Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for being here for both my first and second outings at the Dispatch Box. I am extremely grateful that Mr Speaker granted the statement and that it follows the urgent question. Again, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns), who took over the chairmanship of the Foreign Affairs Committee from me, not only for the urgent question but for her work over many years in standing up for our freedoms.
I would like to make a statement on national security and safeguarding our democracy. In this new era of global competition, we face constant and concerted efforts to undermine our country and our institutions. A range of actors, including foreign states, are trying to weaken us, to challenge us and to exploit us. We are not alone. It is the burden of liberty shared by democracies around the world. The evidence of that is clear and, sadly, indisputable. Dictatorships are trying to write new rules for a new world. Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine is a terrible example of the growing threat from hostile states to our security. Russia is attacking not just a free people but a free world.
Our integrated review, published last year, makes clear the threat that we are facing. This is not a simple clash of armour but a clash of ideas. Across our society, we are seeing the challenge grow and evolve to pose a strategic threat to the security and prosperity of our nation for many years to come. A generation ago, we had the answer: our technology and our wallets were greater than theirs. Today, technological integration has deepened connections and opened doors into areas of our lives that we once thought closed. Now, as our markets integrate, we need to think about the future of our industry and innovation. Our economic security guarantees our economic sovereignty just as our democratic security guarantees our freedom.
The advanced technologies that our rivals have spent time and money developing have levelled the field and made us more vulnerable. Britain has been on the frontline of the defence of liberty for generations. Our agencies and businesses have faced the reality of this danger for decades. Our Parliament and our politics are now no different. Whether as Ministers or shadow Ministers, on Committee or when leading a campaign, this is about every party and every Member of the House. We have all heard of the attempts of unfriendly states to influence our politics in recent years and of the actions that the security officers of the House have had to take to defend us. They are not working alone. I want to put on record my admiration and gratitude to those who work hard to keep us safe in the House and around the country, because while others are on the frontline of our nation, those of us privileged to be elected—at every level and in every community—are on the frontline of our democracy.
I am here to make it clear that the Government are, and always will be, here to protect our freedoms, and none is more precious than the freedom of our nation to determine its own future. That is, after all, what democracy is about. It is the debate in towns and villages—in person and online—of free people in a free country searching for answers to the problems that we all face. As all of us know, it does not always go our way, but it is the freedom to choose that we all defend. We are taking action to address these threats.
Just as our counter-terrorism legislation in the early 2000s updated the necessary legal powers that our police and security services needed to tackle the growing threat of terrorism, we are enhancing our ability to defend against hostile states and those acting on their behalf. The National Security Bill, which is currently before the House, will give us the powers we need today for the threats that we face now. It will be the most significant piece of legislation to tackle the incursion of state-based threats to our nation in a century. Those actors threaten not just life but our way of life. We have to work even harder to protect and uphold our freedom and the institutions that defend it. From establishing our Defending Democracy programme in 2019 to the continuous work by the National Cyber Security Centre, we have sought to address that, but we must do more. That is why I can announce to the House that the Prime Minister has asked me to lead a taskforce to drive forward work to defend the democratic integrity of our country. The taskforce will work with Parliament, Departments, the security and intelligence agencies, the devolved Administrations and the private sector. It will work to better protect the freedoms and institutions we hold dear—institutions such as this very House.
The taskforce will look at the full range of threats facing our democratic institutions, including the physical threat to Members of this Parliament and those elected to serve across the country, so tragically brought home by the murder of our dear friends Sir David Amess last year and Jo Cox in 2016, and the support on offer through Operation Bridger and by the police. The work of this Taskforce will report into the National Security Council and more details will be set out in the update of the integrated review.
This is not just a taskforce for this Government. It will be cross-departmental and inter-agency, and I will be inviting cross-party co-operation, because, as I have said, this is not just about Ministers in office, civil servants or advisers across Whitehall. This work is for all of us in this House and those who have asked us to represent their interests. The Government have robust systems in place to protect against cyber threats. We are vigilant in ensuring that these are up to date and meet the challenges of the modern world. The National Cyber Security Centre, Government and parliamentary security offer all Members specific advice on protecting personal data and managing online profiles, as well as best practice guidance. I am grateful to Mr Speaker for agreeing to write to all parliamentarians on that important issue.
