§ The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane)
I begin by offering the apologies of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, who has just returned from a trip. He and his team must have ingested something because they have all been ordered to their beds. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be back on his feet soon. Of course, he regrets his absence, because, as the House will agree, reporting to Parliament is something that he takes very seriously indeed.
I will ask you for your forbearance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I am not here for the completion of the debate because I am expected in Gibraltar later this evening, to carry out ministerial duties.
The debate is an opportunity for the House to review the performance of one of our most important Committees and a chance to measure the Government's performance against perhaps the most critical yardstick of all—the extent to which we are protecting the lives of our citizens both at home and overseas. That subject has always been a matter for serious discussion, but its prominence has increased exponentially since 11 September 2001, when our values—the values of liberal democracy—suffered one of their most grievous assaults in memory. That day brought a dreadful new resonance to threats to national security, which have been with us for many years. Fears about the uncontrolled spread of weapons of mass destruction have haunted humankind for over half a century. Terrorism has blighted the lives of millions, not least the British people, for years.
What makes the situation today truly unprecedented is that our long battle against those threats has reached a turning point. In one direction lies a new global consensus against the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and an unyielding international commitment to the defeat of terrorism and the treatment of its causes. In the other direction, if we do not take action, lies a world where the forces of chaos become ascendant and where future generations have to live with the day-to-day possibility that terrorists may use nerve agents or even nuclear materials to inflict slaughter on an unimaginable scale.
This year's annual report by the Intelligence and Security Committee reflects that grave new environment. Before I examine its conclusions and recommendations, I pay tribute to the work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor) and her fellow members of the Committee, many of whom are present in the House today. The ISC plays a vital role in holding to account the agencies and the Ministers who are responsible for them. The Chairman and her colleagues have performed that task with distinction during the past 12 months. Having given oral evidence to the ISC for the past six years, as both Home Secretary and in his current post, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary can personally testify to the integrity and rigour that former and current members of the Committee bring to their work. The fact that Ministers from four Departments provided evidence to the Committee this year indicates the value that the Government attach to the ISC's role.
568 The Intelligence and Security Committee helps to make the UK's system of oversight for the intelligence and security agencies what it is: the most comprehensive such system in the democratic world. By the standards of most, if not all, of the world's democracies, the ISC is able to subject those agencies to intense scrutiny. To have managed that without reducing the effectiveness of our intelligence services has been a remarkable achievement.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
I am grateful to the Minister, not least for his very kind comments, but he slightly overstates the case in relation to the United States, where congressional intelligence committees have responsibility for the appropriations, thus the funding of the bodies, so the description that he gave might be misleading. Nevertheless, our experience is that the system that we have developed is much admired in much of the rest of the democratic world.
§ Mr. MacShane
I think that that is right. The Prime Minister appears in front of the Committee, and he will appear before the Liaison Committee next week and can answer any questions that hon. Gentlemen wish to put to him, which is not an experience that the President of the United States has to go through.
§ Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)
As the issue has been opened up by one of the members of the Intelligence and Security Committee, can my hon. Friend share with us an example of one other democracy in which the oversight committee is selected by the Head of Government?
§ Mr. MacShane
I think that very few other democracies have such an oversight committee.
I welcome the recognition in the Committee's report of the work of the agencies in protecting national security. I have been deeply impressed with the professionalism and courage shown by their staff and I know that many officers work in the most dangerous and stressful circumstances imaginable. Their dedication to public service is therefore all the more laudable. We should recall that the nature of the agencies' work means that they rarely if ever receive praise for their efforts. I will not set out an exhaustive list of their recent achievements this afternoon, but I am sure that the House will join me in praising their integral role in support of British troops in Iraq. GCHQ supported at the strategic and tactical levels of command in its largest operation since world war two.
One of the harsh truths about intelligence work is that despite our best efforts we will never have advance notice of every potential terrorist act on our interests. That is a lesson that we have had to absorb in Northern Ireland over many years. In the past nine months we have had terrible reminders in Bali and Saudi Arabia of that truth. Many of the families of the British victims of the Bali atrocity will be in London today and tomorrow to attend the public inquest into it and I know that the entire House will join me in extending our sympathies to them at this distressing time. In the period following the incident in Bali, the agony of those who had lost loved ones was compounded by the speculation that the Government could have done more. In particular, there 569 were allegations that we did not act on specific intelligence pointing towards an attack in Bali, and failed to inform the public of the dangers in advance.
It was for that reason that in a statement to the House on 21 October, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary commissioned a review by the ISC of the Government's handling of the intelligence in the run-up to the Bali atrocity. On 3 March, the House had an opportunity to debate the Committee's findings. I reiterate today my welcome of its central conclusion: that on the basis of the available intelligence, there was no action that the UK or our allies could have taken to prevent the attack.
That said, the Committee did identify several areas for improvement, including in respect of the threat assessment system. We have reworked that system and have established a joint terrorism analysis centre—JTAC—and that multi-agency body launched on 2 June has developed rapidly with the support of Ministers, the Joint Intelligence Committee, the intelligence services and the relevant Departments. JTAC will be responsible for the long-term strategic assessment of the terrorist threat as well as the day-to-day response to specific intelligence.
§ Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)
While we welcome this improved co-ordination among the intelligence agencies, can the Minister tell the House why the Government have been resisting our recommendation that such co-ordination should be carried on at ministerial level, too, and that the Government should appoint a dedicated Minister devoting his or her entire time to co-ordinating the various Ministries in precisely the same way that the agencies are now correctly being co-ordinated?
§ Mr. MacShane
I will return to the point of ministerial oversight later in my speech.
In response to some of the other recommendations from the ISC in respect of Bali, I am pleased to tell the House that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has made extensive improvements to its travel advice service. We have now put in place arrangements to guarantee that travel advice for every country is reviewed at least once a month, and that each new piece of advice is checked for clarity, consistency and accuracy before publication. The FCO has also taken steps to ensure that it can respond quickly to major attacks on our interests overseas. We have established three rapid deployment teams, which can be despatched to the scene of any incident within 24 hours. We used one of the teams recently in the aftermath of the terrorist bombing in Saudi Arabia. Each team is led by a senior diplomatic officer and will combine a mixture of skills, including consular experience. We continue to look hard at the structure of our response in London to see if that too can be further improved.
As well as Bali, the ISC's annual report includes a number of conclusions and recommendations for the future conduct of work by the intelligence agencies and the Security Service. The official response published by the Government on 19 June deals with each of those. I will not repeat all of that material in my remarks today, 570 but let me focus on just three of the most serious issues: first, Iraq; secondly, the role of Ministers in the management of intelligence services; and thirdly, ministerial involvement in counter-proliferation policy.
First, on Iraq, I welcome the fact that the ISC will be conducting an inquiry into the role of intelligence in determining the Government's policy last year and in the run-up to military action. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already announced that he will see the Committee, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will give evidence on 16 July. The Committee will also hear evidence from the heads of the intelligence agencies and the chairman of the JIC. The Committee will have access to the key documents that underpinned the judgments reached in the dossier that the Government published on 24 September. We can expect them to pursue their investigation with the same degree of rigour and probity as was so evident during their inquiries into the Bali incident and the Mitrokhin archive.
The second issue that I would single out from the ISC's annual report is the role of Ministers in the management of the intelligence services. Over the past year, the Committee has conducted a full inquiry into the national intelligence machinery, examining who collects, analyses and assesses intelligence material. It is encouraging that the Committee did not identify any significant structural problems of gaps or duplication. The report, however, has noted that the ministerial committee on the intelligence services—the CSI—has not met and that Ministers should be more involved in longer-term strategic issues relating to the agencies.
I fully accept that the CSI has an important role to play in the setting of resources and priorities for the intelligence services, and that it should meet to consider that work. The fact that it has not yet done so does not mean that the agencies have been operating in a vacuum—far from it. The Prime Minister receives regular reports from the heads of the agencies, and both the Foreign Secretary and the Home Secretary are apprised of the agencies' work on a regular basis.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
What does the Minister think induced Vice-Admiral Sir Louis Le Bailly, who was vice-chairman of the JIC from 1972 to 1975, to write inThe Times yesterday:It follows, if this vital tradition it to be maintained, that the JIC, which looks at all the facts often in all their bleakness and transmits them to those the electors have temporarily lent the power to govern, must never be used as a political instrument and must never be referred to as "the Government's JIC"?Why does he think that Sir Louis wrote that? Ought it not be rebutted?
§ Mr. MacShane
I believe he wrote that because some people have made allegations, but they have been dealt with by the Foreign Affairs Committee and much discussed in the House, and we now know those allegations to be false.
§ Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)
The Government have consistently resisted the argument that there ought to be specific ministerial oversight. The Committee, however, has recommended on several occasions that the existing CSI, chaired by the 571 Prime Minister, should meet. I think that I heard the Minister saying that he agreed with that. Does that mean that it is going to meet? Surely the answer to some of the suggestions is that the principal Cabinet officers responsible should conduct a regular review, that we should know that that happens, and that they should report to the Intelligence and Security Committee.
§ Mr. MacShane
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. The Prime Minister accepts that recommendation, and the CSI will meet in due course. I stress, however, that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who is present, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, who is not here today, are the two senior Cabinet officers who should have charge of this. I am frankly against the notion of appointing a third Minister to be above or below them because it would be purely job creation for Ministers.
§ Simon Hughes
I hope that the Minister does not misunderstand me. Of course, the Foreign Secretary and Home Secretary perfectly properly take day-to-day responsibility for the two security services—one is accountable for domestic matters and one for foreign matters. My suggestion is not that new people should do things but that the Prime Minister and key Cabinet Ministers, including the Defence Secretary and the Deputy Prime Minister, should come together regularly to ensure that the operation is co-ordinated and brought together with the Prime Minister, as the principal Minister in Government, taking charge. Surely that is a good idea that should be implemented soon.
§ Mr. MacShane
It is an extremely good idea and, on behalf of the Prime Minister, I assure the hon. Gentleman that we accept the points that he makes.
Ministers on the CSI are consulted on the requirements placed on their agencies, and their role in the process is being reinforced under the revised system that is being introduced this year. Contrary to the concern expressed in the ISC report, all CSI members have received, and will continue to receive, all Joint Intelligence Committee papers.
The third issue that I identify from the ISC report is the conclusions on ministerial involvement in counter-proliferation policy. I cannot accept the Committee's central conclusion that Ministers are not adequately informed on counter-proliferation issues or that ministerial responsibilities are unclear. The Government's counter-proliferation policy, which was formulated by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, was set out clearly in response to a recent question asked by the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. The policy has been approved by Ministers, and they are also consulted on any major issues of implementation as they arise.
The demarcation of departmental responsibilities is clear. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office leads bilateral and multilateral diplomatic activity. The Ministry of Defence leads on military operations and the Department of Trade and Industry covers national export controls. My right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary supervise the work of the agencies. That is not to say that counter-proliferation policy is compartmentalised in any way. On the contrary, it is an example of joined-up 572 government. Action against a proliferator, whether that is an individual, a country or a Government, usually involves close co-operation among Departments and agencies that is co-ordinated by the Cabinet Office. As the ISC report notes, the Committee has been briefed on enhancements to that machinery that were introduced last year.
That brings me to an important final point. The threats facing the United Kingdom are formidable. The terrorist attacks in New York, Bali and Riyadh were thoroughly planned and executed. The North Korean nuclear and long-range missile programmes have been in development for well over a decade. Terrorists and proliferators use increasingly sophisticated means to work across national boundaries.
§ Dr. Julian Lewis
I am grateful to the Minister for allowing me to intervene again, but I remind him that he said that he would address the point that I raised earlier: if the threats are so serious, why have the Government not appointed a specific Minister to be devoted entirely to co-ordinating the measures necessary to meet such dangerous threats? The Opposition have done that, in shadow terms, by appointing my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) to his post.
§ Mr. MacShane
The hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) has many friends in the House and I hope that he will be promoted to the shadow Cabinet one day, although I do not know who will be removed to make way for him. I repeat what I said when I talked about ministerial oversight: I am content with the oversight of my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary, the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister. They form a good trio and we do not require extra Ministers to duplicate their work.
Tackling these threats is not only a matter of intelligence collation and assessment by national authorities, but a matter of co-ordination with other countries. It requires joint law enforcement operations and renewed international efforts to address the underlying grievances and insecurities that provide terrorists with new recruits and fuel the appetite of regimes for the world's deadliest weapons. It is an intimidating array of challenges, but the Government will pursue them with unrelenting vigour because the security of our citizens at home and overseas demands no less.
An effective Government response to the threats that we face requires effective intelligence agencies. The ISC has shown, yet again, that through the way in which it conducts its work, it contributes both to the effectiveness and accountability of our intelligence effort. On behalf of not only the Government but the whole House and the country, I thank the Committee and all its members for their work.
§ Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes)
I start by saying that we quite understand why the Foreign Secretary is unable to be with us today. Many of us have occasionally found ourselves in the same circumstances and, given those circumstances, I am rather relieved that he is not here. I hope that the Minister for Europe will stop off on his way to Gibraltar and give the Foreign 573 Secretary our best wishes for a speedy recovery. When he arrives in Gibraltar, I hope that he will explain to the people of Gibraltar what he meant when he told a Spanish newspaper recently that Gibraltar was not British territory. I am sure that he will be met with rapturous applause if he tells them that again.
With debate still raging about the Government's use—or abuse—of intelligence material, today's debate is not only important but, one that falls at an especially appropriate moment. The subject is serious, and balance and sensitivity are required. Although openness and democratic accountability are important, there is a need for discretion at the same time, if only to protect intelligence officers and their sources. Striking that balance is key, and the House's ability to do that has been greatly assisted by the detailed scrutiny undertaken on its behalf by the Intelligence and Security Committee. I pay tribute to the Committee, under the chairmanship of the right hon. Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor), for its important work and the informative report that it issued.
Reading the report is sometimes something of a surreal experience due to the omissions that were deemed necessary. I am not sure how one should pronounce asterisks in the House, but paragraph 28 illustrates the surreal nature of the report better than others. It says:*** continues to deliver considerable value to GCHQ and it may exceed its design life. As a consequence, GCHQ expects to extend the expected life of *** and make the corresponding accounting changes. *** will start later this year. The Committee wishes to record the significant contribution that *** makes to intelligence collection.And so would all of us, if we had the first idea what "***" was.
§ Andrew Mackinlay
May I interrupt and break up the cosy consensus between the two Front Benches because I think that the Committee is not a servant of Parliament? As the right hon. Gentleman is on the subject of asterisks, I draw hon. Members' attention to the glossary of terms on page 3 of the report. It says that CNI stands for "Critical National Infrastructure", and so on. The glossary is very helpful because it gives the meaning of "***"—or dot, dot, dot. One looks with great anticipation to find out what dot, dot, dot means, and the answer in the glossary is dot, dot, dot. The whole report is dotty and barmy. It should not be defended and people should not pretend that it represents a satisfactory oversight of our security and intelligence services. It is a sham.
§ Mr. Ancram
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree with my serious point that when the Committee reports on its current inquiry, I hope that it will be neither asterisked nor dot, dot, dotted.
§ Dr. Julian Lewis
I, too, noticed the omission on page 3, and I might be able to enlighten the House to an extent. All the acronyms in the glossary are in alphabetical order, so whatever the missing organisation is, it comes alphabetically between FCO and GCHQ. The organisation almost certainly begins 574 with the letter "F". I thought that it might be a shady Northern Irish organisation, but I have decided that "F" probably stands for "forty-five minutes".
§ Mr. Ancram
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that helpful and deductive piece of work. I shall certainly ask for his assistance when I try to completeThe Times crossword in future.
To be fair, the Government's response concedes that one of the purposes of oversight is to identify potential problems—indeed it is. Let me start with a major current problem. In a nutshell, when is a report that is published and described in Parliament as "an intelligence report" not an intelligence report, and how is Parliament supposed to know that? One of the most important links between the intelligence services and Parliament must be trust.
Hon. Members who are not within the security loops need to be able to place credence in that which they are told is intelligence. I refer the House to February's dodgy dossier, mentioned in paragraph 82 of the report. We were told that it was "further intelligence", and so, presumably, was the United States Secretary of State Colin Powell, who went on to tell the UN that its detail was "exquisite". We now know that that was not the case. The document was partly cut-and-pasted material from the internet and, far from being an intelligence service or even a JIC production, its authors were the ubiquitous Mr. Alastair Campbell and a small band of acolytes.
