Mr. Straw: The inquiry is specifically into the allegations that have been made in respect of our hon. Friend the Member for Tooting. I repeat to the right hon. and learned Gentleman and to the House that on the subject of legal professional privilegein other words, conversations between any individual, whatever their circumstances, and their legal adviserspecific rules are laid down in codes of practice and in non-statutory form, which, as I said, generally prohibit not only the interception or surveillance of such conversations but any accidental recording that takes place thereafter. To my certain knowledge, as a former Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary, those rules are rigorously enforced, and there is a careful audit of all interceptions and the use of those powers by the relevant commissioners.
Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): Is it not the case that Swinton Thomas wanted the Wilson doctrine to be abandoned, because he knew that it had been broken and flouted over many years? Is not the problem that the Wilson doctrine has no statutory basis whatever, so it should be put on such a basis? The Home Secretary in a statement admitted to, or referred to, Parliaments failure to have oversight of the security and intelligence services. When will the Government provide for Parliament to have oversight of those services, as is the case in all other leading parliamentary democracies? At present, the scrutineers are hand-picked by the Prime Minister. Unacceptable.
Mr. Straw: I know that that is my hon. Friends consistent view. We have introduced for consultation the question whether the basis of the Intelligence and Security Committee should be changed, but I remind him that in any event, the basis of the ISCs authority is not a quixotic decision by the Prime Minister or by any of his predecessors, but a thorough decision made by the House and the other place in statute in the Intelligence Services Act 1994.
Sarah Teather (Brent, East) (LD): Hon. Members in all parts of the house sometimes deal with constituency cases that are highly sensitive. The Secretary of State will be aware, because he has met me on a number of occasions, that I represent two men who have been in Guantanamo Bay. Is he confident that the case that we are discussing is an isolated incident? Can he give any assurance to my constituents that their conversations with me remain confidential, and that they have not at any stage been overheard by the security services?
Mr. Straw: It is always a logical impossibility to prove a negative, but this is the first time that I can recall such an allegation being made. I repeat that the regime in respect of all those authorisations is an extremely careful and thorough one, laid down in law by the House and the other place in the very thorough 2000 Act. If any individual has any suspicion that there has been an unauthorised interception of their communications or surveillance of their activities, there are clear routes for making a complaint, including a complaint to the tribunal itself.
Frank Cook (Stockton, North) (Lab):
If my right hon. Friend was unaware of the issue and the Prime Minister had no knowledge of it, may I ask my right
hon. Friend to assure the House that he will extend the inquirys terms of reference to include how a prominent member of the Opposition Front-Bench team could claim that he had written a letter to the Prime Minister in December giving forewarning of the issue? Will that be part of the inquiry?
Mr. Straw: I shall certainly draw my hon. Friends remarks to the attention of Sir Christopher Rose. I simply repeat what has already been said: the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) has said and put on the record that he sent a particular letter, although the text of that letter makes no reference to the names of any individuals. The right hon. Gentleman has confirmed that.
It is also a matter of record that Downing street has checked all its files and records on the receipt of letters, and although there have been a number of communications from the right hon. Gentleman, this was certainly not one. I say on my behalf and that of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that we also knew nothing whatever of the letter until we were informed about it through the media by the right hon. Gentleman.
Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): Can the Lord Chancellor confirm that Members of the Scottish Parliament and all the other devolved institutions are not covered by the Wilson doctrine? If that is the case, does he not believe that MSPs should be given the same protection as MPs when it comes to having their conversations bugged?
Mr. Straw: What the hon. Gentleman says is correct, and it is spelt out by Sir Swinton Thomass report for 2005-06, in which he raises the question of whether the Wilson doctrine should be abandoned. Decisions about interception warrants in respect of police operations in Scotland are a matter not for any UK Secretary of State, but for the Scottish Executive.
Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): The Lord Chancellors statement appears to suggest that there is one regime for telephone tapping, another regime for bugging by policemen and another for bugging by members of the security services. When the inquiry is concluded, will he consider one protocol that covers all those circumstances in relation to Members of Parliament so that at the very least to bug or tap the telephone of an MP will require ministerial approval? In that way, our constituentsmany of whom come to us as frightened, vulnerable or fearful individualscould have some security that they were speaking to us in complete confidence.
Mr. Straw: As I pointed out in my statement, there are indeed three separate regimes; that is the position as the House and the other place accepted it for reasons that I could go into but will not detain the House on. As far as the implications for the Wilson doctrine are concerned, I think it best if we wait until the results of Sir Christopher Roses inquiry.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): I congratulate the Secretary of State on introducing this inquiry. Will he also do usespecially those of us in the focus group on this Bencha favour? Will he extend the inquiry to beyond a fortnight? It will certainly need it if it looks into the allegations of MPs and trade union leaders being bugged in the strike of 1984 and 1985. That was when the Thatcher regime was in power. Despite all the protestations from many of us present in the House today, that regime would not have an inquiryand we did not send one letter; we sent many scores of them.
Mr. Straw: This is a matter of history, because it is the first time that my hon. Friend has ever admitted to being a member of a focus group, although I have heard him on many occasions express opinions about them and say that he would never touch one with a bargepole.
I note what my hon. Friend has to say. I think that it is correct that the Interception of Communications Act 1984, the original statutory provision that laid down a proper statutory procedure for telephone interceptnot for other matters at that stageprobably did not come into force until quite late in that year. It was only introduced following an adverse decision in a casethe Malone casein the European Court of Human Rights. Before thatit was a matter of considerable concern to many people, including methe regime for telephone tapping was a non-statutory one operated in what we would now regard as unusual circumstances.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): Notwithstanding the brevity of the Lord Chancellors answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway), will he expand a little on what the Wilson doctrine actually requires? It clearly requires that an MP should not be targeted for bugging or for telephone tapping. However, is it the case that if the security services are legitimately bugging or tapping the telephone of someone who is a legitimate target for them, the moment that person is found to be talking to a Member of Parliament, the bugging or telephone tapping has to cease, or is it allowed to continue because the MP himself or herself was not being targeted?
Mr. Straw: I am sorry to have to repeat what I said in my statement, but the terms of the Wilson doctrine are as laid down by the then Prime Minister, the late Harold Wilson, who said that he had given instructions that there was to be no tapping of the telephones of Members of Parliament and that if there were a development that required a change of policy, he would, at such a moment as was compatible with the security of the country, make a statement about it. That doctrine has been endorsed and repeated by successive Prime Ministers.
Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): Can my right hon. Friend reassure me and my constituents that there are no phones in this place or in our offices that are bugged and monitored by British security services?
Under the 2000 Act, as under its predecessors, it is not possible to give answers as to whether a warrant is currently in force. Howeverlet me repeat what I have said before peoples imaginations run away with themthe only circumstance in which a warrant for
interception can be authorised personally by a Secretary of State is for reasons of national security or for the prevention or detection of crime or related matters, and only, too, where that is shown to be both necessary and proportionate and information cannot be gained by any other means. I also say to my hon. Friend that in my experience over nine years of having to sign warrants as Foreign Secretary and as Home Secretary, enormous care was taken by the requesting agencies and by the Departments concerned, and not only by me as Secretary of State but by my colleagues, to ensure that all aspects of the spirit as well as the letter of the law were observed before a warrant was signed.
David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): I know that the Secretary of State does not want to talk about the consequences of this case for the Wilson doctrine, but could he at least put on record his support for the reasons behind the doctrine, which include the apprehension that surveillance on Members of Parliament could be used for political purposes, either for the purposes of the Ministers concerned orthis was Harold Wilsons own fearfor the political purposes of the security services and the police?
Mr. Straw: I am happy to do that, and I made my position very clear in my statement on Saturday. I could not have been clearer. I also say to the hon. Gentleman, touching on the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), that the situation that arose in the mid-1960s and continued for quite a period afterwards is very different from todays situation, and that of at least the past two decades.