Finally, it is important to end by underlining that tackling these threats means providing the protection that defends our democratic institutions and the liberties that we cherish so dearly, because the point of security is not to lock us down but to liberate. My job as Security Minister of this great United Kingdom is to give us all the security to live our lives freely, and to debate and choose our future, guarded by the laws and freedoms of our nation. That is my guiding principle. I commend this statement to the House.
I welcome the statement from the Minister for Security. I know this is an issue that he personally takes very seriously. It is the first job of every Government to defend our national security from hostile states who wish to do our country harm and who strain every sinew to do so with the most sophisticated technology and resources, and from malign actors and extremists, both here and abroad, who want to do us harm and undermine both our democracy and everything we stand for. We pay tribute to the remarkable work of our intelligence and security services who work so hard to keep us safe.
I welcome the Minister’s announcement. We will support the taskforce and its work to defend democracy against a wide range of threats. I welcome the work on physical threats. We remember with great sadness our lost friends Jo Cox and David Amess. Can the Minister clarify that the taskforce will work on how to protect all our democratic institutions against foreign interference? Will it look at cyber-security and, in particular, the way the Government have been operating? While I welcome the seriousness of the statement and the seriousness with which the Minister has delivered it, he will know that it is a far cry from the way successive Cabinet Ministers have responded, and from the lack of seriousness and the carelessness and complacency that we have seen on some of these cyber-security issues.
Conservative Ministers were all warned in guidance after the 2019 election:
“You should not use your personal devices, email and communications applications for Government business at any classification”.
Yet many of them at the highest level ignored it. If we take the last Prime Minister but one, who left office just a few months ago, the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) took a trip without officials at the height of the Skripal crisis to a villa in Italy described by locals as the “Russian mountain” where he met ex-KGB agent Alexander Lebedev. He did not declare it to Foreign Office officials on his return and says he does not remember what was discussed. He had a guest with him, but he travelled home alone and has never said who the guest was. He reportedly took his phone with the same number that he still did not change even when he became Prime Minister and sent private messages on it. If this is a new era of defending democracy and security, can the Minister tell us whether the former Prime Minister took his personal phone with him on his Italy party weekend? Who was his guest and what action is now being taken to prevent that kind of thing ever happening again?
Can the Minister tell us, too, whether that Prime Minister’s successor, the next Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss) used her private phone for Government business, including contacting other international leaders? If she did, what is being done to prevent that ever happening again?
There are now questions about the current Prime Minister: he reappointed to the Cabinet as the Minister without Portfolio the right hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Gavin Williamson), who was sacked after a leak investigation over Huawei; and he reappointed the Home Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Fareham (Suella Braverman), just six days after she was sacked over a security lapse and who yesterday admitted she had used her personal email not just once but six times in the space of 43 days, all apparently because she could not make her Government IT work properly or did not have it with her. That is not adequate. And we still do not have any answer to the serious allegations about potential leaks when the Home Secretary was Attorney General, which include a briefing to The Daily Telegraph in January about an injunction that the Attorney General was seeking against the BBC in a security service case, which was then used in court to argue against the injunction. Again, if this is a new era, can the Security Minister give us a categoric response as to whether the Home Secretary when she was Attorney General—or her adviser—was involved in that leak?
The Minister will know, too, that there have been briefings and stories around with national security implications. Does he agree how incredibly unhelpful it is to our security services to have national security issues briefed in a way that appears to be about putting party interest before the national interest, and that it does not serve democracy if all these issues are not taken seriously by the person most in charge of defending our national security—the Prime Minister, followed by the Home Secretary he appoints?
Yes, we will support the Minister’s taskforce, but he will need to show us that there is some kind of grip at the heart of this Government on attitudes towards security. When we have one Prime Minister who puts security at risk to go to Italy for a party, another who allegedly used a personal phone for contacting Government Ministers, and a third who is defending his predecessors and reappointing as Home Secretary someone described on the Government’s own Back Benches as “leaky”, that undermines our national security. Our national security is too important for this kind of chaos, so what will the Minister do to ensure that the Government get a grip?
