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Following the floods in the summer of 2007, the Agencies have reviewed and improved their business continuity and resilience planning.
The Director General also told the Committee that he remained concerned that the Services existing business continuity plans had not been fully tested and so a series of major exercises were planned for 2008.
The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) referred to SCOPE. Clearly, lessons have been learned from failure and I hope that it might be possible today to explain precisely what they are, and what, if anything, has been implemented to try to ensure that the problems do not recur, given the unfortunate history of large IT projects going somewhat awry. One hoped that lessons had been learned from previous projects and implemented in projects such as SCOPE, but that has clearly not been the case so far. What lessons have been learned and have they been acted on already?
meet our concerns that the Agencies capability must not be damaged should their intercept material be adduced in court.
We have been supported the Chilcot review and the need to ensure that intercept evidence is available for use. There are several deadlines by which action was to be taken on that. The current deadline is June, by which time,
testing the framework that has been developed to ensure that the Chilcot tests will be met in practice
The Committee considers that maintaining the capability to intercept modern communications is of critical importance to the national security of the UK.
I hope that in response the Government might explain what dialogue exists between the different commercial players in that field. I am aware that there is perhaps not a clear method for companies such as Microsoft to raise issues relating to the privacy implications of some of the developments that it is bringing to market. We
might need to consider who such companies talk to about some of the issues relating to intercepting modern communications.
An issue that has been raised in Westminster Hall is technological developments and how the Government, the security services and others keep abreast of things such as Facebook. People have discussed whether sufficient co-operation, dialogue and exchange takes place between the commercial companies developing such technologies and the Government to ensure that if issues relating to security, or its counterpoint, privacy, need to be addressed, they are examined and dealt with as soon as possible and way before, or at least shortly before, any such technology is made more widely available.
The final point that I wish to raise relates to what the Committee had to say about rendition. Its Chair, who is not in his place, referred in some detail to a case. I checked with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) whether there was any bar on referring to Binyam Mohamed and I understand that there is not, given that much of the case has been debated in open court. [ Interruption. ] The Chair has now returned, so perhaps he could intervene to explain why he did not feel able to mention Binyam Mohamed by name; I wonder whether there is a slight tendency to be over-secretive about a matter that is well and truly in the public domain and has featured prominently in many of our national newspapers. Some serious allegations have been made, and it was not clear to me whether the Chair said that the Committees investigations into that matter are now complete or whether there are still further, ongoing inquiries. The report clearly states that there is further work to be done, but the Chair sort of indicated that things might be complete. I hope that he will intervene to clarify that point.
Tom Brake: No clarity will be given then. If there are still matters to be debated and inquired into, I hope that such work will progress, so that we get to the bottom of what happened and of whether there is any truth in the serious allegations, and that the Committee will report on them in the near future in a way that is appropriate to the need both to protect confidentiality and provide security.
I wish to bring my remarks to a conclusion by saying that the Committee has clearly done sterling work in the past year or so, but there are many significant issues, such as what happened to Binyam Mohamed, that I hope it will continue to investigate to ensure that, as a nation, our citizens and communities are even better protected than is the case now.
Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South) (Lab):
I wish to start, as I believe I have done in every debate on the Intelligence and Security Committees reports, by putting on the record the fact that we owe a debt of thanks to the agencies. The absolute fact is that they are under considerable pressure to know the individuals who are actually or potentially involved in plots against our communities and to have adequate knowledge to prevent those plots from being carried out. Counter-terrorism is a highly pressurised and dangerous worldit is a 24/7
worldand it is particularly problematic for all who are on the front line. That debt of thanks is more than well deserved.
I also want to put on record the fact that, over the past year, the intelligence and security agencies have achieved a number of notable successes, disrupting plots and bringing individuals to trial and conviction. When we say where we are and when we say that the terrorist conditions are problematic and severe, it is critical that we hear the facts. There were 46 terrorism convictions in the first nine months of 2008, in 15 significant terrorism cases. We report that in our annual report. Since January this year, there have been 11 terrorism convictions, in six trials. Those are serious figures. We know that plots are disrupted and we know that we do not talk about themwe are a security Committee, and it is critical that we maintain our silence on some of the information that we know.
The fact for us all is that the current threat to the UK from international terrorism is assessed as severe. That means a continuing and high level of threat and supports the belief that there is a high likelihood of a terrorist attack in this country. It is daunting to say that, but it is important that we realise and accept it. In saying that, I am sure that some may accuse me of peddling the politics of fear. I am not. I am quoting the risk assessmentan assessment, I believe, that the majority accept and that the majority know requires adequate resourcing for our security agencies.
I intend to speak about the SCOPE project, as I have in two previous debates. In my first two speeches on SCOPE, I was enthusiastic and cautiously optimistic that, should it work, this effective IT system would be of serious value to the security of our country. Today my contribution will be less enthusiastic; it will be critical. The House will remember that SCOPE was set up as a major cross-government IT programme, with the aim of improving the intelligence communitys secure communication. The first stage is workingsecure information held by all the agencies can now be accessed by all agencies in the UKbut the second stage is not. The aim was to include all the user Departments and widen access to the international intelligence community.
