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Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock Chase) (Lab): I want briefly to add my questions to those that have been asked. I have not heard an explanation as to why
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GCHQ was to be included in these provisions back in 2004 and why it is now excluded; I do not know what thought process or consultation has produced that change. I do not know why it would be thought appropriate that promotion on merit would not apply to the employees of GCHQ. I do not know why it would be thought that it was not appropriate for those employees to have the right to appeal to the civil service commissioners. I do not know whether the staff who work at GCHQ have been asked where they would like to sit. There may be good reasons for those exclusions, but none has yet been produced, so I anticipate the Minister's answers to those questions.

Mr. Heald: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Does he share my concern that this may be another case of, "Let's be neat and tidy and keep all the secret bits together", ignoring the fact that the two secret services have their own Acts of Parliament with similar provisions to those in the Bill? It is completely wrong to look at it in that way, because it is not neat and tidy.

Dr. Wright: I was not giving way to the hon. Gentleman; in fact, I had concluded my remarks. However, I think that we are all asking more or less the same questions and looking forward to the same answers.

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): I was recently privileged publicly to welcome Her Majesty the Queen to GCHQ, along with the mayor of Cheltenham. I would not like to inflate my own importance in that, given that the mayor and I were almost the only people present who could be publicly photographed. During that visit, I jokingly asked whether Her Majesty needed security clearance, and was told, I think equally in jest, that she did not, because by definition GCHQ was almost part of her household. Although that might have been said in jest, it highlights the anomalous position in which the secret agencies find themselves, which was identified by the Joint Committee on the draft Constitutional Renewal Bill.

6.45 pm

GCHQ is a large organisation that employs thousands of people-thousands of my constituents-and we are dealing with important employment rights in terms of the right to be recruited on merit, and important procedures in terms of having the right to complain to the civil service commissioners. In his evidence to the Joint Committee, the Cabinet Secretary gave some absurdly extreme examples of how those rights might be applied, suggesting that GCHQ might have to place equal opportunities job advertisements in Pravda or that the civil service commissioners could be allowed public and unlimited access to personnel files at GCHQ, which would be equally inappropriate. It is equally possible to imagine circumstances in which a proper complaints procedure, with statutory force, to bodies such as the civil service commissioners might be helpful to GCHQ employees. Better that disgruntled staff have the right to appeal in confidence to the commissioners than that they take their complaints to the media, for instance. An intelligence agency is different from the rest of the civil service, but it cannot be beyond the wit of Government to propose amendments that might accommodate the concerns of the Cabinet Secretary and others while still bestowing on my constituency workers at GCHQ statutory rights very similar to those of other civil servants.

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If the Government will not accept the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (David Howarth), how do they propose to place GCHQ on a similar footing to the other secret intelligence agencies? That question must be asked. I understand that GCHQ staff would like to be treated increasingly in the same way as those at the other intelligence agencies, and I am sure that that is an appropriate desire. If they are excluded from the terms of the Bill, it is not clear how that aim will be achieved.

The battle for GCHQ's trade union rights, so disgracefully denied by Mrs. Thatcher's Government, was won under this Government, and they should be rightly proud of that. In seeking to extend what are proper rights and entitlements to GCHQ employees-

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab) rose-

Martin Horwood: I was about to conclude, but I happily give way.

Mr. Winnick: On 25 January 1984, the House was notified by the then Foreign Secretary that the right of GCHQ employees to belong to a trade union was being taken away. From then until 1997, Labour Back Benchers, and Labour Front Benchers as well, constantly argued that that right should be restored, which it has been, as the hon. Gentleman said.

Martin Horwood: I think that that is broadly what I said. The Conservative Government's actions at that time damaged morale in the intelligence services considerably and, if anything, weakened national security instead of strengthening it.

The Government should take pride in their attention to the proper employment rights of civil servants at GCHQ and give active consideration to the amendment, which seeks only to do the same thing.

Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): Can the Minister clarify whether GCHQ is now being considered in the same way as the other intelligence services? As we have heard, that has been sought for some time. Its inclusion in this part of the Bill would be a clear indication that the Government have looked again at how it is seen in the context of the intelligence services. What exactly is GCHQ's position? It looks as though there has been a turnaround, or change, in Government policy with the result that GCHQ is now linked with the other two intelligence services; otherwise, I cannot think why it is included in the exclusions listed Bill.

Can the Minister clarify what will happen to civil servants who have been seconded to GCHQ from other Departments or agencies? Will they be protected in any way? They obviously have to sign the relevant documentation and the Official Secrets Act, but there are civil servants who are seconded to GCHQ from other Departments and other agencies around the world. What will be their position? Will they be covered by the Bill?

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Angela E. Smith): I thank hon. Members for their comments. I shall first set out the scope of the amendment and then address their questions.

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Clause 1 sets out the scope of the provisions relating to the civil service and specifies the parts of it to which they will not apply, such as the Northern Ireland civil service, the Northern Ireland Court Service, the Security Service, the Secret Intelligence Service and GCHQ. The Bill also makes it clear that staff employed overseas, known as locally engaged staff, are not covered by its provisions.

The amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) would bring GCHQ within the scope of the Bill. I can reassure hon. Members that staff who work at GCHQ are civil servants, and I understand that Members wish to explore the Government's reasons why those civil servants are not to be treated in the same way as those who are covered by the provisions in question.

Hon. Members said that GCHQ staff were included in the 2004 Bill. Recent world events have, of necessity, driven the three UK agencies in question-GCHQ, the SIS and the Security Service-to work together more closely and in a more dynamic and joined-up way. They share intelligence and resources to meet ever-changing priorities in their operational work. By responding to threats and attacks as a joined-up community, they can act more effectively and efficiently.

GCHQ works closely with the other agencies, and all three already operate under statutory provisions that cover their activities and conduct-in the Security Service Act 1989, the Intelligence Services Act 1994 and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. It therefore makes sense for all three to operate on a similar footing, and the Joint Committee on the Bill endorsed that approach. The three agencies also have robust and independent staff complaints procedures, and the funding for them is grouped together.

The Select Committee on Public Administration commented that

It went on to suggest that the Joint Committee may wish to explore the issues of staff raising complaints and whether staff should continue to be recruited on merit in future.

Hon. Members have mentioned the need to treat GCHQ staff in the same way as those at the security and intelligence services. The Joint Committee agreed with that but asked for assurances that GCHQ staff would be given the same right of access to an independent complaints mechanisms as those at the other agencies and that, as a general rule, staff at GCHQ would be recruited on merit. In the Government's response, we gave both those assurances.

David Howarth: But is not the point that there is no statutory basis for those promises, whereas there is for staff in the other services in the legislation that she mentioned?

Angela E. Smith: The Government have given assurances that staff will have an independent complaints mechanism and that they will be recruited on merit, and I can repeat those assurances to the hon. Gentleman and the Committee today.

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I am grateful to the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) for mentioning the rights of GCHQ staff. If he had not, I would have done. It was this Government who gave trade union rights to GCHQ staff, as my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) mentioned, and we are proud of that. I hope that hon. Members are reassured by my repeating our assurances on protection for staff.

Mr. Heald rose-

Mike Penning rose-

Angela E. Smith: I give way first to the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald).

Mr. Heald: Does not the right hon. Lady understand that the whole purpose of part 1 of the Bill is to put on a statutory basis the protections that civil servants have had? It is not good enough for her to say, "I am making an assurance", because the whole purpose of part 1 is to put things into law, not have them on the basis of assurance. I do not know whether she has understood that, but it is what the whole campaign for a civil service Bill has been about.

Angela E. Smith: Before I respond, I believe that the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning) wanted to intervene as well.

Mike Penning: My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) is exactly right. Part 1 sets out the protection to be given to civil servants. If the Minister can give assurances to the Committee and to civil servants, why are they not in the Bill? That is what part 1 is all about.

