Last year Ann Widdecombe’s memoirs Strictly Ann were published. In this she reflects on the child sex scandals involving celebrities that have been emerging from the 1970s and 1980s. Her view is that pillars of the liberal establishment were to blame for the failure to take it seriously at the time:
Miss Widdecombe said:
“Let us look at the state of our knowledge about paedophilia at the time and begin with the unlikely figures of Harriet Harman and Patricia Hewitt, now exemplary mothers and pillars of the establishment, then officers of the National Council for Civil Liberties, which allowed affiliation from the national Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE). It stayed affiliated from 1978 to 1983.
In 1977 the National Council for Civil Liberties stated that it had no policy on PIE’s aims but claimed the evidence showed that ‘children are harmed if, after a mutual relationship with an adult, they are exposed to the attentions of the police’.
Does anyone suppose from this that Harriet Harman and Patricia Hewitt back paedophilia and do not want the involvement of the police? No, it merely shows the state of understanding, or rather lack of it that then prevailed. The same appalling ignorance is evident in Harman‘s response on behalf of the NCCL to a bill that sought to ban indecent images of under-sixteens. The same body also wanted to decriminalise incest.”
The Daily Mail’s recent investigation has brought more details to light. But the extraordinary decision of the NCCL to accept affiliation from PIE is really the crux of the matter. Miss Harman should say that it was appalling and that she made a terrible mistake maintaining her involvement with the NCCL in view of it. Simply to shrug it off on the grounds that lots of organisations were affiliates, as she did in her Newsnight interview, is not good enough.
While we are at it, some more apologies would be in order from another dark episode in NCCL’s past. However, this time it concerns an episode before Miss Harman joined the staff, but when Patricia Hewitt was General Secretary of the NCCL.
Philip Agee was a CIA agent who switched sides. He decided to collaborate with the Soviets and Cuban intelligence. In 1975 it was concluded by M16 that Mr Agee’s disclosure led to the deaths of two of its agents in Poland. The US Government asked the UK, in 1976, to deport Mr Agee from Britain, where he had been living. The Home Office, under a Labour Government, agreed.
The Mitrokhin Archive – documents provided by Vasili Mitrokhin, a KGB defector, includes an account of the propaganda effort waged as a result. One of the KGB files recorded:
The London residency was used to direct action by a number of members of the Labour Party Executive, union leaders, leading Parliamentarians, leaders of the National Union of Journalists to take a stand against the decision.
In his report of the files Christopher Andrew adds:
An active defence committee based at the National Council for Civil Liberties organised petitions, rallies, and pickets of the Home Office. In the Commons, Stan Newens sponsored a protest supported by over 50 MPs and led a delegation to see the Home Secretary Merlyn Rees. Agee addressed sympathetic meetings in Birmingham, Blackpool, Brighton, Bristol, Cambridge, Cardiff, Coventry, London, Manchester and Newcastle.
Although eventually Mr Agee was deported in 1977, the KGB was “jubilant” at the “deeply embarrassing nature of the fuss” his deportation had caused. The valiant efforts of the NCCL were important in giving the KGB’s London operatives this sense of delight.
In the 1970s there were many threats to civil liberties in our country. There was rising crime. We saw closed shop and the trade union thuggery at Grunwicks. Print unions had the power of censorship. There was the growing power of the state with nationalisation and penal taxation. Most alarming of all was the threat of Soviet totalitarianism with its empire gaining new colonies every year around the globe.
On all the great issues at that time, the NCCL was on the wrong side.