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Mr. Mandelson : On the subject of ministerial control, which I think is very important and to which I shall return if I am lucky enough to be called, will the Foreign Secretary say, in terms of the Bill, what powers he believes the Intelligence and Security Committee will have to summons Ministers, which Ministers, and how frequently ? What depth of questioning does he believe it will be acceptable for the committee to engage in for proper ministerial accountability to that committee to be secured ?
Mr. Hurd : I shall mention the oversight committee later, but its job will be to examine expenditure and administration of the three agencies. The committee will therefore be able to examine and to take evidence, not as a court of law but as a matter of fact, from the agencies and those people who are responsible for the agencies
Clauses 1 and 3 provide for the continuation of the SIS--it is referred to in the Bill as "the Intelligence Service"--and Government communications headquarters, Cheltenham under the authority of the Secretary of State, and set out their respective functions. They provide that those functions will be exercisable in the interests of national security only, with special reference to the defence and foreign policies of the kingdom, in the interests of the kingdom's economic well-being, or for the purpose of preventing or detecting serious crime.
Clauses 2 and 4 provide for the appointments of the chief of SIS and the director of GCHQ and set out their responsibilities. They place specific requirements on the heads of agencies, regarding obtaining and disclosing information--both are important--and reporting to the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister, and they require the agencies to remain politically neutral.
Clauses 5 and 6 provide for the Secretary of State to issue warrants authorising entry on, or interference with, property or wireless telegraphy in pursuit of the agency's functions. They replace the similar warrant provisions of the Security Service Act, and they make warrants available in respect of the functions of all three security and intelligence agencies.
Column 160Clause 7 is a provision for warrants and for authorisations. It provides for the Secretary of State to authorise certain acts abroad that are necessary for the proper discharge of the functions of SIS. I hope that the House will agree that those three clauses ensure that certain actions can be undertaken by the agencies under the specific authority of Ministers only.
Clauses 8, 9 and 10 provide three important safeguards on the activities of the agencies. First, clause 8 establishes a commissioner. That is familiar to the House, because there is already a Security Service Commissioner. The commissioner will review the exercise by the Secretary of State of his powers to issue warrants and authorisations for SIS and GCHQ.
In my experience as Home Secretary, and latterly as Foreign Secretary, the role of commissioner is not a cipher. The Commissioner of the Security Services oversees rigorously and the commissioner in charge of the Interception of Communications Act 1986, with whom I deal now, oversees rigorously the way in which I use the powers entrusted to me by statute. There is nothing routine, scanty or inadequate about the way in which the commissioner undertakes his task.
The commissioner will also help the tribunal, about which I shall speak in a moment, to deal with complaints. The Bill places a statutory duty on all members of the intelligence and security agencies to disclose to the commissioner any information that he needs in order to carry out his functions.
Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay) : My right hon. Friend referred to the Security Service Act 1989 and the commissioner as models for the Bill. Why is the commissioner unwilling to declare how many complaints have been made against the security services under the terms of that Act ? Although we were confident when the Act was passed, some of us are no longer so confident that he has had a great many complaints to investigate. Would it not be simpler for him to declare in his annual report how many complaints there have been ?
Mr. Hurd : That is a matter for the commissioner to work out for himself ; I am not answerable for him. My experience of the Security Service Act 1989 and the Interception of Communications Act 1986 is that the commissioner's work is rigorous and important.
Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland) : I shall try to help the right hon. Gentleman. I might be misinterpreting what the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) said, but page 2 of the Security Services Commissioner's report, dated March 1993, states the number of complaints received.
Mr. Hurd : That is a matter for the commissioner. I think that he sometimes declared them and sometimes did not. [Interruption.] I believe that the right hon. Gentleman is referring to the Commissioner for the Security Service, who is the responsibility of the Home Secretary. I am saying that it is for the commissioner to decide whether to provide particular information. Sometimes he has, and sometimes he has not, but that is a matter for him.
Sir David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale) : Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the subject of the role of the commissioner, to which he has paid tribute, will he explain how it overlaps with the later provision in the
Column 161Bill for a parliamentary committee ? Is the parliamentary committee to be excluded from examining the same aspect as the commissioner--the use by Ministers of warrants ?
