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"would be concerned if the Agencies were to suffer real-term cuts in the short or medium term."
The Committee's report describes "painfully slow" progress-what a surprise!-in implementing the national security reforms announced by the Prime Minister two years ago. It says that the Government's national security strategy has had
"little direct impact on the focus or nature"
of the work of the intelligence services. The report points out that the national security forum announced by the Prime Minister in March 2008 did not have its members formally appointed until 2010, and questions whether the forum is in fact a necessary part of the national security machinery. Those findings confirm our view that a proper national security council approach is needed, to avoid making decisions and creating committees in such a haphazard way and with such a questionable impact on the overall machinery of government.
"the Committee has requested a change in host Department in order to ensure that there is a clear separation and to safeguard its independence."
That request should not be rejected out of hand. The Foreign Secretary said that he would look at it, but it is a bit late to notice that it needs to be looked at. The Committee has been making the case for some time, and there may be only nine or 10 sitting days left before the Dissolution of the current Parliament.
We believe there is a need for greater parliamentary oversight from a strengthened Intelligence and Security Committee. We have presented our own proposals, but there are many variants of those proposals, some of which have been identified by other Members. I think that, after the coming election, any Government will need to take them all into account.
The report that we are considering is very important, as is the other report that appeared this morning. There is an urgent need for the publication of all withheld reports, and indeed for the guidance for which I, along with other Members, have asked. It is probably too late in the current Parliament for Ministers to get their act together on the wide range of matters on which they and their Departments have been criticised in today's debate, which probably adds to the case for them to make way for Ministers who will. Even if such Ministers were in place, however, they would still have to get their acts together, because the Government have not handled their relations with the Committee, and their dealings with its reports, with any distinction over the past year.
Mr. Paul Murphy (Torfaen) (Lab): I am very pleased to be able to take part in the debate, because for three of the five years of the current Parliament I had the privilege of chairing the Intelligence and Security Committee.
I echo my right hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) and others in paying tribute to the ISC's staff, who do a sterling job. They are committed and dedicated, and I want to put on record the House's gratitude. I also pay tribute to the retiring members of the Committee: the right hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates), the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), and my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South (Ben Chapman). I count them all as personal friends, and I wish them well in their retirement. I believe that the House of Commons owes them a great debt, and that it will be a poorer place without them.
Obviously I want to mention my successor-but-one as Chairman of the ISC, my right hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd. The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) and my right hon. Friend
the Foreign Secretary have already spoken of the commitment and dedication that he has given to the job of chairing this important Committee, but we should also bear in mind the work that he has done in Wales for more than two decades as the Member of Parliament for Pontypridd and the work that he did for well over a decade as a Minister in a host of Departments, the last being the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I shall miss him dreadfully, and I know that the House will as well.
An article in The Guardian yesterday-there have been other articles too-suggested that my right hon. Friend might not be independent of Government, but the last hour or two of debate does not reflect that view at all. His speech could hardly have been regarded as that of-to use his word-a patsy. It was a very good speech, critical when necessary and supportive when necessary. Anyone who remembers, for example, his comments on the Lebanon when he was a Foreign Office Minister, or the comments that he has made about Afghanistan over the past few months, will know that it is nonsense to suggest that he is a Government stooge.
A number of Members, including my right hon. Friend, have mentioned the important issue of the independence of the Committee, and I am sure that others will as well. The Committee has nine members, four of whom are members of Opposition parties: the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell), the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes, the right hon. Member for East Hampshire, and the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway). It strikes me as nonsensical to suggest that a Committee with such members will not be properly critical of the Government or the agencies when necessary. The Committee is not, by any stretch of the imagination, partisan. It does not indulge in party politics for the sake of it. It is composed entirely of distinguished-not yet extinguished-Members of the House of Commons and, indeed, the House of Lords, whose job is to ensure that there is proper scrutiny of the security services and various aspects of Departments of Government, including the Cabinet Office.
The Foreign Secretary will have attended some of the sessions of the Committee in which interviews were held, and he, like other Ministers, will have been interviewed himself. I know from my three years as Chairman that the interrogation-a better word than "interviewing"-of witnesses is extremely robust. It is not discourteous, but it is robust, and it is effective. Having been a member of a Select Committee many years ago, I would say that it is as good as, and sometimes better than, most questioning of witnesses, be they heads of services, Ministers or anyone else. Unfortunately, because the questioning takes place in private, people will have to take our word for it that those sessions are effective and important.
That brings me to the question, which has already been raised, of whether some of the sessions should be held in public. We considered that difficult issue when I was Chairman of the Committee. My personal view is that one or two sessions could be held in public, but by no means all. It would be crazy for all of them to be held in public, because that would destroy the Committee's effectiveness at a stroke. Some high matters of policy,
however, could be discussed in public without any Government secrets being revealed. I understand that such sessions are held in Australia and the United States.
