|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
The Committee looked at the detail of the allegations raised by Mr. Mohamed, but we did not reach any premature conclusions regarding the Security Service or, in particular, regarding witness B. We recognised
that the Attorney-General was considering the allegations, and that she might refer the matter to the police. She subsequently did so. If terror suspects are to be considered innocent until proven guilty, we owe that same standard to officers in our intelligence agencies. We must therefore await the outcome of the police investigation before leaping on to the bandwagon of trial by media.
Our letter did, however, severely criticise the agencies' record keeping, and recommended that certain types of case be referred to Ministers rather than delegated back to officials. We also raised a number of key policy questions that we believe the Government must address-not least the need to make clear to the public the difficulties that officers in our security services face as they try to balance the risk to detainees with the need to safeguard the security of the UK and its citizens. It is a great shame that the letter has got lost in our review, because I believe that what we said in it would have been of help to the House and others and would have put an end to a great deal of uninformed speculation. We could then have had a serious debate on this matter.
Mr. Mates: I mean that it is in the report that has not been published. It is not lost, but it has got lost in the wash. It will come out when the report comes out, but it is a pity that we do not have it today, because we could have had a more informed debate about all this.
There have been recent allegations that the Security Service has been complicit in torture. The allegations are not that MI5 officers have tortured, but that an individual detained by another country has been mistreated by officers of those countries and that the Security Service was aware of that, and therefore complicit in it. The position is not helped, of course, by the lack of any legal definition in UK law of complicity. The allegations raise key legal, political and ethical questions. Individual allegations are, as I have said, a matter for the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, and not for us. That is a common misunderstanding. We have previously referred individuals to the tribunal. That being said, individual cases sometimes point towards policy failings, or towards structural or systemic failures within the agencies. Those do fall within our remit, and that is why we took this matter up.
There is one further aspect that deals not with facts or evidence but simply with allegations. Mr. Mohamed alleges that he was subjected to extremely serious physical torture in Morocco. We must be clear that the courts have not said that the UK had any involvement, direct or indirect, in that mistreatment. However, the agencies did pass questions to the Americans without knowing where Mr. Mohamed was being held, and there is a question as to whether that involves them, however indirectly, in how he was treated, wherever he was. First, however, we do not have the facts. Secondly, this is, sadly, an unavoidable problem. We do not get told where detainees are being held or how they are being treated by other Governments. The only way in which we could ensure that we were not implicated in any mistreatment, however indirectly, would be not to deal with anyone, and that would leave the UK unable to protect itself.
I do not think that I have ever before commented on-let alone criticised-the remarks of a member of the judiciary. They are as proud of their independence
as we should be of ours. However, the remarks of Lord Neuberger, the Master of the Rolls, in a judgment that received much publicity, are worthy of comment. The House will recall the huge controversy that arose when the first draft judgment and the counsel for the Foreign Secretary's letter were leaked to the press, and I shall not go into that further. In the final draft judgment, Lord Neuberger said that
"some security services' officials appear to have a dubious record relating to actual involvement and frankness about any such involvement with the mistreatment of Mr. Mohamed when he was held at the behest of US officials. I have in mind in particular Witness B but the evidence in this case suggests it is likely there were others".
As Jonathan Sumption QC said in his letter to the court, that was an astonishing thing for a judge to say without giving anyone a chance to explain themselves. I hope that if I ever found myself before Lord Neuberger and I made allegations, he would require me to substantiate them with evidence. I hope, too, that if allegations were made against me, I would be given a full opportunity to answer them and to produce evidence to the contrary before he came to make a judgment. How those remarks can fail to have some effect on the case of witness B, should it come to court, is another matter. That he has already been linked by so senior a judge with having "a dubious record"-
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. I hesitate to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but we obviously have to be careful about matters that are sub judice. I trust that he is aware of that and is taking it into consideration.
Mr. Mates: I am indeed aware of that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, I am not talking about the case; I am simply talking about the judgment made about the release of information. I have come to the end of my speech, but Lord Neuberger has alleged that witness B has "a dubious record" and has lacked "frankness", which is a strange way of keeping people's minds open in the outside world, as a case potentially comes before a court.
Let me finish by saying that I hope that over the 16 years of its life the Committee has shone some light on the way that the services necessarily have to operate. Over those years, in many visits and in many parts of the world, I have never found a set of men and women more dedicated to the defence of our country. Long may they continue that dedication with our help, not our interference.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): I shall follow up some of the remarks made by the right hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates), but first let me make an apology. As I have informed the Chair, I have to leave at 4.15 pm for a constituency engagement. I regret that I will not be here for the winding-up speeches or to listen to other hon. Members, and I apologise for that.
The Chairman of the Committee made some critical remarks about some Members of Parliament, the media and the judiciary for criticising the security services. I only say that I would not wish to live in a country where that freedom was undermined in any way whatever. As
Members of Parliament who are not on the Committee, we have a responsibility, along with the media, to criticise when we consider it appropriate to do so, and we are all responsible for our remarks. As I might be considered something of a critic, let me make it clear straight away that I am not criticising individual members of the ISC. However, I have a number of reservations about how the Committee was formed in the beginning and about how it continues. I would like the Committee to conduct its activities somewhat differently, something to which I shall return in a moment.