Mr. Hurd : The three bits of machinery have different functions, which I am trying to describe to the House. The commissioner is responsible for the exercise by the Secretary of State of the authority given to the Secretary of State under the Bill. The tribunal is responsible for investigating complaints and may ask the commissioner to follow up the investigation of such complaints. The oversight committee, with which I shall deal later, is responsible for overseeing policy administration and expenditure.
It is an issue that hon. Members will want to debate in detail in Committee, but I do not see why there should be an overlap between the three separate functions allocated under the Bill to the three separate mechanisms, individuals or groups which the Bill proposes. I was about to deal with the second, the tribunal.
Clause 9 establishes the tribunal to deal with complaints against the intelligence service or GCHQ. It is closely modelled on the security service tribunal, which has been working effectively since its establishment under the 1989 Act. The tribunal will, for the first time, give those complaining about the activities of SIS or GCHQ the assurance of an independent review and redress in matters that could particularly affect their privacy and prospects. The arrangements for the tribunal--now for the two agencies with which the Bill mainly deals and, formerly, for the Security Service--have regard to the European Convention on Human Rights and, we believe, fully comply with it.
Clause 10 provides something new, about which hon. Members have already asked me. It proposes an entirely new form of oversight of all three security and intelligence agencies--a committee of parliamentarians. As several hon. Members will remember, that idea was discussed in 1989, when there was considerable concern, especially among my hon. Friends, that further widening the circle of secrecy to an oversight committee might put national security at risk.
Five years ago, I shared that concern. It seemed to me that either one put such a parliamentary group inside the ring of secrecy, in which case what its members could say to the world outside, including the House, would be strictly limited, or one kept them outside the ring of secrecy, in which case they would have nothing especially important to communicate--although they would be free to communicate it. In 1989, that seemed to me a dilemma which we had not resolved. I believe that the House will judge that, with the hindsight derived from four years' experience of the Security Service Act, and since the avowal of SIS, we have now found a way of overcoming the difficulty and reconciling those considerations. I believe that the committee proposed in the Bill will provide welcome additional and effective monitoring of the agencies, without putting national security at risk.
Column 162would be subject to official secrets legislation, and that it was a nod and a wink from the civil servants in the Box that affirmed the position for the House.
If the hon. Members who are to be members of the committee will be subject to official secrets legislation, why can they not have access to some operational matters ? Why is that wrong in principle ? Why can they not have access to some operational matters, in the same way as-- [Interruption.]
Some of my hon. Friends may shake their heads, but in the United States of America, several hon. Members interviewed Congressmen and bureaucrats who were members of a committee scrutinising those very matters. Many of us believe that that can be done here, if Parliament is prepared to nominate certain Members of the House to committees on the advice of the Prime Minister, as suggested. That is not a major departure from the proposal in the Bill. If the hon. Members concerned will be covered by official secrets legislation, why, in principle, can they not have some additional rights ?
Mr. Hurd : In response to the hon. Gentleman's first comment, I did not get my knowledge from the civil service Box ; I do not have eyes in the back of my head. I answered by the light of my own knowledge, and I believe that I answered correctly. I was answering my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills, and I gave the answer that I believed to be correct, but I said that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster would confirm the position when he wound up. On the hon. Gentleman's second question, he does not seem to be living in the real world. Operational matters involving secret agencies ought to remain secret. The hon. Gentleman says that they can be fully shared with all Members of the House
Mr. Hurd rose -- [Interruption.]
Mr. Hurd : The protection provided by the Official Secrets Act is precisely like ensuring that the stable door may always be closed after the horse has gone--that is, that somebody may be prosecuted and punished after he has done the mischief. We are concerned, as is anybody who is serious about the operation of the agencies, not about punishing the person responsible for the mischief after it has occurred but about preventing the mischief before it happens. I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman's argument is strong, because he is relying on the ability to prosecute and punish, whereas we
We are saying that we must provide against the mischief, against the revealing of secret operations, before it occurs, and that is what the Bill does.
Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda) : Perhaps the Foreign Secretary could tell us what criteria he will introduce for membership of the committee. If the members are not bound by the Official Secrets Act 1911, what criteria will the Secretary of State lay down for membership of that committee ?
Mr. Hurd : I was coming to precisely that point. Being under the Official Secrets Act 1911 is not in itself a sufficient protection. As it says on the face of the Bill, the committee will comprise six Members from both Houses appointed by the Prime Minister after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition. That can be Mr. Campbell-Savours rose
That can be argued about and will be argued about, but I believe that, when the House reflects on what we are considering--the proposal for an oversight committee for the first time--it will see that we should be anxious that that oversight committee should be effective on policy, administration and expenditure, and that it should not lead to any danger of revealing secret operations. That is the circle which we are trying to square, and what the House is after. That is what we are trying to reconcile, and what we did not succeed in reconciling in 1989.
We are coming forward with the proposal, and before hon. Members, such as the hon. Member for Workington, start rubbishing it, I hope that they will reflect on the need to reconcile those two considerations. The simple proposition on the face of the Bill is a good way in which to do what we are seeking to achieve. It is the way in which we propose to deal with the matter, and we shall defend it. Sir Ivan Lawrence (Burton) rose
Sir Ivan Lawrence : I hope that my question will be more friendly and less absurd than that of the hon. Member for Workington. At the moment, MI5 is responsible to the Home Secretary, and it is in that context that the Select Committee on Home Affairs has the power of scrutiny over the work of the Home Secretary and his agencies. In response to that, the Select Committee on Home Affairs produced a report on the scrutiny of the Security Service, to which the Government responded. The Bill appears to give the right of parliamentary scrutiny on matters of administration, expenditure and policy to the oversight committee. Does that deprive the Select Committee on Home Affairs, which is, after all, a Committee of parliamentarians of all parties and not appointed by the Government, of the right to ask the head of MI5 or any part of the Security Service questions about administration, expenditure or policy ? It should not ask about day- to-day operations. We have never sought to exercise that power, and it would have been wrong to do so. However, it seems that, if my right hon. Friend is giving a power to an oversight committee, which is not directly responsible to the House for its activities, the Government may be taking away a power of the House to control the Executive.
Mr. Hurd rose
Mr. Hurd : Perhaps I have given way too often, but none of the interventions in my speech has been in the least beside the point. The House is being asked to tread new ground, to reconcile considerations which we all know are important, and it is finding its way.
It is certainly not the purpose of the Bill to truncate in any way the existing responsibilities of existing Committees. I am not talking of the ambitions that Select Committees may have--that is a different matter. I am talking about their present responsibilities and it is certainly not the intention of the Bill or of clause 10 to cut in any way the existing powers and responsibilities of Select Committees.
As I said, the oversight committee will be charged with scrutinising the administration, policy and expenditure of the security service, the SIS and GCHQ. Subject to the provisions of the Bill, the heads of the three agencies will be required to disclose to the committee the necessary information to enable it to fulfil that remit. Clearly, that is one of the most important elements in the Bill.
For the rest, we are extending considerably--not totally--into the field of the two agencies, the SIS and GCHQ, what is already working well in the case of the Security Service. But here we are breaking new ground and putting the Security Service, as well as the two other agencies, under this new oversight committee.
We have thought a great deal about what would be the effective mechanism in which Parliament would have confidence but which could also be privy--this is the crucial point--to the special information necessary to enable it to carry out its job. The combination of an all-party committee of parliamentarians and unprecedented access to security and intelligence information will achieve that goal.
Dr. John Gilbert (Dudley, East) : I shall put two points to the Foreign Secretary. Although this will be a committee of parliamentarians, it certainly will not be a parliamentary committee in two important respects : first, its proceedings will not attract privilege, and, secondly, there is nothing in the Bill as far as I can see that gives the committee the power to send for persons and papers.