I thank the shadow Home Secretary for her very kind comments on joining the taskforce and assisting with it, because this is clearly not just a matter for the Government. As she correctly set forward, all of us in this House have responsibilities and the potential to be influenced in different ways. That is why so much of the legislation going through, on which the hon. Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) is being incredibly co-operative, such as the foreign influence registration scheme legislation, will help us to address many of those challenges. The right hon. Lady will also be aware that the National Security Bill, of which the Opposition have been so supportive in so many areas, will be important in enabling us to challenge some of these different issues.
The right hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight the fact that we all have such responsibility. Sadly, this is not just a UK matter. Sadly, it is not even a single Government or a single party matter. The reality is that we have seen the intrusion or attempted intrusion into different aspects of all our communications at different points over many, many years. This issue has grown in importance.
I am not going to comment on individual cases, because as the right hon. Lady rightly said, that would be absolutely unhelpful. It would be completely wrong of me to use, for any private party advantage, comments on anything that the agencies have told me in private. She herself has been extremely gracious in accepting briefings on Privy Council terms, and she has, completely correctly, guarded the privacy of them. I know that she has responded to those in exactly the appropriate way, so I place on record my enormous thanks to her for her extreme co-operation in what is fundamentally a matter of national security.
I will bring forward further proposals on the taskforce and would welcome the right hon. Lady’s thoughts, because there is an awful lot that we must do together. Sadly, the next few years are likely to be more challenging than the last. The indications are not great, as she knows. We need to work together. This is not about one party or one Government; it is about defending the British people’s right to choose their future democratically and freely, without the influence of foreign states.
May I start by apologising to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to the House for the fact that I will not be able to stay for the remainder of the statement, as I would normally wish to do?
I congratulate my right hon. Friend again on his new responsibilities. I remind him that, in 2013, extensive new legislation gave considerably greater powers to the intelligence and security agencies. In return for that, an understanding was reached—and there was a memorandum of understanding—between the Prime Minister and the Intelligence and Security Committee that we would have oversight of the various agencies that had improved and increased powers; and that, as the situation changes, we would continue to have oversight of new organisations of the sort that he is announcing today. Will he confirm that the elements of the taskforce’s activities that involve, for scrutiny, access to classified information will fall under the purview of the Intelligence and Security Committee; and that he will break the bad practice that was brought in by the last but one Prime Minister of farming such matters out to ordinary parliamentary Select Committees, which, with the best will in the world, cannot conduct the scrutiny properly because they lack the secure facilities and suitably cleared staff?
I thank the Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, who knows well the importance that I place on Committees. I merely challenge him on one small aspect: there is no such thing as an ordinary Committee in this House. All of them are select and are selected by the House for the purposes that they have been asked to investigate. I make absolutely clear my commitment to work with his Committee and the Committees of others, as relevant, to ensure that the necessary democratic oversight of Government is complete.
I thank the Minister for his statement. Like him and the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), I pay tribute to all those working so hard to protect us.
We all wish the Minister well in his work to strengthen national security and we will work constructively with him to that end. In principle, a taskforce is welcome; the devil will be in the detail and the proof in the pudding. For example, will he tell us more about the timescale and how its membership will be appointed, and will he say more about the participation of devolved Governments in it?
Although we acknowledge that the Minister takes national security incredibly seriously, he will appreciate that lots of questions are still outstanding about his colleagues. As we heard, the former Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary had her phone hacked, apparently revealing highly sensitive discussions and information. Her predecessor had his phone number freely available online for 15 years, and had a meeting with a former KGB agent without officials. A Home Secretary has resigned in recent days over her use of personal phones and emails for official business, only to be reappointed within days. Recent High Court papers suggested that “government by WhatsApp” was the norm. A taskforce is all well and good, but those questions must be answered.
