§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Joan Ryan.]
§ 2.1 pm
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett)
As the House will be aware, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I interchange presentations on Intelligence and Security Committee reports, and it is my duty to lead this afternoon.
I thank the Committee for another thorough and constructive report, which scrutinises, examines and holds to account those in the services and the Ministers who oversee their work in an absolutely critical area. For myself and my right hon. Friend, I express appreciation for the unstinting work of the Chairman of the Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor). She would be here this afternoon if she were not attending a more joyous occasion—celebrating the graduation of her son, whom we wish well. My right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) will do a sterling job in her place.
Our thanks are due, once again, to the security and intelligence services, to GCHQ, to the counter-terrorism branch and special branch forces across the country, and to the police. Their work stands between us and disaster. On a number of occasions, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I have made it clear that whatever we do in terms of internal resilience and whatever steps we take in foreign policy, diplomacy and the tackling of causes across the world, the work of the intelligence and security services is vital in protecting our interests, and we thank them again for what they have done over the past 12 months, which has safeguarded us so far.
My right hon. Friend will reinforce my thanks to the outgoing head of the security and intelligence service and to his successor. My thanks are also due for the work of the commissioners for intelligence and interception, of the chief commissioner for surveillance and of the chair and members of the investigatory powers tribunal. I thank them because it is important to highlight on this annual occasion the level of scrutiny and oversight that takes place in those critical areas, in a way that does not exist anywhere else in the world. We are proud of that, and it is important in ensuring that my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland and for Defence can undertake our duties knowing that there is proper scrutiny and that we are held to account through the monitoring of those bodies and by the House of Commons. Today is one of those occasions on which there is often more light than heat and on which we receive less coverage than we would on a subject featuring more hot air than considered judgment. Nevertheless, this is Parliament doing its job, ensuring that scrutiny is real.
As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will outline, there have been horrendous examples across the world over the past 12 months of how the threat is real and how we, in this House, were right in the way that we tackled matters in the aftermath of the events of 1043 11 September 2001. From Istanbul to Madrid and from Saudi Arabia to Morocco, we have seen incidents over the past few months involving real terror and the taking of life. We have seen, too, the preparation of that terror in other countries. I was with the Spanish Interior Minister when he made a presentation to European Interior Ministers earlier this week. He outlined the material that Spain has gathered, the lessons learned, and how critical it is to be able to track those who prepared the attack in Madrid on 11 March. He outlined the way in which that preparation spread its tentacles across national boundaries, and how people going about what appeared to be their normal business were actually preparing to turn into terrorists. Those people were not suspected, and they were holding down normal, professional jobs. They were not on the very edge of disadvantage, alienated and disaffected. They were, in the old cold war term, sleepers, waiting their opportunity to wreak terror and death on innocent civilians in Madrid.
We are beholden, as we consider how we undertake the work of protection and how we respond to the Intelligence and Security Committee report, to remind ourselves that people, in the House and outside, have been sceptical about whether measures were necessary, whether the threat would continue for years to come, and whether what my right hon. Friend and I have described in relation to franchised terrorism—the network that exists and the loose associations—really constituted a threat that could really require a war on terror. We believed that it could, and the tragic examples that we can give emphasise that that is the case.
In the United Kingdom, we have seen the superb work of our services disrupting and foiling potential attacks. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, when reporting this morning on his decision to conclude his term in office in January—I thank him for his work, although there will be other opportunities to do so—described the way in which often hidden, unspoken, unpresented work can safeguard our interests in the capital and across the whole country. There are case-by-case incidents of which we do not hear publicly, and when we do hear about them there is often too much heat and not enough light, which gets in the way of the necessary investigations.
Often, cases are continuing. Often, there is an inability to spell out why statements cannot be made. That is just part of dealing with the kind of terror we face. We simply ask, as we have on other occasions, that people be patient about what we can do to make that work more apparent. We have seen how the much maligned and traduced part 4 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 has worked in practice. Over the past 12 months, since we last debated it in the House, and since February, when we debated the Newton Committee, Lord Carlisle's report and the annual renewal of provisions, the Special Immigration Appeals Commission has dealt with continuing cases of appeal. Fourteen cases have been dealt with, and 13 led to the original decision to certificate being upheld. I was grateful for how Lord Carlisle's report upheld the process by which those certifications had taken place.
I am grateful to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, a court of superior record chaired by a High Court judge, for its work. One individual was released, which shows that the fear voiced by some MPs 1044 when the Act was passed that the commission would act as a rubber stamp was unfounded. The commission did not believe that the individual in question was free of connections with terrorism, but was unable to conclude that he had links with al-Qaeda and the international terrorist network.
§ Mr. Mark Oaten (Winchester) (LD)
The Home Secretary will remember that when we debated the Act and the Newton report, he said that he was moving towards examining intercept communications as a means of securing more evidence. Will he expand on that this afternoon?
§ Mr. Blunkett
I did not intend to go into the matter in depth, although we have given a commitment that should our policy change—I shall discuss the steps that we are taking in that respect shortly—it would be right and proper for the House to debate it thoroughly. A tide of opinion in favour of some adjustment is running in all three major political parties and beyond.
Before I move on to that matter, let me say that one individual subject to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission arrangements has been bailed to remain under surveillance at home because of mental health problems. I wish to assure the public that close surveillance is being kept and we are ensuring that no risk arises from that decision.
In response to the hon. Gentleman's intervention, let me set out our current position. Given the concerns expressed and the long-running debate on intercept, we indicated that we would ask for a review that examined in detail the way in which it would be possible to use intercept in individual cases, in terms of intelligence and evidential presentation. That work is continuing—an interim report will be presented to the Prime Minister shortly—because of the important issues touched on in the 27 February debate relating to the ability to separate intelligence from work that would prove to be usable as evidence presented to a court, and therefore usable in terms of charge. We have to determine how to separate the two and what to do with those aspects that do not fall neatly into the intelligence or signal system, which obviously will not be suitable for intercept, and those aspects that fall into the category of potential evidence to be presented to a court. The difficulty is substantial, because one has to devote resources to being able at the end of the process to present material in a form that is usable without knowing at the beginning of the process that one will wish to use it or that it will become usable. When we debate the subject in full, we shall have to address some of those issues.
Let me make my position clear. I was deeply sceptical, but I am prepared to be won over to the view that, in limited circumstances, intercept might be of value. However, we need to be won over to its use. We cannot presume that it can be used and live with the consequences in ignorance of the detail and the damage that might be done. I do not have a closed mind, and I do not believe that my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister have. However, we must not be carried away by enthusiasm for a new way to present material in evidence; we must deal with the difficulties that the services have presented to the inquiry. We must also bear in mind the differences between our system and the one used in Europe, not 1045 least in terms of the nature of investigating magistrates and the preparation of cases, and the differences between our system and the one used in the United States and north America. I hope that we can produce a measured report, but I think that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary agrees that, whatever decision we reach, we should present it to the House so that we can have a debate on that important issue and thrash out the questions raised, not least by the Intelligence and Security Committee, which knows about the ongoing work and which will take our evidence and report back to the House itself.
Let me return to the way in which existing powers are being used. Since the attack on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, some 562 arrests have been made under the Terrorism Act 2000, which was introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) when he was Home Secretary. Of those arrests, 97 have led to charges being made under the Act, and other charges under other legislation and other powers have been made in other cases. It is worth reflecting on the changes in the nature of the threat, on why the Antiterrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 was necessary, and on why the terms on which we have used other parts of the 2000 Act have been important.
Last week, there was controversy about the use of powers under sections 41 and 44 of the 2000 Act. We have the matter under scrutiny; that is why we published detailed figures and set up an action team. We are keen to ensure that intelligence-based policing, rather than wholesale sweeps, drives the necessary work and the use of those powers. Inevitably, there has been a massive increase in the use of the powers, particularly those in section 44, illustrated by the fact that the number of incidents of their use has increased from just over 8,000 to 21,500. That increase has affected all racial and ethnic groups, but disproportionately the Asian and black communities, which is why we are taking a close look at the matter. However, we recognise that use of the powers and designation of areas under section 44 inevitably centre on certain areas of the country—the figures reflect changes in practice not throughout Britain, but only in areas that are more likely to be affected by known danger, and are therefore likely to be targeted for the necessary use of police surveillance.
I am encouraged by the way in which the police have responded. There are good examples, including in south London, of detailed work with the community. Part of securing our safety and stability—part of the work of intelligence, security and policing forces, domestic and foreign—is securing the confidence and therefore the engagement of the communities most affected. The communities that are most likely to be targeted and traduced by those who are intent on using terrorist methods and on funding and planning terrorism need to be part of the solution. I welcome strongly the work of Iqbal Sacranie of the Muslim Council of Britain. It has taken brave steps to encourage everyone in the Islamic community in the UK to assist and support our efforts and to understand that, as citizens and residents of this country, we are in this together. It is therefore encouraging that communities in south London which, because of their nature and that of the dangers that they face, have been the subject of interventions under 1046 sections 41 and 44, have been drawn into understanding the nature of stop and search. Their members have been monitoring with the police the reasons for such interventions and have been applauding and welcoming police action to protect their communities. I want that work to be extended to other parts of the community in Britain, so that we can engage everyone in feeling that they are part of the solution.
Together, the four strands of our internal work on resilience—prevent, pursue, protect and prepare—make sense. If I were still a Methodist local preacher I would say that the greatest of those four is prevention. We are in the process of drawing up better, more relevant information and guidance for the public on their role and what they can do, and we will make that available shortly.
Turning to the report and the way in which it affects areas for which I am responsible—my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will obviously deal more broadly with global issues—I shall concentrate on domestic security and policing. We have increased resources dramatically, and that will be reinforced in the vote on the allocation for the security and intelligence services following the spending review. We will expand the capacity of the Security Service, for example, by 50 per cent. over the next three years, and the work that it, the intelligence services and GCHQ do will be substantially underpinned in the spending review. The joint terrorism analysis centre—JTAC—was established exactly a year ago, and is a model of inter-agency working. Everyone involved would commend the work that it has done since its inception. The national security advice centre is working with the business community to look at the forthcoming challenges, not least electronic intervention and terrorism, and has been assisted by information and other support provided by the police.
The eight regional intelligence cells that have been created following the reorganisation of special branch are up and running, and Bryan Bell, the director in charge of reorganisation, has continued his work. As the House knows, we provided an additional £15 million for that work. The House has debated at length the relationship between serious and organised crime and terrorism. The serious organised crime agency is taking shape, and the necessary posts have been advertised. It will help to tackle that relationship more effectively, linking the work of immigration agencies, Customs, the National Crime Squad and the National Criminal Intelligence Service. The underpinning will remain the work of the Security Service, and I stress that while the percentage of resources has remained steady, there is no less a commitment from the Security Service to supporting cross-boundary and international operations.
The Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee referred to espionage in the publication last week. I shall make the position clear—we are spending a smaller percentage of the enhanced and expanded budget on counter-espionage, but in fact we are spending more than we did last year. The service is using new techniques in addition to tried and tested methods to make its surveillance more effective. We give an assurance to the House, the country and people overseas who may be attempting to intervene, whether from former enemy countries or friendly nations, that the services do not merely stand ready—I apologise for that terrible civil service phrase—but, in fact, are ready to intercept and 1047 are doing so. If there is a dramatic increase in resources re-prioritisation is inevitable. By increasing the sums available we can ensure that work will continue even if the percentage allocated has been adjusted.
Counter-terrorism is receiving the support and resources that it requires, as well as the domestic backup to reinforce resilience. The Intelligence and Security Committee has, with considerable fervour, ensured that this year the intelligence services committee chaired by the Prime Minister has drawn together all the relevant services and Ministers to co-ordinate and pull together the various strands of that important work. My right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley will speak about other areas that the Intelligence and Security Committee has touched on, including the BBC monitoring facility. As for information, we are keen that the national infrastructure security co-ordination centre, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn set up in 1999 when he was Home Secretary, should examine areas outside the scope of its existing operations. I thank its chairman for his work in creating a one-stop shop to develop awareness and new approaches to threats that have not previously existed.
Expertise is essential if we are to link the work of the Secret Intelligence Service to an understanding of what is happening across the world and an awareness of our vulnerabilities. Many desktop exercises have taken place over the past year and, as we discussed in February, there was an up-front exercise at Bank tube station on 7 September last year. We learned many lessons and are keen to develop further exercises, including a joint exercise with the United States in the spring. I suggested to Dominique de Villepin, the French Interior Minister—he was previously the opposite number to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary—that we undertake additional joint work with the French, and he agreed to that earlier this week.
It is incumbent on all of us to come up with ideas, questions and proposals to monitor what we are doing, as I spelled out at the beginning of my speech. We cannot guarantee 100 per cent. success, but we can ensure that 150 per cent. effort goes into protecting our country and the effective use of our resources to do so. The most fundamental duty of Government is to ensure the security of the nation. We must balance reassurance and confidence building with honest and transparent dialogue about the dangers.
We must balance the necessary steps for security, as we spelled out at the end of February, against the necessity to provide freedom and liberty without encroaching disproportionately on individuals' rights. Getting that right is a difficult task. We believe that so far we have done so, and when we published a consultation paper on the recommendation of the Newton committee at the end of February we asked people to give us their thoughts on further developments including, for example, new legislation on association with terrorism. Over the summer, we asked people to examine the relationship between domestic and foreign terrorist acts, and between individuals. Following the consultation, we will establish a way forward and present proposals before the spring so that the House can debate them in time for the renewal of the necessary orders and in preparation for the sunset clause which, the two Houses of Parliament agreed, would come into force in 2006.
1048 We must be sensitive to difficult issues on which party divides have often broken down—people of all persuasions have been convinced to set aside the usual adversarial approach to get things right. It is in that spirit that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I address those issues this afternoon.
§ David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con)
I, too, received a very courteous letter from the Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, explaining that she could not be present today. We quite understand why. I am sure she will be well represented by the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron), but he will forgive me if I say that we will still miss her presence, as she is a formidable Chairman.
There was much to agree with in the Home Secretary's opening remarks, even his lay preacher quote, which I think was from I Corinthians 13. I join him in paying tribute to the intelligence and security agencies and the whole of the UK intelligence community for their constant hard work—so far, fortunately, successful hard work, and I am touching wood, as is the Foreign Secretary—at a time when the threats and challenges we face have never been so great.
I join the Home Secretary in thanking the Intelligence and Security Committee for its persistent scrutiny of intelligence undertaken on behalf of the House, and I also pay tribute to the Committee. Looking back through previous debates, it seems traditional to tease the Committee for the sheer number of asterisks in its reports. Paragraph 37, for example, reads:We have been told that ******.
We are concerned that ***
We will return to this matter.That was an interesting paragraph. The Government's response states:The government notes the Committee's concern and its intention to return to the matter.I wonder, frankly, whether there is any point in including such a paragraph in the report. I understand the redaction process that goes with it. As hon. Members have said in previous years, we should consider how liberal we can be with information. Some of it could be more forthcoming, particularly on financial figures—an issue that I raised before in a previous incarnation.
As the Home Secretary said, the threat that we face is real and immediate. It is sad that historically we—the UK is not alone—have consistently underestimated the threat to our security. The Committee states:The number of people willing to become involved in terrorism is rising",andThey are fanatical in their determination to succeed".1049 The Director General of the Security Service tells us at paragraph 9:The initiative generally rests with the terrorists. The timing of any attack is of their choosing".That is why we must always be ready and, in the words of the Home Secretary in his White Paper, I think, be one step ahead.
