I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in paying tribute to the Royal Marine who died on Thursday, the soldier from the Royal Dragoon Guards who died yesterday, and the soldier from 1st Battalion the Mercian Regiment who died from wounds sustained in Afghanistan in Birmingham yesterday. We should constantly remember the service and the sacrifices made on our behalf by our armed forces and their families, keep them in our thoughts and prayers and thank them for what they do on our behalf.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on our intelligence services and allegations made about the treatment of detainees. For the past few years, the reputation of our security services has been overshadowed by allegations about their involvement in the treatment of detainees held by other countries. Some of those detainees allege that they were mistreated by those countries. Other allegations have also been made about the UK’s involvement in the rendition of detainees in the aftermath of 9/11. Those allegations are not proven, but today we face a totally unacceptable situation. Our services are paralysed by paperwork as they try to defend themselves in lengthy court cases with uncertain rules. Our reputation as a country that believes in human rights, justice, fairness and the rule of law—indeed, much of what the services exist to protect—risks being tarnished. Public confidence is being eroded, with people doubting the ability of our services to protect us and questioning the rules under which they operate. And terrorists and extremists are able to exploit those allegations for their own propaganda.
I myself, the Deputy Prime Minister and the coalition Government all believe that it is time to clear up this matter once and for all, so today I want to set out how we will deal with the problems of the past, how we will sort out the future and, crucially, how we can make sure that the security services are able to get on and do their job to keep us safe. But first, let us be clear about the work that they do. I believe that we have the finest intelligence services in the world. In the past, it was the intelligence services that cracked the secrets of Enigma and helped deliver victory in world war two. They recruited Russian spies such as Gordievsky and Mitrokhin, and kept Britain safe in the cold war. They helped disrupt the Provisional IRA in the 1980s and 1990s.
Today, these tremendous acts of bravery continue. Every day, intelligence officers track terrorist threats and disrupt plots. They prevent the world’s most dangerous weapons from falling into the hands of the world’s most dangerous states. And they give our forces in Afghanistan the information that they need to take key decisions. They do this without any public—or, often, even private—recognition, and despite the massive personal risks to their safety.
We should never forget that some officers have died for this country. Their names are not known; their loved ones must mourn in secret. The service that they have given to our country is not publicly recognised. We owe them, and every intelligence officer in our country, an enormous debt of gratitude. As Minister for the intelligence services, I am determined to do everything possible to help them get on with the job that they trained to do and that we desperately need them to do.
However, to do that, we need to resolve the issues of the past. While there is no evidence that any British officer was directly engaged in torture in the aftermath of 9/11, there are questions over the degree to which British officers were working with foreign security services who were treating detainees in ways they should not have done. About a dozen cases have been brought in court about the actions of UK personnel—including, for example, that since 9/11 they may have witnessed mistreatment such as the use of hoods and shackles. This has led to accusations that Britain may have been complicit in the mistreatment of detainees. The longer these questions remain unanswered, the bigger will grow the stain on our reputation as a country that believes in freedom, fairness and human rights.
That is why I am determined to get to the bottom of what happened. The intelligence services are also keen publicly to establish their principles and integrity. So we will have a single, authoritative examination of all these issues. We cannot start that inquiry while criminal investigations are ongoing, and it is not feasible to start it while so many civil law suits remain unresolved. So we want to do everything that we can to help that process along. That is why we are committed to mediation with those who have brought civil claims about their detention in Guantanamo. And wherever appropriate, we will offer compensation.
As soon as we have made enough progress, an independent inquiry, led by a judge, will be held. It will look at whether Britain was implicated in the improper treatment of detainees, held by other countries, that may have occurred in the aftermath of 9/11. The inquiry will need to look at the relevant Government Departments and intelligence services. Should we have realised sooner that what foreign agencies were doing may have been unacceptable and that we should not have been associated with it? Did we allow our own high standards to slip, either systemically or individually? Did we give clear enough guidance to officers in the field? Was information flowing quickly enough from officers on the ground to the intelligence services and then on to Ministers, so that we knew what was going on and what our response should have been?