The relationship between the Committee and the House of Commons, and indeed the House of Lords, has changed over the past few years. For instance, the Chairman of the Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd, opened today's debate. When I chaired the Committee, I had to wait for the Minister and the shadow Minister to speak before I was given an opportunity to speak myself. On one occasion when speeches were time-limited, I was given only 10 minutes in which to present the whole case for the ISC. That nonsense has rightly been ended, and the Chairman of the Committee now opens the debate, as my right hon. Friend did so effectively today.
I think that there should be more debates on the ISC. Apparently the House of Lords is to have a debate on its report, which is right and proper, but other matters affecting the Committee could surely be debated on the Floor of the House or in Westminster Hall. There is now an investigator, although it took a long time for the investigator to be appointed. The Commons also has a different relationship from five or six years ago in respect of the appointment of Committee members. Committee members now have to be approved by the House of Commons through a vote, even though they are, of course, subject to the approval of the Prime Minister, who appoints the Committee members who are not Government members on the advice of the Opposition leaders.
I found the host Department issue intriguing. I have read the Committee's second report-rather belatedly, as it came out only this morning-and it contains the recommendation that the Cabinet Office should no longer be the host Government Department. That would be wise, as certain parts of the Cabinet Office are subject to a degree of scrutiny by the ISC. It would be sensible for another Department to deal with the pay and rations, so to speak, of the Committee and its staff. The appropriate other Department may be the Ministry of Justice, in which case I would not necessarily suggest there would be an improvement in efficiency in respect of pay and rations. When I left the post of ISC Chairman and became Secretary of State for Wales, whose pay and rations are also dealt with by the Ministry of Justice, it did not pay me for a month or two. When I inquired about that, I was asked whether I was a magistrate's clerk. I said I was not-although I have nothing against magistrates' clerks. The system the Ministry of Justice had in place was not particularly efficient, but that is not the point: the point is that no part of the host Department should come under the scrutiny of the Committee. I also take on board the point about the budget; that should be dealt with in a similar manner.
If Members read the report, they will learn that parliamentarians from across the world come and look at how the ISC works. When I was Chairman, there were visitors on almost a weekly basis, particularly from newly developing countries in Africa and eastern Europe. They would come and look at how we in the UK deal with the scrutiny of our intelligence agencies, and some of their agencies used to operate under communist, and sometimes fascist, regimes. It is therefore very
gratifying to see that the ISC model has been copied across the world. That point must be put on record as well.
It is true that the Committee is critical of not only the Government in office but the services when necessary. There are, I think, 26 conclusions and recommendations in the first report-the report of 2008-09-and at least 12 of them are, to varying degrees, critical of the agencies and Government. It would therefore be wrong to suggest that there is not proper accountability and, when necessary, criticism as well.
The report also says that our agencies do a remarkably good job; in my experience, Committee members have always believed that to be the case. The agencies protect us from death and destruction, and it was my experience as a Northern Ireland Minister that they played a huge part in preventing outrages and death. They have an admirable record of uncovering plots against our people.
There will always be a case for proper scrutiny and criticism when necessary, but the case should always be made that the safety of all those whom we, as Members of this House, represent is hugely enhanced by the effectiveness of our services, and the scrutiny of them is hugely enhanced by the ISC and its members.
Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): May I begin by joining other Members in praising our security and intelligence services? As somebody who has raised concerns over the Binyam Mohamed case and other allegations of complicity in torture, I want to put firmly on the record my party's support, and also my personal support, for the fantastic work our security services do-whether at GCHQ in examining the vast amount of electronic and other data that have to be analysed, at the Security Service or the Secret Intelligence Service, or through other elements of the intelligence machinery. As other Members have said, the work of our intelligence agencies is increasingly complicated. They do a fantastic job in supporting our troops in Northern Ireland and, through the defence intelligence service, in Afghanistan where they try to work out what the Taliban and the insurgents are doing-real front-line work-or to foil al-Qaeda plots. It is important that this House speaks as one on that. We must make it absolutely clear that our agencies have full cross-party support in performing their critical role.
That is why I welcome this report and this debate. Both the ISC's reports are very good, and the right hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) made a powerful speech. I agree with Members who have said it would be very difficult to read the record of this debate in Hansard and then to suggest there are not independent people serving on this Committee holding our intelligence services to account. We need to bury that lie here today.
May I join the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) in giving my apologies in advance: I may not be present for the winding-up speeches. [Interruption.] The Secretary of State is raising his hand, too, in which case all three of us will be guilty in that regard. However, I shall read the record of the winding-up speeches with interest tomorrow.
