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Mr. Mackinlay: My hon. Friend flagged up something that has exercised me since last autumn. I abhorred and found anathema the actions of those people who tried to hold the country to ransom over fuel, but if surveillance was used on them, as we are led to believe, I am in a dilemma. I wonder how my hon. Friend feels about it, given our mutual belief in democracy and liberty. Is it right for the state, for economic reasons, to use the machinery of surveillance that we would normally use in relation to national defence, on people who are trying to frustrate the state and exert pressure on the Government in relation to fuel prices--or perhaps on other malevolents? Where is the fine line?

Mr. Campbell-Savours: There is a category in which the state would have some interest, and that is what we would call economic well-being. That is where we come in, because we can ask questions about such matters. During the course of our inquiries we can bring the heads of the services before us--in this case, the head of the Security Service. We can ask Stephen Lander about developments in this or that particular area, and he will have to reply.

Of course, our report would go through the Prime Minister before it filtered through to Parliament, but there is a mechanism for dealing with such issues. My hon. Friend should not remain interminably suspicious that such matters cannot be controlled. There is also the role of the Home Secretary, who has responsibilities in that direction; we know that the present Home Secretary takes those responsibilities extremely seriously. I hope that I have put my hon. Friend's mind at rest slightly.

I know that there has been lots of banter in the Committee about Select Committee status, particularly between the hon. Member for East Hampshire and me. I have always thought that when we are on a platform together, as we were last week, the people who watch us like that. They know that even within the present remit, there are divisions of opinion, and we can argue them out, even in a public forum. That is helpful to the process. I know it is helpful to the services, too, because people in the services are fascinated by those arguments. Within the services themselves there are people who want the Select Committee structure to be set up. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will know about that.

I have said what I had to say, and unless I have the opportunity to speak in the debate on privilege on 23 April, this may well be my final contribution in the House. Thank you.

3.43 pm

Mr. Michael Mates (East Hampshire): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), who made what could be his last contribution in the House. I would be happy to cross swords with him again on 23 April, because I, like him, think that a general election would be a distraction at the moment--but I shall not go into that now.

All this business about a Select Committee is an old chestnut by now. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we have crossed swords about it before. I have never

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heard the case so persuasively put as it was by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith)--who has just stopped on his way out to hear me say that. However, persuasively as the case was put, I have to tell him that I am not persuaded.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) said, I had the honour to chair the Defence Committee for six years, and I have now been a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee for six years. He was right to say that there is a distinction rather than a difference, but there is an enormous distinction.

We dealt with very sensitive matters; for example, we examined the Trident nuclear submarine programme, year after year, almost from its inception to its end. However, when a Government Department--or, particularly, one of the intelligence agencies--gives evidence to a Select Committee, that evidence then becomes the Committee's property. That is the distinction. That is the only difference between us.

Once somebody gives evidence to a Select Committee, that evidence is the property of the Committee and of the House, and at the end of the day the Committee can do what it will with it. The difference that was--rightly in my view--built in to the structure of the present Committee, is that the evidence does not become the property of the House until it has been filtered through the Prime Minister. I am certain that without that filter, we would not have been privy to even half the growing amount of information that we have been given over the years. We must remain exclusive and different.

However, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater said, it is a distinction that need not bother us, because our work is very similar to that of a Select Committee. I say that for the benefit of the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay), too. It is simply that the ownership of the highly sensitive information that we have been given has to remain within the ring of secrecy until such time as the Prime Minister and his advisers allow it to be reported to Parliament.

I do not think that there is a difference in the confidence that the House and the general public have in the Intelligence and Security Committee, as opposed to a Select Committee--although there may have been a difference for the first few years, when we were a new Committee. I think that that feeling of confidence will grow. In four or five years' time, whether there is a change or not, and I do not think that there will be--[Interruption.] I must tell the hon. Member for Workington that I have the last word at the moment, which is a nice position to be in.

I do not think that by that time there will be any difference perceived, either outside or inside the House, between the level of accountability of the intelligence and security services, and that of the other Departments to their respective Select Committees. That argument is academic, and is becoming more academic as the days and years go by.

My right hon. and hon. Friends have raised many of the relevant points, so I can be quite brief. First, I want to amplify what the Foreign Secretary said about the inherent dangers of technology and information warfare. As has been said, an enemy could do far more damage by bringing down computer systems than by dropping bombs. That gets truer every day.