We should not be for one moment naive or starry-eyed about the circumstances under which our security services were working in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. There was a real danger that terrorists could get their hands on a dirty bomb, chemical or biological weapons, or even worse. Threat levels had been transformed. The urgency with which we needed to protect our citizens was pressing. But let me state clearly that we need to know the answers, if things went wrong, why, and what we must do to uphold the standards that people expect. I have asked the right hon. Sir Peter Gibson, former senior Court of Appeal judge and currently the statutory commissioner for the intelligence services, to lead the inquiry. The three-member inquiry team will also include Dame Janet Paraskeva, head of the Civil Service Commissioners, and Peter Riddell, former journalist and senior fellow at the Institute for Government.
I have today made public a letter to the inquiry chair setting out what the inquiry will cover, so Sir Peter Gibson can finalise the details with us before it starts. We hope that it will start before the end of this year and report within a year. This inquiry cannot and will not be costly or open-ended; that would serve neither the interests of justice nor national security. Neither can it be a full public inquiry. Of course, some of its hearings will be in public. However, we must be realistic; inquiries into our intelligence services are not like other inquiries. Some information must be kept secret—information about sources, capabilities and partnerships. Let us be frank: it is not possible to have a full public inquiry into something that is meant to be secret. So any intelligence material provided to the inquiry panel will not be made public, and nor will intelligence officers be asked to give evidence in public.
But that does not mean we cannot get to the bottom of what happened. The inquiry will be able to look at all the information relevant to its work, including secret information; it will have access to all relevant Government papers, including those held by the intelligence services; and it will be able to take evidence—in public—including from those who have brought accusations against the Government, and their representatives and interest groups. Importantly, the head of the civil service and the intelligence services will ensure that the inquiry gets the full co-operation it needs from Departments and agencies. So I am confident the inquiry will reach an authoritative view on the actions of the state and our services, and make proper recommendations for the future.
Just as we are determined to resolve the problems of the past, so we are determined to have greater clarity about what is and what is not acceptable in the future. That is why today we are also publishing the guidance issued to intelligence and military personnel on how to deal with detainees held by other countries. The previous Government had promised to do this, but did not, and we are doing it today. It makes clear the following: first, our services must never take any action where they know or believe that torture will occur; secondly, if they become aware of abuses by other countries, they should report it to the UK Government so we can try to stop it; and thirdly, in cases where our services believe that there may be information crucial to saving lives but where there may also be a serious risk of mistreatment, it is for Ministers, rightly, to determine the action, if any, that our services should take. My right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary, Home Secretary and Defence Secretary have also today laid in the House further information about their roles in those difficult cases.
There is something else we have to address, and that is how court cases deal with intelligence information. Today, there are serious problems. The services cannot disclose anything that is secret in order to defend themselves in court with confidence that that information will be protected. There are also doubts about our ability to protect the secrets of our allies and stop them ending up in the public domain. This has strained some of our oldest and most important security partnerships in the world—in particular, that with America. Hon. Members should not underestimate the vast two-way benefit this US-UK relationship has brought in disrupting terrorist plots and saving lives.
So we need to deal with these problems. We hope that the Supreme Court will provide further clarity on the underlying law within the next few months. And next year, we will publish a Green Paper which will set out our proposals for how intelligence is treated in the full range of judicial proceedings, including addressing the concerns of our allies. In this process, the Government will seek the views of the cross-party Intelligence and Security Committee. I can announce today that I have appointed my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) as the Chair of that Committee for the duration of this Parliament.
As we meet in the relative safety of this House today, let us not forget this: as we speak, al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen are meeting in secret to plot attacks against us; terrorists are preparing to attack our forces in Afghanistan; the Real IRA is planning its next strike against security forces in Northern Ireland; and rogue regimes are still trying to acquire nuclear weapons. At the same time, men and women, young and old, all of them loyal and dedicated, are getting ready to work again around the world. They will be meeting sources, translating documents, listening in on conversations, replaying CCTV footage, installing cameras, following terrorists—all to keep us safe from these threats. We cannot have their work impeded by these allegations, and we need to restore Britain’s moral leadership in the world. That is why we are determined to clear things up, and why I commend this statement to the House.
