HC Deb 11 July 2002 vol 388 cc1068-133

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Ainger.]

2.22 pm
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett)

After the heat of yesterday, we have the cool of today. First, I want to thank my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary for sharing these annual debates. I will lead today and, God willing that we are still in present posts, he will lead the debate this time next year. I am not making any predictions, so hon. Members should not get hot under the collar.

It is appropriate that my right hon. Friend and I share these debates, because much of the work on internal security was undertaken by him when he had my present post, and his understanding has made a big difference in the past year when we have worked together with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on these important issues. Given the debates in the House in the past year—the Foreign Secretary has led on a number of them—hon. Members are familiar with the issues that have arisen following the tragic events of 11 September.

Hon. Members are also familiar with the debates that have taken place on the terrorist threat that has emanated from Ireland, and we pay tribute to members of the three major intelligence services, to whom we owe a great debt of gratitude for the conduct of their work. That also applies to the anti-terrorist branch of the law enforcement agencies and those who work with them. There is now greater collaboration than ever before between the services and other agencies, including Customs and Excise and the immigration service.

I also pay tribute to the work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor), as the new Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee. I welcome the considerable contribution that she and the members of that Committee, with their range of experience, have made to its excellent report. It deals with the important issues in depth, but because of its nature much of it must remain private. I commend the way in which they have handled that. It has enabled those of us who have regular briefings from the services to be open and transparent. My right hon. Friend and I greatly appreciate the report that they have produced.

I am also pleased to acknowledge that we and the Prime Minister were in agreement with the direction of the report and the powerful points that were made in it. That has enabled us to come to Parliament with confidence for today's debate, and for debates such as that on the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001.

Hon. Members would not forgive me if I did not pay tribute to the intelligence service, the interception commissioners and the president and members of the investigatory powers tribunal. They deserve our thanks, because they are unseen and do a tremendous job both at my elbow and for my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. They also provide reassurance to the House and to the public.

Strange things have been written in recent weeks, and I heard at least one strange interview, which was rigorously taken up privately. It implied that some of us delegate our task, and that we nod things through. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I can affirm that many hours are spent not nodding things through and not delegating the task entrusted to us. We take that task seriously: it is a matter of honour. We are responsible to the House and to the British people for getting it right. I mention that because there is a feeling outside the House that arbitrary action is taken and that there is no surveillance of our surveillance, but there is, although understandably little is known about it. The work that is undertaken makes a big difference.

I also want to thank John Warne, the director of the international and organised crime division, who is retiring. We wish him well and thank him for the work that he has done. We also thank Sir Stephen Lander, who is head of the Security Service and is also retiring. I do not think that their retiring has anything to do with me: they have come naturally to the point of retirement. Sir Stephen Lander has had a difficult task, which in recent years has become more transparent and visible to the world compared with the days when no one would mention the building they worked in, never mind the name of the director general of the service. We welcome Eliza Manningham-Buller, who is taking over from him and who I know will do an excellent job.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

This may be an improper question that my right hon. Friend is not prepared to answer, but we read in the public press that Eliza Manningham-Buller led the investigation into Lockerbie from the intelligence point of view. Is there anything more he can say about that?

Mr. Blunkett

My hon. Friend answered the question before he asked it, for which I was grateful, because regrettably the answer is no. I admire his persistence.

The debate over the past 10 months has obviously been dominated by the tragic events of 11 September. It has thrown into sharp relief the importance of putting into perspective the question of how we deal not only with terrorism, but with the global nature of organised crime and terrorism and the methods used.

As I mentioned earlier, we have become tragically familiar over a long time with acts of terrorism both in Northern Ireland and on the mainland. That has developed expertise and skills in the security and intelligence services and the anti-terrorism branch of the Metropolitan police that have stood us in good stead. However, the current terrorist threat is perceived very differently by the public, as it is too—as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will explain in greater detail—from the point of view of the security and intelligence services in respect of our liaison with other countries.

It is worth noting that our links with Europe and with the FBI, the CIA and the NSA in the United States have been strengthened since 11 September, although they were already growing strongly. The will across our continent to link with others to counter threats of terrorism is standing us in good stead. We are co-operating not only to combat terrorism but, as we debated at great length in the autumn, on the directly related issue of organised crime. That co-operation assists us in combating non-violent but underpinning threats in respect of finance and other measures.

In the aftermath of 11 September, actions were taken globally some of which we all regret because we would have preferred not to implement such measures in a free society. Part 4 of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act, which is emblazoned on my heart, is one such area of that debate and we shall return to it. Obviously, we have already agreed about the debate after 15 months. There will be a review of part 4 and we are grateful to Lord Carlile for undertaking it. Privy Councillors, chaired by Lord Newton, will review the whole Act. I am grateful to Lord Newton and the members of that committee for the work that they will be undertaking. There is also the sunset clause, so there are several safeguards and opportunities for review.

It is worth noting that all of us who deal with such decisions do so with regard to the sensitivity and proportionality that was promised before Christmas, and with regard to the real concerns expressed then and since by Members on both sides of the House. The role of Parliament, of a free society and of a free press is to give reminders and place restraints on Ministers—both those who see the internal advice and those who reflect on the nature of the threat—so that we are not allowed to let the task and the measures that have to be implemented get out of proportion.

We all understand that in the cut and thrust of debate it can be suggested that we take people's liberty lightly. That is not true. In a free and democratic society, it behoves Parliament and a free press to remind people in our position of that fact, and to see such reminders and checks not as detrimental but as an advantage. It is only because we have a free society that we can debate the protection of those freedoms as we do; otherwise we should not be holding this debate. Nor could those of us who are responsible for recent legislation be recalled. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary oversaw the passage of some difficult measures when he was at the Home Office. I am glad that he did so, because I should otherwise have had an even more difficult time during our debates in the autumn.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

Does the Home Secretary also agree that, in the heat of debate, there can be a failure to recognise that those who want to draw attention to important civil liberties are also concerned about the safety and security of the people of this country? To pursue the civil liberties aspect, especially as Departments are notorious for inserting in legislation provisions that they have wanted to implement for a long time, is not to be unconscious of the security needs of the country, but rather to want to be certain that statutory measures that go beyond the normal powers of the state are wholly justified.

Mr. Blunkett

There is no dispute between us. In the heat of the moment, we may sometimes be a sword's length apart—it is probably a good job that the line was drawn. In the debates in which I was involved, we have always acknowledged that those who are questioning or opposing have an equal commitment to those safeguards and to securing our liberty and freedom. I am sure that was also true for my right hon. Friend during the debates on the Terrorism Act 2000 and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. We attempt to achieve that by debating the right ends. I accept that we need to be vigilant about the propensity for people to seek, with the best intentions, wider powers than are needed, while ensuring that at a moment of crisis they are not held to account for having failed to see what might be coming.

I think my right hon. Friend will have something to say about hindsight. One does not need a guide dog for hindsight—one of the things that strikes me most—but people always hold to account the current holder of the office, whether Foreign Secretary, Northern Ireland Secretary or Home Secretary, for things that they might have done, perceived or legislated on if only they had seen them coming. We are all in that boat, whatever our political persuasion.

Some parts of the measures that we passed and some of our debates are not only right in the context of the legislation; they have an impact on the culture and on the way other people can contribute to safeguarding our liberty by being more vigilant. Such provisions can put those who would too easily take their liberty for granted on to another road; above all, they act as a deterrent.

Like the security and intelligence services, I am convinced that our actions during recent years have been a deterrent to those who would use our country as a base for terrorism, to set up cells and develop the support services and finance for terrorism. That rebuts newspaper reports in this country and elsewhere that suggest that we are a soft touch, and that prior to 11 September London was an easy base. People cannot have it both ways. They cannot claim that our actions are on the very edge of disproportionality while countenancing the view that we host those who should be ejected from our country or incarcerated. We have to get the balance right; the fact that we have been well and truly taken to task by holders of both those points of view offers us reasonable grounds for believing that we have done so.

Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

The Home Secretary has spoken in extremely measured tones, as one would expect him to do on this subject. In the light of his comments about the safeguards built into recent legislation, does he agree that those safeguards were the result of parliamentary intervention, which corrected, amended and improved the original measures? I hope that we would all agree about that.

There is however another safeguard that people outside this place regard as important: the independent judicial overview of any decisions that affect or take away someone's liberty, or give excessive power to the state. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept the principle that if, for example, we take away the normal rights of defendants, there should always be independent judicial scrutiny—as provided by the commissioners to whom he has paid tribute—in addition to any scrutiny undertaken by Parliament?

Mr. Blunkett

I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman's first point. That is why, although for obvious reasons I have not gone through every detail of the proceedings on the Terrorism Act that my right hon. Friend piloted through the House, on Second Reading of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act I deliberately made it clear that we would listen and respond and that we would remove provisions from the Bill, or amend it, in the light of the arguments made by the House, the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Select Committee on Home Affairs. That is exactly what we did. Sometimes since then, I have been accused of making proposals and backing off; I should rather be accused of backing off and finding a different way forward than of blind stubbornness for the sake of it.

Parliament is at its best when hon. Members are prepared to listen to one another and respond; the press is at its worst when it misinterprets that as muddle, confusion, weakness or something else. We need to stick with that process if we believe in democracy. As we do not have the whole fount of wisdom in our heads and hands, we are prepared to do so, and I will carry on doing so whatever the consequences. We did not always agree, but amendments were made to improve the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, and that is why the reviews are important in discovering whether any further change would enhance it.

Of course I agree on the second point. In fact, in the next few days, the Special Immigration Appeals Commission and judges will hear major challenges in relation to the decisions that the House and Parliament as a whole have taken on derogations and the rights of the individual. That is how it should be, and it is proper that that should take place.

Measures were taken in part 4 of the 2001 Act to recognise that al-Qaeda was not finished and that there were networks abroad, as there had been in preparing to attack the World Trade Centre. That has since been proved true very recently in Germany and Milan, as well as in my right hon. Friend's bailiwick, given what has been taking place in Morocco and the attacks in Pakistan. Clearly, we receive evidence from time to time that risks are foiled by the early action that is now taken and the vigilance that exists. That is right, and it is true internally as well, with the security measures that we have been able to put in place, with the collaboration of Departments, with the work of the security and intelligence services and with the Civil Contingencies Committee and the committee established by the Prime Minister to develop internal security measures. All that has made a real difference to what we believe to be a safer Britain and United Kingdom since the events of 11 September.

Cash has been seized and assets have been frozen, under United Nations auspices in the latter case. Ministry of Defence police have been involved in such work on 19 occasions, including the use of armed patrols, as Parliament has granted them the ability to act outside their jurisdiction. Between the beginning of April and June, British transport police have been engaged in 375 arrests in interventions outside their former jurisdiction. That has been extremely helpful, and 16 separate bank accounts have been identified in relation to money laundering. So substantial change has been possible already because of the 2001 Act and the way in which it has been implemented.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife)

The Home Secretary is being characteristically generous in giving way. I hope that I have not anticipated his dealing with another matter, but it is widely reported that, when the new Cabinet Secretary takes up his post, responsibilities that might otherwise have been his will be discharged by Sir David Omand. Sir Andrew Turnbull and Sir David Omand are men of the highest integrity and reputation. Can the right hon. Gentleman explain to the House— indeed, is it in his bailiwick to do so—precisely what advantages are thought to be derived from that departure from the previous arrangement?

Mr. Blunkett

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will deal with that in a whole section in his speech, which I shall not presume to duplicate. Suffice it to say that Sir David Omand is assisting with civil contingencies in a very helpful way. He is leading that work, as has been reported to the Select Committee on Defence in its recent investigations. I am very pleased that he had agreed to do that because it will help us enormously. So there is a new role, and my right hon. Friend will expand on it very shortly.

I mentioned Irish terrorism, and it is very important that we do not allow the debate to pass without saying that the work of the security and intelligence services has made a difference to our safety, with the changing situation in the past year and the development of the peace process, but also with the continuing threat from the so-called Real IRA and the continuity group.

Co-operation has also developed in related areas. It would be remiss to allow the debate to pass without saying how important I believe such work has been in dealing with people smugglers and drug runners and in facing down organised criminals, and work has been done with Customs and Excise. That is a very important part of the security and intelligence services' role, and we should not underestimate the importance of maintaining of what we and the Intelligence and Security Committee described as the necessary back filling to ensure that that work can continue, while the reshaping of the focus on global terrorism has to be carried out.

I shall keep my speech short because other hon. Members will want to contribute and to allow time for proper debate, but it is important to recognise the enormity of the change that has taken place in the past 10 months. My role, as well as that of my right hon. Friend, has changed not only in terms of the time and energy devoted to such issues, but in terms of perspective, in linking that role with our wider roles and in trying to ensure that we do justice to it while not losing our focus on the other issues that are so important to the people of this country.

I want to thank those hon. Members who serve on the Intelligence and Security Committee, as well as those who serve on the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Select Committee on Home Affairs, particularly in relation to my responsibilities. We have not always agreed with them—sometimes the language used has been interesting to say the least—but when I take the first view of the morning newspapers, I reflect on the fact that, without them, it is likely that some of us would forget that we are accountable to Parliament and the people. If we forget that, we do so at our peril.

2.47 pm
Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset)

I share the Home Secretary's pleasure in moving to a calmer moment in our proceedings. I have to begin by saying that I shall be brief because I do not believe that the major contributions to this debate can be made from the Dispatch Box, but rather by those who are members of the Intelligence and Security Committee, who have much to tell us and who know and understand things that, at least on this side of the House at the moment, we quite properly do not and cannot know or understand.

I did, indeed, reflect when I realised that it was one of my tasks to speak in this debate on whether it needed to exist in the first place or whether it served any useful purpose, given the sublime level of ignorance that inevitably exists among Opposition Members, apart from my right hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot), who serves on the Committee, but then I thought that it probably does make sense for this debate to occur.

I hope that it may be possible for the members of the Committee to play a more formal role in such a debate in future. However, this debate is useful, as it allows the Committee's role in relation to the security and intelligence services to be played more widely by the House in relation to the Committee. Each level of check and each level of limited transparency probably helps to reinforce the image of the security and intelligence services as bodies that are ultimately answerable to the electorate, not as items that spin off into a world of their own and engage in their own activities. That is a useful phenomenon.

I want to raise a specific issue and then to reflect a little further on the general question of balance, on which the Home Secretary also reflected. The specific issue relates to serious crime. The Committee tells us in paragraph 87 of its report: The Agencies, when engaged in fighting serious and organised crime…make a real and valuable impact".

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw)

Which paragraph?

Mr. Letwin

Paragraph 87. But the Committee goes on to say: However, due to limited resources, their contribution is less than it might be. The Committee has commented on this twice before, making the point that providing extra resources to combat serious crime has been shown to bring a demonstrable return to society. Drug, tobacco and people smuggling could be further combated and curtailed. I very well know that I shall incur the righteous indignation of the Home Secretary if I call for more resources without specifying how on earth they should be paid for.

Mr. Straw

Especially you.

Mr. Letwin

Especially, as the Foreign Secretary so rightly says, me. However, very conscious of the likelihood of these jolly jibes, I have investigated, to the limited extent open to a Member of the House who is not a member of the Committee, the distribution of expenditures within the security and intelligence services, and the Security Service in particular, because in relation to serious crime it is the Security Service that is most relevant, and most relevant to my brief.

I think that I am right in discerning that of the total of about £1 billion that is spent on the security and intelligence agencies, about £140 million is spent on the Security Service, and that of that, about 7 per cent. is spent on serious crime. I think that means that about £9 million a year is spent on what is classed here as combating serious crime, out of the total of £1 billion; or, by comparison with the police budget, out of the total of about £11 billion a year, including police and security and intelligence agencies, that is spent on protecting us in one way or another. In that context, £9 million is a fairly small sum. I think that I am beginning to understand the comments that the Committee has made in paragraph 87 of its report.

I do not know, am not in a position to know, and do not want to be in a position to know, to what extent it is possible for the proportion of the effort and money that is spent within the Security Service on terrorism to be distinguished from that which is spent on serious crime. The Home Secretary said in his remarks, and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has said in public speeches, that terrorism and organised crime are deeply linked, so I have no doubt that in combating the financial aspects of terrorism, for example, the Security Service is also combating organised crime to a considerable extent. Therefore I do not allege that the £9 million is the full extent of that which is spent on something that is, or is connected with, serious crime.

Nevertheless, when that small sum appears as the figure specifically quoted for serious crime and when the Committee—which the House has established specifically to look at these questions—comments, on the basis of what I take to be knowledge vastly greater than can be gained from public sources, that the resources devoted to serious crime are too limited, that does seem to me to call into question whether Ministers need to look at the distribution within the available resources to see whether more should be devoted to serious crime. [Interruption.] I want to make one more observation on that, but first I give way.

Adam Price (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr)

I was wondering whether the right hon. Gentleman would tell the House the source of these figures, because they do not seem to appear in the report.

Mr. Letwin

The total expenditure figures, which I quoted, appear towards the end of the report, under the heading, "Expenditure"—unsurprisingly—but the distributional figures are from the very secret source of the websites of these organisations, which the hon. Gentleman may consult. I do not have any special knowledge and, as I have repeatedly mentioned, I do not wish to have any special knowledge of these matters. It is the lucky case that it is the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary who have to deal with these on a day-by-day basis and I daily bless the fact that that is not something that I need to do.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Denis MacShane)

For a long time.

Mr. Letwin

Although I hope that it may not be as long as the hon. Gentleman hopes, I think that we can guarantee at least three years.

Having said that it seems important to focus more attention on the implications of paragraph 87 of the report, I want to add one further point on that specific issue. It seems clear that NCIS and the National Crime Squad are doing very serious and effective work, which has a long trajectory, beginning in many cases with the activities of the then Home Secretary, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), and carrying on through the previous Home Secretary—now the Foreign Secretary—and into the aegis of the present Home Secretary. They are doing very serious and useful work in beginning to apply the most rigorous forms of high-level intelligence activity to unearthing the intricate connections that exist within serious crime.

Mr. Blunkett

indicated assent.

Mr. Letwin

I am glad to see the Home Secretary nodding, not least because I much prefer to agree with him than to disagree with him; I have been doing a bit of disagreeing with him.

Sir David Phillips has personally developed a huge amount of international respect for the British model of high-level intelligence gathering and putting together. He and the Association of Chief Police Officers have done really sterling work in that respect.

It seems likely to me that if we are particularly good, given the scale of our own overall resources, at establishing those connections and at the work of criminal intelligence, the further integration—I take the points that are made elsewhere in the report about the degree of integration that already exists—of the Security Service with the work of NCIS and of the National Crime Squad may yield very considerable dividends. I tread warily here because I do not know whether it is true, as I suspect, that the Security Service has available to it talents and experience that are not normally available even to the most refined reaches of the police forces, but if it is true I suspect that the further integration of those people's expertise and abilities with NCIS and the NCS may yield surprising benefits.

