|Previous Section||Home Page|
Mr. Hogg : I cannot think that that difficulty will arise. I move on to persons and papers. There is a case to be made but in the end there is a difference between our concepts and those of Opposition Members. In effect, Opposition Members are trying to create a Select Committee. We are against that. They are seeking to cloak the committee that we are establishing with all the powers of a Select Committee. I am against that. I believe that the committee that we have created has been given adequate powers to perform its oversight functions. Opposition Members want to give it an unfettered right to call for persons and papers. In Committee, I described the obligations of the heads of agencies and, for that matter, the officers of the services. We need not go over that ground again. In the generality of cases, the information or the personnel will come before the committee subject to the authority of the head of the agency and the terms of schedule 3.
Column 334committee will extend to the heads of the agencies and to personnel working within the agencies. Will it extend also to personnel and officials working elsewhere in the Government machine ?
Mr. Hogg : I can conceive of many or some circumstances in which the committee would wish to see persons working within Government Departments outside the agencies. There are restrictions that will necessarily apply. The consent of the Secretary of State will be necessary. The Secretary of State, or perhaps the permanent secretary in each Department, would have to give consent. That is inevitable. Indeed, that applies to Select Committees. There are also the restrictions that are set out in schedule 3 concerning sensitive information and the like. I would expect those criteria also to be respected.
Subject to the consent of the Minister, who would have to justify his refusal to the House, and subject to a proper respecting of the protections provided in schedule 3, there may be circumstances--I admit that I am using weasel words but I am trying to be careful--in which officials from other Departments would come before the committee. In other words, it could happen but it will not always happen.
Mr. Rogers : Is the Minister saying that the Government or a Government will allow information to come forward if something is potentially embarrassing to them politically but does not impinge upon national security ? History proves that, if information is likely to prove embarrassing for a Government, they will not allow it to come through.
Mr. Hogg : I think that I have answered the question fully. If there is a request by the committee to see officials and that request is declined, Ministers may have to explain why they have declined the request. The House of Commons is increasingly intrusive in those matters--and a jolly good thing too.
One should remember that the Bill and other legislation provides for restrictions on the information that can be made available to the committee. It is foolish to pretend otherwise. The problem with the persons and papers powers in the amendments--particularly amendment No. 22--is that they do not respect those restrictions or other statutory restrictions.
Mr. Winnick : If the committee decides, as it may do in certain circumstances, that it wants a particular witness to come before it, who could be from outside the Government service and that that witness is essential
It being Ten o'clock, further consideration of the Bill stood adjourned.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business),
That, at this day's sitting, the Intelligence Services Bill [ Lords ] may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.-- [Mr. Andrew Mitchell.]
Question agreed to.
Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.
Column 335a pledge that the proposed committee will be able to ask for such authority and that the Government will give that support ?
Mr. Hogg : No, I cannot give that pledge and the issue does not arise. The hon. Gentleman is referring to the power of a Select Committee conferred on it by the authority of the House. The Standing Orders of the House contain no provision to give such a power to the proposed committee, which is not a Select Committee, and there is no such provision in the Bill.
I suspect that, in most cases, people who are outside the Government machine and who have information will wish to give that information and will, therefore, come before the committee. In reply to the question whether the committee has the power to compel that, the answer is no.
Dr. Gilbert : Nothing in the Bill says that the committee may not make the request. The committee may not get very far, so the Minister cannot rely on that. I should be interested to hear his answer to this point. He said that the power is not contained in the Bill. That is what is wrong with the Bill and that is what we are complaining about. We are still waiting to hear the reason. My hon. Friends and I would be amenable to hearing any reason from him other than that most people will come anyway. Why does he think that Select Committees need the power, whereas this committee does not ?
Mr. Hogg : I have given the reason why I do not think that the committee requires the power, although the right hon. Gentleman may not agree with it. It is not a Select Committee of the House. We need to be chary about the powers that the House gives to committees that are not Select Committees. The Bill provides--and I think that the House accepts this--that there need to be restrictions on the classes of information that the committee is entitled to require to be delivered to it. That goes for information and for papers. A range of statutes, including the Official Secrets Act 1911, bite on people's ability to give evidence or provide information. The amendment's provisions on persons and papers, and the concept behind it, take no account of restrictions in the Bill and no account of the Official Secrets Act. It is objectionable for that reason.
Mr. Rogers : The answer that the Minister gave my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert) is not good enough. As my right hon. Friend said, the Minister has not given a substantial reason for refusing the amendment. For that reason, we shall press it to a vote.
Dr. Gilbert : Is it not perfectly clear that the Minister has told the House that the committee is not going to be a Select Committee ? We all know that, and we do not need him to tell us it again. He has also said that the House should be chary of giving such powers to an outside committee, which I accept.
Will my hon. Friend try to extract from the Minister his view of the difference between the functions of this committee and the functions of a Select Committee ? It seems to me that the committee will perform virtually all the functions of a Select Committee--except that it will not have the same powers. It will certainly do Select Committee work.
Mr. Rogers : As my right hon. Friend knows, during the Committee stage of the Bill it was impossible, I am afraid, to extract any reasonable answers from the Minister. I do not suppose that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is about to reform this evening. I am quite prepared to allow him to intervene if he wants to volunteer, but I doubt whether he will. Meanwhile we shall press the amendment to a vote.
Question put, That the amendment be made :
The House divided : Ayes 88, Noes 267.
Division No. 224] [10.05 pm
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)
Beith, Rt Hon A. J.
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)
Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Foster, Don (Bath)
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Godman, Dr Norman A.
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Home Robertson, John
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Lynne, Ms Liz
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
O'Brien, Michael (N W'kshire)
O'Brien, William (Normanton)
Pike, Peter L.
Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E)