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7.10 pm

Mr. Paul Murphy (Torfaen) (Lab): I share the revulsion of the shadow Home Secretary and of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary at the events in India today. It just proves that the terrorism that we now face is in a global form that we have never quite faced in the past. I put on the record my thanks to the Clerk, Emma-Louise Avery, and the staff of the Intelligence and Security Committee, and to the previous Clerk, Alistair Corbett. They work extremely hard. They are dedicated, committed and behave extremely independently in the work that they do. I would also like to thank the members of the Committee, from all parties and from both Houses. They, too, work with great diligence and commitment. They are extremely critical when necessary, but they operate entirely in a non-partisan and non-party political way, as they should.

I was interested in the remarks made by the shadow Home Secretary about whether the Committee should be a Select Committee of the House. I am reminded of a former Welsh colleague of mine, whom many Members here would have known, Cledwyn Hughes, the former Member for Anglesey. When he faced such interesting and difficult issues, he would address the parliamentary Labour party, of which he was chairman, and say, “You see colleagues, there are pros and cons for, and pros and cons against.” On the question of the Select Committee, that is probably precisely the case. I have no firm view on whether the Committee should be a Select Committee, but I am certain that it should be different from any other Committee that exists in Parliament.

Andrew Mackinlay: You’d get paid as Chairman.

Mr. Murphy: Indeed. There are some advantages, then, in the Committee being transferred into a Select Committee.

Let us look at the way in which the Committee is appointed. We know, of course, that the appointments are made by the Prime Minister. However, the
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Opposition Members on the Committee—remember that out of nine members, four are Opposition Members—are appointed on the recommendation of the leaders of their respective parties. To all intents and purposes, the appointment of the members is very similar to the appointment of Select Committee members. In addition, the way in which the Committee operates in its offices in Whitehall is exactly the same as the way in which Select Committees operate—by way of cross-examination and taking evidence, both written and oral.

Andrew Mackinlay: I think that my right hon. Friend said that the way in which the Committee is selected is known. I have to remind the House that I tabled parliamentary questions asking the Prime Minister about the manner in which the selections were made and he said that he would not tell me because it was a secret. I think that we should have revealed to us today what he understands is the method of selection.

Mr. Murphy: I assume that my hon. Friend means me when he says “he”. I do not make the selections. What I am telling the House is that the Prime Minister selects the Labour members on the basis of his own decision, having taken advice; other members are selected on the recommendation of the Leader of the Opposition and the leader of the Liberal Democrat party. That seems very similar to the way in which Select Committees are appointed.

I do not want to go too far down this road, because, as I said, I am neutral on the issue of whether the Committee should be a Select Committee, in terms of the constitutional point, but I am certain that it ought to be a different type of Committee. It has to meet in private. It is clearly absurd for a Committee dealing with secret intelligence to meet in pubic. That cannot happen. Of course, we debate such matters—we are doing so today—in the Chamber of the House of Commons, and that is right, too. There are reports—at least one, usually two and sometimes three a year—from the Committee that are debated in public and that are in the public domain.

It is also nonsense to suggest that the members of the Committee, in the words of some journalists, are the Prime Minister’s stooges, or that we have a cosy relationship with the security services. How on earth can that be the case with a Committee that is drawn up on lines that give the Government a majority of only one—if that were ever to be used, which it is not—and that includes among its members a former deputy leader of the Conservative party and a former deputy leader of the Liberal Democrat party? As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary indicated in his speech, by no stretch of the imagination could it be said that they are the Prime Minister’s stooges.

The accusation that the Committee is amateur and inexperienced is also clearly nonsense. Of the nine members of the Committee, one of whom comes from the House of Lords, four have been Ministers in Departments that have direct knowledge of and relationships with the security services. In terms of experience, although they might not want me to mention it, my colleagues and I have a combined service to Parliament of nearly 200 years. That is nearly 200 years of valuable experience.

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The point that I am trying to make to the House is that in no way is the Committee full of people who are there to give the Government a soft line or some sort of easy ride. That is not the purpose of the Committee. The purpose of the Committee is to scrutinise the intelligence services as effectively as it can, without fear and without favour. That is not an issue that divides us. All of us on the Committee, from whatever party and whichever House in this Parliament of ours, believe that that is the right thing to do.

For example, in the annual report for 2005-06, which we are considering, there are three substantial criticisms that we believe should be dealt with. Some of them were touched on by the shadow Home Secretary. There is the fact that the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee and the security and intelligence co-ordinator ought not to be the same person. We are still unconvinced that that is the right thing to have happened. We also say that the emphasis by the Joint Intelligence Committee on trying to achieve a consensus in its reports could mean that it is missing, or failing to prioritise, key points. We had concerns about the new intelligence system, SCOPE, and the difficulties that GCHQ had with various staff disputes.