If that were the case, it seems to me that we would see the effects very directly on our streets. I certainly do not want to re-enter yesterday's arguments about our drug policy but there is a point on which the Home Secretary and I would agree, which is that the heights of the pyramids that distribute the hard drugs in our country are intimately linked with the most serious types of financial crime and with street violence, which both he and I, in our different ways, seek to combat.

If we could find the means of disrupting those activities more effectively than at present, and if that were to involve spending some multiples of the £9 million—if I have the right figure—currently spent within the £1 billion, out of this budget, on serious crime, it might save 10 times that amount in policing at a lower level, if we were to achieve the same bang for the buck. Getting rid of people higher up those pyramids, doing better at disentangling the webs that join them to street crime, could have huge benefits. I take it that that is what the Committee, in its elegant and coded language, was trying to say when it said that there could be

a demonstrable return to society. It might also be a demonstrable return to the Exchequer, so I hope that that might recommend itself to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Mr. Beith

The right hon. Gentleman, given the severe injunction that he is under not to increase public expenditure, is in danger of misinterpreting the Committee's report, because what the Committee said was that resources added to this area could yield dividends, but nowhere in the report will he find an indication that there is other work being done by the agencies from which money could be diverted into this activity. It is a choice that is open to us to spend more money through the agencies using their talents, but the Committee has never indicated anywhere in its report that there is slack or spare in other key tasks, and indeed the political attractiveness of getting some work done on drugs and serious crime can be slightly dangerous if it reduces work on terrorism or other dangerous threats to the United Kingdom.

Mr. Letwin

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that clarification. If—and to the extent that—that is true, it may make sense, from within the totality of Home Office resources, to find such an addition. The Chancellor of the Exchequer may even have other sources to apply. I do not want to enter that argument in detail, not least because of the profound ignorance under which I suffer about the coming comprehensive spending review announcements. What I am clear about, however, is that a tiny sum is currently being spent in this area, in which there might be great dividends. On that, I suspect that the right hon. Gentleman and I might find ourselves in agreement.

On the balance between the activities that necessarily go on in secret, the statutory support that they receive, and our civil liberties, I want to put on the record, in the calm of these proceedings, a general position, which the Home Secretary sometimes finds inconsistent, but which, in fact, is consistent. He mentioned that we sometimes accused him of disproportionality, of going too far in invading civil liberties and of taking liberty too lightly. At the same time, however, he mentioned that we seemed to demand of him the protection of society against very dangerous and obnoxious elements. He displayed a little anxiety or irritation that we might be demanding of him things that were inconsistent. I recognise that sentiment, and I might even feel it were I sitting in his position—[Interruption.] The Foreign Secretary is chuntering happily from a sedentary position that these are the musings of a tortured liberal, and they are. The position of a tortured liberal is the only respectable position to adopt.

Mr. Straw


Mr. Blunkett


Mr. Letwin

I shall continue in a moment, but I shall give way to the Foreign Secretary first.

Mr. Straw

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who, as the House knows, can speak very well for himself, said from a sedentary position that there were several of those whom he would like to torture himself—

Mr. Blunkett

With due trial.

Mr. Straw

With due trial, as my right hon. Friend says. I add for the record that what I was saying from a sedentary position to the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) was that I was encapsulating his remarks as those of the tortures of a Liberal by St. Oliver.

Mr. Letwin

This badinage is getting very rude, and I shall not continue it. All of us are tortured liberals in the sense that we all, to varying degrees, wish to protect civil liberties. I have to admit, in my better moments, that even the Home Secretary has that desire. We all wish to protect society against the dangerous elements against which it needs to be protected—in particular, the terrorist. It is a question of proportionality. I want to put on record a critical distinction, which I think is the foundation of the difference between us and the Government on a series of issues. By exposing it, the need for further such discussion may be prevented.

There is a difference between those agencies of the state whose primary function, and, in some cases, whose whole function is to protect us against people who want to blow us up, rob us or murder us, and other agencies of the state, whose primary and, in some cases, whole function is devoted to other ends. I draw a very clear distinction—clearer than Whitehall, under any Administration, is often inclined to draw—between those two kinds of agencies. I accept the need for the security and intelligence services to engage in activities that are necessarily intrusive and that are impediments to our liberty. Because I am worried about those impediments and intrusions, as Ministers in every Government for a long while have been, I welcome the intricate apparatus that has been devised, over a long period, to control those activities and to subject them to the kinds of scrutiny to which they can be subjected, consistent with their remaining secret as they need to so remain.

The Home Secretary is the principal locus of just that kind of scrutiny and control, but the Committee and other bodies, including, for some purposes, the courts—acting, in some cases, in special ways—are also part of that apparatus of control. Under the circumstances in which those controls are in place, I accept the need for that level of intrusion and that level of impediment to our liberties. I distinguish between that and the cases of those other agencies that are not involved in such activities.

The Food Standards Agency, the Environment Agency, the Post Office or any other such body will often find that their activities would be materially easier to carry out—or they imagine that, in some future world, they will find that their activities are materially easier to carry out—if they also have the ability to engage in activities that are intrusive and an impediment to our liberties. I understand that motivation, and were I working in those bodies, or were I an official charged with the question of how to make the work of those bodies easier, I would constantly be tempted to engage in enlarging the scope of their ability to intrude.

Parliament should not, however, accept the same kind of logic in relation to those kinds of bodies that it accepts in relation to the bodies that we are discussing today. That distinction is critical. If we could agree on that as a permanent feature of our political discussions, a good deal of the difficulties that we have had in the past nine months or so would evaporate. I am not saying that the disputes would not continue—they would at the margin—and I accept that, in relation to some of part 4 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, for example, we would continue to have real debates, as is proper. A large part of the difference between us, however, is related not to the scope of bodies that we are discussing today but to the scope of action of other bodies. In future, I hope that we make that distinction more clearly, and more as a matter of consensus.

Mr. Blunkett

It is a fair point, and we need to make clear what is new intrusion and what is an endeavour—including under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, for which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was responsible—to codify and pull in those things taking place around us. If we can do that—I respect those who believe that we were on the wrong trajectory, although, in fact, we were trying to do something that was totally misinterpreted and that looked, to the world outside, as if we were going the other way—we might get it right. I do not have a fundamental principled disagreement with that, as Parliament's role is to pull in, and to make sure that others do not have the right that the security and intelligence services have—under the kind of surveillance and review that they have—to intrude in other people's information or their lives. Getting that right will be important in future.

Mr. Letwin

That is welcome. As we move forward in the next few months and debate several of these issues, I hope that we can refer back to this discussion of general principle. It may frequently turn out to be the case that, as more transparency is given through the operation of the orders under the RIPA, we shall collectively discover what I must admit that I have been discovering—in some cases, agencies that are outside the sphere that we are discussing today are engaging in activities, and have been doing so for a long time, that are worrying in the degree to which they have not been properly controlled and made transparent. I see Ministers nodding. That is highly constructive. I hope that we can achieve a clearer basis on which to operate, and a clearer distinction between other agencies and those that are the subject of today's debate.

Mr. Dalyell

On a point of order. Madam Deputy Speaker. The shadow Home Secretary promised us a short speech. He has now been going for 22 minutes, ad-libbing in a rather unfocused way for the past 20 minutes. Is there some way in which Back Benchers can get a look-in, in what will be a truncated debate?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal)

That is not a point of order for the Chair.

Mr Letwin


Mr. Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford)

My right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) speaks of the need for greater transparency. Does he agree that one way in which we might achieve that would be for every piece of legislation, whether primary or secondary, to be tested, so to speak in terms of the specific impact that it would have on individual liberties?

Mr. Letwin

My answer to my hon. Friend is, as he knows, yes. I hope that that suggestion will be adopted; it is one that I made in the public prints.

I am acutely conscious of the observations of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and I shall desist from engaging in further discussion, having made both the specific point and the general point that I wanted to make. I hope that the hon. Member for Linlithgow and others will have a chance to say what they wish to say to the House.

3.11 pm
Ann Taylor (Dewsbury)

I shall return to some of the points made by the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), particularly in respect of serious crime.

I start by thanking my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for his words about the report published recently by the Intelligence and Security Committee. We welcome the fact that Ministers responded speedily to our report this year; we also welcome the early debate.

The Committee, as the Home Secretary said, is a new Committee. Some of its members are new to the field, but several of its members have served on it for many years. As Chair of the Committee, I take this opportunity to thank my colleagues for their work over the past nine months or so. Many of them have found that it requires a greater time commitment than they anticipated, but I think that many of them have found it interesting and worth while.

I agree with the Home Secretary about the work and the quality of the agencies that serve us in the security and intelligence field. He said that we owe a debt of gratitude to them, and the Committee would agree. We state in paragraph 7 that although our report highlights areas about which the Committee has concerns, our concerns must not overshadow the tremendous work of the agencies and the quality of the staff therein. All members of the Committee share the Home Secretary's admiration for the level of co-operation between the agencies in the UK and between our agencies and those in other countries, particularly—but not exclusively—those in the United States.

As Chair of the Committee, I shall say a word at the outset about the Committee's work, especially our relationship with the agencies. I am sure that some colleagues in the House feel frustrated at times by the circumspect nature of the reports of the Intelligence and Security Committee, especially by such things as asterisks in our report. I see the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Prisk) nodding. We share that frustration at times. It is difficult sometimes to know things that one would like to say to colleagues, but cannot say.

As a new member of the Committee, as well as the new Chair of the Committee, I have been extremely impressed by the amount of information given to us by the agencies, the nature of the information available, the frankness of those who have given evidence before us and the documentary evidence that we have been able to see on some occasions, including some Joint Intelligence Committee assessments, known as JIC papers, which the Committee has found especially useful.

Our report covers all the issues that we are tasked to examine—the policy, administration and expenditure of all the agencies. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) will be pleased to hear that I do not intend to cover in detail every issue that we raise in our report; some of my colleagues on the Committee will raise others.

Since the Committee was appointed last August, its work has obviously been dominated by the events of 11 September—but not to the exclusion of everything else. Every one of us—members of the Committee, hon. Members and members of the public—was incredibly shocked by those events, the scale of the tragedy, which was the biggest loss of life through any terrorist attack, the fact that such an attack could take place in the heart of the United States, and the fact that those who committed the atrocities had no regard for their own lives or the lives of thousands of other people of many different nationalities and religions.

In Britain, as the Home Secretary said, because of the threats that we have faced over many years from Northern Ireland-related terrorist groups, we have, unfortunately, had a great deal of experience of the shock of terrorist outrages. As a result, terrorism has always been a high priority of our intelligence agencies; it has, indeed, been the first order of priority for many years. We must recognise that, by their nature, it is very hard to penetrate terrorist organisations or get a real insight into them.

Experience over many years has shown us that that difficulty can too often lead to tragic loss of life. That is why a high priority has been given not just to terrorism from Ireland, but to international terrorism. The UK agencies have worked hard on that priority over many years, both internally and by monitoring people in various parts of the world, co-operating with agencies elsewhere, exchanging intelligence and comparing assessments. That has been going on for some time.

As the Home Secretary said, although it cannot always be publicised, there have been successes in countering the activities of terrorist organisations, including those related to Irish terrorism and those related to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. In view of that, and because we are led to expect successes from our intelligence agencies, it was not surprising that after 11 September one of the first questions for the intelligence community was, "Was there an intelligence failure?" Perhaps that is the first question for the United States agencies. Congressional committees are looking into US agencies, what happened and what warnings were given. That dimension is not an issue for our Committee.

Perhaps the fact that the question is asked and that many people regard it as a genuine question is a symbol of what we expect from our agencies. In some respects, because we know that they are good, and because we know that they have intervened and prevented events from happening, some people assume that our agencies should know 100 per cent. of all that there is to know about everybody all the time, while, as the shadow Home Secretary suggested, protecting civil liberties at the same time.

Our expectations of the agencies must be realistic. It is clearly not possible for them to know everything all the time. The kind of question that we have to ask is whether the priorities set by the agencies are the right ones, whether enough attention has been paid to international terrorism, whether their levels of expertise are sufficient, whether there is sufficient co-operation, whether there is joined-up working, and whether information and assessment are adequate.

We say in our report that Osama bin Laden was a "notably hard target", and was recognised as such. We also say, and in some cases we quote papers that we have seen as well as evidence that we have been given, that there was an acute awareness in the period before 11 September that UBL and his associates represented a very serious threat". We report that the level of concern in June 2001"— just a couple of months before the attack— was such that discussions about UBL and his organisation occupied a considerable time during a joint summit"— between the United Kingdom and the United States. The Committee, in its report, also quotes a Joint Intelligence Committee assessment paper of July 2001 that concluded that plans for attacks were in their final stages but that the timings, targets and methods of attack were not known.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

In view of the right hon. Lady's explanation of the difficulties that were faced by the intelligence services, does she agree that one unnecessary difficulty was that, after an earlier attack, it was disclosed that intelligence services in the United States had had some success in listening in on Osama bin Laden's satellite phone, but that thereafter they were never able to do it again? Does not that confirm exactly what the right hon. Lady has been saying about the balance that has to be struck between oversight and the maintenance of security on desperately secret information?

Ann Taylor

Yes, when I heard that information I was struck by exactly that kind of difficulty, although I am afraid that these days we have to expect that terrorists will be sophisticated and will have some idea of the attempts that are being made to monitor what they are doing. The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point, and it was partly because of the openness of other people's systems that that information got out as early as it did; perhaps it would have been better if the information had not got into the public domain so quickly.

In looking back, the Committee asked itself whether the agencies had missed anything that they were in a position to know or whether assessments made at the time were wrong. That was not an easy question and our conclusion was that with hindsight"— mention has already been made of that today because it is a wonderful thing— the scale of the threat and the vulnerability of Western states to terrorists with this degree of sophistication and a total disregard for their own lives was not understood. I am pleased that in paragraph 6 of the Government response, which was published shortly after our report, Ministers indicate their agreement with our assessment.

We did not conclude—I want to make this point directly, and I am glad that the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee is in the Chamber this afternoon—that important indications in Summer 2001 that an attack might be imminent were not acted upon. We did not conclude that, but I use those words because they come from the press release issued by the Foreign Affairs Committee when it published its report on foreign policy aspects of the war against terrorism on 19 June. My Committee takes issue with the Chairman of that Committee when the press release goes on to say: I note with interest that our Parliamentary colleagues on the Intelligence and Security Committee, who enjoy a degree of access to the security agencies which is denied to the rest of us, have concluded likewise. We have not concluded likewise and we think it important to put that on the record.

Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

We await the results of the inquiries in the United States, but my right hon. Friend will be aware that we in the Foreign Affairs Committee made our conclusions on the basis of the information that was available to us. She and the members of her Committee have a certain degree of privileged access. She will recall that when the Intelligence Services Act 1994, which set up her Committee, received its Second Reading on 22 February 1994, the then Foreign Secretary, Lord Hurd, gave a pledge to the House that the new Committee would not truncate in any way the existing responsibilities of Select Committees. In the light of her experience, not least in an area such as this, does she in any way feel that that pledge has not been kept, and that perhaps Committees such as the Foreign Affairs Committee could be better focused if they had better access?

Ann Taylor

No, is the simple answer to that. All I would say is that the Foreign Affairs Committee did not have access to this kind of information before the Intelligence and Security Committee was established, so I do not think that that has made any difference to the work that his Committee can do. I take his point about the United States, but as I said earlier, we have not been looking at the agencies there, and it is important that parliamentarians here stick to their own ground rather than second-guess conclusions over there. I did think it important that we should not have any misinterpretation about what the Intelligence and Security Committee believes and that is why I sought to put it on the record, not to attack the Committee, as I believe an Opposition Member sought to suggest.

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton)

I do not want to throw the right hon. Lady off her stride, but in congratulating her and her Committee on their work, may I invite her to say, if she is able, whether she thinks that the two main intelligence agencies in Britain—the distinction between domestic and overseas intelligence having been rendered somewhat artificial by the modern nature of the terrorist threat—are now working well together to counter that threat, or does she harbour concerns that the separation remains?

Ann Taylor

I think that I can speak for every member of the Committee when I say that we are very impressed by the levels of co-operation between British agencies. We have all read discussions in the public domain about the situation in the United States. It is not for us to comment on that, but we are impressed by the level of co-operation that we have seen and know to exist between the agencies that we oversee.

That is not to say that we have no concerns at all. We do have some concerns, and, even following the point that I just made to my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson) about 11 September and the build-up, we highlight some in our report. For example, we point out that the reduction in funding of the agencies in the 1990s meant that they were resource limited and operating under financial pressures, and that while there were improvements in the late 1990s, there were shortfalls that probably impinged on the work of the agencies in that longer-term context.

We were also concerned—one of my colleagues may wish to talk about this later—whether the agencies had sufficient flexibility to cover all the languages that were needed, and so respond quickly enough. Perhaps the most significant concern that we have post-11 September is the fact that the concentration of effort in that area of work means that gaps are developing that could lead to unacceptable risks in the future, although not necessarily at the moment. We believe that the agencies responded rapidly and well post-11 September. The staff worked long hours and were flexible and responsive to all the requests about what they should he doing. There was a great deal of co-operation and collaborative working.

The Committee also recognises that the Treasury responded very quickly and well to the agencies' extra needs, but even with those resources it will take time to recruit and train new staff, as they will be inexperienced and will have a lot to learn. We therefore believe—and perhaps it is timely for us to say so—that the agencies must have secure funding to allow them to fulfil the new demands that have been placed on them. We are worried about the gaps that are developing and believe that it is important that funding and planning are got right now to prevent the gaps from getting out of hand and creating serious dangers. To prevent that from happening, we need some very significant decisions now. That is why the Committee will consider with interest the statement on spending that the Treasury will make in the very near future.

I should like to turn briefly to one of the other matters raised by the shadow Home Secretary, which again is linked to funding: serious organised crime. We all recognise that such crime is an increasingly challenging problem for all law enforcement agencies and that the intelligence agencies can contribute in that regard. Class A drugs, organised immigration crime, serious financial crime and the funding of terrorist activity are all first-order priorities for the agencies. I hope that that will reassure him and others.

Of course, work in that area can make a tremendous difference. We cite one example in our report involving money laundering in the north-west, where fantastic amounts were channelled through bureaux de change over a very short period. The unique role and skills of the agencies, which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, meant that they could assist law enforcement agencies in achieving a satisfactory result. We believe that such assistance shows its own worth.

The right hon. Gentleman was wrong to say that the money was so limited. Ministers may want to put him right about that. The Committee mentions some of the ring-fenced money for drugs-related work that is in the public domain and which also goes to the agencies. None the less, he was right that the work was good value for money—I am not sure whether he is a good ally on that point—and that more should be available.