I welcome the Home Secretary's comments on resources. Because we are dealing with the security services, he is in a considerably better position than I am to make a judgment about the exact numbers involved. The ISC report goes into resources in some detail and states that resources should be made available sooner. The report analyses the shortfall in funding and comments, at paragraph 135:A turning point could have been the East African Embassy bombings in 1998, which first demonstrated the power of Usama Bin Laden and the A1 Qaida network, but this resulted in no significant changes to priorities or resources.It goes on to analyse the continuing shortfall in funding at the turn of the century, points up the delays implicit in training staff, and says of the agencies' request for a sizeable increase last year:This was too late and it is why they do not have the level of resources that they need for all their priority requirements. We hope that the period of under-expansion has now been ended by the significant increase in funding for the Security Service. However, we remain concerned that the SIS and GCHQ will need further additional funds if the collection gaps are to be reduced and the UK's ability to identify, monitor and disrupt threats from abroad is to be improved.At paragraph 125, the Committee goes on to identify another key failure. It states:We were also informed that the JIC had not assessed the threat to the CNI"—the critical national infrastructure—from electronic attack since 2002. Capabilities to attack the CNI exist, and, while both NISCC and CESG sought to reassure us that they were reducing the vulnerability of the CNI to technical attack, we were not convinced.That is entirely consistent with the rather slow response elsewhere by Government to the more unglamorous parts of defending ourselves against terrorism—the important services to deal with the aftermath of an attack, such as the NHS's ability to deal with chemical, biological and nuclear attack, the failures of the emergency planning mechanisms, or the lack of urban search and rescue equipment for fire fighters. If there was ever a need for joined-up government, it is now and in this area. The critical national infrastructure is a key part not to be forgotten.
Before I turn to the fundamental issue of intelligence in the report, I shall ask some specific questions relating to the Home Office. I am happy to take an intervention from the Home Secretary, as I did not quite pick up the timing of one or two aspects to which he referred. The ISC notes that the Home Office paper on the formation of the Serious Organised Crime Agency states that the review of whether intercept evidence should be admissible as evidence in court was to be completed by June 2004—in other words, already.
To say that the report was time critical would be an understatement. The liberty of individuals and the safety of the whole nation will be materially affected by 1050 its conclusions. The Home Secretary did not mention that in his general or specific remarks. Will the report be available very soon, or was this the report he referred to for next year? I hope the Foreign Secretary will pick up the issue later. We need to know what progress has been made.
We welcome the work set out in paragraph 60:As part of this work a group, led by NCIS, will produce a new national intelligence requirement by June 2004. We will monitor how this requirement for crime-related intelligence will feed into the JIC Requirements and Priorities for secret intelligence and we will take evidence on the impact that the formation of SOCA will have on the Agencies.That is one of the Home Secretary's better inventions, if I may say so. It holds out hope for serious improvement in the way we deal with international crime, in particular.
One of the specific criminal and security concerns that the ISC raises is the possible threat to national security posed by the importation of dangerous goods via the post. Paragraph 149 notes that the Committee warned the Government about "this potential vulnerability" two years ago. This is not just a terrorist issue; it is a criminal issue too. There is considerable anecdotal evidence of readily convertible imitation weapons coming in by post from overseas suppliers, for example. Although we appreciate and support the role of the police intelligence systems in detecting the flow of such weapons, we believe that much more widespread screening of packages from abroad should be instigated. That is a matter of relatively straightforward policy. I should be interested to hear the Government's proposals in that regard.
Before I deal with the general intelligence picture, I shall raise one question about a paragraph in the report that struck me as surprising. It is about the performance of GCHQ. My question is aimed at the members of the Committee. The report states in paragraph 55:GCHQ has successfully managed the PFI contract".I accept that GCHQ is world class in its capabilities in decoding, interception and intelligence gathering, and the ISC reflects that. However, in relation to the management of the private finance initiative, the Public Accounts Committee heavily criticised the GCHQ management. In addition to the six specific criticisms in the report, the Chairman of the PAC said:There have been unwelcome cost increases on this programme. The process of moving the technology so critical to GCHQ's business will take longer and cost well over £300 million more than initially estimated, including extra running costs during the transition period. It is astonishing that GCHQ did not realise the extent of what would be involved much sooner, given how critical these systems are to its core business.Perhaps the Committee could explain whether it took the PAC report into account, or whether it simply disagrees. That is rather important.
I turn to the central issue: intelligence. Intelligence is gathered to assess threats. That is self-evident. The purpose of intelligence is to inform policy-makers. The question that has been hanging over us with the Butler report and which cannot be avoided in this debate is whether we have used intelligence in such a way that the Government got what they wanted to hear, rather than what they should have heard. That means, of course, that intelligence ceases to be useful. The ISC report on weapons of mass destruction cast serious doubt as to 1051 whether that line was crossed. The issue comes up again in this report. Before I turn to the substance of that issue, I shall raise a number of apparent failures to keep the ISC properly informed during the course of the year.
The ISC itself raised the Government's failure to provide it with eight Joint Intelligence Committee papers relating to Iraqi WMDs and UN inspections, and it was mighty generous to accept the Government's apology and statement that no deliberate attempt was made to withhold information. It seems extraordinary that the Cabinet Office's intelligence and security secretariat, an arm of Government whose sole function is information handling, was incapable of handling information on that occasion.
In its investigation for last September's report on WMDs, the ISC was not told that two members of the Defence Intelligence Staff had registered their concern about the 24 September dossier. Indeed, it was told that no such concerns had been expressed, but the report states that three members of GCHQ and the Secret Intelligence Service were moved from Gulf war duties, presumably because of similar concerns. I am not sure of the extent to which the Committee was made conscious of the level of dissenting opinion in the agency in drawing up both its September report and this report.
In paragraph 87, the Committee states:we are not satisfied with the Government's responseto the September report on WMDIt emphasised only four key conclusions while either rejecting or failing to address fullythe other 24conclusions and recommendations. We regard this as extremely unsatisfactory and we recommend that the Government explicitly address each of our recommendations and conclusions in future responses.The Government response, which was published this week, states:we regret the Committee found its response unsatisfactory … The government accepts the Committee recommendation and future responses and will adopt the format used in this response".After one ISC report and a Government response, and another ISC report and another Government response, we still do not have the answers to the fundamental questions raised by the ISC. If I ask the Government some of those questions again today, perhaps we will be lucky.
I will not go through all the fundamental questions, but I shall ask four of them. First, why did the JIC assessment not precisely reflect the intelligence provided by the SIS? Secondly, why did the JIC assessment not highlight in its key judgments the uncertainties and gaps in the UK's knowledge about Iraq's biological and chemical weapons? Thirdly, do the Government not accept that through deleting comments on the nature of the threat to the UK, the case was not balanced? A rounded judgment on the threat to the UK should have been reached. Finally, the failure to be specific in the dossier was irresponsible and misleading. The Government should have provided the public with clear and accurate information. Those concerns highlight an uncertainty or lack of knowledge about the real threat, which stands in stark contrast to the confident public position initially struck by the Government.
1052 The simple truth is that only four of the conclusions and recommendations were dealt with explicitly because that suited the Government's agenda at the time, which is another example of an Administration caught up in denial and blame. Let me remind the House of the Prime Minister's statements on the matter. In the preamble to the September dossier, the Prime Minister said:What I believe the assessed intelligence has established beyond doubt"—beyond doubt—is that Saddam has continued to produce chemical and biological weapons".He also said:I and other Ministers have been briefed in detail on the intelligence and are satisfied as to its authorityIn July 2003, the Prime Minister told the Liaison Committee that he hadabsolutely no doubt at all that we will find evidence of mass destruction programmes".However, in his evidence to the same Committee earlier this week, he contradicted himself by saying:I have to accept that we haven't foundWMDsand that we may not find them".What is the Government's position? Is it that the weapons existed, but that we have not found them, or is it that they did not exist all along? That issue is unavoidable in a debate addressing the effectiveness and use of our intelligence gathering services.
The Prime Minister said that he and other Ministerswere satisfied as to the authorityof the intelligence. Was he referring to the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary? If so, will the Foreign Secretary tell us whether he is still satisfied as to the authority of that intelligence? When Ministers reached those opinions, was it on the basis of knowing the qualifications and possible weaknesses of the intelligence or was the intelligence that they saw stated as a certainty? Was the intelligence changed or were qualifications and doubts removed in order to satisfy the Prime Minister's agenda? Was the intelligence changed in order to persuade the public that Iraq was an imminent threat when it seems now that that may not have been the case?
The normal procedure, where there is doubtful intelligence, is that the chairman of the JIC attaches a caveat note to the Prime Minister. Did those caveats remain attached to the intelligence containing information provided by, for example, dissident Iraqi cells, and if not, why not? If so, why did the Prime Minister allow dubious intelligence to be included?
The aim of the intelligence dossiers in the run-up to the war in Iraq was to outline the current threat in the context of UN resolutions to the public. It is fundamental in a democracy that such a document should give a balanced view, and documents of such importance should have been analysed word by word. This question must be answered, and we may get the answer today or we may get it after the publication of the Butler report: were the public let down, not through the inaccuracy of the agencies, but through the selective 1053 and improper use of information? Did our Government subordinate the nationally vital issue of intelligence to the politically convenient demands of propaganda?
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal)
Order. I remind all hon. Members that Mr. Speaker has imposed a 12-minute time limit on all speeches by Back Benchers.
§ Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley) (Lab)
First, I want to pass on the apologies of the Chair of the ISC, my right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor), for her absence from this important debate. She has written to hon. Members to explain that today is her son Andrew's graduation day, and I am sure that hon. Members understand why she is absent.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), both of whom referred to our report. Our report commends the agencies for the work that they have done in the past year, most of which will never be made public. It is right publicly to thank the staff of the Secret Intelligence Service, the Security Service, GCHQ, the Defence Intelligence Staff and the assessments staff for their important work and their contribution to the protection of UK interests, both here and abroad.
The ISC performs an important role in the oversight of the UK's intelligence community, and I should like to pass on our Chair's thanks to all members of the Committee and our secretariat for their work over the past year. The work load has been heavy, especially for the secretariat, over the past 12 months—the Committee produced two substantial reports during the course of the year. The first report was published in September 2003 and concerned intelligence on and assessments of Iraqi WMDs. The second report, which we are debating today, is the annual report that the Committee is statutorily required to produce and which the Prime Minister is required to present to Parliament.
During my years as a member of the Committee, we have always debated the annual report. I welcome those debates and hope that other hon. Members welcome them too. We completed the report in May this year, the Prime Minister published it on 29 June and the Government produced their response on Tuesday of this week. Our report contains a number of conclusions and recommendations, which the Government have, for the first time, separately addressed in their response.
The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden mentioned recommendation C, which he quoted in full, including the asterisks. The Committee felt that it was important to include recommendation C. We knew what would happen to recommendation C and that the issue of asterisks had been raised in previous debates, but we included it in the interests of good housekeeping and to bring an important point to Ministers' attention. I have no doubt that recommendation C will appear in the press, who will no doubt have fun with it.
§ David Davis
I did not raise recommendation C simply to tease the Committee—amusing as it is. Redaction is a matter of judgment, and it is not a clinical exercise. For 1054 example, when the Public Accounts Committee produced a report on the overrun on MI5 and MI6 buildings, the redactions were reduced by about 90 per cent. by the use of a rigorous approach, which might have been applied to this report. I do not know about the current procedure, but it is well worth reviewing.
§ Mr. Barron
That may be so. Most of the report that we produced earlier this year would not have been in the public domain unless it had been crafted so as not to identify sources. We have moved on substantially in that respect. We realised that recommendation C would be treated in that way. I assure all hon. Members, and anyone who may read or listen to these debates, that any redaction in any of our reports is agreed by the Committee. We unanimously agreed this report and the previous report on Iraq. If we were unhappy with any redaction made in this report or any previous one, we would say so.
We welcome the Government's detailed response to our recommendations. The key point is that we are still taking evidence on the nature and circumstances of the interviews of US-held detainees that are conducted by or observed by UK intelligence personnel, and on the usefulness of those interviews. We intend to carry on doing that.
We comment that, owing to the necessary additional efforts allocated to counter-terrorism, risks are being taken in the area of counter-espionage, and that collection gaps exist in other areas.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was right to raise the issue of money. Having a bigger pot and a smaller percentage does not mean that there is not more money. As experience moves from one area to another, counter-espionage develops some gaps, as I am sure my right hon. Friend recognises.
We note that the agencies were given additional resources in the 2000 and 2002 spending rounds which they were not able fully to spend, partly because, although they have embarked on recruitment campaigns, it takes time to train staff to be effective. That is not a question only of languages, but of dialects. Some agencies have to undertake a complicated and difficult process in that respect.
The Committee concludes that the scale of the challenge posed by international terrorism was underestimated by the agencies at the end of the millennium. However, the formation of the joint terrorism analysis centre in 2003 addressed the concerns about co-ordination and timeliness of reporting that we raised in our report on the Bali bombings. Although the agencies were expanding and receiving additional resources, they did not reassess the threat and challenge that international terrorism posed until late 2003, partly because the scale of the problem became apparent only through increased co-operation with partners. That reassessment prompted Ministers to agree to a significant increase in Security Service staff over the next four years. We believe that that significant increase should have occurred earlier—hence our view that it was too late—and remain concerned that the SIS and GCHQ will require additional resources in terms of people and funding if collection gaps are to be filled. We got that message across to Ministers very strongly in the course of our deliberations with them.
1055 We state our intention to take additional evidence on the Defence Intelligence Staff, particularly on how its analysis work links with that of the assessments staff and how its collection effort supports national requirements. We have received good co-operation from the DIS in that regard. We will also take evidence on the internal systems of the intelligence and security secretariat, which contains the assessments staff, and its structures and resources. I agree with the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden about the absence of the eight reports, which did not reach us for logistical reasons. We did not understand why that happened, but we received a good explanation and accepted an apology, which will be put into the annual report. I hope that the ongoing work that we are doing will ensure that we have effective systems whereby material is retrievable if required.
We intend to complete our work on the relationship between the intelligence community and the media. In that regard, we would welcome comments from the media on the contact and information that they receive from the agencies. We said in our report on Iraq that we would undertake that work, but it is not yet complete.
The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden mentioned the Public Accounts Committee. He quoted from paragraph 55 of the report, in which we said:GCHQ has successfully managed the PFI contract, which has provided them with an excellent facility, and the fact that the sigint service to customers has been maintained (during the transition is welcome.People may have become confused about that. We were referring specifically to the private finance initiative contract for the new building, which was the biggest single PFI project undertaken in Europe. There is a long history of comments about cost overruns and time overruns on PFI hospitals and other public buildings. However, this project was successful. The PAC looked into the transitional cost in terms of the upgrading of new equipment and so on, and made certain recommendations and conclusions. Having taken evidence on the matter, we dealt with it in our annual report of 1999—2000 under the heading, "GCHQ New Accommodation Project". We said:We understood that Ministers would be asked to authorise transition costs between four and ten times the original estimate.We were well aware of the situation, which the PAC picked up on because it has gone through the system. Indeed, Parliament should have been well aware of it, and not as surprised as was suggested in some of the press reports when the PAC published its report.
The Committee has a good working relationship with the agencies and Departments. We see relevant Ministers, in terms of responsibility or as users of intelligence, perhaps more than any other Committee of parliamentarians. This year, we took evidence from the Secretaries of State for Foreign Affairs, for Home Affairs, for Defence and for Transport, as well as from the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the Attorney-General. We also see several senior officials, including the heads of the three agencies and the DIS, the security and intelligence co-ordinator and the Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee.
Our report on Iraq and WMD included two sections entitled "Terminology and Organisation" and "Intelligence Sources", which were deliberately included to inform Parliament and the wider public about 1056 matters relating to intelligence. In our latest report, we included a section headed "The Limitations of Intelligence", which is on page 9. That has the same intention—to inform Members of Parliament and the general public of intelligence issues that are not normally discussed. I hope that people read it.
Before I conclude my remarks, I should like to put one matter on the record. The Committee has been asked to comment on the appointment of people to particular jobs, including heads of agencies. It is not, and never has been, for the ISC to comment on timing or the people appointed. We do, however, comment on the process that has been followed in making the appointment. In the case of the next chief of the SIS, or "C", the Committee is content with the appointment process. In our report, we record that the appointment of a JIC Chairman—
§ Mr. Mark Oaten (Winchester) (LD)
I join the Home Secretary and shadow Home Secretary in thanking the Intelligence and Security Committee for its work. It is a shame that the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) had to be cut off, given his able job in representing the Chairman. We entirely understand the reasons for her absence—she has a happy occasion to attend. I pass on the apologies for absence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), who is also a member of the Committee, and whose daughter is having a baby today.
