Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, this is the second opportunity I have had to report on the work of the committee to this House and to open the debate as the Lords member of the Intelligence and Security Committee. It is a welcome innovation that we now have debates on the report of our committee in both Houses. I have had the rare privilege of representing your Lordships' House on the committee since 2007 and I have found it a most interesting and rewarding responsibility.
I also wish to put on record my particular thanks to the chairman of our committee, the right honourable Dr Kim Howells. I and the rest of the committee are particularly grateful to him for his leadership and even more so for his good humour during what has been a very busy, difficult and challenging year, as noble Lords will know if they have read the reports—as I am sure that they have.
I also wish to acknowledge the contribution of those members of the committee from another place, particularly those who are standing down at the forthcoming election. They have all taken their duties very seriously and added enormously to the important work of the committee. They have done so—indeed, we all have—in a spirit of cross-party consensus and with very little public recognition of the hard work that has been done. I can honestly say that it is one of the best-attended committees on which I have served in nearly 30 years in Parliament. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord King, will testify from his own experiences as chairman of the committee that the members are very diligent in their attendance. We are also served by a loyal and diligent band in our secretariat. We are particularly grateful to them in what has been a challenging year.
Finally, I pay tribute to the men and women who work for the intelligence agencies. While we have at times been critical of the agencies—as noble Lords will see—we nevertheless recognise the vital importance of the work that their officers do in safeguarding this country. It is important for us all to put on record our thanks to all those who carry out this challenging and sometimes very dangerous work. In doing so, we can remember our recently departed dear friend Daphne Park—Lady Park of Monmouth—who served so well in the service and in this House.
I remind the Committee that the Intelligence and Security Committee has a statutory remit to examine the administration, policy and finance of all three of our security and intelligence agencies. We report on these annually to the Prime Minister and meet with him to discuss our findings. The two annual reports that we are discussing today cover the periods between December 2008 and July 2009 and between August 2009 and March 2010 respectively. During those periods the committee had a total of 41 formal meetings and 19 other meetings—60 in total, including a number of visits to the agencies. However, it is unfortunate that there has been such a delay in the publishing of our 2008-09 annual report, which occurred some eight months after the reporting period had concluded. This meant that the report was considerably out of date by the time it was published. Of course, it was followed very shortly afterwards by our 2009-10 annual report. That is why we are considering them together today. The committee has made it clear to the Government that such delays are unacceptable, since it does not enable this House or indeed the other place to discuss the committee’s work in a timely fashion. We welcome the fact that our 2009-10 annual report has been published much more quickly and we trust that this quicker turnaround will be continued.
During the period of our 2008-09 annual report, much of the committee’s work focused on the essential workings of the agencies—their finance, their administration and their policy. This is central to our oversight role, and increasingly important as we seek to ensure that the considerable, and considerably increased, resources given by the Government to the agencies are properly deployed and accounted for.
However, although the committee’s official remit covers the Security Service, the SIS and GCHQ, it is clear that those agencies cannot and do not work in isolation. Given the challenges that they face, constructing close partnerships with the wider intelligence community is essential. Therefore, in overseeing the security and intelligence agencies, we also examine the work of the wider intelligence community. This includes the Defence Intelligence Staff; some areas within the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism in the Home Office; the intelligence structure in the Cabinet Office, including the Joint Intelligence Committee—which the noble Baroness opposite knows something about—and the assessment staff, the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre and the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure. Our work therefore goes well beyond our statutory remit. That has happened over time and is a welcome development.
We do not shy away from criticising either the agencies or the wider UK intelligence machinery if we think that it is justified. For example, in our 2008-09 annual report, we strongly criticised SIS for the loss of data on a camera memory stick; we criticised GCHQ for the loss of laptop computers; and we criticised both the Security Service and SIS for poor record-keeping. We have also consistently pressed the agencies on the need for robust business continuity arrangements.
The primary focus of all the three intelligence and security agencies, both last year and this, is rightly on international counterterrorism work. However, they also dedicate resources to countering further threats, including those posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, by regional instability and by espionage. In addition, the agencies continue to provide unprecedented operational support to United Kingdom military operations overseas. We have been able to examine some of that work very closely.
The current threat to the UK from international terrorism is assessed as “severe”. This means that there is a continuing high level of threat to the United Kingdom and a high likelihood of a terrorist attack in this country. The threat of international terrorism comes from a wide range of sources, including al-Qaeda and its associated networks and those who are inspired by its twisted ideology. The source of these threats is constantly evolving. Recent events such as the Christmas Day bomb plot in Detroit highlight the continuing and shifting nature of the threat. The Detroit bomb plot has led the intelligence agencies to focus increasingly on al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. They have been able to respond and adapt quickly to those new and emerging threats, which is encouraging.
The past 18 months or so have sadly seen an increase in the threat within the UK from dissident republican terrorists in Northern Ireland. This threat remains very real. The director-general of the Security Service told us that the largest number of life-threatening investigations being conducted by the Security Service in January 2010 related to dissident republican terrorists in Northern Ireland. It is reassuring that the service has been able to adapt its priorities in line with this ever-changing threat.
The threat from espionage also remains high. Several countries—I shall not spell them out—are actively seeking UK information and material to advance their own military, technological, political and economic programmes. This threat comes from both traditional espionage and, now, new technological espionage. Electronic attack is an example of one important area that the committee recommended in its 2008-09 annual report should be given higher priority. We are reassured that there have been developments in this field during the past year, with the publication of the Cyber Security Strategy of the UK and the creation of a number of new bodies. We are glad that this threat is now being taken seriously, although we also caution against an apparent proliferation of new bodies in this field, since it is vital to avoid duplication of effort.
The committee also addressed issues that affect the intelligence community as a whole. For example, in both annual reports we strongly criticised the failure of phase 2 of the SCOPE IT programme. As we indicated in our 2008-09 report, we had hoped to report substantively in our 2009-10 report on the reasons for that failure. The committee took detailed evidence on the failure of phase 2 of SCOPE and we have formed clear views on the reasons for it and where responsibility lies. However, we have been advised—and we have accepted the advice—that because of ongoing commercial arbitration proceedings, publication of our detailed comments at this time could jeopardise the process of arbitration. Therefore, solely for reasons of public interest, we have removed that detail from our 2009-10 annual report. We will, however, pass on our findings to the next committee for it to publish as soon as the legal proceedings are concluded.
During the period up to July 2009, the committee also spent a considerable time on two separate investigations. First, on 20 May 2009 we published our updated review of the intelligence on the London terrorist attacks on 7 July 2005 to reflect developments that, for legal reasons, we were not able to cover in our original report on the attacks.
Secondly, following new information coming to light in the Binyam Mohamed case, we took further in-depth evidence from the intelligence and security agencies and from the FCO. We reported our findings on a number of aspects, including the issues raised on the policies of the UK security and intelligence agencies, and we wrote to the Prime Minister on 17 March 2009 with our recommendations. The letter has been included as an annexe to our review of the Government’s draft guidelines on detainees which we hope will be published shortly. Today, however, I urge noble Lords and people beyond this Room not to jump to conclusions based on claims made by one individual and his representatives.
Following that letter to the Prime Minister, he wrote to the committee inviting us to review the UK intelligence and security agencies’ guidance regarding the treatment and interviewing of detainees overseas. Unfortunately the consolidated guidance was not provided to the committee until 18 November 2009 and we could not comment on that work in our 2008-09 annual report. However, during 2009-10 we spent a large proportion of our time taking evidence on the guidance. Our findings were submitted to the Prime Minister on 5 March 2010, along with our 2009-10 annual report.
We were initially assured that both reports would be published before 18 March for the debate in the other place. We are therefore disappointed that that has not been possible, although we understand that the Government have delayed publication to give serious detailed further consideration to our comments, and we understand the reasons for that. We hope that the Government will publish both our review of the draft guidance and the revised guidance itself in the very near future. I hope that the Minister can give an indication on that.
The other major issue that has preoccupied the committee in the past year is the important matter of its independence. The committee is confident in its ability to hold the agencies to account and to do so independently of government. The Intelligence Services Act 1994, which established the committee, allows us to set our own procedures. Over the past 16 years, as I indicated earlier, these procedures have evolved. That has happened naturally through both written agreements and verbal assurances. However, events in the past year have made it clear that corporate knowledge of these procedures within government has been lost. There was little awareness of our procedures, some of which date back to when the committee was first established in 1994, as the noble Lord, Lord King, will recall. In some cases this has led to serious misunderstandings by civil servants about the statutory independence of the committee and its work and the nature of the relationship between the committee and the Prime Minister.
As the chairman of the committee said in another place, these misunderstandings relate to,
“the nature of the ISC’s relationship with the Whitehall administrative machine”.
He went on to say that,
“there are some within the Whitehall bureaucracy who, for reasons of their own, have not understood or refuse to accept that the independence of the ISC is sacrosanct”.—[Official Report, Commons, 18/3/10; col. 996.]
In order to ensure that the bureaucracy is clear about the committee's evidence, and for the avoidance of doubt, we have revisited and clarified the principles, policies and procedures that have governed, and continue to govern, the work, status, remit and responsibility of the committee. As the noble Lord will see, these are included as an annexe to our 2009-10 annual report.
My noble friend referred to paragraph 11 of the report. If there was a misunderstanding in the bureaucracy, can he explain, within the confines of what he is allowed to say, what happened? Was there a series of incidents that might further reveal the nature of the difficulty that arose?