The ISC report states that unlike the September dossier, this dossier had not been cleared by the JIC prior to its publication or checked by the relevant agencies. As if to confirm that, the Foreign Secretary somewhat quaintly described it to the Foreign Affairs Committee as "a horlicks". That, however, was not what the Prime Minister told the House. After the dossier's publication on 3 February, the Prime Minister said:We issued further intelligence over the weekend about the infrastructure of concealment. It is obviously difficult when we publish intelligence reports, but I hope that people have some sense of the integrity of our security services.He went on to say:It is the intelligence that they are receiving, and we"—the Government—are passing on to the people."—[Official Report, 3 February 2003; Vol. 399, c. 25.]The Prime Minister's statement could hardly have been clearer, but as we now know from the evidence of Mr. Campbell and the Foreign Secretary, the dossier was not intelligence. The Prime Minister misled the House. Whether he did that deliberately, knowing that the document was a Downing street concoction, or unwittingly, because Mr. Campbell had not seen fit to tell him, does not actually matter. The House, on that occasion, had been if not exquisitely, certainly comprehensively duped.
§ Mr. Ancram
I will give way to the Home Secretary when I have made my point. I want to develop it because it is serious. I will also give way to the right hon. Member for Dewsbury whose report I mentioned.
575 As I said, the Government should not underestimate the seriousness of the issue. There can be no graver offence against the House than to deceive it by manipulating or misrepresenting intelligence information. The House, which does not enjoy the benefit of intelligence briefings, must be able to rely on the word of the Prime Minister on intelligence. In my view, the Prime Minister has an overriding duty not to mislead the House on matters of intelligence. The Prime Minister's statement was therefore serious. He is, in a sense, the trustee of intelligence on behalf of the House.
§ Mr. Ancram
The Minister says that, but his colleagues behind him are nodding because they know that I am making a serious point. It cannot be brushed aside. If we are to have confidence in what the Prime Minister or the Government tell us about intelligence information in the future, how and why the Prime Minister misled the House on this occasion—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord)
Order. These are very serious matters and I ask the House to deal with them seriously. Let us have no more interventions from a sedentary position. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will give way to the Home Secretary in a moment.
§ Mr. Ancram
If we are to have confidence in what the Prime Minister or the Government tell us about intelligence information in the future, how and why the Prime Minister misled the House on this occasion must be cleared up. The Home Secretary has tried to intervene. I hope that he can clear things up.
§ Mr. Blunkett
In the spirit that you have asked us to take in our approach to the issue, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that it is an absolute disgrace to come here and accuse my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister of comprehensively duping and misleading the House on the matter. Such an allegation has not been made by other Conservative Front-Bench spokesmen. The leader of the Conservative party has accepted the evidence again and again, including that given to him under the Privy Council rules that apply so that he can receive comprehensive intelligence evidence. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to withdraw a scurrilous, unsubstantiated and disgraceful allegation against the Prime Minister.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. Before the right hon. Gentleman responds, I ask him to weigh his words carefully. To accuse any Member of the House of deliberately misleading it is a very serious matter.
§ Mr. Ancram
I accept that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I carefully said that I was not going to say whether it was deliberate or not, because it does not matter. What is important is that the House is able to hear what the Prime Minister in particular says to it about intelligence and to have confidence in it. The Home Secretary has missed the point. It is not me who is saying that the 576 Prime Minister was wrong: it is Alastair Campbell in the evidence that he gave to the Select Committee and, indeed, the Committee, which reported that the document had not been cleared by the JIC and had not been checked with the relevant agencies.
§ Ann Taylor
I do not want to get embroiled in the discussions between Front-Bench spokesmen, but I ask the right hon. Gentleman to be careful not to misquote the Committee. He said that there was no intelligence in the February document. The Committee says that the document contained some intelligence-derived material, but it was not clearly attributed or highlighted among other material and was not checked. I hope that he will not attribute conclusions to the Committee that it has not reached.
§ Mr. Ancram
I hear what the right hon. Lady says. If she reads what I said, she will notice that I used my words carefully. I said that the dossier was not an intelligence document. That is carried by the report, which says that it was not cleared by the JIC prior to publication, nor was it checked with the agency providing the intelligence. I was careful in what I said because it is important. I am making an important point about the right of the House to rely on information given to it by senior Ministers as to what is intelligence and what is not.
§ Dr. Julian Lewis
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way again and I shall endeavour not to try the patience of the House. In preparation for the debate, last night I looked at the uncorrected transcript of the evidence taken by the Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday 19 June from Mr. Ibrahim al-Marashi, the author of the dissertation—the article—in the "Middle East Review of International Affairs", which was used in the second dossier. Something struck me which I had not heard before. My right hon. Friend may be interested to know that in response to question 701 on page 43 of the transcript, Mr. al-Marashi said:If I could estimate, I would say that 90 per cent. of this intelligence dossier was taken from the three articles: by myself … and the two articles in Jane's Intelligence Review, virtually unchanged.So only 10 per cent. at most was not from articles by academics like himself.
§ Mr. Ancram
Again, I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who underlines effectively the point that I have been trying to make.
§ Mr. Michael Portillo (Kensington and Chelsea)
Does my right hon. Friend think that the Home Secretary is in danger of being off message? I read carefully what the Prime Minister said to the House on 3 February 2003 at column 25. He seems to enter no caveat about the document being a mixed document. He talks firmly about it being intelligence. The most likely conclusion to draw from that is that the Prime Minister at that time had no idea that it was a mixed document. He had been misled by those who passed it to him. Surely the Home Secretary would be on much firmer ground in saying that it has since been recognised that the document was 577 an appalling mess and that the Prime Minister was put in the position of misleading the House inadvertently on 3 February because he had not been told that.
§ Mr. Ancram
If the Minister reads what I said, he will see that I said it was either one thing or the other. It is up to the Prime Minister to explain which.
Let me make what I hope is a constructive suggestion. To prevent manipulation of intelligence material in the future, is there not a way of registering at publication whether a report is based on genuine intelligence material and has been cleared by the JIC? Perhaps the Committee will consider that. It would at least allow us to avoid the difficulty arising again.
§ Ann Taylor
I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the end of paragraph 82, in which the Committee says:We have been assured that systems have now been put in place to ensure that this cannot happen again, in that JIC Chairman endorses any material on behalf of the intelligence community prior to publication.We have taken that matter up with those involved.
§ Mr. Ancram
I welcome that. I just hope that it will be done in such a way that those of us in the House who are not privy to intelligence material will know that it is being done, and can understand the difference between an intelligence report and what we got on 3 February, which we now know was a concoction from various different sources.
Today's world is much changed from the world of the cold war, with the certainties that the superpower balance and the doctrine of mutually assured destruction imposed on us. As 9/11 demonstrated so tragically, today's threats are unpredictable. Terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, rogue or failed states as well as economic collapse, poverty and disease all threaten regional stability and our own security. The strongest weapon against them is good intelligence. I shall not speak about domestic security and the threat from terrorism in domestic terms as I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), the shadow Home Secretary, will wish to do so when he winds up on our behalf. However, intelligence is at the centre of this fight. Indeed, increasing emphasis is placed on the value of electronic intelligence. However, in some parts of the world, human intelligence is equally, if not more, important. We must ensure that our human network is effective and that there are sufficient resources on the ground in the most sensitive areas. I hope that we can be reassured of that in the light of the report.
I pay tribute to the often dangerous, unsung and sometimes secret work that the members of the intelligence and security services carry out on our behalf and for our safety. I include special branch officers in that tribute because quite often the role that they play is 578 missed. I am glad that the Minister also paid tribute to the intelligence services. That is in strong contrast to the comments of some of his ministerial colleagues. Accusing the intelligence services of containing "rogue elements", as the Secretary of State for Health did recently in a moment of hysteria, is both unjust and damaging. I can find no justification for those words anywhere within the report or elsewhere. I hope that those on the Government Front Bench will today disown those silly words.
I welcome the appointment of Sir David Omand as security and intelligence co-ordinator, and as accounting officer for the single intelligence account.
I shall respond briefly to some of the specific points that are made in the report, and first, gaps in intelligence. Last year's annual report stated that the reductions in collection areas were causingintelligence gaps to develop which may mean over time unacceptable risks will arise in terms of safeguarding national security and in the prevention and detecting of serious organised crime.It is therefore worrying that this year paragraph 67 reads:GCHQ has reduced analysis effort in a number of possible trouble spots.The Committee believes that this confirmsthat the problem of collection gaps has worsened and therefore risks are being taken with national security.That is a serious charge. The Committee concludes thatwith the focus on current crises, the Agencies' long-term capacity to provide warnings is being eroded. This situation needs to be addressed and managed by Ministers and the JIC.These intelligence gaps should concern the House greatly, and must be rectified.
Astonishingly, the CSI still has not met. The Minister told us that it will meet in due course. I do not know what he means by that. It is a term that normally stretches way into the future, and is a way of kicking balls into the long grass. I wonder how many other committees, after six and a half years of this Government, have not met. That is extraordinary, and we have had no real explanation for that. The Prime Minister and relevant Ministers have met only on short-term issues.
At paragraph 56, the Committee reports thatthese crisis-driven and ad-hoc groupings do not provide Ministers with an active forum in which they can make collective decisions about longer-term intelligence requirements and priorities for secret intelligence across the full range of topics.The paragraph concludes thatCSI Ministers are not sufficiently engaged in the setting of requirements and priorities for secret intelligence, nor do they all see the full capability of intelligence collection.These are serious charges that go to the heart of a joined-up approach to the effective and strategic use of intelligence, and the Committee's warnings should not be ignored.
Do the Government agree with the Committee's conclusions in relation to weapons of mass destruction? Paragraph 78 states that:However, world-wide, sanctions, even when effective, only slow proliferation.579 What implications does that comment have for the current strategy on North Korea and Iran? Is it really a good idea for it to be left to be carried out mostly by officials, as the report suggests?
On Iraq, I welcome recognition of the fact that intelligence—I quote from paragraph 80—indicated that the Iraqis were continuing to produce WMD and their delivery means.There is much still to be explored and answered in this area, but such scrutiny will better follow the Committee's current investigation and subsequent report.
I am pleased that the Government listened to the Committee's earlier report regarding problems and shortcomings in the previous counter-terrorism and analysis system as exposed by the Bali bombing. I, too, hope that the establishment of the joint terrorism and analysis centre will address the points that have been raised. We welcome any steps that will lead to a more joined-up approach that will increase efficiency and, of course, public safety. I welcome the Foreign Secretary's constructive response to suggestions that I made about travel advice. I welcome also the incorporation of our ideas for links between British and other Government travel advice. As the Committee notes, the advice is now clearer and consistent.
The Committee also examined GCHQ and commented on the changes and modernisation programme that is underway there. The report raises concerns in paragraph 29about the size of the planned write-off … that GCHQ is having to make in the next year for a developmental SIGINT system that has only partly delivered the intended capability.What assurances has the Foreign Secretary or the Minister received from GCHQ on this matter, and what steps are being taken to remedy this problem?
I shall refer briefly to Guantanamo bay. I understand that it has been a matter of interest to the intelligence services since British prisoners were first taken there in January 2002. I understand why prisoners from the war in Afghanistan were taken to Guantanamo bay and the practical reasons for their rights being suspended in the public interest in order to obtain potentially vital information in the war on terrorism. However, as the months have passed with no charges being laid and apparently no due process, the British public have become increasingly uneasy about the situation. I understand why, and I believe that we must respond to this uneasiness.
A tenet of our law is that British citizens should not be held for an unduly long period without charge. In normal circumstances there are safeguards that protect the citizen, not least the principle of habeas corpus and the judicial scrutiny of Executive decisions to extend periods of detention. I yield to no one in my determination to see terrorism eradicated. Force is necessary and special rules must sometimes be accepted, but law must also have its place. The nine British citizens held in Guantanamo bay have been there for 17 months without charge or apparent due process. I believe that the time has come for the Government to act. They must now let the House know how they intend to proceed.
We are told that progress has been made. Will the Home Secretary, when he responds to the debate, or the Minister—I will give way if he wants to intervene now— 580 tell the House what has been agreed with our American colleagues? We have heard tell of tribunals. Will the Home Secretary or the Minister tell us how these tribunals will work? Has a date been set for the start of these tribunals? Has any agreement been reached on the handling of charges? What legal representation will the British detainees have? These are important questions. It seems that the Minister does not want to respond. I hope that the Home Secretary can take advice and respond to my questions when he winds up.
I do not for a moment underestimate the complexities of the Guantanamo bay situation. However, we cannot pretend that it does not exist, or that if it does, it is not our business. The Government must face their responsibilities.
§ Simon Hughes
The right hon. Gentleman raises a matter that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) and others in my party have raised. Does he share our view that British citizens at Guantanamo bay should be allowed to return to the United Kingdom or should be transferred to the British authorities so that if there are charges, they can be dealt with in this country, or if there are no charges, they will be released in the normal way?
§ Mr. Ancram
I have set out a series of questions, which I hope will inform the House and upon which we can make judgments on what is the best way to proceed.
The debate provides an important opportunity for the House to consider the intelligence and security services and their work in broad terms. It also allows us to pick up on some specific areas of concern. We can be satisfied with the Committee's report—at least those parts that were not asterisked. Even the Government's response, replete with its usual dose of blame avoidance, meets at least some of the points raised. However, the Government's response fails to face the strongest public concern about the allegations that the Government cynically misuse intelligence material as a tool of their propaganda and seek to make the intelligence services unwilling accomplices. Their characteristically arrogant dismissal of these allegations has neither persuaded us nor the British people.
The greatest service that the ISC can perform is to bring it home to the Government that first and foremost the British intelligence services work on behalf of the British people, and they cannot and must never be a malleable tool of government. We respect our intelligence services, and I hope that the Government will do the same.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Before I call the next speaker, I remind the House that Mr. Speaker has placed a 15-minute limit on all Back-Bench speeches, and that applies from now on.
§ 3 pm
§ Ann Taylor (Dewsbury)
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall try to keep within that limit.
I very much regret the fact that the Foreign Secretary cannot be with us, as I know that he takes a direct interest in these matters. There would have to be a very good reason and a very serious illness for him to be away. However, I welcome the Minister's comments, 581 although I regret that he cannot stay to the end of the debate because he has to go to Gibraltar. I suspect he regrets that he cannot stay, but I hope he will continue to take an interest in these matters.
The debate on the Intelligence and Security Committee annual report provides an opportunity to highlight our main concerns. The Committee has oversight of all the intelligence and security agencies, and it is important that we concentrate on issues of concern. However, while the report concentrates on problems, the Committee makes it clear that it wants to put the work of the agencies in context. I would draw the attention of my colleagues to paragraph 6, which states thatit is important to highlight the numerous successes that the Agencies have had in the last year, many of which cannot be reported to avoid prejudicing current and future operations.We go on to stress that the Committee holds the agencies in high regard, and it is important that that should be on the record, as should the Committee's belief that it is very well served by the agencies' briefings. We do not regard those briefings as minimalist in any way, and we have had a good opportunity to question senior people on many occasions. We are grateful for that level of co-operation, which gives us a unique reference point for many of the issues that have come up in the past year.
There is much interest in the issue of Iraq and weapons of mass destruction, on which the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) commented. Many other colleagues may wish to speak about Iraq, but it is important to stress that at this stage the Committee will not add to what it says in the annual report. However, I want to put our remarks in paragraphs 80 to 83 in context. We received ongoing briefings throughout the build-up to the conflict and, indeed, throughout the conflict itself, by the JIC Chairman and others in the agencies about what was happening. Indeed, we first took evidence on the problems associated with the preparation of the document to which the right hon. Member for Devizes referred in February. That is why we made the comments that I referred to in my intervention on him in paragraphs 80 to 83 on Iraq. We say clearly in paragraph 81 that the agencies were fully consulted in the preparation of the dossier produced in September 2002. However, we say in paragraph 82 that that procedure was not followed for a second document produced in February. As I pointed out to the right hon. Gentleman, we acknowledge that there is intelligence-derived material in that document, but it should have been clear what was intelligence derived and what was not. We have been assured that the JIC Chairman will in future endorse any material, and we shall want to follow up that important matter, as will the right hon. Gentleman and the House.
§ Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak)
Paragraph 80 of the report refers to intelligence passed on to UN inspectors. Is my right hon. Friend aware whether all relevant intelligence in the hands of the British authorities was passed to both the weapons inspectors and the International Atomic Energy Agency?
§ Ann Taylor
That is not covered by our report. We have said that we will not give a running commentary on 582 our current inquiries. Such issues are the subject of the report that we are getting on with as quickly as we can, so at this stage I do not want to make any comments that would pre-empt any final decisions or recommendations that we might make.
When we took evidence in February, we decided, as we record in paragraph 83, that we wanted to examine in more detail the available intelligence and its use, and that is what the Committee is doing at present. However tempting it is to give a running commentary, I am afraid that Committee members will not do so. However, we have received a number of letters about our inquiries, including from colleagues, suggesting lines of investigation. I hope that it goes without saying, but I shall put it on record none the less, that if anyone has evidence either of pressure on or within the agencies or of inappropriate behaviour, we want to see that evidence, whether from Members of Parliament, the media or people working in this field.
