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Mr. Nigel Jones (Cheltenham): Will the Foreign Secretary accept the thanks of all the people of Cheltenham--particularly the 14 who were fired for keeping their trade union membership--for the fact that the Government kept their promise to remove the ban on GCHQ trade unions soon after taking office?

Mr. Winnick: Are the Tories embarrassed?

Mr. Cook: I do not think that my hon. Friend addressed that question to me.

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I am grateful to the hon. Member for Cheltenham for that comment. I know from what the 14 people concerned have said that they appreciate what we have done. As one of them has said, we have righted a wrong that lasted for too long.

The Committee is right to pay attention to personnel management, because this is not just an issue of ensuring that we treat fairly those who are dedicated to the national interest. It is also vital for the security of the agencies that they detect--and when possible resolve--staff dissatisfaction before it leads to disaffection.

At the height of the cold war, a major threat to the security of the agencies was the possibility of the corruption of a member of staff by bribery or blackmail. Although that threat may have receded, a new one has arisen. Today, the extravagant rewards that can be gained from an exclusive deal with a newspaper or book publisher can provide a bigger payout for disloyalty than the KGB ever offered. Moreover, it does not necessarily come with the same insistence on accuracy that the KGB might have required. It therefore remains vital that the agencies be vigilant in recruiting their staff and maintaining the motivation of their officers.

The members of the Committee are familiar with the difficulties caused to SIS and the Security Service by former members of staff who present a cocktail of fact and fiction as a portrait of the work of the services. Considerable investment has been made to reduce the possibility of such cases in future by improving the vetting and recruitment procedures and strengthening the monitoring of staff in post.

The secrecy that is essential to the work of the agencies means that most of our constituents are not aware of their real work. They are left to form their impressions of the three agencies from the word processors of novelists and the cameras of Hollywood. Those impressions are not always entirely accurate. It may be challenging for the Intelligence and Security Committee to correct all those false impressions satisfactorily. Nevertheless, by providing a candid and sober account of the work of the three agencies, the report restores some balance. Our constituents pay for the three agencies. They must have access to an honest explanation of why it is important that their money should be invested in them.

That is why it was right to commit a day of parliamentary time to debating the report of the Intelligence and Security Committee. I commend the work of the Committee to the House and I look forward to working with it to ensure that we get the right balance between operational secrecy and parliamentary scrutiny for these three pillars of our national security.

4.56 pm

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe): I pay tribute to the men and women who carry out, on behalf of us all, some of the most difficult, delicate and dangerous duties that any servants of the Crown are asked to discharge. I speak as shadow Foreign Secretary, but for four years, as Home Secretary, I had responsibility for the Security Service. In that capacity, I acquired detailed knowledge of the activities in which the personnel of that service engaged, through general briefings and through the ability to follow the course of particular investigations that comes with the duty to authorise warrants. I was left in no doubt about the enormous risks run by those whom

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we charge with such responsibilities on our behalf. I welcome this opportunity to pay tribute to them and to members of the other agencies for their work.

There can be no doubt about the continuing need for that work. In the introduction to its latest report, the Intelligence and Security Committee refers to the threats to this country and to the peace of the world that have arisen in the aftermath of the cold war. The report asks starkly:

Without any trace of nostalgia for the cold war, few, if any, hon. Members would decline to answer that question in the affirmative.

The next paragraph of the report identifies some of the threats, including the enormous increase in the instability of the world and the breakdown of what had previously appeared to be stable sovereign entities into separate states, often riven by ethnic enmities. The consequent need for peacekeeping or humanitarian missions places a premium on the product of intelligence services. The new world order, which was hailed with such optimism just a few short years ago, has since degenerated into a discord of disorder.

Despite welcome developments in Northern Ireland, the threat of terrorist attack remains. Growth in the activities of serious criminal organisations, centred on the drugs menace and associated with large-scale money laundering, has continued apace. Many such organisations have access to resources that dwarf the entire national incomes of many sovereign states. Their sophistication is formidable. The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction poses a danger that we ignore at our peril. The need for this country to have efficient, effective intelligence services at its disposal is as great as ever.

