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Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda): I am sure that the shadow Foreign Secretary would not want to mislead the House, but by just giving the figure of 10,000 man days, he has created an entirely sad picture. Will he say how many people work at GCHQ and over what period the days were lost? For instance, we could be talking about 1,000 employees losing only 10 days each--but over what period? It is not good enough to make such a statement without justifying it.

Mr. Howard: I am afraid that I do not share the hon. Gentleman's premise. The 10,000 man days lost through strikes at GCHQ were 10,000 fewer man days devoted to protecting the defences of the country and reinforcing them with valuable intelligence activity. That is the point at issue.

Mr. Winnick: The ban was imposed on 26 January 1984. Is the shadow Foreign Secretary aware that, after the Falklands war, GCHQ employees were greatly praised by the director-general? Does that not show that, once again, GCHQ employees carried out their work properly? Some 18 months after that lavish and justified praise, the ban was imposed. Do the Conservatives plan to restore the ban, should they return to power?

Mr. Howard: There is no inconsistency whatever in the two points to which the hon. Gentleman referred. Of course employees of GCHQ did excellent and important work during the Falklands war. Of course it was right to pay tribute to that work. Of course it was wrong to have 10,000 man days lost through strike action. There is no inconsistency in those propositions.

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The one area where the Government appear to differ from the Committee relates to the need for an independent element of scrutiny in reviewing files for destruction. The other recommendations of the Committee in respect of files and personal records have found greater favour with the Government. I have noted the reasoning behind the Government's reply, which is set out in paragraph 16 of their response to the Committee's report.

I have also read the report of the Adjournment debate secured by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) earlier this year, and the Home Secretary's reply to it. In that debate, the Home Secretary delivered a comprehensive snub to the then Minister without Portfolio--now Secretary of State for Trade and Industry--who was reliably reported to have called for the destruction of his own files. In view of that Secretary of State's admitted membership in his youth of the Young Communist League, the House may well consider his call for the destruction of his files a piece of gut-wrenching hypocrisy. I appreciate that a number of my hon. Friends will have views on that proposal, and I want to hear them before coming to a firm view.

The Government are rightly more sympathetic to the Committee's decision to have available some investigative capacity of its own. We look forward to seeing how that matter develops.

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I ask whether the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry was informed that an attack was to be made on him before it was done as I believe is usual in the House.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): That is entirely a matter for right hon. and hon. Members.

Mr. Howard: I am happy to allay the anxieties of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge). I did cause a message to be passed to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to make sure that he was fully apprised of the position.

Mr. Robin Cook: The right hon. and learned Gentleman did not tell me.

Mr. Howard: I did not do so because, to the great pleasure of the House, I know that when I oppose the Foreign Secretary across the Table he will be present in the Chamber in his usual place, and it is therefore unnecessary for me to give him notice.

The activities of the intelligence agencies in a democracy must be the subject of proper scrutiny. With the establishment of the Intelligence and Security Committee--and the holding of this debate--that scrutiny has seen significant advances in recent years. Her Majesty's Opposition will play our full part in that scrutiny process in an appropriately responsible way.

5.12 pm

Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater): Whatever our views may be on the operation of the intelligence agencies and of our need to scrutinise them, it is right--I speak on behalf of the Intelligence and Security Committee--to pay tribute to those who work for the Secret Intelligence Service, the Security Service and GCHQ. As a former President of the

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United States would put it, those people often put themselves in harm's way for our security. I certainly join in the tributes that have been paid to the staff of those agencies by the Foreign Secretary and the shadow Foreign Secretary, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard).

As Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, I welcome this first such debate, which is part of the parliamentary system and part of our parliamentary accountability. The Committee has a different structure. It is not a Select Committee, but a Committee of parliamentarians with responsibility for oversight of the intelligence and security agencies.

I appreciate the presence in the Chamber of the Foreign Secretary and the Home Secretary because, with the exception of the Prime Minister, they are the only people who can answer the debate by virtue of the nature of their responsibilities and the direct responsibility of the intelligence and security agencies to them. Much of their work cannot be delegated to more junior Ministers. Therefore, it is right for the Foreign Secretary and the Home Secretary to be here for the debate.

This is the first such debate, but it is the Committee's third report. However, it is the first report of the new Committee in the new Parliament. I have had the privilege of chairing the Committee throughout its years of existence, and I am grateful that a number of the Committee members were in the previous Parliament, so we have had a continuity of membership. I could not, for political reasons, say that we have had a welcome infusion of new members. However--granted that there would be a change of membership--I am very grateful to the old and new members for the role that they have played in what I am conceited enough to believe has been a successful and effective Committee. I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary and to my right hon. and learned Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary for the kind words that they have expressed to me personally and to the Committee.

This is the fullest report that we have produced as a Committee. I should like to express my thanks to our staff--led by Jonathan Allden--for the role that they have played throughout the past year. They have a lonely and independent role, because they are on secondment from the Cabinet Office and owe their allegiance to the Committee, a separate body. It is not the easiest of roles, and I am extremely grateful to them--as are the other Committee members--for the way in which they discharge it.

I owe an apology to the House, and to the wider public, for the content of our report, in the sense that--by nature of the reports that we publish--certain parts become totally unreadable because it is impossible to publish certain matters. The presence of asterisks in the most interesting places is perhaps best exemplified by the financial charts at the end of the report, which I insisted should appear. Someone suggested that we should just publish a summary but, with the support of the Committee, I insisted that the full charts appear.

Although not a single figure appears, the charts illustrate clearly that we had all the figures and the details. That was not the case in the first years of the Committee. It is a further illustration of the extension and evolution of the Committee's role that all those figures are now

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available. By looking at the headings, hon. Members at least know the subjects that we considered, including details, in terms of the SIS and the Security Service for example, of the payments to agents for information, and the different categories of information that we investigated and examined.

We are grateful in that respect for our relationship with the Comptroller and Auditor General and the National Audit Office. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr. Davis), the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee--who is in his place--for his Committee's co-operation, and for his support in ensuring that the Intelligence and Security Committee had access to information. We are grateful to him also for encouraging the full co-operation of the Comptroller and Auditor General and the NAO.

In our unanimous report, the Committee referred to a fundamental question, which was addressed by both the Foreign Secretary and the shadow Foreign Secretary: do we need the agencies any more? Is it not true that, for the past 45 years or so, the structure of the agencies has been concentrated on tackling the biggest threat that we faced--the threat of a major world power, in the shape of the Soviet Union, intent on the subversion of the western democracies and posing a threat to our democratic institutions, our existence as a country and the continuity of our alliances?

After the collapse almost overnight, of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw pact, the problems that faced Russia as an independent country caused people to ask whether the threat had ceased to exist and whether we needed the agencies to continue in the same form. Many suggested that the agencies had invented new threats to justify their existence.

The Committee examined those assertions as fully as we could and, as the Foreign Secretary said, the Government considered the matter in the comprehensive spending review, in which we took a close interest and played a part. The Government concluded that expenditure on the agencies should continue to be much the same as before, recognising the fact that new threats had taken the place of old threats.

Probably the biggest threat is the risk of proliferation--a major preoccupation of the SIS--in nuclear, chemical and biological capabilities, especially because missile systems have increasing ranges and may be within the reach of some undesirable and unstable regimes.

The threat posed by the collapse of old structures is most clearly seen in the former Yugoslavia. If we are to play a part in peacekeeping--in Bosnia or in Kosovo--asking British people to go unarmed to monitor difficult situations, the very least we owe them is the best possible intelligence of the dangers that they may face.

I have read only the brief headlines of Sir Michael Rose's account of his time in Sarajevo but, when I was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, he was a brigadier commanding one of the brigades, and I should expect him to confirm that the dangers that he faced in Northern Ireland--during what was, in many respects, a hairy time--were as nothing compared to some of the risks, uncertainties and hazards that arose as a result of the violent and unstable elements in the former Yugoslavia.

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The Foreign Secretary rightly paid tribute to the Security Service for its outstanding work in preventing what would have been two significant and hugely damaging IRA attacks in this country. However, the current extent of international terror is a sobering thought. Hon. Members may have read in our report the surprising fact that, on average, every month, there are 60 international terrorist incidents of one sort or another in the world. Those attacks may not impinge on us directly, but British citizens may be affected through hostage taking or other threats to our interests.

The increase in the drug trade and in international crime has been given a nasty new dimension by gangs from Russia, some of which include former KGB members. Their viciousness and their involvement in that nastiest of cocktails--drug trafficking--pose problems of a scale that we have not previously experienced.

Another new development, to which we referred only briefly in our report, is information warfare. Growing public concern about the millennium bug--a self-inflicted injury--has drawn attention to the wider problem. It may seem a harmless accident when a 17-year-old in Ealing hacks into the US Department of Defence computers on nuclear structures, or when innocent people amuse themselves by hacking as a hobby, but such techniques can be used as an instrument of aggressive activity by one nation state against another. That emphasises the importance of GCHQ's advisory role in securing our organisations and information structures against such attacks.

The Committee examined how the agencies allocate effort and decide on their priorities--in general, we supported their decisions. We also consider new issues--for example, what happened in Sierra Leone--as they arise. In that case, we examined the criticisms that were made about the lack of intelligence and the amount of support that was given to our high commissioner in an extremely difficult situation, involving not only the evacuation and safety of British citizens but relationships with outside companies and mercenaries.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe asked me to report on the interest that the Committee has taken in the matter. We have heard from Sir David Spedding, the head of SIS, and we have taken evidence from the chief of defence intelligence. We hope shortly to take evidence from Mr. Penfold, the high commissioner in Sierra Leone, and we shall consider the intelligence aspects of that affair.

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