§ Andrew Mackinlay
I have been listening carefully to my right hon. Friend's invitation to colleagues to make representations to the Committee, which I welcome. However, I am bewildered by paragraph 90, in which she says that her Committee has not looked into the question of the abuse of the Wilson doctrine. She merely says that the Prime Minister has not told the Committee of any change in the application of the Wilson doctrine, so it just lies there. Bearing in mind press reports and concern and reaction in the House about the bugging of MPs' telephones, why has her Committee not looked into that with vigour?
§ Ann Taylor
I know that my hon. Friend is usually assiduous, but for once he has not done his homework. I know that he was here last year when we put in context our discussions on that matter—we said that we would report to the House if necessary. We look at the issue and report on it on an ongoing basis. I know that my hon. Friend is also interested in our current inquiry, so I shall make some final remarks about that. We want to complete it as soon as possible but, inevitably, that will take some time, as we want to be thorough and are treating the issue extremely seriously. We are having meetings and taking evidence in the summer recess. I hope that the work that the Committee has done in the past, for example on Bali, will give people confidence in our current work.
I shall move on to what I regard as one of the most fundamental points in our report—the way in which intelligence machinery works, particularly the relationship between intelligence assessment and policy formation, and the extent to which Ministers are engaged with that machinery. The Committee, as the right hon. Member for Devizes said, has highlighted concerns before, particularly about the fact that the ministerial committee on the intelligence services—the CSI—has not met. We repeat that criticism this year, and we are not, as the Government response seems to imply, suggesting that there is not a good relationship between the Foreign Secretary, the Secret Intelligence Service and GCHQ, or between the Home Secretary and the security services. We are not saying that at all—we are saying that there should be a collective overview across Government of the abilities of all the agencies and the challenges facing them. It is important that that 583 overview is in place and that Ministers collectively can talk about the issues and problems facing us. If we are to maximise the contributions that the agencies can make, we need not only co-operative working between the agencies—a great deal of that already takes place—but a long-term strategy that involves Ministers collectively establishing priorities and requirements in order to determine the resources that are needed.
It has been mentioned, and the Minister indicated, that there might be a meeting of the CSI—I think the words were "in due course". It is not telling any secrets to say that when we met the Prime Minister recently, he said that there would be a meeting of the CSI and that there was an acceptance that there should be a collective overview, which we think is a significant step forward. We believe that, particularly given current and potential threats, Ministers are not sufficiently engaged in setting requirements and priorities, and we think they need to be aware of the totality of the intelligence capability that exists and how it can be used to best effect.
§ Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset)
Before the right hon. Lady moves off the structural questions, could she guide us on her attitude and that of the Committee to a hypothetical question that is nevertheless extremely serious? If it should turn out—as we profoundly hope, in the light of what we all believed, that it will not—that there are not the weapons of mass destruction that were believed to exist, and given that that would clearly indicate a very serious failing at some point in the intelligence system, does she envisage her Committee conducting a full review of the causes of Ministers and the Opposition not understanding the situation as it actually was? Does she believe that her Committee is constituted in such a way as to be capable of carrying that out to her full satisfaction?
§ Ann Taylor
I do not want be drawn into answers to hypothetical questions, but in regard to the last point made by the right hon. Gentleman, yes, I do believe that the Committee is constituted in such a way that we can carry out inquiry that we feel is appropriate. We have in other instances followed leads—for example, on Bali—and asked for further information, and been given access to it, which has had an impact on the judgments that the Committee made. So we are confident that we have the ability and the co-operation to do so. Should it turn out that we are not able to fulfil what we regard as being necessary, we will say so. We would also say so if we were not getting the full co-operation that we expected.
I turn to another aspect of the problem. One of the things that we report is that not all CSI members see all JIC papers. We think that that is important. Ministers on the relevant Committee are sent all papers, but often their officials sift the papers or advise Ministers which they should read. That is not good enough. I should like to say more about this, but I do not have time. We think it important that all Ministers on the Committee should see all the JIC papers in order to build up an overview, so that problems do not arise.
That brings me to the problem of collection gaps, which the right hon. Member for Devizes mentioned. As he said, we mentioned last year that intelligence gaps were beginning to develop. The Government's response last year acknowledged the pressures, and there have 584 been more resources. However, making more resources available does not mean that people with sufficient expertise and experience are instantly available to fill the gaps. We think the situation is probably worse than it was last year, given all the pressures following 11 September, Bali and Iraq.
There is a real difficulty. Problems may be arising of which Ministers are not aware, even though they see the pressures. We need to protect the agencies' long-term capacity to provide warnings to Ministers. JIC needs to focus even more on this. In the next spending review, there must be sufficient long-term resourcing to deal with the problem and avoid difficulties in future. There is a feeling at present that firefighting is going on, dealing with current problems, whereas the agencies are at their most useful when they can warn off and disrupt challenges to our security.
Colleagues on the Committee will want to use their time to raise other issues. I shall make quick points. First, we welcome what the Government did on Bali following our report. There were useful steps forward. Secondly, we are still extremely concerned about the accounts at GCHQ. We mentioned the difficulties in resource accounting there, and we are not yet convinced that they have been fully sorted out, even though progress has been made.
Finally, I wish to say a word of gratitude to the Committee. The Committee's work load is significant and will be for some time to come. The Committee meets several times a week, and will meet during the recess. I know that my colleagues on the Committee have had to juggle diaries and miss other parliamentary occasions in order to keep up with their work. It is usual for members of the Committee to attend every meeting. It is rare that we have a Committee meeting without everyone there and everyone staying until the end—a somewhat unusual occurrence. I am grateful for members' commitment and for the spirit in which the Committee operates. I hope very much that our work is of value to the House.
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife)
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor). I begin by paying tribute to her and to the members of her Committee, who are renowned in the House for their independence of mind. The report is an eloquent testimony to the work that they have carried out on our behalf over the past 12 months.
Like others, I wish the Foreign Secretary a speedy return to full health. I am sorry that he is not present, as I wished to congratulate him on the fact that, as I understand it, he is the first official of his standing on a visit to Afghanistan to have gone beyond Kabul and to have gone out to Kandahar to see for himself some of the circumstances that are giving rise to such anxiety about the progress of reconstruction being made in that country.
We had an able substitute in the Minister for Europe. I urge him not to be too concerned when he gets to Gibraltar if he finds that drawn up alongside the aircraft is a tumbrel. His previously reported remarks will at least ensure that his arrival in Gibraltar does not go unnoticed.
585 The right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) was right to raise in the framework of the debate the fate of those who are detained not only in Guantanamo bay, but perhaps some two or three in Afghanistan as well. If I may say so, he asked some finely judged questions on an issue that I have tried to raise with the Foreign Secretary for some months.
I shall make two comments. First, those men, who are British citizens, are in a legal no-man's-land in which they are unable to employ or make application to the jurisdiction of the courts in this country or in the United States. They are effectively stateless, so far as their legal rights are concerned. I invite right hon. and hon. Members to consider this. Suppose that the position were reversed, and it was the Government of the United Kingdom who were keeping nine citizens of the United States in similar conditions in this country over a similar period. Do we not think that the pressure for some progress from across the Atlantic would be anything other than irresistible?
I turn to the terms of the report. I hope that the right hon. Lady will not think me churlish if I say that in some respects the report is notable for its omissions as much as for its contents. Those omissions were highlighted by the right hon. Member for Devizes a moment or two ago with an example. Paragraph 3 of the introduction to the report states:To date, no material has been excluded without the Committee's consent.I therefore assume that any exclusions marked by asterisks arise only because there is a belief that there would be serious damage to national interests if material which would otherwise have appeared there were to be published. Perhaps we can test that proposition by looking at page 8, where there is a table setting out, under the heading "Expenditure and Resources", the resources and capital of GCHQ, SIS and the Security Service. Can it really be the case that the national interest would be irretrievably damaged if we were to know the resource and capital allocations for GCHQ? I confess that I simply do not believe that to be so.
§ Mr. Michael Mates (East Hampshire)
I think that it is probably pertinent to note, speaking as one of the older members of the Committee, that it is only in relatively recent years that that table has been included at all. That is why what has been said about the Committee's assent to what is removed means that we are making some progress. I assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that if certain of the figures were made public, they would be of use to anybody who wished us ill.
§ Mr. Campbell
The argument is assuming some existential elements. Apparently, we have made progress because whereas previously there was no table, we now have a table that contains no figures.[Interruption.] It contains some figures, but it certainly does not contain them in respect of any allocation that would allow anyone to reach any judgment about the importance that the financial allocations in such matters 586 represent in relation to GCHQ or the SIS. I hope that the test of what goes into the report and what stays out is the issue of irretrievable damage to the national interest.
One could also look at page 11 and paragraphs 27 to 29, although the right hon. Member for Devizes referred to paragraph 28, so perhaps I need not deal further with that part of the report. We can also look at page 10 and paragraphs 23 to 26. Exactly what information is a reasonably well informed Member of the House expected to derive from paragraph 25? It seems to me that there is very little that we can derive and which assists us in fulfilling our general responsibility of scrutiny, which is not taken away from us by the existence of the Committee.
At paragraph 30, why is it that we should not know precisely what the bonus payment will be for the building consortium if it completes the building ahead of time? I can see nothing that affects the national interest in relation to that issue, which I am bound to say might be of interest to those who are responsible for the Scottish Parliament. Why, too, should the House, which votes on and is responsible for expenditure, not know more about the qualification that the Comptroller and Auditor General has made of the resource accounts as set out on pages 12 and 13 and in paragraphs 34 to 37?
In paragraph 42 on page 14, the second-to-last sentence states:The Security Service noted that it was *** than in the past and consequently they did not have the ***.What was it that the Security Service noted that was different from the past and which it does not have now?
I suppose that such things are a source of some amusement, and there may well be issues in which the matter of national security would be prejudiced if more detail were provided, but I certainly hope that, in future, the Committee may take a robust attitude towards such material, so that the House may be as fully informed as possible.
§ Alan Howarth (Newport, East)
May I assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that we do, indeed, take a very robust view? For example, we take the matter of the qualification of the GCHQ accounts very seriously indeed. We think that the Government should take it seriously, and for my part, I am not entirely satisfied that quite the appropriate note of contrition is struck in paragraph 8 of the Government's response. It is a serious matter if accounts should be qualified. It is very serious in the private sector, and it should be so in the public sector, and that is the view of the Committee.
§ Mr. Campbell
I know the right hon. Gentleman well and I know that he would not give an undertaking of that kind unless he meant it. However, when the report is looked at from outside by those of us who do not have access to the same information as the Committee, it does not provide us with the detailed information for which we would hope.
§ Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept that, if we were to publish all the figures in place of the asterisks, both year on year and in terms of the resources and capital featured in the table, and all the other paragraphs to which he referred, not only Members of Parliament, but 587 people in general, would be able to construct or deconstruct ideas about where things are moving in terms of resources and money going into the different agencies? While it may not be clear to us here, the fact is that many people around the world might like to know that information, to our disadvantage.
§ Mr. Campbell
My only answer is that the United States has just as much to keep secret as we do—some might argue that it has rather more—and it seems to me that it has a greater degree of transparency. Of course, we will find out about that higher transparency in the two investigations that are being conducted in the Senate and the House of Representatives. I think that I have made my point and that members of the Committee have had an adequate opportunity to respond.
Let me draw to the attention of the House a matter to which the right hon. Member for Devizes also referred. On page 21, in paragraph 67, the Committee was moved to say:GCHQ has reduced analysis effort in a number of possible trouble spots. These developments confirm our belief that the problem of collection gaps has worsened and therefore risks are being taken with national security.Knowing the members of the Committee as I do, and in the light of the observations that I have already made, I imagine that that charge was not lightly made and that it represents and reflects a very serious concern on the part of the Committee. I very much hope that that concern will have been understood and acted on by the Government.
It is inevitable that the most topical feature of the Committee's report is its continuing examination of the role of intelligence in relation to Iraq, which is dealt with on pages 24 and 25 and in paragraphs 80 to 83 in particular. There have already been some exchanges about those paragraphs, and I do not think that I need seek to repeat them. It would be quite wrong of us to anticipate the Committee's conclusions, but it is notable that it was moved in paragraph 82 to make what I first thought of as implied criticism, but is perhaps more correctly described as express criticism, of the dossier of February 2003. Some might say that that criticism was muted; the dossier has certainly not been described, in colourful language, as a Horlicks. None the less, I have no doubt that the Committee will wish to return to that issue in the light of the evidence given to the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and in its own evidence taking.
I cannot pass by the opportunity to say that the mistake of February 2003 was no minor mistake of process, but a substantial error. I believe that the dossier must have been influential. Indeed, it was no doubt issued because it was thought that it would be influential. The report highlights two errors. First, it points to the use of unattributed material from the work of a PhD student, which was apparently 12 years old. Secondly, it refers to a failure to check with the relevant agency or the Joint Intelligence Committee. It was that which gave rise, in that rather inelegant phrase of Mr. Chris Patten, to something of a double whammy. It was more than simply an error of process.
I hope that the right hon. Lady's Committee will examine precisely and in detail how that occurred.
588 I hope also that the Committee will seek to determine the provenance of the 45-minute claim. I want to pose some questions that are not hypothetical, but relevant to the Committee's continuing investigation. Where did that 45-minute claim come from in the first instance? What qualifications, if any were attached to it? Through whose hands had the information passed, and who first took the decision to insert it into documents passed to No. 10? Who in No. 10 took the decision to give it the prominent position that it occupied in the dossier, particularly to put it in the foreword?
We should not allow the somewhat artificial exchanges between Mr. Alastair Campbell and the BBC to obscure an issue that goes right to the heart of the Government's position, and which I hope the Committee will also examine in detail. It is this: was the intelligence sufficient in volume and quality to sustain the decision to go to war? In other words, as it has been put recently, did policy dictate intelligence or did intelligence dictate policy? How reliable was the 45-minute evidence, which we now understand—on the basis of what the Minister with responsibility for the armed forces said—to have come from one unsupported source? Would that normally be acceptable on an issue of such significance?
I have two further questions for the Committee. What significance will it attach to these two facts: first, that no weapons were launched at 45 minutes' notice; and secondly, that some weeks after the cessation of hostilities no weapons have been found that are capable of being launched at 45 minutes' notice? I hope—indeed, I am confident—that the Committee will not be distracted by the froth of charge and counter-charge that has to some extent obscured those issues, which I regard as being of fundamental importance.
§ Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex)
I fully concur with the questions that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is asking, which are very important, especially those concerning the role of Mr. Alastair Campbell and whether he availed himself of the special powers to instruct officials that were granted to him on his appointment, and which no previous press officer in No. 10 has ever had. Does he think that it might fall within the Committee's remit to judge whether the information passed to the Attorney-General might have affected the opinion that he eventually gave to this House, which was so instrumental in swaying the House's opinion?
§ Mr. Campbell
That issue was canvassed on a previous occasion when we debated these matters, and I offered some professional experience to say that when one is shown the opinion of counsel, one should always insist upon seeing the statement of facts that was presented to counsel before he issues that opinion. In relation to the Attorney-General's opinion, which we all know to have been material and influential, it would be a matter of some interest to know precisely what set of facts was presented to him before he reached the conclusions that he felt constrained to utter publicly.
Of course, Mr. Campbell, to whom the hon. Gentleman referred, is no shrinking violet, and he gave no impression at all of being intimidated by the Foreign Affairs Committee. I hope that reports suggesting that 589 the Committee may split along party lines will prove to be unfounded, because that would be deeply damaging to the reputations of the process of parliamentary scrutiny, the Select Committee system, and in turn, I suppose, the House of Commons.
Let me return, if I may, to the main issue. The House and the country are entitled to know whether the Committee that is chaired by the right hon. Member for Dewsbury, which is charged with the responsibility of scrutinising intelligence-gathering agencies, is satisfied that the material placed before the Government by those agencies and, in turn, before the House by the Government, was sufficient to justify military action. That question goes right to the very heart of the Government's position, since there is no doubt that they based their justification on the presence of weapons of mass destruction and the imminence of their use. It is true that Foreign Office Ministers now say, no doubt correctly, "We never used the words 'imminent' or 'immediate.'" However, one has only to cast one's mind back to remember the atmosphere of the time, particularly after the enormously powerful speech that the Prime Minister made, with passionate certainty, in the debate that led to the vote of the House endorsing military action.
§ Mr. MacShane
I wonder whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman is aware of this statement from the September dossier:the threat from Iraq does not depend solely on the capabilities we have described. It arises also because of the violent and aggressive nature of Saddam Hussein's regime. His record of internal repression and external aggression gives rise to unique concern about the threat he poses.We must take that, combined with his failure to comply with resolution 1441, into consideration. I wonder if the right hon. and learned Gentleman wishes simply to focus on the political points that were made, quite improperly, by the right hon. Member for Devizes.
§ Mr. Campbell
I propose to focus on my own points. If anything, the Minister's quotation supports the point about imminence and immediacy.