As the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), a colleague on the Committee, mentioned, it cannot be right simply to transfer money from another aspect of the agencies' work. If extra work is to be done, it will have to be done with new resources and new money. The right hon. Member for West Dorset will have to square that politically with his colleagues, although in political terms it is not a matter that the Committee even started to discuss. We regard such expenditure as an investment and make a very strong recommendation in our report that more resources are required in this area and that there will be a very good return for the Treasury as well as for society if we increase our activities in tackling drugs, money laundering and people smuggling. There is a very significant payback to the Treasury and, perhaps more importantly, to society.

I should like to say one or two more words about expenditure, although I do not want to continue for too long. The Committee was very pleased in conducting its investigations that the then Chief Secretary to the Treasury gave evidence to it for the first time. We were slightly alarmed that he was moved from his position almost immediately afterwards, but we trust that the two events were completely unrelated and hope that the new Chief Secretary will give evidence in due course. The Committee made all those points about expenditure to the Chief Secretary, as one of its responsibilities is to examine the agencies' expenditure.

It is important to mention on the Floor of the House a couple of the Committee's concerns about GCHQ. First, for 2000–01, the Comptroller and Auditor General was

unable to determine whether proper accounting records had been maintained", so the validity of the GCHQ accounts was qualified. We regard that as a serious matter, not least because this is not the first time that it has happened. The Committee acknowledges that some action is being taken and recognises that GCHQ is getting help from the National Audit Office, but it believes that the director of GCHQ, the Cabinet Secretary and the Foreign Secretary must ensure as a matter of priority that appropriate management processes and procedures are in place.

Secondly, and perhaps even more important, the Committee has been watching with great interest the progress of the new accommodation project for GCHQ. In particular, we are concerned about the changes to the projected cost of relocating to the new building. Of course, the situation has changed since 11 September, because of the need for additional staff, which we know will result in extra costs, but we are worried that the agreed relocation budget may be too low. We do not want GCHQ to be forced to reduce its operational effectiveness in order to keep within the relocation budget. The Government say in their response to our report that they are confident that that will not be a problem, but we will watch the matter very closely indeed, as we think that it could be another difficulty that looms up in future.

Finally, I should like to say a word about the national intelligence machinery. As has been mentioned, recent changes have been announced by the Prime Minister, with the appointment of Sir David Omand as security and intelligence co-ordinator. The Committee has had the opportunity to discuss the changes that will take place with Sir Andrew Turnbull, who is to be the new Cabinet Secretary, as well as with Sir David. We have been able to discuss with them some of the thinking behind the change and the reasons for it. However, the system will be new and it is not yet in place. The Committee has already made it clear in its future work programme that we will consider the role and function of the national intelligence machinery. The Home Secretary indicated that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary might say a little more about that later. We look forward to finding out about how the system will work and to hearing anything else that he has to say.

I must make one more point about the machinery before I conclude. I know that other colleagues will want to mention the same issue, on which the Committee of the previous Parliament also homed in: the fact that the ministerial committee on the intelligence services—the CSI—has not yet met. Obviously, since 11 September, there have been a lot of ministerial meetings on intelligence, but the whole Committee believes that it would be in everybody's interests for Ministers to have proper and formal meetings to discuss the overall performance, priorities and funding of all our agencies. I cannot understand why the CSI has not met. I think that it will be a great help to Ministers to discuss priorities collectively and that that will add an important dimension that is not available under the current system. I hope that they will consider that issue carefully and move in that direction.

As a newcomer to the process of oversight, I am pleased by the way in which the situation has evolved. This is still a relatively young Committee, and the access that has been given to it and the roles that it has taken on have evolved since it was first established. It represents a good basis for oversight of the agencies, but the situation is not static, and I am sure that oversight involving the Committee, as well as other aspects that have been mentioned, will evolve further over time. It is useful to have that oversight, and I thank my colleagues for their help and co-operation in my chairing of the Committee.

3.40 pm
Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

I am conscious that many hon. Members wish to speak, so I shall limit myself to 10 minutes. I hope that that will be helpful.

In following the right hon. Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor), who chairs the Intelligence and Security Committee, I begin by saying that all those to whom I have spoken share the view that although it is good that we are having the debate—I hope that it becomes an annual, instead of an irregular, event in the parliamentary calendar—there should be a corresponding meeting of the ministerial group to which the right hon. Lady referred. I hope that between this year and next year the calendar for our discussion of these matters will be confirmed and Ministers will be able to find time in their diaries to come together under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister to review across all the relevant Departments the way in which our intelligence and related agencies do their jobs. We are all grateful to, and pay tribute to, those who work in those agencies, as well as to those who do similar work in the police and in the defence services, not least in the past year.

I do not come to this debate as an expert. In that respect, I defer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), who preceded me in speaking on home affairs for the Liberal Democrats and has for several years served with distinction on the Committee, and to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), who has surveyed such matters from a foreign affairs perspective over many years. However, after two and a half years of dealing with home affairs, I am already a veteran of many pieces of legislation concerning such issues. The Home Secretary and his predecessor may have been trying to make us tortured liberals simply by giving us so much relevant legislation. We have survived, and I do not feel tortured yet.

I hope that the record will show that we have seen it as a fundamentally important part of our job to scrutinise legislation on increasing the general powers of the state or the specific powers of part of the state. Given that on one occasion last year such a piece of legislation was put through Parliament on an emergency timetable, we have had a particularly important job to do in ensuring that citizens' liberties are properly looked after and defended and that the legislation that we pass is subject to the same level of scrutiny as we would wish for were we on the receiving end of the activities of the intelligence services or other agencies of the state.

Until recently, intelligence issues were the interest of the few, but the events of 11 September have made them much more the interest of the many. The press—tabloid as well as broadsheet—report much more of what we and other countries do as regards such matters. It is fair to say not only that intelligence is as essential to our national security as it has ever been, but that our defence now depends as much on intelligence as on anything else. If one surveys what happens around the world, it is clear that the activities of enemies of the state, which used to be principally overt, have become increasingly covert, so we depend much more on intelligence activities to know what other countries and people are doing. At home, we have intelligence-led policing; in foreign affairs, we have intelligence-led foreign policy. That is right, and we need to ensure that the people who do that job are up to it.

Mention has been made of one balance that needs to be struck, but it seems to me that we need to strike two balances. There is the balance between the level of information and accountability that the intelligence services need to have to Parliament and the balance between the level of liberty and entitlement that the citizen has vis-a-vis the security and intelligence services.

Since 11 September, particularly in recent days, a huge debate has raged in the United States about whether everything was done properly as regards intelligence gathering and understanding. As a result, no less a person than the President has decided that there should be an entire review of the working of the traditional intelligence agencies—the FBI and the CIA—and effectively a new start through the creation of a new organisation. I think that my right hon. Friends share the view that because defining the boundaries between work at home and work abroad by people seeking to undermine the state is increasingly problematic, merely to collaborate and work well together—to pick up the point made by the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan)—may not be sufficient. I should like both the Committee and the Government to look afresh at whether the old division between MI5 and MI6—the two principal services—and the link between them and the National Criminal Intelligence Service should be reviewed, because they often undertake overlapping and interconnected tasks in a way that may not be the most helpful, let alone the most efficient from a budgetary point of view.

We have no reason to doubt that our services do a world-class job, and we pay tribute to them for that. Given that, Parliament perhaps needs to have more ability to direct, and Ministers to co-ordinate, what they do and how they do it. Four questions follow from that. First, one of the lessons of the past 12 months has been that we have benefited hugely from our intelligence-sharing links with the United States. That will remain fundamentally important, irrespective of our position in Europe and our Commonwealth obligations. However, if the US is now calling for much greater intelligence co-operation, and expects and needs that to happen, we must ensure that we are in a position to participate appropriately. That begs several questions. Are we sharing enough information? Are we sharing the right information? Are we sharing it with all the people who need it? If so, how do we regulate and manage the process to ensure that we do it properly and accountably?

Secondly, we are having this debate a matter of days before the announcement of the comprehensive spending review. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed said, if more work is to be done in relation to internationally organised crime, such as drugs crime, the report does not suggest that there is any current capacity to secure additional resources for that, and there may be a case for providing more resources. If so, that should happen. Two areas leap out as being ones in which we cannot afford to have resources that are not up to the job.

The first is information technology. We have not been the best country in the world for public services with the most up-to-date and well-functioning information technology, and the report makes it clear that deficits in that respect need to be addressed.

The second area is secure communications equipment. Hon. Members will remember that that issue cropped up a few weeks ago in the context of somebody who had been intercepting domestic communications between special branch personnel guarding royalty and the diplomatic service. I happen to know from an incidental personal experience that the police have been very troubled by the inadequacy of their communications equipment. The report tells us that the same applies in relation to our intelligence agencies, so that, too, is a budgetary priority.

Thirdly, if terrorist organisations are increasingly involved with international criminality—if that is how they get their money and resource themselves—we need to consider with greater urgency the arrangements for co-operation between the intelligence services and domestic and other police services. I pay tribute here to the Metropolitan police, who, I know, do a lot of international anti-terrorist work, as do others. I have been privileged to understand, share and be briefed on a considerable amount of that work. The Met must be in the loop and part of the planning and decision making.

I want to take further the exchange between the Home Secretary and the shadow Home Secretary. There have been four major pieces of legislation over the past two years: the Terrorism Act 2000, the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 and the Freedom of Information Act 2000. In addition, we are about to have a proceeds of crime Act. In each, we have looked afresh at the definitions of national security, and there have been different justifications for when agencies can intervene.

For example, under the proposed extension of the RIPA to other agencies such as local government—a controversial issue on which the Home Secretary had to withdraw a Government proposal—there were eight grounds on which access to data could be justified. Some were to do with the economic well-being of the UK, public safety, national security, and the prevention or detection of crime. For the sake of everybody involved, there must be a common definition of when agencies working on behalf of the state can acquire information. I would welcome a debate across Departments and parties to ensure that we do not have to row about wording, which in the end produces different ad hoc solutions to very important and tightly defined areas of power and responsibility.

Lastly, now that we have dealt as well as we can with the events following last September, I suspect that citizens in this country think that the biggest threat facing the world—it certainly appears to be the view in the United States—is that posed by Saddam Hussein and his chemical, biological and nuclear weapons potential. Although my party, like others, has been appropriately briefed on the best information that there is about the weapons that he has and his capacity, it strikes me that if we are to make intelligent decisions on policies that have public confidence, they need to be informed by our own intelligence gathering and assessment. We must not rely on second-hand intelligence. If we are to be party to a responsive action with allies to deal with a threat from Iraq, we need to know of that threat from our own sources. The history of intelligence, perhaps as recently as last year, shows that one weakness is that although there may not have been a shortage of information, there has been a shortage of analysis and of understanding of the conclusions drawn from the information. If we do not analyse and interpret it properly, it is often not much use.

The report notes that we are deficient in people who speak all the languages that may be needed in the intelligence services. If the BBC World Service, to its great credit, can manage to recruit people to communicate across the world, especially in areas of tension and conflict, it is a great failing when the intelligence services cannot do the same.

The recruitment policies of intelligence agencies are much more open than they used to be. It is no longer exclusively the tap on the shoulder at university. Much more frequently, adverts appear in the weekly jobs column of the national press. We should be careful not to discriminate inadvertently against those whom we might need most. We need more people who come from the Arab world and from Muslim backgrounds in our intelligence services. I therefore hope that our deficiency in the spread of people doing the job can be urgently corrected.

Mr. Prisk

Although I understand the hon. Gentleman's wish to see a more positive approach to recruitment, I am sure that he recognises that the employment criteria and vetting for the intelligence services are somewhat different from that of the BBC World Service.

Simon Hughes

Absolutely; I mentioned the World Service only as an example.

There has been a terrible growth in gun crime in this country; we are not stopping guns coming across the borders. The Home Affairs Committee recommended a common border force. I would be interested to know whether the intelligence agencies and the Government have considered whether we would do far better on all our external border issues if we reduced the number of different agencies that have different objectives—the police, the immigration service, Customs and Excise—to achieve more efficient management of people, goods and traffic reaching our shores.

The Liberal Democrats have always argued that there should be greater accountability of the intelligence services to the House. We keep to that case: there ought to be and could be more openness, and it would be good if, in this Parliament, the Committee became a proper Select Committee like the Defence Committee. I hope that that can be achieved, and that we can therefore continue to support the intelligence services while exercising greater but appropriate scrutiny of them both on the Floor of the House and in Committee.

3.55 pm
Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East and Washington, West)

I too speak as a new member of the Intelligence and Security Committee, and as someone who has found its work during the past year fascinating and worth while. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend—and good friend—the Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor), who as a new Chairman has chaired it with skill and total fairness.

None of us who serves or who has served on the Committee could have expected that the issues with which we deal would suddenly become so pressing or topical as they certainly have been since the tragic events of 11 September. Indeed, it is remarkable that, in the debate in the House on intelligence services slightly more than a year ago, there was little mention of Afghanistan and no mention of al-Qaeda. However, it is also true that my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), the then Foreign Secretary, struck a telling note when he said: The threats to our national security do not come only from other Governments. The danger to the life and safety of British citizens is more likely, in practice, to come from terrorist groups."—[Official Report, 29 March 2001; Vol. 365, c. 1124.] All members of the Committee are interested in and sometimes concerned about the perception of it. I well remember the recent press conference at which we presented our report. Members of the press were uncertain about which breed of dog we were—tame poodles or Rottweilers leaping from our kennels. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that people are sometimes inconsistent in criticising our work or that of the agencies as either threatening liberties or not going far enough in protecting our citizens and taking effective action against those who pose a threat.

I certainly did not join the Committee simply to listen meekly and accept what I was told unquestioningly. There would be little point in that and little job satisfaction in not using the opportunity of Committee membership to ask searching questions to probe the workings of the agencies. I therefore believe that all of us on the Committee approach that role very seriously.

From reading our debates in Parliament on the subject, I know that colleagues take a much more measured and realistic view of the Committee's role, although I note that interesting comments have been made about how it might evolve. As members of the Committee, we are always thinking about that. Occasions such as this allow opportunities for an exchange of views between those of us who happen to be members of the Committee and those of us who are not but who none the less are tremendously concerned about and interested in the issues with which we deal. My right hon. Friend the Chairman of the Committee recently sent hon. Members a booklet about its work, in which I hope all hon. Members, whether or not present today, will take an interest and use as a way to foster dialogue with those of us who serve on it.

I agree with the comments that have been made about the valuable nature of the work of the agencies. I also endorse what has been said about the fact that some of the targets that the agencies are attempting to find out about are, by their very nature, hard and elusive ones. Unfortunately, the price of failure by any intelligence agency anywhere in the world is high. It is often said that terrorists have to be successful only once to cause havoc and have a huge impact.

I shall refer briefly to one or two items in the report about which I feel particularly strongly. One involves resources, which a number of right hon. and hon. Members have already mentioned. We believe strongly that the services should be able to access the resources that they require, although it is always true that they could always do more with more money. That is self-evident, but, at the same time, we have to ensure as far as we can that they have the resources to carry out the necessary range of tasks.

Language training has been mentioned, most recently by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes). That is an important issue, although it must be recognised that there is a long lead-in time involved in such training, which is why assessments, and their analysis, are important in ensuring that action taken to recruit and train can, if possible, be taken at the right time to ensure the availability of those language abilities to the services.

I also feel strongly about the issue of co-ordination. My right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury mentioned the fact that the ministerial Committee had not met, and that is something that I, too, feel strongly about. Obviously, we know that the relevant Ministers meet during a crisis, and that has been happening with great regularity and frequency since 11 September. We all feel, however, that if hindsight is a wonderful thing, so are lateral thinking and the sharing of information. Having Ministers across the relevant Departments looking at the issues, evaluating trends, and asking questions of the services in a joined-up way is an important task that should be undertaken. I do not believe that there should be self-contained ministerial bailiwicks in this field. Having been a Minister myself, both in the Home Office and the Foreign Office, I am aware of the usefulness of co-ordination. If the Home Office is examining drugs policy, for example, the fact that some of the states that supply drugs might also—from a foreign policy point of view—present real dangers and threats to the rest of us should be considered jointly, and we would like to urge Ministers to adopt such a joint approach.

International co-operation is also important, as a number of hon. Members have mentioned. Obviously, our co-operation with the United States is very close, and very welcome, as is our co-operation with other countries such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and, increasingly, with the European Union. We must also examine opportunities for working with other countries, as they appear. The situation with Russia, for example, is very different from what it used to be, and Russia and other countries could well have intelligence information that it would be extremely useful to share.

There are difficulties involved in such international co-operation. Building up sufficient trust presents a challenge, as does the fact that countries work in different conditions and geographical contexts, and have different legal systems and priorities. The gains from effective international co-operation are, none the less, important, and can benefit us all. One striking feature of the events of 11 September—and the preparations that had gone into them—was the fact that the terrorists concerned had passed through and stayed in several different countries, and shown themselves to be highly internationally mobile. International co-operation is, therefore, the key to an effective response to such operations.

A number of challenges have arisen specifically from the experience of 11 September. The disruption to terrorist networks is certainly welcome, but it may also mean that many well-known terrorist networks could now disappear or go underground, and that terrorists themselves could move on to different countries from the ones in which they have most recently been operating. That provides a real challenge for the intelligence services.

As the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey mentioned, it is important that new technologies provide effective communications systems that can withstand electronic attack from outside, as well as systems that are capable of penetrating terrorist networks. That, too, is a continuing challenge.

New technologies must continue to be combined with traditional approaches. If we think of the threats to the communications and transport systems here in the capital, for example, vigilance by travellers and the public is also an important, but basic, need. The ways in which the Government and the police alert people to the action that they should take if they perceive a threat will continue to be important, and I urge Ministers seriously to consider that dimension.

Reference has been made to the new machinery of government that has been set up, along with the appointment of Sir David Omand as security and intelligence co-ordinator as well as permanent secretary to the Cabinet Office. I would like to take this opportunity to pay personal tribute to Sir David, with whom I had the pleasure of working when I was a Minister in the Home Office along with my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), now the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, who was a Minister with me at that time. My hon. Friend and I, and other hon. Friends, will be delighted that Sir David, after battling courageously with illness, has been able to take up such a key role, and it would be impossible to find a better qualified candidate to do this work. I hope that he will ensure that some of the points about co-ordination that we have raised in this debate will be properly addressed.

I conclude by reiterating my thanks to the staff of the services, who deserve respect for the work that they do in protecting and defending us in the sometimes dangerous and always complex world in which we live.

4.8 pm

Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling)

I wish to devote my remarks largely to the intelligence dimension prior to 11 September and, even more importantly, subsequent to that date. First, I wish to make a point about the status of the Intelligence and Security Committee. The Chairman of the Committee, the right hon. Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor), made a helpful and informative speech, in which she said that her views on the evolution of the Committee were not static. I would like to offer her a proposal relating to evolution.