At the same time, however, we are also very conscious of the fact that, where praise is appropriate, we give it to the intelligence services. That is something that any Select Committee in the House of Commons would do. For example, the staff problems at GCHQ seem to be in the process of being resolved and the IT project SCOPE will deliver next year. There is no question but that the agencies have faced a huge challenge during the past 12 months, given all the difficulties with regard to the problems of counter-terrorism and 7 July, and I think that they have met that challenge.

There is now an opportunity for dissent and challenge in the Defence Intelligence Staff—an essential recommendation of the Butler review. We recognise that extra funding has gone into the agencies and we have emphasised on more than one occasion the need to ensure that there is good value for money. There is another issue that is completely misunderstood by so-called commentators. That point came out last night on “Newsnight”. I am talking about how people are recruited into our intelligence agencies. I understand that one of the so-called experts said that it was done by means of an Oxford don and a bottle of sherry. I have nothing against the University of Oxford—I went there myself—and I certainly have nothing against a bottle of sherry, but these days that is not the way in which people are recruited to our security and intelligence agencies. If Members had looked at The Times some months ago, they would have seen that it contained advertisements for MI6. If they turn on their computers and look at the websites of both our security services, they will see that jobs are being advertised in public in a way that is completely different from what has gone on in the past. It is right for the Committee, Parliament and the Government to put right such misconceptions. It was good that our campaign to see BBC monitoring continue was successful, and we commend the lead that the agencies are taking on European co-operation.

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It is fair to say that much of the Intelligence and Security Committee’s work this year was concentrated on the appalling events of July last year. Obviously, this debate is taking place in the context of the anniversary of that dreadful occasion. We found that there was no prior warning of the attack and no culpable failure on the part of the agencies. We found that MI5 had come across two of the leading bombers before the attacks at the periphery of an earlier investigation, but that there was no evidence that they were planning attacks against our country.

Mark Pritchard: I welcome the provisions made by the right hon. Gentleman’s Committee, especially regarding dissenting voices in the intelligence community. Did the Committee come across any dissenting voices in the intelligence community vis- -vis the two gentlemen whom he mentioned, most notably regarding Mohammed Siddique Khan and any previous activities in which he may have been involved?

Mr. Murphy: Our report was published on the basis of evidence given to us that was agreed by the agencies.

We found that the extent of home-grown extremism was underestimated by the agencies. We also recommended several changes to the threat and alert systems, so I was pleased that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced the necessary changes to the House only yesterday.

Some allegations have been made that material was withheld from the Committee during the course of our investigations into the events of July last year and, indeed, that we were misled by the agencies. We have examined each and every one of those claims, whether they were made verbally or in the media, and are satisfied that they are not true. Our report stands as an accurate representation of the facts as we saw them. Although we have investigated the claims over the past weeks, we are still of the opinion that the conclusions at which we arrived in our written report were right.

Mike Gapes: My right hon. Friend referred to domestic terrorism. Does he share my concern about the opinion poll that was published a few days ago indicating that 13 per cent. of British Muslims sympathised with, or actually supported, the aims of the people who carried out those terrible murders in London a year ago? Does that not indicate that we need to deal with not only intelligence, but the way in which we engage the Muslim communities in detecting, preventing and combating the ideology of al-Qaeda and its sympathisers?

Mr. Murphy: Yes, I do, although that is not necessarily a job for the intelligence agencies or the Committee that I have the privilege to chair. However, it must be taken seriously into account. One thing that we can take from the poll is that although some people thought in the way in which my hon. Friend outlined, the people who live in our Muslim communities in this country overwhelmingly do not share that view. It is important that hon. Members understand that, especially those who represent constituencies in which large numbers of Muslim people live.

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John Reid: My right hon. Friend mentioned misreporting in the press. Perhaps I should have taken the opportunity earlier to comment on reports in the press by reassuring him and the Committee, which is concerned with not only counter-terrorism and security, but organised crime and so on, that it is the Government’s view that one of the essential elements of the fight is identity management and ID cards. I reaffirm our commitment to the introduction of those as rapidly as possible. I thought that it was as well to say that in view of several reports that have misleadingly suggested today that we are abandoning that commitment—we are certainly not.

Mr. Murphy: I am grateful that I have given my right hon. Friend the opportunity to put that on record.

When the Committee compiled its report on the events of 7 July, several matters caused us concern. We were worried that the agencies had not really recognised the speed with which young Muslim men, in particular, were becoming radicalised. Although that is no longer the case, the situation came as something of a surprise. We were also worried that we had all underestimated the possibility of suicide bombings happening in our own country. It is good that MI5 is now reaching out into the regions of our country, especially our great cities, so that we are in a position in which we can, we hope, avoid such problems in the future.

Stewart Hosie (Dundee, East) (SNP): On that point about reaching out, paragraph 107 of the report recognises the leading role of the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency on serious and organised crime in Scotland. Point Y in the summary of conclusions and recommendations says that the Committee

Has the right hon. Gentleman given any consideration to how SCDEA may be linked directly to HMRC and the agencies, other than through the relationship with SOCA in England and Wales?