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I remind the House of something that may have slipped people's minds. Three or four years ago, an 18-year-old computer hacker brought the entire US air force in the United States to the ground by hacking into the air traffic control system for military aircraft. The authorities were bemused. They knew that this was not a friendly hacker, and he was so clever that he made it appear that the attack on the computer system was coming from India. For two days, until they sorted it out, all they could do was to ground the entire United States air force. I do not need to tell hon. Members what would happen if that took place even in a period of low-level conflict, as we have had in the Balkans all too recently. There would have been chaos.

I shall give another example, because the danger needs highlighting. A couple of years ago, an IRA plot to use bombs to disable the electricity generating sub-stations around London was discovered. It would have crippled the electricity supply of the capital, but by careful intelligence and very good work by the police and the intelligence services, the attack was prevented.

How much more effective would that attack have been had the terrorists moved somebody into the London electricity generating control centre and left him there for years? At the appropriate moment, they could have told him to destroy the computer system. That would have been more devastating, it could have been done much more quickly, and there would have been less chance of discovery, because the IRA would not have needed garages in back streets full of cars and explosives.

That is an important factor, and I hope that the Committee will look into it if I have the honour to serve on it again--if, indeed, I have the honour to get back here and serve on the Committee in the next Parliament. I hope that the Committee will take the matter up to help the Government go forward into an ever more complex and dangerous area.

That is why we will need more intrusive inspection of computer communications--to prevent just such a threat. I know that I am repeating what has been said before, but I thought that it would be helpful to illustrate the point, so that people who do not understand intelligence matters could grasp the size of the problems caused by the ever increasing pace and sophistication of technology.

My last point is about the growing problem of serious crime--smuggling drugs, illegal immigrants, false asylum seekers and all that. This week I visited Dover and went across to the other side with the customs officers, because I could not be there when the rest of the Committee went two or three months ago.

I saw the new scanner. With X-ray cameras, officers can now scan a container lorry as long as this Chamber in five or 10 minutes. I could see how effective that was. One sees the contents immediately, and can spot differences, and whether there is anything irregular. I commend the Government for having introduced the scanner and I hope that they will further speed up its introduction. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater said, without intelligence there is no way that we can interdict such activities at the moment.

If everyone has to go through the scanner routinely, the smuggler will face a much harder problem. The Treasury Committee looked at that in its second report and recommended that 13 scanners were needed very soon. I do not suppose that anybody will oppose that except

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the Treasury, as scanners are expensive items. I urge the Ministers concerned to tackle the Treasury about that, because it is one way in which--I hesitate to use the phrase--at a stroke they could improve the detection of a huge amount of smuggled contraband, especially cigarettes. The Treasury is now losing hundreds of millions of pounds, but it is difficult to explain to it that it will eventually make a profit. It does not see the matter that way, but it has always worked like that.

I saw the highest-tech piece of kit imaginable, which is mobile and looks a bit like a Heath Robinson device; it goes over the top of the lorry and moves along it. The plan is to move in fixed technology, whereby the lorry drives through and is scanned, rather as one's suitcase is at the airport. Although more expensive, the sooner that that happens, the better. Despite all that wonderful technology, the approach to lorries is back in the age of the quill pen and dependent on the observational ability of Customs and Excise.

I raise that point for the benefit of Ministers, who may not be aware of it. It is a question of the British and French Governments organising matters so that information, which is available on computer, can be transferred. Our customs officials in France and, indeed, the French customs officials at Dover, would therefore have access to low-level intelligence, such as manifests, number plates and so on, before the lorries arrive. They could add that to the intelligence produced by our own intelligence sources, and identify suspicious lorries in good time, as opposed to the three or four minutes that they have at the moment.

When one sees millions of pounds worth of new technology alongside a chap trying to look down a handwritten list that changes twice a day, one realises that we have not yet got that right. In the battle against smugglers--of people, drugs and so on--we need to address that problem and get it right quickly. That is a matter for the two Governments and the organisations that run the cross-channel ferries, the tunnel, freight trains and everything else. I very much hope that that will be taken to heart and acted on quickly, as it is frustrating, especially for customs officials, to have wonderful kit, but to have one link missing in the chain.

It is time to thank everyone. I am happy and grateful to have been on the Committee since it started. If I survive, I hope that I may serve on it in the next Parliament. I shall miss the hon. Member--I was about to say "hon. Friend"--for Workington. I shall miss him as a maverick and a member of the awkward squad whose presence adds a little ginger to our proceedings even if, alas, as everyone else has said, they are rarely seen by the public.

The House will have gathered from the speeches of Committee members--there are still one or two to come--that not only do we work happily, but effectively and well. We work without party politics as a team.

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