§ 11 am
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Kenneth Clarke)
With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the division of responsibilities for intelligence work between the Metropolitan police special branch and the Security Service.
As the House will be aware, the Metropolitan police special branch at present has the lead responsibility for the acquisition, processing and use of intelligence against Irish republican terrorism in Great Britain. The Security Service has the lead responsibility for intelligence work against all other forms of terrorism in Great Britain, including Irish loyalist and international terrorism, and against Irish republican terrorism overseas. The Security Service also contributes now to the acquisition and assessment of intelligence against Irish republican terrorism in Great Britain and in this field, as in others, already works very closely with the police service.
The Government have now decided that the lead responsibility for intelligence work against Irish republican terrorism in Great Britain should pass from the Metropolitan police special branch to the Security Service. This will bring the arrangements broadly into line with those that already exist for other forms of terrorism. The purpose of this change is to enable the Security Service to use to the full the skills and expertise which it has developed over the years in its work on counter-terrorism. I wish to emphasise that under the new arrangements the Metropolitan police special branch will continue to play an indispensable part in intelligence work against Irish republican groups. The substantial experience and expertise that it has developed will not be lost, and it will continue to work in the closest co-operation with the Security Service.
Intelligence is a key part of the action being taken against Irish republican terrorism, but it is only a part. Operations on a wider basis, including the collection of evidence and the arrest and prosecution of those suspected of terrorist offences, are plainly essential in dealing with terrorism. This wider responsibility for protecting the public against the threat of terrorism, and for the investigation of terrorist offences, must rest with the police service. It will continue to do so under the new arrangements that I have described.
Since 1990, the effectiveness of police arrangements against terrorism has been significantly enhanced by the appointment of the Commander of the Metropolitan police anti-terrorist branch as national co-ordinator of police counter-terrorist investigations, and by the creation of the Association of Chief Police Officers' advisory group headed by a very senior officer of the Metropolitan police, the assistant commissioner for specialist operations.
The transfer of the lead responsibility for intelligence work from the Metropolitan police special branch to the Security Service does not in any way affect the roles of the national co-ordinator or the advisory group. It does not affect the responsibility of individual chief officers for policing their areas and for the work done by police special branches outside London. It is only in the lead responsibility for the intelligence work that a change is being made.
298 The decision that I have announced today does not affect in any way the accountability of the police and security services. Both the Metropolitan police and the Security Service are accountable, through me, to Parliament. The Metropolitan police is accountable through the Commissioner to me as police authority and the Security Service is accountable through its director general to me under the Security Service Act 1989.
The need for effective action against terrorism speaks for itself. It calls for the best use of all the skills and experience available within the law to the Government. The decision that I have announced is designed to strengthen still further the effective intelligence work already being done against Irish republican terrorism in Great Britain, a task in which both the Security Service and the police have vital roles to play. The Government will keep these arrangements under review and where they can be improved still further, we shall take the necessary action.
§ Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)
I start by congratulating the right hon. and learned Gentleman on his appointment as Home Secretary. However, he has made a rather inauspicious beginning by making a statement of this importance to a thinly attended House on a Friday. The House takes the issue very seriously. As an incoming Home Secretary, he has a unique opportunity to take a fresh approach to an issue of enormous public concern, such as the fight against terrorism. He also has a historic opportunity to deal with a matter of profound constitutional importance—the accountability of the security services.
We have argued for many years for greater parliamentary scrutiny of the work of the security services and our preferred method of achieving that is by the establishment of an Intelligence Select Committee comprising senior Privy Councillors. The issues have taken on greater significance now that MI5 is to be given the lead role in fighting terrorism. We have many concerns about MI5 being given that role. As the House knows, Sir Christopher Curwen, the former head of MI6, undertook two reviews of this important area in 1990 and in 1991. On both occasions, he concluded that it would not be appropriate for the security services to be given more than a strictly limited and subordinate role. Why has the Home Secretary chosen to ignore that advice?