I shall not repeat all the points made by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks, but I, too, have concerns about the Government's tardiness in responding to this
Committee and to this House. The Government are not delivering on the Prime Minister's promises of a year ago, and that really is not acceptable, particularly given all the different allegations and adverse press comment, to some of which I and others in this House have contributed. It is not good enough for the Government not to deliver on their promises. Delivering on them would allow us to move forward with much greater public confidence and confidence in this House.
Before I come to some of the more controversial issues, I wish to deal with some of the nuts and bolts of this report. What is so excellent about the work being done by the Committee is that it deals with some of the nitty-gritty that has to be done. Although the ISC should not be an ordinary Select Committee, I am talking about it doing the sort of the work that an ordinary Select Committee actually gets done, including the work on finance and resources. We have heard from the Chair how the support that the Committee gets from the National Audit Office to examine those issues is incredibly important, not least because the amount of money being spent in this area has increased dramatically in recent years. It is important that that is examined.
Other concerns about the nuts and bolts that the Committee reports mention have not been touched on yet, but they include the way in which the staff are recruited and trained. That is fundamental to the workings of the intelligence services, and there is a need to build up the competences and capacity over a longer term. If there is a hint of criticism in the report, it is that an overly short-term approach has been taken in the past to certain areas, such as the defence intelligence services in respect of language competence and so on. That is having to be put right quickly now, and a lot of relatively inexperienced officers are coming into the services. They are doing an incredibly important job without necessarily having the wisdom of more senior people who have spent a longer time in the services. Getting that right and not making the mistakes of the past is important.
I was surprised not to see in the Committee's report any indication of the co-operation with other services; perhaps aspects of the control principle and other things are going on there. However, I would have thought that given the global threat of terrorism and the fact that tackling it is such a major part of the services' work, the relationships between our services and those of other countries is important. I am talking not about the allegations of complicity in torture, but about the day-to-day nuts and bolts working. There is a bit about this in the report but if, as I did, one goes to see an organisation such as Europol and the fantastic work that it is doing to bring together the analysis of the threat of terrorism from different organisations, one expects to find more comment on this.
Mr. Howarth: I think that the hon. Gentleman may be referring to the previous report. If he were to look at the 2009-10 report, he would find that a specific section is headed "The exchange of intelligence". It begins at paragraph 52 and covers precisely the points that he said the Committee did not cover.
Mr. Davey: I stand corrected although, in my defence, I should point out that the report only came out at 10 o'clock this morning and we have all been running to catch up. I think that the right hon. Gentleman makes a point that his Front-Bench team should take into account.
A theme of the debate so far has been how we reform the Committee. I agree with other right hon. and hon. Members who have said that the issue of independence is not critical, although we could examine it and that aspect could be improved-indeed, the report looks at that. I am talking not only about the appointment of members, although that is clearly important, but how the budget is put together. We could also examine the issue of public hearings, but I do not think that that is the crucial point.
I come to the interventions that I made on the Chairman and the Foreign Secretary now, because I think that resourcing is crucial. Although I welcome the fact that we now have an investigator, that is just one investigator. We have already heard from a very distinguished member of the Committee, the right hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates), that what one would assume to be relatively run-of-the-mill investigations have already had barriers put in their way. Thus, there is a concern about not only the resources for the investigatory powers and abilities of the Committee, but how they are viewed by the security services, the Cabinet Office and others who have a say on how resources can be deployed. It is important to come back to that issue, because if the public are to have confidence in the work-if we across the House are to have confidence in it-we need to know that the people we are entrusting with this incredibly important job have all the tools that they need to do it.
Lest people run away with the idea that I am completely uncritical of the Committee, I can say from the experience of supporting one of my constituents that I do not always agree with every word written in its reports. You would perhaps be surprised if I did, Mr. Deputy Speaker. A constituent of mine, Bisher al-Rawi, was in my view illegally rendered from The Gambia, where he was on a business trip, to Bagram airport, where he spent time in a dark hole and suffered torture. He then went to Guantanamo Bay and was there for four years. He was never told what he was supposed to have done and was eventually released.
I worked with my constituent's family, and eventually with my constituent, from 2002. It was an informative experience. At first, my relationship with the intelligence services was very good, and the officers with whom I dealt were as helpful as they possibly could be, given the restraints and restrictions they were under. I pay tribute to them. However, I felt that when the ISC considered the case of Bisher al-Rawi, which is especially important given the issues and debates around renditions, it was a bit reliant-this came out in the report-on what it was being told by the secret services and it was not really able to question through investigation.
The issue in Bisher's case was British complicity in his arrest and subsequent rendition-whether the British secret services tipped off the CIA in The Gambia and told the Gambian authorities to arrest him; he had been arrested at Gatwick airport and investigated by the British authorities. In a way, the ISC report gave our services a clean bill of health. I looked at the evidence-
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