I appreciate that the Minister cannot say much at the Dispatch Box about the hacking of the former Prime Minister’s phone, but can he reassure us that steps are being taken to ensure that nothing similar happens again? Does he agree that there should be some form of inquiry into that incident and will he commit to full co-operation with that? Will he say whether government by WhatsApp is still considered appropriate? Will he confirm the status of the documents that the Home Secretary sent to her private email?
Finally, what steps is the Minister taking to reassure our international partners? We know that they take a dim view of the security mess at the heart of the Government. Frankly, how can we expect them to share anything with us when too many of his colleagues appear to be playing fast and loose with what they are told?
I thank the Scottish National party spokesman for his co-operative tone in regard to how we will work together on this issue. I will set out details and be in touch with the devolved Governments and Administrations to make sure that their views are fully taken into account and that the important different needs of different devolved areas are respected and play fully into the taskforce.
It is essential that we recognise that, sadly, this is not simply a matter for the United Kingdom. The reality is that the points that the hon. Gentleman made also apply to friends and partners around the world. We have seen very significant reports of intrusion and intervention into electronic communications in other countries. Sadly, that includes France, where President Macron set out his issues with Russian hostile activity at the time of the general election only a few years ago; and there are other such reports in other jurisdictions.
We are working together with friends and partners on this issue, because the reality is that the defence of democracy does not stop at the United Kingdom coast but continues in depth when we work with partners and allies. We will only be safe when we support others to guarantee their freedoms so that ours are even more secure.
First and foremost, there is no question that in the Government and even in Parliament we have become incredibly sloppy about any idea of security. The carrying of telephones—just switched off—into meetings is a security risk, because they can be switched back on and used as microphones. We know that. I have seen Government Ministers carrying telephones into meetings in their back pocket. That should be stopped. All those phones should be taken off them. We can do many things, and GCHQ is very clear about the penetration of our enemies into our space.
My main point is that in all of this—the Minister is reviewing the integrated review—why in heaven’s name was China not seen as a threat when we did the original review? This is about everything it does, such as the trashing of Hong Kong, the Uyghurs, taking over the South China seas and the attacks on people like me and others, including the Minister, as sanctionees. Will he make sure, first of all, that we lift China back into that bracket as a threat, treat them as a threat and do not excuse it? For those of us who are sanctioned, it would be marvellous if the Foreign Office or even Parliament were capable of giving us any advice about what happens to our families when they have to travel. I find it remarkable that when we ask them that question, we have no idea of what limitations that poses on us, even today.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments. He is absolutely right to cite the fact that China has become a long-term strategic threat. I am afraid that I cannot answer on why it was not raised before; I have only just joined the Government, as he knows.
The question of security is so important for all of us. The National Cyber Security Centre and Parliament’s security office have been extremely open in helping any Member, Minister, shadow Minister, official or staffer who seeks advice on that matter. I pay enormous tribute to the security officer for her work and the way in which she has assisted many of us at different points to realise the threats that are against us and how to best protect ourselves.
Let me make this commitment absolutely clear: there is no defence of democracy without defending every Member of the House. Whichever party we are from and whichever cause we champion, we are here because free people chose us to be here. It is our responsibility to make sure that that freedom endures in the work and in the voices that we hold.
I again welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his post and the commitment that he is showing to try to get together a cross-party approach to his taskforce. National security is absolutely crucial. It is the job not just of the Government, but of each and every one of us in this House—in the Opposition and on the Government Benches—to take that seriously. Will the Minister bring updates on the work of the taskforce to the House so that we can scrutinise its work? Also, what level of information will Members be provided with given the sensitivity of some of the subjects that he will look at?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his entirely correct assessment that this is not just about the Government. Actually, it is not just about this House, but about many of the businesses that support us in various ways and many of the businesses that we are privileged to represent in the communities that we are lucky enough to serve. I absolutely agree that this is a matter for all of us.
I also pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for the tone in which he has approached the issue, because the reality is that I will have to bring—in fact, will willingly bring—reports back to the House, but some of them may be caveated. They may not include some details that Members would quite understandably ask for, but which may not be appropriate for wider reading, for reasons that the hon. Gentleman understands and has already expressed. I assure him that I will ensure that this House is able, in the appropriate way, to scrutinise the work that I conduct on behalf of our people and our country.