I am grateful to my noble friend for that question. There were a number of indications that led us to believe that there was a lack of awareness. There was one incident in particular, but I will not go into detail because it involves members of the Civil Service and it would be invidious to name them. I am sure that my noble friend and other noble Lords will understand.
We have included the details of the principles, policies and procedures in an annexe to our report, and we trust that this will ensure that there is no scope for confusion in future about the independence of the committee and the ownership and nature of its work, data and staff.
Following on from the question of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, and without wishing to cause embarrassment to any individual, it would be helpful to know what form this misunderstanding took when it somehow jeopardised or threatened the independence of the committee.
What I can say—I must choose my words carefully—is that certain officials in the Cabinet Office treated the staff of the committee as if they were their line managers. The line manager of all the staff of the committee is the chair of the committee. That misunderstanding had to be resolved. However, I make it clear that the problems have not arisen because of difficulties in the relationship between the committee and the intelligence agencies. The agencies recognise that proper, effective and robust oversight is in their interests, and have made no attempt either to challenge our independence or to interfere with our work. I should also make it clear that in referring to the Whitehall machine, I do not include our staff. Members of our secretariat are fiercely independent and work extremely hard on behalf of the committee, even to the extent of perhaps jeopardising their own careers. As a previous chairman of the committee—I think it was the noble Lord, Lord King—said, if they are doing their job well, they will not be popular in the rest of Whitehall.
It has become very clear to us from the difficulties that we and our staff have experienced over the past 12 months that it is no longer appropriate for the committee to be based within the Cabinet Office, where it has been hosted since 1994. The original arrangement was made for ease of administration, as the Cabinet Office was a central department that was used to handling classified material, suitably cleared staff and so on. However, the intelligence role of the Cabinet Office, as the noble Baroness will know, has developed substantially since then, as has the remit of the committee, since we now oversee those parts of the Cabinet Office. As a result, we find ourselves in a difficult position. We sit in a government department that has a significant role in the UK intelligence community and which we oversee. I am sure that the noble Lord will see how conflicts of interest arise, especially since we sometimes criticise that part of the Cabinet Office.
The fact that the Cabinet Office decides and allocates the committee's budget and employs our staff is another area of potential conflict of interest. Separation and independence are the key issues here. We strongly believe that the committee, its work and its staff, must be placed on a firmer footing and its independence safeguarded as it looks to the future and seeks to build on the hard work done, and progress made, over the past 16 years. As a result, we recommended to the Prime Minister and to the Cabinet Secretary in November last year that the ISC be moved to another government department—one without a central role in security and intelligence matters. We suggested that the Ministry of Justice would be a suitable alternative. We also recommended that our budget should be based on a set percentage of the single intelligence account, which would provide the necessary flexibility to enable the committee’s activities and capabilities to reflect those of the services that it oversees.
We did not make this request lightly. We are therefore disappointed that the Government’s response to our report, which noble Lords will have seen, to some extent kicks the issue into the long grass. The Prime Minister has clearly affirmed the committee’s independence and appears to be strongly behind us, but it is clear that Cabinet Office officials are less prepared to release their grip. That is why we have taken the unprecedented step of raising the issue publicly—some Members opposite might say that it is unprecedented for me to be criticising Her Majesty's Government.
We urge Ministers to take the matter into their own hands and to ensure that officials do not continue to obstruct the committee. I am encouraged by the Foreign Secretary saying in another place that he had previously been unaware of the strength of feeling about this matter on the committee.
I can assure the Committee that we take seriously our responsibility for holding the agencies to account in an independent manner. Given the sensitive nature of the work and the information to which we are privy, we cannot, however, publicise every detail. Nevertheless, where we do not believe that we have been given proper access to information, we say so and openly criticise the agencies for it. Such public criticism ensures that the agencies take seriously their responsibility to keep the committee informed. For example, we strongly criticised them in our 2008-09 annual report for poor record-keeping, because all the relevant information was not provided to the committee in a timely fashion. Our criticism of the agencies has led to significant improvements in their record management. In our 2009-10 annual report, we criticised GCHQ for not providing the committee with sufficient detail on its major SIGMOD programme. We do not settle for superficial information, and the agencies now know better. Further detail on GCHQ’s SIGMOD programme has now been received by the committee, for which we are grateful.
I can assure noble Lords that we ask many challenging and difficult questions of all our witnesses in our evidence sessions. We press for detailed explanation and justification, and I am confident that none of the witnesses who have appeared before the committee would describe their evidence session with us as comfortable or cosy. We also spend many hours pursuing points, examining evidence and considering our comments. We are a robust group, which takes its work seriously.
The degree to which questioning is robust depends on the information available to members of the committee. The provision of that information, certainly in our time, was greatly assisted by an investigator who worked for the committee. Since we had started along that road, I expected the strength of that part of the committee’s support to have been increased. Does the committee now have an investigator? The report states that it does, but my understanding is that although somebody has just been appointed, the announcement has not yet been made.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, particularly since I had anticipated his asking that question. I can confirm that we now have three investigators to augment the work of our secretariat. They provide us with expert legal and financial advice and investigative capacity, although I am disappointed to say—I hope that the Minister will reply—that the Cabinet Office is currently obstructing the progress of our general investigator, refusing to allow him to work during the election period, despite there being clear precedent for that. I hope that the Minister will be able to provide a more positive response than was available in the other place, so that our investigator can work during the recess and the election period and make available his report on vetting, which we have asked him to do, for the new committee when it takes over.
I follow the comment of the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater. Under the new arrangement, will the investigator have exactly the same level of access as did the investigator who was dismissed in the early 1990s; or has the Cabinet Office managed in some way to restrict the nature of that access? Has a system been established whereby evidence can be taken formally on the record when members of the committee visit the individual agencies and have access to staff at a lower level than the officials who usually account directly to the committee?
Perhaps I may deal with the second question first. There are problems with taking evidence officially from lower-level people in the agencies. It has been the practice of the committee to take evidence from the heads of the agencies, supported by the other officials who then give evidence. It has also been our practice to record all the evidence in detail. When we visit the agencies, we talk informally with staff and pick up a lot of useful background information, but this cannot be considered as evidence.
The noble Lord has a point. As I said earlier, the operational arrangements of the committee have developed and will continue to develop. That is something that the new committee could look at in more detail. The noble Lord asked about access for investigators. As the noble Lord, Lord King, rightly said, the investigators were appointed only relatively recently as part of the expansion of the work of the committee, and we are in the process of discussions with the Executive about arrangements for access. I hope that the new committee will take that up vigorously with the Executive, because we must ensure that the committee's independence and standing are safeguarded for the future. The development we need is for it to be moved away from the central intelligence co-ordinating machinery. I hope the Government will agree and that we will get some indication of that today.
The Foreign Secretary helpfully stated in the debate in another place that although the reaction of officials to proposals to enhance oversight might be a default “no”, Ministers,
“do not want to go with the knee-jerk reaction and say no, but want to go with the drive to have a strong accountability system. That is certainly what the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and I want”.—[Official Report, Commons, 18/3/10; col. 1007.]
That is very encouraging.
That is an interesting suggestion which has come up on a number of occasions in a number of venues. I do not think that it is something that the Intelligence and Security Committee has a view on. We have not discussed it, and it would probably be better to discuss it in other places first. I would be happy to enter into a debate and discussion on it.
In conclusion, the Prime Minister has clearly and personally confirmed to the ISC the value and importance that he attaches to its independence and work. The intelligence agencies want and need robust and independent oversight. The committee has made carefully considered proposals to enhance the current arrangements so that its independence is clear for the future. The obstinacy of a few officials must not be allowed to frustrate Ministers’ desire to see proper, effective oversight of the intelligence agencies by the ISC continue. As I said, it has been a challenging and interesting year, and I hope that I have been able to convey it fully to noble Lords. I look forward to a very interesting discussion and to the opportunity to reply to the debate. I beg to move.
My Lords, this debate is always welcome; indeed I would say it is a necessary opportunity to acknowledge the important role of and work done by the intelligence and security agencies, the staff of which work tirelessly, day and night, often in pressing circumstances, to safeguard our way of life. In a very illuminating comment, the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, said recently that they are,
“men and women of different backgrounds, beliefs and ethnicity who wish to work, without any chance of personal fame, or recognised success, because they believe in the UK, its rights and freedoms and because they wish to protect it, as far as they are able against threats”.
I think that that tells us something about the motivation of those who are engaged in the tasks we are looking at today.
I thank the noble Lord for his substantial and illuminating report. I also acknowledge the work done by the members of the Intelligence and Security Committee. As the noble Lord rightly said, they do a great deal of work that is largely unseen and pretty unheralded—partly because of the nature precisely of what they do—but that, in a sense, is all the more valuable for that. A number of them are stepping down at this election, so thanks are very much in order.
The committee does important and solid work. As I said last year, I rather regret that more of it does not enter the public domain and help to increase our understanding of the agencies and the work they do. It is not so much this Committee or the Houses of Parliament; I think that a wider understanding in the country as a whole is important. As we have to take measures that impinge on our liberties in society, it is extraordinarily important that the general public should have insight into the security threat that this country faces so that they actually understand what we are up against. Our ability to get that message across is at the moment somewhat deficient. I would like to see that improved, and I am quite certain that the committee has an important role to play in that.
I want to say something about finances to begin with and then a little bit about policy issues that have arisen. I would also like to comment on the question of the role and status of the committee. First, on money, and as with all other departments, the agencies are operating within an increasingly constrained resource environment. The single intelligence account has increased year on year and will do so again next year, but there are three particularly important points to note.