I ask hon. Members to consider a hypothesis. Let us suppose that the Government had said, "Saddam Hussein has failed to implement some 17 Security Council resolutions on weapons of mass destruction. We believe that he still has such weapons and he may be capable of using them, but we do not believe that their use is imminent or immediate. Notwithstanding that, we want to take military action before Dr. Blix has finished his inspections." Let us suppose that those criteria were put before the country and the House. Would anyone judge other than that they were less than persuasive?
I began by acknowledging Committee members' contribution. They are good men and women and true. I have no doubt that, in normal circumstance, they are able to effect the necessary and responsible scrutiny of the security services.
Going to war is not normal. Doing so in circumstances in which there is such public controversy over intelligence cannot be regarded as normal. Indeed, the extent of public anxiety, which brought more than 1 million people on to the streets of London, over proposed military action, was hardly normal.
590 In such circumstances, we require an inquiry that is answerable not only to the Prime Minister or the House, but to the public. Notwithstanding the efforts of the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Intelligence and Security Committee, the proper form of inquiry would be independent of the House or the Prime Minister, and led by a member of the judiciary; otherwise, I do not believe that the questions of trust can be properly answered.
§ Dr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh)
I am pleased to follow the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell). Hon. Members of all parties value the interest that he takes in the matters that we are considering and his contributions to our debates.
I join colleagues in paying tribute to the intelligence and security agencies and to the many dedicated and skilled public servants who work for them. The agencies are important to our country, and we all know that those in the front line put their lives at risk every day.
Let me consider the Intelligence and Security Committee annual report. My right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor), who chairs the Committee, has already referred to one of the most forceful points that the report makes. It relates to the ministerial committee on the intelligence services, which has not met. My right hon. Friend sets out the position starkly in the letter that prefaces the report. The Committee made the point in four consecutive annual reports that CSI has not met. In November 2000, the Committee expressed surprise that CSI had not met since 1995. Imagine how much more surprised our predecessors would have been if they knew that, three years later, it still would not have met.
The point is not purely mechanistic. We do not say that CSI has to meet simply because it exists. We believe that working only on a crisis-led basis means that Ministers on the CSI are not sufficiently engaged in setting requirements and priorities for secret intelligence. Rather than simply endorsing officials' recommendations individually, those Ministers should meet and discuss the longer-term requirements and priorities before collectively agreeing to them. They should also examine the work of the services across the board. The democratic process requires that. Ministers' contributions and decisions would be enhanced if they regularly participated in a continuing process through CSI.
The Government's response is most interesting. Paragraph 10 states:Every year the Intelligence Requirements and Priorities Paper is formally submitted to CSI.That means that it is formally submitted to a CSI that does not meet. The paragraph also states:The Government agrees that CSI has an important function especially in relation to the resourcing and future prioritisation of the Agencies' work, and should meet when appropriate to consider this work.It continues by saying thatunder the new arrangements,Ministerswill be involved at the beginning of the annual process as well as in authorising the final requirements.591 In response to the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), the Minister specifically said that the Prime Minister had accepted that recommendation. That is progress. However, I emphasise that, in my view, the recommendation means that CSI should meet regularly. I do not specify every week or every month, but regularly.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury referred to Bali, but did not have time to say much about it. Perhaps it would be useful if I said a little more. In October, the Committee was asked to report on the Bali bombing and a debate was held in the House in March—unfortunately, for family reasons, I was unable to be present. As hon. Members will recall, the ISC produced a report that criticised the security services' assessment of the risk in Indonesia and the Foreign Office's consequent advice to British visitors. We also proposed a change in the threat levels used by the service. While the Security Service did not agree with the Committee's conclusion on its threat assessment, we were told that our recommendations informed its review of the threat assessment system, and that the definitions of threat levels were now more informative to customer departments.
The Foreign Affairs Committee also issued recommendations on travel advice, and the Government have reviewed the policy and the mechanisms. Travel advice should now give a clearer indication of the situation in a country, and the likelihood of a terrorist attack there. Advice given to travellers should not differ from that given to British residents in the country. Our annual report welcomes those improvements, to which the Minister referred.
I think the Bali report illustrates that when the Intelligence and Security Committee has criticisms to make it is free to make them, and does so. That point is worth making in the context of the work we have been doing, and will be doing, on Iraq.
We completed our annual report in the first half of May. By then, as the report says, we had agreed that we would examine in more detail the intelligence and assessments available and their use, and would publish a further report dealing with Iraq. Our commitment to such a report was, of course, given more prominence by the subsequent argument about the Government's use of intelligence.
On 4 June, the Prime Minister told the House that the ISC would conduct an investigation, and later that day its investigation was approved by a vote in the House. The Foreign Affairs Committee is currently conducting an investigation of the decision to go to war in Iraq, and I look forward to reading its report. I am sure that our Committee will also produce an assessment worth reading, given its access to information that is not available to other Committees. On 4 June, the Prime Minister told the House that he would give the 1SC all the assessments of the Joint Intelligence Committee. That information, among other sources, will inform the conclusions of our report.
In conducting its investigation, our Committee will operate just as we did during the Bali investigation: we will take oral evidence and examine documents. We will, I am sure, investigate how human and signal intelligence resources were deployed to obtain information in recent months and years. As was pointed out by the right hon. 592 and learned Member for North-East Fife, quality is important, but so is volume. We will consider the intelligence provided, and its reliability; we will also analyse the degree of co-operation with the United States and others as the UK Government reached their conclusions on the situation in Iraq. Our report will be subject to debate in both Houses.
The relationship between the Government and our Committee has been misrepresented in some quarters. Some have argued that Ministers can amend ISC reports before their publication. For obvious reasons, highly sensitive security or financial information is redacted, just as information is redacted—for reasons of national security or commercial confidentiality—from Select Committee reports. However, it is not true to say that Ministers amend our reports at will. As we say in our introduction,To date, no material has been excluded without the Committee's consent".The Foreign Secretary has said that if he, the Prime Minister or the Home Secretary tried to amend a judgment by the Committee, that would, in his opinion, be a resigning matter. He gave a categorical undertaking that—security or financial redactions aside—there would be no attempt to amend our report.
As we consider these issues, I find myself drawn into wider questions about the legitimate use of intelligence. Governments use intelligence all the time. Obviously, intelligence data are crucial in informing many ministerial decisions, but Governments can also refer to intelligence in explaining why those decisions were made.
There must be restrictions on how intelligence is used publicly. It is clear that publication must not jeopardise national security or the work of the agencies, and must not put those who work for them at risk. In terms of procedure and presentation, a good example of what not to do is provided by the so-called dodgy dossier: intelligence was mixed up with all sorts of other material, material was not attributed, and the document was not properly cleared.
Dos and don'ts must be laid down on the publication of intelligence. Key questions arise in that context. First, it must be recognised that in drafting documents for publication, any Government will tend to favour intelligence that supports their overall policy. The question is, should we accept that? Should we endeavour to remedy it or should we discourage Governments from publishing intelligence material at all? One could argue that, in the interests of democracy, we should aim for the maximum openness.
The use of intelligence in the public domain is a difficult and sensitive subject, and should be approached with caution. The Committee may want to consider it further in the coming year and perhaps comment on it in our next annual report.
When the Intelligence and Security Committee was set up in 1994, I was one of those who was rather sceptical about its value, because it depended entirely on information provided by Ministers and the heads of agencies. Having served on the Committee for two years, I believe that it plays a useful role. The fact that it operates, as it must, within the ring of secrecy, enables it to give the House greater confidence in the work of our 593 agencies. Clearly we have important work ahead of us next year, and I am sure that the House will be interested to hear the results of our inquiries.
§ Mr. Michael Portillo (Kensington and Chelsea)
I join others in thanking the Committee for its extremely useful work. Paragraph 82 of the report refers to the dodgy dossier. In a way, this is water under the bridge, as the Government have conceded that errors were made, and apologies have been issued. I do not know whether they yet realise the immense damage that they did to themselves and to the intelligence services. I am not sure whether the Prime Minister realises the extent to which the reduction in his reputation and in his trustworthiness rating in opinion polls is attributable to the dodgy dossier.
It seems absolutely extraordinary that the dossier came into the public domain apparently without either Alastair Campbell or the Prime Minister understanding its nature—the fact that it contained plagiarised material. My right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) was absolutely right to dwell on what the Prime Minister said to the House on 3 February at column 25. There was no hint in what he said at that time that he had any understanding that the dossier was, as it were, adulterated. That in turn seems strange, because even if Mr. Campbell did not know that it contained adulterated, plagiarised material, he clearly did know that it had been prepared in a way that was quite different from the dossier that was prepared in September 2002. The processes were quite different, as he has said in evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee.
The dodgy dossier was prepared by a team working on information. It was prepared by an organisation called the communications and information centre. There remains a question, which I add to the list already supplied to the House by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), about how the Prime Minister could want to commit himself unequivocally, and without caveat, to telling the House that he had published a new intelligence document, when at the very least Alastair Campbell knew that the document had been prepared in a way that simply would not allow such a description of it to stand up to further scrutiny.
The Committee's report also refers to the famous 45-minute claim in the September 2002 dossier. The Minister for the armed forces has said that the claim was substantiated by only a single source—it was not corroborated by further evidence—and as far as I know, there has been no attempt by the Government to row back on that. The Government maintain that it was derived from intelligence and was not invented by politicians or people dealing with the media, and that there was no objection to its being in the document, but I am not sure that I have had an explanation of how it got into the foreword, which was signed by the Prime Minister and constituted an Executive summary, thus giving it tremendous prominence.
I questioned the Foreign Secretary in the House about that, and he made it clear that no member of the intelligence community had objected in any way or 594 proposed that the 45-minute claim should not be included in the foreword. Of course, I have to take the Foreign Secretary's word for it, but if it is true that no intelligence official objected to the claim's being given that level of prominence, the Government ought to be extremely angry with intelligence officials for failing to make that point. The Government were clearly riding for a fall by putting a point that relied on only a single source of evidence into the prime ministerial foreword, standing above his signature. Indeed, the special advisers themselves—who, I am afraid, do not appear to be a very distinguished group in this Government—should have urged that this point be not included in the foreword. They should have had regard to the importance of the integrity of the Prime Minister's word, as the Prime Minister was leading the country on a course that might involve us in military action, as indeed it did.
Another point, made by the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) in his opening statement to the Foreign Affairs Committee, is that the 45-minute claim was not then used in this House during the debates in March. That leads to another question that I should like to add to the list provided by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife, and which has been raised by the right hon. Member for Livingston: whether the Government already had cold feet about the 45-minute claim before troops were committed, and, if so, why they did not say to this House that they no longer had the confidence in that information that they had when the Prime Minister decided to put his signature to it.
The broad point, if I may suggest, for the Committee is to look in its future deliberations at how on earth such things can happen. The Committee says that it has been assured that such things cannot happen again, but I should like to broaden the issue by pointing out that a climate has been established in government that makes it difficult to accept the degree of assurance that has been expressed by the right hon. Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor). It is clear that there was a breakdown in the machinery of government, but I would go further and say that there exists in this Government a strongly politicised atmosphere at the top. Many roles and decisions are taken by people who are not accountable to this House, and the feverish state in which information is dragooned for the cause—the point applies not only in this case—certainly pushes officials to the limits of what is proper. Perhaps it is for the Committee to decide whether it sometimes pushes them further.
It might be rather surprising to hear me say that one needs also to look into the degree of pressure that was exercised in a situation in which the British Government were determined, for understandable reasons, to be in step with the United States, and felt that they had to be a strong rhetorical contributor, at least, to the case that was being made for action.
§ Mr. Mates
What matters is not the assurance that my right hon. Friend got from the right hon. Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor) that this will not happen again but the assurance given to us by those who gave evidence in Committee that they had made certain—and that 595 through that, the Prime Minister has made certain—that it will not happen again. So if it does happen again, we must question not the word of the right hon. Member for Dewsbury, but that of the entire Government.
§ Mr. Portillo
That is a useful clarification, but I hope that my hon. Friend will accept the broader point that even if the Government can say that they have changed their procedures so that this exact sequence of events cannot occur again, they have not dealt with the broader, feverish climate at the centre of government, in which officials are being pushed very far indeed.
Paragraph 80 of the report states:Intelligence … played a key role in the military action",as indeed it did. That is why the issue is so important. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) said that he was raising a hypothetical question in asking the right hon. Member for Dewsbury what would happen if the information proved to be wrong. However, I do not think that my right hon. Friend's question is hypothetical. It must now be clear—this is certainly the opinion of the right hon. Member for Livingston—that at least some of the information has already been proved to be wrong.
That fact that that question is no longer hypothetical matters very much, because the Prime Minister based his cause for going to war very firmly on the existence of weapons of mass destruction. In this case, he contrasted himself somewhat with President Bush. The President was quite happy to talk about regime change being a cause for war, but the Prime Minister said no, that was not what it was about. Indeed, he told this House that as long as Saddam Hussein gave up his weapons of mass destruction, the regime could remain in place. That is why it matters so much to establish precisely how that intelligence was derived and whether it was plain wrong. In my view, it has already emerged that the intelligence was not of high quality. That should be of immense concern to the Committee, which I am sure will want to pursue it further in future.
The Prime Minister then told us—I refer particularly to what he said to the House on 4 and 5 June—that we should not worry so much about the causes of the war that he had advanced before, because we got rid of a barbarous regime, for which we should all be grateful and proud. We are grateful and, speaking for myself, I am proud of our role in getting rid of that barbarous regime, but that is not the case that the Prime Minister made to the House before going to war. He specifically said that the regime, barbarous though it was, would be allowed to remain in position as long as it gave up its weapons of mass destruction.
There are other examples of the Prime Minister's shifting from one argument to another. In the build-up to war, he told us that he was very worried—I remember his hands expressing the fact—about the day on which WMD on the one hand and terrorism on the other would come together. Paragraph 75 of the report alludes to that. However, when the Prime Minister returned to the House in June, he seemed to argue rather that the search for WMD was not particularly urgent. The priority, he said, was to restore law and order. The 596 House of Commons should understand perfectly well, he claimed, how long it would take to establish a proper team to get looking for WMD. For goodness sake, that argument is implausible from a man who had said that he was terrified that WMD would fall into the wrong hands. Was he really telling us that al-Qaeda had given us a three-month breathing space so that we could get our teams organised, and that in that period they would no longer go shopping for WMD in Iraq?
Hans Blix used to criticise Saddam's regime firmly on the basis that it was always changing its story. It would say one thing one day, another thing another day. That is why Blix felt that the regime was unconvincing, suggesting that there might be a real problem. All I can say is that it is a good job that Hans Blix is not around today to apply the same high standards to the stories used by the Prime Minister, which also shift from day to day.
For the avoidance of doubt, let me make it clear that I was supportive of the war and that I still believe that there was a good reason for it. However, it was not the reason on which the Prime Minister rested most heavily. The stronger argument was that there had been 12 years of steady defiance of UN resolutions by Saddam Hussein, which was intolerable in any case. After 11 September, however, when we saw the consequences of ignoring the steady escalation of terrorism, it became clearer why we should not ignore the steady escalation of defiance by a thoroughly hideous rogue state represented by Saddam Hussein. That was a perfectly strong argument.
A book recently published by Sir Peter Stothard, who spent some time in Downing street during the period of the conflict, reveals that the Prime Minister was not happy with the WMD argument and that he longed to move on to the argument that I have just outlined or President Bush's argument for changing the regime. It demonstrates that he was uncomfortable about relying on the WMD argument, but that he believed that it was the only one likely to get through the UN.
§ Mr. George Osborne (Tatton)
Has my right hon. Friend seen the interview with Paul Wolfowitz, which reveals that WMD became a sort of bureaucratic reason to bring together the different agencies in Washington to make the case for war against Iraq? That supports my right hon. Friend's argument.
§ Mr. Portillo
I have not seen it, but it does indeed support what I have been saying. We now have two sources for this view, which makes it relatively quite reliable as a view! It was under those circumstances that tremendous pressure was applied to officials.
I do not want to overstate the case against the Prime Minister. It appears from what we know now—it will be supplemented by further reports from the Intelligence and Security Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee—that the Prime Minister put more weight on to the intelligence than it could properly bear. That has done immense damage to the Prime Minister, to his Government and, I fear, to the intelligence services because it puts a question mark over their work. It will be much more difficult for people to take intelligence seriously when it is presented to them in future. That is the really serious point: there will be circumstances in 597 the future in which a Government or a Prime Minister will need to persuade this country to do something very unpalatable in order to defend our best interests. Such an action could be of a pre-emptive nature that is judged, on the basis of intelligence, to be important and necessary. The appalling debacle in which the Prime Minister and Mr. Campbell have been involved will mean that it will be much more difficult for a future Prime Minister to make a case for such action, even though it might be very urgent and important for this country.
§ 4 pm
§ Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)
First, I want to echo the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor), who chairs the Intelligence and Security Committee, of which I am a member. She praised the staff who work in the different agencies, both in the UK and elsewhere in the world, under circumstances that are sometimes incredible, and I echo those sentiments.