Angela E. Smith: The assurance that I can give hon. Members is that the same right of access to complaints procedures will be available to GCHQ staff as to staff of the other agencies. I understand that GCHQ staff were consulted about that and raised no objections.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): Under what circumstances would appointments at GCHQ not be made on merit?

Angela E. Smith: I would expect only in very rare and exceptional circumstances, because appointments are made on merit. As the general public would understand it, all appointments are made on merit and the person most appropriate for a post is chosen. The Joint Committee asked for an assurance that in general appointments would be made on merit, and the Government gave that assurance. I therefore ask the hon. Member for Cambridge to withdraw the amendment in the light of the assurances that I have given the Committee.

David Howarth: I was hoping that the Minister would provide an answer to the question that we have all been asking, which is why the Government have changed their stance since 2004. We have not received any explanation of that at all. I was also hoping that she might be able to provide chapter and verse about the statutory protection of GCHQ staff that would put them on the basis that the Bill offers to other civil servants. She was not able to do that, either.

3 Nov 2009 : Column 775

It seems to me that the Minister's only argument is that she is offering assurances from the Dispatch Box, but they are exactly the sort of assurances that would apply were the whole civil service still to be established merely on the basis of the royal prerogative. They seem to me simply a repetition of what is in the Bill.

Mike Penning: Can the hon. Gentleman give us a clue as to why the Minister would not indicate what the exceptional circumstances would be in which someone was not promoted on merit? Why does he believe she did not let the Committee know that?

David Howarth: I do not know, and that point is by far the strongest case for the amendment that has been established in the debate. Appointments to positions at GCHQ must be on merit, because they are technical jobs. What does it mean for an appointment not to be made on merit?

Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): Will my hon. Friend give way?

David Howarth: I shall attempt to answer the question, and then my right hon. Friend might provide a better answer.

It seems to me that an appointment not on merit would be an appointment on political grounds, and I cannot see under what circumstances there could be an appointment to GCHQ on political grounds. My right hon. Friend might enlighten us.

Sir Alan Beith: I was going to put it to my hon. Friend that I was as baffled by the Minister's reply as he was. I am looking around the Chamber, and I believe that it happens that I have spent more time than anybody else who is in their place inside GCHQ talking to people there about precisely what they do. I have never met anybody there at any level who did not appear to have been appointed on merit.

David Howarth: I am sure that that is the case, so why the Government desire to have this loophole is entirely mysterious to me. Because of that, I wish to press the amendment to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided: Ayes 51, Noes 281.
Division No. 235]
[6.58 pm


Alexander, Danny
Barrett, John
Beith, rh Sir Alan
Breed, Mr. Colin
Brooke, Annette
Browne, Mr. Jeremy
Burstow, Mr. Paul
Burt, Lorely
Campbell, rh Sir Menzies
Corbyn, Jeremy
Farron, Tim
Featherstone, Lynne
Foster, Mr. Don
George, Andrew
Gidley, Sandra
Harris, Dr. Evan
Harvey, Nick
Heath, Mr. David
Hemming, John
Hosie, Stewart
Howarth, David
Hughes, Simon
Huhne, Chris
Keetch, Mr. Paul
Kramer, Susan
Lamb, Norman
Laws, Mr. David
Llwyd, Mr. Elfyn
MacNeil, Mr. Angus
McDonnell, John
Mulholland, Greg
Oaten, Mr. Mark
Öpik, Lembit
Pelling, Mr. Andrew

Prentice, Mr. Gordon
Pugh, Dr. John
Rennie, Willie
Robertson, Angus
Rowen, Paul
Russell, Bob
Sanders, Mr. Adrian
Simpson, Alan
Swinson, Jo
Taylor, Dr. Richard
Teather, Sarah
Webb, Steve
Williams, Hywel
Williams, Mr. Roger
Willott, Jenny
Wishart, Pete
Younger-Ross, Richard
Tellers for the Ayes:

Mark Hunter and
Martin Horwood

Abbott, Ms Diane
Ainger, Nick
Alexander, rh Mr. Douglas
Allen, Mr. Graham
Anderson, Mr. David
Armstrong, rh Hilary
Atkins, Charlotte
Austin, Mr. Ian
Bailey, Mr. Adrian
Banks, Gordon
Barlow, Ms Celia
Barron, rh Mr. Kevin
Beckett, rh Margaret
Begg, Miss Anne
Bell, Sir Stuart
Benn, rh Hilary
Benton, Mr. Joe
Berry, Roger
Betts, Mr. Clive
Blackman, Liz
Blackman-Woods, Dr. Roberta
Blears, rh Hazel
Borrow, Mr. David S.
Bradshaw, rh Mr. Ben
Brown, Lyn
Brown, rh Mr. Nicholas
Brown, Mr. Russell
Browne, rh Des
Bryant, Chris
Buck, Ms Karen
Burden, Richard
Burgon, Colin
Butler, Ms Dawn
Byrne, rh Mr. Liam
Caborn, rh Mr. Richard
Cairns, David
Campbell, Mr. Alan
Campbell, Mr. Gregory
Campbell, Mr. Ronnie
Caton, Mr. Martin
Cawsey, Mr. Ian
Challen, Colin
Chapman, Ben
Chaytor, Mr. David
Clapham, Mr. Michael
Clark, Ms Katy
Clark, Paul
Clarke, rh Mr. Charles
Clarke, rh Mr. Tom
Clelland, Mr. David
Clwyd, rh Ann
Coaker, Mr. Vernon
Coffey, Ann
Connarty, Michael
Cook, Frank
Cooper, Rosie
Cooper, rh Yvette
Cousins, Jim
Crausby, Mr. David
Cruddas, Jon
Cryer, Mrs. Ann
Cummings, John
Cunningham, Mr. Jim
Cunningham, Tony
David, Mr. Wayne
Davidson, Mr. Ian
Davies, Mr. Dai
Davies, Mr. Quentin
Dean, Mrs. Janet
Denham, rh Mr. John
Dismore, Mr. Andrew
Dobbin, Jim
Dobson, rh Frank
Dodds, Mr. Nigel
Doran, Mr. Frank
Eagle, Angela
Eagle, Maria
Efford, Clive
Ellman, Mrs. Louise
Engel, Natascha
Ennis, Jeff
Etherington, Bill
Farrelly, Paul
Fisher, Mark
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Flello, Mr. Robert
Flint, rh Caroline
Flynn, Paul
Follett, Barbara
Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings and Rye)
Francis, Dr. Hywel
Gapes, Mike
George, rh Mr. Bruce
Gerrard, Mr. Neil
Gilroy, Linda
Goodman, Helen
Griffith, Nia
Griffiths, Nigel
Grogan, Mr. John
Gwynne, Andrew
Hain, rh Mr. Peter
Hall, Mr. Mike
Hall, Patrick
Hamilton, Mr. David
Hamilton, Mr. Fabian
Hanson, rh Mr. David
Havard, Mr. Dai
Healey, rh John
Hepburn, Mr. Stephen
Hermon, Lady
Hesford, Stephen
Hill, rh Keith
Hodge, rh Margaret
Hodgson, Mrs. Sharon
Hood, Mr. Jim