May I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to the Royal Marine who died on Thursday, the soldier from the Royal Dragoon Guards who died yesterday, and the soldier from 1st Battalion the Mercian Regiment, who died from wounds sustained in Afghanistan yesterday? Our thoughts are with their grieving families.
I am grateful to the Prime Minister for his statement. The use of torture is morally abhorrent and has no place in this country or in any civilised society. It is against our law in this country, and indeed it is one of only a small number of offences that can be brought to court in this country no matter where in the world the offence was committed. It is a grave crime against humanity, and its prohibition is embodied in international law. There must be no hiding place for those who practise it and no excuse for those who turn a blind eye to it. The United Kingdom should always be at the forefront of international efforts to detect and expose torture and to bring those responsible for it to justice. To play our part in leading the world, we must lead by example.
I reiterate our condemnation of the US Guantanamo detention centre. It is clearly in breach of the law, which is why it is not on the US mainland and why we made great efforts to secure the release of British nationals and British residents from Guantanamo—the only country that successfully brought back its citizens. With our having secured the release of all our citizens and all but one of our residents, may I ask whether the Prime Minister is continuing the efforts that we made to bring back the final remaining British resident who is still detained?
May I agree with the Prime Minister that it is right that anyone who takes part in or aids and abets torture is criminally liable and must be accountable for their actions and responsible to the criminal courts? There is, of course, a criminal investigation under way, which was referred to the police by the then Attorney-General Baroness Scotland. Will the Prime Minister confirm that that investigation will proceed to its conclusion independently and unimpeded?
I agree with the Prime Minister that it is right that we have proper accountability for our security services, and I reaffirm our support in that respect for the work of the Intelligence and Security Committee. I welcome his appointment of the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) to chair the committee. He will undertake that important work with the integrity and commitment for which he is respected in all parts of the House, ensuring that the ISC plays its part in the strong framework of accountability that includes accountability to Ministers; to the heads of the agencies; to the two commissioners for the intelligence services, both retired High Court judges; to the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation Lord Carlile, to whom I also pay tribute; and to the courts.
I welcome the publication today of consolidated guidance for intelligence officers and the military on the questioning of suspects held overseas. That was a complex process, which we committed to and was under way, so we are pleased that it has been completed with publication today.
I hope that the administrative inquiry led by Sir Peter Gibson, who is one of the Intelligence Services Commissioners, which the Prime Minister has announced today, will help bring the matter to a conclusion. Can he tell the House a bit more about the terms under which the inquiry will be conducted? What will it be able to do that the Intelligence and Security Committee is not able to do? Will the inquiry have extra powers that the ISC does not have, and if so, what?
The Prime Minister has told the House that the inquiry will be able to have some of its hearings in public; the ISC, of course, can do that. He has told the House that the inquiry will be able to look at all the information relevant to its work, including secret information. As I understand it, that is the case with the ISC. He says that it will have access to all relevant Government papers, including those held by the intelligence services, and I very much hope that that will be the case for the ISC. He also says that it will be able to take evidence in public, including from those who have brought accusations against the Government and their representatives and interest groups. That is, of course, the case with the ISC too. He concluded that the inquiry would have the full co-operation of the civil service and intelligence services, and of course we hope that that is always the case with the ISC.
The Prime Minister has confirmed that concluding the question of criminal responsibility will take precedence, and that the administrative inquiry will start only when the criminal investigation and any proceedings thereafter are concluded. As he said, there are currently under way a number of cases in the civil courts in which former detainees are taking action against members of the security services. Can he clarify more specifically the effect of the mediation in advance of the administrative inquiry on these cases? Can he confirm that those cases will not be superseded by the inquiry, which would need the consent of the plaintiffs and any future plaintiffs? Can he clarify the circumstances in which compensation might be awarded if the courts ultimately found that there was no liability?
