Previous Section Index Home Page

Prior to the establishment of the ISC, some inquiries took place precisely because of the absence of such a committee. The agency resources that would be needed
11 July 2006 : Column 1333
to service a public inquiry—this is the point, rather than the cost—would be significant to massive. I am sure in my own mind that those resources are best deployed in trying to prevent future atrocities and tragedies. Of course, as the Home Secretary said, one can never entirely guarantee, as professional and committed as the agencies are, that we can never have such incidents again. Obviously, we can never have advance notice of terrorist acts. We can seek only to narrow the angle as far as possible, and in some cases manage to eliminate it altogether. As the Home Secretary has remarked, four potential attacks have been thwarted in the past year.

The 90-day detention period has recently reappeared as an item for debate. That is not a matter specifically for our Committee. However, as a Member of Parliament, one is of course concerned that the law enforcement agencies should have the best tools at their disposal and that there is a legal framework and method for dealing with the terrorist threat—a terrorist threat of unprecedented awfulness and danger—as best they can. My first duty as a Member of Parliament is to do whatever I can to ensure that my constituents can go about their daily lives in safety. By extension, my duty as an MP among other MPs is to ensure that citizens of the United Kingdom have a similar freedom. People talk of 90 days detention, but it never was quite that—it was up to 90 days and then subject to judicial approval on a weekly basis.

I appreciate that Parliament has already taken a view on the matter. However, I feel personally that there will be occasions when the current 28-day period proves inadequate: because of the need to intervene early; because intelligence is by its nature inexact, partial and fragmented and needs to be converted into evidence; because of the weight of the evidence that needs to be collected and analysed; because of the complexity of the inquiry and the need to trace data; and because of the difficulties arising in consulting other countries, interpretation and so on. The Home Affairs Committee recently commented on that, and it will continue to be an issue.

Although during the year the agencies have rightly concentrated the bulk of their efforts on counter-terrorism, there remain issues of counter-espionage and the protection of our economic well-being. Although significant resources continue to be devoted to those, our companies’ secrets and our intellectual property are vital to our prosperity. Espionage has not gone away with the collapse of the Soviet Union, and economic protection, including the crucial issue of energy security, will become increasingly important.

Andrew Mackinlay: I know that my hon. Friend takes a great interest in China. Did the Committee look into so-called patriotic hacking, whereby people from China, presumably with their Government’s blessing, are accessing Government computers here, including, last year, in the House of Commons? When I asked the Foreign and Commonwealth about it, it did not want to get involved, but patriotic hacking is going on, it is coming from the People’s Republic of China, and it is threatening intellectual property rights and national security. What does my hon. Friend say to that?

Ben Chapman: It is a fact that cyber-assaults on crucial institutions and organisations can be planned
11 July 2006 : Column 1334
by individuals, by small and large groups or bodies, and, indeed, by nation states. If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I will not comment on that particular example, but suffice it to say that the Committee is briefed on such issues.

Mark Pritchard: The hon. Gentleman is right to share his concerns about cyber-security. Does he share my concern that the Government Department tasked with co-ordinating cyber-security across Government—the Cabinet Office—has in recent months announced redundancies, yet is perhaps the very Department that should be expanded?

Ben Chapman: I have every confidence in the Cabinet Office’s actions in this area. This issue will not only continue to be important but may become increasingly so, and it is something on which the Committee would wish to keep a weather eye.

Finally, those who follow such matters will be interested to see that this year the asterisked items noting redacted passages are much reduced—not only, I hope, because of the Committee’s robustness in challenging them, but as a sign of the times in that we have more openness.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. I remind all right hon. and hon. Members that Mr. Speaker has now imposed a time limit of 12 minutes on Back-Bench speeches.

8.7 pm

Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington and Chelsea) (Con): I pay tribute to the work of the Intelligence and Security Committee over the past 12 years. I agree with what the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) said about the way in which the agencies can sometimes still be parodied. I recall my first visit to MI5 in the 1980s, when I was taken to a nondescript building somewhere behind Oxford street. The British public were not permitted to know that it housed MI5, although the Russians knew that perfectly well. Events have moved on, and we are slightly more grown-up about these matters.

The hon. Member for Wirral, South (Ben Chapman) took comfort, rightly, in how few asterisks remain in the report. However, I wonder whether it is necessary in the public interest for Parliament and the public not to be aware of the distinction made on page 12 between resources and capital for the individual agencies. Would it really make Mr. bin Laden’s task that much easier if that information were shared with him? Is not it time to realise that matters of public expenditure, in particular, can be safely shared with Parliament and with the public?

