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I am grateful to the Chairman of the ISC for telling us when the second ISC report will be produced. I shall be extremely interested to read it and to see what has changed between it and the first report.
The next question that I should like to be cleared up in some detail concerns Muktar Said Ibrahim, the leader of the 21/7 plot. He had a criminal record, was awaiting trial on charges relating to terrorism and was being tracked by the Security Service. Why was he allowed out of the country, despite being stopped at Heathrow and being found to be in possession of large sums of money and terrorist-related documents? Why was he allowed to go to Pakistan? When he was out of the country, he missed his trial and a warrant was issued for his arrest. When he came back to Heathrow, he was wanted by the policewhy was he not stopped, arrested and brought to justice before he was in a position to carry out the failed attacks of 21/7? That was an extraordinary omission. Unless the second report from the ISC covers every detail of what happened, we will continue to need to ask very serious questions.
Next, why was the alert level dropped just a few weeks before the bombings of 7 July? Even more remarkably, the alert level had risen by the morning of 21 July but it was about to be dropped back again on the very morning of a second series of attempted attacks. Why? That is not widely known to be the case, but it is the truth. That suggests one or two things: first, a complacency, which I simply do not believe, because I was heavily involved in the workings of the Government and the Opposition at the time; and, secondly, a hole in our intelligence. Why was it allowed to open up, particularly when so many individuals had been traced for many months beforehand?
The next question is about the involvement and the mastermindingthe oversightof terrorist incidents by Mr. Rashid Rauf. I ask the Home Secretary: where does he fit? Is he alive? Was he or was he not killeddo we know?in the autumn of last year on the Waziristan border? If it is proved that he was the guiding hand behind all or some of the incidents that I have discussed, what debt of horror do we owe that man? If we know that he was sufficiently important to be arrested at the behest of the United States in Pakistan at the start of the Operation Overt inquiries in August 2006, why was he allowed to run fast and loose inside this country for so long and with such devastating effect?
It concerns me that after the horrors of the July 2005 bombings, the first Intelligence and Security Committee report, which was received then, needs to be revamped. However, I have huge faith in, and admiration for, the Committee, our security services and our police, but I very much hope that the next report, when we receive it, will answer all the questions that I have just posited. If it does not, I suggest that its parameters have been drawn too tightly, and that, instead of answering questions, it will simply place in the public domain more questions that need to be answered, and need to be answered urgently.
Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab):
It is always a privilege to listen to the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer), and I hope that the questions that he has posed will be answered with some expedition, because
they are very pertinent. I do not think that he will be offended by this, but I had not realised that he was Chairman of the Home Affairs Committees counter-terrorism sub-committee. That is significant for me, because in that context I deem him to be not a Back Bencher but the Chairman of a significant parliamentary Committee, meaning in turn that I have the distinction, whether I like it or not, of being the only Back Bencher to speak in this important debate. [ Interruption. ] I am the only Back Bencher present who is not a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee. I am not getting killed in the rush to speak, and, from a parliamentary point of view, it is very worrying that there is insufficient interest in this most important and grave issue.
In case there is any misunderstanding about my subsequent comments, I should say that I fully acknowledge and accept the gravity of our national security situation. I am also keen to make it clear that, in our intelligence and security services, there are some very skilled, dedicated, diligent and, indeed, brave men and women. However, culturally, there is imbued in the security and intelligence services a degree of arrogance which threatens our democratic institutions; and in one or two cases I believe that there is abuse of power. We have a real responsibility in this place to do all we can to check and monitor the little bit of informationthe little bit of lightthat we are allowed on our security and intelligence services.
My later remarks will relate not to individualsparticularly not to colleaguesbut to institutions, which brings me to the Committee Chairman, my right hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells). I readily say that when he was a Minister, not only did I have a high regard for him, but he did not have the hallmark of mediocrity that is characteristic of some Ministers. He was skilled and, contrary to his better judgment, courteous to me. He took up one particular issue for me; it related to the fact that the South African apartheid regimes chemical and biological weapons people had been entertained at Porton Down during the time of that regime. That fact was covered up, and continues to be so, by our security and intelligence services for reasons that are not entirely clear. It is still a matter of embarrassment and shame to them. My right hon. Friend tried to pursue the matter and assured me that Wouter Basson had never visited Porton Down, but I think that he was misled. Since I last had that conversation with my right hon. Friend, Wouter Basson has been on television acknowledging that he was given access to Porton Down on a number of occasions.
None the less, my right hon. Friend is a very fine Chairman, and he and his colleagues have diligently and to the best of their ability discharged their work in a Committee that should not exist. It should not exist because it is a fig leaf. It deceives people that it is a parliamentary Committee. To me, it is not a distinction without a difference, but absolutely fundamental. We have no parliamentary oversight of the security and intelligence services in this place, save for the time grudgingly granted this afternoontime that we will probably not have again, to any great extent, for another year.