Will the Prime Minister acknowledge the importance of the Human Rights Act 1998, which enshrines in British law the European convention on human rights and the protections that article 3 affords:
“No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”?
Will he affirm to the House today his support for the Human Rights Act, which ensures that, when there is a breach of human rights, including the right not to be tortured, the victim can take action in our courts rather than spending up to seven years taking the case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg? Will he reaffirm that it is never right for us to deport from this country those who would face torture in their home country?
I invite the Prime Minister to reaffirm the UK’s support for the work of the United Nations to end torture, including the convention against torture and the 2002 optional protocol, which establishes an international system of inspections for places of detention.
So that the security services can proceed with their important work to protect this country, with all inquiries concluded, will the Prime Minister confirm how long he expects the inquiry to take from when it starts work? He said that it would take no longer than a year. We hope that it can start as soon as possible, but will he explain how he believes that it will be able to start before the end of the year?
I endorse the Prime Minister’s support for the difficult and often dangerous work of our security services. The whole country has reason to be grateful to officers from all branches of the intelligence services for their fearless work throughout the world to keep this country safe.
May I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for her response and questions? She is right to pay tribute to the security services. It is because we revere and respect what they do that we want to get on with the inquiry and get it done. To answer one of her questions, that is why it is limited to a year, and I hope that it gets started before the end of the year.
Let me deal with the questions in turn. I agree with the right hon. and learned Lady about torture—we have signed countless prohibitions against it, we do not condone it anywhere in the world, and we should be clear that information derived from it is useless. We should also be clear that we should not deport people to be tortured elsewhere, but we should redouble our efforts—my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will be doing that with the Home Secretary—to ensure that we can have guarantees from other countries so that we can deport people to them knowing that they will not be tortured.
On Guantanamo, we are making efforts on behalf of the case that the right hon. and learned Lady mentioned. As she probably knows, it involves a UK resident rather than a UK national.
On whether the current criminal case can continue unimpeded, yes, of course it can. It is a matter for the police and the prosecuting authorities.
The right hon. and learned Lady made several points about the Intelligence and Security Committee. I thank her for her comments about my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington. He will do an excellent job and it is an important committee. However, in answer to why there is an inquiry rather than the Intelligence and Security Committee doing the job, the inquiry will be led by a judge and will be fully independent of Parliament, party and Government. That is what we need to get to the bottom of the case. The fact that it is led by a judge will help ensure that we get it done properly. Although I have ultimate respect for the Intelligence and Security Committee, during the previous Parliament, there was such a run-around between the Government and the Committee—not about holding an inquiry, but about publishing the guidance—that I wonder whether the right hon. and learned Lady is taking the right line on that. It is much better to have a judge-led inquiry—[Interruption.] She has not taken a position, and I am pleased to hear that.
The right hon. and learned Lady asked why we should try to mediate civil cases. We want to clear the decks, get the inquiry done and sort out the problem, so why not try to mediate the existing civil cases, roll them up, deal with them, hold the inquiry, get to the bottom of what happened, and set out the guidance for the future so that we remove the stain on Britain’s reputation and ensure that our security services can get on with the work? I do not see an alternative; I think that the Government have gripped the matter quickly and comprehensively. I think that is the right answer so we can move on.
Anyone who has been a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee would want to join in the tributes to all three services that the Prime Minister and the acting leader of the Labour party paid. The Prime Minister has struck a delicate balance between competing interests. Perhaps the most powerful reason for having a judge rather than the committee—apart from the volume of material that must be examined—is the primary need to ensure public confidence and an outcome that satisfies the public that everything has been done fully and impartially to get to the bottom of the allegations.
I am very grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for the way he puts that. Public confidence is essential and there are competing interests. I do not want to hide that from people. That is the reason for not having a full judicial inquiry. We want a judge-led inquiry, but at the same time, we need to have regard to the importance of the security services and their work, and to the fact that a lot of what they do must, by its very nature, remain secret.