We have heard about the merger of the posts of security and intelligence co-ordinator and Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee. Like others, I know Sir Richard Mottram and have worked with him. I have no doubt that he, as an individual, will be able to combine those two tasks very satisfactorily. However, I do say to the Government that it is not appropriate to use this as a precedent in saying that the debate is now over and those two posts can sensibly be merged. That would be unwise and foolish.

11 July 2006 : Column 1335

I pay tribute to the Committee for being about to consider rendition as its next major task. The United States sometimes protests to the effect that as rendition has been going on for many years, what is all the fuss? I hope that the Committee will draw attention to the fact that there are two kinds of rendition. There is the kind that takes place when Carlos the Jackal was kidnapped in Sudan and taken to France so that, for the first time, he could face a proper trial before a proper court of law, or when the Israelis kidnapped Adolf Eichmann in Argentina because he would never otherwise have come to justice. It may have been somewhat irregular, but at least it happened so that proper justice could be done. The rendition about which we are worried today is different. People in the custody of Governments such as that of the United States may be sent to countries where the last thing they would receive is a fair trial and where they might be subjected to improper treatment. That is different and it would be right for Parliament and the Committee to examine the matter in the greatest detail.

I want to concentrate my brief comments on the Butler review and the Committee’s reaction to it. Let me begin with a welcome. I noted with pleasure that the Committee welcomed the decision to provide a confidential guide in future to enable

I wish that the Prime Minister had had access to such a document some years ago. If he had, the history of the past few years might have been different.

I acknowledge the need for such a document. My introduction to the intelligence agencies was on my first day as a junior Minister in the Foreign Office. I was informed that a gentleman from MI6 wished to see me. He came into my office and I asked him what he wanted. With an unsmiling face, he said, “Minister, it’s my job to indoctrinate you.” I made some flippant remark such as, “I thought it was the Russians who were meant to be doing that”, and he replied that it meant explaining the Official Secrets Act, which I would then be required to sign and be bound by. We have come a considerable way since then. It is important that Ministers in particular know not only how intelligence is obtained, but the use to which it can properly be put.

In that context, I must strongly criticise not only the Butler review but the Committee, which has not properly held the Government to account for the way in which, in the run-up to the Iraq war, the intelligence agencies were misused and allowed themselves to be seriously misused. I could give several examples, but I refer in particular to the so-called “dodgy dossier” and I must emphasise my concern.

There is nothing improper about the production of a document in public if the Government believe it appropriate to show the intelligence that supports their case. I have no objection to that or to the intelligence agencies’ involvement in the preparation of such a document because that would obviously increase its reliability. However, my fundamental objection is that, as the Prime Minister admitted in the foreword, it was
11 July 2006 : Column 1336
the first time in this country’s history that a document had been produced in the name of the intelligence agencies to try to assist the Government of the day.

Those who work in our intelligence agencies are non-political civil servants and it is inappropriate to bring them into a highly charged issue that, in the case of Iraq, divided not only political parties but the nation. I know that the official line of the Butler review and others, including the Government, is that the purpose of the document was not to argue for war. I acknowledge that. However, the Butler review concluded that the purpose of the Joint Intelligence Committee producing the document was to

to get support for

That was a political objective and no business of the JIC. It should not have been asked to produce such a document and it should not have agreed to do so.

The Butler report spells out the purpose of the document, although it fails to condemn it. Paragraph 323 states:

That shows the Prime Minister’s sad assumption that he could not achieve objectivity or credibility by himself, but required the JIC to do it for him. The chairman of the JIC was gravely at fault. When he was asked to produce the document, he should have resisted the request and, if the task was imposed on him, he should have resigned in the best interests of the country and the civil service. Instead, he has been promoted to be head of the Secret Intelligence Service. That is most unfortunate.

It is unacceptable to use the JIC in that way, and not necessarily because the document was inaccurate. Even if it had been 100 per cent. accurate and the intelligence had been 100 per cent. reliable, it would have been improper for civil servants, who happen to be intelligence agency officials, to be used in such a politicised fashion. I hope that the Minister for the Middle East will say in his winding-up speech that the Government will never again contemplate using the intelligence agencies in that role. The Home Secretary made some good comments in his opening remarks about the dangers of relying on intelligence information. However, that factor did not appear to weigh heavily in the run-up to the Iraq war.

The document contained grave problems. Apart from the failure to provide health warnings, which was spelled out on several occasions, it included the 45-minute claim. I could understand that, through some error, the document did not point out that it referred only to battleground weapons and that the Prime Minister was not aware of the distinction until many months after the end of the war. However, when the “Today” programme and all the newspapers publicised the 45-minute claim the following day, implying that it meant that British bases in Cyprus could be hit and other major international targets could be destroyed, I cannot understand why those who were most intimately involved in preparing the
11 July 2006 : Column 1337
document did not immediately issue a statement to explain that there had been a misunderstanding and that they had not intended to make such a claim. Their failure to do that was due either to total incompetence or to the fact that it served the Government’s purpose for the public to be alarmed, as they were at the time.