I shall not speculate about what the Committee will find out in the next few weeks and months in respect of the matters that have dominated the debate so far. We issued a press release a few weeks ago, in which we stated that we would not give a running commentary on our work. I intend to stick to that, and I am sure that other members of the Committee will do the same.
However, the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) suggested at the end of his speech that there was a difference between our Committee and its counterparts elsewhere in the world, especially the US. I want to point out that the Committee recently met both of the US oversight committees to discuss how they have conducted their inquiries. Hon. Members will know how our Committee works, and will be aware that our inquiries are not held in the open. The idea has been around in the media for quite a while that the US committees will hold their inquiries in the open, but that is not true. They will take the vast bulk of their evidence—if not all of it—in very much the same way that the UK Committee does.
It is true that public hearings are sometimes held as the US committees near the end of their inquiries. I believe that that is more of a bit of grandstanding for the benefit of television cameras, the public and possibly even the egos of the politicians involved. In the six years that I have been on the Committee, that has never happened. My instinct is that we should not follow the US example, but in the end it will be a matter for members of the Committee to decide. It is up to us to determine how to take evidence, what witnesses to call, and what conclusions we reach in the next few weeks.
I want to raise two matters that have not been mentioned so far. If they are not of interest to the House, they certainly are of importance to the public at large. The Committee does not exist merely to draw up an annual report that is published and debated in the House. It is a parliamentary oversight Committee, but it looks after another major interest—how intelligence may or may not affect the British public.
598 In each of the six years that I have been a member of the Committee, our interest in the use of intelligence in law enforcement has grown. It has been very much a moving picture. We have argued in earlier reports that more resources ought to be devoted to that area, as there are large gains to be made in relation to serious crime. We have worked with national law enforcement agencies and the intelligence community helps them in all sorts of ways to protect the interests of the British public.
In the past 12 months, for the first time since I became a member of the Committee, we have looked beyond Customs and Excise and the National Criminal Intelligence Service and extended our consideration to the work of special branch. We make no recommendations in that regard. I was pleased that we decided to inquire into special branch activities, and that we received the necessary co-operation. As the report makes clear, we had meetings with the special branch of the Metropolitan police. We also visited my local special branch in south Yorkshire, and we took evidence from the chief constable. I was reassured about the work of the special branch and its co-operation with the intelligence services, especially MI5, which does not always share locally everything that it finds.
We also looked at the structure of the special branch, which is not coterminous with Government regions. The report noted that Yorkshire and Humberside shares its special branch with the north-east region. We made no recommendation about that, but it is something that could be examined in future.
I think that the House and the public would be happy to know that we had examined other aspects of intelligence work.
§ Simon Hughes
I note that the report includes no recommendation on the special branch. Does the right hon. Gentleman think that we would do better with fewer special branches, possibly organised as they are in London, on a regional rather than a local police force basis?
§ Mr. Barron
The hon. Gentleman answered his question when he said that the Committee had made no recommendations. I think that there are issues arising from special branch funding, as currently constituted, because it comes from the chief constable's budget. There are many pressures on such budgets and that may affect the efficiency of the local special branch. In our discussions with special branches, we were assured that resources were found if necessary. The Committee was happy with what it found, but it is for other people to decide whether the special branch is properly resourced. We made no recommendations; we stated the facts.
My other major point is about imagery intelligence, and it, too, relates to budgets. Paragraph 61 refers to our report last year and expresses our concern that imagery intelligence purchasing and decision making come under Ministry of Defence resources. Last year, we concluded that that should be reconsidered. Although the armed services are the main users of imagery intelligence, there are many other uses for such systems. Their use is growing in other fields. We were concerned that budgeting was through the MOD rather than through the JIC or the single intelligence account.
599 Paragraph 61 notes:Last year, the Government response to our report stated that 'the necessary levels of finance will be made available to meet this important national requirement'. We are concerned that the MoD has only been able to provide limited funding—'what we could afford'—to buy into"—imagery intelligence. We hoped for a better response than we received last year, but sadly, in paragraph 4, on page 12 of the Government's response, they use the same words as last year:the necessary levels of finance will be made available to meet this important national requirement".In the view of the Committee, the MOD budget, with all its pressures, which, as we know, increase monthly, is not the best way to fund something of that importance. We will ensure that we keep our eye on that since it is crucial that the development of imagery intelligence in the United Kingdom is not held back because its budget or the resources for it are capped by more urgent needs elsewhere.
Before I finish my speech on our annual report—I hope that more Back Benchers will be able to make speeches—I wish to say that I am satisfied, as a Member of the House, that nothing is hidden from us and that the duty on us, now and in the not-to-distant future, will be to report everything to the House, as we did on the Bali issue, so that it can be debated and the public can judge whether or not intelligence is used properly by our agencies and the Government.
§ Mr. Michael Mates (East Hampshire)
I start by echoing the words of my fellow members of the Committee in our praise for the security services—all of them—on the way that they do their job. I should like to add one point, which we mention in the report: so much of what they do successfully can never be told. We have heard of amazing intelligence successes that cannot be reported to anyone, but when they do make mistakes—they are humans, so they do err—we hear about their failures; they tend to be rather more spectacular. We must understand that so much of what they do is so vital to our security that, when we do criticise them, it must be read in that context.
I wish briefly to try—I doubt whether I shall succeed—to help the House over the vexed question of the asterisks, the deletions. Every year since such debates started, we have had to take a fair amount of ridicule on the subject, and we do so with very good nature. Every year, when we have a press conference, we get a cynical reaction from the members of the press, which we have to bear as well as we can. However, it is very important that we should be able to report in full to the Prime Minister on the conclusions and the intelligence that we have received, because we are different in that regard from a Select Committee. Therefore, because of the nature of our work, there should be no cynicism about the fact that people outside the House are not told things. They cannot be told about them because of their very nature.
Some years ago, I had the good fortune to be the Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence. Every year, because the Trident programme was being developed, we had to report on that and, every year, quite a lot of what we reported was not allowed to be 600 published and had to appear as asterisks, but because it came under the heading of Trident and the replacement of our ballistic warhead, nobody minded; they understood that that was secret.
By the same token, I believe that it would be fair if people did not take quite so much mickey out of us over the asterisks, but remembered that almost everything that we hear comes in the same category as Trident, and that therefore we have to be very careful. Let it be said, however, that the asterisks are the Government's, not ours. They are the people who say that disclosure of the information would be damaging. As the right hon. Member for Newport, East (Alan Howarth) said, we robustly challenge such things, and I can tell the House that quite a number of suggested deletions have been overturned, after discussion, which is why we are able to say that nothing has been deleted without our consent. Perhaps, next year and in the coming years, we can be excused the ritual humour about the things that we have to leave out, although I very much doubt it.
I want to make one point only about the report because the right hon. Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor) covered the main points excellently, and my other colleagues have done the same. There is one item that I feel particularly strongly about for reasons that I shall tell the House. In paragraph 89, we report very briefly on our concerns about the possible threat to us from the ability to transmit firearms, drugs and other dangerous goods through the post.
I happened to come upon that issue in the other job that I do, which is chairing the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs. During our inquiry into the financing of terrorism, we discovered a most appalling breach, which came out in the court case of the three IRA people who were arrested in Florida. They had sent firearms through the post to the IRA in the Republic of Ireland. That channel was chanced on, and within three days more than 100 weapons and weapons parts were found to be going through it. I know that the Committee, as we say in the report, is concerned about that, and we are looking into it in much more detail. From further work that I have been doing with the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, which is in the public domain, I know that we have not got this right. I hope that the House will be reassured to know that the Committee will look at this as soon as we have dealt with the question of the intelligence and the Iraqi situation, which is what concerns us now.
I believe that it was said on "Newsnight" last night that those in our Committee were on rather light duties. May I say, therefore, that we are meeting eight times in the next two weeks and at least three times in the recess? I do not say that to receive a wave of sympathy from the rest of the House but to state the fact that we are working all the hours that we can to report on this matter as soon as possible.
In response to the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo), both of whom made very thoughtful comments and asked extremely pertinent questions, I am sure that every single one of their questions will be addressed by us and that we will want to provide answers that will convince the House as to all the reasoning. Unlike the Foreign Affairs Committee, we will not be grandstanding or making public statements 601 while we have our inquiry. We will be able to report objectively on the facts as they have been shown to us, and as they will be shown to us over the weeks to come. When the House has had a chance to see all of that, I hope that it will realise that we are nobody's poodle and nobody's puppet. The fact that we are on the Prime Minister's Committee is irrelevant to that, but will help us enormously in the work that we have to do.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
In the short years between his retirement and his death, I used to gossip with the late Sir Maurice Oldfield. He told me that in March 1974, he had gone, as C, to Jim Callaghan on his second day as Foreign Secretary. Jim Callaghan had said to him, "Tell me, Sir Maurice, what is the Security Intelligence Service for?" Sir Maurice Oldfield said that he replied, "My job, Secretary of State, is to bring you unwelcome news." Some months later, I checked with Jim Callaghan, and indeed it was a factual not apocryphal story. In a sense, it encapsulates the fact that the key to the success of the JIC system is the firm separation of analysis and policy. Indeed, that conclusion was drawn both by Noel Annan in his best book, "Changing Enemies", and by Harry Hinsley in his official account of intelligence during world war two.
If the Prime Minister is convinced, as all his predecessors have been since 1940, that the singular virtue of the British JIC system is the determination that held throughout the second world war and the cold war that its analytical product must always be kept separate from the policy implications to be drawn from it, does he not therefore accept that his signed preamble to the September 2002 dossier must be treated equally separately from the JIC analysis that made up the bulk of that document? If so, does the Prime Minister appreciate, and does he not wish the British public to appreciate, that it is possible for knowledgeable people inside Whitehall and beyond to place different weightings on aspects of the JIC analysis from the conclusions that he drew? Is it not possible, therefore, that concentrating on one journalist and one intelligence source fails to reflect the range of anxieties on the part of several intelligence professionals about the weightings and thrust of the Prime Minister's crucial preamble? I am confident that the Intelligence and Security Committee, under my right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor), will bring the necessary skill, scepticism and detachment that are always needed during the careful evidence-driven analysis of kaleidoscopic intelligence at a time of tension, anxiety and uncertainty.
Finally, because all hon. Members should have the opportunity to speak, Hans Blix says that he was getting the highest quality intelligence from Washington, yet his inspectors could find nothing of significance. Therefore, the coalition must have known that its intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction simply did not provide its Governments with justification for war. Indeed, that point is eloquently made in the letter toThe Times yesterday that was written by Field Marshall Lord Bramall.
§ Mr. James Arbuthnot (North-East Hampshire)
The report speaks for itself. I must especially stress the point, which has been well made in a number of quarters, that we are well served by our intelligence agencies.
There is no need, and no time, for me to comment on every aspect of the report. However, on Iraq and weapons of mass destruction, the Intelligence and Security Committee recognises that it has a heavy responsibility. I am not controlled by the Government but neither are the rest of the members of the Committee. The Committee is excellently chaired by the right hon. Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor), who is no Government poodle.
On ministerial oversight, I was extremely pleased that the Minister for Europe said that the ministerial committee on the intelligence services would meet in due course. However, he gave us no indication that such meetings would be regular. The ministerial committee will be effective only if it meets regularly to build up the expertise and relationships needed for proper ministerial control.
The main point that I want to address is terrorism and the treatment of terrorists. We are told that we are at war and that the battle against terrorism is beginning to look long lasting—I think that that is right. The casualties have been dreadful but that should not make us flinch from the task. The Duke of Wellington once said:Nothing except a battle lost can be half as melancholy as a battle won.We have not yet won the battle and it is, indeed, a melancholy business. However, as we fight the battle, we must remember what we are fighting for: the values of freedom, the right to govern ourselves according to our liberal principles and the rule of law. In fighting for those values, we must not ourselves abandon them or the terrorists will win.
That is why I was pleased to hear what my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary said about Guantanamo bay. Nearly two years after 11 September, our coalition partner, the United States, continues to hold people in legal limbo, with no end in sight, in a place, and a manner, that are subject to no nationally or internationally recognised law or process. What justifies that? The United States says that information from intelligence gathered from those at Guantanamo bay is an essential tool in the war against terrorism. But there is disagreement in the United States Administration about whether the intelligence product is nearing its useful end.
As a result of Guantanamo bay, the United States has been subjected to accusations of torture and inhumanity. I am sure that those accusations are unfair and untrue. Those who make them undermine their more valid arguments against Guantanamo bay. The United States tells us that the detainees are not prisoners of war and are not subject to the Geneva conventions. It bases that view on its theory that the detainees from Afghanistan are illegal combatants. Presumably, the same view would, or should, be taken about the Northern Alliance fighters. The difference appears to be that the Northern Alliance fought with us while the Taliban fought against us. That is an uncomfortable position to adopt.
603 The United States tells us that despite the fact that the Geneva conventions do not apply to the detainees, they are being treated in accordance with those conventions. But in one very important respect they are not. The conventions require that once someone is identified as a suspect in a crime, he has a right not to be questioned in the absence of a lawyer of his choice. No detainee has been allowed a lawyer of anyone's choice, and they have all been questioned. The United States has made it clear that it intends to use the confessions taken as evidence against the detainees in their trials. I do not believe that confessions taken in such circumstances should be admissible.
The Pentagon tells us that the procedures for trials by military commission, issued in March, will include the presumption of innocence. That is, of course, good to hear, but the day before it issued those procedures, President Bush, the man in charge of them, said:Remember … the ones in Guantanamo Bay are killers.That was no passing remark. He and Secretary Rumsfeld have said the same thing on several different occasions. It would be good to be able to believe that the United States thought that the presumption of innocence was more than just a phrase used by those lawyer folk. When President Bush, who is, as I say, in the end in charge of the military tribunals set to try the detainees, tells us that they are extremely dangerous terrorists, he may well be right, but surely that conclusion should be the result of an assessment or investigation independent of its victim, the United States, or, at the very least, independent of the Executive of the United States.
Some people ask: what else is the United States to do with the detainees? It may well be true that some, if released, might immediately return to terrorism. How on earth can we expect the United States to put up with that? The answer is that of course we cannot. However, I am certain that the international community would be eager to use its many tribunals to try those detainees according to an internationally recognised process. The question then would be whether the United States would be prepared to accept the outcome.
Let us not forget that there will be prisoners as a result of the war in Iraq who will be motivated in precisely the same way as those detained from Afghanistan, yet the United States recognises them as prisoners of war. To treat the Taliban differently from the Iraqi Fedayeen is clearly wrong in principle. We were once accused of doing the same during the period of detention in Northern Ireland, but at least recognisable rules applied and those detained had access to advisers. More important, when we put a stop to detention, we increased our moral authority in a way that the United States could do now if it chose.
So far, the focus of the British Government has been on the British detainees. Perhaps that is understandable, but it misses the point. The real point is that the decision to treat the detainees differently is wrong in principle. By appearing to condone one law for the United States and another for everyone else, we are feeding resentment against the United States and hence against ourselves throughout the world.
I have three questions about the matter, which I should be grateful if the Home Secretary would answer when he replies. First, do the British Government accept 604 the United States view that the Geneva convention does not apply to the detainees of Guantanamo bay? Why are they keeping so quiet on so vital an issue? If any other country behaved like this, as the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) said, both the United Kingdom and the United States would be protesting vigorously.
Secondly, on 17 June, the Foreign Office Minister with responsibilities for trade and investment stated:The status of the detainees under international law depends on the facts of each individual case and is ultimately a matter for the US, as the detaining power."—[Official Report, 17 June 2003; Vol. 407, c. 142W.]Does international law have nothing to say about the rights or wrongs of any decision made by the United States? If, as the Minister then said, the detainees are entitled to humane treatment, what international obligation is it, other than the inherent humanity of the United States—which is undoubted, at least in my mind—that gives it that entitlement?
Thirdly, do the British Government believe that the intelligence product from Guantanamo bay is still valuable? If so, for what? Is it limited to the purpose of the prosecution of the detainees?
The United States is, and always has been, the world's greatest supporter of freedom. Time after time, it is the United States that comes to the rescue of individual countries and of the world. However, freedom rests on the observance of the rule of law, and the United States would win itself many friends by establishing beyond doubt that it was bringing the detainees within the scope of a process of law that was internationally recognised.
§ Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)
I have some difficulty. I have declared in the Chamber many times before that I think that the current arrangements for our parliamentary oversight are not satisfactory. Indeed, I do not see the Intelligence and Security Committee as being a Committee of Parliament. That is of great importance. I do not think that it is a distinction without a difference that the Committee is made up of parliamentarians. It is a creature of statute passed by Parliament.
I hesitate to amplify upon that because good friends and colleagues can often take offence that is not intended when we criticise an institution of which they are a member. They think that that is a criticism of their conduct and stewardship. On the contrary. I was interested to hear what the my right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor) and other Members have said about the diligence to service which the members of the Committee are giving. That is highly commendable. I endorse what my right hon. Friend said about the high level of attendance and concentration.
