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We sincerely hope that lessons have been learnt from the failure and that they will be used when plans for the future are being drawn up.
The Government must address that as a matter of urgency because, yet again, a major IT project has gone wrong, this time in a secure environment.
On intercept evidence, the Committee says:
We welcome the fact that the Chilcot conditions meet our concerns that the Agencies capability must not be damaged should their intercept material be adduced in court. We are concerned, however, as to whether it will be possible to met these conditions.
I think that there is a clear case for doing everything we can to ensure that intercept evidence can be used in court, when appropriate, especially given the pressures of the control order regime. We may need to re-examine the conditions to see whether they are right for the circumstances. I appreciate that this is a difficult matter, but it is one in which we should aspire to deliver results and make as much information as possible available, where it is possible to do so.
Finally on the criticisms in the report, the Committee refers to the need to improve understanding of the path to extremism, and it
welcomes the establishment of a new team analysing open-source and academic material in this field.
However, it also raised questions about where that sits within the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, and expressed concern about JTACs capabilities being diluted by the change. I hope that the Government will look at that very carefully.
My worry, when I look at the Governments response to the report, is just how limited it is. So many of the responses to the points raised in the report are cursory. Of 17 recommendations, 11 get only a one-line response.
Of course, there are limitations to how much the Government can say in response to the points raised, but surely their response to point F on flooding could be a little more detailed without sacrificing too many secrets. In point H, the Committee considers how oversight of the agencies work might be improved, but could the Government not do better than the one-line response that is given? Point N deals with the failings of the SCOPE project: the Government say that they will co-operate with the next report, but could they not say a little more about that?
On the Committees final point about intercept evidence, the Governments response reflects the lengthy process that is being undertaken to enable them to make a decision about its use. The matter is, of course, complex,
but it is a shame that the Government did not start the process a long time before they did. If they had, we might have reached a resolution by now.
Briefly, I shall set out for the House some of the areas in which we think improvements need to be made, and where we hope the ISC will apply its efforts to securing improvement. We remain concerned that the National Security Strategy is a descriptive document. A proper strategy would set the overall framework and direction for security policy across Government.
We have argued for a proper national security council, rather than an amalgamation of existing Committees. We think that such a council would provide strategic direction and drive national security policy. We need to look carefully at the role and grading of the JIC chair and the security adviser, who both need to have the requisite authority to carry out their important roles.
Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con): While my hon. Friend is on the question of reform, may I invite him to comment on reform of the Intelligence and Security Committee itself? His predecessor but one, my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), said that the Committee should be chaired by a member of the Opposition. Is that still our partys position for the future?
Chris Grayling: First and foremost, I should not wish to cast any aspersions on the role of the current Chairman or his work. My hon. Friend makes a strong case, however, and given that there are a number of Committees that are non-partisan, include Members from all parts of the House and seek to do a proper job for the country, there is a case for having an Opposition Member lead them. I have no particular intention of deviating from the views that my predecessors set out; there is a strong case for what my hon. Friend says. In 12 months time, of course, that view may permit the existing Chairman to carry on in his current role.
Although I understand the Governments aims for the preventing violent extremism programme, my colleagues and I have significant doubts about the effectiveness of many projects and the mechanisms for distributing and monitoring funding. There needs to be a full, evidence-based review of those prevention projects.
Let me conclude as I started by thanking the Committee and our security services for their work. They play a vital role in defending our citizens at home and abroad, and the money that we spend on them is vital. The Committees work to ensure that we do the right thing and spend the money in the right ways and places is exceptionally important, but Parliament should be trusted to a greater extent with information about how that is done, even though that move should happen only within clear limits. Fundamentally, however, we will depend on a team of Members from all parts of the House serving on the Committee to ensure that we achieve value for money on behalf of this countrys taxpayers. The Committee members role is highly responsible, I thank them for what they have done and I commend them for it.
Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East) (Lab):
I hope to be fairly brief and to cover just two points, because my right hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells), the Committee Chairman,
made most of the points that the Committee would want aired in todays debate. I congratulate him on the leadership that he has shown, and the Minister for Housing and the Secretary of State for Wales on the leadership that they gave to the Committee. Indeed, I do not know whether my right hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd will be available to chair the Committee after the general election. The pattern seems to be that the Prime Minister recalls Members to the Government after they have chaired it, so my right hon. Friend may find himself a Minister again. That, of course, is when we win the next general election.