There will be real problems if MI5 takes on the lead role. There is the central issue of accountability to which I have referred. In addition, the Home Secretary knows that MI5 has no operational function; it has no power of arrest. As we know to our cost, it does not have experience of preparing evidence that will stand up in court. There are also issues about immunity from prosecution and I hope that the Home Secretary will deal with those in his response. For example, would MI5 agents active in the IRA be given immunity from prosecution? There are also dangers in terrorism being classed as a political crime. It should not be given such status. The cold-blooded killing of innocent people should be treated as the abominable crime it is. Does the Home Secretary agree?
We fear that there will be difficulties because of the type of administrative structure that we understand is to be established. If there is to be a bureaucratic committee to which all leads would be reported, will that not involve time wasting and the possible loss of lives because of delay?
299 There are alternative ways to take a greater initiative against terrorism. There is much greater merit in providing the police with a national intelligence service, with its own operational arm. That not only would allow a sharper focus for counter-terrorist work, but would be within a police structure that is tried and tested.
The Opposition have repeatedly called for all-party talks on these issues. In the past few days, the Home Secretary received a letter from my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) repeating that call so that, on cross-party lines, we could develop the most effective strategy against terrorism. I am disappointed that, so far, the Government have declined to accept that offer.
This new Parliament has a very different House of Commons, in which there will be renewed assertion of parliamentary power. The Home Secretary's failure to announce a proper system of parliamentary scrutiny of the security services in parallel with the important changes that he has announced will be widely resented. If the citizens charter means anything, surely the Home Secretary should also announce the introduction of a freedom of information Act and parliamentary scrutiny of the security services. We wait to hear what he intends to do about our concerns. People have a right to know what is being done by the state in their name.
Hon. Members are united in wanting to do all in our power to attack the evil men and women of terror. A restructuring of our efforts is timely, but we are not convinced that the method proposed by the Government is the right way forward in a modern democratic state.
§ Madam Speaker
Order. Before the Home Secretary replies, I remind the House that statements do not form a debate. I am looking for pertinent questions to the Home Secretary and pertinent and short answers from him, which I am sure we shall get.
§ Mr. Clarke
I thank the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) for his good wishes on my appointment. It is some years since he and I faced each other across the Dispatch Box on other matters. I look forward to his contributions to our debates on home affairs.
I acknowledge and accept that accountability for the Security Service is an important part of our concerns in this Parliament. I think that we have greatly improved the openness of the operation of the security services and made them more accountable. The operation of the Security Service Act 1989 has changed these matters very much in recent years. There is now a commissioner who produces an annual report to Parliament. There is a source of redress for those who have complaints against the Security Service and access to a tribunal. The service is accountable, through me, to the House.
The hon. Member for Huddersfield asked why we made the key change, which is to transfer the lead responsibility for intelligence gathering against Irish republican activity in this country. We always keep these matters under review. The issue was examined in the reports that the hon. Gentleman described, and it was examined again in a more recent report.
For reasons that everyone will understand, we are now in a position to transfer some resource within the Security Service and enhance our intelligence-gathering efforts. It was a good moment to consider which service should have 300 the lead responsibility. Both the Security Service and the special branch of the Metropolitan police will continue to make a substantial effort. They will work together as they always have. Giving the lead to the Security Service will get the best out of both. It is putting the lead in the hands of those whose speciality is the collection and use of intelligence of this sort.
As the hon. Member for Huddersfield said, operational matters must remain with the police. They are the people who collect evidence, prepare prosecutions and bring those responsible for these matters to justice, and they will continue to be so. There need be no conflict, and there will be no conflict, between intelligence gathering and operations. Over the years, the police and the Security Service have worked together on many matters and have successfully brought to justice those who have been damaging to the security of this country.
It is only history that gives the police the lead responsibility for Irish republican terrorism. It is an accident of history that in the 19th century they were given that lead at the time of the Fenian outrages. The Security Service has always had the lead, for example, for loyalist terrorist activity in this country. Starting from scratch, I think that the arrangements today are those which would always have been in place.
I agree that what is done by the Security Service and the police must be within the law. I stress that both services will act within the law. I regard the activities of terrorist gangs in this country as crime. It is important that we enhance our efforts all the time against that crime and against those criminals and bring them to justice. I think that the arrangements that we are proposing will help to improve our efforts.