The Committee of which my colleagues and friends are members is not a parliamentary one. That is a serious flaw. If you care to glance at page 3 of the report, Madam Deputy Speaker, you will see that the Committee says that it
attended the Conference of the Parliamentary Committees for the oversight of intelligence and security services within the European Union, held in Portugal.
I want to take it to task for that. Some might see it as a small point, but I do not think that the Committee had any right to be at that conference. In fact, the matter is potentially one of privilege; it is not a parliamentary Committee. I want to pursue the matter after this debate, because the Committee obviously gave the impression to people that it was a parliamentary Committee when it was not. We know that the Clerk of the House of Commons is not the Clerk of the Intelligence and Security Committee. That is not an unimportant point.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) mentioned how the Chair of the Committee changes. The right hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates), quoting a previous Chairman, said that the Committee Chairs were hand-sacked by the Prime Minister. That is not a matter of levity; it makes an important point about the unsatisfactory selection and approval by the Prime Minister of the Chairmen of the Committee and its members.
Mr. George Howarth: My hon. Friend referred to the conference in Portugal. For the sake of accuracy, I should say that if he looks further he will see that my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Margaret Beckett) attended, rather than the whole Committee.
Andrew Mackinlay: I am a bit dismayed, because that does not alter my point. The report tells us that the Committee was represented at a conference that was supposed to be for parliamentariansand it is not a parliamentary Committee.
I do not want to lose sight of my other point, which is important and not a matter of levity. There is the fact that the chairmanship of the Committee changes with great frequency. That in itself is a serious flaw and handicap to the diligent discharge of its work. Similarly, there have been as many Ministers for Europe since Labour has been in office as there were apostles. No doubt the current chairmanship is due for another change.
I will tell you what happens, Madam Deputy Speaker. During a Cabinet reshuffle, Ministers are called in, and the Prime MinisterMr. Blair or the current onesays, I am awfully sorry, but I need your job. The Ministers face falls. Human nature being what it is, there is great disappointment. I do not mean this in any nasty way, but there is an immediate reduction in salary and the loss of all the privileges that go with ministerial office. The Prime Minister says, Look, dont be so depressed. The Minister says, Why not? Im losing my job. The Prime Minister says, Well, Porton Down has come up with a thing called Cabinet cryonics. The Minister says, What does that mean? The Prime Minister says, Well, basically, you take a slug of this and for about 14 months you go into a freezerthe chairmanship of the Security and Intelligence Committee. Then what happens? Then we give you this, you take it, and you emerge as the Minister of State for defence procurementor the Secretary of State for Wales, or the Minister for housing and construction. That is what happens, and it is very reassuring.
When my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Margaret Beckett), to whom reference has been made and for whom I have always had a high regard, was Chairman of the Committee, she presided over its reflections on the period when she was Foreign Secretary. It is breathtaking how ridiculous and stupid the system is.
Mr. George Howarth: I have been reflecting on whether my hon. Friend has partaken of any of the products he has just advertised and, if so, what effect that has had on his career.
Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. Before the hon. Gentleman responds to that intervention, I remind Members that we are discussing the report of the Intelligence and Security Committee.
Andrew Mackinlay: Indeed we are. If you look at paragraph 11, Madam Deputy Speaker, you will see that reference is made to the Prime Ministers statement of March 2008, in which he promised that there would be more parliamentary debate on security matters. In fact, there has been no more debate on security matters since then. I understand that the Home Secretary is going to reply to the debate, so if I am wrong in saying that there has been no action on the Prime Ministers undertaking, she will no doubt detail why I am wrong.
In July 2008, the House altered a Standing Order to put in our regulations the wordsthis is on page 5 of the report
The Committee of Selection may propose that certain members be recommended to the Prime Minister for appointment to the Intelligence and Security Committee.
I am not sure if that has happened yet, because I do not know if there is a vacancy. However, I find the phrase certain members interesting because, to me, it means that they have to be somewhat safe. I do not mean that disparagingly. I am told that one has to be positively vetted to serve on the Committee.
I want to share something else with the House. When we had the debate on 42 days detention, the Prime Minister sent for me twice in one afternoon. The first time I was flattered; the second time I considered it a shade impertinent. During those discussions, I reminded him that I could not support 42 days for a whole variety of reasons, one of which was that I considered that there was no oversight by Parliament of the security and intelligence services. He said, Were going to change that. I said, You said that, but you havent brought forward any statute. I told him why I considered the Committee to be deficient. He then said to me, Do you want to go on the Committee? I said, No, Prime Minister, you dont understandI disagree with it. That also betrayed the fact that he had not understood the primary statute that creates the Committee, which means that the membership cannot be varied unless the Act of Parliament is amended. The Committee has 12 members
Mr. Mates: No, it does notit has nine.
Andrew Mackinlay: I stand corrected. Nevertheless, the legislation defines the numbers precisely, and there was no vacancy.
