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5.53 pm

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North): I thank the Intelligence and Security Committee and its Chairman, my right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor), for its pamphlet telling us how the intelligence services work and for its last report. I also thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department for the compliment that he paid to the Select Committee of which I am a member—the Joint Committee on Human Rights. The right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), who is no longer in his place, wondered why such matters are not dealt with in considering Bills. I can assure him that our Committee examines every Bill with any human rights aspect and publishes a full report. We do not take at face value what is written on the front of a Bill by any Secretary of State.

I read the Committee's report with great interest and I welcome the opportunity to debate it. I am one of those who believes that a large proportion of the work that is carried out by the intelligence and security agencies should not be secret at all, but should be wholly open to debate, and that the services should be held publicly accountable. That was our policy in opposition. We might be moving towards greater transparency, but the pace of change is so slight as to be imperceptible to the public at large.

Having been associated with affairs in Northern Ireland for some years, I have some knowledge of the intelligence agencies and their fight against terrorism and its impact on the political process, which we have not really considered today. The Committee's report states that the Security Service

Immediately, I am faced with problems—33 per cent. of its budget, of its agents, of its policy deliberation, of its time? Was the proportion of "effort" adjusted after successful negotiation of the Belfast agreement? What further adjustments were made to resources available for combating specifically Irish terrorism in the light of changing priorities following 11 September?

The intelligence services claimed credit for the successful conviction of three IRA terrorists for arms-trafficking charges. We all welcome that, and it is to the credit of the agencies. I know that an agency is able to claim credit for an operation only after the case has been successfully taken through the courts, so we do not really know how many operations have been thwarted—though I imagine a great number. However, many tricks of the trade must remain secret if they are to be successfully deployed on other occasions.

The upside of that secrecy is that terrorists might be led to believe that the intelligence agencies are all-seeing and all-powerful. They do not know where the subterfuge begins and ends, how deeply agent penetration goes or what are the agencies' objectives at any time. The downside of the policy is that we do not know either. We do not know to what extent, if at all, the agencies are overrunning the ethical boundaries.

There is a plethora of agencies in the field, each running agents, collecting information and conducting operations. The terrorist might be confused over who is

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who, but so are we, especially when something goes wrong and we want to find out who is responsible. So I should be grateful if the Foreign Secretary answered the following fundamental questions—in writing if he does not know the answer now. Which agency has the lead role in intelligence gathering in Northern Ireland, and what is its relationship with the reformed Police Service of Northern Ireland and other agencies there?

At times, the responsibility has been given to the Security Service—MI5—but the Royal Ulster Constabulary ran its own secret undercover unit in addition to special branch, which itself is described as a force within a force. The Secret Intelligence Service—MI6—ran operations at certain times, and an agent known as "the mountain climber" is widely acknowledged to have performed a most valuable role as a channel of communication between the Government and the IRA. More particularly, in relation to the Ministry of Defence, which agency is to be held responsible for the work of the former force research unit, which has been rebranded with a new name that is still an official secret? There was of course no mention of that unit in the report.

On 1 May 2001, Ulster Television broadcast an interview with a former RUC detective in the CID, Detective Sergeant Johnson—"Jonty"—Brown. In that interview, a number of allegations were made that the RUC special branch routinely blocked investigations and destroyed evidence in order to protect informers. That affected, among other things, the ongoing investigation into the death of the solicitor Patrick Finucane.

Jonty Brown insists that those actions were not random or opportunist, but were set out and codified in a set of instructions governing the relationship between the RUC special branch and CID. The instructions were in a memorandum issued from RUC headquarters on 23 February 1981. They, in turn, were based on a report commissioned by the Chief Constable in January 1980. That report was known as the Walker report. Its author, Patrick Walker, was at the time—I believe—second in command of MI5 in Northern Ireland. I understand that in 1989 he was appointed overall director of the Security Service. That memorandum was quite specific. It stated:

The Intelligence and Security Committee pamphlet states, on page 3 that the requirements of the European convention on human rights led the Government to put the agencies on a statutory footing. But what is the relationship between MI5, special branch and the rule of law, when they appear to be breaking the rule of law?

It is alleged that young joyriders have been recruited as agents or informers in return for a promise of non-prosecution. Will the Minister guarantee—later, in writing, if necessary—that the intelligence agencies are prevented from running child agents or recruiting child informers? I cannot believe that such activities would be compatible with our obligations under the United Nations convention on the rights of the child. That allegation has been widely circulated in Northern Ireland, however.