Mr. Hurd : The question of privilege is not one for me, but the right hon. Gentleman's first point is fair. It is a parliamentary committee, but it is not in the same family as other Select Committees of the House. It is unique and special, and it will have a unique and special job. The Bill provides a power for the committee to examine agencies and that is its job. Therefore, I do not see that there is a mismatch between the job and the powers.
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will argue that point in Committee. I am aware that he has made it before. Having looked at the matter again this morning, I do not see how there is a mismatch between the powers of the oversight committee and the job that it will be asked to do.
I have argued that the services of the intelligence agencies are vital to the interests of our country. In a democracy, it is right that those agencies and their activities should be on a statutory basis, that there should be adequate safeguards, that there should not be unnecessary mystery, and that there should be public
Column 165confidence in the way in which the agencies work and in the arrangements for their accountability and control by Ministers.
The Bill fulfils those requirements. It is important and logical. As I said, it comes at the end of a long series of measures--some small and some big--that we have taken, especially over the past seven or eight years to open up this field. I do not say that we have got every arrangement perfect, but there has been steady progress towards greater openness.
I remember vividly the debates on the Official Secrets Bill--being told that every editor would quake in his shoes, that it was draconian, that few editors would not spend some time in prison once the Bill was passed, and that the threat to the freedom of the press was absolute. I remember some eloquent speeches on this theme, but nothing whatever has occurred to justify those premonitions. I hope that debates on this Bill will be somewhat more prosaic. It is the latest in a series of steps in the direction that I have mentioned. We drafted the Bill after careful study of the Security Service Act 1989, after a lot of consultation in Government and with the agencies, having regard to the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights and taking account of what happens in other countries. The Bill will provide us with an effective and important piece of legislation and will complete the task set in hand of providing a good statutory framework for all our security and intelligence agencies. I commend the Bill to right hon. and hon. Members, and invite the House to give it a Second Reading.
Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland) : I begin by welcoming the Bill in principle. It represents an important change and makes a significant contribution to the increased scrutiny of the activities of the intelligence and security services.
The Bill proposes changes which the Opposition believe to be long overdue. I join the Foreign Secretary in praising and paying tribute to the distinguished record of the intelligence services, and to the Secret Intelligence Service and those at the Government communications headquarters who have played such important roles over many years in the interests of defending Britain, our democracy and our interests world wide. I happily and readily put that tribute on record.
We accept also the need for considerable secrecy in much of what those services do. Many of those who threaten our interests and security act in deeply secret ways in pursuit of their goals, which are often criminal or subversive. Those people are often involved in terrorism or the laundering of money, or are members of drug cartels, so there must be an element of secrecy and security in pursuit of them.
Britain retains global interests and internationally shared responsibilities with our allies in the European Union, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, the Commonwealth and the United Nations. We must be
Column 166vigilant in trying to counteract and, better still, to prevent terrorism, nuclear proliferation, the weapons trade and drugs trafficking.
We accept the need for modern and efficient secret intelligence organisations in a rapidly changing, but all-too-unstable, world. The issues involved include scrutiny, oversight and accountability, and constructing a framework within which they should work and be accountable.
The background and history of the long debate about accountability are interesting. The security and intelligence services exist to protect our democracy and democratic freedoms. They exist to work in the national interest, but I, and many others in the Labour party, have long argued that they should not be outside the law. We believe that the services should be subject to parliamentary oversight and scrutiny, and that is why we welcome the general principles of the Bill. We welcome the proposals to enable the policy, performance, objectives and budgets of the services to be held to account. I share the view of the Foreign Secretary that no parliamentary committee of whatever nature--I will come to the detailed nature of the committee later--should be involved in operational matters.
The obvious, if perhaps not totally apposite, comparison is with police authorities. We want police authorities to oversee the work of the police, but they do not involve themselves in operational matters. I do not believe that a committee of the House should do so in respect of the security and intelligence services. I believe that the objectives that I was talking about can best be met by the establishment of a parliamentary Select Committee, and I shall argue the case for that later.
Before I do that, I will discuss the list of examples that the Foreign Secretary gave to the House, and which he intended to be helpful. The list was of the different circumstances in which action had been taken in our collective interest and well-being. What was interesting was not so much the list that the right hon. Gentleman gave, but the omission. He did not mention the dog which apparently did not bark in the night. He did not mention what happened when he and his right hon. and hon. Friends were covertly arming the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq.