One of the things that I learned as a trade union official is that one should be at the beginning of a meeting and at the end. That is extremely important. During my period on the Transport Select Committee and the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, I was surprised when some of my colleagues found—it is a matter for them—there could be other compelling matters that took them away from a Committee's deliberations, and sometimes quite frequently. In my view, if someone is serving on one of these bodies, that 605 should be seen as the primary commitment in giving service to the House. They should be present for as much time as is humanly possible.
I shall criticise the nature of the Intelligence and Security Committee. When I read the membership of the Committee, I noticed that the hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates) was the only non-Privy Councillor. When he goes to bed tonight, I hope that he will dream that such a grave omission will be remedied by the Mackinlay Government after I come out of my wilderness years. That demonstrates that the Committee is composed of people who have given distinguished service. I hesitate to use the phrase "the great and the good" but, nevertheless, those people are deemed satisfactory by the Prime Minister. Of course, the qualities that they bring to the Committee make them a satisfactory choice, but in any other Parliament, people selected by their peers will also have given distinguished service and will be capable of fulfilling that role. In the US Senate and Congress, people chosen to serve on comparable committees to the Intelligence and Security Committee are regarded as qualified for their important role and having sufficient discretion to fulfil it.
§ Mr. Mates
Which parliamentary Committee is not selected by its peers? The Committee of Selection selects members of Select Committees through the Whips. It is the Prime Minister, in consultation with the Leader of the Opposition, who selects us, and that, too, is done through the Whips. What is the difference?
§ Andrew Mackinlay
There is a substantial difference. The hon. Gentleman is wrong, although the selection process is seriously flawed, needs to be developed and is subject to the party system. However, there are occasions when the trend is reversed. During my first weeks in Parliament we were told by the Whips who to appoint as Chairman of the Select Committee on Transport, but we chose another Member. More recently, in the lifetime of this Parliament, my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson) were selected as Chairmen in contravention of the initial process of selection. However, my right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury, for whom I have the highest regard—contrary to her better judgment, I hope that she still has some regard for me—was selected by the Prime Minister. Under the rules of selection, it is not possible to say, "No, we will not have the right hon. Member for Dewsbury, we will have the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) instead."
Public perception of the independence of Committees is extremely important. The ISC would probably prefer to be treated as a Select Committee, and in the next Parliament it may merge into the system and its members undertake the same contests and arguments that other Select Committee members undertake. I hope that ISC members have some sympathy for that idea. However, when it became known that the ISC and the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs were going to look into the question of Iraq, I was disappointed by the appearance of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at the Dispatch Box. I listened to him carefully, and 606 while he said that he welcomed and/or invited the ISC to look into the question of Iraq, he did not make any genuflection to the Foreign Affairs Committee, and did not give a nod or wink of acknowledgement that it should look into the matter, which was a deeply regrettable mistake. At the very least, the work of the two Committees could be complementary rather than competitive, and could inform the work of the House and public opinion, which everyone should welcome.
I dare not go into the question of Iraq. Over the past few days, I have told numerous journalists and even parliamentary colleagues that the deliberations of the Foreign Affairs Committee are private—[Interruption.] I am speaking for myself, and will not even comment about people who have commented, allegedly, on our deliberations. However, on behalf of colleagues I shall give a trailer. At 10 o'clock on Monday, our report will be published, and I hope that Members will find it valuable reading. However, picking up a point made by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), there could be a more mature and sensible way of producing the ISC report without the extensive use of dots and asterisks. There could be negotiations with No. 10 to produce a report that has some flow. Its present form is woefully inadequate.
If, as I accept, the Committee is putting in a tremendous amount of work behind closed doors, the report could and should be fuller. I do not accept that it must be so thin. One of the deficiencies of the Committee is that it always, always deliberates and holds hearings in private. There is no reason why that should be the absolute rule. Because of the nature of its work, the pattern may be that the Committee meets in private session, but that should not be the presumption. That is why the work of other Select Committees is so important. The Prime Minister overlooked that. Matters that would not have been aired if they had been considered solely by the Intelligence and Security Committee have been brought into the public domain by the Foreign Affairs Committee and it is clearly appropriate that they should be viewed under the television lights, reported in theOfficial Report and so on. I hope that next year the Intelligence and Security Committee might improve on the written production of its report and explain to the House the work on which it is embarked.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley spoke about the aspects of the report relating to the special branch. That was extremely important. I am troubled by the fact that our special branches are woefully inadequate in many areas, particularly at our ports of entry. I have raised the matter in the Chamber before. I am amazed that the Government have not addressed security, particularly at our seaports. They must also undertake a comprehensive review of the policing of our airports.
The seaports are more or less open. I can show hon. Members ports around the United Kingdom where there is no immigration official, no Customs and Excise and no special branch. They are open. It is breathtaking that that is tolerated. I have said to the House and I will say it again: what are required are dedicated police forces for our seaports. The British Transport police should be brought back in—they used to be at some of 607 our ports—or a parallel force should be set up. That would be the sensible thing to do. The special branch officer in a portakabin responsible for many miles of river or coastline is woefully inadequate. That is the present position, and I am not prepared to acquiesce in it by my silence. It leaves us open to organised crime, people-smuggling, and the dangers of terrorist groups bringing in facilities and materials or taking those out to other locations. They could be deterred, if not detected, by high-profile dedicated transport police in our seaports.
§ Mr. Letwin
As I think the hon. Gentleman knows, he is not alone in that view. Every word of what he says is true. We, too, have been complaining about the position persistently for the past two years, and it remains a matter of astonishment to us that nothing has been done about it. I know that Liberal Democrat Members share his views.
§ Andrew Mackinlay
I am much obliged. Perhaps the Government might reflect on the fact that, across the House, there is some sympathy for the matter to be addressed. They should do so urgently and not be persuaded by the chief constables. I know what chief constables are like. They are decent fellows, but they want to maximise their resources and are jealous of their territories. They do not want another police agency in their parish. It has always been thus and always will be. The Government should put aside their protestations, which is well-trodden ground, and do what is right—create proper policing, which could be partly funded by a small top-slicing on every container's tariff or every person's fare passing through the port of entry or exit.
My final point relates to paragraphs 90 and 91 of the report and the Wilson doctrine. If I misread the document, I apologise, but the point I want to make is still valid. It is a matter of fact that the telephone conversations of Mo Mowlam, when Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and Jonathan Powell, the Prime Minister's chief of staff, with the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. McGuinness) were recorded. The Wilson doctrine makes it clear that, unless and until Parliament is told otherwise, there will be no eavesdropping of the conversations of Members of Parliament. There was a clear breach in that regard and I think that we have a right to be told what happened. In any event, the Wilson doctrine is somewhat old and technologies have moved on. It is no longer necessary to attach a physical attachment to a telephone line to listen to what is being said. It is possible to eavesdrop on conversations and to investigate e-mails and other technologies at some considerable distance. The Wilson doctrine is important to our parliamentary democracy, because Members of Parliament, as legislators, should not be subject to such intrusive surveillance by the executive branch of government. In any event, the doctrine needs to be revisited to bring it up to date with current technologies. I urge colleagues to address the issue with some seriousness and vigour, and I repeat that, if they do so, it should be in the public domain. In my view, that area should be discussed.
§ Mr. Barron
Without wanting to go into detail, I point out that paragraph 91 explains what the Committee has done in the past 12 months and what the current situation is.
§ Andrew Mackinlay
I am not satisfied about that. Nothing that has been uttered today or that features in the documentation reassures us that Members of Parliament are not subject to unauthorised surveillance either by the security and intelligence services or special branch. Regardless of the political persuasion of any of the people to whom I referred, it is fundamentally wrong that what happened should have taken place. I suspect that those involved overlooked the Wilson doctrine and that one of our colleagues, the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster, who had not taken his oath, did not feature on their radar screens as a Member of Parliament, so they assumed that they could proceed. I suspect that that was the case and/or that the Northern Ireland Office had, as a matter of practice, recorded the telephone conversations of the Secretary of State without thinking that he or she might be talking to a Member of Parliament.
§ Dr. Julian Lewis
I should like to put to the hon. Gentleman a hypothetical scenario. What does he think the security and intelligence services should do if they have reason to believe at some future stage that someone who has been elected to the House of Commons is secretly in contact with an extremist, fundamentalist terrorist organisation? Does he believe that such people should be off limits purely because they are Members of Parliament?
§ Andrew Mackinlay
I am grateful for that intervention, as the hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. I have said that the matter should be revisited, as the Wilson doctrine needs to be updated and could take such issues into account. In the particular cases that we know about, however, national security, by definition, could not have been at issue because they involved the Secretary of State, who was talking to a Member of Parliament, and the Prime Minister's man. If Mo Mowlam or Jonathan Powell were threatening national security, we might as well pack up and go home, but that was demonstrably not the case. Therefore, those conversations demonstrably should not have been bugged or subject to surveillance, and we need to be reassured and told what the position is. As I said, if there is some validity in the scenario that the hon. Gentleman postulated, it should be considered so that we know exactly what the ground rules are.
I make no apology for again raising that matter in the House. Clearly, there have been some very unsatisfactory goings on. The Prime Minister has refused, failed or felt unable to clarify the position on repeatedly being asked in the House specifically about the Mo Mowlam and Jonathan Powell conversations. The issue cannot and should not go away, and he should make a statement to clarify it. In the meantime, our colleagues in the Committee need to deal with the issue with some vigour and come back to the House and set out in their next report precisely what has gone on and what they recommend to the Prime Minister for the future.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
The hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) made as lively and constructive a contribution to the debate as he has to the Foreign Affairs Committee's deliberations on Iraq. I agree with him that the work of the two Committees can be complementary.
In the light of what he said about the Wilson doctrine, I have changed the order of what I was going to say to address his comments at the beginning of my speech, without dealing with the detail of the case to which he referred. The Wilson doctrine means that if there is any change in the policy that MPs' communications will not be intercepted, the Prime Minister will, when it seems compatible with the security of the country to do so, make a statement to the House about it. The Committee spent some time considering that matter, and there is a paragraph in the report relating to it, which merely records that the Prime Minister has not advised us of any such change in policy; and it is clearly common knowledge that he has not told the House of any such change.
The problem about the Wilson doctrine is that we could at any time be in the position that the policy had been changed, but it had not been deemed to be compatible with the security of the country to make an announcement. That is not an abuse of the doctrine. In that situation, it would be an entirely proper application of the doctrine for the Prime Minister to have relaxed the policy, for some overriding reason of national security, but not yet to have made an announcement to the House. That leads me to wonder whether the Wilson doctrine is a good basis on which to rest the general presumption that MPs' communications will not be intercepted. If an MP's communications were to be intercepted, of course, it would still have to be by means of a warrant issued by the relevant Secretary of State. Nevertheless, it is worth considering whether we should have a system whereby no interception of the communications of a Member of either House could ever be undertaken unless it was approved by someone at a very high and manifestly independent level, such as the Lord Chief Justice.
Knowledge that MPs' communications are not intercepted is an important safeguard for our constituents, and I am not convinced that the Wilson doctrine provides an unambiguous assurance that no MP's communications will be intercepted unless there are compelling grounds to do so, relating to threats to national security or evidence of involvement in serious crime. The time has come to look for a better basis than one whereby, in effect, the doctrine might be in general abeyance without our knowledge until such time as it was reasonable, in the circumstances of the case that had given rise to the problem, for the Prime Minister to tell the House that he had had to do that. The hon. Member for Thurrock raises a perfectly reasonable point, but he slightly misunderstands the present position and certainly underestimates the amount of attention that the Committee gave to it.
Let me express my wish, as others have, that the Foreign Secretary will soon be recovered from his indisposition, and suggest that next time he goes to Kandahar he takes his own sandwiches with him.
610 Let me also echo the Chairman's tribute to all the work that is done by the agencies and pay tribute to the very small but immensely hard-working staff of the Intelligence and Security Committee, without whom we could not achieve what we do. They deserve great credit for their work.
I want to touch on a subject that was raised by the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron), as well as by the hon. Member for Thurrock, and which is mentioned in the report—namely, special branch. I co-operated with the right hon. Gentleman in his enthusiasm to ensure that we spent some time on considering special branch, which has some important responsibilities, including port policing. My noble Friend Lord Carlile referred to the issue in his reports on the prevention of terrorism Acts, and more attention and resources need to be given to it.
The right hon. Member for Rother Valley mentioned an important point that I need to clarify. There is an important reason why special branch does not and should not share all its intelligence with the security service—namely, that it has a different job. One of its jobs is to protect public order. It has to collect intelligence on public order in order to know whether there is going to be so massive, and possibly so uncontrolled, a demonstration that police resources will be needed for the purpose. People who may need to be the subject of surveillance for that reason are not, by that mere definition, threats to national security and properly the subject of investigation by the security service. There is a distinction, and it is right that it be maintained. Whereas special branches provide a very important executive arm for the security service, it is right that they recognise the difference between work that they do on their own account, for the purposes of their own responsibilities, and work that they do for the security service.
The right hon. Member for Rother Valley mentioned the regional intelligence cells that have been created for special branch—they are not regional special branches, but regional cells—and the fact that the one in Yorkshire serves two whole Government regions. That happens to be the Association of Chief Police Officers arrangement, but we were given to understand that the cells were structured in that way primarily for resources reasons. The right hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Joyce Quin) and I are not happy with that.
§ Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East and Washington, West)
I believed that regionalisation made a lot of sense for effective organisation throughout the country. However, I endorse the right hon. Gentleman's point that in the north-east, it is important that a regional organisation corresponds to existing regions and regional identity.
§ Mr. Beith
The right hon. Lady and I are at one on that. I continue to have doubts about the merit of organising special branches into regional special branches as opposed to intelligence cells. If county based police forces—in some cases, multi-county police forces—continue to form the structure of our policing, regional special branch forces would be divorced from 611 the accountability structure of our current system. Although there are problems about allocating budgets to special branch, I would not be happy if special branches existed in limbo and were not part of local accountability. There are arguments for and against regional police forces, but if they existed, my point would fall.
Let me briefly consider paragraph 67 of the report, which deals with collection gaps, warnings and the suggestion that the services' ability to warn us of dangers in future could be impaired by the stresses on their resources. One of the lessons of Afghanistan is that the west collectively had not maintained adequate intelligence on what was happening in that country. For specific reasons, the intelligence that we received was perhaps better than that of some of our partners. Nevertheless, an overall intelligence gap allowed a failed state to become the headquarters of an organisation that carried out the horrific destruction of thousands of lives as well as many other terrorist incidents. We must learn from that.
Al-Qaeda is regrouping in other countries and there are failed states all around the world. We have only to consider a country such as Somalia to ascertain the extent of the danger that could be lurking. Other states are at risk of tipping over into failed state status. All that makes heavy demands on the intelligence effort. Things are much more complicated and difficult than the cold war effort of simply seeing what the Russians were up to, to put it crudely. Our intelligence effort was never limited to such an extent, but the focus was much clearer. Nowadays, there are all sorts of trouble spots throughout the world. They are precisely the places where international terrorist organisations go to find a safe haven in which to carry out their activities. If we cannot keep a careful watch on those trouble spots, and keep between the nations that ally themselves for intelligence purposes, we shall not get other sorts of warning.
We have much work to do on Iraq. We deal with the dossiers in paragraphs 81 and 82. The Foreign Affairs Committee discussions will give us much more detail about who said what to whom and when. However, we left hon. Members in no doubt that the February dossier—although we did not use the Foreign Secretary's terminology—was a dreadful mistake and that systems had to be put in place to ensure that that did not happen again. We were confident that that had been done.
However, there are many other questions beyond the dossiers, not least the issue of whether the intelligence was strong enough to support the assessments that were made throughout that period. That is a more fundamental question. Was the intelligence reliable enough to bear the weight that was placed on it? We should examine that question closely.
We shall do the job thoroughly and without fear or favour, and we shall take the time that is necessary to get at the truth. That is why we make no promises about the date of the report's publication. Our only promise is that, to the best of our ability, we shall do a thorough job without fear or favour. We hope and believe that we shall have access to all the available information that we need. If we do not, we shall say so, as the Chairman pointed out earlier.
612 I want to consider the nature of the Committee and its operation. To some extent, I am responding to the point of the hon. Member for Thurrock. Hon. Members have often said that it would be much better if the Committee were a Select Committee of the House. Indeed, some Committee members have expressed that view. If that happened we would lose one feature of the Committee, in that it now comprises hon. Members of both Houses. A very able and helpful peer serves on the Committee, and other valuable contributors have come from the other end of the building.