First, there is no funding in the short and medium term for a fully resilient data centre for GCHQ. The question is whether in a sensible economy we can really afford to be without resilience in the data centre. The problem we face in trying to answer that question is that we do not have information about costs and therefore are not able to conduct an intelligent discussion on whether this is a correct thing to be doing. I shall be grateful if the Minister will write to me with more information on that if he cannot reply at the end of the debate.
Secondly, funding across the board for the ever-growing cyber threat is a third below the planned level, which itself is quite modest. The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, rightly referred to that. He was also right to point out that the committee’s remit has of necessity expanded beyond its original domain because we are faced with a whole series of issues that are closely related to our security and cannot now be separated from each other. The role of CSG is a perfect example. It is part of the cybersecurity machinery operating within one of the intelligence agencies.
That is the third thing that I want to say. There are problems with the operating model of CSG. I have no doubt that it performs an invaluable information-assurance function across government, but GCHQ, perhaps not surprisingly, as a result of that, wants to see it funded centrally. I do not want to comment on that point but I do want to say that I think that the information-assurance and cybersecurity agendas need to be brought together more closely than they are at the moment. Perhaps the Minister can say why the Government seem to think it advantageous to keep the two separate. In our view, CSG ought to have more of a front face in Whitehall to be effective in the role it is being called on to play.
Just because the agencies operate in a difficult and challenging environment does not mean that there are no legitimate questions to be asked about their work and the value for money they offer. This is not easy to do from outside because relatively little information, either financial or on tasking the agencies, is provided, which means, as I say, that it is quite difficult to know how to conduct any value-for-money assessment from outside. I believe that this assessment is necessary. The ISC’s report last year on the 7/7 attacks made clear that the issue is not simply one of the volume of the resources available but also their best use. I underline “their best use”. So the question of how the agencies use their money, particularly as they now have very sizeable budgets, is a real issue of public interest.
I know that a cross-agency spending review working group is in existence to facilitate discussion with the Treasury and to produce a co-ordinated single bid for the next spending round. It would be helpful if the Minister could comment on the extent to which this will cover the scope for shared support services and for joint if not integrated teams and strategies. Most of those who follow these issues will be aware of the fact that there are moves in this direction between the agencies. They are separate bodies and have separate remits but I think that it is fairly clear that there are services which could be brought together and operated more in common, reducing underlying costs. We believe that there should be determined progress in this direction. I do not think that I am saying anything which is not accepted by the agencies themselves, but it does require the effort to be put into making this a reality.
It is not only the resource environment that poses a challenge to the intelligence community; some policy problems also have arisen. I should like first to comment on the Butler inquiry—and I see that the noble Lord, Lord Butler, is with us. I think it is clear from all of the committee’s annual reports since the noble Lord, Lord Butler, reported that not all of the recommendations have yet been taken fully on board. Last year I said that this could negatively affect the functioning of the central intelligence machinery and the UK’s analytical capability, and I think that that point still stands. The 2008-09 annual report—which, as the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, pointed out, we are also debating—raises concerns about the role of the professional head of intelligence analysis and the location and place of the “challenge team” and the Defence Intelligence Staff.
Can the Minister tell us what has actually been achieved by the professional head of intelligence analysis and, in particular, what work has been undertaken to develop a professional career stream for analysis? I think that this is a road down which the UK does need to go. It is certainly one that the Americans have travelled. There is no point in having the capacity to collect without that being matched by the capacity to analyse—otherwise you do not know what the material means and, frankly, it is a waste of effort. It is just as important, if not more so, to put effort into understanding what the material one has collected means as it is to put it into collecting material. It would be very helpful to receive illumination on how far this has developed. In the case of the professional head, it would be helpful to know how much time is spent on career development and developing the analytical capability of the intelligence community as opposed to chairing the Joint Intelligence Committee.
Secondly, the Government have to some extent allowed a climate of uncertainty to develop. There are a number of outstanding issues on which Parliament, the public and indeed the intelligence community itself await answers from government, and the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, alluded to some of these. The Government undertook to report on the work of the National Security Forum this month, although the noble Lord did not mention that point. Given that the intelligence machinery these days is an absolutely central and integral part of our whole national security framework, that the Government have set up the National Security Forum and promised us a report, and that I will not have many other opportunities to ask the Government this question, it would be helpful to be given an answer to it—namely, will the National Security Forum report come forward this month?
The Government also undertook to report before Easter on the use of intercept as evidence. I should be grateful to know whether this will happen. Unlike the ISC—I am afraid that I disagree with the committee on this point—I do not believe that a negative report should close the option of using intercept as evidence. Frankly, the issue is too important. Given the pace of technological change, the use of intercept as evidence should be kept under review on a regular basis. We do not know what the outcome of the latest work is and any information that the Minister can give us regarding progress on that front, and whether we are likely to receive a report before Easter, would be very helpful.
Thirdly—I have mentioned this already—there is confusion about the Government’s approach to cybersecurity. The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, talked about the structures. There is overlap and a lack of clarity about what the structures do and how they work together and inadequate information about the operating capabilities of the Office of Cyber Security, or the Cyber Security Operations Centre, and what their functions should be. It is very clear that the security of our communications is nothing short of vital. Indeed, it affects government, national resilience and the critical national infrastructure of the private sector. It also has international implications. Therefore, certainty and a strong sense of direction on cybersecurity are very important.
Uncertainty is not a good quality in this area of our national business. Meeting an undoubtedly uncertain strategic context by muddling along is not a posture that this country needs. Last year I said that there was a lack of strategic direction from the centre. By that I mean government; I do not mean another committee. The ISC’s annual report for 2008-09 says that the updated national security strategy, which should be the governing vehicle, has had little impact on the focus or nature of the work of the agencies. Given what the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, said when he described in detail the relationship between the work done by the agencies and the conduct of major government policies, including, for instance, that on nuclear proliferation, it is curious to say the least that the national security strategy does not relate to the role of the agencies, as they are central to the way in which we implement our national security strategy. It would therefore be helpful to know what the Government think should be the right relationship between the national security strategy document and the agencies.
There also remains an issue which, if not closed, could become one of serious morale within the intelligence community. There are now, sadly, multiple allegations of complicity in torture and of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. I absolutely take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, about not taking at face value the allegations and comments of one individual. A serious situation is clearly developing and the Government have failed to draw a line under it. The wider issues thrown up in the course of these events include the irreplaceable intelligence relationship with the United States and the balancing of the needs of national security with the requirements of accountability. These go to the heart of the protection of the security of our nation. We need to focus on how to keep those things in balance. Despite the very good efforts of the committee so far, there is still a lack on the accountability side of the balance. I shall say something about that in a moment.
The release of redacted paragraphs as part of the Court of Appeal judgment in the case of Binyam Mohamed drew a strong response from the US Director of National Intelligence. We on these Benches argued that the control principle could have been upheld while seeking an exception from the United States in this specific case. That was not a course that the Government chose to pursue, and we would not know whether it would have succeeded. We cannot know because it was not tried, but it remains our view that it could have been a preferable course of action rather than having the matter dragged through the courts, as has happened, which has had the effect of fuelling the accusation that the Government were withholding evidence. That in turn has had the effect of exposing our relationship with the US to particular strain.
It is important now to try to draw a line under what has happened. I hope that the Minister will comment on whether the Government see any need to take further action to reassure the House and the United States about upholding the principle of control. Does the Minister agree that the UK should now be in a stronger position as the control principle and public interest immunity are both contained in a legal judgment? That is a strength in itself, but I want to know what further action the Government intend to take.
In another place, the former Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind pointed out that when we are dealing with issues raised by allegations of torture and mistreatment we need to look not only at the detail of individual cases but at the processes within the agencies. We have to assure ourselves through the ISC—or possibly, as my right honourable friend the shadow Foreign Secretary suggested in another place, through a judge-led inquiry—that we have been able to draw a line under previous allegations and that we have systems in place to ensure that we are true to the values and standards which we champion in the world and to which we expect others to adhere.
In respect of the allegations of complicity and torture, in March of last year the Prime Minister said that he would work,
“to protect the reputation of our security and intelligence services and to reassure ourselves that everything has been done to ensure that our practices are in line with the United Kingdom and international law”.
He said that we would,
“put beyond doubt the terms under which our agencies and service personnel operate”.—[Official Report, Commons, 18/3/09; col. WS18.]
It is urgent that that happens. So far, the procedure has not been reassuring.
The Prime Minister committed the Government to publishing the guidance given to agencies about the standards to which they should adhere during detention and interviewing of detainees overseas. He said that the guidance would need to be consolidated and reviewed by the committee, as the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, pointed out, before publication. The noble Lord also said that it took another eight months before the committee saw this guidance, despite repeated requests to the Cabinet Office. He also said, rightly, that it arrived only on 18 November, well after the date on which the committee could scrutinise it as part of its annual report. Ministers have not even attempted to explain why the delay was so long, except to say that the whole matter has been very difficult.
On 11 March, the Prime Minister assured the committee that the guidance would be made public in the 2009-10 annual report, which would be published in good time for the debate in another place on 17 March. This still has not happened. I understand that this is because there has been a difference of opinion about something that the committee wrote in its report. Perhaps the noble Lord can enlighten us on this. Will the Minister give an absolute assurance that the Government are not trying either to block the report or influence its conclusions? The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, referred to this. I hope that he is right in his confidence that in the end we will have the report with the committee's comments. Will the Government commit to publishing the report before the election? It is because the Government have failed even to begin the process of drawing a line that there have been calls for further investigation. This issue will not go away by itself, so it is important that the Government do something about it.