I should also point out an error, for which I apologise. The Interception of Communications Act was passed in 1985, which makes my point more strongly. As we now know, in those days, there was quite widespread surveillance of individuals, to do with national security and the cold war, and related matters involving the trade unions. It would be impossible to say these days that such individuals would come within the narrow terms of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. Things have changed.
Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): I thank my right hon. Friend for his prompt action and his statement. In reply to an earlier question, he confirmed that in certain circumstances, and subject to a code of conduct, communications between a prisoner and his or her lawyer could be eavesdropped on. Would he expand in a little more detail on why the rules should be different for Members of Parliament?
Mr. Straw: I said that they could not be eavesdropped on, with great respect. There are different rules for different categories of sensitive information. Some are to be found in the codes of conduct, which are laid down under subordinate powers of the 2000 Act, and others are to be found in statements to this House, including the Wilson doctrine.
Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): Will the first question that Sir Christopher Rose asks be: Was Mr. Babar Ahmad bugged, and if he was, who kept the records? If it was the Home Office, why is the Home Secretary not doing this statement?
Mr. Straw: I am afraid that I cannot anticipate the first question that Sir Christopher Rose asks, and neither can anyone but he. As far as the matter of which Secretary of State should be making the statement is concerned, I am making it because the allegations relate to surveillance in one of Her Majestys prisons, for which I am responsible.
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): In view of public sensitivities and their disconnection from this Parliament, is it not time for the Home Secretary to ensure that an independent Law Officer, not a politician, makes the decision on intercepting the communications of MPs? Would it not be a good idea always to put national security and the fighting of major crime before our own sensitivities?
Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentlemans latter point was made by Sir Swinton Thomas. He made a case for removing the Wilson doctrine, but it was not accepted. As far as the different regimes are concerned, they have all been considered quite recently. On the latest occasion, between 1999 and 2000, they were considered in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. The House accepted, without a great deal of argument, that there should be different regimes in respect of intercept, surveillance by intelligence and security agencies and surveillance by the police. Of course, in the future, it is open to any Government and to this House to review the way in which those regimes operate.
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Will the Secretary of State give an undertaking to the House that part of the review will consider independent, third-party intelligence agencies from outside this country, and the relationship, if any, that they had with the original request for the intercepts?
Mr. Straw: I cannot give that explicit undertaking because the hon. Gentleman appears to suggest that he has knowledge which I do not have. I repeat that Sir Christophers inquiry, within the terms of reference, will be as thorough as all of us who know him would expect and believe.
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): The Lord Chancellor has answered our questions carefully and fully, but will he tell me whether he is aware of any MPs conversations being intercepted during the past 10 years?
Mr. Straw: I apologise to the hon. Gentleman; I cannot answer that question because it would literally be a criminal offence to do so under the 2000 Act, which was passed by the Commons and the other place without argument. I cannot give any details of whether an individual is subject to interception.
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): If Members of Parliament are discovered by our security services to be under surveillance conducted by overseas intelligence services, is it the case that those Members are alertedand if not, should it be?
Mr. John Spellar (Warley) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Have you received a request from the Leader of the Opposition to clarify his remarks during Prime Ministers questions last week, when he alleged that the previous Conservative Government had kept an individualMr. al-Qaradawiout of the country, when in fact we know that he had been let in about half a dozen times? Have you received such a request, and if so, would you
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will be aware that on Thursday last week, during business questions, the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), following a Liaison Committee meeting, mentioned the change that was proposed at extraordinarily short notice to the way in which this House scrutinises European legislation. You will also be aware that we are frequently criticised for the superficiality of the role that we play in scrutinising European legislation. I am therefore somewhat surprised to discover on the Order Paper for today not only that a timetable has been attached to that business, but that, despite the mollifying words of the Leader of the House on Thursday, it would appear that we are going ahead with no consultation with either the Liaison Committee or the Committee concerned.
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Immediately after a statement, it is very useful for hon. Members to be given a copy of what the Minister has said. Unfortunately, the copy that I received today had the last part of the statement missing. Can that be looked into?