From what we have heard and seen written about the Scott inquiry, I do not believe that the responsibility for that matter can be laid at the door of the Secret Intelligence Service. The responsibility lies, of course, with Ministers. I hope, when Lord Justice Scott comes to report, that those Ministers will accept their responsibility and, if necessary, hand in their resignations at the appropriate time. The Foreign Secretary made a different speech today from the one that he made on 15 December 1988 when, as Home Secretary, he introduced the Second Reading of the Security Service Bill. That is why some of his right hon. and hon. Friends had rather glum faces. On that occasion, he drove them into the Lobby against exactly what he proposes that they should go into the Lobby to support tonight. He drove them into the Lobby against any idea or suggestion that a committee of parliamentarians--a scrutiny committee--could possibly work, could possibly be accepted, could possibly be in the national interest or could possibly be effective without breaching security and putting the operations of the Security Service at risk. His speech is set out in the Official Report at great length. The right hon. Gentleman's speech was surpassed only by the usual completely over-the-top speech of his right
Column 167hon. Friend who is now the Secretary of State for Education, then the Minister of State, Home Office. The then Minister of State dismissed all rational argument and debate in sweeping, ridiculous phrases, implying that the creation of such a committee would never happen. Ministers all seem to have had a blinding conversion in the recent past.
Only in 1992, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, then Home Secretary, said in evidence to the Select Committee on Home Affairs that he did not think that policy and operational matters could be distinguished. Therefore, of course, he implied that no scrutiny committee could ever be acceptable to Her Majesty's Government. What a change today. In his speech in 1988, the Foreign Secretary said :
"In those circumstances, which are borne in upon us day by day, it is not possible to distinguish, as some have genuinely sought to do, between policy and operations, overall resources and how they are spent, or theory and practice. Those distinctions can be made on paper and can be beguiling, but they do not work in practice."--[ Official Report , 15 December 1988 ; Vol. 143, c. 1110.]
Those were the right hon. Gentleman's very words. I should think that, as well as Opposition Members, some of his right hon. and hon. Friends and people outside the House may want to know why the Foreign Secretary has so totally changed his mind ; why he is now standing on his head. We welcome his conversion, but his speech today was a very different performance in tone and content from that speech in 1988. There are many more quotations with which I could pursue the right hon. Gentleman.
Mr. Hurd rose
Mr. Hurd : Perhaps I can help to shorten the right hon. Gentleman's speech. I dealt with the point in my speech. It is perfectly true that in 1988 I held and argued those views. But since then, over the past year or so, I have looked to see whether we could find ways in which we could form an oversight committee. I have done so because the views of the agencies have changed and the kind of work that they do has changed. I believe that we have now found a way in which we can reconcile those considerations.
The arguments remain exactly the same as when we argued the matter through in 1988. Then, the Government did not feel that there was an answer that reconciled the different needs. We now feel that there is one. Life has moved on. Our thinking has moved on. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman welcomes that. I hope that he will welcome the rest of the Bill.
Dr. Cunningham : We shall come to the rest of the Bill in a moment. I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's conversion. I probably welcome it a great deal more than some of his right hon. and hon. Friends sitting on the Benches behind him will do.
Mr. Winnick : I am sorry for interrupting my right hon. Friend's speech. Does he accept that when we debated the measure in 1988, Labour Members raised time and again the abuses that had occurred in the security services ? While we recognised the work being done both at home and abroad, we brought to the attention of the House the Wright affair and the way in which my hon. Friend the
Column 168Member for Peckham (Ms Harman) and Patricia Hewitt had been targeted by the security services because they held senior posts at the time in the National Council for Civil Liberties. There were many other examples of tittle-tattle about the private lives of those involved in the leadership of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. That had nothing to do with security. It was a misuse and abuse of our democratic procedures by people involved in the security services who were out of control. That was why we wanted parliamentary accountability.