Finally, I will say a few words about the relationship between the ISC and the Government. The noble Lord pointed out that it is not acceptable for the Government to delay publication of ISC reports, which is why we have ended up debating two together. Certainly it is not acceptable to fail to assist the committee properly and in a timely way. The noble Lord talked extensively about this, and I will not go over all the ground. However, it is fair to say that because the committee's work is done in the way that it is, with much of it not reaching the public domain, it gets less credit than it should for the quality of the work that it does. Now we face a situation where there appears to have been a breakdown in confidence and trust between the committee and those parts of the government apparatus that have contact with it. It is very important that the committee is seen to have the independence that its statute should give it.
Last year I criticised the Government—as the committee did this year—for giving only cursory responses to the committee’s conclusions and recommendations. These should be taken seriously, and I hope that the Minister will take this observation away and look to see how the Government can better respond in future—if they have the privilege—to the committee’s reports.
We have heard about the worrying issue of independence potentially being compromised, as it appears to have been over the past 12 to 18 months. The chairman said in another place that,
“life for the ISC secretariat has been distinctly uncomfortable and, at times, very unpleasant and threatening”.
That is strong language. He also said that,
“there are some within the Whitehall bureaucracy who, for reasons of their own, have not understood or have refused to accept that the independence of the ISC is sacrosanct”—
the word used by the noble Lord. The chairman went on to say:
“Some of them have given the impression that they regard the ISC as an irritation—a problem that they could well do without”.—[Official Report, Commons, 18/3/10; col. 996.]
The ISC is not an irritation, but a very important part of our public accountability machinery. The noble Lord warned about the bureaucracy interfering with the committee's secretariat in the intervening period before a new committee is appointed. I note what he said about not being able to continue to work during the election period. I do not know exactly what aspect of work he was referring to.
I was just going to say that as the committee currently reports to the Executive, it seems rather odd that it cannot continue its work while Parliament is not in being. On the broader point, in a report which I wrote for my party I suggested that the committee’s future should be as a parliamentary committee and in that sense have a more normal relationship to the normal processes of accountability in our constitution.
As I was about to say, we have not taken a view within the Conservative Party on whether we should introduce primary legislation, which is what that would involve. That is clearly a major issue. If we are going to do that, we need to get it right and look at all the issues. We came to the conclusion that this is not something that you can do until you can examine it from inside government, so we hope very much that we will be able to do it.
I am sorry to intervene like this. However, when we did some work on this some years ago we found that it was not necessary to introduce primary legislation. The ISC would simply slip into abeyance and a committee of Parliament would be established. It would simply take on the role with the agreement of the Prime Minister.
I take note of what the noble Lord says and we will certainly look at that. Even if one did not change the statute of the committee, many things could be done to strengthen its role. It can have a better public face. It could certainly report more often to the public in terms that do not compromise security but that do increase understanding. I believe that it should have the ability to call for papers. It should be able to conduct investigations on its own terms and issue its own reports. I suppose that I am saying that there should be a combination of less self-censorship by the committee itself as well as a rather freer relationship perhaps with the Executive. It must also have good access to and information about the financing and resourcing of the agencies. That is something which it must have and which, increasingly, should also be out in the public domain. I cannot see that there is a case in national security for not understanding how these moneys are spent and the volumes thereof.
As I said, more can be done. I would put this under the heading of unfinished business. We are in an evolutionary situation. I believe that this committee has a long-term and very important function to perform and that we will continue to develop it with time.
My conclusion on that is that the committee needs to be upgraded. I believe that certain forms of upgrading have happened as a matter of urgency, not just as a matter of long-term destiny. It needs to be able to do its work and duties effectively because, frankly, its public credibility is at stake. I would add that the agencies themselves want to be able to report to a committee that is seen to have credibility. The fact that they account to a body which itself is well regarded and understood is part of their ability to defend their status. I think that there is a recognition inside the agencies that this is in their interests as well.
I would be grateful if the Minister could now or in writing respond to the points about financial information on business continuity; confirm when the Government will report on the National Security Forum and intercept as evidence; confirm when the Prime Minister will publish guidance on detainees and whether it will be before Easter; and confirm what the Government will do to restore relations between the ISC and officials.
My Lords, I am very much an outsider on this matter compared with the previous speaker, although for many years I have had professional relations with people engaged in these activities. Indeed, since the early 1970s when I first met a rather determined and impressive young diplomat called Pauline Neville-Jones.
I am impressed by the evidence of hard work which we have heard about—30 meetings a year is roughly one for every week that Parliament meets. My respect for the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, goes up when I remember that he is also involved in parliamentary duties in Edinburgh. Therefore, he takes on a very large number of activities.
I support very strongly what has been said about the status of the committee and the importance of preserving and strengthening its independence. This is a very odd committee in its current set-up. We live in a constitutional system in which we are told that Parliament is sovereign, but in which there remain a very large number of areas of government that are handled under the royal prerogative by the Executive. There are many other areas in which Parliament needs to strengthen its position vis-à-vis the Executive. There are also many other areas of the royal prerogative which this Government have abused—particularly, in my opinion, under the prime ministership of Tony Blair. It is high time that this committee became fully a parliamentary committee. Under the next Parliament, I look forward to many of us working together to push further in that direction as part of the necessary process of constitutional reform.
Some of the expressions used by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, in referring to the difficulties that we have experienced in the past 12 months suggested that the committee has encountered real difficulties. If that is the case, clearly it needs to be looked at a good deal further and the committee needs strong support from across the parties in Parliament to enable its independence to be strengthened. I also support strongly what the noble Baroness has said about the need to ensure that the public are informed about and have confidence in our security and intelligence services so that they will support them adequately. We are all conscious that some of the allegations about the treatment of detainees, extraordinary rendition and awareness of what was happening at Guantanamo and elsewhere have damaged the reputation of our security and intelligence services. Ministers have—including, on occasion, when answering questions that I have posed—assured us that things have not happened with reference to Diego Garcia or elsewhere only for us to discover, some time afterwards, that they have happened. That has shaken our confidence in the ability of our Government to keep a check on what is going on.
It is particularly important that we maintain a clear responsibility for parliamentary scrutiny because, as both of these reports say, there has been a very substantial increase in resources and personnel in recent years. The noble Baroness referred to entering a harsher resource environment, but over the past three to four years these services have necessarily done very well, as evidence in the reports indicates. Therefore, we need to know as much as possible about this if we are to assess whether we should defend them against the harsh cuts that will take place across government, whoever wins the election, or whichever combination of parties comes out of it.
Languages expertise comes up in various reports. Speaking as an academic, I argue that we are as a country losing our languages expertise. The extent to which languages expertise is falling back in schools and universities is appalling. I understand that Oxford University now gives remedial grammar courses to its first-year French students. That tells us something about how far expertise is slipping back.
I moved from a think tank to Oxford University in 1990. I recall people from the Foreign Office coming to see me and saying, “Do you know anyone in the academic community who knows anything about central Asia?”. It was not a resource that they had thought to be highly necessary for the previous 20 or 30 years, but, all of a sudden, having expertise on obscure cultures and languages within our broader academic community was appreciated. In terms of cross-departmental contacts and coherence of government, I say to the Minister that, as cuts are imposed on universities, it is precisely those skills in marginal languages and knowledge of marginal foreign cultures that will be cut. It has happened on a number of occasions during the past 60 or 70 years, only for us to discover about 10 years later that it would have been quite useful to have people who understood Dari or Somali, for example. We need to maintain that expertise outside government, because it is a resource for government.
I note with concern the references to China and Russia at various stages in the report. We now have a substantial and very rich Russian community in this country; we also have a large number of people who divide their time between Moscow and London. There is concern as to where some of their money has come from and whether it has been entirely legitimately obtained.
The police, the Financial Services Authority and others need to keep a very active watch on what goes on. I also note in the report important remarks on the growing problem of cyber attacks and on it not always being easy to tell whether they come from private or state-sponsored sources.
Since I do my politics in Yorkshire, I am closely aware of the problems of, and have very close links with, Pakistan and Somalia, and the extent to which the high level of movement of people between this country and those countries—and, on a rather smaller scale, Yemen—creates problems for all of us. The line between what is domestic and what is international is not always easy to draw.
Intelligence co-operation with other countries is not flagged actively in either report, although it is referred to in the second report. We are all conscious of the importance of the relationship with the United States, as the noble Baroness remarked. I happened to be at a transatlantic conference in Brussels over the weekend where this was one of several subjects discussed—the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, was there, too. I had conversations with a number of people about expectation on the part of the Americans that they will receive more information and co-operation from European Governments than they give us in return. The imbalance of that relationship extends across intelligence to a range of other areas. On the US-UK relationship, if the UK Independence Party and the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, were really concerned about the maintenance of British sovereignty, I would look forward to accompanying him to the gates of RAF Menwith Hill and seeing how easily he would be accepted in there. I know that the ISC is now allowed to visit US intelligence sites on British soil; it was not for its first few years. At least we have gained that. While driving back from Harrogate to Saltaire last summer, however, I witnessed both the Union Jack and the Stars and Stripes being taken down with great reverence by US Air Force personnel. There are large questions there about whether we are happy with the incursions into British sovereignty of some of these US installations on British soil.
