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Security Forces

Volume 405: debated on Wednesday 21 May 2003

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5.

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the political controls over undercover operations mounted by the security forces in the Province. [113805]

Operational control rests with the responsible agency, but all operations are properly authorised within a statutory regulatory framework. We have always required public authorities to act within established guidelines when using covert human intelligence sources.

Order. There is noise from both sides of the Chamber. It is discourteous to hon. Members who are asking questions that so much conversation is going on.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

My right hon. Friend said earlier that trust is a vital element in the rebuilding of the stalled peace process. I am sure that he agrees that the disclosures of the Stevens inquiry and the revelations of the activities of Stakeknife will do nothing to aid that process. Will he give a guarantee that, in the wake of the Stevens inquiry, any steps that he takes will be based on increasing the accountability and transparency of the security forces? Will he assure us that he will take all possible steps to stamp out subversive murderous activity by paramilitaries sponsored by security forces?

I said earlier that I do not believe that the peace process has been adversely affected in any way by what has occurred over the past few weeks. We have put procedures in place through the Stevens report and the Cory inquiry to deal with those matters. My hon. Friend will be aware that this Government enacted the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, which provides a legislative framework governing the use and authorisation of covert investigation techniques. In addition, we set up the Intelligence and Security Committee of both Houses.

Although building trust in Northern Ireland is important, saving lives is even more important. Will the Secretary of State join me in giving support to the intelligence services in Northern Ireland? Let us not forget that they were fighting what was called a war against one of the most sophisticated terrorist organisations in the world, which was extremely tight and difficult to infiltrate. As a result of that infiltration, hundreds of innocent people are alive today in Northern Ireland.

Yes, I agree with that. I also agree that there have been three decades of conflict and division in Northern Ireland and that, inevitably, awful things have happened during that time. I agree with the main thrust of the hon. Gentleman's point, and I know that he agrees with me, too, that the intelligence services have to operate within guidelines laid down by this House of Commons and by the Government.

Is the Secretary of State concerned that intelligence sources appear to have been prejudiced by leaks from official sources?

I deprecate leaks of any type that might endanger the process. I have said in earlier answers, however, that I believe that the process in Northern Ireland is sufficiently robust to withstand such allegations.