The Prime Minister referred to his hope that the inquiry could be established by the end of the year if the mediation process leads to the court cases being removed from the equation. Is not that very naive? What possible incentive would people have to come to an agreement unless they are to be given very large amounts of money? At this time of public concern about the finances, will he clarify what he is proposing? How much money will be available, and what happens at the end of the year if people do not accept a mediation process? Does no inquiry start?
I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that what would be naive is to try to mediate in public, which he is inviting me to do. I do not think that that would be sensible. To try to answer his question as directly as I can, I think there are two things that those involved in such cases might want, one of which is compensation if they feel that they have been mistreated. Mediation can deal with that, but the second thing they might want, which the inquiry goes to, is some recognition of what went wrong—if something went wrong—and to know what we are going to do about it. Therefore, the two-stage process of the mediation and the inquiry is the right answer.
May I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement and in particular the warm and justified support that he gave to the intelligence services? In the previous Parliament, the Intelligence and Security Committee produced two reports, neither of which was published. The first was into the rendition and interrogation of Binyam Mohamed, and the second was into the guidance and treatment of detainees. Will he confirm that both reports will be made available to the inquiry? Will the guidance that he is publishing today be the same guidance that was in force for the past decade, or will it be the revised guidance to which the Home Office and Foreign Office were opposed until as recently as last April?
My hon. Friend served on that Committee and knows its work extremely well. To answer his questions, it is right that the reports to which he refers will be made available to the inquiry. The guidance we are publishing today is neither the past guidance nor the guidance the ISC looked at: it is indeed new, amalgamated guidance, which is public, and I urge him to read it. We are not publishing the ISC report from the previous Parliament on the last set of guidance, because that would be slightly misleading—it is a report into guidance that no longer exists. That is the right approach, and I ask him to look at the guidance to see what he thinks.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement and in particular his support for, and reaffirmation of, the very brave work of the security services. He will be all too well aware of the likely impact of the inquiry on communities here in Britain, because of the events that it deals with. As the inquiry progresses, I ask him to be conscious of the need to explain, to be as transparent as possible, and to be aware of the impact on our communities here in Britain of some of the allegations that may be made in relation to events that occurred elsewhere.
The right hon. Lady makes an extremely good point, and all right hon. and hon. Members can play their part. Different communities in our country will welcome what has been said today as an effort to get to the truth and the facts, and to find out what happened to make sure it cannot happen again. That will be welcomed, and I am sure she will be able to play her part in that.
I warmly welcome the Prime Minister’s statement. It was courageous and very thoughtful, and the inquiry is a huge step forward as it can draw a line under a sorry affair that has been eroding public confidence in our security services, which do such good work on our behalf. Will he clarify that the remit that will be given to the inquiry will be broad enough to encompass all allegations of complicity in rendition, including on rendition flights, the use of Diego Garcia and the transfer of prisoners in theatre?
Yes, I can confirm that the inquiry will be able to look at all those issues, including rendition, extraordinary rendition and the case that my hon. Friend mentions involving Diego Garcia.
As a former member of the Intelligence and Security Committee, I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement today. What he proposes to deal with the past is correct and what he proposes for dealing with the future is correct. However, I have some concerns about the present. Before the inquiry is established, some cases will arise in which there may be some doubt about an issue that has arisen and the dangers to public safety in this country. Can he give the House an assurance that when ministerial involvement is necessary—and I accept that that is a good way forward—it will, in such cases, be dealt with speedily?
The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. All the published guidance in the world cannot deal with all the incredibly difficult circumstances in which our brave intelligence officers find themselves in different parts of the world. The guidance is there as guidance. It is as clear as it can be, but it is right that there are circumstances in which decisions are referred to Ministers. In the end, Ministers are accountable in Parliament and are able to make those decisions. The right hon. Gentleman’s point is a good one: if that happens, it may need to happen very speedily, and we will put in place arrangements so that that can happen.
I commend the Prime Minister on coming to such a fast decision on this important issue and I support what he had to say today, including his commendation of our intelligence services. Will he reinforce what I think underpinned much of what he said, which was that this tribunal will be able to follow the evidence wherever it goes; that it will not only have access to people and papers, but to in camera court records that relate to this; and, when it comes to conclusions, it will be the decision of the tribunal, and the tribunal alone, as to what is published in the national interest?