I also note that, in paragraph 141 of the 2008-09 report, the Foreign Secretary referred to,
“the British representative on Diego Garcia”.
I recall on occasions being assured by Ministers that we are in command of Diego Garcia, and that nothing happens there without the British being fully informed. The Foreign Secretary’s remark to the committee was perhaps a little more honest than the replies that are sometimes given.
The last thing that I will say, in a rather shorter speech than we have heard so far, concerns the question of security and new threats—the broader issues around the fact that many of the external threats facing Britain do not fall within old state to state military dimensions. I am talking about the overlap between criminal and terrorist networks, the extent to which almost all serious crime is now international, the fact that the smuggling of people, drugs and weapons is often conducted by the same networks, and the fact that the funding of terrorism and piracy, and the dispersal of those funds, also overlap. Co-operation between our intelligence services, our Serious Fraud Office and SOCA is an important part of how we respond to this nexus; but how we follow it up is also a problem for Parliament.
An official of the African Union whom I met recently talked about Somali piracy, and how a remarkably large number of mansions are being built in Mombasa. We agreed that one needs to combat piracy through financial as well as other investigations. The overlap is important. Perhaps the Minister will tell us how Her Majesty’s Government manage this growing overlap and increasing internationalisation. I recall looking, when I was chair of a sub-committee of the European Union Committee, at the expansion of police liaison officers in our embassies abroad. It is a very important part of how SOCA links to the police authorities in other countries, in order to combat serious crime such as people smuggling.
Some months ago, I was fascinated to be invited to sit in on a discussion of the European assessment centre; and even more fascinated to discover a number of people with experience of British intelligence agencies telling us how immensely helpful the European assessment centre is to British intelligence and to the British pursuit of transnational crime. This is something that the Conservatives might like to communicate to those in their party who think that, if they form the next Government, they should withdraw from all the police and intelligence co-operation networks, including Europol and the Schengen information system, because these are incursions into British sovereignty. We now recognise that crime and threats to Britain overlap our national boundaries, that many of them do not come from foreign states, and therefore that the interface between our domestic security bodies, including our police force, and our intelligence agencies and those who represent them abroad, is important, delicate and difficult to manage. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s reply on these various points.
My Lords, I shall speak briefly in the gap if I may. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, for the way in which he introduced this most interesting debate and for speaking for the committee. I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, that I remember our committee visit to Menwith Hill, which I much enjoyed. The idea that we were not able to go there is news to me.
Having been the chairman for the first seven years of the Intelligence and Security Committee, I think that it has lost some of its momentum. I sense that it is perhaps just picking it up now. I have been very concerned that it has not had an investigator. The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, is absolutely right. We started off with fairly limited official terms of reference and we gradually expanded them. We did so originally with the good will of Ministers such as Robin Cook and Jack Straw, and we gradually spread our wings and covered the whole remit of intelligence security, as the Minister remembers well, because he was one of the witnesses who came—not under our area of responsibility, but as Chief of Defence Intelligence, which was a critical part of the intelligence picture.
Considering the concerns of the committee, and picking up on something that my noble friend said—the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours will be surprised to hear me say this—I think that with the problems that are emerging, the case for a Joint Committee of both Houses is getting stronger. One thing that worried me when I was chairman, and which has continued, is the question of what happens to the staff of the committee. They were seconded from departments and had the devil’s own job in getting back into any career stream. They had been isolated; they were viewed with some distrust; and they were not welcomed back by accounting officers who did not want to add to the numbers when they were trying to slim down. Considering their loyalty and the arrangements, there is a strong argument for moving in that direction. I am not impressed by the suggestion to move from the Cabinet Office to the Ministry of Justice—that is out of the frying pan into the fire. It still leaves behind the basic problems.
I have two points to make on my hobby horse. I care passionately about the reputation, independence and integrity of the Intelligence and Security Committee. It is of great value to the intelligence agencies and should not be seen as a threat and a menace to them. I remember the Mitrokhin inquiry, when the committee dug the SIS out of a deep hole because it had credibility. No Minister could have done that by saying, “There is no problem; there is nothing to answer for here”. However, an independent, all-party committee with full access to all the information beyond what the Act officially said we could have was able to do a proper job. At the moment there are eight Members of Parliament and one Peer on the committee. When we consider the shape of a new Parliament, with goodness knows how many new Members with no experience in this area, there is a strong argument for a significant increase in the number of Members of the House of Lords who serve on the committee. The Act allows it; it does not specify the number of Peers or MPs.
My other hobby horse, which is a brave statement considering that I am looking forward to a triumphant Conservative victory in the forthcoming election, is that I believe strongly that the chairman of the committee should be a member of the Opposition. I look with despair at previous chairmen—not with criticism of any individual, but because if we treat the post as a consolation prize for losing a place in the Cabinet, there is no continuity. I did the job for seven years, and I think that I am right in saying that we have had three different chairmen in the past four years. That is not the right way to run it. There would be added credibility if the chairman were a member of the Opposition. I hope that we will bravely adopt that approach.
My Lords, I chime with the noble Lord, Lord King, in his view that the chairman of the committee should be in the Opposition, as happens on the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons. The chairman is invariably a prominent member of the Opposition.
I will concentrate my remarks on the question of accountability to Parliament and on the question of a Joint Committee of both Houses. As the noble Lord, Lord King, will recall, in 1998 during my membership of the committee I was constantly arguing the case for the committee structure to change to that of a Joint Committee of Parliament. At the time, the argument that the Conservatives had to consider about whether primary legislation was necessary was used to counter my case. I had discussions with the Clerks in the other place and we worked out that the committee’s powers could be circumscribed by a series of special resolutions which would apply only to the committee so that it would not enjoy all the powers of existing Select Committees. Those powers were modified to deal with its special conditions, particularly the fact that it reports primarily to the Prime Minister. At that stage I did not depart from the principle that the committee’s report should go first to the Prime Minister before being reported to Parliament. I still believe that that is an important principle to preserve.
It is also worth noting that in the House of Commons generally—what has happened over the past 12 months with the Cabinet Office serves only to confirm this—the committee is seen as a creature of the Executive. I know that people in the departments do not like to hear this. I remember conversations with Kevin Tebbit, who was very hostile to the proposals that I made in 1998. Stephen Lander was more open-minded about the matter, and the MI6 people maintained a discrete silence on my arguments but were clearly equally hostile to the proposals for change. However, they all failed to recognise the attitude of Members of Parliament and the fact that the intelligence community was not reporting to committees of the House of Commons. I hear that over recent years members of the committee have argued for evidence to be given to the Foreign Affairs Committee, the Home Affairs Committee and the Justice Committee. Indeed, it was even suggested to me the other day that they should have access to the Public Administration Committee—the high-profile committee that spends most of its time undoing reputations, in many cases quite validly. But the point is that there should be a structure within Parliament to take evidence. I am sure that the great body of Members of Parliament—certainly in the Commons—would accept such an arrangement.
I understand that my views are now reinforced by a recent contribution to the debate by the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, the former head of MI5. I understand that she is in favour of a Joint Committee arrangement being established. Therefore, I hope that we can move forward, whichever Government are in power. I think that many of the original papers that I wrote on these matters in the late 1980s still circulate around Downing Street. I even went as far as the Prime Minister in the late 1990s and the early 2000s to plead my case on the need for this change to be made.
I remember that there was a lot of resistance to taking evidence from officials lower down the line. However, I never doubted the word of those who gave evidence to the committee. I always felt that the power of a Select Committee, whereby if a person gives false evidence they are in contempt of Parliament, was a very strong one—in other words, they would be held in contempt. I always felt that that would impose a discipline on officials. The notorious case that has run through the press recently is an example of where better arrangements for accountability would have been more appropriate. The reference to poor record keeping is something that I find very hard to believe. In fact, to be frank, I do not believe it.
My Lords, with great respect to the noble Lord, perhaps I might remind him of the Companion where, at 4.34, speakers in the gap are restricted to four minutes. The noble Lord is already in his sixth minute. Perhaps I may invite him to wind up.
My Lords, perhaps I, too, may crave the indulgence of the Committee to make a short contribution in the gap. I was disappointed by the answer to my intervention on the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, who suggested that it was not the responsibility of his committee to make any recommendations about ministerial responsibility. The Intelligence and Security Committee that I sat on, under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord King, had no such worries. We produced a report some time in the 1990s stating that there should be a Minister of State answering for the Cabinet Office who would be responsible for all of the intelligence agencies. Quite clearly, that was not acted upon.
It was interesting because another member of the committee at that stage was the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, who was then Member of Parliament for Dudley East. Shortly before the 1997 election, he was rung up by the office of the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Tony Blair. It was suggested that it would be a good idea if he moved out of his seat in Dudley and went to the House of Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, was not very impressed by that argument and did not think it a compelling case, so another telephone call came through in which he was asked, “Would you think of giving up your seat in Dudley if you were offered a post in the Government”? “Ah”, said the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, “now that is entirely different. There is one post which I would accept in the Government: Minister of State in the Cabinet Office answerable for the intelligence services”. “Deal done”, they said. “Will you now stand down?”. He did, and some Blair acolyte was stuck into Dudley.
Then in 1997 came the question of confirming all of that. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Butler, has now left and is no longer in his seat, because I believe that he came in at this point and said, rather as in the television programme, “Very brave, Prime Minister”. The whole idea was kiboshed and, as we know, what actually happened was that the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, ended up as Minister of State for Defence Procurement—a job that he had done either 18 or 19 years earlier. I thought that it was worth recounting that story, because our committee thought that it was important to bring all the intelligence agencies together.