However, at no stage would I want to give the impression that I minimise the acute terrorist threat facing this country. Even if 9/11 in the United States or 7/7 in this country had not occurred, I would certainly recognise that there is an acute terrorist threat. As we know, it is also an ongoing threat, and there is no guarantee-far from it-that the horrors and atrocities of 7 July 2005 could not be repeated. It is difficult to make a distinction, and I do not see any reason why one should, between one form of mass murder and another. The IRA terror campaign, which took the lives of so many innocent people, whether service personnel or civilians, as in the Birmingham pub bombings of 1974, involved crimes and atrocities. What is different about the latest terrorist threat is that we are dealing with religious fanatics who actually glory in death, and who believe that paradise will be reached through mass slaughter. No one, I hope, could accuse me of minimising the terrorist threat.
Of course I accept that the security services carry a heavy responsibility in trying to prevent such atrocities. Even if we were not faced with terrorist threats, as we have been over the past 30-odd years, it would be right for our parliamentary democracy, like other democracies, to have agencies to help and defend the country against those whose purpose is the destruction of our rights and liberties-not necessarily through terrorism, but politically.
I was critical to some extent when I spoke in the debate on the annual report two years ago, but what concerns me particularly on this occasion is the mention by the right hon. Member for East Hampshire of allegations of torture. No Member has suggested that British security officials have been directly involved in torture; no one has made any such accusation. Torture certainly took place in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s, and we know only too well how counter-productive it was. As many Members have said, including Conservative Members, it served as a recruiting sergeant for the IRA. This is a different accusation: that British security officials have engaged in a form of complicity when torture has taken place and people have been detained, be it in Pakistan or the United States.
"Yet that does not seem to be true: as the evidence in this case showed, at least some SyS officials"
"appear to have a dubious record when it comes to human rights and coercive techniques".
Of course we must take that seriously. The right hon. Gentleman was critical of the Master of the Rolls, but I
am not at all critical of him. He must have reached his conclusion on the basis of evidence in his possession. It is not likely that he would make such remarks lightly, so he must have had a very good reason to make them. That is why I believe that the right hon. Gentleman was wrong to criticise him.
Mr. Mates: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will listen a little more carefully when I repeat what I said. I did not criticise Lord Neuberger's remarks; I criticised the effect that his remarks would have. He said
"I have in mind in particular witness B".
Witness B is a person who has not yet been charged with anything, and who is under investigation by the police and the Attorney-General. No one has heard his side of the case, least of all Lord Neuberger. This is what I am saying. What effect will that have should witness B come to trial?
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Obviously I am not as well versed in these matters as the right hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates) and the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), but let me again counsel that we tread very carefully on matters that may eventually be dealt with in a trial.
Mr. Winnick: I understand your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but the right hon. Gentleman said that he was not criticising the judge for his remarks, and he must have been criticising him. He said "Look at the effects that that may have on the security services." As for Binyam Mohamed-not witness B-the allegation that he made was not a matter of sleep deprivation. It was accepted by a judge in a federal court in Washington that Binyam Mohamed was telling the truth about the tortures that had been inflicted on him, including mutilation of his genitals. Is that not a matter of the most serious concern? That is why a number of Members and the media have been asking questions over the past few months. We believe that they are very important questions indeed. What degree of complicity, if any, did British security officials have in such incidents of torture? What knowledge did they have? These questions will continue to be asked.
The former head of MI5, Lady Manningham-Buller, said last week that the Americans did not let on what was being done to suspects. She also mentioned that someone had been waterboarded 160 times. We all agree that that amounts to torture, although we do not know whether British security officials from MI5 or MI6 knew about the case.
Whether or not all or any of the suspects are innocent is not the relevant point. I do not know whether any of these people who have been detained are innocent or guilty, and it is not my job to know. It is to be hoped that that is for a court of law to decide. That is not the issue here, however. The issue is not their guilt or innocence. The issue is to do with torture and whether our country-in one form or another, and however indirectly-has been complicit in that torture. That is why this issue is so important.
Paragraph 147 of the 2008-09 report contains a quote from Lady Manningham-Buller, in which she said to the Committee that "with hindsight" she regretted not seeking full reassurances over Mr. Mohamed's case. That is a rather interesting observation from a former head of MI5. All is not fine, therefore, even though the
right hon. Member for East Hampshire, the Chairman and members of the Committee might give us the impression that that is the case-that there is no need to worry, that all the information was given to the Committee accordingly, and that the rest of us should not be at all concerned.