I thank my right hon. Friend for those points and for his support on this issue. It was important to reach a speedy conclusion, because this has been hanging over us for too long. We are not dealing with issues that we have inherited from 2007, 2008 and 2009. These go back some way, to after 9/11, and it is important that we grip them. He asked whether the inquiry would be able to look at court records, and I am sure that the answer to that is yes. As for what will be made public, it will be for Sir Peter to draw up his report. He can follow the evidence exactly where it leads, he can look at secret documents and all the intelligence information, but the report will be to me—and in the end, as Prime Minister and Minister for the intelligence services, I have to make a decision about what should be put in the public domain. It is my intention to publish the report—that is what I want to do—but I have to have regard for what is in the national interest and in our security interest, and that is something that I will have to decide.
On the eve of the fifth anniversary of 7/7, no one in this House is likely for one moment to underestimate the acute terrorist threat, but is it not a matter of great concern that one of our most senior judges, the Master of the Rolls, said this year in court that British security officials
“appear to have a dubious record when it comes to human rights and coercive techniques”?
Did not experience in Northern Ireland over 30 years demonstrate time and again that torture only helps terrorism, and certainly does not help to undermine it?
There is no suggestion that British agents, officials or security service personnel were in any way involved directly in torture. It is important that we get it straight that that is not what is being said. The hon. Gentleman’s general point is right: we do not keep ourselves safe and secure—or promote the things in which we believe—if we drop our standards. We both served on the Home Affairs Committee that met in those difficult days straight after 9/11, and I remember—I am sure that he does, too—the great pressure there was on everybody to find out what was going to happen next. We should remember, as we carry out this inquiry, the pressures that were on security services across the world to try to prevent a repeat of those dreadful events.
Will the previous findings of the Intelligence and Security Committee on all these matters be, partly, the building blocks of the inquiry? Will the Prime Minister also concede that the test that he has rightly reserved to Ministers represents a classic moral dilemma, because while taking every possible step to ensure that Britain has in no way assisted or abetted torture, a decision has to be made on how to relate to the services of regimes whose conduct we do not trust, but who may hold information vital to the safety of the people of this country?
The right hon. Gentleman is right that the previous ISC findings will be enormously helpful to the inquiry. However, let me try to clarify a bit further what Ministers would have to decide—although hon. Members can also read the guidance published today. It is not that Ministers would be consulted in cases of torture, because torture is ruled out completely. This difficult matter refers to cases of so-called mistreatment, of which there is no proper definition: it can range from things that we would probably consider to be torture, such as waterboarding, to factors such as an inappropriately sized cell. That is why there is some need, in the very difficult circumstances with which one of our agents could be faced, for that level of discretion. That is the sort of moment we have to try to consider and get right, and not be over-bureaucratic about.
I welcome the establishment of this inquiry and the appointment of the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind). The Prime Minister is right to praise the work of the security services, but will he also acknowledge the work done by the Metropolitan police counter-terrorism unit? Given that, as a distinguished former member of the Home Affairs Committee, he has accepted one of the Committee’s recommendations—the establishment of the National Security Council—will he consider the second recommendation in that area, which is for the Government to allow intercept evidence in court proceedings?
I am very keen on recommendations of the Home Affairs Committee. Another of its excellent recommendations was a border police force. On intercept, we all, I think, want to see that happen. We all want more of those accused of terrorism to go through the court process, and to be tried, convicted and imprisoned—and intercept evidence would be hugely helpful. However, it is extremely difficult to do. One of the greatest enthusiasts in the last Parliament—apart from myself—for intercept evidence being available in court was the former Member for Folkestone, Michael Howard. He was on that Committee, but did not find a way to make this happen, so let us not overestimate how easy it is to do; it is not easy at all.
I strongly welcome the Prime Minister’s approach. Does he agree that recent years have shown that targeted surveillance and intelligence are much more successful at defending a free society than an ever greater extension of guards, guns and gates? This is why his work is so important. We need intelligence services that command universal respect and get to the truth as quickly as possible.