I want to put on record the thanks of Liberal Democrat Members for the wonderful work of our intelligence committees. The intelligence services in this country carry out marvellous work, much of which we never hear about. It is an incredible achievement and the report and today's debate afford an opportunity to put that firmly on the record.
We all think back to where we were on 11 September. My mind was racing then about the consequences of those events. I suspect that, like me, many hon. Members were pretty sure that we would face an attack in this country in the ensuing period. Although terrible events have occurred in Madrid, Istanbul, Bali and other places, it is to the credit of those who work in our intelligence services that, so far, we have avoided such an attack in this country. That is a remarkable achievement. If I had been asked to predict events after 11 September, I would not have believed it possible to avoid some sort of atrocity in this country for such a long time.
The intelligence services have had to adjust to a changing world, which has moved from one of difficulties and problems between superpowers to that of super-terrorists. That means complex changes, which have required the intelligence services to adapt. They require much more resources and their activities have become more important than ever—that is difficult for them. Our ability to scrutinise their activities becomes correspondingly more important as their actions are much more in the public domain. I therefore welcome the debate and believe that we should have an annual occasion to examine their work.
1057 Not only the intelligence services but the politicians have had to adapt to a changing world. The Home Secretary was right to reflect on those difficulties and tensions when he clearly set out the tension that he feels as Home Secretary in bearing the burden of responsibility for all of us in ensuring that he and the Government do everything possible to protect our security. There is tension between doing that and ensuring that we do not abandon the freedoms that we are trying to protect.
I know that the Home Secretary becomes enormously irritated with my colleagues and me. I almost choked on my yoghurt—not muesli—when listening to "Today" and heard myself described as part of the Libertariat—[HON. MEMBERS: "Liberati."] It was "Liberati". [Interruption.] I want to put it on the record that I do not eat muesli; I do not come from Hampstead—I was born in Watford; I started wearing sandals only when I saw David Beckham doing it, and I note with interest that, out of the three Home Affairs spokesmen, the only one with a beard is the Home Secretary. That may suggest that there is a Liberal desperately trying to get out.
The more serious point is that whatever one's values when taking on the Home Secretary's job, I imagine that the burden of responsibility and the information to which one is made party creates a tension about the direction that one should take. When Liberal Democrats are critical, I hope that the Home Secretary acknowledges that we understand his problems and difficulties and that it is our job in opposition to probe, test and ensure that we are doing what we can to protect values, which are perhaps sometimes not ideal in our changing world.
Let me consider the report, which begins by dealing with resources. I acknowledge the need for increased resources, but perhaps the Home Secretary or the Foreign Secretary could comment on the dilemma between putting more resources into intelligence services and the knock-on effects on our police. I was greatly struck by the conversations that I have held with members of the Metropolitan police. They said that although they obviously welcomed all the intelligence that they received, the more they get, the more demand it creates for individual police officers to follow it up, participate in raids and deal with the consequences. It is therefore not simply a case of ensuring that we put extra resources into the intelligence services. They must be matched by extra resources for the affected police authorities and forces so that they can conduct the necessary activity on the ground.
I congratulate the Home Secretary on his discussions with the Chancellor. Press reports and the Chancellor's comments suggest that the Home Secretary has successfully secured considerable resources. That is welcome and appropriate in such times. The Home Secretary mentioned the disparity in terms of the work in counter-espionage and the fall in the percentage figure of the budget devoted to it. Does he believe that, although there is extra money available to the Home Department, next week's spending review announcement will also mean a slight increase in that specific percentage? Will the percentage as well as the money improve?
1058 The shadow Home Secretary pointed out that it is ridiculous that page 11 of the report provides a breakdown and a bar chart that examines the resources for the Secret Intelligence Service, the security services and GCHQ, but displays only asterisks from 2001 to 2005. It is hard to make a case for not revealing the amount of resources that goes to the individual services. I cannot understand the security risk involved in that. The advantages in parliamentary scrutiny outweigh the dangers and risks or including those figures.
Nearly all the consequences of extra resources involve people. Recruiting is clearly a difficult and complex process. For example, the Committee mentions the difficulty in trying to obtain a good ethnic balance in recruiting. That is important not only in its own right but especially because of the types and style of work that we expect our intelligence services to undertake, their understanding with specific communities, and their ability to communicate and gain the confidence of some communities. I hope that the Home Secretary will pick up on the Committee's comments and ascertain whether we can do much more to get a good ethnic mix.
Some concerns have been expressed to me about the National Criminal Intelligence Service and what happens when it transfers to the serious organised crime agency. I get a sense from people who are connected with NCIS that they are worried that the organisation is suffering from a sort of brain drain and that some of the more senior individuals who have been seconded from police forces are now starting to be taken back into them. That is happening partly because of financial pressure in NCIS to reduce the budget and partly because of the process of moving towards SOCA. It would be worrying if the transfer, which will not happen for 18 months, had an impact on the effectiveness of NCIS as individuals leave before the new agency is established. I hope that those who respond to the debate will tackle that and confirm that the Committee will be able to examine the work of SOCA as well as that of NCIS and that that organisation will be scrutinised properly. The Home Secretary is nodding and that is welcome confirmation.
The shadow Home Secretary made some strong points about Iraq. Perhaps they would have been more powerful if they had been made during the debate on Iraq rather than after the event. He hoped that the Butler inquiry might be able to answer some of the questions about the interrelationship between the intelligence services and Ministers, but I do not believe that it can provide those answers. That is precisely why Liberal Democrat Members decided not to take part in the process. Somewhat belatedly, Conservative Members made the same decision. I fear that, when the Butler report is published next week, we will all be asking for Butler mark 2 because it will pose a set of questions about Ministers' interpretation of information. Everybody will be dashing around studios demanding a further inquiry to ascertain how Ministers established that information. The Government could have settled this issue once and for all by wrapping those two issues up at the same time.
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for confirming that he still has an open mind on the issue of intercept communications. Like the shadow Home Secretary, we have moved on this issue. Indeed, I think that all three 1059 parties have done so. I have definitely come to the conclusion that it would be better to try to produce proper evidence against people rather than holding them without trial, so the sooner we can complete and see the evidence from that review, the better.
I was surprised that the Home Secretary did not give us any indication of the progress, if any, made at his summit in Sheffield this week with his counterparts from mainland Europe. I would have been interested to hear what progress had been made on shared intelligence and, particularly, on issues such as DNA and biometrics. We look forward to receiving more information about the progress that is being made on working with our European counterparts in those areas.
I do not want to drag up the issue of identity cards now but, while we would be very much in favour of shared intelligence and ensuring that such information was passed around, and while the idea of biometric data on passports is worth looking at in principle, I want to put on record again my concern that the Government are implying that biometrics and ID cards would have a role to play in tackling terrorism. I can seem them having a role if the cards were compulsory, or perhaps in regard to the ability of certain individuals to claim benefits, but I remain unconvinced—particularly after spending a couple of days in Madrid last week talking to some of the people involved in these matters—that an ID or biometric card system would create a serious means of preventing terrorism in this country.
I have one final question, which relates to page 23 of the report, on which the Committee raises concerns about the way in which some of the interviews of detainees took place. The wording is not clear to me, however. The report looked at the way in which detainees in Afghanistan, Iraq or Guantanamo Bay had been interviewed, and the response begins by saying:Interviews of detainees conducted or observed by UK intelligence personnel have"—and then goes on to list some concerns about the way in which those interviews had taken place. It is not clear to me whether this section confirms that interviews were conducted by UK intelligence personnel in a way that would go against the Geneva conventions. The wording is not clear, and it is important that we receive clarification on that point.
§ Mr. Michael Mates (East Hampshire) (Con)
Just to put the hon. Gentleman right, may I tell him that we received that letter from the Prime Minister just a few days before our report went to the printers? We put it in as he wrote it, and our answer is in paragraph 79, which states:We will take evidence on all these matters.So the hon. Gentleman must wait until we report, and then he will know.
§ Mr. Oaten
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. He clearly wants to ask the same questions as I do. We hope that there will be a chance to do that, but we could circumvent that process if the Foreign Secretary were able to clarify that matter when he responds to the debate today.
I said earlier that these are difficult matters, and I want to assure the Home Secretary that, where possible, we shall give cross-party support on many of them. 1060 However, it is important that we also probe and test the Home Secretary if we believe that legislation at times crosses into areas that we are trying to protect.
§ Alan Howarth (Newport, East) (Lab)
The annual report of the Intelligence and Security Committee offers much praise, makes some criticisms, and includes some of our usual painstaking passages of educational material. We are happy to praise MI6 and the Foreign Office in respect of Libya. Alongside that has been the unravelling of the A. Q. Khan network. We praise the establishment of the joint terrorism analysis centre, which is a model of inter-agency and interdepartmental co-ordination and commitment. We were particularly impressed by the speed with which that institution was set up, and by the quality of what it does. The one problem that it has had is that so many people have beaten a path to its door—it has become a popular destination for "spooks' tours" from all over the world—that it has been interrupted in the performance of its duties more often than it might have expected.
Such good co-ordination is a particular strength of the British system. We see it in the Joint Intelligence Committee, where the heads of all the agencies sit with representatives of other Government Departments. The committee centralises the assessment of intelligence material from a whole range of sources. We are pleased that a new system for establishing requirements and priorities has been achieved, and that the ministerial Committee on Intelligence and Security was engaged in that process. That was something for which we had been calling for some considerable time.
SCOPE, the computerised database of intelligence data linking 10 different Departments and agencies that is now in development, represents exactly the right way to go. Of course, there are all the problems of big public sector computer systems, and we have raised some questions about training, security and costs, but we have no doubt that it represents the right way to go.
We make criticisms of the low priority given to counter-espionage. We took a peace dividend after the cold war, but China, Russia and others continue to seek to find out what they usefully can about things that go on in Government and in business in this country that we ought to keep secret. On a visit that the Committee made to the United States of America recently, we were strongly reminded of instances of penetration of the American agencies, and it was impressed on us how important it is to look after our crown jewels, and to keep our secrets secret.
In the report, we chart the fall in the share of Security Service resources going to counter-espionage from some 20 per cent. in 1999—2000. That share is bottoming out at about 10 per cent. today—as the Home Secretary told us—thanks to the promise of a 50 per cent. increase in funding for the Security Service over the next four years, which is extremely welcome. This has been a calculated risk on the part of the Home Secretary and the director general of the Security Service, and we were pleased to understand from our discussion with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury that he understands the nature of the risk that was being taken.
The Committee regrets that not enough resource has hitherto been committed to helping the intelligence agencies play their part in addressing serious organised 1061 crime. We saw some remarkable models of inter-agency co-operation in dealing with drugs crime at Key West and in Jamaica, and some similarly excellent interdepartmental co-operation centred at Vauxhall Cross relating to various other kinds of serious organised crime. However, those good arrangements were undermined by the lack of resource going into them, when so much more could be achieved. It is very important that we should achieve more in that direction, and investment in this area would certainly yield a quick return. There is a spectrum between organised crime in the drugs trade, for example, all the way through to terrorism. We therefore welcome the commitment of extra resources that the Government have now promised, and we look forward to the serious organised crime agencybuilding on the intelligence capability already available across law enforcement and security and intelligence agencies".We draw attention to collection gaps, which are—irritatingly, for right hon. and hon. Members—asterisked in the report, those places that are not named but where we would like to see a stronger intelligence effort. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister told the Liaison Committee this week of today's threat, which he defined asa new form of global terrorism combined with repressive, unstable states that proliferate or engage in chemical, biological and nuclear weapons development".The world is a small place in terms of the capacity of terrorists and proliferators to move quickly from one part of it to another. It is very large, however, when we come to consider how to cover it comprehensively with intelligence, particularly when we bear in mind the length of the lead time to establish an effective intelligence capacity in any particular place.
It is easy to be wise after the event, and we suggest that the east African bombings in 1998 should have been a wake-up call to the world. It appears that not until 11 September 2001 did the world begin to wake up to the nature of the new threat. I was looking last night at a book called "Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey", written by V. S. Naipaul, which I see that I read in 1982. As long ago as that, Naipaul described a journey through Iran, Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia, in which he found Islam in ferment, and more and more people seeking the comforting simplifications of religious fanaticism. He wrote:This political Islam was rage, anarchy".For 20 years after that, however, western leaders continued to embrace Saudi Arabian leaders and to ignore Wahhabism. For 20 more years, we were comfortable with the existing concept of threat, our modes of threat analysis, and the ways in which we derived the requirements for the intelligence and security agencies. We took that peace dividend after the end of the cold war, and were guilty of complacency in the 1990s.
The enemy is an Islamic fundamentalism that is uninhibited in its willingness to use violence: sophisticated, implacable enemies, many of them trained individually in particular technical skills in the west, who exploit the values of our liberal society, our concern to preserve such values as privacy, a refusal to 1062 discriminate on grounds of race or religion, and the right to preach. If we are to protect ourselves physically against this kind of threat, we will need huge cultural and institutional adjustments, but if we make those, will it be a victory for us or for terrorism?
We agonise as to how to respond and deal with threats of this nature. What the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) said just now on that subject was helpful. We find it difficult and painful to judge what we are to do about the authorisation of surveillance, the use of intercept material in judicial proceedings, the development of policy on immigration, naturalisation, passports and ID cards, and the difficult question of detainees, to which we drew attention, and which has been referred to in the debate. The Prime Minister's letter in paragraph 78 of our report describes a detainee hooded and shackled during an interview, which was not reported at the time, and refers to other complaints, austere conditions and inappropriate treatment, and concerns passed on to the US authorities. As the right hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates) has just said, we will take evidence. But as the Home Secretary has said, Parliament will need to think hard about where we set the boundaries in these matters.
Iraq confronted us with a question: to what lengths are we willing to go when intelligence tells us that there is a threat from WMD? There have been, of course, passionate disagreements within our country and internationally. That issue cannot be ducked, and certainly not by political leaders Our Committee reported on the intelligence and assessments made in relation to Iraq, and the House debated our report, albeit perfunctorily. Others have trawled these waters: Lord Hutton, the Butler committee, and Mr. David Kay, the former head of the Iraq survey group, a real expert in these matters, and a revisionist, who said:It turns out that we were all wrong.Too much may be being read into those words. Kay accepts that Iraq was at an early stage of renewing its nuclear weapons programme, that it had removed the elements most vulnerable to inspection but kept its scientists and technology, and that research continued on chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. The missile and unmanned aerial vehicle programmes were still moving ahead, and the weapons programmes were designed to allow future production. If Saddam had had the political opportunity, he would assuredly have resumed those programmes.
Kay thinks that we were wrong to take the view that there were stockpiles, but he also says that there was no evidence either way on that. He describes the difficulties. Given the body of intelligence, over 15 years, it was hard not to conclude that Iraq, in his words,was a gathering, serious threat to the world".Saddam lied systematically, the scientists lied, the inspectors caught them lying and in breach of resolution 1441, so the analysts assumed the worse, perhaps wrongly in some respects. But a corrupt, terrorised society was very hard to read, and there was not enough human intelligence to enable us confidently to assess the motives and intentions of the Iraqi leadership at all points.
Were errors made? Possibly; but given what the intelligence community saw and knew, or thought that it knew, it still seems to me that it reached the only 1063 conclusion that it reasonably could. The looting and deliberate destruction of documents and material that took place following the failure of the coalition to achieve physical security in Iraq after 9 April means that the Iraq survey group may never establish the facts as to that period. Perhaps there were no stockpiles, but I do not doubt that the dangers to the region and therefore to the world were very great, that Saddam would have resumed his programmes, and that, already, the risks of proliferation through willing buyers meeting willing sellers in Iraq were very great. If there are questions about the integrity of UK officials and politicians taking decisions in this area, I believe that they are entirely unfounded.