When the Committee was established under the previous Conservative Government, it was established not as a Committee of the House but under statute, reporting not to the House but to the Prime Minister. Those special arrangements were made as a reflection of the sensitive work of the Committee and were, by implication, coupled with a degree of anxiety at that time about the security reliability of a Committee of Members of Parliament. I am not a member of the Committee, but on the basis of many years' experience of its work I can say that, as far as I am aware, there has not been a single leak from it.

Some of us serve on Select Committees that deal with classified material from time to time—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord)

Order. Members must control electronic devices.

Sir John Stanley

I am a member of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, which does indeed deal with classified material from time to time. I know of no occasion on which a Select Committee has not reached an agreement with the Government of the day on what material should be excised from its report on security grounds.

Against that background, I think it right in constitutional terms for the Intelligence and Security Committee to become a Select Committee of the House. That does not imply that there should be any change in its membership, or that it should cease to meet in private and at its chosen location. The intelligence services, however, are an extremely important element of the Executive of the day, and I believe that, like all parts of the Executive, they should be accountable to this sovereign legislature, the House of Commons.

Let me now return to 11 September, which was by definition an intelligence failure. Whether that failure was entirely forgivable and understandable in the circumstances or whether it was preventable remains to be seen. As the right hon. Member for Dewsbury said, the relevant congressional committees are subjecting the matter to detailed investigation; we await their reports and such evidence as they can place in the public domain. What is undeniable, however, is that the appalling and tragic events of 11 September were the logical continuation of a clearly established pattern of terrorism in which United States personnel were the principal targets and in which modes of transport were steered, directed or driven by those who were prepared to take their own lives in a suicide attack.

The use of suicide attacks by truck drivers began most intensively in Beirut in 1983. Members will recall that more than 200 US marines were murdered in that way. The mid-1990s saw the uncovering of a plot for the multiple takeover of US civil airliners, and the crashing of those airliners, with passengers, into the Pacific ocean. Less than a year before 11 September, al-Qaeda had adopted a new, seaborne mode of transport and had killed 17 US sailors on USS Cole. That was a demonstrable pattern of terrorist attack. It was observed and documented, and its logical progression was at least seen by a limited number of people.

In paragraph 18 of our latest report, we on the Foreign Affairs Committee refer to the report of the US National Intelligence Council, which was placed in the library of Congress in 1999. It stated: Suicide bombers belonging to al-Qaeda's Martyrdom Battalion could crash-land an aircraft packed with high explosives (C4 and Semtex) into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the CIA or the White House". That was an extraordinarily perceptive and prescient warning—given, as I said, in 1999.

As the right hon. Member for Dewsbury observed, these issues are principally for the American intelligence agencies. The Committee rightly pointed out, however, that 11 September saw a greater loss of life among United Kingdom citizens than any other single terrorist attack. I feel that there are key questions for the British intelligence agencies, and therefore for the Committee.

First, is the Committee satisfied that our own intelligence agencies did all they could before 11 September to identify al-Qaeda operatives who were either living in or passing through this country? Details of a number of them have at least appeared in the press and in court proceedings since 11 September. Secondly, is the Committee satisfied that our agencies did all that they reasonably could in the circumstances to try to identify the target of the next al-Qaeda attack, of which there were clearly considerable, at least generalised, warnings?

Dr. Julian Lewis

May I ask a question in that context, relating particularly to the first point? Is my right hon. Friend aware that the assassination of General Masoud appears to have been orchestrated by a man called Yassir el-Sirri—who provided the assassins with press credentials which they used to get into Masoud's presence—that this man had been sheltered in London for a long time, and that we had refused Egypt's request for his extradition for past terrorist offences?

Sir John Stanley

I depend on open sources, as does my hon. Friend, but I am well aware of the extensive press comment about various individuals alleged to be associated or connected with al-Qaeda who have been resident in and have passed through this country.

I welcomed what the right hon. Member for Dewsbury said about the way in which 11 September issues had dominated the Committee's work. I was not sure whether that was so on the basis of the report, but the right hon. Lady made it very clear today. Looking at the paragraph about the future programme of work, I was somewhat surprised that it did not include—explicitly and clearly—scrutiny of the agencies' work to counter terrorist threats to the UK. Perhaps that is implicit, but the House and indeed the wider public might have been reassured had it been stated more explicitly.

Let me now deal with the situation post-11 September. Our intelligence agencies are now more important to the country's security than they have ever been in peacetime. Until the advent of al-Qaeda and 11 September, security in major defence terms depended essentially on deterrence, and on possession of military capability to ensure that deterrence was credible. Today, we must deal with a security threat to this country involving people to whom deterrence must be more or less meaningless.

I cannot believe that someone who is prepared to commit suicide as part of a terrorist attack will be influenced in the least by the prospect of retaliation. Nor can I believe that someone with nothing to lose—who is not head of a state organisation, and has no massive personal power as such—will be deterred by any prospect of retaliatory action.

Therefore, although for the whole period since the second world war we have relied on deterrence to protect the security of this country, and indeed it has done so, we are now confronted by a terrorist enemy for whom deterrence is no deterrent at all in terms of this country's military capability. In my view, that means that the intelligence agencies are now our first and possibly our last line of defence for the civilian population. Coupled with that is the clear evidence that this terrorist enemy is bent on moving from conventional attack to attack using weapons of mass destruction. That was made clear as early as 14 September last year by the Prime Minister. Three days after the terrorist attack on New York, he said to the House: We know that they would if they could go further and use chemical, biological or even nuclear weapons of mass destruction."—[Official Report, 14 September 2001; Vol. 372, c.606.] The Prime Minister's statement on 14 September has subsequently been amply confirmed, certainly by what has appeared in the press, by the discoveries made by our forces in Afghanistan in al-Qaeda safe houses and buildings of documents clearly pointing to al-Qaeda's determination to try to move towards weapons of mass destruction.

The implications for the civil population of this country are potentially horrendous. Conventional attack can lead to the death of thousands as happened in New York. Attack using weapons of mass destruction could lead to the possible loss of lives in the hundreds of thousands or conceivably a million or more.

The Brooking Institution, in a detailed paper published in April, put the possible fatalities from a terrorist attack using a nuclear bomb detonated in a major US city at 100,000 and the possible fatalities of an Efficient biological attack (for example, clandestine wide dispersal of a contagious agent such as ebola, smallpox or anthrax) at 1 million.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, in the paper that it placed in the Library of the House of Commons on 4 February 1998, stated: One hundred kilograms of anthrax released from the top of a tall building in a densely populated area could kill up to three million people. I now move on to the probability or possibility of such a threat materialising and I refer to the House what was publicised by the European security chiefs just a few weeks ago. The article reporting what they said was published in a number of papers. On 20 June, the International Herald Tribune said: Top European security chiefs said Wednesday that a terror assault on Europe was almost inevitable, and that the next attack on the West could be nuclear. David Veness, the head of Britain's anti-terrorist police, said that a nuclear or biological attack was 'sadly, the next logical step' while the director of the European Union's police agency, Europol, said that it was a question of 'when and where,' not 'if' an attack would occur in Europe. Against the grim realities that deterrence cannot begin to be relied upon against this particular threat, that intelligence is now our first and possibly last line of defence, that al-Qaeda is moving towards acquiring weapons of mass destruction and that the top European security chiefs are saying that it is not a matter of if, but when and where, I believe that only one policy conclusion can be adopted. Nothing must be spared to give our British intelligence agencies the financial resources that they need, the skilled personnel resources that they need and the technology and equipment that they need in order to try to identify and prevent such an attack. I repeat: nothing must be spared—absolutely nothing.

4.25 pm
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

I was a friend from 1967 until he died in March 1981 of the late Sir Maurice Oldfield, head of MI6 from 1973 to 1978. During my national service with the Scots Greys in the Rhine Army in 1951–52, I had a good deal to do with field intelligence. As Richard Crossman's Parliamentary Private Secretary from 1964 to 1970, on account of his wartime background in intelligence dealing with the Americans on General Bedell Smith's staff in Algiers from 1943 onwards, I got to know well George Wigg, Solly Zuckerman, Harry Chapman Pincher, Hugh Carlton Green and other members of the intelligence community.

I say this simply to establish that I am neither silly about nor antagonistic to the intelligence community. Many fine people have worked for it to the advantage of us all.

I want succinctly to raise one aspect of intelligence and it refers to Lockerbie. The Lockerbie relative, Martin Cadman, who lost his son in the Pan Am disaster, tells me that relatives of air victims including Dr. and Mrs. Jim Swire, Barrie Berkley, Mrs. Elizabeth Delude-Dix and himself met the US President's Commission on Aviation Security and Terrorism in the US embassy in London on Friday 16 February 1990 from 18.10 to 19.10. Much of that important meeting was taken up with the treatment of relatives by the US authorities after the disaster.

After the meeting was over, Mr. Cadman, who is highly credible and well known to a number of hon. Members, said that one commissioner, whose name he did not know said to him: Your government and our government know exactly what happened at Lockerbie. But they are not going to tell. That statement has been published in a letter to The Guardian, in the film "The Maltese Double Cross" and in the special report from Private Eye "Lockerbie, The Flight from Justice May/June 2001". It has never been denied.

The commission was set up on 4 August 1989. It began its work in November 1989 and reported on 15 May 1990. The seven commissioners comprised two members from the US Senate, two from the House of Representatives, representing both parties equally, and three other members from the private sector with expertise in aviation transportation, aviation security or counter-terrorism. Their names were as follows: the chairman was Ann McLaughlin, former Secretary of Labour; Representative John Paul Hammerschmidt from Arkansas; Senator Frank Lautenburg from New Jersey; General Thomas Richards, deputy commander of US forces in western Germany; Senator Alfonse D'Amato of New York; Edward Hidalgo, the former US Navy Secretary and James Oberstar, Representative from Minnesota. They were serious people.

Against this background I ask the following questions. First, do the British security and intelligence services have any knowledge of an $11 million payment having been received by the PFLP-GC, the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine—General Command, on or about 23 December 1988 evidenced by a credit to a bank in Lausanne and a credit to the Degussa bank in Frankfurt and moved from there to an account at the Banque National de Paris and thence to one at the Hungarian Development bank?

Secondly, does British intelligence have knowledge of a payment of $500,000 on or about 25 April 1989 to Mohammed Abu Talb, a convicted murderer, who was an incriminee at the Lockerbie trial, and a long-term suspect in the Pan-Am 103 bombing? Incidentally, I was at Camp Zeist when Talb was questioned.

If the security and intelligence services had any knowledge of either payments, did they communicate it—in whole or in part—to any police force in the UK, and/or to the Crown Office, Edinburgh? If such knowledge was imparted, when was it imparted?

What was the relationship between British intelligence and two officials—Mr. Dana Biehl and Mr. Brian Murtaugh—from an office that forms part of the US Department of Justice, who sat beside the prosecution in a supposedly independent Scottish court throughout the Lockerbie trial?

These questions are well known to Ministers through the work of the distinguished Austrian jurist Hans Koechler, who was asked to attend the trial at Camp Zeist by Kofi Annan.

When Mr. Alan Turnbull and Mr. Norman McFadyen went to the US embassy in The Hague on the Lord Advocate's behalf on or about 1 June 2000 to view unredacted CIA cables—recording meetings with the prosecution witness, Jiacha—was an assurance or undertaking given by them, whether written or verbal, to British intelligence or to the US authorities that they would not disclose what they had been shown? If any such assurance or undertaking was given, to whom was it given, and in what words?

It is a matter of public record that the new head of MI5, Miss Eliza Manningham-Buller, has been greatly involved in Lockerbie. I do not know Miss Manningham-Buller, but I should recall that her father—the late Lord Dilhorne, as Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller—was the first Attorney-General in this House with whom I had dealings when I was a very young MP. He was extremely kind, painstaking and nice on the one occasion that I had to speak to him in his capacity as Attorney General, and subsequently as Lord Chancellor. I can say nothing other than that I think extremely well of him.

Ministers should have a very frank discussion about what Miss Manningham-Buller and her colleagues know about the public record in relation to Lockerbie. We are not talking about simply a few who share my view. President Mandela has visited Abdel Bassett al Megrahi in Barlinnie prison. I spent two and a half hours visiting him, and in my view this is the most spectacular miscarriage of justice in not only Scottish, but British legal history. There ought to be a public inquiry, because in this instance, adversarial court procedures were wholly inappropriate to the objective of finding the truth. In keeping with his promise to the relatives, I hope that, before the summer recess, the Foreign Secretary will announce the setting up of a public inquiry into the international aspects of the crime that was Lockerbie.

4.34 pm
Mr. James Arbuthnot (North-East Hampshire)

I echo the remarks of the right hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Joyce Quin) by congratulating the Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee on the way in which she has taken on her role. She has had the difficult task of keeping us effective and focused, and she has carried it off with style.

I should begin by declaring an interest. I am an underwriting member of Lloyd's, and as such I, along with other members, suffered in a financial way on 11 September. However, I should count my blessings. Many people lost much more than their money—they lost their lives or members of their family. On 11 September, the world came to recognise that not everyone shares the same values, and that if we want liberal democracies to continue to exist, we will have to fight for them. Indeed, that is what our intelligence and security services do, day in, day out. Although the Committee's report has criticised certain aspects of what they do, those criticisms must be seen in the light of the fact that this country is extremely well served by those services.

Take, for example, our criticism of the accounts of GCHQ, which was mentioned by the Committee's Chairman. It is a matter of serious concern to the Committee that GCHQ has yet to get to grips with the consequences of resource accounting. For GCHQ to have its accounts qualified two years running is not at all impressive, and the Committee is concerned that that might happen for a third year running. GCHQ really must begin to take this issue seriously. It says that it is doing so, and I hope that we shall discover next year that it has.

On the other hand, GCHQ's communications work is extraordinarily impressive, and after all, that is what it is there for. It makes an internationally and rightly acclaimed major contribution to the fight against terrorism, drugs and serious crime. So when we criticise the bean counting, let that not overshadow our views on the war fighting.

The same goes for the Secret Intelligence Service and the Security Service. They work energetically and effectively, and sometimes in circumstances of considerable danger, in defence of this country. I shall not discuss our report in detail because the House has read it and would rapidly lose patience, but in general, the intelligence machinery in this country works as well as we allow it to. It is clear that we put checks on the activities of the intelligence and security services, and for good reason—we were all brought up on the book "Nineteen Eighty-Four." However, in the Committee's opinion there is one respect in which the system simply does not work. Ministerial meetings to discuss the policy and direction of the intelligence and security services are, in the Committee's opinion, essential to scrutiny of the services, and to giving them genuine and informed political direction. Provision is made for such meetings, but for reasons which are not sinister, they simply have not happened.

As a result, although there is political direction from relevant individual Ministers—including the Prime Minister—no opportunity exists for Ministers to spark off each other, to cross-fertilise ideas, to fire the imagination of other Ministers, and to create a view that is perhaps anarchic but none the worse for that. Because of 11 September, the need now exists in this field for a sparky imagination—a point to which I shall return.

Inevitably, the Joint Intelligence Committee comes up with a pooled assessment of intelligence—that is what it is there for. In that respect, it avoids the communication problems—sometimes experienced in the United States—to which the existence of numerous different organisations leads. That is the advantage of our system, but the pooling process inevitably knocks some raw edges off the intelligence that passes through it. It may be unfair to call the product bland, but it would be fair to call it homogenised. In those circumstances, it is not at all a good thing that the ministerial committee for overseeing the intelligence machinery has not met, other than in the extraordinary circumstances of the War Cabinet. I do not believe that there is anything sinister about that, but only one person can put it right—the Prime Minister. It is possible that he may feel that the system works well enough. He sees the papers, receives the advice and gives the political direction, and he may feel that further ministerial involvement would be more of a nuisance and a waste of time than a benefit. If he does feel that, he is wrong. Collective discussion by Ministers about the general direction of the intelligence and security services might throw up ideas that people were not expecting, and the fact that Ministers might have an overwhelming number of issues to discuss should not be reason for failing to discuss any of them. The Prime Minister should perhaps remember that he leads the Government rather than is the Government.

I said that I would return to the issue of imagination, and I shall do so in the context of 11 September. How easy it is to say, with the torchlight of hindsight shining full on those dreadful events, that there was a failure of intelligence. In various respects, that can be said, but the agencies both here and in the United States received masses of bits of information—sometimes hundreds of different strands a week, some of it conflicting and almost all of it inaccurate. For us, with the benefit of hindsight, to expect them to know which bits were true and which were not, and to be able to add all those together in the right order and with the right emphasis and then to deduce some method of stopping what was about to happen, would not—on the basis of what I currently know—be either fair or realistic.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley) said that there was an intelligence failure, and he was right in some respects. However, for the intelligence services to know what was going to happen would have depended on a security lapse in the al-Qaeda organisation. That security lapse did not happen in a way that meant that the security services could take advantage of it.

Dr. Julian Lewis

If what my right hon. Friend is saying is correct, surely the implication is that the intelligence services have to be proactive. If we cannot rely on a terrorist cell to leak, we need to acquire enough intelligence to disrupt it so that it cannot proceed with its plans, even if we do not know what those plans are.

Mr. Arbuthnot

My hon. Friend is right to say that the intelligence services must be proactive. However, we should not give the impression that this country's intelligence services—or for that matter, those of the US—are not proactive, because they are highly so. However, they cannot know everything that is thought, done or planned. If they could, I suspect that the House would be extremely concerned.

In one respect, I agree with the remarks on the failure of intelligence by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling. The security of the western world has been predicated on the idea that those who would attack us would wish to survive themselves. We had not paid enough attention to suicide as a weapon. That charge cannot be laid solely at the door of the security services or those in charge of them in this country, because the western world as a whole had failed to follow through the implications of what had begun in Beirut, been taken up by Hamas and been pursued in the attack on the USS Cole. For example, the normal procedure in dealing with hijacking was that those in charge of the aircraft should go along with whatever it was that the hijackers asked. That was a weakness that Osama bin Laden recognised and acted on with ruthless imagination.

Osama bin Laden was capable of using imagination, and we knew that. He had done so in many different aspects of his life and the western world did not have the imagination to predict how far he would take it. So it was a failure of imagination more than a failure of intelligence. Our imagination could fail us again. If we spend the next few months trying to stop people flying aeroplanes into buildings, we will miss the point. We need to do that, but we also need to think more like those who threaten us think, instead of how we have thought in the past. The issue is not what al-Qaeda, or similar groups, did last but what they might do next.

Where are we vulnerable? We used to need to protect strong points, such as power stations, water supplies and critical manufacturers. Now that our society has become so complicated and interdependent, the key to our survival is not so much strong points as systems. Those systems are often in the control of the private sector. Public confidence in our computer systems, for example, is as important as public confidence in the World Trade Centre. Therefore, we need to use our imaginations to build up a picture of how those computer systems could be vulnerable. I know that much thought is going into that and it is essential that it should.