I do not think that anything has changed, except that the terrorist threat is now much worse. People say that we live in a very dangerous world. I would argue that the territorial integrity of the United Kingdom has rarely been safer in the past 100 years. Clearly, however, we are threatened in a way that we never have been before by terrorism. Therefore it is absolutely critical to have somebody responsible in government to counter that threat. The intelligence agencies should be brought together so that the whole exercise is co-ordinated and we do not have the agencies answering to different Secretaries of State in the Cabinet. That cannot do anything for the co-ordination and unity of purpose needed to counteract the terrorist threat to this country.
My Lords, this has been a fascinating debate. I had few expectations when I came to it, other than that there would not be a speakers list—so I have sympathy with the noble Lord. I come to this subject without the background which other noble Lords have, and I am ashamed to say that I have never before given particular thought to the role of this committee. I now realise what a difficult job it has, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, and his colleagues. I had not realised either how much I would be echoing what other speakers have been saying. Perhaps I might start with a few general words on what, to me, are the first principles of scrutiny—because this is scrutiny, albeit highly specialised.
Before I say that, I should declare an interest as joint president of the Centre for Public Scrutiny, which has identified four principles of scrutiny: being a critical friend; challenging executive policy and decision makers; enabling the voice and concerns of the public and their communities to be heard; and that it should be carried out by independent-minded people who lead and own the scrutiny process, and who drive improvement. All of those principles are extremely apt and have been referred to, if not in those words, by pretty much every speaker in today’s debate.
Intelligence and security, by its very nature, must be secure, confidential and below the radar, while at the same time reassuring the public. The committee has a role which reflects that, but with particular weight—and this seems to have come out as the debate has gone on—on the public-facing roles of critical friendship, expressing the concerns of the public and, of course, holding the Executive to account.
I am not sure that I am entitled to speak for my party on this, but I personally would be enthusiastic about the committee morphing into a Joint Select Committee of Parliament, because the parliamentary role is to hold the Executive to account. Holding to account means shining a light on the Executive, and persuading or requiring them to describe and explain things, which they might prefer not to do. They would thereby be brought into the public arena, which by definition with this subject is particularly difficult. My experience of scrutiny has been domestic and much lower key, but it has included hearing from people affected by the Executive’s actions and decisions. I am interested in comments about the views of the staff of the agencies. Sometimes even refereeing an exchange of views brings a lot of information to the surface and enables one to assess the evidence that one hears. For many years, I have refused to be told something in private that cannot be told in public, so I have particular admiration for those who juggle these responsibilities.
I will add to the mix the public’s expectations of technology and of techniques that they think are now close to magic, and of individuals who either act as individuals or, when in a team, have particularly complex personal relationships. There are only a handful of them and they solve every problem, with no obvious back-up, in the space of an hour less seven minutes for commercial breaks. It must make the job really difficult for those who know what it is like at the coal face. I am particularly interested in these perceptions, of which the committee has shown itself to be aware.
There has been discussion about the host department. How it looks to the world is important. I see the Government’s point about complicating accountabilities with another department, and it does not seem that the MoJ is the obvious candidate, because it, too, would have a conflict of interest if matters came before the courts, as increasingly they seem to do. The annex to the report suggests to me something that is more stand-alone—we have developed the idea of a parliamentary Select Committee.
The committee refers to a potential conflict of interest over the budget. The Government say rather defensively in their reply that the committee is well resourced compared with other scrutiny bodies. As I read the report, that was not what the committee was talking about. Perhaps this is the same point: I am not persuaded that it would be appropriate for the committee’s budget to be a percentage of the budget of the organisations that it oversees or scrutinises. The committee itself might then have a conflict of interest when it considers the value for money and expenditure of those organisations.
The Government’s response to the ISC on some of these points was masterly. Sir Humphrey is alive and well, and passing on his skills. The committee considered that the funding arrangements for information assurance should be,
“resolved as a matter of priority”.
The Government’s response was:
“The Government welcomes the Committee’s recognition of the importance of Information Assurance and its support for a new funding model”.
As I said, Sir Humphrey is doing jolly well.
Among the most startling points in the latest report were the increases in spend compared with the previous year—an increase of 25 per cent by the Security Service and 57 per cent by the Secret Intelligence Service. We do not know what the base budgets are as this information is redacted, but the rising trend, including into the future—which is reported on—is notable.
I move on from what I might call the infrastructure. Others have been much better placed than me to comment, but it is clear that cybersecurity, the exchange of intelligence and interceptors’ evidence are live and developing matters. On cybersecurity, someone of my generation can hardly comprehend the astonishing pace of the development of technology. The Government stress the role of the public—business and individuals—and talk of a collaborative approach. Since my experience of technology is using the parliamentary system and I am not aware of what is around, I would welcome some fleshing out of that by the Minister. As an individual, I had not noticed that the public were being encouraged to pay attention to it as a matter of general security.
The exchange of intelligence is a highly political issue that will run and run. The revelations of what went on after the High Court’s recent rulings on US intelligence material have brought the matter into the public domain. That is hugely important because of the knock-on effect on public support. It is all a clear reminder that security is in our name and needs public consent. The noble Baroness mentioned intercept as evidence. The Minister’s Written Statement last week told us that,
“the Advisory Group has suggested further, more focused work building on that undertaken previously and intended to establish whether the remaining approaches could be implemented in way that is operationally sustainable and affordable”.—[Official Report, Commons, 25/3/10; col. WS 62.]
I suggest that affordability should be considered after sustainability. It should not drive the process although it is hugely important.
I want publicly to thank the Minster and the Home Office for arranging a briefing that I attended a few days ago and which put flesh on the bones of what I had heard. I am encouraged by the statement that despite the difficulties, which I now understand a bit better, the Government have not given up on the issue. I look forward to reading the report that the Minister tells us he has placed in the Library.
I hope from reading the Government’s response to the two reports that they are not kicking issues into the long grass. It is sometimes difficult to know how to read some of the language. My noble friend Lord Wallace talked about the committee referring to matters beyond the narrow scope of security. I hope that there can be some public development of debate about the skills required by the agencies, because their ability to recruit those with the necessary skills—in IT and languages, for example—is important. My noble friend did not tell your Lordships whether there are remedial classes in English grammar as well as French grammar. Perhaps they are required.
The closed world of the security services is becoming more open—a Radio 4 programme on GCHQ tonight has been heavily trailed. The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, reflected on the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Mannigham-Buller, about the thankless task undertaken by the staff of the agencies. There cannot be public thanks, except in a generalised way. I echo the noble Lord in saying how glad we are to have this opportunity to thank those staff.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Foulkes for opening the debate, as I do others who have spoken today for their informative and incisive points. Before I respond, I, too, should like to express my deep sadness at the death last week of Lady Park. She has given me some very sage advice during my time here, with her specific interest in intelligence. She was an amazing woman, and her good humour and deep knowledge of intelligence and security will be much missed.
I add my thanks to those already offered to the chairman of the ISC, the right honourable Member for Pontypridd, Dr Kim Howells, who is retiring this year. My noble friend Lord Foulkes spoke highly of his time in the role. I am sure that noble Lords will agree that he has done an excellent job during the past 18 months. I also express my appreciation for the work of other members of the committee who are leaving.
I am grateful to the committee for the reports that it has provided for 2008-09 and 2009-10. They are impressive pieces of work and underline the expertise, rigour and diligence of the ISC. As noted by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary in the other place, it is a myth that the security and intelligence agencies are not subject to rigorous scrutiny.
I reject recent criticism of the independence of the ISC in the media and elsewhere. It is a paradox that the secrecy that enables the ISC to carry out its role effectively is also a source of criticism in the media and elsewhere. The fact that the committee is able to have access to highly classified material and freely to question witnesses on the most sensitive issues enables proper oversight of the agencies, whose work is carried out overwhelmingly in secret. There is a balance to be reached between demonstrating that the agencies are subject to robust oversight and allowing them to maintain the confidentiality that allows them to fulfil their statutory role.
We are happy to look at the committee’s independence, but as my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary also said, these are not the issues that go to the heart of the current debate on intelligence scrutiny. This Administration have a good record on strengthening intelligence scrutiny. Some reforms, such as giving the House of Commons a greater say on the membership of the committee, have been implemented. Others, such as inviting the committee to hold public hearings, have yet to be taken forward—although work on that is ongoing. We need to look at all these issues in the round, which is what the Government are committed to doing with a new committee.
The committee notes that its proposed move to another department—it has suggested the Ministry of Justice—is being blocked by officials. That is not the case. The Government’s view is set out in our response to the committee, published in the name of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. I make it entirely clear that Ministers, including the Prime Minister, have total confidence in the professionalism and integrity of the Cabinet Office staff who advise us and liaise with the committee. I am not aware of any adviser of the committee having had their career jeopardised, although I listened with interest to the noble Lord, Lord King, who said that they are sometimes cut off. I shall look into that to make sure that it does not happen, as it would be quite inappropriate.
Noble Lords should be aware that the changes proposed by the committee need to be examined carefully. They go against the normal model for funding and staffing even the most vigorously independent organisations. For example, the staffing and budget of the Supreme Court sits with the MoJ. This reflects the normal constitutional position whereby independent bodies are linked to the department or institution responsible for the policy area that they supervise, providing a shared understanding of the area, access to a pool of suitable staff and clear lines of accountability. No one would say that the Supreme Court is a patsy for anyone who is trying to run it. Breaking this principle and adding another Secretary of State to the chain, rather than having the Cabinet Office reporting directly to the Prime Minister on intelligence, has to be considered very carefully. The MoJ shares these reservations—as, clearly, do the noble Lord, Lord King, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee.
