I can see what the difference would be in a time of national crisis. The information will be clearly set out by the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister. I do not believe that it would be beyond the abilities of any Speaker now or in future to take an informed decision and to be convinced by the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary that the interception was not a political interference but a matter of national security.
All hon. Members agree on that—that the communications can be intercepted if it is a matter of national security—and we all agree that they should not be intercepted because it is politically expedient to do so. All I am asking is that the Speaker, who by the nature of his office does not consider political expediency, can say, “Yes. This is a matter of national security.” I do not believe that that is beyond his abilities. After all, he is ably assisted—is he not?—by the Clerk of the House and a band of parliamentary Clerks, most of whom have spent years accumulating knowledge, wisdom and experience of the ways of the House. They are not radicals or people who will take decisions lightly or wantonly. Together, they form a deposit of institutional memory, which the Prime Minister and No. 10, by the nature of their daily tasks of government and political management, can never be. They must always, necessarily, take a short-term view. That is not a criticism but the nature of the office.
Each of the privileges of this House, in addition to being daily fought for and won over the centuries, exists for a reason. Like many traditions and customs, we interfere with them at our peril. I appeal to the Minister of State, who is deeply aware of the importance of traditions and customs. We may wonder today why this or that one exists, but if we disregard them, we will soon find that the dangers they protect us from are very real.
We also may doubt the day will ever come when a Prime Minister would dare to authorise the monitoring of Members’ communications for politicised reasons, but it is therefore better to remove even the possibility of that temptation existing by simply requiring the Secretary of State to consult the Speaker. It has been said before but it is worth saying again. Nearly 375 years ago, William Lenthall reminded the sovereign that the Speaker had
“neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as the House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here.”
All I am asking in amendment 1 is that that tradition be maintained. We would do well to continue to put our trust in that defender of our law and our liberties.