies between the police and criminal gangs. Knowing the case of Daniel Morgan from Llanfrechfa, who was murdered while he was investigating police corruption 28 years ago, and the failure of the security services to identify the way that Sir Cyril Smith and Sir Jimmy Savile were destroying lives, is there not a case for publishing the report on Operation Tiberius so the whole country can know the depth of corruption that has taken place in the Metropolitan police?
I would like to pay tribute to the work of the Home Affairs Committee—I know the Chair of the Committee is not in his place—not only on Operation Tiberius but on other inquiries in this Parliament. I do not know why the file was not released, for instance when it was viewed, but I will find out and write to the hon. Gentleman.
I still find it astonishing that undercover police officers entered into long-term sexual relationships with environmental activists, as we have heard, which included the fathering and subsequent abandoning of children. There can surely be no justification for that, nor for the kind of revelations we are hearing about today. Covert policing clearly has an important role to play, particularly in tackling such things as gun crime in Greater Manchester, but does the Minister accept the growing unease in this House and among the public at the revelations we are hearing? Will he commit to taking the action we need to get to the bottom of this?
I was just as shocked as everybody in this House to hear what some—not all, but a tiny minority—Met police officers were doing. That is why the Met police apologised and that is why I said we will ensure the Met police do more for the victims in particular.
At the end of the day, that is why the inquiry has been set up. Lord Justice Pitchford will have full access to everybody he needs to see. He will decide the terms of reference, so that he will be confident that when he produces his report, we can have the confidence in the police that we should have.
One of my first acts when I became a Member of Parliament in 1997 was to call for the Stephen Lawrence inquiry to be set up. It led to a threat being made against me, which in turn led to special branch coming to my house to install security. Having taken that at face value, I am now beginning to question the purpose of its visit to my house. We are finding out through the media about Members who were under surveillance. Will the Minister undertake that every Member who was under covert surveillance will be notified?
I think I have given exactly that indication, but if I did not make it fully, let me say I think it is very important. Because of my former role as Northern Ireland Minister, I also have had special branch come to my house to install that sort of thing, although I do not think it was surveillance—it was to protect me, I hope. We all think the police are there to protect us, and that is what we should be doing.
The Minister repeatedly says we need to have confidence in the police, but as someone who was accused by a former Conservative Government of being one of the “enemy within”, I find it hard to have confidence. I also do not have confidence in the people behind the police. This investigation has to consider not only the role of the police but who they were being instructed by. This very week, the House discussed what happened in 1972 and the Shrewsbury 24 campaign. It is clear that the Government, the police, the judiciary and private business colluded to lock up innocent men. If we can clear up such things, it might instil a bit more confidence in this place and the police, but as long as people go on covering them up, I will have a huge lack of confidence that my colleagues who have rightly asked for information today will get it, and that will only damage this House and democracy in this country.
In my last answer at the Dispatch Box as Policing Minister in this Parliament, I will say at the outset that there are members of the police, from top to bottom, who have fundamentally let down the people of this country. They are a tiny minority, however, and we should have confidence in our police. If we continue to tar them all with the same brush, the confidence of the police themselves will suffer, and we and the Lord Chief Justice will do everything possible in this inquiry to ensure we have that confidence. However, we cannot continue to run them down.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will have heard the considerable concern in the House and the impact on our democracy of these serious allegations. Given that this Parliament is about to dissolve and that some of the affected Members are standing down, will you use your influence to urge the Home Secretary to come to the House and contact MPs directly to give them clear answers about the two key issues that are unanswered—the scope of the inquiry, to ensure that it can get to the truth about these allegations, and about the transparency and access to individual files for Members? I apologise for making this point of order, but given the gravity and timing of this matter, with Parliament about to dissolve, I think we need far more answers directly from the Home Secretary today.
I will respond to the right hon. Lady, but not before I have heard from Mr Heath.
Mr Speaker, you will have heard the exchange between me and the Minister. Given the importance of these matters for parliamentary privilege and future Parliaments and Members, can you assure me that, far from simply waiting for the inquiry to take place and looking at its results, parliamentary authorities will be fully engaged with the inquiry throughout, so that we can be absolutely sure that, where it affects Members and former Members, we are aware of the circumstances and take appropriate action?
I will come back to the right hon. Member for Somerton and Frome, after we have heard from Mr Jeremy Corbyn.
Will the inquiry also tell us whether any authorities in the House were contacted at any time to put Members’ offices or phones under surveillance during that period and if that is the case who knew about it in the House?
Let me first explain that I am taking these points of order untypically now, rather than later, because they spring directly out of the business that we have just dealt with. On the last point from Jeremy Corbyn, the short answer is that I do not know, but I feel that I should be made aware. Inquiries can and will be made.
In response to Mr Heath, I think I can offer the assurance he seeks. In response to him and to the right hon. Lady the shadow Home Secretary, I should perhaps say this, which I think is at least as strong as is sought and possibly stronger. I have no doubt that the permanent authorities of the House—the Clerk and the Speaker’s Counsel—will not wait to be asked, but will proactively take steps to ensure that the concerns of the House are fully understood by Lord Justice Pitchford and his team. This is an extremely serious matter.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I do not believe reference has been made so far to the promise made by Harold Wilson when he was Prime Minister that the telephone conversations of Members of Parliament would not be intercepted in any way. May we work on the assumption, bearing in mind what has come out, that this continues to be the position? If the position of Members of Parliament has been undermined in the way we have heard about today, we do not know whether Harold Wilson’s pledge continues to apply.
In response to the hon. Gentleman, I do not feel there is anything more I can add. There is a sense in which his point of order contains a rhetorical question. He has aired his concern, which is widely shared. I am not in a position to allay that concern today, but it is very clear that it is a concern that I share 100% from the Chair on behalf of the House. This matter will not go away.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. There are pressing reasons why this point of order has to be taken now; it is one I raise with great reluctance. I overheard, as did several others, an hon. Member saying that he had been instructed by a Deputy Speaker on speaking in the later procedure debate, including on what kind of speech to make. May we ask that whoever is due to chair that debate is asked whether there is any truth in the claim made by the hon. Member, in order to ensure that the impartiality of the Chair is preserved?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I am not aware of those matters beyond what he has just said. Suffice it to say that I am in the Chair, and I am intending to remain in the Chair [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]—today and, I hope, subsequently. I hope the hon. Gentleman, whom I greatly esteem, will not doubt my competence or fairness in chairing such proceedings of the House as take place today. I am not going anywhere.
It is not possible to do that without notice. Lots of things are possible with notice—in the next Parliament. The answer to the hon. Gentleman in respect of the here and now is no.