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7.15 pm

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): I warmly welcome this debate. I have been a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee for only 15 months. Before that appointment, I must confess to an underlying unease--a healthy scepticism--about the security services. Indeed, in the 1980s, I hunted with the hounds over the Wright affair and played my part in embarrassing the Government of the time.

Following my experience of the past 15 months, I feel greatly reassured. I have "been in", "seen much" and "pondered at length", and I am much reassured by what I found and by the conversations that I have had with people in the services. Some people might say that I was "going native"--a phrase used by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin)--but I assure him that I am not. All members of the Committee observe the performance of others, and I do not think that my fellow Committee members could accuse me of going native. I would suggest to my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon), the former Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, that the nature of my questioning was little different from when I was on the PAC. My colleagues can be reassured that, along with others, I play my part.

I hope that the agencies are reassured by today's debate. In my view, they should welcome the report, as I do. It is an excellent report, especially in its reference to the investigative arm which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) said, is critical to the workings of the Committee. The Committee needs teeth, and that is the route that we must take.

I must pay one or two tributes at the outset. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) for his very important work on industrial relations, work that is of some historical significance. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford for the excellent work that she did on files, and to the Chairman of our Committee, who I believe has been an excellent Chairman and who adds credibility to the work that we do. I mean that most sincerely.

I pay tribute to the service heads who have painstakingly set out to reassure the Committee within the terms of the legislation. I pay a special tribute to the work of agency personnel, whoever they are and wherever they are in the world. Their names I know not, but I would

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like them to know that their work and dedication have been an inspiration to members of the Committee as they carried out their duties. However, there is a hole in the way we work, and a big hole in the report, and that is the status of the Committee. I shall comment almost uniquely on that aspect of the debate.

I do not believe that oversight is fully credible while the Committee remains a creature of the Executive--and that is what it is. The problem at the moment is that the Committee considers its relationship with the Prime Minister more important to its operation than its relationship with Parliament. I strongly dissent from that view and find the arguments in favour of Select Committee status utterly overwhelming. So what are they?

First, we live on the threshold of an era in which our civil liberties and freedoms will be the subject of increasing pressure as the state strives to maintain collective responsibility. It is an exercise in which states throughout the world are involved. Curiously, closed circuit television adequately illustrates my point. Civil libertarians were hostile to its introduction. Now they simply talk of safeguards and regulation. The demands of society for protection against the excesses of criminal activity have crowded out arguments over the intrusion of camera surveillance on our lives. In such conditions, one has to be beef up systems of regulation, safeguard and oversight. Those systems need to command public support, confidence and trust. I do not believe that the ISC, despite the good intentions of its membership and the witnesses that come before it, as a creature of the Executive, can possibly meet those tests.

Secondly, the Committee needs new and increased powers to call persons and papers and to communicate with other Committees. There are times when the information that comes our way should, in certain circumstances, be referred to other Select Committees. It would enable them to carry out their inquiries. That does not mean that security will be in any way breached because mechanisms can be introduced to ensure that that does not happen for the release of material.

It is already acknowledged that the Committee needs the power to report directly to Parliament and the argument has been well rehearsed this evening. I believe that we need the power to take evidence under oath. Select Committees have that power, yet we do not. Without going into any details, it is fair to say that there are times when the Committee might receive assurances on issues where, if those assurances were given under oath, we might have the confidence--under present circumstances, with the approval of the Prime Minister--to make statements that would be extremely helpful during the course of public debate and in the exercise of reassuring the general public.

We need the power to take evidence under privilege. Technically, if a person appeared before the Committee today, he could libel another person because he would not be protected by privilege. The Committee has none of the powers that are accorded to witnesses giving evidence to parliamentary Committees.

Above all, the Committee should have the power to hold witnesses in contempt if they deliberately mislead the Committee--[Interruption.] Does the Chairman of the Committee wish to intervene? I see not. If Parliament knew that the Committee had the ability to take evidence

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under oath and to hold witnesses in contempt in the event that they were deliberately to mislead, it would substantially increase the credibility of any reassuring statement that the Committee makes.

The arguments are not new; they have been rehearsed at length on a number of occasions in the past, most notably during the passage of the 1989 and 1994 legislation. Those supporting Select Committee status included the noble Lord Hattersley, speaking from the Front Bench. If he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), intends to go into greater detail about what was said at the time. Other supporters included the noble Lord Randall, who also spoke from the Front Bench, and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson), as well as my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers), who in 1993 made a number of fascinating speeches that make most interesting reading. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North will read them. The noble Lord Richard, speaking from the Front Bench in another place, and the Minister for the Cabinet Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) also made positive speeches in favour of Select Committee status. Indeed, in 1989, the entire shadow Cabinet, including my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary, voted for Select Committee status. I have a copy of the Division list. The entire Labour membership of the Committee today that was in the House at the time all voted for Select Committee status, so we are not arguing new principles this evening.

Some say that legislation is required to accord Select Committee status, but that is not my understanding--a resolution of the House will suffice. We could establish a Select Committee to carry out fully the functions of the ISC by using existing arrangements within the House, simply carrying a resolution. Of course there would be a residual ISC in place by way of the legislation, but that would need to meet only once a year for five minutes to fulfil its function.

I recognise that there is strong opposition, which is to be found everywhere. Some argue that the fact that the Committee reports directly to the Prime Minister gives individual members of it additional clout, kudos, weight or importance in the political world. I strongly reject that view. Others argue that no way can be found to restructure the practices and procedures of the Select Committee so as to ensure Executive influence for reasons of national security over material that it may seek to publish. That is simply untrue. A resolution of the House could require that the Committee sought the approval of the appropriate agency before reporting to the House. The resolution could further provide that, in the event that a dispute arose between the agency and the Committee over the publication of information or evidence in a report to the House, the matter of the dispute could be referred to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for his decision and the Committee could be required to comply with the decision of the Prime Minister. If, in unforeseen circumstances, the Committee or any member of it were to threaten to breach the Committee's rules of procedure as approved by the House, it would always be open to the Leader of the House, on the instruction of the Prime

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Minister, to dissolve the entire Committee or remove any member of it on a resolution tabled on one day which took effect on the next. There are adequate provisions.

Mr. Rogers: I accept what my hon. Friend says and there is a great deal of substance to his argument. However, the issues involved are a little more complicated than those of a general Department of State. For instance, the relationship between our allies in matters of national security and defence has to be considered, as does the interrelation between GCHQ and the National Security Agency in America. In so many ways, there is a nexus of relationships. If that were disentangled, perhaps the argument for Select Committee status would be more valid, but at present it is not as simple as dealing with an ordinary Department of State.

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