Norman Baker: The right hon. and learned Member is making a helpful speech. However, is not the position even worse? Is not it the case that the original intelligence was presented neutrally, with caveats, but that, as a consequence of memos from Alastair Campbell to John Scarlett, the caveats were removed and certainty included in the document?

Sir Malcolm Rifkind: The hon. Gentleman is right. For five years, as Defence Secretary and then as Foreign Secretary, I saw such raw material. I saw the reports that came to me every day during that period. They were invariably accompanied by health warnings, not only because the information might be inaccurate, but because the person providing the information was sometimes being paid for it. Sometimes the informant was a defector from a regime who had his own agenda and wanted to spread information for his own reasons. Intelligence agencies understand that. However, I condemn the Government for not spelling out those matters to the nation when the media, perhaps inadvertently, misrepresented the JIC document.

Although the Butler review did much good work, it failed the country in its comments on the matters that I have considered. However, I am saddened that the Committee, which in every other respect I greatly admire, has not taken as robust a position as it might have done, unless I have missed something—doubtless, I shall be corrected if I have—in protecting the interests of Parliament and the nation when the intelligence agencies operate in such a fashion. Many hon. Members of all parties wish the Intelligence and Security Committee to be given a greater role, but it must be willing to condemn in no uncertain terms the use of intelligence agencies in a politicised fashion, whichever party is in power.

I hope that the Minister will comment on that, but I hope even more that lessons have been learned and that such mistakes will not be repeated.

8.18 pm

Dr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East) (Lab): The right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) will understand if I resist the temptation to comment on his remarks. Suffice it to say that I had the privilege of serving on the Intelligence and Security Committee when we thoroughly considered the matter that he raised. His contributions are always valuable and reflect his huge experience as a former Defence Secretary and Foreign Secretary, as he reminded us this evening.

I had the privilege of serving on the Committee in the previous Parliament, from 2001 to 2005. It was different from its predecessor, with a new Chairman and new members comprising more than half the Committee. The same occurred again, with the appointment of a new Chairman and half the Committee being made up of new members. That is good and means that the
11 July 2006 : Column 1338
Committee brings a fresh look to the issues. One of the things that struck me when reading the report was the extent to which it referred to issues in last year’s report, which we worked hard to complete before the election. It is a matter of some regret to me that that report has never been debated; it should have been.

The previous Committee was appointed just before 9/11, and the whole area of intelligence and security was transformed following those atrocities in the United States in 2001. Sadly, many of the developments in international affairs since then have served to fuel rather than dampen the rise of international terrorism. It is surely not controversial, for example, to suggest that Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib will have worked for our enemies in the global battle to win hearts and minds away from terrorism.

With the increased threat of international terrorism, it quickly became apparent to the Committee on which I served, and to the Government, that there was an important need to increase the resources available to our intelligence agencies, and I pay tribute to the increases that have now taken place. The total funding for the agencies in 2000-01 was £862 million. The total budget this year is £1,568 million. The Government’s response to the Committee’s report refers to the £1 billion covering a rather wider area of security and intelligence, increasing to £2 billion. I am sure that the whole House will support those increases.

It is one thing to increase the money available; however, the important thing is to ensure that that money is put to good use. The most important aspect of that is the increase in staffing that arose from the increased expenditure. Indeed, staff numbers at the Security Service are expected to rise about by 50 per cent. in the next three years, representing a substantial increase in addition to what has already taken place. As hon. Members have already mentioned, the Secret Intelligence Service has launched a website in the past year to aid recruitment, and it began advertising publicly for the first time in the press in May. The success of these recruitment procedures will not really become clear for at least four or five years, however, and we will not know until then whether the quality of the staff recruited will be up to the very important tasks for which they have responsibility.

I was interested to see in the Committee’s report that one of the roles of the professional head of intelligence analysis, put in place in the course of the last year, is to lead the cross-community work that is now under way to enhance the use of open source material alongside other sources. Of course, a key provider of open source information from around the world to the Government is BBC Monitoring. The Committee of which I was a member was tremendously impressed by the work of BBC Monitoring and by the potential for its future contribution. In successive reports, we expressed our concern at what was happening to BBC Monitoring, and I initiated a debate on the subject in the House of Commons on 23 March 2004.

Next Section Index Home Page