I am always happy to have talks with the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) or the Opposition team on these matters. Of course, those talks will not involve the process of negotiation about the prevention of terrorism Act, but I hope that the Opposition in this new Parliament will take the opportunity to shift their ground. Otherwise, I agree that both sides of the House should co-operate closely when the overriding public need is at all times to strengthen our efforts against terrorism and protect the public against it.
§ Mr. Peter Brooke (City of London and Westminster, South)
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, with changes as far-reaching and significant as those that he has announced, proof will be some time in the making? Does he agree also that, in matters of this sort where cross-agency activities are involved, the quality of the personal relations in the cross-agency activities is of extreme importance? Will my right hon. and learned Friend concentrate on the quality of those relationships?
§ Mr. Clarke
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. He is right, because intelligence work is, of its nature, a slow and steady process. The effect of the increased effort that we are making in this area will perhaps take some years to show. This is a steady process of frustrating would-be terrorist activity and bringing to justice on occasions those who can be caught and brought before the courts.
I agree that, in the end, everything depends crucially on the personal relationships between all those involved in every aspect of operations against the IRA. I have had meetings on this subject with Mrs. Rimington of the Security Service, with the Commissioner of Police of the 301 Metropolis and the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers. I have been assured by them all that the relationships will remain close. I know that they are determined to ensure that both organisations work together in harmony, disclosing to each other all that they are doing, so as to get the maximum out of their respective efforts.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
May I add my felicitations and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends to the new Home Secretary on his appointment? If the right hon. and learned Gentleman intends to have cross-party co-operation on these matters, which my colleagues would very much welcome, will he consider having discussions with Opposition parties before making such major changes, especially when they are made against the advice that has been openly proffered, and against a background in which the Metropolitan police have made it plain that they think that these changes are unwise? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman say what further arrangements he has for strengthening the accountability of himself for the security services to the House?
§ Mr. Clarke
I have said that I am happy to have talks with the Opposition. This is an area in which I think we should seek to achieve the maximum all-party agreement on our efforts. I am not sure that the advice that the hon. Gentleman is talking about has been openly offered. I keep reading about some of it in the newspapers, and certainly reports have been prepared internally for me.
As I say, I have had discussions with the Commissioner, the president of ACPO and the leader of the Security Service. I think that there comes a point when one cannot have the widest possible discussions about how we shall organise intelligence gathering against Irish republicans in this country. I think that everybody probably accepts that. I look forward to the hon. Gentleman's contribution and to talks with him on these matters. I thank him for his congratulations on my appointment, but I hope that he does not expect me to come to him every time I have a decision to take in this area.
§ Sir John Wheeler (Westminster, North)
My right hon. and learned Friend makes it clear that his statement means that the Security Service is responsible for the lead in intelligence gathering. He must know that I particularly welcome that development and believe that it is right at this time. I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend's confirmation that he remains accountable to the House for the conduct of the Security Service. Will he confirm that these arrangements are no reflection upon the excellent work of the special branch services of the police system in this country, and especially of the special branch of the Metropolitan police, and that there is no question of members of the Security Service holding the office of constable and thus investigating crime directly?
§ Mr. Clarke
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his welcome for the decision and for accurately realising that we are talking about the lead in what will be a joint activity by the Security Service and the police. I underline what my hon. Friend said about the successes that have been achieved under the leadership of the special branch of the Metropolitan police. The public are not always aware, 302 when activities are frustrated and do not occur, that successes have been achieved. As we all know, the police have been making progress recently in investigations both of bombings in London and shootings in Derby. Arrests have been made of suspects and those investigations are proceeding further. So the police have been achieving successes, and the Metropolitan police will continue with at least as much work in this area as it has in the past.
We simply have the opportunity to switch more resource within the security services into this key area of Irish republican terrorism in this country. It was an obvious moment to review the lead responsibility for that, and we have brought that responsibility for republican terrorism into line with that which has always prevailed for loyalist terrorism and international terrorism in this country.
§ Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)
The Secretary of State will accept that terrorism and the killing of innocent people do not resolve political situations; they simply leave orphans and widows. Does he accept that, although his statement deals with terrorism in this country, there should be absolute interfacing with the security services in Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland? Will he note that the Republic of Ireland has made important strides recently in finding all types of arms caches throughout the country? I welcome the move that the Secretary of State has outlined today if it leads to an effective attack on terrorism, because terrorism does not resolve political problems. As I said, it simply leaves widows and orphans.