I thank my noble friend for that. He pre-empted exactly what I was about to say. Creating a committee of the whole House would avoid this obligation, but would have significant implications. A number of committee members with whom I have spoken were not in favour of this move.
I will not comment on them going native. The Prime Minister is committed to considering further reform in the new Parliament. That is necessary, but we need to think this through carefully, because a number of issues come into play. I reiterate that the Government are committed to publishing as soon as possible our consolidated guidance to personnel on required standards for the detention and interviewing of detainees overseas. That the guidance has not been published does not mean that officers are currently operating in a policy vacuum. Consolidated guidance is based on the principles set out in previous documents. It differs in that it is intended to be applicable to both MoD and agency officers, and aims to set out publicly the responsible and lawful way in which we approach these difficult issues. Our policy across government remains clear. We stand firmly against torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. We do not collude in, solicit, or participate in mistreatment. As the ISC has reported, operations have been blocked on the grounds that the risk of mistreatment is too high—this really happens. Careful judgments must be made, and we owe it to the personnel involved to provide clear advice.
I thank the ISC for its review of the draft guidance. Its thorough and insightful report has raised a number of issues that require further and detailed consideration. I regret that this will result in a delay in publication of the guidance, but it is more important to ensure that we deal properly with the important points and get it right than that we rush it through on a self-imposed deadline. These things are too important: we owe it to our agents and to members of the MoD and the Armed Forces who are involved in this arena. Our aim is still to publish the guidance as soon as it is ready, but I do not know exactly when that will be.
The report before the Committee provides an indication of the range of threats to the United Kingdom’s national security, and of the tireless work of the security and intelligence agencies in combating them. Areas highlighted by the report include cybersecurity, which I will come back to in a minute, counterespionage and the continuing threat of Irish-related terrorism, which has been worrying me over the past 18 months. International terrorism remains a key priority for the agencies. That the UK has not suffered a successful international terrorist attack since July 2005 is not down to luck, although I always touch wood and am not in the least complacent: it is a measure of the outstanding efforts by the staff of the agencies and others who played a crucial role in disrupting the plans of those who wished to cause us harm. I am afraid that a number of people wish to do that.
The Government are committed to ensuring that the agencies are able to maintain capabilities commensurate with the threats that we face. As the ISC’s latest report makes clear, the single intelligence account was increased by 15 per cent in 2008-09 and by a further 8 per cent in 2009-10. We have not normally allowed to be shown the amount of capital spend—this question was raised by one noble Lord—because if one uses that with other information in the public domain, one can draw conclusions. Perhaps we should look at this more carefully to see if we could expose a bit more. That has always been our rather glib answer. I tried to see it from the point of view of someone looking in, because I was CDI for three years and also director of naval intelligence for three years. Possibly there is scope for doing something here: we need to look at that. I am sure that all noble Lords recognise that these increases are substantial sums and proof of the Government’s commitment. As a couple of speakers have said, it is absolutely right that we should have done that, and I thank all speakers for their support for the individuals involved in the agencies who deserve our full support.
Since the publication of the 2009-10 ISC report, the results of further work on the feasibility of allowing intercept as evidence in the UK have been published, following the Privy Council review of January 2008. I welcome the Committee’s recognition of the comprehensiveness of the work on this issue, led by the Home Office, which has concluded that none of the approaches identified in the further scoping analysis is capable of meeting both the operational and fair-trial requirements. This conclusion has been supported by the Advisory Group of Privy Counsellors, which includes my noble and learned friend Lord Archer of Sandwell. It remains the Government’s desire to find a way to implement intercept as evidence, provided that that does not jeopardise the protection of the public or national security.
The sharing of intelligence with partners—a number of speakers raised this—lies at the heart of the agencies’ ability to carry out their work. Huge amounts of information are shared every day on the basis of trust and the assumption that sensitive material will be protected by those who receive it. I share the ISC’s concern that the principle of originator control of intelligence material is upheld—a couple of speakers talked about this—and I welcome the Court of Appeal’s recognition and reaffirmation of the control principle in the case of Binyam Mohamed. That was slightly missed in the media frenzy around other aspects of the case.
Links with the United States are still good. Do we need to do any more post all this? I think not; things have settled down remarkably. I have had more than 20 years of very close links with people in all the US intelligence agencies—I have grown up with them, in a sense—and I am not unusual in that. There are a lot of us like that, which allows us to have this amazingly close link. I have been very privileged in my career to have gained an insight into the importance of the work of the security and intelligence agencies to our national security and I am second to none in my appreciation of it. Indeed, I was deputy chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee for just over three years, just after the noble Baroness was chairman of it, and chaired a number of meetings.
The staff of the agencies play an invaluable and often unsung role in ensuring our security and safety, as we have said, and I am sure that all in the House, not just in this Committee, will join me in paying tribute to their dedication, resolve and expertise.
My noble friend Lord Foulkes talked about the delay in publication. This was extremely unfortunate. I will not go into when the drafts were received by the Prime Minister, as that would be nit-picking. One could say that this happened and that happened, but that is not important. The important thing is that these things come out in a timely way, and we must ensure that that happens in the future.
As for the SCOPE project, the Cabinet Office is now working with the contractor to resolve issues arising from the termination of the programme. The aim of the work is to ensure that the Government and the taxpayer recover appropriate value from the supplier. The details of the discussions are obviously bound by commercial confidence and have to remain so, so I cannot say more.
My noble friend Lord Foulkes and the noble Baroness talked about cybersecurity and duplication. There is some risk of duplication and cybersecurity because things are moving so quickly. The Office of Cyber Security in the Cabinet Office is looking at all the mechanisms in place that deliver the national cybersecurity strategy, and we are making sure that they are joined up. The office is working very hard. I have put it under immense pressure. It worked right up to Christmas and after, with very little break because we need to deliver stuff now, and we are working very hard on that.
I touched earlier on the Northern Ireland issue, which worries me immensely. About 13 per cent of the security services’ resources were allocated to that in 2008-09. The amount went up to 18 per cent in 2009-10, and it is a real concern. One hopes that this will ease as a result of some of the recent political moves, but we need to watch this very carefully.
My noble friend also touched on the loss of laptops. There is no evidence that any of the classified data on them have been compromised. It is likely that most of them were destroyed in GCHQ, but it is quite clear that the accounting controls were not adequate and there must be no complacency. This is a good wake-up call. Again, although this is a small thing, it is the sort of thing that the ISC can do.
I was asked specifically about the investigator. My right honourable friend David Miliband has written to the committee and said that the Government will be happy to co-operate voluntarily with the investigator if he pursues the two politically non-sensitive topics that it has proposed during the election period, so that will be moving ahead.
Why does it matter what the investigator is tackling? He reports to the committee, and the committee will not be sitting anyway so there will be no risk of a leak. We know that the Government have put an embargo on journalists being out in Afghanistan—is that right?—so we seem to be getting completely neurotic about the ordinary progress of work.
My Lords, if the noble Lord is right, I am not aware of the embargo on journalists. It is amazing quite how often leaks happen—that is probably because we do not chop people’s legs off enough when they do, but that is another issue—but I slightly share the noble Lord’s view. However, that is the letter written by my right honourable friend, and that is where we stand. I am not the Minister responsible for this; it is the Foreign Secretary.
There is no basis for the accusations that the Security Service has withheld documents. The agencies co-operate fully with the ISC, and considerable investment has been made and continues to be made in all our agencies to improve IT and record-keeping systems. A noble Lord raised how extraordinary it was that records should not have been kept correctly. I have to say that after many years being involved in Whitehall, with various government departments and in the MoD, it is definitely not a surprise to me that sometimes they are not kept as well as they should be. That is not an excuse; that should be done better. Some departments, though, in my experience over the past 25 years or so, can occasionally be quite shambolic. We have to get better.
The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, raised the issue of the fully resilient GCHQ data centre. There is a programme on this tonight, and I will be interested to see if that says anything about it—I have no idea what it is going to say. I will write to the noble Baroness about the detail, if I may; I do not think it is appropriate to go through it here. I know that GCHQ is looking at a number of options, including the increased use of other UK sites and possibly joining in with the Security Service and SIS joint data centre later. That is an option, although there are issues of cost.
I touch again on the cyber threat, which is extremely daunting; in fact, it is horrifying. I became aware of this at the end of the 1990s when I was CDI and started trying to do some work on state-on-state issues, to stop some states doing things. That is quite difficult because of attribution. When I came into this post two and a half years ago, I was intent on ensuring that we did something. We now have a cybersecurity strategy. I want to see CSG more and more linked in through CSOC, which will be doing this difficult work. This is a difficult and complex area and we have to do something about it.
The number of attacks on a daily basis on all our systems in this country are mind-boggling, and the state-on-state ones are terrifying in terms of both the skill of some of them and what they achieve, particularly in terms of getting intellectual property rights out of very large UK firms. When it comes to serious organised crime, we see only the tip of the iceberg; we are talking about £50 billion a year globally in terms of the money coming from this. This is a big and current issue, which is why, when I set up the OCS and CSOC, I said, “Let us not look at an IOC or an FOC for you chaps. You are to start working today to resolve this”. That is what they are doing on a daily basis—tackling these issues.