§ Mr. Michael Mates (East Hampshire) (Con)
It is a great pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Newport, East (Alan Howarth) and the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron), beside whom I sit in the Committee Room, and have done for the past seven years—I think that I can say that without asterisks—while we get on with our work. As it was referred to from the Front Bench, it is worth emphasising that in the 10 years since this Committee was formed—I have had the honour of serving on it for all that time—it has been a zone entirely free of party politics. It does not enter into our work at all, and I am grateful that it does not. Indeed, on one visit that we made abroad, after we had been having discussions with some opposite numbers for seven or eight hours, the question of partisanship came up. We asked them to guess which parties we all came from, and they got every single one of us wrong—to the chagrin of some of us. There we are.
In the report there is a short essay about the limitations of intelligence, which I commend to everyone in the House and outside it. For far too long, people have wrestled with a faint impression that intelligence can tell us everything, and that if we put enough resources into it, and do enough things correctly, we will know what we need to know. That is not the case, and I will not surprise anyone or breach any confidence when I say that in a report that will be published next week, that subject is likely to be raised again. It is important that all of us get it across to the outside world that intelligence really does have limitations, particularly now, since the end of the cold war and the break-up of the two great blocs who aimed almost all their intelligence and security resources against each other. The threats to us today do not come, as they used to, from just one bloc; they come from a disparate group of rogue states, terrorist organisations and countries who are secretly engaged in trying to build up stocks of weapons for illegal and improper use, be they chemical, biological or nuclear or the missiles necessary to deliver them.
There is not one target for the agencies today but many. Assessing the relative importance of those targets and directing to them resources that are inevitably limited is much more difficult than ever before.
One difficulty with the agencies' work, which I know is experienced by many hon. Members, is that because all their activities are conducted within a ring of secrecy, 1064 scrutiny must of necessity take place within that ring of secrecy as well. As a result we in the Committee must trust the agencies and those who work for them not to abuse their powers, and to be honest with us about what they have done. In the House, we must place a certain amount of trust in Ministers to conduct themselves honourably and not to misuse the agencies or the intelligence they provide for partisan or other purposes. Trust is at the heart of intelligence work.
Some Members do not place their trust fully in our Committee, because it is not a Select Committee. Those who feel like that should look at the record of our work throughout the last decade. I do not believe that we can be criticised for having been unwilling to ask awkward questions of both agencies and Ministers. We have always taken a robust approach, and the fact that we have not always said what some people want to hear does not mean that we have not investigated issues fully.
It is the misuse of intelligence that undermines trust in the agencies and reduces the authority of their statements. That trust must be maintained, even if the price is that Ministers—and, indeed, we in the Committee—cannot always make public the intelligence on which decisions have been based.
I want to raise two small points, or at least points that figure in the report in a relatively small way. The first, which has already been mentioned, relates to the risk that has been taken with regard to counter-intelligence. It has been acknowledged by Ministers, and I think we are right to remain concerned about it. Some years ago, a former head of the CIA said, "There is only one thing worse than finding a spy in your organisation, and that is not finding a spy in your organisation." The risks have been taken because of the reduction in funding suffered in the 1990s, as has been acknowledged, but it is important to point out for future reference that there is no such thing as a quick fix. It is no good suddenly providing more money and expecting everything to be back where it was before, the following morning. It takes months, indeed years, to build up the necessary experience, the necessary organisation, and the right way of conducting counter-intelligence activities before they are up and running properly again, and it will be some years before the agencies are back to where they were before they reduced their staff.
Postal screening has also been mentioned in passing. Our report expresses concern, and I must say that I have found the Government's response a touch complacent. If I could specify the concerns and the risks I would have the entire House and, I suspect, the entire country behind me, but I cannot do that: if I described the risks, those who wish us ill could use the routes available to them to avoid the risk of being caught out. What I can say is that it is a question of more co-ordination, and of waking up to a problem that is very real before we see another major incident. I am thinking of the occasion on which 100 or so weapons were sent through the post from Florida to Northern Ireland. Quite by chance, an operative in a postal screening depot saw what was happening and stopped it. That is public knowledge because there was a trial and people went to jail, but I must tell the Government that the situation does not just need looking at and—what is the word?—reviewing; it requires action.
1065 I hope that the House will think that the report is balanced and does not skate over problems. I commend it, because I know that all of us in the Committee have done a lot of work on it.
§ Dr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh) (Lab)
I am pleased to follow the right hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates), who makes such a big contribution to the Committee's work. As he said, party politics does not enter into our work.
In last year's annual report, the Committee said that according to the Joint Intelligence Committee al-Qaeda and associated groups continued to represent by far the greatest threat to western interests. As the House will know, al-Qaeda has existed for many years, having evolved from those who travelled to Afghanistan in the 1980s to join resistance to the Soviet Union. It is thought that attacks on the interests of the United States and its allies by groups linked to al-Qaeda can be traced as far back as 1992. The subsequent decade saw several attacks linked to al-Qaeda, including the bombing of US embassies in east Africa in 1998, the attack on the USS Cole in October 2000, the atrocities of September 2001 of course, and the Bali bombing of October 2002. It would be a mistake to see al-Qaeda as a fixed organisation run according to the direct orders of Osama bin Laden. It is an open question as to how—if at all—the activities of the various groups are coordinated, and whether anyone in bin Laden's inner circle is influencing the planning of attacks. But the phenomenon can exist without a disciplined root-and-branch organisation.
The National Commission on the Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States has concluded that al-Qaeda has fundamentally changed since it lost Afghanistan after 11 September. It is far more decentralised, with operational commanders and cell leaders now making command decisions previously made by bin Laden himself. Instead, bin Laden is the inspiration for the movement, which is a collection of groups with differing characteristics, and agendas that vary according to the politics of each region.
I want briefly to consider the impact of the war in Iraq on international terrorism. Al-Qaeda was responsible for more than a decade of terror prior to the launching of military action by the US and the UK against Iraq in March 2003. When this House—and, indeed, most of the world—was debating whether it was justified to take that military action, one consideration was the impact that it would have on international terrorism. It was reasonable to assume that launching a war in Iraq against the will of the international community would be detrimental to the international coalition that had formed against terrorism. It was also a reasonable hypothesis that the war in Iraq would cause an increasing number of individuals to identify with al-Qaeda's aims and methods, which in turn would mean more attacks.
Last September, the ISC report on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction stated that the Joint Intelligence Committee had itself assessed that the threat from al-Qaeda and associated groups wouldbe heightened by military action against Iraq".1066 The judgment was whether that was a risk worth taking. The ISC discussed the threat with the Prime Minister, who recognised the danger that attacking Iraq would provoke what he calledthe very thing you were trying to avoid".However, his judgment was that the threat posed by the potential combination of terrorism and Iraqi weapons of mass destruction could not be ignored. He told us that concern that military action might bring about an increased threat from al-Qaeda must not lead us to allowa nexus to develop between terrorism and WMD in an event".It is still too soon to gauge the medium or long-term effect of the war in Iraq on international terrorism. In the shorter term, in Iraq itself we have seen a terrible series of acts of violence. As the Foreign Affairs Committee noted in its report entitled "Foreign Policy Aspects of the War against Terrorism", which was published at the beginning of the year,a dangerous alliance of foreign fighters with terrorist allegiances and elements of the former Iraqi regime has been forming inside Iraq".According to the US State Department's revised global terrorism report of 2003, there had been a slight rise in terrorist attacks in 2003 compared with the previous year, and the number of attacks and casualties in the middle east had doubled. Closer to home, the Foreign Affairs Committee concluded that the war in Iraq could indeed have made terrorist attacks against British nationals and British interests more likely in the short term.
But what is the risk to the UK from al-Qaeda? The al-Qaeda threat is certainly at a higher level now, and we should assume that terrorists intend to carry out an attack in the UK. We have been spared, so far, the horror that was visited upon New York, Bali and Madrid, to name just three. It is not clear why that is so. For example, it is not clear to what extent that is due to effective action by the various agencies. The House will remember the widely publicised arrests following the discovery of half a tonne of ammonium nitrate fertiliser in a west London warehouse in March. No one present believes that the ammonium nitrate was intended for agricultural purposes.
There is the related question of accessibility. Did the terrorists attack Madrid, rather than London, because Madrid was perceived as a softer target, or because they happened to have the capability on the ground to mount the attack in Madrid? Do the terrorists not have the resources here—yet—to bring a planned attack on the UK to its conclusion? The fact that there has been no attack in the UK to date provides little comfort. The director general of the Security Service told the ISC thatthe absence of an attack on the UK may lead some to conclude that the threat has been reduced or been confined to parts of the world that have little impact on the UK. This is not so.The House will be aware that the Security Service stated publicly thatal-Qaeda cells and supporters of affiliated groups are known to be active in the UK",and thata terrorist threat to the UK may also come from overseas.1067 We know about the long lead-in time for planning an attack. The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States concluded that the idea of launching the 11 September attacks was first put to Osama bin Laden in 1996 and that an initial list of targets was drawn up as long ago as spring 1999.
As I said, although we cannot be sure why there has not been an attack on the UK to date, we can certainly be confident that al-Qaeda-linked groups would like to carry out such an attack. It is imperative that our counter-terrorism efforts are comprehensive and robust and that we take all practical steps to ensure that we can deal with an attack. On that latter point, the Civil Contingencies Bill is designed to strengthen the Government's emergency powers and update the framework for civil protection work. Significant additional funds have been made available for counter-terrorism.
In discussing that issue, there is an understandable tendency to focus on secret intelligence, but much of the information used in counter-terrorism is in the public domain—in the broadcast and printed media. BBC Monitoring is the organisation that scrutinises such open-source information. It is part of the BBC World Service and it tracks more than 3,000 sources in 100 languages covering about 150 countries. BBC Monitoring receives, translates, analyses and conveys the information to counter-terrorist staff. Such opensource information provides a context within which secret intelligence data can be placed. Among the customers of BBC Monitoring are defence intelligence staff, the assessment staff, intelligence agencies and the National Criminal Intelligence Service.
The ISC found that BBC Monitoring provides a valuable service both to Government Departments and to the agencies, and that it adapted well to the need to report on the growing number of terrorist-related media sources. However, the funding from its stakeholders declined over the last decade, most steeply in 1996, and has been frozen since 2002, despite the extra demands upon it.
The ISC also learned that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was reviewing its allocation to BBC Monitoring with a view to making significant cuts. The Committee made representations to the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister and I was fortunate to secure an Adjournment debate on the matter earlier this year. Subsequent to our interventions, the Government have agreed to maintain funding for BBC Monitoring at its current level until the end of 2005–06, during which time a strategic review is to be carried out. The ISC welcomes the decision not to cut the funding provided to BBC Monitoring, as we believe that it would be a great mistake to reduce the money available to that valuable resource.
§ Alan Howarth
Does my right hon. Friend share some of my concern in reading the Government's response on that point? The Government say that they anticipate thatthe review will ensure that the overall level of funding should reflect the value of BBC Monitoring to each stakeholder.Is it not important that the overall level of funding should reflect the value of BBC Monitoring to the Government as a whole? Is it acceptable for individual 1068 stakeholders to make their own judgments about the extent to which they should opt in or out of that commitment?
§ Dr. Strang
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who expresses the point precisely. We must be alert to that. He is absolutely right that we should view the matter across the board. We can appreciate that there will be arguments among the different bodies that fund the organisation and that Departments are under pressure over spending. However, isolated assessments of the contribution that BBC Monitoring makes may understate what is required. My right hon. Friend will know about the significant co-operation between BBC Monitoring and the Foreign Broadcast Information Service of the US. We get a good deal from that. If we are serious about the need to strengthen our guard against international terrorism—I think that we all are in this House—there is no case for cutting the resources of BBC Monitoring.
In conclusion, the whole House recognises that the threat to the British people from international terrorism is much higher than it has been in recent years. More resources are being devoted to the intelligence necessary to increase the protection of our people, and I congratulate the Government on that. However, there are certainly no grounds for complacency. We need to be ever more vigilant and do all that we can to reduce the risks.
§ Mr. James Arbuthnot (North-East Hampshire) (Con)
Apart from the issue of counter-terrorism, the main work of the Intelligence and Security Committee during the year—and the main intelligence interest for the country—has been on the war in Iraq. We did a separate report on that, which came out in September last year. Inevitably, this year's annual report contains an element of mopping up. Nevertheless, the Committee's work has been quite hard and very varied.
I want to pay tribute to the Committee's Chairman and Clerk, and to its staff and investigator who have worked extremely hard to help us all. It is a great pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh (Dr. Strang). I do not think that it breaks the official secrets legislation to say that he brings a certain laconic wisdom to the Committee, and to everything that he does. Above all, I pay tribute to the intelligence and security services. As many have said, they do an enormous amount to protect this country and its interests.
I shall be very brief, as there is no need to repeat what the report says. I shall deal with only three points. The first is the funding of GCHQ, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), the shadow Home Secretary, referred.
Paragraph 52 of the report deals with the huge cost increases examined by the Committee's report for 1999–2000. We note that resource accounting for GCHQ has always been a bit of a problem but, for the first year in three years, GCHQ has produced unqualified accounts. Most private companies would consider that to be of little moment, but I think that we 1069 should welcome it with open arms. It is very good news, but it is difficult to get the bean counting right and the Committee will continue to keep an eye on the matter.
The report deals with the eventual vacation of the Oakley site. We express concern that resourcing had not been provided for that. In their response, the Government say that the site will be vacated by 2012, at the latest. There is always a dilemma in such matters: do we have two sites, and therefore an element of planned redundancy, or do we have one site in the interest of efficiency and cost-saving, but lose the element of redundancy that is sometimes needed? The pendulum swings from decade to decade on that dilemma.
My second point has to do with detainees. I refer the House to page 23 of the report, in which the Prime Minister's rather disturbing although deadpan letter is reported. It states that interviews havewith the following exception … been conducted in a manner consistent with the principles laid down in the Geneva Convention.The report does not actually say that we are dealing with Guantanamo bay. However, having raised that subject, I think that it is right to draw attention to the fact that the US still does not accept that the Geneva convention applies to the people held there. The effect of that is that they are not entitled to legal representation. The failure to apply the Geneva conventions to those people and to give them access to lawyers is precisely what has given rise to the sort of behaviour that the report describes.
I welcome the Supreme Court's recent decision that the Guantanomo detainees should be subject to the rule of law. Frankly, that should come as little surprise to anyone with an interest in justice or fairness, but the failure of the US willingly to give those detainees access to lawyers and to the rule of law has fuelled deep resentment across the world about the US—and therefore about Britain's behaviour in allying itself with the US. That has fuelled resentment in the United Kingdom against the US. It is a divisive approach, and it should stop. The letter from the Prime Minister states:The detainee showed no signs of distress and made no complaint of being hooded or otherwise during the interview.Well, he was shackled. It is not clear from the letter how the detainee would make signs of distress apparent—
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
Indeed. As we say in the report, we intend to take evidence on all those matters and there is much for us to consider.
My final point concerns counter-espionage and the reduction in the proportion of the espionage budget spent on it. That is a particular worry in relation to the espionage against economic targets in this country. Our companies' secrets—our intellectual property, which, in a highly developed country such as ours, is the keystone of our prosperity—are being stolen and we are not doing enough to protect them. When we went to the US, we discovered that it treated intellectual property and commercial secrets as part of the critical national infrastructure. As the right hon. Member for Newport, East (Alan Howarth) said, our intellectual property 1070 should be regarded as part of our national infrastructure, and I welcome the interest that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury showed in that point when he appeared before us. If we connect the vulnerability of our computer systems to our economic vulnerability, it is plain that we have much to do to catch up.
§ Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) (Con)
I pay tribute to the work of all those who seek to protect us and whose work largely goes unsung. The brevity of that remark should not be interpreted as an indication of the strength of my feelings, and I echo the sentiments that have been expressed time and again this afternoon.
The Intelligence and Security Committee might have been an interesting parliamentary backwater, but the war has tested it to the full. That is because, first, the country was taken to war almost entirely on the basis of intelligence information provided by several institutions that the Committee has the responsibility of overseeing. The second reason the Committee is now centre stage is that the war was undoubtedly the most divisive event in British politics since Suez. I was, and remain, deeply sceptical about the need for military action—certainly at that time. Many people sense that we became involved in the invasion without sufficient clarity about our objectives and real purpose. It is vital that we now do our job to express the electorate's questions and articulate their concerns.