§ Mr. Clarke
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Terrorism contributes nothing to the resolution of any political problems. Terrorism in this country is organised crime of a completely unhelpful and extremely damaging kind which often has tragic consequences. It is therefore important that all the work on the mainland of Britain, in Ulster and in the Republic of Ireland is co-ordinated to a certain extent and that all the authorities co-operate as they properly should in action against the joint threat which they all face from the Provisional IRA. I am sure that proper contacts will be maintained and will not be affected in any way by the announcement today.
§ Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)
Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that Conservative Members also welcome his appointment as Home Secretary? We especially welcome this early manifestation of the Government's determination in this new Parliament to combat terrorism. It is obviously sensible that the strengths of the Security Service should be more directly harnessed in the attack on terrorism and that some of the intolerable burden on the shoulders of the Metropolitan police should be relieved.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend also be aware that there is strong feeling among Conservative Members and, perhaps, throughout the House that he should have our support in combating the apparent determination of the European Commission to dismantle the barrier to international terrorism which we now have?
§ Mr. Clarke
I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for his welcoming of my appointment, and I look forward to hearing even more frequently his contributions on these subjects in the House during my spell as Home Secretary. I am also grateful for his welcoming the 303 decision. It is not the case that the burden will be lifted from the Metropolitan police. I anticipate that, if anything, it will be involved in more intelligence work, as well as in all its operational activities against people in particular instances. It will have extra effort from the Security Service combined with its efforts. I believe that we shall get the best out of both services under the new lead responsibilities we have established.
We cannot lessen the effort in any way until we have increased the protection of the public against terrorist outrages. I will certainly bring home to my colleagues in our partner Governments in the European Community that we cannot contemplate any weakening of our protection against terrorism.
§ Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)
When the former Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler), said that the Home Secretary was responsible to the House for the conduct of the security services, was he not absolutely wrong? That is what the argument is all about.
If the Government resist the formation of a Security Services Select Committee, is there not a compromise position? It is that the accounting officers for each of the security services give evidence on financial matters of accountability to the Public Accounts Committee in private session, and that the Committee does not produce reports. At least within that system, there would be an element of accountability.
If the Government are not prepared to go even that far, surely the accounting officers of the various departments could meet the Chairman and a Deputy Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee so that there would be at least some element of scrutiny by the House, as against by the Executive uniquely.
§ Mr. Clarke
This Government have steadily increased the openness of the Security Service during the past 10 years, and we have made a significant stride in putting it on a statutory basis by establishing a commissioner, establishing the tribunal and doing the other things to which I referred. We are open to argument, and the hon. Gentleman has a perfect opportunity in today's debate to put forward his arguments on these matters if he wishes, as we are about to put the SIS on a statutory basis as well.
The Home Secretary is accountable to the House for a Security Service that operates within the law. In all the arguments on these matters, we must all appreciate, as the vast bulk of the public do, that it is not possible to acccount in detail for operational activities. We must have a proper Security Service which operates within the law and is accountable to Parliament, but we must not introduce mechanisms that damage its effectiveness in targeting terrorist organisations.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)
Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that what he has announced is a change in the priorities of intelligence gathering which should not be looked on as a massive change in the attack of terrorism? Will he also accept that the way in which the Metropolitan police published the minutes, which appear to have been leaked, showed that much of what is looked on as "spookery" is just the plain, simple pursuit of information, which is an essential part of the work of the police and the other security services in tackling some of the criminal violence that people suffer? Will he also agree 304 that the people who will gain most from improved effectiveness will be the Irish nationalists, who suffer from republican terrorism just as much as anyone else?
§ Mr. Clarke
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I agree that the word "intelligence" gives this all a rather more sinister ring that it should have. We are talking about a process of investigation in which more is discovered about the membership, the plans, the intentions and the movements of those who propose to engage in terrorist activity. It is a skilled and specialist activity which has been well carried out by the special branch.
As a result of political changes, there is greater opportunity for the Security Service to put more of its resources into that acitivity. The activity can be organised to ensure that both services work together to the best effect. It is an important part, although one part only, of what we must ensure, which is to reduce the level of terrorist activity in this country. That is as important to the nationalists in Ireland as it is to every member of the public throughout the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
Did the Metropolitan police agree willingly with the switch in lead responsibility?
