Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab) (Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Home Affairs if she will make a statement on whether the public inquiry into undercover policing will examine files held by the special branch on Members of Parliament.
The Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims (Mike Penning): 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 12 March, will focus on the deployment of police officers on covert human intelligence sources, or CHIS, by the SDS, the national public order intelligence unit and other police forces in England and Wales. The inquiry will review practices and the use of undercover policing to establish justice for the families and victims and make recommendations for the future, so that we learn from the mistakes. Lord Justice Pitchford and his team will consult all interested parties in the coming months and will review and publish their terms of reference for the inquiry by the end of July. We should encourage Lord Justice Pitchford to get on with this important piece of work.
Mr Hain: 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 the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw), who was actually Home Secretary for four of those years? He also saw files on my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (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.
Mike Penning: 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.