We also need to consider not only the spectacular results of terrorism, but what gives birth to terror in the first place. That is not an issue that we consider in our report, perhaps because we think that it would be more the province of the Foreign Affairs Committee. Nevertheless, the question came up at a conference that we hosted in May, in London, of international intelligence review agencies. It was suggested that one cause of terrorism was the widening global socio-economic divide. It is possible that the western world has drastically underestimated the effect of global climate change. As water becomes scarcer, or poor hot countries become less amenable to growing food for us, the seeds of conflict will grow. Those are essential questions and the country will need to be reassured that they are being considered by someone, whether in government, the agencies or the academic world, on the basis of proper intelligence and with the ability to take the necessary policy decisions that will flow from the answers. I should be most grateful for assurances on that issue from the Foreign Secretary when he winds up.

4.48 pm
Dr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh)

I am pleased to follow the right hon. Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot), who is a conscientious and highly effective member of the Committee. I fully endorse the tribute that he paid to my right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor) for the excellent leadership that she has provided in the past year.

Four years ago I was pleased to have the opportunity to speak in what was the first parliamentary debate on an Intelligence and Security Committee annual report. It was the first speech I had made in the House since rejoining the Back Benches. I sought that opportunity to speak because of the importance I attached to the work of the intelligence and security services and the Committee. Having had a year as a member of the Committee, I am now very pleased to be able to participate in this debate. I feel that I have secured a better understanding of the state's security apparatus, and also believe that the Committee is well served by its staff.

I have never been under any illusion as to the necessity of deploying adequate resources in this area. It has been a pleasure to meet many of the dedicated public servants who work for the agencies. I do not intend to spend much time on the role of the Committee in relation to the agencies. It is a fascinating question, which I am still in the process of trying to answer for myself. However, I am convinced that there is a legitimate function for the Committee. I also believe that the senior people in our security and intelligence services recognise the Committee's value to the democratic process. One reason for that recognition is that, to my knowledge, no secret information shared with the Committee has leaked into the public domain, a point that a number of right hon. and hon. Members have made this afternoon. It goes without saying that the value of the work of the Committee depends on the extent to which senior Ministers and senior staff in the intelligence community are fully open with the Committee.

On the day my hon. Friends and I were appointed to the Committee last summer, no one could have guessed that before we would hold our first formal meeting, the landscape that the Committee surveyed would be drastically altered. It is worth mentioning that all four members of the Committee who have spoken so far this afternoon, including me, are relatively new and were appointed a year ago.

I am in no doubt that the atrocities of 11 September changed the world because of the scale of the civilian slaughter, which left 3,000 people dead, the spectacular nature of the attacks—images of which were brought straight into our living rooms by television—and the level of organisation required to co-ordinate the strikes throughout the United States. Moreover, the United States had not previously seen its homeland as a target for international terrorism. It is my view that if the terrorists responsible for the atrocities on 11 September could have killed more people, they would have done so. We should be concerned that terrorists in the future will try to do just that.

In its second report published in December, the Select Committee on Defence concluded:

There seems little doubt that terrorist organisations could obtain the necessary materials for chemical, biological or radiological weapons…Although we have seen no evidence that either al Qaeda or other terrorist groups are actively planning to use chemical, biological and radiological weapons, we can see no reason to believe that people who are prepared to fly passenger planes into tower blocks would balk at using such weapons. The risk that they will do so cannot be ignored". The Select Committee is right. We ignore the risks of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction at our peril.

In its annual report, the Intelligence and Security Committee sets out a future programme of work. The threat from international terrorism is one reason why I am very pleased that the Committee has included in its future programme an item on the work of the agencies to counter the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The Committee looked at the issue and reported on it in its annual report of 1998–99, but matters have moved on in the three years since then, and we need to do more.

Until recently, terrorist leaders apparently did not consider that mass civilian slaughter on the scale that we have now witnessed would further their aims. Perhaps the Tokyo sarin gas attack in 1995 marked the watershed. The concern is that to achieve the desired effect—terror—terrorists need continually to increase the levels of violence to secure the necessary impact on the target population and in the media. We have to ask ourselves what they will try next. There is surely a real and increasing threat that terrorists will obtain and use weapons of mass destruction.

I should like to concentrate on the orthodox categories of chemical, biological and radiological or nuclear weapons of mass destruction, although the House will be all too well aware that terrorists have already proved capable of turning a jet plane into a weapon of large-scale destruction.

Acquiring chemical weapons is relatively easy. There is access to ingredients for nerve agents, and so on, on the open market, and the science is not difficult. As I have mentioned, the Aum group in Japan successfully prepared and released sarin gas in the Tokyo underground in 1995. Terrorists may not need to bother preparing chemical weapons—there are great stockpiles world wide. As the Defence Committee stated, there is concern that these weapons may find their way into the hands of terrorist groups.

Getting hold of biological agents can also be straightforward. Many agents can be bought from legitimate suppliers or acquired from laboratories by theft or through a laboratory worker. There have been a number of incidents in which terrorists have been found in possession of biological agents. Professor Graham Pearson, former director of the chemical defence establishment at Porton Down and visiting professor at the university of Bradford, told the Defence Committee that, of the three types of weapons of mass destruction, it is clear that biological weapons present the greatest danger today…as they are the easiest to acquire, have the weakest regime and yet have effects comparable to nuclear weapons. The availability of the ingredients necessary to construct a nuclear device is increasing. With plutonium and highly enriched uranium becoming more available, it will be increasingly possible to get the fissile material necessary to make a nuclear explosive device. The increasing trade in mixed oxide fuel is of particular concern. The assessment of Dr. Frank Barnaby of the Oxford Research Group is that it would be relatively easy to remove plutonium oxide from mixed oxide fuel and use it to fabricate a nuclear weapon.

Opinions vary as to whether terrorists could use nuclear material to manufacture and successfully detonate a nuclear bomb. Mr. El Baradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said last November that such a development is "highly unlikely" but that "no scenario is impossible". However, Dr. Frank Barnaby believes that the construction of a crude nuclear weapon need not be beyond the capabilities of a sophisticated and well resourced terrorist group.

There is a flourishing black market in fissile materials. The International Atomic Energy Agency recorded 175 cases of trafficking in nuclear material between 1993 and 2000, 18 of which involved highly enriched uranium or plutonium.

We should not overlook the risk that nuclear warheads in the countries of the former Soviet Union could fall into the wrong hands. The International Atomic Energy Agency observed: another legacy of the Cold War are the disturbing reports, albeit unsubstantiated, of missing nuclear weapons. There are rumours of missing suitcase bombs. David Kyd of the IAEA told The Guardian in November that when he was in the Russian army, General Alexander Lebed claimed that a number of them had gone missing.

Finally, I should like to mention radiological weaponry. There has been a fair amount of press coverage recently of "dirty bombs"—that is, radioactive material distributed by a conventional explosion. Some radioactive isotopes suitable for constructing a dirty bomb have been smuggled on to the black market. Indeed, Chechen rebels placed a container of caesium-137 in a Moscow park in 1996.

IAEA experts are concerned that terrorists will develop a crude radiological dispersal device. The agency database includes 284 confirmed incidents of unauthorised movements of radioactive material other than nuclear material. Just two weeks ago, the agency warned that safeguards on powerful radioactive sources are inadequate, and called for cradle-to-grave control.

The security and intelligence services will be vital in countering the threat from terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. Human intelligence—infiltrating and recruiting—and signal intelligence in intercepting communications will be of huge importance. Because the wherewithal to create some weapons of mass destruction is available perfectly legally, intelligence will be our only defence against them.

Dr. Frank Barnaby warns: The intelligence and security communities should take the threat of the acquisition and use of weapons of mass destruction much more seriously than they do at the moment. I do not consider myself in a position to assess whether that is the case. It is a crucial question, and I am glad that the Committee will address it in the coming months.

Organised crime and terrorism have long been closely linked, and with the increase in global transport, trade and communications, organised crime and terrorism are spreading and strengthening their links. As terrorism and international crime endeavour to globalise, we must ensure that intelligence and security services are not hindered by national boundaries. I was pleased to see that at the recent summit in Canada the leaders of the G8 countries agreed to launch a new global partnership against the spread of weapons of mass destruction to help prevent such weapons from falling into the hands of terrorist groups. I should be interested to learn what effect that programme may have on the work of our security and intelligence agencies in this field.

I said at the outset that I valued the opportunity to consider these matters, along with my colleagues on the Intelligence and Security Committee. The world did change on 11 September. The Government have already recognised that by providing extra resources for the agencies. I agree with colleagues who have said that further investment will be needed in the medium to long term. I look forward to an important announcement on that next week.

Of course, international terrorism is not the only challenge that the agencies face—far from it. Indeed, we were only recently reminded that we still have a significant domestic terrorist threat. It is hard to think of anything more degrading to civilisation than the wanton slaughter of innocent people. There is all the difference in the world between the loss of life on the battlefield, among combatants, and the killing of men, women and children who just want to go about their daily lives in peace.

Of course, we must not be blind to the underlying historical or social causes of terrorism, but at the same time the House and the Government should give the highest priority to thwarting terrorists from wherever they come.

5 pm

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

The right hon. Member for Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh (Dr. Strang) is a conscientious new member of the Committee. In concentrating his remarks on traffic in weapons of mass destruction, he helps to underline the point that there are areas in which the agencies are currently actively involved from which it would be very wrong to divert funds. If we impose additional tasks on them, we must provide additional resources. We must maintain a high level of effort, but it does not come cheap: it is expensive and demanding work.

I echo the appreciation that has been expressed of the work of the agencies and their staff, and especially those who face real danger in going about that work. I also pay tribute to Sir Stephen Lander, who is about to retire and move into an interesting new field—I am glad that he is doing that rather than writing books. He has been an effective head of his organisation. He understood what it needed to do and what it was not appropriate for it to do. He knew where to concentrate the effort and where to draw the boundary lines.

I want to discuss the judgment on the forewarning, or lack of forewarning, of 11 September, and to underline what the Committee Chairman said: that we were talking about the United Kingdom, not about the United States. We have been in close contact with our US counterparts and observed their work, and clearly they have judgments to make about how the American system functioned or failed to function and about the movement of intelligence through that system. Information that could have been useful seems, to a layman, not to have been in the right place at the right time.

Our job was to consider the United Kingdom agencies, how they co-operated with the US agencies and the role that they played—especially in assessing the threat to the United Kingdom. We made a judgment on the basis of the information that was gathered and presented to Ministers in the Joint Intelligence Committee's assessment papers. We refined and worked over our judgment, modifying our conclusions to some extent, as we looked at the various documents. Our conclusion was not a snap judgment. It was reached very carefully.

We said: The July 2001 JIC paper concluded that plans for attacks were in their final stages but that the timings, targets and methods of attack were not known. This assessment was not a stark warning of immediate danger to the UK. The shortage of specific intelligence and UBL's record could have warned all concerned that more urgent action was needed to counter this threat. Whether this could have forestalled any of UBL's actions can only be a matter for conjecture. Even if we had rushed additional resources into intelligence and prevention at that point, the information before Ministers was not sufficiently specific to enable our efforts to be directed in such a way as to prevent the attacks. The Committee concluded that, with hindsight, the scale of the threat and the vulnerability of Western states to terrorists with this degree of sophistication and a total disregard for their own lives was not understood. We should be a bit careful about using the expression "intelligence failure", because it might be taken to imply that there is such a thing as total intelligence—knowing everything. The expression is more usually used in circumstances in which intelligence could freely have been obtained, processed and used, but was not. That was not the position with 11 September.

We reached a different conclusion from that of the Foreign Affairs Committee, which quite properly pointed out that it was not in possession of the same information. It said: It would appear that before 11 September both the US and the United Kingdom failed to gather or share good intelligence, or they failed to interpret it correctly, or they failed to act on it. We are not in a position to judge which was the case. That implies that at least one of those alternatives was the case, but I am not convinced that any of them was. We did not fail to gather or share good intelligence. The UK gathering effort was significant, and the sharing effort considerable. I am not convinced that there was a failure to interpret it correctly, so it follows logically that there was not a failure to act on it, because it did not point clearly to a particular course of action.

I disagree with the Foreign Affairs Committee's conclusions in that respect, although the report as a whole is extremely valuable and useful, and I hope that hon. Members will take note of the many interesting points in it.

There may be a broader criticism to make of the west as a whole in its approach to Afghanistan. The Foreign Secretary reflected that when he said that the west had virtually walked away from Afghanistan, allowing problems to mount. It is conceivable that the west could have made a greater effort to stop a failed state falling under the total control of a terrorist organisation—for that is what happened. Along with the drugs trade, Al-Qaeda terrorists were the paymasters of the Taliban. With a great deal of hindsight, it is conceivable that we could have denied them that opportunity. It would have been no easy task, but not to have done it is perhaps a more perceptible failure than what some have described as an intelligence failure.

I want to comment on the new arrangements for dealing with intelligence. That gives me the opportunity to talk about the forthcoming retirement of Sir Richard Wilson as Cabinet Secretary. He has devoted a lot of valuable and productive effort to the intelligence community, and we should appreciate that. Responsibility for intelligence will now pass from the Cabinet Secretary to the Second Permanent Secretary, possibly because the Prime Minister wants the Cabinet Secretary to concentrate on service delivery—a commendable object on the face of it, but one about which one could have some suspicions concerning centralisation of power in the hands of the Government and the Prime Minister. Our concern today, however, must be with whether intelligence responsibilities will be effectively discharged when they are transferred to someone who does not have the status that the Cabinet Secretary has.

I venture to suggest that, if Sir David Omand had not been available to carry out the task of Second Permanent Secretary, the move would have been seen by many as a downgrading—and potentially a dangerous one—of intelligence. The Foreign Secretary has had to be away from the Chamber for some time, but I hope that this point will be drawn to his attention, because he should bear it clearly in mind.

Sir David Omand has a unique background in relevant areas of work and a unique standing. Indeed, some of us would argue that he could have been the Cabinet Secretary. The fact that he has taken on this responsibility is a fair indication that it will be made to work. I am far from convinced that this arrangement should be continued when the two present post holders eventually retire.

The Committee will want to review the arrangement as it beds in, but we also need to look ahead. We should consider whether that ad hominem arrangement will work because of the individuals involved but, if it were retained and became part of the practice of government, might in the longer term deny the intelligence community the position within government that the Cabinet Secretary's responsibility had previously given them. That position has been relevant in many ways. When problems occurred with the new accommodation project at Cheltenham, the role of the Cabinet Secretary was crucial.

It should be said that access to the Prime Minister enjoyed by the Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, the heads of agencies and Sir David Omand is guaranteed, as we are assured that such access will be undisturbed. I am more concerned about resourcing and the position of the intelligence community within government.

The Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee referred to the qualifying of GCHQ's accounts. It is pretty serious for accounts to be qualified two years in succession. Its appearance in our report is the alternative route available to the National Audit Office for its work in this field. The Public Accounts Committee cannot handle that side of the work, because it requires the security measures to which our Committee is subject. The Chairman of the PAC has access to what is being done, and as a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee I am grateful that successive Chairmen of the PAC have worked so readily with our Committee and enabled us to give the NAO the public recognition that its report requires. The Comptroller and Auditor General wrote: I have not obtained all the necessary information and explanations that I considered necessary for the purposes of my audit; and I was unable to determine whether proper accounting records had been maintained. That is a pretty serious matter.

I emphasise that the qualification is not about the new building, difficult though that project has been, and it is not about the operational efficiency of GCHQ, of which the Committee is well aware, and the remarkable contribution that it makes to intelligence work and to this country's readiness to deal with terrorist attacks. GCHQ is an extremely valued and internationally recognised asset. However, it is unsatisfactory that its financial procedures should merit such criticism. It is all about resource accounting and its failure to grasp the difficult task described by the right hon. Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot), who serves with me on the Committee, as bean counting—it has not been counting the beans accurately or has not known precisely where they all were. That problem needs to be remedied, and the Committee has spoken strongly on the subject.

I want to refer in these disparate points to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 and the orders that have been introduced under it, but I do not want to discuss them in detail. Communications data are important in the detection of serious crime and in dealing with threats to the United Kingdom. They are a valuable intelligence tool. The orders that were brought before the House recently were not primarily about that. They were about access to such data by a variety of bodies with legitimate responsibilities for food safety, public finance, preventing benefit fraud and other such matters. Many of us think that those bodies should not have such wide powers. I appreciate the distinction that was drawn by the Conservative shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), between the areas that are crucial to the central security of the country and its inhabitants and those many other important matters that do not merit the same range of powers. We share that view, and I am glad that he articulated it clearly, as it is relevant.

There was some confusion, because different orders cover different things. I over-simplify a little, but the orders that related to covert human surveillance were, as the Home Secretary said, primarily about bringing under regulation things that happen already and that are, on closer reflection, recognised to happen, whereas those related to communications data went much wider and were rightly the subject of concern. The Home Secretary will have to have a major rethink about that.

My fear is that there is a real danger in extending security-related powers into other areas. That undermines the case for the highly selective use of powers that are regarded as intrusive if that is necessary to prevent major threats to our lives and our safety, and when those threats cannot readily be detected, investigated or challenged in other ways. It is of a piece with the tendency to use the need for security to justify matters that should not be given that justification. Every time that happens, it slightly undermines the credibility of powers in areas where they are vital. That is why we should be careful about using such justifications.

Over the years, emergency, fast-tracked anti-terrorism legislation has often included provisions that are not justifiable, or even justified, by Ministers on security grounds; they are merely slipped into the legislation. For example, anti-terrorism legislation included provisions relating to conspiracy because the Home Office saw a fast train so booked a seat on it for other, no doubt reputable, provisions that were thought justified. When we have to abbreviate parliamentary scrutiny on the ground of urgency we should be cautious about the extension of security justifications beyond their proper scope.

I offer another example. It was widely claimed that the failure to use competitive tendering for the smallpox vaccine was for security reasons, despite the fact that the United States had used open tendering for the same vaccine. If there had been a security reason for that closed process, I am sure that it would have been drawn to the attention of the Intelligence and Security Committee, but it was not. I can say that openly because the Minister responsible confirmed it from the Dispatch Box in the other place—recorded in Lords Hansard on 22 May at column 765. He used a rather broader notion of security, which the statutory provisions allow, but it was not security in the sense that we are using the word in this debate, whereby it justifies extremely wide powers or special procedures. We must always beware of that factor in all our debates and discussions.

Finally, I want to discuss what the Committee is for. It has two broad aspects. The first is the scrutiny of the agencies; of their policy, administration and finance and, going more widely than their statute, their efficiency, probity and fitness for purpose. That is the job on which the committee spends a great deal of time. It draws those matters to the attention of the House through its annual report, which has to be published to the House by the Prime Minister. That also means that the committee draws those matters to the attention of the Prime Minister, which is one of the merits of our non-Select Committee status that might usefully be replicated if the Committee's status were to change.