I shall cover two issues. First, there is the oversight of the agencies finances. As the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) rightly said, when a series of organisations have had large budget increases such as they have had since 2005, great care must be taken to ensure that the money is spent appropriately and wisely. Like my right hon. Friend, I did a brief, and in my case probably undistinguished stint as a member of the Public Accounts Committee. One similarity with how the Intelligence and Security and Public Accounts Committees work is that they both take advice very strongly from the National Audit Office. The NAO provides us with a good brief when we interview the agencies, so that we can question them closely about how money is spent, and the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell was right to draw attention to the fact that, at a time of expanding budgets, the Intelligence and Security Committee and the Government themselves must be careful to ensure that money is being spent properly.
My right hon. Friend mentioned the difficulty concerning intelligence relationships with the United States and the intervention of the courts in certain cases in this country. The issue concerns how the courts treat intelligence shared on the understanding that it may never be used in any public way, not even in a court case. The judgment of Lord Justice Thomas and Mr. Justice Lloyd Jones on 5 February 2009 dealt with that issue, which had arisen from a case to which my right hon. Friend has already referred. The judges concluded:
In the circumstances now prevailing, the balance is served by maintaining the redaction of the paragraphs from our first judgment. In short, whatever views may be held as to the continuing threat made by the Government of the United States to prevent a short summary of the treatment of BM being put into the public domain by this court, it would not, in all the circumstances we have set out and in the light of the action taken, be in the public interest to expose the United Kingdom to what the Foreign Secretary still considers to be the real risk of the loss of intelligence so vital to the safety of our day to day life.
On occasions, I have been a critic of the courts, and sitting on a Committee with quite a number of judges for a while last year only confirmed my criticisms. However, the judgment that I have just quoted was very sensible. I say only that these issues are bound to continue and we know that more potential legal actions are pending. The matter is difficult. The judgments so far have been sensible in that they take into account the interests of justice balanced against those of national security and the need for a strong intelligence relationship with the United States. However, we need to be vigilant in making sure that the line is held as far as possible.
I have a further point to make. As my right hon. Friend said, the Committee recently visited Ottawa. We also went to Washington, where we met representatives
from counterpart committees and some of the agencies. Without revealing too much about what was said to us on a more or less confidential basis, I can say that it is clear to me that these issues have exercised the American agencies, to the extent that future co-operation between us and the United States is being held open to question by them. I will not put it more strongly than that; I do not want to be alarmist. However, as the judgment made clear, if that relationship were to fracture and the important intelligence started to dry up, the risks would be enormous.
My right hon. Friend referred to the ticking time bomb question, a phrase used by the Americans; in the UK, the more usual phrase is the Canary Wharf question. Whatever it is called, the question raises serious issues. Hon. Members who have now left the Chamber raised the matter of potential collusion in torture. In no way would I justify any kind of torture; I agree with every word that my right hon. Friend said about that. However, we have to pose the ticking time bomb or Canary Wharf question. What if any one of us were a desk officer in one of the agencies, and intelligence came in saying that within the following 24 hours a major explosion or other incident would probably take place in a major city or town in this country and that the intention was to kill hundreds of people? Are they going to stop and question whether somebody, somewhere along the line, might have been subjected to sleep deprivation in order to arrive at that judgment? I will leave that as a question mark. It is an issue that we are working hard on and have some thoughts on, and I think that the intention is that we will publish something in the not-too-distant future.
This is a huge question. It is all too easy to say that one should never have anything to do with any intelligence unless one can be absolutely certain that it has been arrived at by the best possible means and meets all the very highest standards. In some circumstances one is, frankly, grateful for the information that one gets without asking too many questions about the circumstances in which it was produced. I accept that that is a factor in certain circumstances where it is possible to believe that somebody may, because of what they have been subjected to, said something that would not stand up to scrutiny. I also accept that there are all sorts of qualifications surrounding the question that I have posed. However, we sometimes need to be a bit more rigorous in the way that we think such questions through, as opposed to the yah-boo politics that sometimes applies. That is not intended as a point for the Opposition: it applies in all parts of the House.
The Committee is the only committee on which I have ever served where party political loyalties play hardly any part at all. I have as much praise for Opposition members of the Committee, including the Liberal Democrat Member, the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell), as I do for my right hon. and hon. Friends. It is hugely important that we function in that way, not only for the benefit of the House, but for the benefit of the country; and long may we remain to do so.
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD):
I thank the right hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) for introducing the debate in very careful terms. I join other Members in thanking members of the intelligence services
for the essential role they play in ensuring our security and protecting citizens here and abroad. I pay tribute to members of the Committee for the essential work that they are doing, particularly my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith), who served on the Committee and has now been superseded by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell), who is not in his place. I am sure that he, too, will play a very significant role on the Committee.