The third reason why the Committee is now centre stage is that it has become increasingly clear that the Government have no intention of co-operating fully with the efforts of many parliamentarians in finding out what really happened in the run-up to the Iraq war. I hope that those on the Treasury Bench will not challenge that remark. The Committee described the Government's response to its report on weapons of mass destruction as "extremely unsatisfactory". The Foreign Affairs Committee has documented the extensive obstructionism that it has encountered in several reports. I shall not go into those in detail unless challenged. As a result, the minimum level of required democratic scrutiny after a war has not yet been achieved by this Parliament.
We still do not have adequate information to answer some basic questions which I shall list. Did Saddam Hussein really present a threat when we went to war? Was the Prime Minister being clearly told about that threat at the time? Was the threat imminent enough to require action? We have had some information that helps us to provide answers to those questions, but not enough.
Much less information is in the public domain about several other crucial questions on assessing the Government's action. What assessment did the Government make before the war about the consequences of the invasion of Iraq for the middle east and about the likely effect of invasion on moderate Muslim opinion in the middle east and elsewhere? What assessment was made before the war of the task of post-war reconstruction in Iraq? What assessment was made of the prospect of holding the country together and moving it to democracy? What assessment was made of the effect of invasion on other rogue states and their likely behaviour? What conclusions did Ministers, especially the Prime 1071 Minister, draw from those assessments? Above all, what assessment was made before the war of its likely impact on the western alliance as a whole, and on the strength of the collegiality of interest in the west that is the bedrock of our security?
The plain fact is that for the most part Parliament has been thwarted in its efforts to find answers to those and similar questions. Much the same obstructionism is evident in Washington. The Executives of the world's two greatest democracies have exhibited an unremitting determination to deny parliamentary or congressional access to information about the decision to go to war. They have been equally careful to ensure that the remit of the independent inquiries they were forced to set up was as narrow as possible. The damage arising from that has been colossal.
First, the Executive's lack of candour has accelerated the decline of public confidence in politicians. It has extended the electorate's cynicism about domestic politics to the foreign arena. In fact, the Prime Minister's determination to thwart a full examination of the issues has damaged his Government's credibility far more than anything that was likely to have been revealed had there been more candour from the start.
Secondly, our failure to get to the truth has eroded the public's respect for democratic institutions, and especially for Parliament, which is obviously of concern to us. It should be our role to force candour, but we have not, so far, succeeded.
§ Mr. Barron
The hon. Gentleman will know that in our report on Iraq and WMD we did not set out to judge whether the decision to invade Iraq was correct. The purpose of the report was to examine whether the available intelligence that informed the decision to invade Iraq was adequate and properly assessed and whether it was accurately reflected in Government publications. We were not denied access to any information in drawing up the report, and the hon. Gentleman may be misleading the House if he is suggesting that we were denied information on some of the points that he mentioned.
§ Mr. Tyrie
When the Committee decides to try to make the kind of assessment that I am suggesting and decides to make public that assessment, the public will feel much more reassured about the extent to which information has been made available to the Committee. Can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whether the information required to answer the second series of questions to which I alluded was also made available to the Committee?
§ Mr. Barron
Whether to invade Iraq was an issue for policymakers. It was also an issue for the House, in a debate and in a vote. For the Committee, the important thing was whether policymakers—one of whom has just entered the Chamber—were given the right information prior to those decisions being taken.
§ Mr. Tyrie
I do not want to detract from the work of the Committee in any way, as it has done an outstanding job, as I was about to point out—I notice that the right hon. Gentleman is now smiling and seems much happier than he was a moment ago. What Parliament needs to 1072 do is to get to grips with those fundamental policy issues; we need the evidence in our hands to enable us to form judgments. We do not have that evidence. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman has seen all the evidence. Perhaps he has seen the Foreign Office assessment of the extent to which the war might have destabilised the middle east. Perhaps he has seen an assessment of the likelihood or otherwise of creating a democracy in Iraq. I do not know. Perhaps he can tell me in general terms whether he has seen such assessments.
§ Mr. Barron
If the hon. Gentleman reads our report on Iraq, he will see that we saw some assessments of the likely effect. Indeed, one of them received a lot of public comment: people asked what would happen if Iraq were invaded and WMD got into people's hands for use by terrorists throughout the world. So we saw some of the evidence, but clearly not all of it. I do not know whether it exists in the form that he suggests.
§ Mr. Tyrie
The right hon. Gentleman cannot even be sure whether the evidence is there. I should like to move on. I have given him ample opportunity to comment on my remarks.
The third reason why we should be so concerned about what has gone on is that our failure to get to the truth, and the public's perception that we have failed to do so, have made us less secure as a country. That may be true of America, too. Both President Bush and the Prime Minister asked us to take the Iraqi expedition on trust. Next time there is a security threat, when we have to rely on their judgment, that trust will be much less willingly bestowed. Just as bad, potential opponents in other parts of the world will be able to see that weakness and exploit it. That is why the shortcomings of parliamentary scrutiny have not just weakened our democracy, but are making this country a less safe place.
The Guantanamo bay and Abu Ghraib scandals, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot) referred, illustrate how much better off we would be if we had more effective parliamentary scrutiny. I am pleased that the Committee will investigate that and take evidence.
For over a year, I have pressed the Government to tell me what steps the UK has been taking to discover whether people were being tortured at Guantanamo bay. What triggered my concern was information that an acquaintance of mine gave to me a long time ago. He found out that people were being deported from Guantanamo to Egypt to be tortured more comprehensively there. He asked me to raise that issue, which I did. I was shocked by that information, and I have been trying ever since to bring pressure to bear on the British Government to raise it with the Americans. I have had a long exchange of correspondence with the Foreign Secretary about that.
Of course, the efforts of one Opposition MP are only a pinprick. None the less, it is possible that if a parliamentary Select Committee or the Intelligence and 1073 Security Committee had taken up those issues earlier and pursued them remorselessly, some of the abuses might never have taken place and much less damage would have been done.
Those abuses have undermined the very values that the west is seeking to export. They have done incalculable damage. Our apparent double standards will resonate for years.
This is not just a moral issue for the UK; it is, of course, a legal one, as my right hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hampshire said a moment ago. We have a duty of care under international law to uphold the welfare of all prisoners who we may have handed over to the Americans. I am told that we have handed over 341 prisoners to the Americans in Iraq, some of whom may be in Abu Ghraib. I should be grateful to the Foreign Secretary if he said whether that was the case. I have tabled several questions to the Secretary of State for Defence today to ask him about that very question. What happened to those 300 or so detainees and what steps have the Government taken to monitor their welfare? I will write to the Foreign Secretary about that again.
The experience of the past 18 months shows that our democracy needs much better scrutiny after wars than has taken place on this occasion. We need to try to restore the electorate's trust in politicians and Parliament. That is a big challenge, and I shall mention only a few things that could be done, some of which are alluded to in the report. First, it would help if the Prime Minister would trust Parliament a little more. He should realise by now that his obstructionism over scrutiny on Iraq has cost more in lost credibility than any embarrassment that he has been spared. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary may have thought they had done well in refusing many of the Foreign Affairs Committee's requests for papers and people and by relying instead on Lord Hutton after David Kelly's death. In fact, far from letting the Government off the hook, it has only reinforced public cynicism.
The same is true of the Government's response to David Kay's evidence to a Washington committee—the creation of the Butler investigation. It may well turn out that the Government would have done much better to use the Intelligence and Security Committee to do that job of investigation rather than hoping that Lord Butler's narrow terms of reference would keep him away from the most sensitive spots. The Prime Minister should have shown much more candour from the start.
It is our job in Parliament to do more. We need to show that we can be trusted with confidential material. That is where the Committee has done so well in demonstrating that parliamentarians could be trusted over the past decade. We can also learn something from American experience. Much nonsense is talked about how much more effective congressional committees are than our own. The truth is that they are often stymied by even more partisanship than many of ours, and more obstructionism by the Executive. None the less, they have one advantage: they really can see whom they want to see and, if they are persistent enough, they can get hold of a lot more documentation. Things are often 1074 negotiated on the basis of protocols, with the Executive setting out the rules of engagement for the use of information and access to it. Perhaps we should consider doing the same under the Standing Orders of Parliament.
On an issue as fundamental as going to war, there is also a case for much closer collaboration between the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Intelligence and Security Committee, possibly also involving the Liaison Committee. Today is pretty much the 10th anniversary of the ISC. I strongly welcome its creation and I think it has done a great job. My right hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates) said that there must be trust in the intelligence world. That trust has taken a severe knock over the past 18 months. We have a very big repair job to do.
§ 4.7 pm
§ Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC)
I add my congratulations to the Committee and its members for their endeavours and the hard work that they have evidently done over the past few months. Undoubtedly, this is an important debate, despite its being held on a Thursday. At paragraph 145, the report refers to its own report of September 2003, "Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction—Intelligence and Assessments". The Committee then believed that it had seen all the Joint Intelligence Committee assessments relating to Iraq from August 1990 to September 2002. The Committee now has to say, unfortunately, that that statement proved erroneous: in May this year a further eight JIC papers were handed over relating to WMD in Iraq and United Nations inspections. A subsequent check revealed that those papers were not given to the Committee at the time, which, understandably, caused it "considerable concern".
The report states:We have read the recently provided papers. We are satisfied that knowledge of them would not have led us to change the conclusions, including those that were critical, in our Report. However, we might well have included further material from these papers … We have received an apology and we accept that there was no deliberate attempt to withhold information from us. However, we are concerned that some internal systems and record-keeping within the Cabinet Office Intelligence and Security Secretariat are defective and we will return to this issue.The Government response to the Iraqi weapons report was delayed until February 2004. The Committee noted that it was not satisfied with the response, emphasising that there were only four key conclusions, while either rejecting or failing to address fully many of the Committee's conclusions and recommendations. It said:We regard this as extremely unsatisfactory and we recommend that the government explicitly address each of our recommendations and conclusions in future responses. Our dissatisfaction was increased by the government's decision to allow such little parliamentary debate on two such significant reports.The report highlighted the limitations of intelligence, saying:Failing to highlight the uncertainties, and gaps associated with the limited amounts of intelligence collected, could mean too firm an assessment was made, which in turn would influence policy-makers disproportionately.I am quoting the report extensively because I believe that the Committee has taken a robust approach and is doing a good job. I hope that everything necessary to 1075 enable the Committee to draw the proper conclusions is made available to it the first time of asking, and that its members do not have to burrow for information, as Back Benchers often have to. That is a matter of concern to the House generally. Weapons of mass destruction are not a side issue, but a core issue at the very heart of the Government's decision to invade Iraq. That there were shortcomings in the provision of information on that, of all subjects, is a cause of great concern.
I wholeheartedly endorse the comments of the right hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates) about the detainees at Guantanamo bay. The Prime Minister responded on the important matter of the treatment of prisoners, and the Committee, to its credit, has referred to what he said.The Prime Minister has informed us that, with one exception, all interviews conducted or observed by UK intelligence personnel have been conducted in a manner consistent with the principles laid down in the Geneva Convention".He added thatsome detainees questioned by them have complained about their treatment while in detention",butthe UK intelligence personnel never witnessed any evidence of detainee abuse of the type that the US authorities have acknowledged has occurred".Unfortunately, what the Prime Minister said does not square with what the Minister of State at the Ministry of Defence has been saying in response to detailed questioning from my hon. Friend the Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr (Adam Price) and others. My hon. Friend has consistently raised the issue in debate, questions, interventions and correspondence. In a written question to the Minister of State, my hon. Friend askedwhen in September 2003 the practice of hooding detainees in Iraq was stopped.The answer was:An amended Standard Operating Instruction was issued on 30 September 2003 detailing that the use of hoods on apprehended persons was to cease. This had been preceded by a verbal instruction several days earlier."—[Official Report, 30 June 2004; Vol. 423, c. 358W.]Paragraph 23 of the report details the whole issue, and I am mindful of the fact that the Committee states at paragraph 79 that it will take evidence on it. I welcome the fact that there will be further inquiry.
On 28 June, in his response to a question from the hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), the Minister of State stated:We are not aware of any incidents in which United Kingdom interrogators are alleged to have used hooding as an interrogation technique."—[Official Report, 28 June 2004; Vol. 423. c. 142W.]That is far from satisfactory, bearing in mind the fact that at the same time the Minister was telling my hon. Friend the Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr that the technique was being banned. The problem is compounded by the fact that on 10 September 2003, Combined Joint Task Force 7 produced a document entitled "Interrogation and Counter-Resistance Policy"; the UK input to that document was from the deputy commander of the UK military forces. The document is the authority for the use of hooding, sleep deprivation, stress techniques and white noise; it came to light during recent US congressional hearings.
1076 I do not expect answers today, but I want to put on the record several questions. Was the Intelligence and Security Committee given a copy of the document, and if not, why not? Was the United Kingdom's role in the preparation of the document limited to the military commander, or was further authority given higher up the chain or in Cabinet? Who authorised the commander to sign up to the document? It is difficult to believe that the Government did not know of the document—one condoning a practice banned ever since a Northern Ireland case against the United Kingdom more than 15 years ago. It was inconsistent to condone the use of the technique until September 2003 while, at the same time, the Minister of State denied that it was used and, to contradict himself, said that it was banned from 30 September, the very month in which the UK military signed up to the document.
I am raising those serious issues because the Committee will take further evidence, and will undoubtedly scrutinise the position carefully. Was the reference to information from the Secret Intelligence Service at paragraph c on page 23 a reference to the coalition document? If not, why not? I suspect that reference was not made to the document and, with hindsight, I can understand why, but I hope that the Committee will continue its detailed and earnest investigation into the issue to unravel the truth of what happened.
More generally, with reference to page 23, what redress, if any, is there for detainees who suffered assaults and battery as a result of the illegal interrogation techniques? Is a criminal investigation under way? On the issue of Abu Ghraib, the Prime Minister has clearly stated on several occasions that he did not know of the inhuman practices at the camp until this year. I do not take issue with that, but apparently the United States Government knew about a year before. We have been told that the Prime Minister and the Government did not know anything of the Red Cross report until this year, but if that is the case—I will accept that it is to avoid further argument—what steps are being taken to question the officials who either failed or declined to pass that information on to the Government? The stock answer is that information is received and passed on day in, day out. However, on a matter as important as the conduct at Abu Ghraib, someone should have passed the information on, so the stock answer will not wash.
In conclusion, I hope that the Committee will continue its important deliberations, and can do so without being hindered by the withholding, whether wilful or not, of important information germane to its inquiries.
§ Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con)
Recently, a senior figure in the anti-terrorist world addressed a conference on security issues, and pointed out that the United Kingdom and other target countries face a terrorist threat that aims to cause destruction, not in single streets, as the IRA did, but in entire neighbourhoods and, if possible, entire cities. He predicted that the threat would persist for the next 10, 15 or even 20 years, but on a note of grim optimism he 1077 predicted that life would go on and a new sort of normality would be established after hard, remorseless effort by society as a whole and anti-terrorist services in particular. I am sure that his prediction is right, and history bears it out. In the period between the first and second world wars, it was widely believed that society could not stand up to the pressure of aerial bombardment. In fact, society stood up to it throughout the blitz in the United Kingdom and, more surprisingly, throughout the much heavier attacks in the latter days of the Third Reich, when German cities were utterly devastated.
There is a tendency, because we live in peaceful times, to underestimate what society can cope with in war. No free society can have absolute security against a small group of determined saboteurs—that was one of the Home Secretary's messages in his thoughtful opening remarks. To those remarks one could add that no repressive society or dictatorship could have absolute security against such a threat, either. Again, one casts one's mind back to the occupied countries of Europe and to the French Resistance in particular who, despite enormous totalitarian forces of repression ranged against them, were still able to mount effective sabotage—or terrorist attacks, as the German occupiers would have called them.
What one can do is try to focus on the known possessors of weapons systems which, if they got into the hands of would-be saboteurs or terrorists, would enable them to wage the sort of campaign that that senior anti-terrorist figure was predicting they would try to wage, to devastate whole neighbourhoods or even whole cities.