Mr. Murphy: Yes, Scottish members of the Committee, or members representing constituencies close to the Scottish border, made us aware of the situation, so we are conscious of the Scottish dimension, as we are of the Welsh dimension. We thought that serious consideration needed to be given to the relationship between the special branches of our country’s police forces and the security agencies themselves. We can learn from terrible disasters and what happened in July, as well, obviously, as ensuring that we thwart future terrorist attacks. I was glad that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary indicated that at least four had been stopped in the past year.

Our country faces a number of threats to our security from international terrorism, especially from al-Qaeda and its associated networks, from dissident groups in Northern Ireland, from increasing tension over Iran’s nuclear programme and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and from international espionage, given that several countries are seeking British information and material. Good intelligence is not the only solution to countering those threats, as my
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hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes), the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, indicated, but it can make a huge difference, as it did in Northern Ireland. If we had not had such superb intelligence over the past decade, we would not have achieved what we did there because of it.

Mr. Ben Wallace (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con): One of the reasons we got great intelligence in Northern Ireland was the fact that the community was on side and thus presented a massive number of human sources. Has the Committee taken any evidence about, or inquired into, the impact of some of the draconian counter-terrorism legislation that the Government have introduced and the extent to which that has deterred people from Muslim communities from coming forward as sources?

Mr. Murphy: No, not in that sense, but we had a look in some detail at how to deal with the problems in Muslim communities in which extremists live, work and plot. When we compiled our report, we cross-examined and interviewed many people, from Ministers down. We also went through hundreds of documents to find out whether we could get to the bottom of the issues that were causing concern. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary indicated in his opening speech the difference between what happened in Northern Ireland and the situation that we face today. There was a structure to the terrorist activities in Northern Ireland that we faced. The situation was very much on our doorstep, and the people spoke the same language. We now face a disparate global terrorism that is completely different from what we faced in Northern Ireland, and I say that as someone who spent five years of his life as a Northern Ireland Minister. The way in which we deal with such terrorism is a huge challenge to the security services, this country and the world. I still believe, however, that intelligence can play a hugely important role in combating global terrorism, the effects of which we have seen today in India.

Our agencies face new challenges, especially in counter-terrorism, but they are largely meeting those challenges. The ISC will continue to scrutinise their work; to suggest areas in which greater efficiency is possible; to look at issues that are controversial—

Mr. Mullin rose—

Mr. Murphy: I know what my hon. Friend is going to say, and I am about to come on to the very point that he will make.

Mr. Mullin: I note that at paragraph 104 my right hon. Friend proposes to conduct an inquiry into rendition. Can he assure the House that it will address the case of the two British residents—not citizens—who were arrested in Gambia and are now in limbo, because the British Government say that they cannot make representations on their behalf, although someone clearly made representations to make sure that they reached Guantanamo Bay in the first place? We ought to have some responsibility for them, not least because one has four young children under the age of eight.

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Mr. Murphy: The answer is yes, we will do so. When my hon. Friend intervened on me, I was about to say that our next investigation will be on the issue of extraordinary rendition, and it will look at the cases that he raised. We have already received correspondence from the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie), who chairs the all-party group on rendition. Those issues will be addressed, because they are important. People hold different views—rendition is controversial—but that does not stop us looking at the issue. We do all those things and carry out all those investigations, however difficult, controversial and unpopular, in the knowledge that our intelligence community is there to protect our country from the security threats of the 21st century.

7.31 pm

Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): On behalf of my party, I join other hon. Members in expressing condolences to everyone who was maimed or bereaved in the cold-blooded and callous bomb attacks in Mumbai today. I join other hon. Members, too, in welcoming the ISC’s thorough, detailed and authoritative annual report for 2005-06. As it notes, it is especially timely as there is a

particularly from al-Qaeda. Only last Friday, we commemorated the tragic 7 July bombings in London, and I echo the tributes paid to those who make heroic efforts to secure our safety.

The report should be read alongside the earlier ISC report on the 7 July bombings, as together they fill in important gaps in the jigsaw of events that led to those terrible attacks. It is worth reiterating that the jigsaw will be complete only if there is a full, independent, public inquiry into the 7 July attacks and the events that led up to them. On 11 May this year, the Home Secretary told me that an inquiry would be too costly and would divert resources from other work. The expense of the Bloody Sunday inquiry, running into hundreds of millions of pounds, is regularly cited by Ministers as a reason why an independent inquiry into 7/7 is not justified. I have looked up the costs of key public inquiries in recent years, and they are not as excessive as suggested. The Bichard inquiry, which made 31 important recommendations, cost £2 million; the inquiry into the Ladbroke Grove and Southall train crashes cost £1.2 million, and made 39 recommendations; and the inquiry into the awful death of Victoria Climbié cost £3.8 million, and made 17 recommendations. The Home Secretary may be reluctant to hold a public inquiry but, given the record of previous public inquiries, the issue of costs is not the most powerful reason for failing to do so.

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