HC Deb 15 December 1994 vol 251 cc764-6W
Sir Anthony Durant

To ask the Prime Minister if he will make a statement about the procedures for security vetting within government.

The Prime Minister

As I announced to the House on 23 March,Official Report, columns 259–60, to ensure that security measures and procedures reflect current threats, the Government have recently completed a fundamental review of their arrangements for the management of protective security in Departments and agencies. In the area of personnel security, the review concluded that the vetting process served a worthwhile purpose, not only in disclosing circumstances which might lead to breaches of security but as a deterrent to those who might otherwise seek to undermine that security. The review recommended, however, that there should be a streamlining of the procedures that made up the vetting process. That work has now been completed.

The new framework should ensure that personnel security objectives are properly defined and that responsibility for achieving them is clearly established. There will be a greater emphasis on ensuring that personnel security resources are targeted on, and proportionate to, the threat and add necessarily and cost-effectively to the protection of government assests. Between 1 January and 31 March 1995, the existing arrangements will be replaced by a new personnel security regime which will consist of two levels of vetting, a security check and developed vetting. A security check will be similar to the current PV(S)—positive vetting (secret)—clearance, but will in addition include a check on the financial status of the individual. Developed vetting will replace the present PV(TS)—positive vetting (top secret)—and EPV—extended positive vetting—levels of vetting. The current system of counter terrorist checks will remain unchanged, but will be subject to review.

As at present, all candidates for security vetting will be asked to complete a security questionnaire which will explain the purpose of the procedure and invite them to provide the personal details required for the necessary checks to be carried out. Vetting will then be carried out on the basis of the statement of policy set out below.

Statement of HM Government's vetting policy In the interests of national security, safeguarding Parliamentary democracy and maintaining the proper security of the Government's essential activities, it is the policy of HMG that no one should be employed in connection with work the nature of which is vital to the interests of the state who: is, or has been involved in, or associated with any of the following activities:

  • —espionage,
  • —terrorism,
  • —sabotage,
  • —actions intended to overthrow or undermine Parliamentary democracy by political, industrial or violent means; or
  • is, or has recently been:
  • —a member of any organisation which has advocated such activities; or
  • —associated with any organisation, or any of its members in such a way as to raise reasonable doubts about his or reliability; or
  • is susceptible to pressure or improper influence, for example because of current or past conduct; or
  • has shown dishonesty or lack of integrity which throws doubt upon their reliability; or
  • has demonstrated behaviour, or is subject to circumstances which may otherwise indicate unreliability.
In accordance with the above policy, Government departments and agencies will carry out a Security Check (SC) on all individuals who require long term, frequent and uncontrolled access to SECRET information or assets. A Security Check may also be applied to staff who are in a position directly or indirectly to bring about the same degree of damage as such individuals or who need access to protectively marked material originating from other countries or international organisations. In some circumstances, where it would not be possible for an individual to make reasonable progress in their career without clearance to SECRET level, it may be applied to candidates for employment whose duties do not, initially, involve such regular access.

An SC clearance will normally consist of: a check against the National Collection of Criminal Records and relevant departmental and police records; in accordance with the Security Service Act 1989, where it is necessary to protect national security, or to safeguard the economic well-being of the United Kingdom from threats posed by persons outside the British Islands, a check against Security Service records; and credit reference checks and where appropriate, a review of personal finances. In some circumstances further enquiries, including an interview with the subject, may be carried out. Individuals employed on government work who have long term, frequent and uncontrolled access to TOP SECRET information or assets, will be submitted to the level of vetting clearance known as Developed Vetting (DV). This level of clearance may also be applied to people who are in a position directly or indirectly to cause the same degree of damage as such individuals and in order to satisfy the requirements for access to protectively marked material originating from other countries and international organisations. In addition to a Security Check, a DV will involve: an interview with the person being vetted; and references from people who are familiar with the person's character in both the home and work environment. These may be followed up by interviews. Enquiries will not necessarily be confined to to past and present employers and nominated character referees.

It is also the Government's policy that departments and agencies will carry out Counter Terrorist Checks (CTC) in the interest of national security before anyone can be: authorised to take up posts which involve proximity to public figures at particular risk of attack by terrorist organisations, or which give access to information or material assessed to be of value to terrorists: granted unescorted access to certain military, civil and industrial establishments assessed to be at particular risk of attack by a terrorist organisation. The purpose of such checks is to prevent those who may have connections with terrorist organisations, or who may be vulnerable to pressure from such organisations, from gaining access to certain posts, and in some circumstances, premises, where there is a risk that they could exploit that position to further the aims of a terrorist organisation. A CTC will include a check against Security Service records. Criminal record information may also be taken into account. Departments and agencies generally assure themselves, through the verification of identity, and written references from previous employers, that potential recruits are reliable and trustworthy. Such Basic Checks (BC) are already standard procedure for many departments and agencies. Where access needs to be granted to Government information or assets at CONFIDENTIAL level, departments, agencies and contractors engaged on government work are required to complete such checks. In some cases, at the CONFIDENTIAL level, where relevant, the Basic Check may be augmented with some of the checks normally carried out for security clearances.