I was one of the Members who argued before the ISC was established that there should be some parliamentary accountability of the security services. There was a Conservative Government at the time, and I was told that that was out of the question and that the work of the security services was confidential because they were dealing with terrorism and so forth. I was told it was simply unrealistic for Members such as myself to argue for parliamentary accountability. Some of these debates may have taken place before my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) entered the House; that was, I believe, in 1986 or thereabouts. I was, of course, very pleased when, in due course, MI5 and MI6 were placed on a statutory basis. That was a very good step. I was also pleased when the ISC was formed. I served on the relevant Standing Committee at the time, and Labour Members argued that the new Committee should be more like a Select Committee, although we knew very well that that was most unlikely to happen-some of us realised that it would not happen under a Labour Government, too.
Given this history, however, when some of us argue that the ISC should move somewhat further in that direction by having public sittings, for instance-and that there is, perhaps, a case for having a Select Committee-our views should not be dismissed out of hand. Indeed, the former head of MI5, Lady Manningham-Buller, has suggested this. I accept, as I said in an intervention, that the bulk of the work must undoubtedly be undertaken by a Committee in secret session; even if there were a Select Committee, I would not, for one moment, suggest that much of the work scrutinising the security services should be done other than in private. However, I believe, rather strongly now given what has occurred over the past 12 months, that there is a pretty strong case for public sessions. I find it a bit odd that the head of MI5 can write an article in The Daily Telegraph, the Chair of the Committee can respond favourably and other comments can be made, yet at the same time we are told that these sorts of views cannot be put before a Committee publicly. If the head of MI5 can write an article putting forward the views of his organisation and defending his organisation, as one would expect him to do, why cannot he do that in Committee in a public session? It is difficult to see why that should not be done.
Mr. George Howarth: I do not think that any of us would argue that the director general of the Security Service should not have the ability to express a view in public, either in speeches he may make or articles he may compose. The argument is that those are, self-evidently, issues that can be discussed in public whereas a lot of the evidence he may give to our Committee amounts to things that ought not to be discussed in public. We draw a simple distinction between the two, and I do not think that my hon. Friend disagrees with us on that.
Perhaps not, but I do take the view that there is a sort of consensus-I am not sure whether it includes the Chairman of the Committee or the right
hon. Member for East Hampshire, but it perhaps includes the Foreign Secretary-that the Committee needs to move on. If we accept, as I do, that the bulk of the work should be done in private-even my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) would, in the main, agree with that assertion-and if we are going to move on, we should give careful consideration in the new Parliament as to how the ISC should function.
I started by saying that I do not have any criticism of individual members of the Committee; my criticisms relate to the Committee itself and the perception that it has. There is a need for the public and certainly for parliamentarians to recognise that it is doing the work that it was established to do-providing scrutiny of the security services. That should be done in a way that ensures that we have more confidence that the Committee as a whole-this is not a matter of individual members of the Committee-is doing the work that is essential in a parliamentary democracy. I look forward-I may still be here-to a new Parliament that gives much further and serious consideration as to how the Committee functions accordingly.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington and Chelsea) (Con): May I begin by making it entirely clear, and perhaps creating a precedent, that I have every intention of being present for the wind-ups this evening? Our intelligence agencies have much in common with intelligence agencies in other parts of the world, but there are certain differences. Baroness Manningham-Buller made a very good speech a couple of weeks ago, in which she said:
"The head of the French intelligence service made a speech...in which he...complained that the British...had a glamorous and seductive word for the covert collection of information. The British called it 'Intelligence' whereas in France...at least one of the security intelligence agencies laboured under the dull title of 'General Information.'"
I wish specifically to examine the question of alleged complicity by the security services in certain unacceptable behaviour. My starting point is the Committee's report, which indicates that when the Committee originally considered the question of rendition in 2007, it did not receive information that subsequently, in 2008, the Security Service, followed by the Secret Intelligence Service, suddenly discovered. That is made quite clear in the report, which says that that information was made available only because the papers had been discovered when MI5 and MI6 were preparing for judicial review by the Court of Appeal, or by a court.
That raises the question as to why, when MI5 and MI6 were about to have to defend themselves in a court of law, where anything potentially improper or any misinformation to the court would have had extremely serious consequences, they appeared to take the time and trouble to establish from their internal records what information they possessed. However, when they gave evidence to the ISC, that somehow did not occur. The Committee has made it clear that, in its view, there was no deliberate intention to withhold from it the information in question.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind: I do not know whether it is true; I hope it is. I was rather puzzled that the director general of the Security Service said in response to those concerns, "I cannot fully explain". I can understand that he did not know to start with, but I would have thought that, by the time the matter had been investigated, he of all people should have been able to "fully explain" why those matters had not been identified in the initial search and put to the knowledge of the Committee.
This problem involves not just this particular case. If this were purely an isolated matter, one might not need to spend too much time on it, but if the reason given by the security services as to why those papers were not identified is that their internal information retrieval systems are so poor, in such disorder and so disorganised that these things just happen, and if the security services cannot either prevent them from happening or, in the longer run, explain why they have happened, we must assume that this arises not just in the case of Mr. Binyam Mohamed. If we are to accept what the security services have said, this must be a general problem that refers to all the information that they hold.
Mr. George Howarth: I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman should use the past tense, rather than the present, because we are assured that there have been dramatic improvements since that time.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|