It is interesting to look at the Americans, who have their Cyber Czar, Mr Schmidt. I think that they now have nine people working in the west wing on this issue, which is slightly fewer than us in the OCS. They have even greater problems than us but the Americans are always very good, when they finally get to grips with something, at throwing resources at it. We must be locked in so that when they throw those resources we can get a hike-up, and we must be slightly ahead of them to achieve that.
The noble Baroness raised the cross-agency spending review and the joint bid to the Treasury. We are looking at shared services and things like that. It is always amazing how difficult these things seem to be, but it is something that we have to try to achieve.
I could not agree more about analytical capability. When I was Chief of Defence Intelligence, I became aware that because of changes in the Foreign Office, I had the largest group of analysts in the United Kingdom. As the noble Baroness said, that is crucial because we need accurate and clever analysis. I am not sure where the professional head of intelligence analysis, the chairman of the JIC, has got to on a number of these areas. There are areas to do with how open source can be analysed and worked on. I shall write to the noble Baroness on that.
We reported on the National Security Forum on 22 March in the Written Ministerial Statement about the national security strategy. We have done a huge amount of work. I am pleased because it has achieved more than I thought it would. It has done some very valuable work on nuclear issues, energy supply, space security and the defence Green Paper. It gives us a link to IISS, Chatham House, RUSI, academe and the universities and has been very useful. The noble Baroness said that there is confusion over cybersecurity. I do not think there is. I agree that it is highly complex, but we are getting a focus and moving ahead on it. On the national security strategy and the agencies, the agencies, in a sense, take direction on what they are looking at. RFIs help in terms of the work on the national security strategy, but I shall say a little more about that in a minute.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, talked about US rendition flights via Diego Garcia. We reported them as soon as we became aware of them. We had been assured beforehand by the US that there had been no flights. The US then went through some old records, found them and told us. As soon as we knew, we said it. We make every effort to verify assurances, but we cannot work on the basis that we do not trust our allies. They are aware of how upsetting that was for us and of what a terrible business it was. That is how that occurred.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, is right about languages and expertise. When I was Chief of Defence Intelligence, we did not have numbers of people who could the Balkan languages and we were deeply involved in fighting there. We had lots of very good Russian speakers, and we even had Columbian speakers—people who could speak dialects—because we had been doing stuff in the drug war out there, but no speakers of Balkan languages. When we went into Afghanistan, I had hardly anyone who could speak Pashtun and all the dialects there. The noble Lord is right that we need to look at this carefully in terms of academe, universities and our language training. We need more Farsi speakers. It is always a real problem.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, talked about remedial teaching of English. All I know about that is that when I was First Sea Lord, we had to institute it at Dartmouth because, believe it or not, we found that some people coming out of universities could not write a proper letter, so it may be that some English remedial work has to go on.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, also touched on terrorist funding. We have done a huge amount with the Terrorist Finance Action Group in looking at this and have had a real effect. The AQ leadership in Fatah is really suffering on funding, partly because some has gone to the Taliban but also because of the huge pressure we have put on. We are keeping this going. I have told the team. We now have a smaller group that looks at this all the time. It is rather like when you are boxing: if a chap has a slight cut on his eye, you keep whacking it. That is what we have to do with these people. Similarly, we are now putting huge pressure on Taliban funding because that can have an impact on our men and women who are at risk on a daily basis in Afghanistan. We can do things such as find ID routes and spares and how items get there by squeezing the funding. It is very important, and we are focusing on it.
I touched a little on international co-operation. The US is obliviously the closest and the 5Is community. We talk with the EU a lot. I have been over there a number of times and have talked about cyber. I do not think the EU had realised what a threat it is, but now it does and has asked us to do certain work for it. But sometimes we have difficulties. For example, on the SWIFT issue to do with funding, it does not see things the same way as we do, often because it does not appreciate the risks. I think what is needed is for us to explain these things in more detail, and, of course, we have one-to-one links with others.
As an admiral, I was a little shocked to hear the Union Jack story with regard to Menwith Hill. It is called the Union Jack only when it is on the forrard part of a ship; otherwise, it is the Union flag. I had to get that one right.
We have never had a national security strategy before and it is good that we have one. Yes, there are flaws in it and things need to be corrected and the second one was a lot better but we look on it in terms of threats to our citizens. It covers the whole mass of threats to our citizens within this country and worldwide, ranging from state on state threats—what are the implications of failing states?—nation building, counterterrorism, and all the spin-offs from that in terms of the CONTEST strategy, cybersecurity, serious organised crime and how that folds into it, all the work that has been done on that, and the whole programme of work we are doing, right down through to the resilience of our national infrastructure and natural disasters, pandemics, and all of that. All of that is now caught in there. We have horizon scanning, looking worldwide and horizon scanning internally and domestically. We are addressing all these issues. Yes, we have a long way to go and we must not be complacent, but, goodness me, we are in a far better place than we were two and a half years ago, and we are looking at all those things in a complex way.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, for giving his background to the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert. When I was CDI, I wondered why he suddenly seemed to parachute in as Minister DP. I now understand exactly what happened and I thank the noble Lord for that. I also understand why he was so very interested in me as Chief of Defence Intelligence during the Kosovo operation. That was very useful and I thank the noble Lord very much for it.
I have probably said more than enough. I hope that I have answered most of the questions. If there is anything that I have missed, I shall be very happy to respond after the debate.
My Lords, my reply can be very brief for a number of reasons: first, because I spoke for rather longer in my opening speech than I had intended; and, secondly, because the Minister’s reply was expert and comprehensive and dealt with most of the points.
This debate has indicated the wisdom of the Government’s decision to have debates on the committee’s annual report. This is the second one we have had here and there have been two in the other place. This is new and reflects the way in which the committee and public scrutiny have developed. It is a very welcome step. I am only sorry that the speech of my good friend Lord Campbell-Savours was cut short because of the conventions of Grand Committee. I am sure that he will never let that happen again. I certainly would not wish it to happen again.
This has been a very good debate. I was rather disconcerted to find myself agreeing with so much of what the opposition spokesman, the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, said. There were only a couple of points that I disagreed with. The Minister will be pleased to hear that perhaps I am returning to type. She described what was happening in the intelligence area as reflecting uncertainty and muddling along. That is the wrong impression. There have been some little local difficulties as far as the committee and the Government are concerned, but it is wrong to give the impression that she did. In terms of security, the agencies are working tremendously hard. There is a clear policy and, as the Minister said, things have improved substantially in the past few years. The other point on which I disagreed with the noble Baroness was when she questioned the finances. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, generously and correctly made clear, the increase in the single intelligence account has been remarkably large—other departments would have loved to have it—and rightly so given the threats. That point needs to be repeated.
I do not want to say anything about cybersecurity because the Minister dealt with it extremely well. A number of noble Lords referred to intercept as evidence. The committee, which has looked at this again and again in great detail, remains unconvinced that using intercept as evidence would make a useful contribution to securing successful prosecutions. Our main concern as a committee was that the interception capabilities of the intelligence agencies were not damaged by any move towards making interception material admissible. We are not surprised that the legal model of interception as evidence which was designed and tested is not viable, and certainly welcome what the Government have done in relation to that.
There was a call for judge-led inquiries. The noble Lord, Lord King, will know as well as I do, if not better, that there is an Investigatory Powers Tribunal that is little known about and little used. It can carry out investigations in individual cases, which we are not able to do, because we look at the policy. I advise all Members and people beyond this House to look at the role, nature and constitution of that tribunal to see whether it can be used in some of the cases mentioned.
The Minister was slightly hesitant on whether it was a generous step forward by the Foreign Secretary to agree to our investigator doing the two pieces of work during the Recess; I welcome it. I understand the point that the noble Lord, Lord King, made, but it is an acceptance of the principle, and we or our successors can make sure that it is strengthened and reinforced when we come back.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, was kind and generous about the work being done by the committee and was concerned about my level of activity. I say to him that the committee has effectively met every Tuesday when the Houses are sitting. Fortunately, the Scottish Parliament sits on Wednesday and Thursday, which makes life a lot easier.
There has been a groundswell of opinion from both sides of the House that there needs to be a fundamental change in the nature of our committee. That has been discussed by the committee. We understand the pros and cons. I understand the comments made from both government and opposition Members that moving to the Ministry of Justice may be tinkering with the set-up and is not the fundamental and necessary change. When an opinion comes from both the noble Lord, Lord King, and my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours, everyone needs to take account of it; it is not often that they agree on these kind of things. I am sure that they also agree that the matter needs to be looked at carefully, to see exactly how it would work, to make sure that secrets were preserved when that was vital, and to make sure that the composition of the committee was appropriate; I go no further than that.
I strongly agree with what the noble Lord, Lord King, said in relation to more Members from this House, whatever the structure. I find it difficult being the only such Member. It is wrong that there be only one Member from this House, on something on which we and the other place are both interested. Whatever changes take place—whatever the structure, whether the committee is parliamentary or continues to report to the Prime Minister—I hope that whoever is in government will make sure that this House is better represented.
I also carefully noted the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord King, that, in the unlikely event of a Conservative Government, the chair should be from the then Opposition. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours and I would take every opportunity of returning to that, if it were to happen.
This has been an extremely helpful debate. The level of information from people participating in it shows how valuable this House is in the question of scrutiny of intelligence and reinforces what the noble Lord, Lord King, said—that it should be better represented in the committee. I look forward to taking part in the debate in future years, in whatever capacity.