§ Mr. Clarke
The Metropolitan police have had discussions with me about the matter. I have met the Commissioner a number of times—I think twice on this matter specifically—and the president of ACPO. I have also had discussions with the Security Service, and I had an up-to-date report before me in the Home Office. All of them are agreed that they have to work together and all of them are agreed that the links between intelligence and operational matters must be smooth all the way through. All have undertaken to ensure that they can continue the excellent collaboration which they have always had.
I am sure that the change and statements made today will be accepted by everyone involved. They bring the responsibilities for republican terrorism in line with the ones we have had for years on loyalist terrorism and international terrorism. I know of no difficulty that has occurred on that front for either the police or the security services.
§ Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath)
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, if there were a Committee of the House to examine the security services, that Committee would feel frustrated from day one by the restrictions imposed on it and by the basic fact that it would not be allowed to go into operational matters?
Bearing in mind the fact that there will be concern in the Metropolitan police special branch about this important announcement, will my right hon. and learned Friend make it clear that there will be no reduction in either manpower or financial resources for that organisation?
§ Mr. Clarke
I did not directly answer the previous question. I should have underlined the fact that those in the Security Service will not have the powers of a constable and will not be engaged in operational matters. All the powers that the police use when they bring people to justice are exercisable only by the police, and the police are solely responsible for that side of the activity.
In an answer a few moments ago, I also said that the statement does not imply any reduction in the activity of 305 the Metropolitan police special branch, in the activity of special branches throughout the country or in the resources available to them in the fight against terrorism.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
Does the Home Secretary accept that there have been some monstrous miscarriages of justice as a result of the operation of the prevention of terrorism Act, such as that of the Guildford Four? What assurances can he give us that undercover operations by the security services will not in themselves lead to further serious miscarriages of justice because of the lack of accountability of those services? Does the statement represent a move away from a political solution to the sadness of the conflict in Ireland, or will the Government continue to try to pursue a political settlement to bring peace to that country?
§ Mr. Clarke
I will remind myself of the facts of the unhappy miscarriage of justice in the Guildford case. I do not recollect that it concerned the activities of the Security Service or the prevention of terrorism Act.
§ Mr. Clarke
He may well have been arrested under it, but it was not a cause of the miscarriage of justice in that case. The prevention of terrorism Act is absolutely essential to frustrate terrorist activity in this country and to give proper protection to the public and, in the aftermath of the general election, I hope that the Opposition will move urgently to reconsider their position on that Act.
I agree that, in dealing with the affairs of Ireland, we must continue to have political discussions, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State is engaged in taking those discussions forward at this very moment. Terrorist activities by the Provisional IRA on mainland 306 Britain and in Ireland have no useful effect on the political process—indeed, they put back the prospects of a settlement in Ireland every time they occur. That is why it is so important that we have effective efforts against terrorism alongside all the political initiatives of my right hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke), which are now being carried forward by my right hon. and learned Friend the present Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Sheerman
The Home Secretary has something of a reputation as a political bruiser, but I know him to be a thoughtful man. Will he therefore answer just two questions—or at least take them away with him? First, why cannot the House and Parliament have some scrutiny of the secret services, and why cannot he see his way to initiating such a process? That does not have to be announced today, but it should come soon. Most other modern countries, such as the United States, have such scrutiny, and it works well. Secondly, why has the right hon. and learned Gentleman shut the door on a national police intelligence unit with an operational arm? Either the present Government or the next Labour Government will have to establish such a unit very soon.
§ Mr. Clarke
I will have talks on both matters because my instincts—like the instincts of the Government—are for openness and accountability in these matters as in other activities of government. I trust, however, that we all agree on the principle that there is no point in having accountability and openness in respect of operations if it is of a kind that will damage the effectiveness of the service.
I look forward to the talks that I have just offered at the Dispatch Box. I trust that the hon. Gentleman will accept that today's decision does not affect this matter in any way. I hope that, when he sees the next report of the commissioner on the Security Service Act, he will accept also that we have made great strides towards accountability for the security services.