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Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD):
I, too, recognise that the order implements the will of the House, as expressed without opposition
during debate on relevant motions. I always have reservations about allowing security to impact too much on our legislation, and allowing security advice to restrain what we do, but the measure seems to make sense. The hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara) made a point about family, and the Leader of the House referred to neighbours and the duty of care to others.
The more robust the auditing system is, and the more robust the National Audit Offices inspection is, the less concern people will have that the freedom of information process is trying to hide something. I congratulate the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) on focusing on the issue. As we learnt yesterday, he is a wily individualhis ability to sell a second-hand washing machine for 18 free dinners suggests that he is quite an efficient negotiator.
With the reassurance from the Leader of the House that the global travel figures will still be broken down by mode of travelinformation that people are keen to know, which does not have a security implicationand that the order does not affect that process in any way, my party will not oppose the order.
Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): I welcome this order. As someone who received a credible death threat, which was sorted out by the forcible deportation of the person in question by the South Yorkshire police, I was truly astonished when I read of the Information Commissioners ruling that all of our private addresses should be published. I can think of no better definition of a burglars charter because many of us do not live at our addresses at weekends or during the holidays. It was even more astonishing when two Law Lords, or two lord justices, upheld his suggestion.
What happened calls into question the Freedom of Information Act. Those who want to know where we live can find out. Journalists from The Mail on Sunday forcibly came into my late mothers home when she was suffering from a severe stroke to try to extract some tittle-tattle about me when I was a Minister. We cannot protect ourselves against that. If people really want to know our addresses, they can be found, and they are published at the time of an election.
We need to consider the matter more widely, however, and I welcome the fact that this statutory instrument shows that the Freedom of Information Act is amendable. I regret that it has to be amended. If the Information Commissioner were competentI cannot believe that he is about to be awarded an extra £40,000 next Monday, at a time of huge public pay restraintwe would not have had to take up the Houses time with this legislation.
Let us look at the Freedom of Information Act to see how it might be amended so that it can apply to other public bodies, particularly the BBCit extracts a large amount of obligatory tax from my constituents, even though few of them watch itto find out about the salaries and expenses of its employees. Let it also be amended to apply to other organs of high public importance. Frankly, the press is much more important than many Departments, in terms of its actual impact on peoples lives. Let the Act be amended soon to include the organs of the media, so that all of their expenses, salaries, payments and other financial arrangements can be put into the public domain.
I am a former president of the National Union of Journalists; freedom of information legislation is in my DNA. The Information Commissioner, however, is not up to the job and we need to extend the Freedom of Information Act to cover many other public bodies including the BBC and the wider media. I stop at that point, leaving other hon. Members to make their points.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): I would like to begin by thanking the Leader of the House and all of her staff for the extremely positive way in which they have reacted to the concerns, initially expressed by me and then by hundreds of other right hon. and hon. Members, about the situation we were in danger of getting into. I say with the greatest sincerity that I only hope that the stance that she took did not contribute to the fact that her home has been invaded twiceby people who no doubt feel in the depths of their being that the cause they propose was justification for their actions. Nevertheless, such things are precisely what should not be allowed to happen. She has excelled in her office in the work that she has done and in the way in which she has spoken out in defence of Members rights and interests on this matter.
I would like to thank the 98 Members of my party, the 111 Members of the Labour party and the 31 Members of the Liberal Democrat party who supported early-day motion 1620. I would also like to thank the several Ministers who told me that they could not sign the EDM because of the posts that they held, but who nevertheless wrote to Mr. Speaker explaining why they supported the principle of the motion.
I know that we are waiting for an important debate on intelligence and security, so I shall not detain the House for long. This, however, is a debate on a related subject. It is a debate about security, but on an issue where not very much intelligence has been shown by a certain number of people from whom we thought we could have expected it. I exclude, however, the Information Commissioner from that criticism. I say that because I had laboured under the mistaken impression that he wanted our individual addresses to be disclosed, but as he later pointed out to me, he had not ordered that. After an appeal, that requirement was added by the information appeal tribunal and upheld by the High Court in a subsequent hearing. The guilty men, as it were, were those two latter bodies. It was not the Information Commissioner. In fact, he proceeded to enter the lions den and, at short notice, 50 to 60 hon. Members of all parties came to meet him and his team. I think that even he was quite shaken by the stories that they told him about their experiences when their constituency addresses had been exposed. Indeed, some honourable Ladies were in tears at that meeting and the Information Commissioner and his team were shaken by what they heard.
Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab): I thank the hon. Gentleman for his work. I was one of those who attended the meeting with the Information Commissioner and, like him, I witnessed the genuine concerns that were expressed. Does he ever speculate on whether those venerable High Court judges who made the decision would publish their private addresses if the occasion demanded?
Dr. Lewis: I have not only speculated on the matter but put it to the test. After one of the earlier debates on the subject, I took the liberty of sending the relevant Hansard to each of the three judges, who had, in their wisdom, determined that our addresses should be published en masse. I asked whether I could have their home addresses for future correspondence. Every one politely but firmly declined.
There is a postscript. Onethe right honourable Sir Igor Judgewas subsequently appointed Lord Chief Justice and I asked, on what some might consider a bogus point of order, whether it was possible within the rules to send him our congratulations, and express how happy we were as a House that one silly mistake had not spoiled his promising professional career. I duly sent the Hansard to the royal courts of justice, but I have not yet received a reply and I can only regret that, if I had gone to the trouble of finding his home address, I might have discovered whether he saw the joke.
There is an incredible lack of self-awareness in the wider debate. I hope that the House will indulge me while I quote from a short letter, which was published in my local paper, the Southern Daily Echo, on Monday 9 June. It is headed: Why is MP secretive? It reads:
Why has Julian Lewis, MP for New Forest, East, attacked the decision to disclose details of MPs homes?
He has access to our home details through the nation census and other government data. The freedom of information process was brought in by the government, so he should respect it.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): I note the hon. Gentlemans early-day motion 1620 and I was not one of the 256 Members who signed it. Does not he think that he is going a little over the top? Although the correspondent to whom he referred requested anonymity for some reason, he has a point. People have a right to know that Members of Parliament live in their constituency. Like many Members, I am in the phone book and I welcome constituents who turn up at my address, if they wish to do that. The information on the ballot paper for a general election every four or five years can include a bogus address. Candidatesof all partiescan simply rent a flat in the constituency and visit it once a month from their real home 100 miles away. Why do not people have the right to know?
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman had many important things to do at the time, but if he had attended some of the earlier debates, he would have heard me address those points in detail. It is not fair to the House for me to go over them again now. Let me put it in a nutshell. First, anyone who wishes to disclose a home address and put it in the phone book can do soit is a matter for him or her. However, if the decision had been implemented, 646 private home addresses would be made available to anybodyincluding any troublemaker at home or abroadwho wished to send something through the post to 646 unprotected mail boxes. If there is any sense in our having the expensive and complex screening arrangements at the House of Commons to ensure that nothing horrible, explosive or contaminated is sent through the post en masse to Members of Parliament, who are probably being targeted not individually but as a body, it is obvious madness to
reveal the 646 home addresses. I could make many other points, but I shall leave it at that and refer the hon. Gentleman to my previous speeches on the subject.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) typically put his finger on the heart of the problem when he referred to data that are published at election time. We have to include a home address on specific documents every time we stand for election. I have already said in an intervention that, just because we have to reveal some addresses occasionally, it should not be regarded as an excuse for revealing them all, en masse, all the time in a way that makes them accessible at home or abroad at the touch of a button. Nevertheless, that bogus argumentthat the cat is already out of the bagled the judges and the appeal tribunal wrongly to conclude that there was no point in refusing the request for addresses en masse.
It is important to close that loophole and I would welcome a response from Government Front Benchers on that. I believe that the idea that people had to publish a private home addresseven if it has not found its way on to the internetat election time predated the time when one could put the name of ones party on the ballot paper. The requirement is archaic and an unnecessary infringement of individuals rights. If people want to stand for public office, I do not understand why they must disclose their home address. The Information Commissioner has a wise ruling, which is that, in almost all circumstances, he would at most recommend disclosure of only the first three digits or letters of the persons postcode. The Government should take the opportunityI am not sure whether the Political Parties, Elections and
Referendums Act 2000 is the relevant vehicleto close the loophole, because it was seized upon. Without that, we would not have to go to such lengths.
I want to consider anonymous registration. In the past, it was possible to give a nom de plume if one felt that one was at risk and wished to be on the electoral register under another name. The rule has changed and someone who wishes to be on the electoral register anonymously must have the signature of a police chief constable, that of a director of the Security Service or that of a director of social services. We need to reconsider that to make it clear to chief constables that, when a Member of Parliament wants to be on that list, that is all that is necessary for anonymous registration.
I will conclude, much to the satisfaction of my Whip, who has been making noises offstage. I hope that anybody present today who believes that I am wrong will divide the House. I do not think that it will happen, but I hope that it will because The Sunday Telegraph, whose reporter was responsible for this mess in the first place, found plenty of space to attack me and suggest that my party opposed what I was doing. However, it found no space other than for two sentences of a letter that I wrote in reply to try to explain that the House had already resolved to take action, without a vote. I wish that there could be a vote so that even the idiot scribblers on The Sunday Telegraph could understand that our action has nothing to do with expenses and everything to do with security.