The fact that the Prime Minister is under an obligation to meet the Committee, having read its report, and to discuss the report in some detail is generally useful and is one of the few means whereby the Prime Minister's mind can be focused on the broad issues of intelligence, especially in the absence of meetings of the ministerial committee to which several of my colleagues have referred. That is a valuable process, as most Prime Ministers would agree. That scrutiny process is one side of the Committee's work.

The second aspect of our work is reassurance. The Committee was set up—as were committees in several countries, including the United States—partly in response to the fear that all sorts of dubious things might go on within the veil of secrecy that surrounds intelligence and security organisations and nobody would know, possibly not even Ministers. Ministers might of course be party to such things, which might be done in their interest, and could be politically expedient or involve incursions into people's liberty far beyond those that could be justified in statute or publicly defended. There was a fear that such things might happen in future and some evidence that they had happened in the past.

Hon. Members look to the Committee to provide reassurance. The next best thing to every Member of Parliament being able to check for himself whether anything nefarious is going on is to have confidence that a group of colleagues in whom he can repose some trust has that access and would act if anything bad was happening. In order to provide that reassurance, the Committee must be privy to the widest possible range of information and, over time, we have reached that position.

Circumstances occasionally arise when we need to go further and there are sometimes skirmishes when we try to obtain the information that we require. Some of those skirmishes are ongoing, but it is vital for Members to be sure that we obtain the information and that when it is in our possession we apply the same judgments that they would apply. That is what members of the Committee try to do and we are enabled to do so by the now extensive range of information that we are given. It is what Members expect us to do and I hope that we live up to the task.

5.19 pm
Alan Howarth (Newport, East)

It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). He was one of the founder members of the Intelligence and Security Committee, and he and the longer serving members of the Committee have mentored those of us who are more newly recruited, and I hope that we have brought a useful, fresh approach. Let me add my appreciation of the admirable chairmanship of my right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor). Let me also express my appreciation of the immensely competent efforts and hard work done in support of us by our secretariat.

I wish to reiterate the admiration of the agencies' professionalism that we have expressed in our report. My impression is that the agencies' professionalism grew during the 1990s, and I suspect that that has something to do with the legitimation of their establishment and their work in legislation from the mid-1980s onwards, particularly under the Security Service Act 1989 and the Intelligence Services Act 1994. That may also be the view of the agencies themselves. It has been helpful that their task has been made explicit and defined more clearly. It has been helpful in establishing some boundaries for what they do. It has been good for their esteem and standing in the public eye, and it has assisted them in recruiting the sort of people whom they need to recruit.

The agencies certainly need people with a remarkable range of skills and human qualities, among which is courage. The work at every level of the agencies is characterised by courage on the part of a very great many individuals, and I would add that the judgments and decisions that need to be made by those at the most senior level—particularly, of course, the chiefs—really do take courage. They undertake massive responsibilities on behalf of us all, so I gladly pay tribute to them, particularly Sir Stephen Lander, who is shortly to depart as head of the Security Service.

The Committee works on a basis of trust. The need-to-know principle is indispensable because, of course, sources must be protected. As the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed has just said, we see a greater range of official papers and are privy to a greater amount of information than was the case in the past. One has to be pragmatic about this, but, because trust has grown, the scope for the Committee to work effectively has grown. When all is said and done, it is not in the interests of the agencies or Departments to fail to convince the Committee of the appropriateness of what they do, let alone to mislead us.

The Committee has done much to win the confidence of those whom it is our responsibility to scrutinise and, correspondingly, the Committee has much confidence in them, but it is, of course, our job to probe, to ask the awkward questions and to apply pressure, which is what we certainly intend to continue to do.

As the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley) noted, we are not a parliamentary Committee in a certain formal sense, but we are all extremely conscious of our responsibilities as parliamentarians and our responsibilities—albeit through the Prime Minister—to Parliament, so we must hope that our parliamentary colleagues trust us as members of the Committee. That is for them to judge and to say, but I have been pleased to hear several right hon. and hon. Members express their approval of the work of the agencies this afternoon.

Irrespective of whether the members of the Committee are appointed by the Prime Minister or whether we are constituted as a Select Committee, there would still be the need for confidentiality. I find it difficult to foresee that our modus operandi would change radically if we were to become a Select Committee, and I fear that those wretched asterisks would still appear in our reports. The irony is that we have to limit our accountability to Parliament to protect our democracy.

It is important that the agencies are in some ways insulated from the pressures of politics. Some of the earlier speeches, including that made from the Front Bench by the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), show us how public concern on high-profile and urgent matters—such as serious and organised crime—will very properly be mediated through Parliament. I am very well aware, as a Member of Parliament representing a Gwent constituency, how much we in Gwent and the Gwent Police owe to the expert support that the police have received from the agencies in certain investigations.

It has been noted that serious and organised crime is highly relevant to counter-terrorism. None the less, the agencies' priorities need to be balanced and must not be distorted by understandable public pressures. Counter-terrorism, dealing with espionage, and dealing with the very dangerous threat from the proliferation of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons, about which my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh (Dr. Strang) spoke so eloquently, are at the heart of what the agencies do and they must be enabled to pursue a balanced approach, as I believe that they do.

Often what we hear less about is no less important, and of course we rarely, as members of the public, hear about the successes of the agencies. Al-Qaeda has inevitably been a huge preoccupation over a very considerable period and well before 11 September, but the danger from Irish terrorism remains a major preoccupation. Although there is less in the media about Irish terrorism than there is about al-Qaeda it does not mean to say that it matters any less. Equally, the India-Pakistan conflict and problems of Kashmir are almost unspeakably important, and no amount of other public preoccupation should distract the agencies from what they need to do in respect of that problem.

The agencies work in a changing environment. We now live in a world of macro-terrorism. As the right hon. Member for North-East Hampshire (James Arbuthnot) put it very well, the world had really failed to grasp imaginatively the reality of the possibility of suicide missions in the west, and of terrorist activity on the scale and of the pitilessness and effectiveness that we witnessed on 11 September. The Home Secretary effectively acknowledged that, when he met us in the Committee. We need to be at new levels of alert, of vigilance and of protection.

We also live in a rapidly changing technological environment. The technical capacities of Government communications headquarters, Cheltenham, working very closely and effectively, as it does, with the National Security Agency in the USA, and of the Ministry of Defence and its agencies working with the American National Imagery and Mapping Agency, are extraordinary. The capacity may be great but that itself creates a new problem because, whereas in the past there was a problem of a lack of intelligence information on the scale that might have been required, the agencies now perhaps suffer from a surfeit of information. The problem is looking for the needle in the haystack and the new challenge is how to ask the right questions so that one can interrogate these colossal databanks in order to focus on and pin down the vital information.

Hon. Members have spoken about the difficulties of balancing security and liberty, but what is clear is that without security there can be no liberty, and that presents endless dilemmas upon which we can torture ourselves. Parliament is right to be vigilant about the extension of powers to obtain communications data, and about the systems to ensure that data requests are properly authorised. I very much appreciate the words spoken by the Home Secretary on that issue this afternoon, and the important and constructive exchange between himself and the shadow Home Secretary. These matters may primarily be the responsibility of Committees other than ours. The Intelligence and Security Committee, however, has an important responsibility to satisfy itself that systems of warrantry, which are a key part of the guarantee of freedoms in this area of work, are operating as they should. We have paid particular attention to questions of staffing. If—I am glad that it is only a hypothetical possibility—there were significant extensions of power to other agencies to obtain communications data, it would be extremely important that the commissioners have the staff that they need to be able to oversee the system. The Government, in their response to our report, assert that there will be an appropriate level of resources. The Committee will wish to satisfy itself as to what that may mean in practical terms.

As many Members have asked, and as almost everyone outside the House asks in anguish, could the horror of 11 September have been prevented? Like others on the Committee, I was startled by the press release from the Foreign Affairs Committee. We must guard against the search for scapegoats. If there really were culpable failures, they must be identified, but such inquiries need to be pursued in a calm frame of mind. They are being pursued in the United States, and we shall see what the findings prove to be. We raised in our report the question of whether the assessment made by the Joint Intelligence Committee in June and July was sufficiently stark. My view is that the agencies, the Joint Intelligence Committee, and, in their turn, Ministers, acted as they should have done in that period. There were many indications that something very important and very dangerous was afoot—the reports coming in to Ministers made it very clear that al-Qaeda was preparing something monstrous. I do not believe, however, that anybody—certainly, in our agencies—was in a position to identity the precise nature of that threat. After all, it is fair to recall that the atrocity did not take place in the United Kingdom, although it affected many British lives and families.

Attempting to be wise after the event, I ask, what might have been done differently? I think that we were too greedy with the peace dividend after the end of the cold war. Budgets were reduced, and they began to rise only at the end of the last decade and at the beginning of this one. Even the civil contingencies unit was disbanded, which was surely a mistake. It represented a naive view of human nature. Of course we wanted to turn swords into plough shares, and to release resources to spend on public services or other good projects, but it was foolish to suppose that, with the fall of the Berlin wall and the end of the cold war, human nature had somehow altered. Tragically, hatred, violence, conflict and terror are endemic in human affairs.

As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said, and as the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed has already recalled, essentially, the west walked away from Afghanistan, ignoring the pathology of that failed state. We need to reflect on the lessons of that mistake. We do not have to agree with everything that has been proposed by Samuel P. Huntington in his extremely interesting book, "The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order". We should take very seriously, however, his suggestion that the real faultline—the areas where the risk of conflict is liable to be most acute—is where different civilisations and cultures meet and encounter each other. The lesson from that, if I may risk stating the obvious, is that, where Iraq is concerned, we should handle with care. Were we to pursue policies that caused the Islamic world to forget its many differences and to rally in antagonism to the west, that would be devastatingly unfortunate. Equally, we do not have to accept everything that Mr. Robert Cooper suggests to us, to accept none the less that we should give our serious attention to the pathology of failed states. There are implications there for countries in the west that make fine professions—for example, in the Doha round—but then introduce protectionist policies that might have been calculated to further impoverish already very poor areas of the world and to make them breeding grounds for resentment, hatred and terrorism. The better our policies and our diplomacy, the less pressure there will be on our security and intelligence agencies and on our armed forces.

Thinking again about what might have been organised better over the period, it has become commonplace to note that one of the distinguishing differences in this area between ourselves in the United Kingdom and our friends and allies in the United States is that in the US there is no MI5. The FBI is an organisation of a different character. It is essentially a policing operation, and its remit has been to apprehend criminals and bring them to justice after the crime has been committed. The culture of the FBI is being radically recast and the US is engaged in the creation of its Office of Homeland Security, but that is a difficult culture change. It is an immensely important one, and I wish our friends and colleagues there well.

Simple security routines are always liable to be neglected. How do we maintain the state of alert that we need? Airport security, as we saw, was perilously lax before 11 September. It is more laborious now; I wonder whether it is yet as efficacious as it needs to be. How are we to scan the myriad parcels and containers that come into our country day by day? It is not in human nature to maintain a permanent state of vigilance, yet it is extremely important that we do so.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

I have been listening intently to my right hon. Friend and I agree with what he says. The Government should address themselves to the nature of our seaports, where there is wholly inadequate security and law enforcement. Most sensible countries have a dedicated police force in their ports and we do not. We should have one, which would supplement and complement the immigration service, Customs and Excise and the county police forces. In that regard, I think that we are sleeping while Rome burns, so I hope that my right hon. Friend will not mind my intervening.

Alan Howarth

My hon. Friend makes an important point.

I am mindful that other hon. Members want to speak. I will therefore not say what I would have wished to say about co-ordination, and I will not explain why I strongly support the arguments that have already been advanced by colleagues on the Committee as to why the ministerial committee on intelligence services ought to meet. I simply conclude by saying again how much I personally esteem and value the agencies. I believe that they are hugely appreciated in Washington; I know that they are greatly appreciated by Ministers. It is a pleasure and a privilege to have the opportunity to be a member of the Committee.

5.39 pm
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

The right hon. Member for Newport, East (Alan Howarth) may be a new member of the Intelligence and Security Committee, but it is obvious to me as a non-member of that Committee that he has taken to his new role admirably. His comments, particularly about the continuing need to monitor and counter potential Irish terrorism, were well made. Indeed, one of the points that I wish to put before the House this afternoon is that intelligence must not be excessively compartmentalised. It may be that some of the techniques that Britain has sadly had to learn in combating Irish terrorism will need to be applied to the new threats that we face from fundamentalist Islamist terrorism.

My right hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot) rightly said that it cannot be regarded as a failure of intelligence not to know the details of a specific plan before it is put into action. He rightly talked of the need for imagination so that one does not spend one's time analysing what one's terrorist enemies have done in the past, but rather tries to foresee what new steps they are likely to take in the future.

What we have to face in dealing with fundamentalist Islamist terrorism requires a new type of approach and an ethos rather different from the way in which the Security Service has had to operate in the past. In the past, MI5 has often had to sit back, watch, monitor, bide its time and stay its hand so that when eventually the crisis came, speedy action could be taken. Now we are dealing with organisations that are rudimentary in terms of structure, lethal in terms of operation and limited in terms of numbers carrying out whatever particular plan they seek to implement.

It follows from that, as my right hon. Friend said, that unless there is some major failure of security within the terrorist cell itself—which will not happen often—one must be proactive, as I said in an intervention on him earlier, in seeking to dislocate, deceive and disrupt the organisation itself. We must keep the terrorist organisation on the back foot, and prevent it from having the time to reflect, plan and choose the moment at which it will implement action, rather being continuously on the defensive ourselves. In order to wage that sort of campaign against terrorism, we need a form of offensive intelligence.

In the slight spat that we have seen developing this afternoon between some members of the Intelligence and Security Committee and some members of the Foreign Affairs Committee over whether it was a failure, not necessarily on the part of British intelligence agencies, but on that of western intelligence agencies, that 11 September happened, I incline somewhat more to the view of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley), who made a superb, indeed magisterial, speech.

I believe that it was known that al-Qaeda existed, what aims it entertained and what modus operandi it preferred. As I said earlier, it is precisely because individual schemes are unlikely to leak in advance, that pre-emptive measures must be taken to undermine terrorist organisations before they can get anywhere near to putting those schemes into action.

Old habits die hard, and having been fortunate to be called to speak in every debate on the intelligence services since they began in the previous Parliament, I am well aware of the fact that there are Members wishing to speak in this one who are in danger of not being able to do so unless I am particularly brief, so that is what I propose to be.

Last year I made rather a long speech about several small topics. This time I wish to make a much shorter speech about rather a large topic. The topic is, of course, terrorism, but only one aspect of it, and that links directly to something that has been a recurring theme in all my speeches, year after year, since we were fortunate enough to have these debates in the House on a subject that used to be regarded as out of bounds. That theme is the need for an active counter-subversion arm in the Security Service. We know that F branch used to do that job. We also know that with the end of the cold war, F branch was successively wound down and eliminated. I am not particularly concerned about whether, when the Security Service revives anything analogous to F branch—if it has not already done so—it uses the same name or an entirely different one. What we must realise is that in fighting fundamentalist Islamist terrorism, the Security Service has a particular task in hand: to ensure that such terrorism is not allowed to put down roots and grow, expand and fester in this country.

Terrorists operate in a strange arena of warfare. Using standard terror techniques, they can hope to do one of at least four things. They can hope indiscriminately to kill some hundreds or even thousands of civilians. More specifically, they can hope to target individuals such as politicians, service men, police officers or security personnel. By doing all that, they can hope to provoke repression in free societies. Sometimes, they can even hope, as is the case in Northern Ireland, to gain concessions, many of which they do not deserve.

By using weapons of mass destruction, however, terrorists can threaten the existence of entire communities and cities, and possibly even of entire democratic states. They are unlikely by themselves to be able to acquire free-standing weapons of mass destruction that would operate on the largest of those three levels. However, they have a way of getting around that problem by infiltrating other regimes such as those in countries that already either have nuclear weapons, such as Pakistan, or may have nuclear weapons in future, such as some of the countries in the now notoriously named axis of evil. It is especially disturbing that time and again, while we hear that the President of Pakistan is doing everything that he can to help the alliance forces root out al-Qaeda and its sympathisers, those terrorists seem to be supported, buttressed and reinforced by elements of Pakistan's own intelligence organisation. That is a very worrying issue and it must be a prime concern for MI6.

Returning to the problem in this country, we have to be concerned that if the organisation is not to put down the roots to which I referred, it must be completely transparent to our security authorities. In making the one key point that I wish to make in this speech, I want to divert for a moment to an obituary from yesterday's edition of The Daily Telegraph. Its relevance may not be immediately apparent, but I assure the House that it will become so very quickly. The obituary is for General Benjamin O. Davis Jr., who was commander during the second world war of the 99th Fighter Squadron at Tuskegee, Alabama. He flew 60 combat missions and then commanded the 332nd Fighter Group, escorting US bombers on 200 raids over Europe and ensuring that not one of them was lost. That fighter group shot down 111 aircraft and destroyed 150 more on the ground, for the loss of 66 of its own fighters. It destroyed hundreds of railway wagons, dozens of boats and even sank a destroyer.

What is the relevance of that information? It is quite simple: all the pilots in those two units were black. All were fighting two wars—the first was against the Nazis, but the second was against the prejudice in their own great country, the United States of America, against black service men. The obstacles that they had to overcome to be able to volunteer to fight and go on those missions would have deterred most people from even wanting to bother. They were descendants of people who had not become citizens of the US voluntarily, but had been brought there against their will. They nevertheless fought to save an imperfect democracy, which, on occasion, had given them little cause to admire it. In short, they were proud to be American patriots.

In the fight against terrorism in this country, we need allies, and those allies are members of the moderate Muslim community. Those people—or their forebears—came to this country voluntarily because they thought that this country's methods, freedom and tolerance would give them better lives than the countries that they left. The appeal that I want to put out, in so far as I can do so through the medium of a House of Commons debate, is to ask members of the moderate Muslim community to follow the example of members of the black community in America—and, if I may say so as a member myself, members of the Jewish community in this country. Jewish people fought in all the conflicts that have taken place since they became a community here, and they have won awards—the Victoria cross, the George cross, and probably just about every gallantry medal imaginable—in the course of serving with Her Majesty's armed forces.

Members of the moderate Muslim community now have an opportunity to assist our democracy to fight against an extremist awfulness that any right-thinking person who wants to be a citizen of a democratic country would utterly reject. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), whom I am delighted to see in his place, made—if I may say so without prejudice against the many other excellent speeches—the most important single point when he said that it is vital for the Security Service to recruit members of that community to be able to wage the campaign against Islamist terrorism.