The Committee, consistently and in a focused manner, asked all about the workings of SCOPE. We expressed concern that partner Departments lacked preparation, which we were convinced would put at risk the successful delivery of the project. Sadly, our Committees concerns became a reality. We were told in 2008 that considerable work had been done to reduce the risk of further delays and that SCOPE II would be operational in late 2008 to early 2009. It is difficult to say that to the House, because hon. Members could ask, What were you doing as a Committee? Didnt you think that you shouldve put stop processes in place? However, we could not do that, because that is not our role. Our role is to question. The fact is that SCOPE II was abandoned. New routes of secure communication for the international members of the intelligence community are now being worked on. SCOPE II has been a mess.
The reason I have spent time detailing that is that it is important that the House knows that we were focused in our questioning. We were concerned to achieve an understanding and a sense of reality about whether the project would work. We know that international terrorism is assessed as severe. We know, too, that communicating
effectively and securely in the current environment is a must. The risks are assessed as high. Consequently, we need to know whatever information would prevent an attack from taking place. That is essential. The Committee was told that secure international communication is necessary and deliverable. It is clearly necessary, but frankly, at this stage, it is not deliverable. We need to be very focused and to try to understand what we are talking about, because it involves complex technology.
The second reason why I am talking in these quite angry terms is that tens of millions of pounds have been spent. I expect that hon. Members know the actual figureor the probable figureinvolved, but I am simply going to talk about the tens of millions of pounds that have been spent on a project that has been scrapped. Seriously good scientists who had worked in IT for years were involved in it, yet we have ended up coming to the House asking, What have we got from this? The answer seems to be that lessons have been learned, and that when we plan future communications of this order, we will use those lessons. That is not good enough. We required stringent controls, financial accountability and more competent management, as we stated in our 2007-08 report.
Perhaps I have dwelt on the matter long enough, but it has been a costly and damaging experience, and there are further words to be added. We are talking about highly complicated communications technology and seriously complex science, and an absolute requirement that the system should be secure. I am using these words not as an excuse for failure but as a text for future success. The Committee will of course investigate further the reasons for this serious failure, and we will report on the matter in the forthcoming year.
My second task in the debate is to speak, perhaps in a confident way but certainly in a persuasively supportive way, about the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism. The Contest and prevent strategy has more to it than we might be prepared to accept at present. We all want to know what its value is, and whether we can make judgments and determine its effects. The fact is that we are looking at an extraordinarily complex set of value judgments. We are trying to understand what causes the belief in some people in Great Britain today that the only way in which they can express their opposition is though radical, violent extremism. We need to do better than that, however.
Those involved in the contest and prevent strategy say that they want to drive cohesion and to see greater strategic capacity in the fight against terrorism. They want principles to inform the approach that is being taken towards being inclusive and integrated, and they want to see the policies working together. Is this just sweet language? I think that it is valuable language that tells us that Great Britain is a tolerant nation. We are a nation of people who want to understand, and we want to reduce violence in our communities when that is possible. I am not going to understate the value of that strategy.
The Committee is awaiting an update on the outcomes of that work, and we will be interested to see how, and whether, the new counter-terrorism public service agreements are working and what they are achieving. We will ask those questions and look at the development of a new capability to see whether we can detect emerging and future threats. This is valuable work. We have
entered an extraordinarily complex era, in which we must understand difference and try to influence the outcome of the battle for ideas and beliefs. That is not easy, and I commend the Home Office for taking this work on board. It is an important part of the strategy to prevent radical extremism.
We speak regularly to those in the communities that we represent. I have a small Muslim community, which makes up about 2.7 per cent. of my constituency. I know that some of those people feel a sense of guilt that they are living a life that people back home in Pakistan think is an easy life. Those people in Pakistan have very difficult lives. There is frustrated anger, and some young people believe that the thousands of deaths of innocent people were a consequence of our deploying and that we deployed, in their terms, only because we were seeking preference or something better for our country. Invariably, they cite oil. Well, deploying in the Balkans was anything but that, yet it remains difficult to get those people to understand that we did not spark Iraq, suicide bombers and sectarian warfare. That debate is an important and valuable one. I see some of the youngsters in my community understanding that perhaps they do not have all the answers.
One of the most important elements of the prevent strategy is to look at the way in which many of the Muslim community come to believe that they are treated as lesser people who are valued less. That may or may not be a fact. As a woman in the labour movement, I have always been convinced that far too many white men in suits are in control, so perhaps my Muslims are thinking along exactly the same lines. It is important to understand that when people feel lesser or that they are an undermined minority, they might well want to kick against that.
As I said, this is a very complex bit of kit that the Government have put together and the Committee will be looking to see what it achieves. We will attempt to see whether the pilots for young people, women and seniors in our different ethnic communities contribute to change by allowing, for example, young people to be angry. The fact is that Muslims are often keen to say that young people do not have a right to a voice; of course they have. My father and mother could not possibly shut me up even as an 11-year-old who was demanding equal rights; and I am quite a diminutive young woman, as Members know. The Muslim community has a very clear set of ideas about who should or should not be speaking, so it is important to persuade them to allow us all to hear the anger when it is expressed. This project is all about reducing violent extremism, challenging the ideology behind extremism and supporting the mainstream. Let me say that among the 400 of my Muslim community I met last Sunday, about 99 per cent.if not 100 per cent.in the room were mainstream.
Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con):
I am extremely interested to hear what the hon. Ladythe diminutive young lady oppositehas to say. All that we have heard about in the debate about Project Contest so far is the prevent strand, while the other three strands have not been mentioned in any detail whatever. What makes this House so obsessed with that strand? Is it because it is politically correct; is it because it is immeasurable; is
it because it is nice, soft and easy? Why do we not talk about the other three strands, particularly the parts that are harder to pursue? Why has the hon. Lady chosen to concentrate so much on that strand?
Ms Taylor: I have concentrated on it because that is what our report concentrated on. It is important that I have integrity and reference what the Committee has done, although the hon. Gentleman has raised important questions. We make it clear in our report that both contest and prevent are important, and the hon. Gentleman provokes the thought that even now, as a Committee, we should see how and in what way we could take evidence relating to pursue. I agree that we must look at the strategy as a whole. Of course, I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman that the Committee will do that; I can only try to persuade that it should. The Committee believes that all this is work in progress and the report states that the strategy is on a sounder footing and that we will monitor its progress.
In conclusion, I believe that the Committee is led very well. My right hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells)known in the locality, of course, as Pontyleads with a serious and robust determination to achieve the best. I also want to put on record my belief that the whole Committee is not only hardworking, but has a very clear focus on what it is doing, which it believes is serious and important. It commands from all of us the commitments that we give. It is a privilege to be on the Committee and it is a privilege to tell the House today that I believe that our security agencies are the best.
Mr. Michael Mates (East Hampshire) (Con): I congratulate our new Chairman, the right hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells), on his thoughtful and thorough introduction to todays debate. It is good that we are having the debate in this form for the first time. Those of us who have served on the Committee for a while will remember the long opening ministerial speeches in previous debates, which were nothing like as focused as our Chairmans introduction has made this one. I also thank our staff, who are a smashing lot, and work very hard for us. I have had the privilege of chairing two Select Committees for 10 years, and the excellent service that we have always expected and received from the Clerks in this place is matched by that of the dedicated civil servants who work on the Intelligence and Security Committee.
I have been a member of the Committee since it started 15 years ago. As the Committees dinosaur, perhaps I can put in perspective the demands that we hear from around and about, but mostly from the usual suspects, although one of them is clearly satisfied, as he has gone home, and I have no doubt we will hear from the other
I want to put in perspective how much change has taken place over the past 15 years. Acts were passed in the early 90s, and when the Committee began in 1994, the process was very tentative for both sides, especially the security services, which had not even been acknowledged
before that moment. GCHQ happened to employ half of Cheltenham and occupy an enormous piece of real estate by a main road, but it did not exist. We have moved from that to a position in which accountabilityI am not being complacent, as it must improve furtheris so much better. The first time we had the head of ISIS before us, he almost would not tell us his name. Now the security services are as pleased with the arrangement as they were initially suspicious of it.
I cannot remember for how many yearsseven or eightthe National Audit Office refused to pass GCHQs accounts. It could not find its equipment, did not know where its computers were, and had a lousy accounting system. Year after year, we questioned GCHQ, with the result that no fewer than three directors general have told us that without the Committee holding its feet to the fire, it would not have got it right. That is a concrete example of the good the Committee can do, although it does it in secret. The fact that the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) cannot see the figures is neither here nor there. The fact is that the accounts and procedures are right, and the figures have been passed by the NAO and scrutinised by us. If he does not want to take our word for it, at least he ought to take the NAOs, because that is the only way it can be done.
The changes in the other services have been just as huge. It sticks in my memory that the chief of the Secret Intelligence Service told us in a meeting that one of the questions it asks itself now when planning an operation is, If this goes wrong and it gets out, what are we going to say to the ISC? Previously, he might answer to the Foreign Secretary, but not to anybody who would report to the House. The fact that the services must now do so is a constraint on them, first, to obey the law, secondly, to take the right proportionate action, and thirdly, to be thoroughly ethical in what they do. All those things have been achieved because the Committee exists.
Yes, we would like to be more open. Yes, we would like to hold public hearings. Yes, we would like to be able to publish more. In each case, however, we must ask ourselves just one question: will what we do enhance or damage our national security? If it will damage our national security, with regret we do not do it; if it will enhance our national security, we try to do it.
Other Members may have their own views and their own observations to make about the question of public hearings. The right hon. Member for Pontypridd referred to it, as did the right hon. Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth). There is a wide range of views in the Committee. We would all like to hold public hearings. Some of us think that it will be harder than others do; some think that we must do it regardless of how difficult it is, because it is what the Prime Minister has asked us to do. We shall try to reach a conclusion, but I will say now that it would be pointless if we did it just as a PR exercise.
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