However, while I have a good deal of sympathy with that view, Members should not exaggerate the difference that would be made to the Committee's operation. In many respects, it would operate in much the same way. It would need its own secure accommodation, like the comparable congressional committees in the United States; it would meet mostly in private, like the American committees. The vast bulk of their work is done in private. They see certain benefits in occasional open sessions, and I do not disagree with those who think that that could apply here; but there is no escaping the fact that the bulk of the work on which the Committee's value depends would continue to be done in private.
Unless the House changes its system of appointing Select Committees, which it conspicuously declined to do last year, the system according to which this Committee is appointed will not differ greatly from the system governing the appointment of most Select Committees—with the significant exception that, just occasionally, the House can overturn the Whips' recommendations in regard to Select Committees. The Prime Minister, and earlier Prime Ministers, did not appoint this Committee on the basis of picking their friends; they went through the usual processes by which all three parties and their Whips' Offices submit their nominations, and the mechanisms were strikingly similar to those that apply to Select Committees.
The Committee would not be all that different in another important respect. Material would be excluded from its reports, just as it is excluded from Select Committee reports and, indeed, reports produced by committees of the United States Congress. I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) and others about asterisks. Some of our reports are spattered with them, and I wonder that the printer does not run out of them—although, of course, we are past the days of old fashioned typesetting.
The statement in the introduction to the report to the effect that the Committee consents to the redactions, or exclusions, should be seen in context. It means that something we consider essential to the House's knowledge of whether we are making a critical judgment has not been excluded. But I think that some of our consent has been given with reluctance, and some of us, at least, feel that the agencies could be a little more relaxed about some of the material that they seek to exclude.
First, we insist that omissions be marked with asterisks and not achieved by changing the text or disguising the fact that something has been omitted. We believe that it is part of our responsibility to the House to enable it to know that we have obtained, for instance, 613 a figure in a column that is missing—that we have looked into the matter, and that the work has been done. We do not want our reports to be disguised or sanitised in a way that denies our coverage of the issues involved.
Secondly, throughout my time on the Committee—and I have served on it since its creation—no criticism made by it of the agencies or anyone else has been excluded through the redaction of information that is sensitive for security reasons. I hope that I shall be able to give that assurance for as long as I remain on the Committee; I can certainly give it now.
Thirdly, our statutory basis does not allow us to substitute our judgment for that of the agencies on whether detailed information, if released, would damage their operations. That is the problem that we have: at the end of the day, the agencies are responsible for deciding whether revealing how much they are spending for a particular purpose, how many staff they have transferred from one branch of activity to another or what mechanism they have found uniquely valuable in obtaining intelligence would be damaging to their effort. It is not for us to decide. We may have a view, and on occasion we express it quite strongly; but it is an understood condition of the basis on which we were created that we cannot substitute our judgment for that of the agencies and say "Hard luck, but we think it would be much better for everyone to know how you obtained this piece of intelligence, and what is more we are going to tell them".
That would be to put the essentially amateur scrutineers and overseers of intelligence into the position of the professionals who have to do their job and perhaps risk their colleagues' lives. They are not right in their judgment in every case, but we have those arguments with them, and it is very difficult to avoid that.
If it seemed that the continued concealment of a piece of information was likely to cause real harm and prevent reasonable criticism, we should at least draw attention to that, even if we could not state the precise reasons and the details. Our first step would be to alert Ministers and the Prime Minister to the fact that we were being impeded by the continued concealment from being able to bring sufficient pressure to bear on something that we considered very unsatisfactory.
Again, we have not found ourselves in that situation. There are times when we might set aside a matter in the belief that we could deal with it in more detail later, when immediate operational requirements would no longer be relevant. That is a mechanism that I have certainly advocated.
§ 5.6 pm
§ Alan Howarth (Newport, East)
I want to attempt to develop the case for a full and sustained ministerial engagement in determining the agencies' appropriate priorities. I very much welcome the fact that, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor) has already told the House, the Prime Minister intends that the ministerial committee on the intelligence 614 services, the CSI, should meet, but I am not entirely sure that the full reasons why it is important that it should meet have been properly taken on board in the Government's response to our report. We are told that the Committee should meet when appropriate, and that Ministers will be involved at the beginning of the annual process as well as in authorising the final requirements.
After the cold war, after 9/11, after the telecommunications revolution, we live in radically different circumstances. We are no longer in the world of set-piece, ritualized confrontation of superpowers and permanent alliances. There is no likelihood that tanks will roll across the north German plains, nor, I desperately hope, will we ever again face anything like the Cuban crisis. We live instead in a world where money, technology and people move rapidly across the globe, the most dangerous threats arise—I think—from cultural clashes, and the targets of our enemies are most likely to be parts of the critical national infrastructure, such as banking networks, water supplies or computer systems. The agencies will be crucial to our capacity to defend ourselves and to counter such threats. If they are to be able to do their work effectively, Ministers must be continuously and thoughtfully engaged in their tasking and in the Government's collective response to intelligence findings.
What we say in the report about collection gaps, and what the Government say in their response, is hugely important in this context. The threat to our national security is ubiquitous. I think I am correct in recalling—and this is a miserable statistic—that 60 per cent. of the world's countries now have a gross domestic product per capita lower than it was 10 years ago. The misery of the world is growing, and the anger that that breeds in turn breeds the pathology in which terror takes root.
As the Government fairly note, it takes time to build up new capacity in different parts of the world, to develop human intelligence and train recruits to their full ability. It is also, of course, extremely expensive. I take the view, however, and I think that my fellow members of the Committee would agree, that intelligence still represents extraordinarily good value for money, certainly when compared with the cost of military hardware.
We must keep our priorities under continuous review and ensure that our dispositions are genuinely up to date. We will need to be more and more ambitious in the scope of our intelligence.
We will also need to revisit some of our inherited and most cherished orthodoxies in relation to civil liberties and international law. Here, I enter perilous territory and speak with great reluctance and apprehension. All my instincts are to be suspicious of big government and of armed government, but we should consider the nature of modern threats to our security. Let us consider, for example, what threats to the critical national infrastructure might involve; let us and our Government assess our vulnerabilities honestly and courageously.
Cyber-assaults could be perpetrated on crucial institutions and organisations by aggrieved insiders, criminals, hackers, industrial rivals and, of course, by terrorists or military opponents; in fact, they could be carried out by small groups equipped with laptop computers. It would be very difficult indeed for Governments to know how to respond. I know that the 615 Government are giving a great deal of active thought to these topics, and that Ministers and officials are working on them, but let us suppose that there was an assault on our banking system and the networks that enable it to operate. Which would be the lead Department: the Treasury, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Home Office, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Ministry of Defence? In fact, all those Departments would have a contribution to make, which suggests that we need the engagement of a wider group of Ministers and a wider range of interests within government if we are to ensure that our defences match the nature of modern requirements.
There is a difficulty, in that these days the critical national infrastructure is provided mainly by the private sector, which is naturally unwilling to share information. Its culture and practices are not such as to make compliance with our security requirements a natural reflex, whatever the patriotism and good will of individuals within such organisations. This issue requires fresh thought across government—for example, from Ministers in the DTI. Their customary mantra about burdens on business would not necessarily be helpful in such circumstances.
In future, our security will depend increasingly on the informed good will and good sense of many people in many different organisations—private, as well as public. That also raises questions about the need to know. How do we appropriately apply the need-to-know principle in a world in which the private and public sectors and a much greater variety of organisations need to have intelligent and constructive involvement? How does a person in one organisation actually know what a person in another organisation needs to know? Answers can no doubt be found to these questions, but they do need to be thought through.
So if we are serious—as we have to be—about defence and the protection of our security in these modern circumstances, we may well need to think again about the balance between liberty and security, and between market efficiency and security. We will need to reconsider the orthodoxies of international law in relation to pre-emption. It is not much use waiting until one has been attacked by weapons of mass destruction before acting in self-defence, but the terms of the United Nations charter give rise to difficulties in this regard. I question whether the dispensation that was formulated in San Francisco in 1945 for the 20th century meets the needs of the 21st.
We must ask questions about the circumstances in which it will be legitimate to intervene in foreign countries not only to protect against direct threats to ourselves, but to sustain democracy and human rights. Where democracy and human rights are not sustained, new threats may well emerge further down the line. After all, this is not an entirely new and contemporary issue. Would it seriously be argued that, if Hitler had not invaded Poland, it would have been appropriate for the international community to stand aside while he perpetrated genocide of the Jews within Germany alone? Under international law, it is not acceptable to intervene in the affairs of another country on the grounds of disapproving of what goes on in it. We must think again about all these wide issues, which take us across the whole realm of defence, foreign policy and homeland security. Intelligence matters obviously arise in respect of all of them.
616 Ministers are going to have to engage with those issues. It is unrealistic and inappropriate to expect officials and agencies to formulate the answers. All we really know about the world's future is that it will be radically different from the past. In that light, it is difficult to develop a vision for the future. We have to ask the right questions, which needs imagination and originality. By and large, bureaucracies do not do originality or challenge orthodoxies, but Ministers must. They should lead our thinking; our security depends on it.
§ Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)
I am grateful for the opportunity to add to what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) said. He concentrated on foreign affairs, whereas I shall seek to highlight issues relating to home affairs, in line with my usual responsibilities.
I am conscious that we have had two intelligence debates in this Parliament. The first reflected back on the events of 11 September. We were concerned last year to make sure that the intelligence services were able to make an adequate contribution in response to those events. The report produced last year pointed out that we were somewhat overstretched in delivering the desired intelligence capability. One issue was whether enough people were recruited, trained and around—not least in some of the trouble spots of the world—to do the job properly.
This year, it is interesting to note that reflection has moved on to consider how we organise ourselves to collect, manage and process the information, and to make an examination of the effect of that oversight. My right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) said that there may not be a huge difference in practice between having a Select Committee or a Committee appointed by the Prime Minister. Our party has always taken the view that the scrutiny should be done by a Select Committee and I pay tribute to those Committee members, including my right hon. Friend, who serve and assist us greatly.
We appear to have made some progress this year—indeed, on this very afternoon—on the question of how the Government are to get their act together. The Government's written response to the strong view of the Intelligence and Security Committee that the ministerial committee on the intelligence services should meet regularly acknowledged that it was appropriate to have that committee, but gave no commitment to call it. As others have pointed out, it was helpful when the Minister for Europe pointed out that the long-existing committee would now meet. We have one further step to go. The Minister put it on the record that it would meet in due course, but I invite the Home Secretary to confirm in his winding-up speech that it will meet soon, and then regularly. That would reassure us all.
That is not a technical or a party-political point. The country and parliamentarians of all persuasions in both Houses would be reassured to know that our intelligence information was regularly presented to the appropriate group of people, led by the Prime Minister and supported by other Ministers, and was thus subject to regular oversight. That would support the existing role 617 of the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary and it might undermine the arguments for appointing a Minister for homeland security or a Minister in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister or the Cabinet Office dedicated to security. Such an appointment would not be as strong or effective as the current proposed arrangements, which make for proper governmental control. I hope that we are offered that final commitment either from the Home Secretary tonight in a few minutes' time, or as soon as possible from the Government or the Prime Minister himself.
This is terribly difficult territory for any state to manage, as has been noted by the right hon. Members for Newport, East (Alan Howarth) and for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot). It is about the interface between the liberty of the individual, and the power of the state to intervene in that. The most sensitive issues are involved.
If things go wrong, we criticise the authorities for not reacting fast enough, or for underreacting. Sometimes it looks as though there has been an overreaction when something goes wrong, and that there has been a compensation in the other direction. Although the Committee has not yet done its work on Iraq, the report makes it clear that it is not acceptable that reports that draw on the work of intelligence professionals—to whom we pay tribute—are not treated properly, quoted accurately or reported in a politically responsible way.
Paragraphs 80 to 82 make very clear the Committee's view on those matters, which Liberal Democrat Members endorse. Paragraph 82 states:
We believe that material produced by the Agencies can be used in publications and attributed appropriately, but it is imperative that the Agencies are consulted before any of their material is published. This process was not followed when the second dossier was produced in February 2003. Although the document did contain some intelligence-derived material it was not clearly attributed or highlighted amongst the other material, nor was it checked with the Agency providing the intelligence or cleared by the JIC prior to publication.Huge amounts of intelligence come in. If the Government and politicians of the day put information into the public domain, that information must be authenticated by the people who are its source. One criticism that we can make already is that that was clearly not done properly earlier this year in relation to Iraq.
I shall reinforce the points made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife and by the right hon. Member for North-East Hampshire briefly but firmly. It is unacceptable that people who are thought to have broken the international rules on warfare and military behaviour should not at least be brought to a place where they can be charged and processed according to the normal rules of civilisation.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife said that such people were effectively stateless, but they are not. They have fewer rights than stateless people in some ways. They have states, but no legal process applies to them. That is unacceptable. There can be nowhere on this earth where people are outwith the judicial process. The Government must do far more, for the sake of British citizens and others, to ensure that that injustice is ended.
618 I turn now to the matter of special branch and the security services. I am grateful that the Committee investigated that matter. I encourage those responsible to do two things. First, they should pick up what hon. Members of all parties have been saying—we must have a better common border force around this country. That recommendation has been made by the Home Affairs Committee. We cannot continue to have three different agencies—the police, Customs and Excise and the immigration service—and also have the special branch in a particular role.
§ Simon Hughes
The special branch, as the hon. Gentleman says, is often not where it is needed. Lord Carlile of Berriew made that very point about many airports and seaports.
My second point concerns something that arises out of reading between the lines of the report. Perhaps the Committee could not agree on the matter, but we need to review whether every police force has a special branch. It seems to me that the time for that has come. Some forces are small, some are very big, as the report notes. Only the Metropolitan force has special dedicated funds for its special branch. Other forces have to take account of the other pressures that they face. If the special branch forces do a special job, we need to allow them to do that job in a proper and guaranteed way.
We may need to have a further debate to work out how regional special branch forces could be set up. Accountability is essential, but it is possible that regional assemblies will be set up in the north-east, north-west, Yorkshire and Humberside in the next five years. Perhaps regional special branch forces should be set up in those places first. We in London have a regional special branch, and regional government. I believe that the present regime, in which police forces have a special branch but no guaranteed funds for it, is beginning to fail the country.
An interesting point was made about Foreign Office official advice. That advice is important; it is now up to date and adequately updated. However, as I have said to the Foreign Secretary, if we tell people that they should not visit countries because they are unsafe and there are civil disturbances and difficulties, it is inconsistent that such countries are placed on a white list and their citizens cannot be treated as necessarily having a prima facie case for leaving and seeking asylum elsewhere. We cannot have it both ways. If a country is not safe for us due to internal disorder, it cannot be safe for its own citizens either. We cannot continue that inconsistency.
Lastly, on recruitment and retention, vacancies and training, it is worrying that, although we appear to have recruited most of the people we need, especially for difficult areas of the world, there are still gaps in intelligence in certain parts of the world, as the report highlights and as my hon. Friends have pointed out. If we are deficient in collecting, analysing and assessing intelligence from key areas of the world that are necessary for our national security, the resources needed to deliver that must be produced.
619 Some of us argue that we may need to look again at the Government structures that deal with these and other matters. My plea is that we learn the lessons of this year, last year and previous years. If there is to be major restructuring of Government, let us not do it on the back of an envelope, driven by personalities and on the basis of three days of turmoil and a year of regret and recrimination. Let us do it in an orderly way: take evidence, proceed carefully and get it right. The intelligence and security services and the Departments that administer them deserve nothing less.
§ Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)
Hon. Members may be interested to know that when the Joint Intelligence Committee was founded in 1936, it was as a sub-committee of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, although even at that time—as in later years—it had a Foreign Office Chairman. In 1976, in the course of researching Chiefs of Staff Committee material, I came across a JIC document, which—if only, if only—might have been the research discovery of a lifetime. That document, a copy of which I have before me, was entitled, "Use of Special Intelligence by Official Historians", and had been lying undiscovered in the Public Record Office files for four years, having been inadvertently released with a mass of other material in 1972. It did nothing less than reveal the entire Ultra secret.
The document explained that when official historians came to compare captured German documents with the timings of orders given to allied forces in our own records, they would come to the inescapable conclusion that this could have been done only as a result of our being able to read the enemy's ciphers. As a result, the following instructions were given to the head historians in the Cabinet Office and in each of the three service Ministries:It is imperative that the fact that such intelligence was available should NEVER be disclosed—(a) even though European hostilities have now ceased"—the document was dated 20 July 1945—(b) even after the conclusion of the far eastern war.The historians were instructed:Not to probe too deeply into the reasons for apparently unaccountable operational orders being issued … To observe absolute and complete reticence concerning these matters even amongst themselves.They certainly did that.
Why was that never quite the research discovery of a lifetime? Because two years earlier, in 1974—two years after the document had been inadvertently released to the PRO, but two years before I was lucky enough to discover it—F.W. Winterbotham blew the lid off the Ultra secret by publishing his book on that subject. So my little moment of glory as an academic historian was, in a sense, snuffed out before it even began.