I apologise on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne), who is unable to be here to lead for the Liberal Democrats in this debate. When he did so last year, he underlined the importance of debating these matters on an annual basis; on that occasion, there had been an interval of nearly two years. I welcome the fact that the annual cycle appears to have been resumed. These matters are so significant that we need to have an opportunity to discuss them regularly.
I welcome the fact that, during the period covered by the report, the Committee focused on 7/7, which clearly had very tragic consequences for those who were involved. I suspect that most, if not all Members will have been to a much lesser extent affected by what happened on that day, and will remember where they were in London and whether they were able to get into Westminster. I hope that the Committees work on thatI look forward to the report being published on 19 Maywill provide as many answers as possible for the families affected, given the limitation on putting into the public domain information that should be kept secure.
I shall not go over the ground that the spokesman for the official Opposition covered on redaction, but I reinforce his point about the difficulty for Members who are not on the Committee of making any assessment of the value for money of what is proposed. Explanations have been given of why it is necessary not to provide a certain level of information, but I hope that it might be possible to do so without revealing any confidences and that we will be given a little more flavour as to why it is not possible to give Members an understanding of expenditure at a high level.
I understand that if expenditure were broken down to such a level that it identified, for instance, that nothing is currently being spent on monitoring messages via Facebook or those being dispatched via Twitter or any of the other new technology that is available, that would be unhelpful to our security services and helpful to our enemies. I am sure that no one is suggesting that information should be made available to Members at that level of detail. However, it should be possible to provide us with some more information, or, if that is not possible, to explain why not. I cannot quite understand what our enemies would be able to extrapolate from high-level figures that did not break down expenditure to a lower level.
Andrew Mackinlay: I wonder whether the Committees Chairman might take cognisance of the following suggestion. There needs to be an indication of whether redactions are done by the Committee itself or by the Prime Minister. Perhaps there ought to be separate symbols that would indicate if the Committee thought something was okay but the Prime Minister objected. That should be indicated to us at the very least.
Tom Brake: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that helpful intervention. I do not know whether it will be possible for the Chairman to make any general comments, perhaps in an intervention, to clarify that point.
Mr. George Howarth: To enable the debate to continue properly after the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), I am not aware of any occasion on which the Prime Minister has asked for the redaction of anything. The process of redaction is one of agreement between the various agencies involved in the Committee.
Tom Brake: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention.
Mr. Mates: What the right hon. Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) says is absolutely correct. Just so we all understand it, the system is that we produce a full report, which goes without redaction to the Prime Minister. When it goes around the agencies and, if necessary, to Ministers, they suggest some redactions.
Andrew Mackinlay: And you acquiesce?
Mr. Mates: If the hon. Gentleman will just shut up for a minute, I will explain what happens.
It is then the Committees job to go through those suggested redactions and ensure that every one is justified. In every case that I can remember, we have had the agencies back in and said to them, Justify this. Justify that. Justify the other. They then withdraw their objections to some things, which are published.
The real point is that we have a deterrent. It has never happened in my 15 years on the Committee, but if there were a redaction with which we disagreed because we did not think it was about national security, we would put in the report, We wished to publish this, but the Government refused to allow it. I do not think that any Government could live with that, and I am not making a party point. It is done by agreement, but we look rigorously at the whole issue.
Tom Brake: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention, which has provided some clarity. My reading of the report therefore suggests that there has not been a redaction in this particular annual report that the Committee felt was inappropriate and that it sought to challenge. I see that the right hon. Member for Pontypridd confirms that by nodding.
I would like to make some specific remarks about the Committees recommendations and the Governments response. I was interested to note the comments about ethical counsellors and referrals to them. Around 12 referrals have been made since 2006. Footnote 56 on page 19 of the annual report refers to concerns about
whether there were sufficient controls for sharing information with countries that do not comply with international standards for the treatment of those in detention and whether guidance for staff on these matters was sufficiently accessible and understood.
I doubt whether we will get more information about that, but it would have been helpful to know the response to that approach to an ethical counsellor, and whether there was deemed to be a problem.
It is also interesting to note that a complaint was made to an ethical counsellor about
whether it was ethical for the Government to seek to alter the ideological views of its citizens (as part of its counter-radicalisation strategy).
Today, Gallup published an interesting opinion poll, which states that 77 per cent. of Muslims identified with the UKa much higher figure than that for the general population. That statistic is relevant to referral to an ethical counsellor.
Other hon. Members have referred to retirement age policy. Like the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), I am confused about the necessity to hide the current age at which retirement is set.
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