Hoon, rh Mr. Geoffrey
Hope, Phil
Hopkins, Kelvin
Howarth, rh Mr. George
Howells, rh Dr. Kim
Hoyle, Mr. Lindsay
Humble, Mrs. Joan
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Illsley, Mr. Eric
Irranca-Davies, Huw
James, Mrs. Siân C.
Jenkins, Mr. Brian
Johnson, Ms Diana R.
Jones, Helen
Jones, Mr. Kevan
Jones, Lynne
Jones, Mr. Martyn
Jowell, rh Tessa
Joyce, Mr. Eric
Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keeley, Barbara
Keen, Alan
Keen, Ann
Kelly, rh Ruth
Kemp, Mr. Fraser
Khan, rh Mr. Sadiq
Kidney, Mr. David
Kilfoyle, Mr. Peter
Knight, rh Jim
Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Laxton, Mr. Bob
Lazarowicz, Mark
Lepper, David
Levitt, Tom
Linton, Martin
Lloyd, Tony
Love, Mr. Andrew
Lucas, Ian
Mackinlay, Andrew
Mactaggart, Fiona
Malik, Mr. Shahid
Mallaber, Judy
Mann, John
Marris, Rob
Marsden, Mr. Gordon
Martlew, Mr. Eric
McAvoy, rh Mr. Thomas
McCabe, Steve
McCafferty, Chris
McCarthy, Kerry
McCarthy-Fry, Sarah
McCrea, Dr. William
McDonagh, Siobhain
McFadden, rh Mr. Pat
McFall, rh John
McGovern, Mr. Jim
McGrady, Mr. Eddie
McGuire, rh Mrs. Anne
McIsaac, Shona
McKenna, Rosemary
McNulty, rh Mr. Tony
Meacher, rh Mr. Michael
Meale, Mr. Alan
Merron, Gillian
Michael, rh Alun
Miliband, rh Edward
Miller, Andrew
Moffatt, Laura
Mole, Chris
Moon, Mrs. Madeleine
Morden, Jessica
Morley, rh Mr. Elliot
Mountford, Kali
Mudie, Mr. George
Mullin, Mr. Chris
Munn, Meg
Naysmith, Dr. Doug
Norris, Dan
O'Hara, Mr. Edward
Olner, Mr. Bill
Osborne, Sandra
Owen, Albert
Palmer, Dr. Nick
Pearson, Ian
Plaskitt, Mr. James
Pope, Mr. Greg
Pound, Stephen
Primarolo, rh Dawn
Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, Mr. Ken
Rammell, Bill
Raynsford, rh Mr. Nick
Reed, Mr. Andy
Reed, Mr. Jamie
Riordan, Mrs. Linda
Robertson, John
Robinson, Mr. Geoffrey
Robinson, Mrs. Iris
Robinson, rh Mr. Peter
Rooney, Mr. Terry
Roy, Lindsay
Ruane, Chris
Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Christine
Ryan, rh Joan
Salter, Martin
Sarwar, Mr. Mohammad
Seabeck, Alison
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheridan, Jim
Simon, Mr. Siôn
Skinner, Mr. Dennis
Slaughter, Mr. Andy
Smith, rh Mr. Andrew
Smith, Ms Angela C. (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
Smith, rh Angela E. (Basildon)
Smith, Geraldine
Smith, rh Jacqui
Snelgrove, Anne
Soulsby, Sir Peter
Southworth, Helen
Spellar, rh Mr. John
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Stewart, Ian
Stoate, Dr. Howard
Straw, rh Mr. Jack
Stringer, Graham
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Sutcliffe, Mr. Gerry
Tami, Mark
Taylor, Ms Dari
Taylor, David
Thomas, Mr. Gareth
Thornberry, Emily
Timms, rh Mr. Stephen
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mr. Mark
Touhig, rh Mr. Don
Trickett, Jon
Truswell, Mr. Paul
Turner, Dr. Desmond

Turner, Mr. Neil
Twigg, Derek
Ussher, Kitty
Vaz, rh Keith
Walley, Joan
Waltho, Lynda
Ward, Claire
Watson, Mr. Tom
Watts, Mr. Dave
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Wicks, rh Malcolm
Williams, rh Mr. Alan
Williams, Mrs. Betty
Wills, rh Mr. Michael
Wilson, Phil
Wilson, Sammy
Winnick, Mr. David
Winterton, rh Ms Rosie
Woodward, rh Mr. Shaun
Woolas, Mr. Phil
Wright, Mr. Anthony
Wright, David
Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Bob Blizzard and
Mr. John Heppell
Question accordingly negatived.
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