What urgent action will the Government take so that we grow more of our own food, produce more of our own oil and gas, and refill our depleted reservoirs? Having more domestic supply of the basics is now fundamental to national security, given the obvious threats from Russia and others.
I will not comment on the details of the taskforce, but I think I can safely say that that is a little beyond even what I was hoping for. I will not go into details, except to say that my right hon. Friend is absolutely right: the reality is that supply chains in our country and around the world have changed as covid has influenced different issues, and sadly the nature of the decoupling that some states have sought to pursue has changed the way in which we must consider our own security.
One area of Government policy that I suggest would benefit from the fresh eyes of the Minister is the need for a whistleblower defence under the National Security Bill. The Minister may be aware that an amendment will be moved on Report; it might facilitate the Bill’s passage if he met me and other hon. Members behind the amendment before then.
The right hon. Gentleman makes his point extremely clearly. He knows that the new Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), is responsible for the Bill alongside me and has his own views on the subject. No doubt my hon. Friend will be extremely willing to meet the right hon. Gentleman. If not, I shall.
I welcome my right hon. Friend to his place; he is a great champion of freedom and his taskforce is an excellent idea. To protect our democracy, it is vital that we protect those who work in our democratic institutions, especially all Members of this House, from misinformation, cyber-attacks and online attacks. It is also vital that we continue to work with other countries, because it is only by working together that we can champion democracy and let democracy prevail. Does my right hon. Friend agree?
I pay enormous tribute to my right hon. Friend, whose work in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office was incredibly important in championing democracy and freedom around the world. Indeed, some of her work that was not always celebrated was in championing journalism. One thing we should recognise fully is that democracy does not work without a free press: I know that I am going to regret these words, but what they write and how they write it are as much a part of our democratic institutions as the words that we use in this Chamber. Making sure that our press is free and without influence is as important to democracy as making sure that we are, too.
I warmly welcome the Minister to his important new role. He and I have spent many years safeguarding the security of information; these are matters that I know he takes very seriously, and I wish him well in the role.
Because I know the Minister takes these matters so seriously, I want to return briefly to the shadow Home Secretary’s point about the importance of doing the right thing and the importance of personal conduct. In addition to the measures that the Minister has outlined to the House today, there is an absolute requirement for a vigilant mindset among all Members of this House, but most critically among Ministers, who need to show leadership in the area. Does he agree that when it comes to matters of national security, everyone—everyone—must adhere to the protective regime or be deprived of access and removed from their position if necessary? Those are the rules, and everyone should follow them at all times.
May I take a moment to pay enormous tribute to my friend? We met in Helmand about 16 years ago, when he was commanding a unit that I was sent to check up on. Well, he is checking up on me now—and he is quite right to hold me to account for my words, as I was sent to hold him to account for his actions back then. He is absolutely right. I know that his bedtime reading is the US army field manual: the first words are “Every day, do one thing to improve your defensive position.”
I welcome my right hon. Friend to his place. It was a pleasure to serve with him on the National Security Bill Committee. I also welcome the taskforce that he has set out.
Last week, a number of us went with the armed forces parliamentary scheme to Shrivenham, where we not only heard from some of the leading experts in cyber in our armed forces, but saw the new Defence Cyber Academy, which was announced only a few weeks ago by the Defence Secretary. Will the Minister work with our armed forces on cyber to protect British companies and our institutions from Russian and Chinese cyber-attacks that put our national security at risk?
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words and for his work on the Bill Committee; he has been an absolute stalwart on the issue and has been a very dear friend for a lot longer. I also pay tribute to the armed forces parliamentary scheme and its work to make Members of this House aware of the various ways in which the armed forces play such a vital role in our national life. My hon. Friend’s comments on cyber awareness are absolutely correct, and I agree with every word.
As the Democratic Unionist party spokesman for home affairs, may I express my personal delight at seeing the Minister in his place? I hope that when he is constructing this welcome taskforce, he will recognise that our recent history and our contemporary position in Northern Ireland mean that we have a contribution to make.