That the draft Freedom of Information (Parliament and National Assembly for Wales) Order 2008, which was laid before this House on 15th July, be approved.
That this House has considered the matter of the Annual Report of the Intelligence and Security Committee for 2006-07, Cm 7299, and the Government response, Cm 7300.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I must inform the House that Mr. Speaker has selected amendment (a), in the name of the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), and amendment (b), in the name of the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), to the second motion.
Jacqui Smith: The protection and preservation of national security are the first and foremost responsibility of any Government, and the House will need no reminding of the grave threats that we currently face. In combating terrorists and other threats, we are extremely well served by our security and intelligence agencies, which do an outstanding job in difficult and often dangerous circumstances. I am sure that the House would wish to join me in thanking them for their unstinting efforts to preserve the security of the nation and its citizens.
The agencies have vital roles in supporting the Governments national security policies, and the Government therefore has a duty to ensure that they have the resources necessary to do so. As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced in the House last October, spending dedicated to counter-terrorism and intelligence across government will rise to more than £3.5 billion by 2010-11a clear indication of the Governments commitment to national security and their strong determination to counter threats from international terrorism.
The activities of the agencies are governed by a body of legislation, and ministerial engagement in itself provides Executive oversight. Legislation also provides for judicial oversight of the agencies by commissioners who report annually to the Prime Minister on their work and whose reports are laid before Parliament. However, in addition to ministerial and judicial oversight, it is essential that Parliament and, through Parliament, the wider public can be assured that the security and intelligence agencies are fulfilling their lawful duties efficiently and effectively. That is the role of the Intelligence and Security Committeethe ISC.
Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab): I think that I am the only Member in the House who sat on the Committee that, in the early 1990s, considered the Bill that set up the Intelligence and Security Committee. It struck me then that the Committee was a poodle of the Prime Minister of the day, and it remains a poodle of the Prime Minister of the day. If it is to be truly accountable to the House, should not its position be regularised in some way? Should not it be a Select Committee of the House, rather than a creature of the Prime Minister?
Jacqui Smith: As I will argue, the experience of the Committees operations has in no way suggested that it is a poodle. Although I do not agree that my hon. Friends argument is wholly correct, I am nevertheless going to identify where we can improve the Committees transparency and accountability.
I am pleased to have this opportunity to invite the House to consider the ISCs annual report for 2006-07 under the first of the motions in my name. In doing that, I want to place on record my thanks to the Committee for its valuable work, which its members undertake with commitment and distinction. They carry a heavy weight of responsibility, and they and other hon. Members should be in no doubt that the Government take the Committees conclusions and recommendations very seriously.
Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): Will the Home Secretary explicitly address the issues raised on pages 1 and 5 of the Governments response? On page 1, the Committee complains that its work has been hamperedits words, not mineby
government departments failing to keep the Committee formally informed of changes relevant to its work.
It is now over *** years since the Intelligence and Security Committee first requested access to the relevant information,
but notes that the Government still declined to provide it. What sort of transparency is that? What confidence can we in the House of Commons have when the Government fail to answer even this hand-picked Committee when it makes representations to them? Will the Home Secretary address those two points, please?
Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend will know that we made it clear in our response that where information should be provided to the Committee, all Departments have a responsibility to make sure that it is provided in a timely way. There have been only a small number of occasionsthis relates to the second recommendation that he identifiedon which the decision has been taken not to make certain information available to the Committee, and he refers to one of those.
I do not propose to dwell at length on the recommendations, not least because, as we have heard, the Government have already published their response. Hon. Members will have seen that the Government welcome and widely endorse the Committees views. Where the need for further action has been identified, this has been taken forward. The ISC notes, for example, that the increased funding for the agencies over the next three years is commensurate with the increased threats that the UK faces and the requirements of the agencies to counter them.
However, the Committee also expresses concern that aspects of key intelligence and security work are suffering as a consequence of the focus on counter-terrorism priorities. I would like to take this opportunity to reassure the House that both the Government and the agencies remain very focused on the range of threats to the UK. Although the increase in agency funding was driven largely by the need to respond to the terrorist threat, we continue to resource capabilities to counter other threats effectively. Moreover, capabilities developed to counter terrorism can often be deployed against other targets, and technological advances have led to newer, smarter and more flexible ways of working, which have enhanced our ability to respond to these or any other sudden, unexpected threats.
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