I return to the point that I was making, and making at some length. I do so because it is important that we ensure that everyone in this country understands that intelligence is not an exact science. It is not like reading a spy novel. Piecing together intelligence is more like trying to complete a jigsaw puzzle that has no picture, many pieces missing and no pieces with a straight edge,
and without knowing how many pieces one should have or whether the existing pieces are all from the same puzzle. Just to complicate completing that puzzle, one has to do so against the clock, with additional pieces being thrown helpfully in ones direction by friends, and some intentionally misleading pieces being thrown by ones enemies. That is a fuller description of the process of constructing an assessment of threat and intelligence than would normally be gained from some reports in some of our popular press or from novels.
That is the nature of the task that we set the dedicated and talented people who serve in our intelligence services. The most remarkable thing is that, more often than not, they succeed against all the odds in putting together significant parts of the puzzle in a way that makes sense of the bigger picture. That saves lives, for which we ought to be grateful. It has done so many times before the 7 July attacks, and will continue to do so. That is the most important return of all on the investments about which Opposition Members have asked me.
All those difficulties have always existed, but they are now more challenging than ever. They have become larger and more difficult with the emergence of global terrorism. For nearly half a century after the end of the second world war, our intelligence agencies focused on fighting the cold war. From the late 1960s onwards, they played an important role in a conflict within the United Kingdom, in Northern Ireland. Nowadays, their primary focus is on the international terrorism of al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda-inspired groups.
As well as bearing in mind the normal difficulties affecting intelligence, we should recognise how much more challenging todays actions are than what went before. Todays enemy is unfettered by any sense of international convention, legality or even morality. Indeed, it is spurred on by a perverse perception of morality to achieve an even greater extent of civilian carnage. It uses methods of which we would not have conceived even a short time ago.
Moreover, the form of todays enemy has changed. In the past, we faced a foe with a structure. We knew the structure of the Soviet infantry and we often knew the structure of an active service unit of the Provisional IRA, along with its commander. We either knew the names of those involved, or were aware of an intelligence gap that needed to be filled.
Not only did our former foe have a structure, but that structure was fairly static and unchanging. When it comes to al-Qaeda and the like, we face an enemy that is structured only loosely, if at all, and comprises numerous largely autonomous groups acting outside any recognisable chain of command. Nor do those groups have a permanent base from which to operate. All that makes the job of our intelligence services much harder than it was before.
Todays terrorist is also helped by the ease of modern transport and communications. The internet and cheap mass travel have created a global village that is home to the global terrorist. All that makes life easier for the terrorists and harder for those who seek to counter them.
David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con):
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the earlier threat during the cold war. Can he reassure us that he has the appropriate
contacts with our former foes in the eastern bloc whom we now aspire to have as friends and that we are making good use of their extensive intelligence-gathering facilities? Can he establish those facts through whatever channels he considers appropriate?
John Reid: We have those contacts. Some, of course, are in the European Union. Some are in NATO. Others, such as Russia, are in partnership with NATO through partnership for peace or the NATO-Russian Permanent Joint Council. As well as having those military links, we tryas far as is possible, practical and sensibleto maintain an interchange and co-operation on intelligence matters. There is a reason for that. As I said yesterday, the terrorist threat faces us all. It is not a clash of civilisations, but a clash of evil terrorists against civilisation. Whatever differences we have with most of the great powers of the world, they are overcome by the common threat that we face, and the common awareness that we must face it together. We certainly do that.
I was explaining all the elements that make the terrorists unfettered intention of mass destruction more difficult too cope with than ever before. One essential element of threat is intention. To match that unfettered destructive intent, modern science has, tragically, also offered a potential for almost unlimited destructive capability, the other essential element of threat.
The means of mass destruction have been around for quite a while, but when they are linked with unfettered intention, unconstrained by conventional legality and morality, and with unlimited destructive capacity, we begin to see the size of the new threat that we face. We do not face that threat alone, of course: attacks in places as far apart as Bali, New York, Egypt, east Africa, Madrid andonly this afternoonMumbai show, if any illustration is needed, that no community or city is immune. The director general of the Security Service, speaking to her counterparts in the Netherlands last year, pointed out that, as the threat is global, protecting our friends is also a way of protecting ourselves. That is, I think, the point made by the hon. Member for Bosworth (David Tredinnick).