The Minister and I were elected at the same time. Since then, we have had the strategic defence and security review, the modernising defence programme, the national security capability review and the integrated review, which formed part of his statement. There are two common threads in those four exercises: the threats get bigger, but the budget remains the same. Does he have an assurance at this stage that if the taskforce brings forward a new programme of work to address emerging threats, it will have the associated budget to tackle them?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. As he will know, not only is the voice of Ulster heard very clearly in the integrated review, but it actually holds the pen. It is a pleasure to commit to working with him and others across the United Kingdom to make sure that voices are heard. On resources, we are in the early stages: at the moment we are setting out how we can work together better, but there is an awful lot still to do.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement and warmly welcome him to his place.
In the same way that the UK took a leading role in international collaboration against the Russian invasion of Ukraine, is it taking a leading role in international collaboration against cyber-attacks by hostile actors?
My hon. Friend is quite right to talk about international co-operation, because this is not something that we can do alone. Our partners around the world are absolutely integral to our defence. Through agencies such as GCHQ and wider work through the National Cyber Security Centre, the United Kingdom has regularly been leading different forms of engagement and different ways of co-operation. My hon. Friend has my absolute commitment that that will continue and grow, because the way we extend the UK’s influence and defend ourselves is by making sure that our friends and allies are safe, too.
I welcome the Minister to his post and welcome the taskforce. While I have no reason to doubt his integrity or commitment to security, I am a little disappointed that although the shadow Home Secretary and my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) both raised the issue of the Government’s integrity with respect to security, he has not addressed it. I thought he might have taken that opportunity, given the situation with Ministers’ email use and the security issues surrounding it. We know that mobile phones and other phones are being used, we have seen the former Prime Minister going off to meet an ex-KGB agent, and there is an issue about Russian money in the Conservative party. I thought that the Minister would address the question of how we can have confidence that he and the Government will put things right to ensure that they take security within the Government seriously.
The question that I want to ask the Minister is very simple. Given that the focus has rightly been on Russia and China, on what is happening in Ukraine—obviously—and on energy security, may I suggest that it is important for us not to lose sight of the fact that we need to keep on top of the issue of how we combat terrorism? It seems to have been left on the back burner recently, but we need to know and feel more comfortable about what the Government intend to do to protect the country from terrorism.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he has said. He is absolutely right. There is, sadly, no let-up in the concern about terrorism, and we know that the fact that we do not hear of incidents does not mean they were not prevented by our fantastic agencies in various different ways. The experience that I think must be the most sobering I have had for a long time was walking into my present role and hearing an update on the threats that we face every day, and the different ways in which our fantastic agencies and the officers who serve them have been conducting themselves in order to protect us. They are absolutely the best of us, and we are blessed and honoured to have them working for us and serving our state.
As for the hon. Gentleman’s other points, he will forgive me if I do not go into details. He knows why that is. As the shadow Home Secretary correctly said, it would be inappropriate to discuss operational matters for party advantage.
As the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on cyber security, I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. I am sure he is well aware of the importance of disinformation and misinformation and the harm that it is causing to our country at the moment, whether by undermining our democracy or by spreading conspiracy theories. But if he is in any doubt about that, I recommend to him the BBC series “Death by Conspiracy?”, which shows how our constituents are being hurt, and even dying, as a result of the sharing of disinformation by, often, foreign actors.
With that in mind, will my right hon. Friend agree, within the taskforce, to look at the role of legal but harmful content and keep it under review? Will he also ensure that we look at the Computer Misuse Act 1990 and its possible reform? Some of the people who are working hard daily to keep us and our businesses safe are currently under threat of legal action just through doing their jobs.
I thank my hon. Friend for his work on the all-party parliamentary group. He is to right to highlight the threat of disinformation and, indeed, the way in which cyber is being used against us. I am not entirely sure whether it was flattery or mere coincidence that as soon as I took this job, the BBC ran a series of programmes called “The Capture” in which the Security Minister—rather better-looking than me—had managed to annoy a certain hostile power of which we have been speaking this afternoon, and was subject to a number of cyber-attacks. I very much hope it was coincidence, not prediction.
