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Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South): Is it not extraordinary, after all that has happened in Ireland, that there still appear to be parts of the secret state who think that they can act with impunity? My right hon. Friend will be aware that there is a long history of such inquiries in Ireland encountering a wall of silence and fizzling out after the lapse of time. Can I have his assurance that that will not be allowed to happen in this case?
The second point is that, as my hon. Friend says, there has been a long history of inquiries of this nature; there has not been a long history of my being Secretary of State, and I can assure him that if it is within my powerwhoever the individuals are and whatever their motiveand if there is any way of discovering that and dealing with it, it will be done. The inquiry has been established not as an attempt to divert attention or in any way to cover up the grievousness and importance of what happened, but precisely to try to elicit the information necessary to get to the truth. That is hugely important in terms of operations and for those people, including many brave people, who have acted according to their consciences in the past and who may or may not be in danger as a result of any breach of security. It is also hugely important for the peace process that we get to the bottom of what went on.
Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): I thank the Secretary of State for prior notice of his statement. I also thank the security Minister for our informal conversation earlier this week, which satisfied me that the Government are, in fact, taking the issue very seriously.
First, although having three investigationsthe hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) made some points about thismay not make it less likely that any investigation gets to the answer and the truth, would it not be helpful if the right hon. Gentleman formalised the interaction between those investigations to ensure that potentially useful cross-references are dealt with in a codified and organised fashion?
Secondly, given the obvious possibility of internal assistance with this breachalthough we must not draw any conclusion until we have the factswhat steps does the Secretary of State intend to take to ensure that those involved cannot cover up some of the evidence that could highlight what happened? Thirdly, what steps has he taken as a matter of urgency to protect the welfare of individuals who may be seriously compromised by the theft of the information?
Dr. Reid: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his support. On formal co-ordination of any inquiries, I have already said that, in addition to the criminal investigation, it was appropriate for me to act decisively and to call an inquiry. The hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies), with a little lightness, if I may say so, added a further inquirya leak inquiryduring his contribution, but the two inquiries are absolutely essential. However, of course, we want the maximum access to information for the review, as it will be named, carried out by Sir John Chilcot, but the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) will understand that the operational independence of the police in their investigation is a matter of some importance as well, so it is difficult to formalise because that investigation cannot, of course, come under political control. Nevertheless, I take his point about generally ensuring that one inquiry does not run across or prohibit the other. That is very important.
The hon. Gentleman asks about measures taken to try to minimise the possibility of any cover-up or destruction and so on. I can assure him that, so far as I am awareobviously, I do not control the operation of the investigationa tremendous amount of work was done to seal off the area to try to ensure forensic evidence and so on was preserved. Every effort is being made to try to investigate all possible lines of inquiry.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the welfare of the individuals concerned, which is very important in any breach of security. I am aware that, where it is believed that there might be a threat, steps are being taken to inform those who might be the subject of any danger as a result of this or any other breach of security. That would be a natural thing to happen.
Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East): Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the two issues that seem to be at stake are first, who did it, and secondly, how it was done? The arrangements that he has described seem eminently well suited to answering those two questions. Does he agree that it is at the least ill judged, and may turn outI hope notas events unfold, to be irresponsible, for the Opposition to seek to exploit this serious matter?
Dr. Reid: On my hon. Friend's second point, yes it would be irresponsible for anyone to try to exploit this matter, particularly since, as he said, at this stage the two questions of who did it and how it was done remain unanswered. I would add a third question: why was it done? That is not clear either at this stage so in terms of motive, culprit and method, we are still at an early stage. I confess to my hon. Friend and to the House that I do not have a clear view on any of them at this stage. No one appears to have claimed creditif I may use the wordfor the incident.
The questions that my hon. Friend mentioned on method and the culprits are important. The question of why is also important. However, whatever the answers to those questions, I would not seek to diminish the fact that any breach of national security is always of importance, and this one is no exception.
Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann): We view what happened in Castlereagh with the gravest concern. It is extremely serious and we are very worried about possible ramifications not just for national security but for the integrity of policing operations in Northern Ireland.
I am also concerned about the potential multiplicity of inquiries. I can see a distinction between the police investigation and the review being undertaken by Sir John Chilcot and Mr. Colin Smith, but I am worried about the potential overlap between the police investigation and any action by the ombudsman. That concern is deepened by the weaknesses in the investigative capacity of the ombudsman's office, as revealed by the recent ombudsman reports. Can we have a clear assurance that the police investigation will be primary and that there will be no interference with that investigation until it has run its course and, we hope, identified the people who were responsible?
There is no doubt that those who were responsible in some way or other obtained detailed information about the police office at Castlereagh to obtain entry. That seems to be clear. We do not know yet how that information was acquired, and we must be careful not to pre-judge the matter. However, I cannot avoid saying that it appears to be linked to the very significant demoralisation among present and particularly former members of the police. The Secretary of State should reflect on that because that demoralisation, which is inseparable from the policies that he has pursued, has to a significant extent led to the problem before us. Indeed, that has been exacerbated by some current decisions, particularly with regard to uniforms.
On the question that the Secretary of State raised at the end about why the break-in occurred, can he put the public mind to rest in one respect and eliminate one possible reason why it was done, by making it clear that the Government will support entirely the present arrangements for special branch, and will ensure that the capacity of the police with regard to special branch operations is increased, that their effectiveness is increased and that there is no question of using these events as a pretext for further run-down in that respect?
The question whether there was inside knowledge is to some extent speculative, but that would appear to be the case prima facie. However, that does not lead us in any particular direction because, as the right hon. Gentleman points out, there might be a range of people who had inside knowledge. I do not want to speculate on whether they might be disgruntled or demoralised former police officers. There is a range of other people who might have inside knowledge as well. I know that all these matters will be investigated by the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the wider effects. There are always wider effects for the operation of national security, for the integrity of the process, the operations and, as he said, the policing effort in Northern Ireland and for the safety of individuals.
With reference to special branch, we have outlined our plans in the implementation plan, but they are subject to discussion. The Chief Constable will make a recommendation and, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, we now have a Policing Board which deals with these issues. The board will no doubt want to consider all the ramifications of any change to special branch in the future, and I would not want to pre-empt its deliberations or decisions on the matter. I do not mean that the Policing Board will be considering that as a specific item arising out of the incident, but it considers all aspects of policing and will no doubt wish to speak to me. I see no reason why, in the first instance, the matter should lead us to any conclusions in any direction about special branch or any other element. I would not want to imply any premise about who was involved. None of us knows.
As regards the ombudsman, I think that the Chief Constable was right in law to refer the matter to the ombudsman. A referral is appropriate on the basis of his judgment that prima facie it cannot be ruled out that a police officer may have committed an offence or behaved in a way that would justify disciplinary proceedings. As the Chief Constable said, however, there is no evidence at this stage to suggest that an offence has been committed by a police officer, but he nevertheless considered it in the public interest to refer the matter to the ombudsman.
The ombudsman cannot properly investigate the matter in the sense that was suggested, running across the criminal investigation, as she cannot investigate Army or intelligence agencies. Clearly, it will be important for the police and the ombudsman to develop a close working relationship in any investigations. I stress that the matter has been referred to the ombudsmanthat is as far as it has goneand no investigation has started.