We must, and do, work closely with other countries, and with their intelligence and law enforcement agencies, in combating the terrorist threat. It is essential for us to think globally as well as acting locally. The plain fact is that a snippet of intelligence, whether it is gathered in Kirkuk or Kabul, can lead directly to action here on our streets to prevent an atrocity. That is the nature and extent of global terrorism, and that is the global response that we need.
Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con): The Home Secretary has spoken of our relationships with other Governments in the fight against al-Qaeda. How central to our fight against al-Qaeda is our current relationship with the Government of Pakistan?
John Reid: It is extremely important, because of our ties in history and Commonwealth, because of the number of people with a Pakistani background in this country and because of Pakistans proximity to some of the most difficult parts of the world in which international terrorists are operating. Afghanistan sits next to the western and north-western territories of Pakistan. All that means that we must work internationally in Afghanistan. We must work closely with President Musharraf and his services there, and we must also deal with domestic problems here, or indeed in Pakistan. We have received a great deal of support from President Musharraf. I had the pleasure and privilege of meeting him last year to discuss a range of issues, and I cannot overestimate the importance of our relationship with Pakistan when it comes to these matters.
I had several other pages to which to refer and several other issues to raise, but as I see that my right hon. Friend at the other Dispatch Box, the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) is eager to speak, and as I may have spoken for a little longer than I should have yesterday, I am more than willing to end my speech now. Perhaps I can deal with the other matters by responding to questions laterand the Minister for the Middle East will wind up the debate.
Let me end by saying that, however much we rely on our intelligence and security agencies, as we should, we ought to rememberas I am sure we dothat defeating terrorism is not simply a job for the Government, the security agencies or the police. Just as the intelligence and security agencies work on behalf of the whole community, the whole community must be involved in defeating terrorism. Given the unity and endurance that have seen our people through so many difficult times in the past, I believe that terrorism will ultimately be defeated. But the struggle will be long and hard and wide and deep, and in the midst of that we will rely more than ever on the men and women who work so hard and in such a dedicated fashion in our intelligence and security services.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Before I call the next speaker, I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that Her Majesty the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts and Measures:
Question again proposed, That this House do now adjourn.
I am tempted to continue by referring to the Home Secretary as my right hon. Friend, as he just referred to me, but we would probably do each other equal harm. A cosy consensus may break out, but I think not. However, I do join him in welcoming the annual report of the Intelligence and Security Committee. It is a thorough and wide-ranging report that raises several crucial issues. It is a fair reflection of the objective and serious manner in which the Committee, led by the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy), approached its scrutiny of the intelligence and security communities.
The House knows that I have some trenchant viewsalthough I am probably in a minority in the Chamberon the structure and powers of the Committee, and I shall say more about that later. However, I wish to put on the record that I do not, for one moment, accept the accusations made on Newsnight last night. The Committee is doing its job to the best of its very great ability.
I also join the Home Secretary in paying tribute to the work of the intelligence and security agencies. As the Committees report highlights, the threat from international terrorism remains serious and sustained. It comes not only from al-Qaeda, as the Home Secretary pointed out, but from its associated networks, dissident groups in Northern Ireland, Iranian state-sponsored terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and foreign espionage. We are all too familiar with the events of July last yearbut it is thanks to the efforts of the security and intelligence services, as the Home Secretary said, in combating those diverse and complex threats that there have not been similar attacks both before and since then.
I have to break the cosy consensus on the issue of the Governments response to the Committees comments on the combination of the post of the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee and the security and intelligence co-ordinator. I defer to nobody in my admiration for Sir Richard Mottram, with whom I have worked on several occasions, but the ISC raised a substantive point and I hope that the Home Secretary will look at it again, in slow time, perhaps before the next Committee report arrives.
The Committee also reports that the Government have recently concluded a study into the impact of new technology on interception of communications. The report was agreed between the Home Secretarys predecessor and the Opposition in response to our call for the use of intercepts. As the tragic events just over a year ago demonstrated, terrorists will stop at nothing to inflict death and destruction on their enemies and innocent members of the public alike in the name of their cause. In combating that threat, we must consider all possible measures to detect terrorist suspects and to bring them to justice.