I objected to the Prime Ministers proposal not only because the Committee is not a parliamentary Committee, but because there is no way that I would get through positive vettingI am pretty sure of thatand because one has to sign the Official Secrets Act, which would be anathema to me in the context of its driving a coach and horses through what I consider to be the priceless privilege of enjoying rights under article 9 of the Bill of Rights of 1689.
Mr. Mates: It would be of help, particularly to anybody who is listening to the debate, if the hon. Gentleman got some of his facts right. He got the number wrong, and we are not positively vetted. I do not know why he makes these allegations as though he knew these things. If only he studied what we do, he could feel free to criticise us with the facts, not with his interpretation of them, which is so wrong.
Andrew Mackinlay: I am surprised that I have rattled the right hon. Gentlemans cage. Seeing as nobody else in this place is quizzing and questioning the whole raison dêtre of the Committee and its report, I believe that I have a duty to do so. I fully understand that the Committee is a creature of statute, and that the number of Members is prescribed. It is rigid, not flexible, and the Prime Minister cannot increase its membership. My understanding is that certainly nobody would be appointed who did not find favour with the security and intelligence services.
Paragraph 41 of the report, on page 13, states:
GCHQ is retaining the current external branding of its services, since CESG is a well established organisation that has supported clients in both the public and private sectors for many years.
May I ask the Chairman of the Committee and/or the Home Secretary what is meant by the mention of the private sector? To whom is GCHQ providing a service, and on what basis? I think that there should be some clarification of that.
In paragraph 51, on page 16, we have the comments of the director general of the Security Service. I shall read them to the House, because I think that they are interesting. He states that one of the priorities is
to try and know more about the people we already know about, rather than to find the people we dont know anything about. It would be nice to know about the unknown unknowns, but it is probably a less rich seam than knowing more about the people that we know are a threat to us.
Frankly, I think that that is a load of gobbledegookit is sort of Donald Rumsfeld-speak, and I do not know what is meant by that diatribe. Perhaps one of the Members who will speak subsequently, or the right hon. Member for East Hampshire, might like to share with me and the rest of the House what is meant by those comments.
Another key non-ICT focus for the Service is its counter-espionage work...with particular focus on China and Russia.
When I read that paragraph, I was disappointed that there was no reference to the serious national threat of sabotagethat is the only word for itby highly skilled IT people, particularly but not exclusively in the Republic of China. They are threatening all our communication systems in the UK, our systems for sewage and food distribution and our banking and financial system, and this House has not woken up to it.
I am conscious of the fact that the seat that I am standing in front of was the last in which Winston Churchill sat in his time in the House of Commons. In the 30s he warned time and again how complacent we were in not addressing certain threats. There seems to be a conspiracy of silence about the threat to us from those who are developing an intellectual weaponry to kill our communication systems. If those skills are developed, they will present a much bigger threat than there has previously been, because there will be instant proliferation, unlike with atomic weapons. Small states and non-states could gain the capacity to administer such a threat. It can target states in a way in which nuclear weapons clearly cannot because there is not fallout and collateral damage. I am surprised that we do not discuss that threat much more in the House. It is time we were given some assurances that great energies and resources are being directed at combating that most serious threat, which is equal to, if not more serious than nuclear weaponry.
Tom Brake: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is another argument for restricting the number of large databases in this country? If the hackers gain access to a centralised, large database, the damage that they could do would be much greater.
Andrew Mackinlay: I agree. I cannot overstate my concern and dismay about the lack of discussion of the threat in this place or in the media. It is most serious and worries me enormously.
In paragraph 60, the director general of the Security Service states:
It is a matter of some disappointment to me that I still have to devote significant amounts of equipment, money and staff to countering this threat.
I presume that he means the threat of China and Russia. I think that due diligence should apply when there is potential for espionage and getting our national secrets. However, I disagree with the director general when, on the few occasions he has spoken publicly, he used the term political intelligence. I find it a serious threat to me as a Member of Parliament when the security services see it as their business to know whom I meet, where I meet and what I discuss.
By definition, I have no state secrets. I could attempt to predict when Prime Minister Tony Blair would retire and when the next general election might be; I also have a view about the outcome. Those are not state secrets but my views. When the director general makes it his business to know whom Members of Parliament see, that poses a serious threat to us. I have not made that up. I have told the House previously how the former Chief Whip approached me about the matter, and I believe that a previous Chief Whip tried to get me off the Foreign Affairs Committee soon after the last general election, probably at the whim of MI5. That poses a serious threat to our political process, with which I will not put up and in which I will not acquiesce by my silence.
The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) rightly referred to paragraph 66, in which the Committee boasts that the Security Service has
established an Ethical Counsellor post to provide staff with an internal avenue to raise any ethical concerns.
The small print in footnote 56 raises some interesting and concerning issues. In fairness to the Committee, it considered them important because they have been included in the report, albeit in a footnote. The footnote states that matters raised with ethical counsellors include:
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