In that connection, the most interesting paragraph of the report for me was paragraph 91 in the section dealing with Libya. It states:The detailed intelligence on Libya … collected by the UK and the USA from all sources over a significant period of time, enabled the UK and USA to demonstrate to the Libyan authorities that they knew about their WMD programmes.It then adds the curious comment:Consequently, when the inspectors went to Libya the Libyan authorities, while they tried, were not able to hide their programmes and full disclosure was eventually achieved. This was a major intelligence success.Yes, it certainly was, but that was the first indication that I had had that there had been an attempt by the Libyan authorities to go on with a policy of concealment, even after they had come forward and said, "We want to get rid of our weapons of mass destruction. Come in and help us do it." I should be very interested to know more of the story behind that interesting comment, and I congratulate the Committee on having teased out that titbit of information.
It must be said that the terrorist movements with which we are concerned are extremely patient. I think I am right in saying that there was a period of about eight years between the two attacks on the World Trade Centre, the second ultimately being the successful one. It is all too easy for us to go into one of those periods between attacks and begin to become a bit complacent. Indeed, that senior anti-terrorist figure said that his principal concerns were complacency in society, which 1078 he described as a very great problem, and the importance of creating greater public understanding of the wide range of dangers and the long-term nature of the overall threat.
What the Libyan business illustrated in the wider context is that something sinister was going on under the surface. A report on BBC News Online on 23 May retails how North Korea had been involved in sending uranium to Libya. It states that the International Atomic Energy Agencyhad found evidence that Pyongyang provided Libya with nearly two tons of uranium in early 2001.A spokesman for the IAEA, Mark Gwozdecky, told BBC News Online that the investigation'spans three continents and involves entities or individuals in at least eight countries."'That was all linked to the plot by A. Q. Khan, the father of the Pakistani bomb, to sell nuclear secrets to Libya, Iran and North Korea.
Another report on the BBC on 28 May is headed "UN continues Libya nuclear probe" and states that the IAEA has said thatquestions remain about Libya's nuclear weapons programme, despite the promise last December to scrap it.A report from Associated Press back in February commented on a firm in a place called Shah Alam in Malaysia. The firm, ironically enough, is called SCOPE—nothing to do with the new system that was described earlier in the debate for intelligence collation in this country. It is a precision engineering firm that was part of the network and was involved in machining the parts of the centrifuges that the rogue regimes, in particular Libya, planned to use to construct their bombs. Worryingly, at the end of the report the company's spokesman said that if it received an order similar to the Libya shipment, it would have no reason to turn it down. The spokesman commented:Milling and cutting is the same today as it was before".It is not good enough for the Government, or even for the Committee, periodically to state that successes have been achieved, that terrorists have been disrupted and that we have been saved by the good efforts of the security and intelligence services. Something more than that is required. If we are to obtain the greater public awareness, concern and realisation of the long-term threat, which senior counter-terrorist figures feel to be necessary, we must have authoritative accounts of what has been going on as soon as the information can be revealed. We should not have to depend upon putting together a jigsaw from individual, isolated press reports, such as I have been quoting. We should have a system whereby the Government publish from time to time, perhaps in the form of an annual report, an account of what can be revealed about those operations that have been frustrated or exposed.
In the brief period remaining, I want to address some of the remarks about Iraq. When I congratulated my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) on his thoughtful speech, he said, "I am sure that you do not agree with half of it." I said, "You are right, but there is one thing that I do agree with in particular, and it is the most important thing—the British people must always be told the truth." If a democratic Government do not tell the British people the truth, even in a good 1079 cause or because they think that they have a good reason not to do so, they will destroy the trust on which their support depends.
I have said this before and I will say it again: I wish that the Government had not fought shy of telling the British people the real reason why war against Saddam was essential. It was not because Saddam was about to attack anybody; it was not because he had attacked anybody; and it was not even because of his humanitarian record of atrocities. Those are the traditional justifications under international law, as it currently stands, for intervention.
War against Saddam was essential because the events of 9/11 showed that the world now contains groups that would unhesitatingly use WMDs, if they could get them, and thus cannot be deterred. This has lowered the threshold for intervention against rogue regimes that have a track record of trying to obtain WMDs. That probably does not conform with international law, as it was explained to the Government at the time that they took the decision, and they therefore felt that they had to massage the facts.
International law is not static; it evolves, and Governments must help it to evolve. It would have been better if our Government had helped international law to evolve by saying clearly to the British people that we did not know what Saddam did or did not have, but after 9/11 we could no longer take the chance.
§ Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con)
I apologise to the House in advance for perhaps having to leave a little early.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis), many of whose points I will endeavour to discuss, although I do not expect to do so as lucidly as he did.
About six weeks ago, 1,500 lb of fertiliser was found in west London. I gather from open sources that it would have been most likely to be turned into homemade explosive and used in a number of car bombs, probably around west London, or possibly in north London. The discovery of that potential explosive represents a very considerable success for the security agencies that picked up those of our enemies who were involved. On the back of the discovery there came a series of arrests, mainly of Pakistanis, some domiciled in this country and others from abroad.
About two weeks ago, I had the enormous privilege of being briefed by the high commissioner and his staff in Islamabad. They hinted that the operation was much more complex than anything that the open sources in this country had been able to tell us. They told me, or rather hinted, that there had been a very successful operation by British agencies in combination with local agencies in Pakistan. They also said that a much worse event, the details of which I was not told, had been planned, which, if it had gone ahead, would have devastated large parts of this country. I can only pay tribute to the agencies that are prepared to carry out such operations with such courage. The high commissioner told me, "If you are talking about prevention versus cure, homeland security starts here in Islamabad, in Kabul or wherever—that is where the real operations are carried out."
1080 I want to try to tease out one or two points about the balance between prevention and cure. If an operation can be prevented, so much the better, but the fact remains that the head of the Security Service and the commissioner of the Metropolitan police tell us that an attack on this country is all but inevitable. To use a wartime phrase, the bomber will always get through. Then, it referred to the Luftwaffe, but the analogy is not lost today. I will not use the old saw about always being lucky, but there is no doubt that we have been extraordinarily lucky so far. It needs only one terrorist to get through for the whole complexion of our security structure to be changed.
The Committee's report says that the Security Service's website includes information aboutthe threat from terrorism and details of protective security measures available".Like my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East, I wonder why the details on that website are not made far more widely available to the public. Why are we not told as much as we possibly can be told? Why are we not told, for instance, what is the national state of alert?
The counter-argument, of course, is that to do so would scare the pants off people. However, it has been done in the past. MI5 and the Metropolitan police carried out a very successful public information campaign against the Irish Republican Army in the 1990s. That gave the public detailed indications of what they were to look for and how they could help the security agencies and services to thwart terrorism. Why are the offices of the national security advice centre not more accessible to the public? Why do not the Government choose to follow the example that is being set by the Metropolitan police and British Transport police in relation to the current poster campaign? Why do not the Government choose to enrol every responsible member of the public as another pair of eyes and ears for the wider police family?
The report states:We recommend that the threat to the United Kingdom's critical national infrastructure and vulnerability to electronic and other attacks should be examined by the JIC and considered by Ministers.If we continue to be vulnerable in that way, should we not consider streamlining the intelligence that we have to handle? Doubtless, the Butler report will make many good points about that.
How much time do our security agencies spend dealing with people who should not be here? Should we have a proper immigration policy, which would save so much of the time of those important men and women? The United States deals with that through a Department of Homeland Security. It has pulled together its Government agencies. In this country, the Home Office, the Cabinet Office, the Department for Transport, the Northern Ireland Office, the Ministry of Defence and a host of others might deal with the sort of problem that I have outlined. They would have to refer to the head of the Security Service, the head of the Secret Intelligence 1081 Service, the head of GCHQ, the head of Defence Intelligence Staff and the head of assessment staff. We are told that a security and intelligence co-ordinator is now pulling all that together, backed up by only a small civil contingency secretariat to deal with curing part of the problem.
Where does the responsibility of one agency start and another one stop? Where does one Department's responsibilities begin and another's end? Is it any wonder that intelligence has been, to put it charitably, over-analysed, and that the wrong conclusions have been drawn? We need one central figure and one central Ministry to deal with the matter. The problem will not get easier and the money that we need to spend on it will increase every year.
Let me make some small, sub-tactical points. It is interesting that an officer who is posted from one part of the intelligence community to deal with Islamic fundamentalism receives no training in the nuances of the Muslim faith and creed, the problems that surround Islamic fundamentalism, the history behind it and the outlook. He or she is expected to pick up the whole discipline on the job. That is most odd when the humblest private soldier receives extensive training in dealing with the problems that he faces before deploying to, for example, Northern Ireland, Iraq or Bosnia.
The report provides some detail about the intelligence cycle, which is interesting and reminds me of parts of my basic training years ago. We are told that the collection plan is set centrally for the agencies, but the report does not make clear where the audit trail for the collection plan lies. Each agency is responsible for auditing its success. That cannot be objective; it must be subjective. Surely there is a better system for assessing success v. failure.
In the report, C mentions collection gaps. He says that the SIS is now "behind the curve". We have heard today that funding for MI5 will be increased considerably. What about the other agencies? The Chancellor said yesterday that it was the Government's "first duty" to defend the people of Britain. He continued:I will make available the resources needed to strengthen security at home and take action to counter the terrorist threat at home and abroad … Those who wish to cut in real terms the budget even for security will need to answer the British people … We will spend what it takes on security to safeguard the British people.Those are fine words, but what about the civil defence grant to our local authorities? What about the anomalies in the equipment that fire, police and ambulance services hold? What about the fact that our firemen who back up the immediate response units have received no training in chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear attacks? What about the fact that the civil contingencies reaction force—the only addition to manpower to deal with the curing rather than the prevention part of the problem—have been seen manifestly to fail in the face of the overstretch of the regular forces? And what about the fact that our armed forces are to be cut yet again? Fine words indeed.
1082 I shall end by quoting from paragraph 8 of the report, which states:Terrorism is currently the biggest threat to the national security of the UK and its interests and the Agencies are operating in an extremely difficult and hostile environment. The Prime Minister stated in a speech on 5 March 2004:'the [security] threat we face is not conventional. It is a challenge of a different nature from anything the world has faced before.'We are blessed with outstanding intelligence agencies, and this report has been enormously helpful, but I do not see a Government who are ready to rise to this challenge, or who are willing to facea challenge of a different nature from anything the world has faced before.I see a Government who are mired in complacency.
§ Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East and Washington, West) (Lab)
It is a pleasure to follow the two previous speakers, the hon. Members for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) and for Newark (Patrick Mercer) because, although they are not members of the Intelligence and Security Committee, they have always taken a keen interest in its work and that of the intelligence agencies.
I had not intended to speak in this debate, partly because I am a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee and it is good to hear contributions from other Members. Also, given the time limit on Back-Bench speeches, I was conscious of the fact that there might have been too great a demand by other hon. Members to speak. However, I note that that has not been the case, so I shall take this opportunity to add a few comments to those that have been so well made by my fellow members of the Committee. I want to endorse strongly the words spoken by my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) when he introduced the report on behalf of the Committee, and to pay tribute to the work of our Chairman, my right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor).
The report rightly highlights a number of areas. It flags up circumstances in which the agencies have experienced success, and it is good that several hon. Members, including the hon. Member for New Forest, East, referred to what has happened in Libya, which the report flags up dramatically as a great success. It was a great success for the intelligence agencies, and for the Government and the Foreign Office, following the negotiations in which they took part, and I am very pleased with the way in which they turned out. As far as the intelligence agencies are concerned, that is a rare of example of our being able to give public credit, and for that reason, it is important to highlight it in this debate.
The Committee believes that the agencies need to be properly resourced, and we welcome the increase in funds that has been made available to them in recent years. I want to pick up on a point made by the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten), which was that it is important for the agencies to use the best of this country's talents by recruiting as widely as possible. Indeed, several of those issues are highlighted in our report. We refer to the need to bring in talented people from a variety of backgrounds, and we encourage the agencies to consider—without compromising security—issues such as the nationality rules, which have been in 1083 operation for a long time. Those rules have a certain rationale but, in a multicultural, multi-ethnic Britain, we would not want the agencies to lose out on being able to recruit people who perhaps do not rigorously fulfil the traditional nationality requirements.
In that sense, we were all pleased when GCHQ, for example, showed some flexibility in its recruitment so as to attract people who could play a useful role in that organisation, even if they did not comply with all the security requirements to the highest level. It will be useful for the other agencies to look at that kind of flexibility in recruitment.
One area that has not been touched on extensively in this debate is that of international co-operation and the work that our intelligence agencies carry out in cooperation with agencies in various different countries, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will be able to address that point when he responds to this debate.
It is very clear from our work, and it is well known in the House, that the allies with whom we work closely in intelligence are ones with which we have had very close co-operation for a very long time: the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and so forth. Without doubt, those links are tremendously important in the modern world. But it is also right that the agencies, and the Government, who are ultimately responsible for the work of those agencies, consider extending our range of allies as widely as possible, while not compromising sources or security.
Certainly, in the European Union, there is a good deal of co-operation, particularly with those countries that have long-established intelligence agencies, with which we have worked over a number of years. Recently, within the European Union, there has been increased interest in intelligence, because of some of the tragic events that have occurred: most recently, in Madrid. I welcome the appointment of the co-ordinator, Gijs de Vries, whom I know from my days in the European Parliament as an energetic and capable person.
While EU collaboration is very useful, I would not want to see it adopt an unwieldy, bureaucratic form or in any way disrupt the existing partnerships and arrangements. At such a difficult time for security in the world, we do not want disruption; we want the existing networks to work even better and even more smoothly. We should take that very much to heart.
§ Alan Howarth
is my right hon. Friend content that the provisions in the proposed European Union constitution covering these matters will be satisfactory to us in terms of our national security?
§ Joyce Quin
Indeed, I think that our Government have very satisfactorily negotiated the European constitution and I find quite puzzling some of the criticisms levelled against them in that respect.
Within the new European Union, we have some important allies. A number of countries that have recently joined the European Union have been particularly helpful in intelligence matters, and have worked closely with this country, even before they became part of the European Union. For that reason, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will be able to assure us that relations with those new 1084 countries, which have recently joined the European Union, will be beneficial to intelligence as well as to other matters.
In the situation in which we find ourselves, however, we need to consider and build up alliances sometimes even in unlikely quarters. I hope that the Government will also be able to reassure us on that point. We all remember how much responsibility was put on the Indonesian services at the time of the Bali bombings. They are dealing with a very difficult situation, given the scattered territory of Indonesia, and the existence of some extremist groups there, some of which are prepared to adopt fanatical means and terrorist ways of operating to try to achieve their goals. It makes sense for us to try to build up co-operation with a country such as Indonesia, perhaps using some of our expertise to help to train and develop the intelligence services in such a country. Obviously, Australia is geographically much closer to Indonesia, and has very good links with it. It makes sense, however, given the challenges that that country faces, for a number of other countries, including the UK, to seek to be as helpful as possible.
Clearly, if international co-ordination and cooperation is important, so is having the best coordination within our domestic system. I agree with what a number of my colleagues have said in terms of the very positive establishment of the joint terrorism analysis centre, the work that it does, and the way in which our agencies have been particularly successful in working together and sharing information to the best possible effect. I also agree with those who said that it was important for Ministers to meet occasionally to discuss these issues on a cross-departmental basis. I became convinced of that during events in Afghanistan, when I observed links between Foreign Office concern about terrorism and Home Office concern about drugs. My right hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Alan Howarth) referred not just to terrorism but to the drugs trade, and spoke of the importance of coordination in the tackling of drugs problems in the Caribbean. I think that if Departments—including the Department for International Development, the Home Office and the Foreign Office—worked together more effectively and provided even a modest increase in resources, that could help a great deal in the Caribbean.
Intelligence has been centre stage ever since 9/11. I believe that the Committee's report and its recommendations recognise the crucial role played by the intelligence agencies. We are counting on the Government to go on responding positively to their needs, thus ensuring that we can all enjoy a safer future.
§ Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con)
I apologise on behalf of my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary, who cannot be here for the winding-up speeches. He notified the Foreign Secretary that he would be unable to do so, for specific reasons.
I congratulate the Intelligence and Security Committee on its work, and on the effort that it has put into the production of this and other reports during the year. It has undoubtedly been a busy year for the intelligence community, and hence for the Committee. The Committee fulfils a vital role in ensuring that there is democratic oversight of our security and intelligence 1085 services—a role that is not always recognised as widely as I think it should be. Debates such as this are important in that respect. I also pay tribute to the work undertaken by members of the security and intelligence services—often at great personal risk, as I know, and often inevitably unknown to many people—in protecting us as we go about our daily lives.
We have had a fine debate. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) on being a more than competent substitute for the Committee's Chairman, the right hon. Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor). I entirely understand why she could not be here today. The right hon. Gentleman presented not just a good report but an impressive future work load. It is clear that the Committee will not be looking for things to do over the coming months. He made a particularly important point in connecting the risks to our intelligence with gaps in collection, and called for further resources for the security and intelligence services. That was also mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer).
The hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) made a number of important points, but one of the most important—and I think that both of us Opposition Members agree on it—was his observation that it is the duty of Opposition parties to probe and ask questions, and that they should not be accused of disloyalty for so doing. If we appear unhelpful sometimes, it is because that constitutional role is incumbent on us, and we would be remiss if we did not fulfil it. [Interruption.] The Foreign Secretary will have a long time in which to wind up the debate. I am sure that he will be able to make all the comments he wishes to make from a standing rather than a sedentary position.
The right hon. Member for Newport, East (Alan Howarth) was critical of the weakening of counterespionage. I think that that is a lesson we have learned since the end of the cold war. I hope that the increased support for the intelligence services that has been announced will go some way towards putting things right.
The right hon. Member for Newport, East talked about the world being small for terrorists and large for intelligence services—a point that was also made by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates), who discussed the limitations of the intelligence services.
My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) talked about what the terrorist is seeking to achieve. I know that this subject is something of a sore, but the chilling statement made by a member of the IRA—he said, "You have to be lucky all the time. We only have to be lucky once"—is absolutely true. With due respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Newark, the situation is not quite like the bombers getting through; they got through because there was a very large number of them. In this case, we are talking about specific, targeted exercises which we have to spot and deal with individually. If we fail, we will see a terrorist incident. That is the background to so much of what we are discussing today.
My right hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire surprised me when he spoke of someone failing to recognise which party he belonged to. Perhaps 1086 he will vouchsafe to me in privacy to which party they thought he did belong; that question has been puzzling me ever since he mentioned the incident. He also talked about the limitations of intelligence, and it is indeed the duty of the Government to ensure that those limitations are minimised as far as possible.
The right hon. Member for Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh (Dr. Strang) provided an important and valuable analysis of al-Qaeda's decentralisation and the increasing threat posed by it. That was a good reminder that the threat continues. Although we hear of successes in the campaign against international terror, such terrorism is still there and we certainly cannot afford to become complacent.
My right hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot), in one of his usual succinct contributions, talked about the funding of GCHQ and pointed out that this year, it produced unqualified accounts. I welcome that good discipline, which also helps the morale of the service. He also talked about the Prime Minister's letter concerning the detainees, which is printed on page 23 of the report. I have been pursuing this issue through written questions and I am delighted that the Committee is going to follow it up. Important questions remain, and they need to be answered urgently.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) underlined the feeling that the various processes are not achieving what we need to achieve if we are to recreate public confidence. We need to feel that we have not just the truth, but the whole truth and nothing but the truth. We need to wait and see what next week's Butler report comes up with, but we must insist that until we have the truth, public confidence will not be restored. We will go on working to get that truth, however long it takes.
The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) talked about the missing eight Joint Intelligence Committee papers that were later handed to the Intelligence and Security Committee, and which are referred to at recommendation DD. I accept that there was no deliberate attempt to withhold information, and that what happened did not alter the conclusions. However, if the Committee is to feel confident in its dealings with the intelligence services and the JIC in particular, and if the public are to have confidence in the Committee's findings, it is important that this failure to provide all the information be rectified. If that failure was a systematic one, it is incumbent on the Government to ensure that it does not occur again.
My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East raised a very important set of questions about the political scale of terrorist operations. We sometimes think of terrorist operations in terms of what we experience from, and in, Northern Ireland; but as we learned on 11 September 2001, we are now talking about terrorism of a very different scale. He rightly pointed to some of the failures in respect of being ready to deal with such a disaster, should it occur.
How will society cope? That question was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Newark, and a balance must always be struck between giving the public sufficient information to allow them to help in the fight against terrorism, and not frightening them. If the public are frightened, to an extent the terrorist has 1087 succeeded. I agree with him and my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East that we have yet to strike the right balance in that respect. I hope that we continue to consider how much more information we can give in order to recruit the public in the fight against terrorism.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newark also talked about homeland security, a subject on which he is our spokesman. He rightly pointed out that there is a strong case for having one Minister devoted to that area, with proper back-up. We believe that that would provide a better answer to some of the problems that he identified.
The right, hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Joyce Quin) pointed out that we had a great success with Libya. As she knows, I had my doubts about the speed with which we were dealing with that country and I had some suspicions about the ship that was arrested last September after the negotiations were in process, which showed that at that date there were still ongoing intentions relating to the construction of nuclear weapons. Equally, I agree that it was an intelligence success—and at a time when the intelligence services are feeling pretty demoralised about some of the things that have happened recently. It was an important success and we should all welcome it and pay tribute to the intelligence community for the work that was done.
The remainder of my remarks will be directed towards the work of the Secret Intelligence Service and the collection, subsequent analysis and use made of intelligence material. My right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary dealt with the other issues fully and I do not wish to repeat what he said.
Iraq and the search for weapons of mass destruction, coupled with public confidence in intelligence and its use in the lead-up to conflict, remain of crucial importance to the conduct of—and, indeed, confidence in—the United Kingdom's foreign policy. Paragraph 3 of the ISC report notes that military commanders reported that they had beenwell served by the intelligence community during military action.That is an important finding, which I welcome, because it is a testimony to the good tactical intelligence that we possessed. However, significant questions remain over the gathering and analysis of intelligence at a strategic level, particularly over weapons of mass destruction.
I have to say that doubts about the intelligence on WMD have been exacerbated by the shifting position of the Prime Minister over the past 22 months, which the ISC has, quite rightly, pursued. I need to remind the House of those different positions because we still need to ask what they were based on. On 24 September 2002, the Prime Minister told the House that the SISconcludes that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons, that Saddam has continued to produce them, that he has existing and active military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons, whichas we all know,could be activated within 45 minutes … and that he is actively trying to acquire nuclear weapons capability."—[Official Report, 24 September 2002; Vol. 390, c.3.]1088 On 18 March, speaking in the House, he said:We are asked now seriously to accept that in the last few years … Saddam decided unilaterally to destroy those weapons. I say that such a claim is palpably absurd".—[Official Report, 18 March 2003; Vol. 401, c. 762.]Those were the words that he used—"palpably absurd". On 8 July 2003, in front of the Liaison Committee, he said:I don't concede it at all that the intelligence at the time was wrong … I have absolutely no doubt at all that we will find evidence of weapons of mass destruction programmes".That was a change in emphasis rather than a change in nuance. Then, before that same Committee this year, he said, earlier this week:I have to accept that we have not found them and that we may not find them.I think that we must ask about the basis on which those different statements were made. Either they were misinterpretations of the intelligence or the intelligence was changing. If we are to have confidence in the intelligence, we need to know the answer to that question.
On "Frost on Sunday" last weekend, Sir Jeremy Greenstock went further when he said:There's no doubt that the stockpiles we feared might be there are not there.He went on to say:It's only again with hindsight … that the evidence is just not there. We were wrong on the stockpiles, we were right about the intention.I am not questioning the sincerity of any of those particular statements, but I am asking what it was that allowed them to change so dramatically. Those are not differences of nuance, but inconsistencies of fact. Such unexplained changes of belief at the heart of the Government on this most crucial issue of WMD cast doubt on the accuracy of our intelligence—and, more particularly, on how that intelligence was used.
In paragraph P of its conclusions, the ISC expressed concern that in their response to its report, "Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction: Intelligence and Assessments", the Government emphasised only four key conclusions and effectively provided an inadequate response. I hope that the Government will not merely apologise and say that they will not do it again, as they did in their response to the report. I hope that they will respond to the original questions point by point. Until they do, the doubts to which I have referred will continue to exist.
One of the basic weaknesses of intelligence gathering in general in the post-cold war world, and certainly in operations in the middle east, appears to have been the over-reliance on electronic intelligence, and in some cases on individual and uncorroborated sources, rather than on sustained human intelligence—that is, men on the ground who understand the region and speak the language fluently. That is one area in which weaknesses have been identified.
We have heard much today about intelligence requirements in the current circumstances, and the need to resource them financially and in terms of manpower. Although increased resources have been available since 9/11, there is no doubt that the shift of focus from 1089 international terrorism and al-Qaeda to Iraq caused great strains on that manpower. In particular, does it not appear that the greatest shortfall was in Arabic speakers?
The recently declassified Congressional report states that there were only 20 linguists at the National Security Agency and GCHQ who were extremely skilled in Arabic. Does the Foreign Secretary agree? At a time when so much of the threat is coming from that part of the world, as many speakers today have said, that seems to be a deficiency.
Do the Government have plans to reopen the internationally respected Arabic language school at Shemlan near Beirut? It provided exceptional language training to British intelligence officers and diplomats, as well as important background studies, until its closure in the late 1970s. If not, is there some plan to recreate something similar that will provide that resource in the future? I think that that will be necessary.
Is the Australian Parliamentary Committee right to assert that intelligence reports on Iraq from the US and the UK in the six months before the war increased tenfold compared with the eight months previously? That would indicate a genuine shift of intelligence focus away from al-Qaeda that could have serious implications for the international fight against terrorism. In light of the genuine and current threat from terrorism about which we have heard today, we need real assurances that those deficits will be urgently rectified.
Given those shortages, is it not time that we looked for support from our allies, as the right hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West suggested? What are our current relations with French security services? Is it true that, in the past 12 months, the French have offered to collaborate with the SIS on human intelligence and Arabic speakers? If so, what has been our response?
Is it true that the offer was turned down, with the knowledge and approval of the Prime Minister, and that the Americans are now benefiting from that help by the French? If so, what were the reasons for declining the offer? What effect has that had on the relationship between our intelligence services? I hope that the Foreign Secretary will be able to respond to that.
It is clear that errors of interpretation may have occurred between the raw intelligence—such as it was—being fed into the analytical processes of the SIS and DIS, and then the JIC. The decisions that were made were not made in a vacuum, free of expectations at a political level.
Paragraph 68 of the report states that the Committee was content with the process by which Mr. John Scarlett was appointed as chief of the SIS. However, the report does not say whether the Committee was content with the appointment itself, or with its timing. I was sorry that the right hon. Member for Rother Valley was caught by the clock and was not able to finish his explanation of that matter. I do not want to point the finger at any specific person, but it is an important question that we need to consider.
Press speculation over the past week about the forthcoming Butler report tends to support my view at the time that it was inappropriate to make the 1090 announcement in advance of the report. In that context, Dr. David Kay, the former head of the Iraq survey group, appeared on yesterday's "Newsnight" programme. He has been quoted by the Government with great approval on many occasions in the past, but he made the following rather surprising comment about George Tenet:He took the honourable step, as well as the pre-emptive step, of resigning rather than waiting to be replaced. Obviously, in your system you draw a different conclusionanddecide to promote the individual".Does the Foreign Secretary have any response to Dr Kay's comments?
In conclusion V, the Committee says that itbelieves that candidates for the position of JIC Chairman should be drawn from as wide a field as possible.The Government say that they agree. I go a little further. The position is a most sensitive one, the independence of the person holding it must be above question, and there can be no inference of politicisation. It is and should be a position of assessment and counselling between those who provide the intelligence and those who must decide how to use it. There will always be pressure on whoever holds that office to lean towards one or the other. That can best be avoided by appointing someone who has come to the effective end of their civil service career and cannot be accused of seeking to secure future preferment. I look to ex-ambassadors and senior civil servants who carried out that role in the past very well.
§ Alan Howarth
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has just quoted Dr. Kay. Will he acknowledge that David Kay insisted that analysts were not pressurised by their political masters? In Dr. Kay's analysis of what may or may not have gone wrong, he rules that out as any kind of explanation.
§ Mr. Ancram
Dr. Kay has talked about the environment in which the analysts were working. I am not making a political point, but there are times when political expectations can be raised by the statements made by senior politicians that put pressure on those who are making the assessments to try to find intelligence that will be helpful and coincide with those statements. It is that type of pressure that whoever becomes Chairman of the JIC will have to be capable of avoiding. Senior civil servants or ex-diplomats, such as those who have held the post in the past, are able to do that more effectively than those in the course of their careers.
§ Mr. Barron
I was interrupted earlier when I was about to say that it was the Committee's belief that the next Chairman of JIC should be appointed from as broad a background as possible, not restricted as the right hon. and learned Gentleman suggests. Indeed, the former Chairman who will take over at SIS was not from the background that the right hon. and learned Gentleman describes.
§ Mr. Ancram
The right hon. Gentleman has got my drift. I am not keen on the idea of opening the position to anybody. This is a specific job that has to be done by someone with enormous experience, not least of 1091 considering issues objectively, and remaining unswayed by influences from either side, because influences will always come from both sides. The person appointed must also be unaffected by considerations of their future career.
§ Mr. Barron
I agree about the width of experience needed. The appointment should not be made on the basis of what job an individual has done or is doing. That should not be a restriction on who is appointed as Chairman of JIC and that is the Committee's point.
§ Mr. Ancram
I hope that we would agree on that. The key is public confidence in the person who is appointed. That confidence would be better achieved if the public could see that the appointee did not have connections with one side or the other and had the experience to avoid such connections while holding the job. That should be seriously considered, because the appointment of John Scarlett was the first time that an active member of the intelligence service was put in that position.
In conclusion, it is vital to our national interest that public confidence in our intelligence services, in the intelligence they produce and in the use made of it by Government is restored as soon as possible. We all know that confidence in all three areas has been damaged. We need confidence in the way that intelligence is gathered and corroborated, confidence in the assessment process and the qualifications entered into it, and confidence in the political judgments that flow from it. We will have to wait and see whether we learn more about that from the Butler report next week. Given its terms of reference, we may or we may not. I shall not speculate on that today.
I was pleased to hear my right hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire point out once again that the misuse of intelligence undermines confidence in the security and intelligence agencies. It is important that we restore that confidence by showing that any such misuse will not continue in the future.
Whatever the outcome of the report may be, there are certain givens that cannot be avoided. In the end, the key to intelligence is the use made of it. I learned the value of good intelligence during my time in Northern Ireland. I learned also that what matters most are the strategic judgments made by Ministers on the basis of that intelligence. In the end, the buck stops with Ministers.
In this case, the buck stops with the Prime Minister. He made the statements. He took the decisions. He must accept the responsibility. At the end of the day, he must explain the inconsistencies and why he took the decisions he did. He owes it to our intelligence services and to the British public to do so, and perhaps the Foreign Secretary, who privately, I suspect, shares much of our concern, can start that process now.
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw)
I join other Members in paying tribute to the work of the Intelligence and Security Committee. We all understand why my right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor) was unable to take part in the debate and hope that her son's graduation ceremony was successful. I thank my 1092 right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) for so effectively standing in for her this afternoon.
At this moment of unconstrained time, may I make a plea, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that when the Chairman or the substitute Chairman of an important parliamentary Committee is making a presentation, physically from the Back Benches but on behalf of Parliament, special consideration be given to whether the standard time limit should apply?
Today's debate has highlighted again the important role that our intelligence and security agencies play in both informing Government policy and protecting British citizens at home and abroad. They help to keep drugs and international criminals off our streets, to protect Britain from terrorism and espionage and to counter threats to our economy and our financial institutions. As we heard from an Opposition Member, they give vital support to the operations of the British military, often in difficult conditions.