Joining the Security Service and becoming agents for democracy will be a very dangerous thing for members of the moderate Muslim community to do, but they will follow in a proud tradition. Black people fought for democracy in America, even at a time when America should have behaved rather better towards them. Those people have now risen to the very top. Colin Powell is Secretary of State and was formerly chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. I have every confidence that British moderate Muslims are as patriotic as British Jewish community members and British members of other communities that fought with the armed forces in war after war, for generation after generation. We think, of course, of the Gurkhas in particular.

I hope that one day, when people look back on this battle as they now look back on previous battles, it will be possible to say that it was not a war of race against race or of class against class, but of democracy against totalitarianism. I am sure that there will be brave British Muslims who will want to take part in that war on the right side.

5.53 pm
Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North)

I thank the Intelligence and Security Committee and its Chairman, my right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor), for its pamphlet telling us how the intelligence services work and for its last report. I also thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department for the compliment that he paid to the Select Committee of which I am a member—the Joint Committee on Human Rights. The right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), who is no longer in his place, wondered why such matters are not dealt with in considering Bills. I can assure him that our Committee examines every Bill with any human rights aspect and publishes a full report. We do not take at face value what is written on the front of a Bill by any Secretary of State.

I read the Committee's report with great interest and I welcome the opportunity to debate it. I am one of those who believes that a large proportion of the work that is carried out by the intelligence and security agencies should not be secret at all, but should be wholly open to debate, and that the services should be held publicly accountable. That was our policy in opposition. We might be moving towards greater transparency, but the pace of change is so slight as to be imperceptible to the public at large.

Having been associated with affairs in Northern Ireland for some years, I have some knowledge of the intelligence agencies and their fight against terrorism and its impact on the political process, which we have not really considered today. The Committee's report states that the Security Service devoted 33 per cent. of its efforts to Irish Counter Terrorism". Immediately, I am faced with problems—33 per cent. of its budget, of its agents, of its policy deliberation, of its time? Was the proportion of "effort" adjusted after successful negotiation of the Belfast agreement? What further adjustments were made to resources available for combating specifically Irish terrorism in the light of changing priorities following 11 September?

The intelligence services claimed credit for the successful conviction of three IRA terrorists for arms-trafficking charges. We all welcome that, and it is to the credit of the agencies. I know that an agency is able to claim credit for an operation only after the case has been successfully taken through the courts, so we do not really know how many operations have been thwarted—though I imagine a great number. However, many tricks of the trade must remain secret if they are to be successfully deployed on other occasions.

The upside of that secrecy is that terrorists might be led to believe that the intelligence agencies are all-seeing and all-powerful. They do not know where the subterfuge begins and ends, how deeply agent penetration goes or what are the agencies' objectives at any time. The downside of the policy is that we do not know either. We do not know to what extent, if at all, the agencies are overrunning the ethical boundaries.

There is a plethora of agencies in the field, each running agents, collecting information and conducting operations. The terrorist might be confused over who is who, but so are we, especially when something goes wrong and we want to find out who is responsible. So I should be grateful if the Foreign Secretary answered the following fundamental questions—in writing if he does not know the answer now. Which agency has the lead role in intelligence gathering in Northern Ireland, and what is its relationship with the reformed Police Service of Northern Ireland and other agencies there?

At times, the responsibility has been given to the Security Service—MI5—but the Royal Ulster Constabulary ran its own secret undercover unit in addition to special branch, which itself is described as a force within a force. The Secret Intelligence Service—MI6—ran operations at certain times, and an agent known as "the mountain climber" is widely acknowledged to have performed a most valuable role as a channel of communication between the Government and the IRA. More particularly, in relation to the Ministry of Defence, which agency is to be held responsible for the work of the former force research unit, which has been rebranded with a new name that is still an official secret? There was of course no mention of that unit in the report.

On 1 May 2001, Ulster Television broadcast an interview with a former RUC detective in the CID, Detective Sergeant Johnson—"Jonty"—Brown. In that interview, a number of allegations were made that the RUC special branch routinely blocked investigations and destroyed evidence in order to protect informers. That affected, among other things, the ongoing investigation into the death of the solicitor Patrick Finucane.

Jonty Brown insists that those actions were not random or opportunist, but were set out and codified in a set of instructions governing the relationship between the RUC special branch and CID. The instructions were in a memorandum issued from RUC headquarters on 23 February 1981. They, in turn, were based on a report commissioned by the Chief Constable in January 1980. That report was known as the Walker report. Its author, Patrick Walker, was at the time—I believe—second in command of MI5 in Northern Ireland. I understand that in 1989 he was appointed overall director of the Security Service. That memorandum was quite specific. It stated: All proposals to effect planned arrests must be cleared with Regional Special Branch to ensure that no agents of either the RUC or Army are involved. The Intelligence and Security Committee pamphlet states, on page 3 that the requirements of the European convention on human rights led the Government to put the agencies on a statutory footing. But what is the relationship between MI5, special branch and the rule of law, when they appear to be breaking the rule of law?

It is alleged that young joyriders have been recruited as agents or informers in return for a promise of non-prosecution. Will the Minister guarantee—later, in writing, if necessary—that the intelligence agencies are prevented from running child agents or recruiting child informers? I cannot believe that such activities would be compatible with our obligations under the United Nations convention on the rights of the child. That allegation has been widely circulated in Northern Ireland, however.

I turn to another issue involving the rights of the child. In the late 1980s, the then Member for Brent, East brought a number of allegations to the Floor of the House concerning the Kincora boys' home in Belfast. The central allegation was that Kincora was run by vicious paedophiles who regularly subjected the children in their care to violent sexual abuse, and that attempts by the RUC to investigate the scandal were blocked by M15 to protect the director of the boys' home, who was providing valuable information about fringe loyalist paramilitaries at the time. If that is true, could such action by the intelligence services conceivably be justified? I ask that—in relation to the question of thwarting the role of the police—because a public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of Pat Finucane now looks virtually inevitable. In that inquiry, an attempt will be made to hold the security services to account, and, by all accounts, the security services—in one guise or another—are in it up to their necks.

We have a British undercover agent, Brian Nelson, who worked his way up to be head of intelligence for a loyalist paramilitary group, the Ulster Defence Association. He is accused of selecting their targets, and he provided Finucane's personal file. We also have the special branch informer, William Stobie. He was the UDA quartermaster who provided the weapons to carry out the hit on Finucane and collected them afterwards. He warned his special branch handler that the attack was coming. Then we have the alleged hitman himself, Ken Barrett. He confessed to carrying out the murder, but special branch decided that it would be better to drop the prosecution and to run him as an agent instead.

The credibility of those allegations may rest in part on the necessary limitation of the intelligence services remaining secret. But the Stevens inquiry will be coming out shortly, and there are enormous policy implications for the work of the agencies, following the incidents that I have described, that would also have enormous long-term political implications, not only for Northern Ireland but for here, if they were to spread to the rest of these islands. Those of us who were in the House at the time will remember, during the early part of Harold Wilson's second Ministry, the rumours about what was happening in the special intelligence agencies. It was eventually established that they were true. That could happen again, and we need to be certain that it is not going to.

The Irish Government have established a judicial inquiry into the investigation of the Dublin and Monaghan car bombings in 1974 that resulted in 33 deaths—a higher death toll even than the Omagh bombing. The British Government have agreed to assist the inquiry in answering persistent allegations that the operation was conceived and engineered by undercover agents working inside loyalist paramilitary groups. It is also alleged that Irish police intelligence on the identity of the perpetrators that was passed on to the RUC was not acted on. This version of events is endorsed by several former policemen and security service personnel. I trust that, in helping the Dublin inquiry, there will be no withholding of information by our own specialist intelligence services.

On another matter, the Ministry of Defence is currently fighting a legal battle to enforce its injunction against the Sunday People newspaper to prevent it from printing further information concerning the operational role of an undercover agent, "Stakeknife", alleged to be a leading figure inside the IRA. The newspaper has claimed that the agent participated in up to 40 murders in order to maintain his cover and protect his identity. That is an amazing statement, if it is correct, and we ought to be very concerned about it.

I have made grave criticisms, and I hope that one day we shall be given some answers. Before I finish, however, I want to pay tribute to the many men and women in the security forces and intelligence agencies who have not behaved in the way I have described, but have acted with great bravery and dedication. They put their lives on the line because they believed that their work would allow others to live in safety. I pay tribute to them: the nation owes them a great deal.

It is ironic that just as the Belfast agreement offers us a chance to move on, the culture of secrecy threatens to engulf some former agents who say they are being left high and dry with no acknowledgment of their work and no pension. Those people feel that they have no one to turn to. I understand that they intend to release a video to publicise their grievances. It is possible that the nature of their employment prevents them from going to the tribunal that has been established. If that is so, I urge the Committee to consider inviting them to give evidence so that these matters can be established. It cannot be for the good of the country that a group of people who have put their lives at risk should have such an enormous sense of grievance about the way in which they have been treated that they are prepared to release a video explaining their actions.

I think it is a matter of urgency for the Committee to consider a new approach in Northern Ireland, given the recent history of the intelligence agencies there; for it to urge the agencies to co-operate fully with public inquiries relating to the Patrick Finucane murder and the Dublin-Monaghan bombings, and any other cases that may appear; and for it to begin to develop a new mode of operation that will bring all its activities within the rule of law, and make them comply with the human-rights obligations into which this country has entered.

6.7 pm

Adam Price (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr)

This has been a fascinating debate. I am pleased to be able to speak briefly; I am conscious of the time constraint.

One theme that has run through the debate is the fact that intelligence can never be 100 per cent. accurate. It is often said that the only certainty in the world of intelligence is its inherent uncertainty. Echoing that in a recent article in The Guardian, the outgoing head of M15, Sir Stephen Lander, denied that 11 September was due to a failure of intelligence but conceded that it was due to a failure of security. He said that those who expected 100 per cent. success from intelligence were living in cloud cuckoo land.

We should bear in mind, however, the fact that there have been some fairly spectacular failures on the part of British intelligence in the past. Time prevents me from going into detail, but I think it can be said that, in general, intelligence failures occur not during the gathering of information but during assessment. As the right hon. Member for Newport, East (Alan Howarth) pointed out, that problem is becoming more critical in an age of information overload in which intelligence-assessment pressures are greater than ever before.

Indeed, we live—more generally—in a world of far greater ambiguity and uncertainty in terms of geopolitical realities. In that context, it is difficult to assess the objectives of adversaries. There are no objective criteria; everything is based on finely balanced judgments. In that context, certain preconceptions and prejudices can creep into intelligence assessments. Intelligence agencies rely on mental maps, filters and assumptive words which allow them to make connections and assess the wealth of information at their disposal. It is therefore vital that we have the widest possible engagement with the a priori assumptions that lie at the base of the operations of our security services.

I accept that, by their very nature, the day-to-day operations of the security services have to remain confidential, but given the mental maps that lie at the base of intelligence service activities, it is vital that we have a full debate. In that sense, security is too important to be left to the security services.

Several hon. Members have referred to the culture of the security services. It is something that we can perceive only through a glass darkly. Certainly I have no direct experience, but historically there have been suggestions of institutional sclerosis within the intelligence agencies and a degree of retroactivity. The hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) referred to the possibility that they were recruiting from too narrow a base in cultural and social terms, a fact which, since the end of the binary certainties of the cold war, may have inhibited the ability of the security services to think outside the box—to use lateral thinking.

As we know from management thinking, large, centralised, vertically integrated, hierarchical organisations are not the best environments for sparking creative thinking. Perhaps we need a discussion about the culture and the wider institutional setting that will allow the intelligence agencies to engage more effectively with a world that is characterised by more chaotic phenomena than in the past. There is a role for public debate, certainly in terms of the assumptions that underlie the work of the intelligence agencies.

Internal co-ordination also fits into this context. Clearly, it is useful to be able to draw on a wide variety of different sources and views within Government in terms of setting priorities, and there may be a debate as to whether our more collegiate, community-based intelligence system serves us best in terms of facilitating that internal co-operation.

There is also a need for external co-ordination in terms of intelligence sharing. It is one of the contradictions of intelligence that, while it needs to be kept confidential, it has to be shared if it is to be acted on internationally. As the Secretary of State for Defence said recently, we need to create a new community of interest as a basis for trust in which intelligence sharing can be facilitated within NATO and, increasingly, in other forums within the European Union and more widely through the UN Security Council.

The right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley) eloquently drew attention to the changing nature of security threats. The meta-narrative of security threats and the sources of global insecurity raise issues that stray into foreign policy and international development is at the heart of the debate. That point was made by the right hon. Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot) and by Mikhail Gorbachev in his visit to Parliament yesterday, who also picked out the issue of water shortage as a key long-term threat to global security. That is an important element in considering the sources of the next wave of insecurity. As has been said, our focus has shifted from the cold war to international terrorism, primarily in the context of Islamic fundamentalism. However, what will be the next source of global insecurity in 10, 15 or 20 years' time, and how does that relate to the wider issues?

Greater transparency and accountability improve the security services' efficiency and effectiveness. Importantly, certain intelligence failures during perhaps weaker periods in the British intelligence services' history occurred not because of a surfeit of parliamentary scrutiny, but because of an absence of it. In keeping with the point made by the right hon. Member for Newport, East, the greater professionalism of—and perhaps the change in the cultural ethos of—the security services may in part be attributable to this House's increased openness and transparency in its dealings with security matters. The creation of the Committee is a very important step forward, but it still operates within a ring of secrecy. I hope that the process will be evolutionary, and that we will see greater transparency. It is legitimate to ask Juvenal's question: who watches the watchers? It is vitally important that we maintain scrutiny.

Although we are very grateful for the report, it reads slightly curiously. Paragraph 21 states: For example, analysis of *** *** and the Service has worked to develop *** ***. That does not exactly illuminate the Committee's deliberations. Will the Minister say whether such asterisks could be removed, at least in relation to the security services' priorities? The order of priority of the different sources of security threat is a legitimate area for parliamentary scrutiny

6.17 pm
Patrick Mercer (Newark)

I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr (Adam Price), and I was also very interested to hear the comments of the hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara). The latter worried me slightly, until he started to discuss those brave men and women who died in action against loyalist and republican thugs in an often very dirty war in Ulster. I am delighted that he paid tribute to them, and I join him by paying my own.

I was especially impressed by the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley), who expressed in practical terms and with particular clarity the threat that we face. He made it clear that the United States of America is taking this threat seriously. I have no doubt that the tempo of al-Qaeda terrorist operations—its attacks on embassies in east Africa and on the USS Cole, and its attacks of 11 September—is being repeated. I very much hope that the intelligence agencies' successes can be translated into successes on the part of those agencies that can do something about this threat. It is all very well being warned and having good intelligence agencies, but we have to do something about the threat. On 4 July, the American nation took the threat very seriously. I wonder if this nation takes it seriously, and I wonder about the level of complacency that we sometimes see—certainly on the surface.

I wish now to bore down—perhaps "bore" is the wrong word—into the relationship between the Security Service and special branch. The Security Service was reorganized in 1989 so that the 53 special branches came under the leadership of the Security Service for operational purposes. However, one or two things have gone wrong with that relationship. For example, the Security Service is excellent at gathering intelligence. The right hon. Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor) mentioned gaps inside our security agencies, and the fact that the Security Service gathers the intelligence but has great difficulty with its executive arm—in the shape of the special branch—is one of those gaps

Ann Taylor

The gaps that I was talking about were not of that nature. We were concerned that the concentration on post-11 September issues might mean gaps in intelligence cover in other parts of the world and that future problems might develop. I just wish to put the record straight on that point.

Patrick Mercer

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady. She might like to add my gap to her list for a future occasion. It is difficult for the Security Service to act on the intelligence that it produces so long as special branch exists in the way that it does. For instance, the chief constables of the various regions are called upon to provide the officers from their special branches for operations dictated by the Security Service. At the moment, there is no cohesion of effort from the Security Service down.

All the Security Service can do is to disrupt operations. What does disrupt mean? As far as I can understand it, disruption means the Security Service going to those who are intent on badness and saying to them, "We know what you intend. Pack it in—stop it." The service might also instruct its surveillance agents to make themselves obvious. That may have worked in the cold war era. Russian agents may have been deterred by such operations, but these days, disruption—against a terrorist enemy—is not well defined. Indeed, it is not sanctioned by legislation and it may clash with the Human Rights Act 1998. That is why there is a need for special branch to be able to carry out the work of the Security Service on a clearer basis.

If we look in more detail at how chief constables organise their special branches, we see that it has been suggested that one of the northern constabularies has reduced its special branch establishment from 23 officers to eight. Of course, chief constables have to provide the funding for special branch operations that are not necessarily their own. Indeed, the Metropolitan police's special branch may require chief constables to provide officers to help them when operating in the regions. One can empathise with the chief constables reducing the numbers if they are told to achieve results in fighting what the Royal Ulster Constabulary used to call ordinary, decent crime. Special branch officers are expensive and a drag on chief constables' budgets.

The three operational areas with which special branch deals—Irish terrorism, domestic terrorism and international terrorism—have completely different operational procedures. Strangely, special branch has no remit at present for dealing with loyalist terrorism. The Security Service clearly supervises it in that role.

On domestic terrorism, which includes animal rights, environmentalist and extreme left-wing and right-wing terrorism, special branches fall under a completely different organisation—the national public order intelligence unit, not the Security Service. For some unaccountable reason, the National Criminal Intelligence Service deals with sporting public order, such as football hooliganism—as opposed to non-sporting hooliganism, whatever that is.

Finally, special branches also have to deal with international terrorism not via the Security Service, but via an organisation called the police international counter-terrorist unit. I am sure that the Foreign Secretary will agree that that is a move in the right direction, but may I enter a plea to the effect that PICTU is far too small? It is about six people strong, and it needs extra resources if it is to prove effective.

My point is that special branch never really knows who its boss is in any of these circumstances. Under the current, rather muddled system, the Metropolitan police special branch can quite frequently be called on to deploy its anti-terrorist branch for operations anywhere inside the United Kingdom. That means that budgets from the Metropolitan police are used to counter terrorism elsewhere inside the British isles. Officers from the constabularies can be conscripted to work under the anti-terrorist branch, but there is no cohesion or chain of command. There is nothing that special branch understands in terms of anti-terrorist operations on a day-to-day basis.

There are other points which, regrettably, time prevents me from making. However, I should like to quote a senior special branch officer who says: In short, and in my view…the whole British structure is an inefficient mess, and speaking as a practitioner, it is not clear to me which agency is ultimately responsible to the British public for protecting them from terrorism (below the level of Home Secretary, that is). It could be the Security Service, the Chief Constable of the area concerned or the National Coordinator". In other words, the Metropolitan policeman could be called on in these circumstances.

I do not wish to carp and complain. I believe that two distinct things could make special branch more efficient and make it work with the Security Service more efficiently. The first is regional special branches, an idea that I believe is being considered. More efficient, perhaps, would be a national special branch which, understanding the limitations of budgets, could provide a solution to the problem.