I turn to another issue involving the rights of the child. In the late 1980s, the then Member for Brent, East brought a number of allegations to the Floor of the House concerning the Kincora boys' home in Belfast. The central allegation was that Kincora was run by vicious

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paedophiles who regularly subjected the children in their care to violent sexual abuse, and that attempts by the RUC to investigate the scandal were blocked by M15 to protect the director of the boys' home, who was providing valuable information about fringe loyalist paramilitaries at the time. If that is true, could such action by the intelligence services conceivably be justified? I ask that—in relation to the question of thwarting the role of the police—because a public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of Pat Finucane now looks virtually inevitable. In that inquiry, an attempt will be made to hold the security services to account, and, by all accounts, the security services—in one guise or another—are in it up to their necks.

We have a British undercover agent, Brian Nelson, who worked his way up to be head of intelligence for a loyalist paramilitary group, the Ulster Defence Association. He is accused of selecting their targets, and he provided Finucane's personal file. We also have the special branch informer, William Stobie. He was the UDA quartermaster who provided the weapons to carry out the hit on Finucane and collected them afterwards. He warned his special branch handler that the attack was coming. Then we have the alleged hitman himself, Ken Barrett. He confessed to carrying out the murder, but special branch decided that it would be better to drop the prosecution and to run him as an agent instead.

The credibility of those allegations may rest in part on the necessary limitation of the intelligence services remaining secret. But the Stevens inquiry will be coming out shortly, and there are enormous policy implications for the work of the agencies, following the incidents that I have described, that would also have enormous long-term political implications, not only for Northern Ireland but for here, if they were to spread to the rest of these islands. Those of us who were in the House at the time will remember, during the early part of Harold Wilson's second Ministry, the rumours about what was happening in the special intelligence agencies. It was eventually established that they were true. That could happen again, and we need to be certain that it is not going to.

The Irish Government have established a judicial inquiry into the investigation of the Dublin and Monaghan car bombings in 1974 that resulted in 33 deaths—a higher death toll even than the Omagh bombing. The British Government have agreed to assist the inquiry in answering persistent allegations that the operation was conceived and engineered by undercover agents working inside loyalist paramilitary groups. It is also alleged that Irish police intelligence on the identity of the perpetrators that was passed on to the RUC was not acted on. This version of events is endorsed by several former policemen and security service personnel. I trust that, in helping the Dublin inquiry, there will be no withholding of information by our own specialist intelligence services.

On another matter, the Ministry of Defence is currently fighting a legal battle to enforce its injunction against the Sunday People newspaper to prevent it from printing further information concerning the operational role of an undercover agent, "Stakeknife", alleged to be a leading figure inside the IRA. The newspaper has claimed that the agent participated in up to 40 murders in order to maintain

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his cover and protect his identity. That is an amazing statement, if it is correct, and we ought to be very concerned about it.

I have made grave criticisms, and I hope that one day we shall be given some answers. Before I finish, however, I want to pay tribute to the many men and women in the security forces and intelligence agencies who have not behaved in the way I have described, but have acted with great bravery and dedication. They put their lives on the line because they believed that their work would allow others to live in safety. I pay tribute to them: the nation owes them a great deal.

It is ironic that just as the Belfast agreement offers us a chance to move on, the culture of secrecy threatens to engulf some former agents who say they are being left high and dry with no acknowledgment of their work and no pension. Those people feel that they have no one to turn to. I understand that they intend to release a video to publicise their grievances. It is possible that the nature of their employment prevents them from going to the tribunal that has been established. If that is so, I urge the Committee to consider inviting them to give evidence so that these matters can be established. It cannot be for the good of the country that a group of people who have put their lives at risk should have such an enormous sense of grievance about the way in which they have been treated that they are prepared to release a video explaining their actions.

I think it is a matter of urgency for the Committee to consider a new approach in Northern Ireland, given the recent history of the intelligence agencies there; for it to urge the agencies to co-operate fully with public inquiries relating to the Patrick Finucane murder and the Dublin-Monaghan bombings, and any other cases that may appear; and for it to begin to develop a new mode of operation that will bring all its activities within the rule of law, and make them comply with the human-rights obligations into which this country has entered.

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