Churchill described the work of Bletchley Park as having been carried out by people whom he characterised as:The geese that laid the golden eggs and never cackled.How things have changed. What we are concerned about now is not whether Alastair Campbell wins, or Andrew Gilligan wins, because the real losers of the 620 present controversy will be the intelligence services themselves, given the damage that has been done to the ethos of the JIC.
I took the trouble to use a bit of modern technology, called LexisNexis, which is a newspaper database that hon. Members can access through the Library. I did a little search for the words, "Joint Intelligence Committee", and I have to tell the House that, in the 10 years from 1982 to the beginning of 1992—which includes the first Gulf war—there were just 99 references to the JIC in British newspapers. Even in the 10 years from the beginning of 1992 to the beginning of 2002—which includes the events of 11 September—there were only 431 such references. However, in the 18 months from January 2002 until now—in that year and a half alone—there have been a massive 502 references, of which 347 were in the past six months. [HoN. MEMBERS: "What is your point?"] My point is that, as a result of the misbehaviour over the dodgy dossier, the JIC has become a matter of common currency and political controversy.
I refer to a brief and apparently well-informed report inThe Guardian on 1 July, which states:Downing Street's determination to publish a dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction provoked serious divisions in the intelligence agencies, senior Whitehall officials disclosed yesterday … The trouble, say officials, is that No 10 wanted to use intelligence as a trump card for war.Worse than that is the report, published by the BBC on 6 June, which states that No. 10 sent back the weapons dossier to intelligence chiefs no fewer than six times for alteration. I quote from that report:A source close to British intelligence has told BBC diplomatic correspondent Barnaby Mason that Downing Street returned draft versions of the dossier to the Joint Intelligence Committee 'six to eight times' … Responding to Barnaby Mason's report, Mr Blair's office again said no pressure had been put on the intelligence services to change the document.That is not saying, of course, that the document had not been sent back on that number of occasions.
Indeed, on Friday 27 June, the Foreign Secretary stated in his evidence to the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs that Mr. Campbell was preparinga detailed summary of the exchanges between him and the JIC—saying 'Can I suggest this? What about that?'—and the response from the JIC, which will give you, as it were, the most complete and accurate running commentary on that process.The idea that the JIC should have to bandy words with a professional propagandist, such as Alastair Campbell, about what should go into its reports is deeply subversive of the integrity of the intelligence services. It contrasts very clearly with the work of the information research department, which was set up by the Attlee Government and used during the cold war to put into the public domain information that could be used publicly, although it had been gathered from intelligence sources. The IRD gave that information to the Government and journalists for them to use without reference to the fact that it had come from the intelligence services in the first place. In other words, the information stood or fell on its own merits and on the reputation of the people who published it. I am afraid 621 that the result of what has gone wrong with the undermining of the independence of the JIC is that nobody will believe the Prime Minister again when he cites intelligence sources; no one will trust him next time military action is needed; and it will become harder for the Opposition to take at face value Government assurances on intelligence matters in the future as we were content to do in the past. The Joint Intelligence Committee should have approved what facts could be used by the Government. The dossier or dossiers should have been published as the position of the Government. In my view, the name and the status of the Joint Intelligence Committee should not have been compromised by being referred to in these dossiers in any way, shape or form. When a secret intelligence service is treated in such a fashion, it is in danger of losing both secrecy and intelligence on one hand, and its ability to provide a service on the other.
Whatever the answers were as to whether Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and as to whether the stocks that were made were destroyed, concealed or exported, they would more easily have been found had the proper steps been taken to secure secret documentation immediately after the fall of Saddam.
In the brief time that I have left, I shall turn once again to the testimony of Ibrahim al-Marashi, the researcher, as I said in an earlier intervention, whose work was plagiarised in the second dossier—popularly known as the dodgy dossier. You will recall, Madam Deputy Speaker, that his testimony was that 90 per cent. of that second dossier came from his article, and from two other articles inJane's Intelligence Review. On the question of documentation, he was asked by the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee:Is it fair to say that the Iraqi regime was extremely meticulous in its bookkeeping?In reply to that question—question 721 on page 51 of the uncorrected transcript—he stated:
Any incident, no matter how minuscule, was recorded in the Iraqi intelligence files. I will just give you an example. A solider deserted to Saudi Arabia. They even knew he had six bullets in the cartridge of his Kalashnikov rifle. This is how minutely Iraqi intelligence kept track of matters. If they could keep track of how many bullets are in a Kalashnikov rifle it is most likely that key documentation or evidence of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programme or any other kind of programme or human rights abuses were documented in Iraq. It was a bureaucracy that kept a record of almost anything that was of any significance or insignificance in Iraq.I conclude by reminding the House once again what I stated in successive questions to the Foreign Secretary, the Defence Secretary and the Prime Minister. It is an appalling breach of competence, common sense and the normal arrangements made for any invading army that the coalition did not make it their top priority to go into the Iraqi intelligence headquarters and the Iraqi Foreign Ministry to get those documents that could have resolved these questions. We now know that 13 days after the fall of Baghdad those headquarters had still not been secured, and that the BBC,The Daily Telegraph and other reporters were going in and rifling through files that anybody could take away. That level of incompetence is totally incomprehensible. An 622 intelligence objectives sub-committee should have been in place to ensure that those documents were targeted. If the Government are suffering now from their failure to find what they are seeking in Iraq, they have only their own incompetence to blame.
§ Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset)
In response to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) just made, which has been coming at us throughout the debate in repeated ways, I want to add a brief observation before turning to the other issues that have concerned us. The point was at least heavily implied by the powerful contribution made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo).
We all await the outcome of the Intelligence and Security Committee's report on Iraq. We, and certainly I, have all been considerably reassured by the statements made by members of the Committee of all parties that they have no intention of allowing themselves to become an instrument of the Government to the remotest degree when producing the report. However, we know something now without having to await that report. We know that what the Prime Minister told the House about that infamous dossier was not correct. We know that he said that it was an intelligence document becauseHansard shows that, and we know that it was, in great part, not that.
We hope, and expect, that that was a case of the Prime Minister inadvertently misleading the House. A remedy is always available for a Minister who inadvertently misleads the House and the House will always generously accept it. Such a Minister may come to the House, apologise and explain. That is now necessary because it is of the utmost importance that it should be known that the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom takes seriously the question of whether Parliament has been correctly informed about a matter of vital national interest. I do not want to go any further, but that vital point will continue to be raised until the matter is resolved.
I am grateful to hon. Members who expressed the concern felt in this country about events at Guantanamo bay, including my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot), who made an extremely poignant speech, and Members of all parties—members of the Committee and others. I do not complain for a second that the Home Secretary was outside the Chamber for much of the debate because he has an enormous array of duties, but if he inspectsHansard later, he will read statements about Guantanamo bay that will worry him because he is concerned about the protection of rights, as I and other hon. Members have cause to know. I am sure that he will share the worries that were expressed today, and I hope that answers will be provided to the carefully judged and important questions that were asked about what is going on. If this debate stands as the moment at which the House first registered that concern, it will be of some historic significance.
A third aspect that became apparent during the debate, which was expressed especially clearly in the important contribution made by my hon. Friend the 623 Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates), was the value that the House attaches to the Committee's work—notwithstanding the trenchant critique made by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay). We all recognise the significant constraints under which the Committee necessarily operates, and I take to heart the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire about not being too ready to poke fun at the asterisks. We all understand that it is inevitable that what the Committee may publish will be restricted to an extent.
Perhaps the very existence of the Committee is its most important feature. The fact that the intelligence community knows that there is a serious group of people—they are chosen because they are serious Members of the House—to whom it has a responsibility to be rather open acts as the constraint that the House needs to exercise on it to ensure that, above all, it acts properly. It is a notable feature of this report and the two previous reports—the only three that I have had the pleasure to read—that there is no criticism of the propriety of the security and intelligence services' operation. I take it that one of the main reasons why there is no such criticism is that the services consider themselves to be accountable to the Government, the House and, above all, the Committee.
I want to raise a matter that has not been mentioned, except in a glancing reference by the Chairman of the ISC, the right hon. Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor). I hope that the Committee will consider it in its succeeding deliberations. I must admit that everything that I am about to say is based on the profoundest ignorance. I cannot know that about which I am about to speak. Indeed, I do not want to know that about which I am about to speak. However, I hope that the Committee will put itself in a position where it can know and reassure itself about such matters.
Let us assume that with the new joint terrorism analysis centre arrangements and the JIC, which is above it, the intelligence that will hereafter be gathered and analysed in relation to terrorism will be perfect. I do not assume that it can ever be perfect, but for the purposes of argument, let us assume it to be so. Nevertheless, the agencies will not fulfil the role that the Chairman, rightly, led us to believe is its most important—warning of and preventing events—unless something else occurs.
The intelligence itself, and the perfect analysis of that intelligence, is useless by itself. If it sits in a file in Whitehall, nothing flows from it. If we are, as the head of the Security Service publicly warned us recently, likely to face an unconventional attack, it is critical that we know how to respond. The Home Secretary will complain that for the past 18 months, I have persistently rabbited on about the fact that I do not believe that our preparedness to contain and deal with the after-effects of such an attack is at a sufficiently high level. However, that is not my concern today.
My point is that when the intelligence is amassed and analysed, it must be effectively conveyed to the people who are responsible for containment and protection thereafter. Those people are numerous. They include the many hospitals in the national health service; the many fire services around the country, which are the front line 624 of containment and protection; the many police forces; and the ambulance services. A large number of people are involved in those services.
I know, the Home Secretary knows, the Deputy Prime Minister knows and anyone who has either to shadow or to run any of the Departments that relate to those people knows, that the systems of communication within the services are highly imperfect. I do not level that as an accusation against this Government or previous Governments. The fact is that when one deals with hundreds of thousands of people, it is extraordinarily difficult to find near-perfect methods of communication.
I do not know, and I do not want to know, what is happening, but I do want to know that the Committee knows what is going on and that it is sure that an adequate transmission mechanism is in place. When and where we find relatively detailed and specific intelligence about the possibility, above all, of an unconventional attack, I want to be sure that that information is conveyed in a useable and effective form—fast—to the places where it needs to be used to protect lives in this country.
I hope that when we consider the report next year, we find that the Committee has investigated that enormously important subject. It alone has the capacity to do that. We clearly cannot allow the House to debate those matters openly. To know that there are gaps in the transmission mechanism and where they are would be an open invitation to terrorists. That is why only the Committee can investigate that matter. I hope that it takes on the task. If it does, it will earn the plaudits that it rightly gained this year and last year.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett)
I reiterate the thanks of and the comments made by hon. Friend the Minister for Europe, who has gone off to Gibraltar. He was standing in for my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, who I hope is a great deal better than he was at lunchtime.
I, too, pay tribute to the Chair and members of the Intelligence and Security Committee, who have done another first-rate job. I thank everyone who has contributed to the debate. I only have a short time in which to reply to the many questions that have been raised. In thanking those in the intelligence and security services; those in the counter-terrorism branch and the police; those who have established the new Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, which we launched a couple of weeks ago; and those who have been working diligently behind the scenes, including those in the Cabinet Office, I want to make it clear in response to the remarks of the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), that over the past two years we have been moving to a more joined-up system. That is why JTAC has been established. It is why lessons have been learned. It is why communication, as in the case of a committee that I chaired earlier this week, involves the police, the fire service, the ambulance service and those representing the nations and regions of Britain. It is why we need to ensure that as well as highly effective intelligence that is well analysed and properly assessed and disseminated, we also have in place measures that provide resilience. I 625 am pleased to welcome the fact that my hon. Friend the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration will be assisting me on counter-terrorism and resilience issues. I am not entirely sure who the new shadow homeland security spokesman will be reporting to, but I welcome him as well and hope that he assists the shadow Home Secretary as effectively as my hon. Friend will assist me.
Today, we have issued an updated statement building on the reports that I gave to Parliament on 3 and 20 March and the report on my visit to the United States on 2 April, all of which sought to reinforce not only the steps that we have been taking but communication to the public. We have today updated the website, which has already had about 326,000 hits, as they say, since we put it online in March. I hope that we shall be able to build on that effectively for the future, as we are doing with hard copy in libraries throughout Britain. That is to meet a point that has legitimately been made about access to the internet by those who do not have such facilities readily available to them.
A number of Members, including the shadow Foreign Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) and the right hon. Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot), spoke about the Guantanamo bay prisoners. We take that issue extremely seriously. It is not my intention on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to make a detailed announcement this afternoon. However, it must be said that we have been making detailed and constant representations, that we are aware of the real concerns that exist and that we know that we must find a solution. In response to the right hon. Member for North-East Hampshire, it is important that we are establishing the basis of the continuing custody. It is not simply a matter of the Geneva convention; it is about whether the detainees form a particular category that would be covered by the Geneva convention, and there is a difference of opinion across the world between the United States and other countries. We need to be clear about that, but it is a serious issue.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) and the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) both raised the issue of border security, as did the shadow Home Secretary. We have received a report on the reorganisation of the special branch throughout the country that that involves the question of regionalisation, and that accountability will be important in that area. We know that we must get this right. However, there is a strong difference of opinion, including that between the police and others, as to whether a unified border control taking in special branch, immigration controls, Customs and Excise and those involved in the surveillance of our coastline, would be more or less effective. If I am convinced that it would be more effective, I will recommend to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that we take that course. We are setting up a Cabinet Committee on organised crime, which I believe should have a hand in determining the recommendations of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. What we do not want to do is to disrupt existing activity, which is proving extremely effective, as has been demonstrated in recent months, in doing just that.
626 I turn to what is probably the most contentious issue of the afternoon. I am not dismissing the points made by the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo). I accept that the controversy about the 45 minutes has dislocated the trust necessary right through the system. The way in which that has been delivered by one journalist on the basis of one supposed contact has made a difference to people's perceptions. We have been clear about that. We need to clear that up, and the two Committee reports will be crucial in doing so. I wish that the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) had been here this afternoon, because at least he was honest enough inThe Times this morning—and he used to be a Minister at the Ministry of Defence, instrumental, I would think, in these particular matters—that he believed absolutely what the head of MI6 said. I just wish that other people would believe the assurances. I give that assurance, on the behalf of Eliza Manningham-Buller, the head of the security service for which I am answerable to the Prime Minister.
Let us be clear about what has been said this afternoon. An allegation has been made that the Prime Minister, in the words of the shadow Foreign Secretary, duped the House. An allegation has been made about the House being duped or misled—inadvertently or otherwise was added as an afterthought—on the basis of what was said in the Prime Minister's statement on 3 February. Much reference has been made to it, but little has been read out. On 3 February, the Prime Minister began a paragraph by talking about the issues of further intelligence over the previous days, and concluded:In the dossier that we published last year,"—the September document—and again in the material"—not the details of what the security services provided—that was put out over the weekend,"—the so-called "dodgy dossier"—it is very clear that a vast amount of concealment and deception is going on."—[Official Report, 3 February 2003; Vol. 399, c. 25.]It was. That was indeed going on in the September dossier—that is not being questioned—and was also going on in the material published or put out the weekend before the statement by the Prime Minister on 3 February. What is it in that paragraph in that statement of 3 February that so misled the House that it has taken the Opposition four weeks since spring bank holiday a month ago—that is when Andrew Gilligan made his allegation just before 7 o'clock in the morning on the "Today" programme—to decide that the Prime Minister had duped the House? They made a cause célèbre of it this afternoon because they wanted to stage a publicity stunt around our debate. I consider that a disgrace, and an affront to the House and to the intelligence of Members and to the Intelligence and Security Committee, which has done diligent work, and continues to do so, in getting to the truth and presenting it to the House and the nation.
§ Mr. Ancram
The Home Secretary has accused us of only raising that this afternoon, but I have raised it in every interview that I have given since I heard evidence in the Foreign Affairs Committee where, for the first time, it was disclosed that that document was not an 627 intelligence document. The fact that the right hon. Gentleman has not noticed that is, I am afraid, his fault—it is not my fault for not having raised it.
§ Mr. Blunkett
There was no doubt whatsoever about the status of that document, which has been debated time and time again. It was questioned on 18 March when the House debated the issue of whether we should commit ourselves with the United States to conflict in Iraq, and it has been questioned over and over again. The sources were absolutely clear, and people have commented on that. I commented on it myself two months ago on the "Today" programme, so I am taking no lectures from the shadow Foreign Secretary about what he did, or did not, pick up from the Select Committee's investigation. There was a stunt this afternoon, and a pretty poor one at that.
Let me turn briefly to the critical issue raised by the ISC. Intelligence is critical to our safety, and for 30 years we have relied on it to deal with attacks from Ireland. It is important that the intelligence services are able to look ahead, and not merely at the immediacy of firewalls and ensuring that we are protected at the moment. We need to take a long-term view, and we both need and rely on the intelligence services. They have done a first-rate job, and so has the ISC, and I commend its report to the House.
§ Mr. John Heppell (Nottingham, East)
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.