Efficiency and effectiveness can be helped by proper scrutiny arrangements. The increased accountability that such arrangements bring can promote the better working of the agencies as well as, of course, providing all the advantages of greater openness and democratic control. That is why the previous Government introduced arrangements in the Intelligence Services Act 1994 which included the establishment of the Intelligence and Security Committee. Its latest report does much to inform today's debate. I am happy to join the Foreign Secretary in paying tribute to the Committee, and particularly to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), who has chaired it with such distinction since its inception.

The way in which the Committee has discharged its responsibilities in both the previous Parliament and this one has given the lie to the doubts that were expressed by some who now sit on the Government Benches. The present Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, for example, asked in respect of the Intelligence and Security Committee:

The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) spoke against the presence on the proposed Committee of former Cabinet Ministers. He said:

    "Those people will be seen to be against any type of oversight of the security services."--[Official Report, Standing Committee E, 29 March 1994; c. 267-72.]

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    I hope that, in winding up the debate, the Home Secretary will acknowledge that those objections were misconceived, and will distance himself from those comments.

That is the background against which we must consider some of the issues raised in the report that are relevant to today's debate. Yet another tragic murder over the weekend, and the acknowledgement of responsibility for it by what might be a new terrorist grouping, reinforce the need for continuing vigilance by the Government as a whole and the security services in particular in respect of events in Northern Ireland. The work that has been done on combating Irish terrorism in recent years has been, in the full and literal sense, absolutely heroic. It must continue; it will not be assisted by the continuing release of those who have been convicted of the most brutal crimes without any decommissioning of paramilitary arms.

The report contains a brief and necessarily curtailed reference to Iraq. Again, events over the weekend underline the importance of continued vigilance. The threat to world peace from Iraq is acute, and we must combat it by all legitimate means at our disposal. The contribution of the security services must continue.

The Committee's programme of work refers to its intention to pursue questions of intelligence policy in relation to recent events in Sierra Leone in the light of the findings of the Legg report. The House will recall the difficulty faced by the Foreign Affairs Committee in trying to question the Foreign Secretary on the subject. At every stage, information had to be squeezed out of Ministers and officials. The process was as prolonged and painful as drawing teeth without an anaesthetic.

The arms-to-Africa affair evolved into a constitutional confrontation between the Executive and Parliament. The Foreign Secretary attempted to put into practice a new constitutional doctrine that, if he orders an internal inquiry, which is held in private, it should take precedence over and, indeed, displace the role of Select Committees. In view of that, will my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater tell the House a little more about the Committee's plans in that regard and what progress, if any, has been made?

One of the most significant changes in recent years in the Security Service has been the additional responsibilities entrusted to it concerning serious organised crime--a change made when I was Home Secretary. I therefore read with particular interest the information in paragraph 17 of the report, and look forward to the results of the further work that the Committee intends to undertake in the area. I hope that the Home Secretary will tell us a little more about the Security Service's work in that area in his winding-up speech. Like the Committee, I very much welcome the new priority given by the Secret Intelligence Service and GCHQ to their work against drug trafficking.

The Committee highlights several other issues in its report. Its recommendations on finances seem very sensible. The new form in which information was presented to the Committee is helpful, and may be helpful to Ministers. I agree, too, that formal provision should be made for the disclosure of information and reporting by the Comptroller and Auditor General to the Committee, in consultation with the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. It would be desirable, where practicable, for

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the National Audit Office to carry out further value-for-money studies into the agencies' activities. Will the Home Secretary tell us to what extent that has been taken forward since the publication of the Committee's report?

The Committee's recommendations on personnel management issues are especially important. It is clearly crucial, as the Committee said, that every effort should be made

The Committee makes other recommendations on the subject, of which the most interesting is that employees of the agencies should have access to industrial tribunals. The Government have said that they are examining the proposal. I suspect that it will prove to be necessary for the Secretary of State to retain the power to issue a certificate where necessary to prevent an individual from having access to a tribunal, although it may nevertheless be possible to adapt several of the Committee's recommendations and, indeed, adopt them. I would support such a move. Has any further progress been made in implementing the proposal?

Conservative Members will watch with interest the effect of the Government's decision to restore trade union rights at GCHQ, conscious of the fact that, before the decision to withdraw those rights, 10,000 man days had been lost to strike action. As a result of the previous Government's general trade union reforms, the entire climate of industrial relations in Britain is very different. That difference in climate may well be sufficient to prevent a return of the sad, strike-torn days that led to the ban. I certainly hope so.

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