Two weeks ago, I wrote to the Home Secretary urging him to review the prohibition on the use of evidence from UK-warranted interception in our courts, as I also did with two of his predecessors. It is vital that our courts system has the tools to convict and lock up terrorists. Intercept evidence could also alleviate the need to lock up terror suspects arbitrarily or to impose control orders, by bringing them into the justice system on an evidence-based basis.
the use of intercept will not result in our being able to prosecute more terrorists.
would endanger sources, damage relationships with foreign intelligence agencies or expose highly sensitive techniques.
From the briefings that the Homer Secretarys predecessor made available to me from representatives of GCHQ and other interested parties, I am convinced that the obstacles to the use of intercept in our courts are not insurmountable. I have come to the conclusion that every problem can be overcome. The Governments own terrorism adviser, Lord Carlile, says that intercept evidence would be very useful. The Metropolitan police say that it makes us look
a little bit foolish that everywhere else in the world is using it to good effect
but we are not. More than a year after the attacks in London, we are still in the absurd position in which intercept evidence from foreign jurisdictions is admissible in our courts, but evidence from our own agencies is not.
outside the Government, there is universal support for the use of intercept evidence in the courts. The Home Office has not produced convincing evidence that the difficulties are insuperable.
John Reid: The right hon. Gentleman raises an important point. My predecessor told the House on 2 February that the Government are committed to finding a possible legal model by which we could provide the necessary safeguards to allow intercept material to be used in evidence, and I have some sympathy with that point of view. The Home Office is carrying out work on two possible legal models. The right hon. Gentleman said that he understood that that work had been completed, but that is not my information. The two models are the so-called public immunity plus model and the examining magistrates model. My understanding is that the work is due to be reported to Ministers in NovemberI asked about the matter before I came to the House todayso it is too early to say whether a workable legal model can be devised. I accept the right hon. Gentlemans point that this is an important issue, but it is also very risky if we get it wrong. Although it sounds as though it is a lot of time to spend on the matter and even if we were disposed to look on it with an open mind, we would have to be certain that we were not opening up the service and its operations to risk.
David Davis: I thank the Home Secretary for that extremely useful intervention. The examining magistrates model was proposed in the first instance by the Newton committee and we supported that argument as it appeared to be the most robust. I agree entirely that we should not take risks in that area, but on the basis of legal advice from outside the Governmentas well as the Governments commentaryit appears to be achievable. People as eminent and knowledgeable about the issue as Lord Lloyd, for example, think that it is a tenable and achievable aim. I look forward to the Home Secretary returning to the House at some time soon with a conclusive answer on the issue.
The Committees report has a section on the Serious Organised Crime Agency. One of the aspects of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 that many criticised at the time of its passage was the absence of a single UK border police force. What Lord Stevens referred to as our porous borders have an impact on all the targets dealt with by the agencies covered by the Committeeorganised crime, espionage and terrorism.
the threat from espionage remains...Several countries are actively seeking British information and material to advance their own military, technological, political and economic programmes.
For almost a century, foreign intelligence services have used large movements of people, especially refugees, as cover for inserting their agents. There is also the now well understood threat of foreign terrorists entering the country illegally.
The failure of the Government to get a grip on illegal immigration, the now famous admission by the immigration and nationality directorate head of removals that he does not have the faintest idea how many illegal immigrants are in this country and the Home Secretarys description of the IND as not fit for purpose demonstrate a serious weakness in the Governments strategy to keep out those who would do this country harm. As the example of one of the suspects wanted in connection with the attempted bombing on 21 July last year showed, there are also problems monitoring people leaving the country. Despite his photograph being distributed to ports and airports, he was able to escape to Paris and then to Rome.
If the Home Secretary is really serious about protecting our borders, he will look again at introducing a single border police force. The Metropolitan police have called for one, the former head of the Association of Chief Police Officers has called for one and the Home Affairs Committee called for one more than five years agobut just a few weeks ago, the Prime Minister rejected those calls. If there were a single force, combining the expertise of existing agencies to prevent foreign terrorists entering the country or to detect suspects leaving the country, the burden on the security services would be lower in the first place.