For different reasons to those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury, but none the less imperative ones, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary cannot be in the Chamber at present—as his shadow cannot—but he has already pointed out that our intelligence services played a crucial part, alongside our diplomatic efforts, in persuading Libya to renounce weapons of mass destruction—one of the rare examples of public success for their mostly, inevitably and necessarily unsung work. They also help to illuminate threats to and opportunities for British interests around the world.
Like every other Member who has spoken, I pay tribute to the men and women of Britain's intelligence and security services. Despite often intense pressure and the constant need to adapt to the evolving nature of terrorist and other threats, they serve with great distinction and courage—to my certain knowledge—in often difficult and dangerous circumstances.
I particularly pay tribute to Sir Richard Dearlove, whose term as head of the Secret Intelligence Service comes to an end this month. He leaves a modern and flexible service, which is better able to meet today's security challenges. I have had the pleasure of working with Sir Richard during the three years in which I have held this office and I saw a great deal of his work during part of the period when I served as Home Secretary. I pay a personal tribute to him and thank him for all that he has done. His successor, for whose appointment I take responsibility, is John Scarlett. As the Committee records, he was appointed after a rigorous and proper selection process and he has the ability and experience to build on that legacy.
As if on cue, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has rejoined us, because I now want to pay tribute—as did he—to the outgoing Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, Sir John Stevens. It was my privilege to appoint Sir John to his position about five years ago and I am sure that it is the view of the House, across all party boundaries, that he has filled that position with very great distinction at a time of considerable challenge to the police service.
Today's debate has inevitably focused on the issues of the moment raised by the Committee's report, and I shall deal with as many as possible of the detailed points made by hon. Members in a moment. The Committee's 1093 work involves looking at the intelligence and security services in the round, including the broader question of the direction of the agencies' work in the future.
This is now the eighth year in which I have taken part in this annual debate, and these are among the most mature and considered debates that I take part in or listen to in Parliament. As I listened to the debate, I thought back to the great arguments that took place in the 1980s, which many of us remember, about whether it was proper to allow Members of Parliament to scrutinise the work of the intelligence agencies. That was a question of not only whether that was proper, but whether hon. Members could be trusted to do so.
The argument began in the early 1980s, when under successive Governments the intelligence and security agencies were not averred to at all. They were appointed and run under royal prerogative. It was said that they had a charter, but it had never seen the light of day, and apart from those who had been admitted to the high priesthood—a few senior Ministers and officials—no one was ever allowed near them. Fortunately, that began to change towards the end of the 1980s, with the establishment of the Security Service on a statutory basis. That was reinforced by the Intelligence Services Act 1994, which put GCHQ and the SIS on a statutory basis and established the Intelligence and Security Committee. Far from the world falling in, in my judgment the quality of the agencies' work has increased, alongside and in direct relation to the improvement in the scrutiny of the agencies by Parliament.
What is often missed in the debate about parliamentary scrutiny is that effective parliamentary scrutiny is not in opposition to the work that Ministers must do but assists Ministers in their own scrutiny of what their Departments do. Leaving aside the agencies, how often have I been deeply grateful for the fact that, in late evening, I have had to answer a written parliamentary question and discovered something about my Department that I did not know before and that I ought to have known? In some cases, I have been asking the same question for some months and that fact had perhaps slipped the minds of those whom I had asked, but an answer was given because of the parliamentary question, and a raft of organisational or policy changes were able to follow off the back of that parliamentary scrutiny. In commending the Committee's work, I wish to say that Parliament was right to keep at it on the scrutiny issue in the 1980s, and it has been a greater success even than many of us anticipated at the time.
Let me run through some of the issues that have been raised. The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) asked whether intercept evidence should be used in criminal proceedings. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary set out the position—and I have nothing to add as I entirely agree with him. I shall paraphrase his words, but in no sense do I undermine what he said. Of course, in principle, we would all like all the available evidence to be adduced in court, so that the guilty can be more easily convicted and the innocent more easily acquitted.
1094 If that were the only issue, that would be the end of the question, but there are very much wider questions about whether the integrity of the intercept system, its efficiency and the ability to collect intercept evidence for intelligence purposes, which can include criminal intelligence as well as intelligence against terrorists and enemies of the state, would be compromised. In the difficult, multi-variable equation that we are now considering, we have to take account of the circumstances of our legal system. It is an issue of where the balance should be struck. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has said, we await an interim report to the Prime Minister shortly. Of course, however, I can give no direct commitment about the timing or content. As soon as possible thereafter that it is appropriate and safe to do so, the results will be made available to the Commons.
§ Mr. Straw
I had no pressure from other European countries when I was Home Secretary and have had none since I have been Foreign Secretary, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary says that he has had none either. Each country differs: some barely use intercept at all for any purpose, which is a separate issue and why we are worried about their capability to deal with terrorist threats; other countries use intercept more widely. Many issues require careful consideration before we come to a view. All that lies within the context that if it is possible to arrive at a solution where intercept evidence can be adduced safely without undermining the integrity and capability of everything else being done by way of intercept, that will be fine, but we are certainly not there yet.
The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden asked about redaction, suggesting that it may have been excessive. I can say only that I know to my certain knowledge that the Committee is assiduous in ensuring that redactions are permitted only where they genuinely meet the needs of national security. Speaking from recollection, I think that the law provides that if a redaction is proposed by the Prime Minister and with which the Committee disagrees, the fact of the disagreement, although obviously not the content of the redaction, can be made known to the House. As I pointed out last year, the only time when I intervened on a proposed redaction was to refuse to allow one, rather than the reverse.
The right hon. Gentleman also raised GCHQ and its programme. There were criticisms of the programme for building the very successful new building. Those criticisms have been answered in the response to the National Audit Office report, and most of them were dealt with as soon as they became known, which is why the latter part of the programme was successful.
On the subject of GCHQ, I draw the House's attention to a letter sent by the Attorney-General, Lord Goldsmith, to Lord Morris of Aberavon, in which he sets out the circumstances of the discontinuation of the prosecution of Katharine Gun. In that letter, which has 1095 been placed in the Library, my right hon. and noble Friend draws attention to paragraph 72 of the Intelligence and Security Committee report, which states:We agree that the case had to be discontinued for evidential reasons not in any way related to the Attorney General's advice on the lawfulness of invading Iraq.
§ Alan Howarth
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Attorney-General came under some rather unfair criticism over that matter and that those who suggested that the reasons for the discontinuation of the prosecution had to do with the content of his advice on the legitimacy of the war against Iraq ought to withdraw what they said and should, indeed, apologise.
§ Mr. Straw
I agree. The criticism made of the Attorney-General was completely unfounded. Anybody who knows him will know that even the thought that his integrity was in question should never have been aired.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley referred to the introduction of what, frankly, happened before, when we responded seriatim to the recommendations made in reports. That was an omission: it should have happened before, and we are sorry that it did not.
The hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) gave us an inadvertent admission of Liberal Democrat confusion, with which we are all so familiar. He talked in the round—we are familiar with that, too, when it comes to Liberal Democrat policy—but went on to talk about recognising the constraints of the real world. I welcome him to the club of the real world, and we look forward to the Liberal Democrats straightening up some of their policies in future to take account of the fact that the world has changed. If they wish to present themselves as a serious alternative Government, they have to acknowledge the responsibilities that go with that. If, however, they wish to carry on in permanent opposition, which is fine by me, they can continue in their present comfort zone, but they should not insinuate that they have any right to pass comment on those who are or those who wish to be in Government.
I apologise to the right hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates) for not being here to hear his speech. He said that trust is at the heart of intelligence gathering. That is absolutely true, and there has to be trust all round. There has to be trust within the agencies—that is why the ring of secrecy is so important—trust in those who monitor them and trust between those within the agencies and those who are responsible for them, especially senior Ministers and the Prime Minister. I believe that we have done everything we can to maintain that trust.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh (Dr. Strang) asked about BBC Monitoring. He will be aware that I informed the Foreign Affairs Committee on 28 June that from 2005–06, the FCO will reduce its funding for BBC Monitoring by £2 million to £5 million per annum, but overall stakeholder funding for BBC Monitoring will remain at its current level, with the difference made up by other stakeholders and the BBC Monitoring reserve. The Cabinet Office has commissioned a strategic review of BBC Monitoring, which will report by the end of this year. Future funding will be determined by the outcome of that review.
1096 Several hon. Members raised the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo bay and at Abu Ghraib. We take very seriously our responsibilities in respect of Guantanamo bay detainees. From January 2002 to March 2004, seven visits were made by British officials to check on the welfare of the British detainees, and another visit is due to take place shortly. Whenever visits take place, we ensure that families are informed of the outcome.
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
In view of the fact that the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), has acknowledged that the United States does not accept the applicability of the Geneva conventions, while we think that the conventions should apply to those at Guantanamo bay, does the Foreign Secretary agree with the consequence, namely, that we believe that detainees at Guantanamo bay should have legal advice available to them?
§ Mr. Straw
Yes. Speaking specifically in respect of our detainees, we have said that the provision of legal advice is a necessary part of any fair trial system—it is almost a sine qua non. The detainees there have not received legal advice, even though one or two of them are in the trial system. That is the background to the recent appeal to the Supreme Court, and it has been one aspect of our disagreements with the United States Government about the fairness of the trial process offered. We have repeatedly said that British detainees should either be tried as soon as possible according to principles that are recognised to be fair, or be returned to the UK. That remains our position and it has been the subject of considerable discussion between ourselves and the United States ever since Guantanamo bay received British detainees.
The hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) asked about prisoners of war who were handed over by UK forces to the United States. Three hundred and fortyone were so handed over in April 2003. The United States subsequently released all but three: two of the three were handed over to the legal custody of the Iraqi authorities on 30 June, although physically they remain in US custody, held on behalf of the Iraqis; and the other is now detained as a security internee in UK custody. I hope that that satisfactorily answers the hon. Gentleman's question.
§ Mr. Straw
I do not want to go into detail about the nature of our duty of care, but our power to hold detainees, save for security internees held under the letter from Secretary Powell to the Security Council attached to resolution 1546, ceased on 30 June. Of the 341 detainees. 338 were released by the US—so that was the end of that matter—and of the remaining three, as I have explained, one is a security internee under what amounts to an annexe under UN Security Council resolution 1546, and the other two are in the custody of the Iraqi interim Government. Our power ended, because our powers as occupying powers finished on 30 June. 1097 The hon. Member for Chichester and the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) made comparisons with the United States. Scrutiny of the Executive in this country is, in my judgment, at least as high as scrutiny of the United States Executive. We have a very different system because we are members of Parliament, whereas members of the US Executive are, as everyone knows, constitutionally separate from what amounts to the Parliament. In this country, Ministers responsible for intelligence and security agencies—my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister and myself—are interrogated weekly, sometimes daily, on these issues, which is in sharp contrast to the position in the United States, where the Head of State never appears before Congress and rarely, if ever, gives an extended press conference. Others undertake those duties, so accountability is infinitely greater here, and takes place day by day, week by week.
§ Mr. Straw
"Today", my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary would agree, is now part of the interrogation of Ministers, because it is rare for us not to appear on the programme. Long may that continue, because it is important that the public should hear us interrogated on the radio as well as in Parliament.
The Intelligence and Security Committee provides ongoing checks on the responsibilities of senior Ministers and the Prime Minister. The questioning is tough and, to some extent, tougher than it would be in public, and its reports are there for all to see. It has been suggested that we were difficult with the Foreign Affairs Committee, but, as I said at the time, a turf war was going on between it and the Intelligence and Security Committee. As far as we were concerned, we did not withhold material from parliamentarians, but it was plainly inappropriate—and had never been suggested before—that the Foreign Affairs Committee should fulfil the role of the ISC. It was agreed in 1994 that the FAC's role should continue unabridged and unamended following the establishment of the ISC, but it was not agreed then, and neither would I agree it in the light of experience, that the FAC is the appropriate body to hold the agencies to account.
Finally, on the parallel with the United States, a couple of Opposition Members suggested that there was a case for establishing a Department for homeland security. That case was accepted by the Government of the day in 1782—it is called the Home Office, and has operated satisfactorily ever since. The United States emulated us, but it is not necessary, in this regard, for us to emulate the US.
Anybody who knows the system of law enforcement in the US knows that in place of three intelligence agencies and 43 police services, which we have in this country, plus the enforcement arm of the Customs and the immigration and nationality directorate, the US has 17,000 law enforcement agencies. It is a rather different situation, and even at a federal level there are many overlapping jurisdictions. One can see it on the streets of New York if one walks between the United Nations and any of the legations during United Nations General Assembly week, as the different layers of federal security personnel are advertised on the back of their jackets.
1098 It was necessary to co-ordinate better what those agencies were doing. There is now the equivalent of a Home Secretary. Even so, the three big agencies—the National Security Agency, the FBI and the CIA—almost exactly parallel the work of GCHQ, the Security Service and SIS. There are no plans, and I would strongly resist them if there were, to merge those three into a single agency.
§ Mr. Barron
I apologise for going back a little. On detainees, the Government have given us a positive response as regards co-operating fully with our inquiries. In his contribution, the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) raised a number of issues and referred to reports and papers that he believed the Government have on the subject. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Committee would be able to see any or all of those papers if it considered that necessary?
§ Dr. Lewis
In the unavoidable absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer), may I say that the Foreign Secretary has been busily engaged in demolishing an Aunt Sally? It is not the position of the Opposition that there should be a separate Department for homeland security, only that there should be a dedicated Minister for homeland security, unlike the situation that existed when the hapless right hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Beverley Hughes) had to combine being Minister with responsibility for homeland security with being Minister with the minor responsibility for immigration.
§ Mr. Straw
I do not claim to have followed every nuance of the Opposition's consideration of that policy, but I suspect that it is rather like most considerations of their policy: they start off with a label, then try to fill the box, and the product often changes in between. We have a Home Secretary and a Minister with responsibility for the police services. If we had another Cabinet Minister for homeland security, that could lead to a certain duplication of effort and, far from co-ordination, a great many problems.
I shall deal with the points made by the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), who speaks for the Opposition on foreign affairs. First, there was the issue of collaboration with the French security services. Because that is an intelligence matter, I cannot comment on it in any detail, but I can arrange for the right hon. and learned Gentleman to be briefed on Privy Council terms. I did not recognise the story that he told, but we seek collaboration and liaison with all the intelligence and security services with which it is appropriate to do so.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman spoke about the gathering and analysis of intelligence before the Iraq war. On many of those points, the House will have to await the Butler report. However, I remind the House of two things, which come not from any intelligence report but from what we all know and saw at the time, and which are worth bearing in mind. First, the Iraqi regime had a nuclear weapons programme, a chemical weapons programme and a biological weapons programme, all of 1099 which it concealed. With respect to the chemical weapons programme, the regime not only had one, but used it.
Secondly, on 8 November 2002, all 15 members of the Security Council independently reached the same judgment: that Iraq posed a threat to international peace and security because of its proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, its long-range missile systems and its defiance of the United Nations. Those two sets of facts need to be borne in mind throughout the future consideration of how we dealt with intelligence leading up to the war.
§ Mr. Ancram
The question concerns the statements and the intelligence. We all accept—at least I certainly do—that Saddam Hussein had WMDs at some stage, but did he have them on 24 September 2002, when the Prime Minister came to the House and said he had WMDs?
§ Mr. Straw
No; I shall make progress to complete the debate.
The right hon. and learned Member for Devizes asked about Arabic linguists and whether the Beirut linguist school has been re-established. That school had to be abandoned because it was blown up by one or other of the fighting groups in Beirut at that time, and there are no plans to re-establish it. Linguistic ability is one of the outstanding merits of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the SIS and GCHQ, and our great investment in that area is far larger than that made by many comparable countries. I am personally committed to that investment in linguistic ability being sustained, especially in Arabic, and I am happy to write to the right hon. and learned Gentleman about the matter.
That concludes the response to the debate, and I thank all hon. Members who have attended it. Again, I pay tribute to the agencies, and above all thank all the members of the ISC.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.