As a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee, I welcome the announcement of the Minister’s taskforce. Some of the issues he has raised were highlighted in our Russia report of 2020. I heard his commitment to the Chair of the ISC to work with him closely, but may I just say to him that, like the rest of us, he is—to use a Robin Day phrase—a here today, gone tomorrow politician? We need this taskforce’s scrutiny to be embedded in the memorandum of understanding between the Committee and the Government, because otherwise—this point was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne)—it will be impossible for much of the taskforce’s work to be scrutinised in this place.
The right hon. Gentleman is right to suggest that institutions and structures are what guard us against the “here today, gone tomorrow” whims of politicians, and that setting up such structures is the way we keep ourselves safe. Indeed, the best of our institutions have endured for hundreds of years in order to guarantee those freedoms. The right hon. Gentleman can be absolutely assured that I will be looking at ways in which we can embed such structures to ensure that we keep ourselves safe.
I congratulate the Minister and welcome him to his new role. May I ask him to answer a serious and simple question? He has made great play of cyber-security and the need for us to be technologically aware of threats. If he was made aware that a civil servant or Government employee had been sacked for sharing Government documents in personal email accounts or devices, would he sanction that person’s re-employment, even if they had apologised?
One of the reasons I have always enjoyed debating with the hon. Member is the fact that he finds new ways of asking old questions. I was delighted to hear the question, but I am afraid I am going to return to my old answer, which is that I will not comment on ongoing cases.
When it was reported in the press that the former Foreign Secretary’s phone had been hacked, the former head of MI6 said that Ministers needed to be properly educated about the use of their telephones. If we are absolutely honest—and the point has been made already today—all of us need to be properly educated about not just the use of our phones, but the use of our emails. Does the Minister agree that perhaps it is now time for us to move to a more proactive approach with Members, to ensure not only that we have the excellent advice that is available but that people are looking to make sure that we are following that advice? If the House authorities decide to go down that road, will he ensure that people with all the expertise available to him will be able to attend to give us practical advice about everything we ought to be doing to keep our part in our democracy safe?
The right hon. Gentleman has made an extremely valid point. I can assure him that any requests from parliamentary security and the excellent lead that we have in the person who currently holds the role will be looked at with extreme willingness. Any request to defend our democracy by those of us who have been privileged to be elected to this House, or indeed those who have been privileged to be elected to others, will be taken extremely seriously. The same, by the way, applies to academic freedom and to many other institutions. They are absolutely fundamental to the liberties of our country.
In her resignation letter, the Home Secretary said:
“As soon as I realised my mistake, I rapidly reported this on official channels, and informed the Cabinet Secretary.”
Nothing in that statement is correct, according to the Home Secretary’s own account when she wrote to the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee yesterday. She waited several hours, she was confronted rather than volunteering information, and she finally reported her breach of security not to the Cabinet Secretary but to her special adviser. If we are being charitable, there is a conflict between the Home Secretary’s versions of events, and surely that merits an independent investigation if we are to have confidence in the person who is primarily responsible for our national security.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. A taskforce for all the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has to be excellent news, and I welcome it.
The Northern Ireland protocol is stirring up tensions in Northern Ireland. What steps will the Minister and the Government take to deal with the people who chant in support of the IRA—the same IRA, the same fifth columnists, who want to destroy our United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and who carried out the indiscriminate murder campaign of pure evil with which they devastated Northern Ireland during the troubles—and what steps have been taken to ensure support for the Police Service of Northern Ireland at all times to combat the very real threat of terrorism from republicans or, indeed, from any mindset in Northern Ireland?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his second question today; I hope I will be privileged to take many more. He can be assured that all security policy will include the whole of the United Kingdom, and that I will be absolutely committed to working with the PSNI and numerous other police forces.
Just before I conclude the proceedings on the statement, let me say, as Chairman of the Consultative Panel on Parliamentary Security, that I wish to add my thanks to the Minister for what he has said today, and for the work to which he has dedicated himself so enthusiastically.