Dr. Cunningham : I agree with my hon. Friend. Those and many other instances led us a long time ago to the conclusion that it was not only practicable but essential to have some parliamentary oversight and scrutiny of the security and intelligence services.
Dr. Cunningham : I do not intend to stray from the point, so the hon. Gentleman should contain himself for a moment. Having read remarks made by him in 1988, I shall be very interested to see how he votes tonight. We know well that he was no supporter of the idea of a scrutiny committee.
The Times of today tells us--I suppose that it can be only an estimate as we are not allowed to know all the facts--that these activities cost the taxpayer about £900 million a year. That may be a gross exaggeration. If the Foreign Secretary is about to leap to the Dispatch Box again and tell us so, I hope that he will give us an accurate and comprehensive figure.
Dr. Cunningham : I, too, have some published figures. They are contained in the report that the research division of the House of Commons Library produced for this debate. The reality is that other people believe the amounts to be very different from those that are given. I am asking the right hon. Gentleman to say which information is accurate. He says that the Prime Minister has given the figure. Indeed, during the past few years, the Prime Minister has given the House many answers that turned out not to be valid in all circumstances.
Mr. Whitney : The right hon. Gentleman has referred to his party's views about the need for a parliamentary committee of oversight. The Labour party adopted these views after it lost power. During its period of office, successive Prime Ministers, Foreign Secretaries and Home Secretaries held quite contrary views. Can the right hon. Gentleman comment on their conversion ?
Dr. Cunningham : I happily agree with the hon. Gentleman. I thought that the people to whom he has referred were wrong, and if they have not changed their minds they are still wrong. I have held my views about the powers of Parliament ever since I became a Member of the House. The powers of the House of Commons are pathetically inadequate in many respects. This is just one classic example. I dare say, without checking the record or straying too far from order, that the hon. Gentleman is one
Column 169of those who have consistently voted against strengthened powers for Parliament and against increased support for Members to enable them to do their job more adequately.
The decision to bring the Secret Intelligence Service into the daylight was welcome, but since everyone in London could see the building of the wonderful new headquarters just down the river from here it was hardly credible to maintain the fiction that the organisation did not exist. I wonder how many of us will be invited to the house-warming party.
Another interesting matter about which we need to know is the exact cost to the public purse of the building at Vauxhall cross and of the refurbishment of Thames House South and whether the public are getting value for money. For these reasons, too, I firmly believe that we should have such a committee. In any event, the public would think that we were lacking in the discharge of our responsibility to them if we were to allow sums of this magnitude to be spent without asking some very searching questions.
Turning to some details of the Bill, as did the Foreign Secretary, I shall start with clause 7 as, broadly, I accept what the right hon. Gentleman said about the earlier provisions. Clause 7 is interesting. It gives the people involved complete and very wide-ranging immunity. Apparently, they did not have such immunity previously. Perhaps the Minister of State, when he winds up, will comment on that matter. From our researches, it seems that clause 7 may be necessary for the purpose of taking into account the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 1948. I do not know whether that is true--it is just a bit of surmise and detective work on my own part--but it would be very interesting to know why we have a long, complex and very wide -ranging clause providing these immunities if, for all these years, the members of the Secret Intelligence Service have been able to operate quite happily overseas without them. Or have those people been operating overseas without safeguards from potential prosecution in this country ? Whatever the reasons, I hope that the Minister of State will tell us a little more about the provisions of clause 7 and why it is so necessary.
Clause 8 says :
"The Commissioner shall make an annual report ... to the Prime Minister"
"The Prime Minister shall lay before each House of Parliament a copy of each annual report made by the Commissioner under subsection (5) ... together with a statement as to whether any matter has been excluded from that copy in pursuance of subsection (7)".
I accept that the commissioner should report to the Prime Minister and that the Prime Minister should have some right of veto. This is a matter for the commissioner to decide. As I said in an intervention, the commissioner-- a post provided for under the Security Service Act 1989-- sets out on page 2 of his report the number of complaints received and investigated in 1992 and the number received in 1991 but investigated in 1992. So I am not clear about the purpose of the intervention of the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason).