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Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the project will be delivered on time and on budget?

Mr. Cook: We are currently on track in this financial year. It is of course a private finance initiative project, so any overrun in the cost of construction will be borne by the contractor and the provider of the funds, not by the Government. I assure my hon. Friend that we are being vigilant and maintaining a close guard on the cost. That is precisely why I have asked for and receive the quarterly reports. I am pleased to say that, so far, the stream of reports has been reassuring. Clearly, we will respond if there are any signs that there is going to be an overrun, but at present I have no reason to suspect that.

I have spoken of the foreign challenges, and I will now deal with the domestic challenges with which the agencies deal. The threats to our national security do not come only from other Governments. The danger to the life and safety of British citizens is more likely, in practice, to come from terrorist groups.

Terrorist outrages command massive media coverage when they happen. Successes in preventing such outrages get nothing like the same coverage, but that does not make the crucial role of the agencies in preventing terrorism any less valuable. Since the Committee's report was published, the security services have twice participated in operations that led to the arrest of individuals who have since been charged with terrorist offences or conspiracy to cause explosions.

Some of the domestic challenges are new. They reflect the nature of the modern world. The revolution in communications technology is creating new opportunities on an exponential scale.

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This week, 360,000 e-mails will be sent in Britain every second--one fifth more than in January, and double the number sent last June. Computers now manage most of our critical national infrastructure for water, power and transport. With those new opportunities comes the risk of new threats: a computer-based attack on the national infrastructure could cripple the nation more quickly than a military strike. The intelligence and security agencies play a key role in our national infrastructure security co-ordination centre--an unforgettable mouthful to pronounce.

The Committee's report criticises the speed with which that centre reacted to the "love bug" virus last May, so the Committee will be pleased to hear that when the "Kournikova" virus struck in February, a national alert was issued within one hour. In the modern world, that speed of response can make the difference between stability and chaos. Other threats to our domestic security are the product of the dramatic increase in trade which is a feature of the globalised economy. Free and growing trade has been an immense stimulus to economic growth throughout the world, particularly for Britain, which is a major trading nation.

However, increased contacts and accelerating mobility throughout the world also provide cover for the enemies of our society, such as drugs traders. I have sat through totally pointless international debates on whether it is more important to disrupt the drugs trade at the point of supply or the point of demand. The truth is that we have no hope of success unless we attack the drugs trade at every point of the chain--at its production centres in distant countries such as Afghanistan or Colombia, when drugs are in transit through the Caribbean or the Balkans, and on delivery on the streets of our cities. That requires a joined-up approach by both the intelligence and the law enforcement agencies. I am glad that the Intelligence and Security Committee has paid tribute to the secondments in both directions that have produced operational teams with a wide range of skills and a culture of working together.

That has produced real successes. The agencies have helped to disrupt the networks that bring drugs into this country. They have contributed to the seizure of major shipments of both heroin and cocaine, as well as to the arrest of the drugs traders involved and the seizure of their assets. British agencies contributed to a recent operation in the Caribbean which resulted in a haul of drugs with a value of £70 million, from just one raid.

As the Committee has noted, all three agencies are closely involved in countering other forms of smuggling, such as the lucrative trade in cigarettes, which costs the British taxpayer £2.5 billion a year in lost duty.

I have tried to put on the record what I can about the valuable contribution of the agencies both to our foreign policy and to our domestic security. It is important that Parliament and the public should know the clear objectives of the intelligence and security agencies; but it is also right that we should explain to the public that the success of the agencies can be secured only by conditions of secrecy.

The penalty of disclosure of operational details for any of the agencies is the failure of the operation--but the penalty for loss of secrecy in the Secret Intelligence

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Service or the Security Service can be loss of life. We have given an undertaking to its agents that we will never reveal their identity or their role. We cannot compromise on that guarantee without losing the trust on which we rely for the recruitment of future agents. That requires us to be vigilant in resisting any threat to operational secrecy, whether it comes from foreign espionage or domestic cheque-book journalism. However, the secrecy of operational detail does not prevent the rigorous oversight of the policy and priorities of the agencies that is essential in a parliamentary democracy. All members of the Intelligence and Security Committee share the credit for the rigorous scrutiny that it undertakes.

As I see that the members of the Committee make up a large proportion of my audience in the House today, I shall add that the prospect of an appearance before the Committee keeps us all on our toes.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw): Yes.

Mr. Cook: I think that I carry my right hon. Friend with me on that point.

As the report details, in the preceding year the Committee held a formidable list of hearings, taking evidence on more than 50 occasions, with some of the witnesses, including my right hon. Friend and myself, appearing more than once. I would not want the members of the Committee to be under any illusion about the invigorating effect on both their witness and the machine of an approaching rendezvous with them in their spartan Committee room in the Cabinet Office.

I would not want the House to imagine that the relationship between the Committee and the Government is adversarial. We both share an appreciation of the importance of the agencies, we both share the same objective of safeguarding the national interest, and we both want the Agencies to work even more effectively. It is therefore not surprising that the Government share many of the Committee's conclusions and often find its recommendations helpful. There are many points in the report on which we find ourselves in full accord with the Committee. We share its view that Sir Edmund Burton could play an important continuing role in the new accommodation project--GCHQ has appointed him as a non-executive director.

We welcome the Committee investigator's report on the security of laptops and have already implemented the broad thrust of his recommendations. We agree with the stress that the Committee places on a co-ordinated approach to information technology and have created the post of an information technology champion within the Cabinet Office. We value the positive verdict of the Committee on the work of the agencies on serious crime. I am pleased to tell the House that we expect the intelligence gathered by the agencies on that threat to increase substantially over the next two years.

I welcome the Committee's sustained interest in the creation of a special employment tribunal for staff of the agencies. The Committee has waged something of a campaign on the need for progress on that issue. I hope that it will call a truce in that campaign, as the necessary regulations and rules of procedure were laid before the

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House by the Department of Trade and Industry this week. We have also taken to heart the Committee's stern comments on the time taken--

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): What a coincidence.

Mr. Cook: I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman should undervalue the effect of debate on stimulating activity. If it has had a beneficial effect we should welcome it rather than decry it.

We have taken to heart the Committee's stern comments on the time that the Government took to respond to its previous Report. I hope that it will welcome the improvement shown by the Government in responding to their current report within a month of its publication.

Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater): I get the feeling that the right hon. Gentleman has come to the end of his responses to particular points raised by the Committee. I notice that he did not comment on the fact that the Ministerial Committee on the Intelligence Services, which is chaired by the Prime Minister and has overall responsibility for the intelligence agencies, has still not met. If there is an early dissolution of Parliament, the prospect is that it will never meet in this Parliament.

Mr. Cook: I am conscious of the paragraph to which the right hon. Gentleman refers. I can assure him that the matter is very much before us. He will understand that it is not easy to arrange a diary engagement that can be attended by many people, including the Prime Minister, especially in present circumstances. However, all members of the Ministerial Committee are fully informed of the work of the security and intelligence agencies, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I are in constant contact with them. I regularly see the directors of both of those for which I am responsible, and I know that my right hon. Friend acts similarly. I would not want the House or the public to imagine that there is a lack of oversight or engagement by the members of the Committee, even if they do not sit down in the same room at the same time.

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