I very much hope that we are not recalled again this summer, either for a drama, emergency or disaster abroad or, more particularly, for a disaster in this country. If we are, it will not be because of a failing of the security services but because of complacency on our part.

6.28 pm
Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton)

May I begin by presenting the apologies of my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) for being unable to contribute to the debate? He has, of course, written personally to the Foreign Secretary.

We have witnessed a responsible and enlightened debate, albeit a slightly surreal one. We have witnessed a display of openness conducted in a strange penumbra of secrecy. There is a risk with the format that has emerged in the House that people either know too much and must choose not to say it or know too little yet have to choose something to say. None the less, this has been a valuable exercise.

The House has chosen to place its trust in those of our number who sit on the Intelligence and Security Committee to act out in their work the difficult balance that it has been decided to strike between democratic accountability and the serious exercise of covert intelligence, both domestic and foreign. It is a balance that I think we have got right. We have a model that many might study and that we may yet export to other democracies across the globe.

I congratulate the members of the Intelligence and Security Committee on their report and on all their work. They fulfil a vital, if necessarily mysterious role in ensuring the proper and responsible oversight of our intelligence and security agencies.

Following the terrorist outrages of 11 September, we are all only too aware of the uncertain and dangerous world in which we must now work. The attacks on the United States were, arguably, not the turning point. That had perhaps come much earlier, with the fall of the Berlin wall and the end of the cold war. Those events ushered in a new era. Gone were the old certainties of the two superpower blocs and their allies facing and counterbalancing each other, and in had come a new fluidity not seen for decades.

That fluidity has given rise to new challenges that we must face: international terrorism, which can strike anywhere, without warning and without scruple; weapons of mass destruction in the hands of unscrupulous regimes or rogue states; and instability engendered by famine, insurgency or civil war, with the failed states that can result.

We should not forget that, domestically, we must be aware of the need to guard our homeland against internal as well as external threats. Intelligence has always been at the centre of the war against terrorism in all its forms. Good intelligence can make all the difference between a threat materialising or being tackled before it can cause damage. In this world of asymmetric threats to our country and to our citizens, where tanks and missiles are no defence against the perilously placed chemical jam jar, good intelligence and forewarning can be a far more potent weapon in our armoury

In taking on the challenges posed by moving away from the bloc mentality to greater fluidity, and perhaps also from containment to pre-emption, accurate knowledge and intelligence are vital for us to determine the appropriate level of response or pre-emptive action. Intelligence, human and technical, becomes an ever more important resource for us and our allies.

There has perhaps been too little mention of our allies in this debate. There has been very little mention of the United States. In a climate of growing anti-Americanism, which I absolutely deplore, we should never underestimate the value of our close and friendly links with the United States on the very topic that we are discussing.

It is invidious to single out one of the 15 speeches that we have heard today, but the whole House will applaud the work of the right hon. Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor) in her chairmanship of the Committee. She spoke of counter-terrorist successes. It is good to know that there have been some, but it is unhappy to know that we were at risk. It is better that such threats were pre-empted than if we had had to witness the carnage that would have followed. She was impressed by the new co-operation among the various agencies, which is heartening to know about. She referred to the reduction in spending in the 1990s, which led to the shortfalls mentioned in the report and by the right hon. Member for Newport, East (Alan Howarth).

The only tiny failure that I can spot is that, as Chairman of the Committee, the right hon. Lady interviewed the previous Chief Secretary to the Treasury in ignorance of the fact that he was about to be moved.

I want to place on record my respect and praise for the work undertaken, often at great personal risk, by the men and women of our intelligence and security services in protecting each and every one of us, often from threats that we do not even know exist.

I am encouraged that the report, and indeed the Government's response, shows a refocusing of money and priorities on meeting the challenges posed by 11 September. In these circumstances, it is essential to adapt, and it is encouraging to see that that is what we are doing.

I strongly agree with the Committee's comments on the appointment of John Scarlett as chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, and as intelligence co-ordinator, in line with an earlier ISC report suggesting that those posts should be filled by someone from within the intelligence community. We welcome the appointment of such an able person.

As many right hon. and hon. Members have said, the report recommended that the ministerial committee on the intelligence services—the CSI—meet annually to review intelligence requirements and priorities. We believe that the services need policy guidance if they are continue to do what is expected of them. That point was made in particular by my right hon. Friend the Member for North—East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot).

Although the report is generally positive and the work of members of the services is rightly praised, it is concerning that, at an administration level, the report notes some weakness in the United Kingdom's secure communications equipment and in the languages that the services are able to cover. Those points were mentioned by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) and in paragraphs W and S of the recommendations. I trust that the Government are addressing those issues as a priority. I invite the Foreign Secretary to comment when he winds up the debate.

Domestically, the Security Service should remain seized of the need to engage constructively with mainstream Muslim sentiment in the United Kingdom. Those participating in the debate have touched on a point of the utmost importance. Much of the perceived threat comes from people from Muslim countries who are furious, or rendered furious, by differences in their own countries or by other global issues that inflame their thinking and their actions. I cannot praise too highly the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis), who pointed out the importance of drawing into the culture of our security and intelligence services people in our country who are not the conventional Oxbridge types whom we assume step into these jobs. We should also engage people from Muslim communities and of a Muslim background who are, as my hon. Friend said, as much patriots as any of us in the House. That is crucial to the future efficacy of those services.

The right hon. Member for Newport, East also made a thoughtful contribution. He said that we should understand what generates terrorism, and why people act as they do. It is not just an understanding of our own country that is sometimes lacking, but an understanding of other countries, which is crucial to our understanding of the broader interest and motivation that causes many of the problems that we face. We must understand opinion everywhere if we are to understand the problems with which we are all trying to wrestle.

I am pleased that the Government accept the need to address problems with the management and accounting processes at GCHQ, and that they are monitoring these matters. I hope that they will move swiftly to resolve any remaining problems over meeting the required accounting standard, which, as my right hon. Friend the Member for North—East Hampshire said, may bedevil us for a third year—we hope that it will be only two.

I think that everyone in the Chamber agrees that the form of oversight that has emerged in the past few years works well. The Committee's reports are useful in ensuring that channels of accountability and parliamentary oversight remain effective. The nature of the work of the intelligence and security services obviously causes constraints to be placed on the degree of openness and oversight that is possible, but the requirements of the European convention on human rights, among other things, have necessitated a more defined statutory footing for the services. The Security and Intelligence Committee, the commissioners and the tribunal all serve to provide oversight and accountability, as do debates such as this one today, and the persons of the Prime Minister and Secretaries of State.

It is always difficult to strike a balance between openness and accountability and the need for secrecy to protect agents and work being undertaken, but I believe that we have been pretty successful. I hope that that balance will be carefully preserved in the future, and that the Committee will continue its good work.

6.39 pm
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw)

When I became a Member of the House 23 years ago, the very existence of the security and secret intelligence services was not publicly admitted, still less was there any semblance of parliamentary scrutiny of their work. It is a great tribute to the maturity of our democracy that in the intervening period there has been a considerable increase in the depth and breadth of parliamentary scrutiny of the work of the agencies. Far from that undermining public confidence in the work of the agencies and the esteem in which the individuals working for them are held, the reverse has been the case.

As someone who for five years had responsibility for the Security Service and, for the past 13 months, for the Secret Intelligence Service and GCHQ, I pay my tribute to the Intelligence and Security Committee for the way in which, by holding us to account, its members enable us better to fulfil our statutory responsibilities in respect of those services. I know that I also speak for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

I begin, therefore, by paying a warm tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor) and to all her fellow members of the Intelligence and Security Committee in both this and the other place for their work. The fact that Ministers from five Departments provided evidence to the Committee this year shows the value that the Government as a whole attach to its work.

By way of a further preliminary, I endorse the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in respect of the retirements of Sir Stephen Lander, as director general of the Security Service, and of Mr. John Warne, as director general of the organised and international crime directorate—although as he is usually the first to point out, he is director general against organised and international crime and not for its propagation.

I was loyally and proficiently served by Stephen Lander and wish him well. I was also extremely well served by John Warne. who had the task, within the Home Office, of co-ordinating its arrangements for holding the Security Service to account, for liaising with special branch in London and elsewhere, and generally in developing the work of the Home Office with other agencies, including the National Crime Squad and the National Criminal Intelligence Service, against organised and international crime. I warmly wish him well for the future.

We have moved from a period when there was almost no scrutiny of any of the agencies, which were all non-statutory, and there was no statutory provision for intercepts of any kind to the present situation where the oversight of our intelligence and security agencies is as comprehensive as any in the world. I shall deal in a moment with the point raised by the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley) as to whether that might be further developed with a Select Committee.

When we consider the arrangements in other European Union countries, we can see how far ahead we are; no European country has comparable arrangements. In endorsing the tribute paid by the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) to our relationship with the United States agencies and to those agencies themselves, I note that the only country with the same depth of accountability is the United States.

Mr. Dalyell

Before the Foreign Secretary leaves the United States, is he minded, before the recess, to accede to the request made to him by the Lockerbie relatives that there should be a public inquiry into the international aspects of Lockerbie?

Mr. Straw

I explained to the Lockerbie relatives that I did not see a case for a public inquiry into what had happened, but that I was going to look into whether other arrangements for scrutiny could be established. I realise that my hon. Friend put a number of detailed questions while I was away from the Chamber and I shall write to him in response to them.

I welcome the recognition given in the Committee's report to the work of the agencies in protecting national security and economic well-being and in tackling the threat of organised crime. I also pay tribute to all the individuals who work for the agencies for their esprit de corps and courage. I have met many of them during the past five years, and they are very dedicated people who are not able to seek public or even semi-private social endorsement for the work that they do.

Hon. Members have mentioned the work of the Joint Intelligence Committee, under John Scarlett, and I greatly endorse their comments. I would say to those who have asked questions about the co-ordination of intelligence work in this country that co-ordination is always difficult because there will be different intelligence sources, and there would be even if there were a single intelligence and police operation for domestic and overseas operations—not something that I would propose—but we work more effectively at co-ordinating intelligence sources than most other countries in the world. That has a great deal to do with the JIC.

Several right hon. and hon. Members—including the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), my right hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Joyce Quin) and the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith)—have raised the issue of the appointment of Sir David Omand as the security and intelligence co-ordinator and permanent secretary to the Cabinet Office.

As the House knows, Sir David Omand has huge experience in relation to intelligence and security. He was my permanent secretary at the Home Office, until he had to step down from that position when he got lymphatic cancer at Christmas 2000. It is a tribute to his tenacity, as well as to the treatment that he received in the national health service, that he has made a full recovery and has been appointed to his new post. He will bring singular qualities to his position. He will act as the accounting officer for the single intelligence account. He will be the chairman of the permanent secretaries committee on the intelligence services and of the official committee on security, both of which meet regularly. He is also chairman of the Civil Contingencies Committee and has oversight of the civil contingencies secretariat.

One of Sir David's many experiences was of being responsible for civil contingencies when we were at the Home Office. That included dealing with the hijacked Afghan aeroplane that landed in February 2000, and the fuel dispute, both of which he and I will remember in almost every particular.

Mr. Arbuthnot

I am worried because I agree with absolutely everything that the right hon. Gentleman has said so far, particularly his tribute to Sir David Omand. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that scrutiny of the intelligence and security services would be strengthened even more if the ministerial committee were to meet? Will he prevail on the Prime Minister to cause that to happen?

Mr. Straw

I wanted to deal with that issue later, as several right hon. and hon. Members have raised it—including my right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury and the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes)—but let me do so now. Formal meetings of such committees is a matter for the Prime Minister, but I want no hon. Member to get the idea that the Ministers concerned do not meet regularly, particularly my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, myself and the Secretary of State for Defence and the Prime Minister. At one stage, post 11 September, such meetings took place two or three times a week, so there is a lot of co-ordination at ministerial and official levels.

I shall deal with some of the other points that have been made during the debate.

Mr. Beith

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw

I shall deal with those points, and I promise that I shall then give way to the right hon. Gentleman.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey asked whether the current split between the National Crime Squad, the National Criminal Intelligence Service, the Security Service and the Secret Intelligence Service should continue, and other hon. Members asked whether the split between Customs and Excise and the immigration service should continue. I simply say that the exact organisation of our security and law enforcement agencies nationally is kept under review. My instinct is that the first test should always be, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it", and a huge amount of time and cost can be wasted in reorganisation, but if a case can be made for it, it should be considered. I certainly recognised—although it is now much more a matter for the Home Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer—that there was a strong case for better co-ordination and for joint operations between, for example, customs and the immigration service.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey asked me about secure communications. We are taking active steps, about which I am happy to brief him and other hon. Members outside the House, to improve the availability and usefulness of secure communications.

Interwoven in several contributions have been comments about the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 and amendments made two years later by the Home Secretary. There was an interesting exposition by the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), the shadow Home Secretary, which led to him suggest—himself in the end, with a bit of prompting from others—that he was a tortured liberal.

Mr. Colin Pickthall (West Lancashire)

All liberals should be tortured.

Simon Hughes

Some of us are fine.

Mr. Straw

My hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall), who is as good a socialist as ever I have met, and who also happens to be my Parliamentary Private Secretary and therefore has no need to protest his liberality, says that all liberals should be tortured. However, there is a serious point here.

Of course we have to secure a balance between law enforcement and civil liberties; that is what this place is for. However, listening, as I have done in the past 13 months, to some comments about the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and the Home Secretary's subsequent provisions, I have sometimes thought that I was in a different world from everyone else, because it is worth placing on the record the fact that RIPA and the subsequent measures were introduced not to strengthen the hands of law enforcement agencies but rather to regulate them more effectively.

I take for example one area of regulation—that of the availability and usefulness of call data. By that I mean not the contents of telephone calls but data showing who has called who and when. That information is very important for law enforcement agencies. I first became aware that that had not been the subject of statutory regulation during a debate on the 1996 Police Bill, when my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) intervened on the remarks that I was making from the Opposition Front Bench to ask whether that was a gap in the law. I had not been aware of that before. I said that yes, it was, and made a note of it. When I got to the Home Office I followed it up, and that was the main reason why, subsequently, we ensured that that area was properly regulated. To suggest that what the Home Secretary is doing, and what I did, was to introduce new powers against liberties is a perversion and the reverse of the truth. Instead, we have been better securing the regulation of those powers.

The right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling raised the issue of whether there should be a Select Committee in place of the present statutory Committee. I have always said—I made it clear to the Committee previously—that I am open-minded on the matter. If there were a Select Committee, it would have to report in a similar way to the present Committee—it is a great tribute to the Committee that it operates, as it were, as a Select Committee—but I understand the importance of Parliament's having Select Committees to do this work and I consider that we need to keep the matter under particular review.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) asked who had the lead responsibility in respect of security in Northern Ireland. The answer is that because of the special situation in Northern Ireland, the Police Service of Northern Ireland has that lead, although obviously it works in close collaboration with the other security and intelligence agencies.

Mr. Beith

I wanted to intervene earlier because I was not sure that the right hon. Gentleman had fully conceded or recognised how dependent this new arrangement between the Cabinet Secretary and Sir David Omand is on the quality of Sir David. If he had not been available for the position, it is very questionable whether it would have been right to transfer responsibility for the intelligence agencies from the Cabinet Secretary, who plays such a vital role. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will recognise that, some time in the future, when new personalities become involved, we might have to look at the matter again.

Mr. Straw

Without going into all the details, which would be quite inappropriate, of course, the Prime Minister made the appointment bearing in mind the high qualities of Sir David Omand. There are many other people around in Whitehall who have similar high qualities, but it goes without saying that the Prime Minister would not have made the appointment unless he was absolutely satisfied about the quality of the candidate that he chose.

I want to deal with one of the central elements of the report from the Intelligence and Security Committee: the question of whether the agencies were in any way negligent in failing to predict the terrorist attacks in New York on 11 September. I want to put on record that, during 2000 and 2001, right up to 11 September, there was a high level of awareness among the agencies of the threats posed by Osama Bin Laden and the al-Qaeda network to United States and United Kingdom interests. The ISC has noted that both the United Kingdom and United States agencies achieved some notable successes against al-Qaeda targets in the three-year period running up to 11 September. Although, for obvious reasons, details of those successes cannot be made public, I can say that plots to carry out attacks in the United Kingdom, the United States and elsewhere in Europe and the middle east were thwarted.

The ISC notes that the UK was active in focusing international attention on Afghanistan and the Taliban before 11 September. The intelligence reports and assessments provided by the UK intelligence community in the period up to 11 September left no room for complacency about the likelihood and imminence of major terrorist attacks. I therefore fully endorse the Committee's conclusions that the agencies did not overlook any intelligence that would have forewarned of the attacks on 11 September. There was intelligence, but it was not complete, and it was not known where or when the attacks were to take place, nor who would carry them out. A re-examination of material across the intelligence community has not found any evidence that, even with the benefit of hindsight, that intelligence could have been used to deter or to give advance warning of the attacks.

Of course, what the agencies have done, as we have done, is to seek to learn the intense lessons of 11 September. Throughout the period since 11 September we have been guided by the principle that the causes—to pick up a point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Alan Howarth)—as well as the symptoms of the problems must be treated. Our goal remains as set out in our paper on "Campaign Objectives", a copy of which was deposited in the House last October.

Our most visible action has been in Afghanistan, where the military operations succeeded in severely disrupting the al-Qaeda operations. With our assistance, the Interim Administration have destroyed what is probably up to 25 per cent.—we are not entirely sure of the proportion—of this year's poppy harvest, a crop that has funded terrorism and put heroin on our streets. Meanwhile, a huge international humanitarian, diplomatic and political effort has underpinned political and democratic change in Afghanistan, without which there can be no permanent solution to Afghanistan being a seedbed and school for terrorism elsewhere in the world.

We have promoted counter-terrorism measures in the European Union, in the G8 and in NATO. and we have been working with the international community to disrupt sources of finance for terrorists. In that context, I hope very much that the official Opposition and the Liberals will give full support to the Proceeds of Crime Bill as it passes through Parliament. Of course, everybody has signed up to the principle of fighting terrorism, including the funding of terrorism, in which crime plays such an appalling part, but what we must do is ensure that the law enforcement agencies and the courts have effective powers to do that.

As I said, our international strategy in the war against terrorism recognises causes as well as symptoms. Although no political cause can justify terrorism, our approach has been informed by the need to resolve conflicts that breed violence and resentment.

The role of the intelligence agencies in protecting our national interests has never been under greater scrutiny. Commentators in the United Kingdom as well as in the United States have sought to portray the events of 11 September as an intelligence failure. That is not the case. Those critics fail to recognise a fundamental point about intelligence work: by its very nature, when it works—which is usually the case—the public rarely get to hear about it. The criticisms neglect to take account of a depressing but fundamental fact about the intelligence business: the agencies have to be right all the time; terrorists only need to get lucky once. In that—

It being Seven o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

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