My right hon. Friend is completely right. We need a robust and hard-nosed defence of our liberty, which means having security services that can work properly. That is why today’s announcement is important. However, we do not need what I would call ineffective authoritarianism, of which we had a bit too much under the previous regime—although I do not want to get political, as this is not a political day.
Holding the Executive to account is supposed to be the role of Parliament, not of judges or independent inquiries. Does the Prime Minister not think it about time, therefore, that the Intelligence and Security Committee was made a Committee of the House, appointed by the House, not one appointed by, and reporting to, him?
I have only been doing this job for a few weeks, and I am very happy to look at that issue. I know that it has been discussed before. Can we change the nature of the Intelligence and Security Committee? Can we help it to do its job even better? I am very happy to look at that. However, I do not think for a moment that we should believe that the ISC should be doing this piece of work. For public confidence, and for independence from Parliament, party and Government, it is right to have a judge-led inquiry. I say to Opposition Members who take a different view that these events relate to 2002-03. If the ISC was the right answer, why on earth did it not come up with it in the previous years?
The gathering of intelligence is not the same as the gathering of evidence: sometimes intelligence is required much more urgently and in a hostile environment. Could the Prime Minister give the House an assurance that after the inquiry is over, he will think very carefully before reintroducing any extra guidelines or regulations for our intelligence services that might prevent them from doing the job that they do so well at the moment?
I know that my hon. Friend has experience of these issues and thinks about them a lot. All I would say is that there is no doubt that there are serious allegations about what happened in the past. I do not want to pre-empt the report, but one thing that it needs to do is ask how we stop such things happening in future. One way to stop them is by having better guidance, so that our security services have a clearer understanding of what is and is not acceptable. That is not easy, and inevitably some people will say that the guidance is quite bureaucratic. I totally accept and understand that, but we have to have some way of trying to prevent what happened from happening again.
Does the Prime Minister know how many civil cases there are, and what the position would be if claimants did not wish to go to arbitration?
There are about a dozen cases, as I understand it. Obviously it will be better if the mediation is successful, those cases are rolled up, and we then go into the inquiry. Clearly the police have a view that the inquiry should not start until the criminal case is completed. I would hope that the civil cases can be dealt with through mediation, but if they are not, we will have to come back and consider what is appropriate.
I commend the Prime Minister for his excellent statement, which I am sure will be greeted with some relief by the intelligence services, not least because he is standing by the control principle, which it is so important to restore—that is, the principle that intelligence lent to us by our allies should not be passed on, leaked or released through the courts, as has been happening, thereby damaging our intelligence relationships. Will he give an assurance that if it becomes necessary to amend the operation of the Human Rights Act 1998, he will not flinch from doing so in order to protect our relationships with our allies?
The intelligence services do welcome the statement today; obviously I have worked closely with them on this issue. From their perspective, what I have announced will not be without difficulties or a painful process of examination, but it will get them to a better situation—one in which we can deal with this stain on Britain’s reputation and allow their officers to get on with the vital work that they do. My hon. Friend is right about the control principle. It is a simple point: if other countries do not feel that we will protect the intelligence information that they give us, they will not give it to us any more—and if they do not give it to us any more, we will not be as effective at keeping people safe. The control principle is therefore vital, although I do not think that it has anything to do with the Human Rights Act. We shall address that matter next year, through a Green Paper that can be debated and discussed in the House, because it is not easy to find a way to protect secret information in an open liberal democracy, but we have got to do it.
I, too, welcome the statement by the Prime Minister and pay tribute to the gallant, dangerous and largely unrecorded work of our security services, which has saved the lives of many individuals, including people in this House. Will the Prime Minister ensure that the inquiry is short and sharp, and is not allowed to drift beyond the remit that he has outlined in his statement today or sap the morale of our security services, which can be put down by inquiries that are largely used as propaganda tools by their enemies? On the judicial proceedings, will the Prime Minister ensure that, like the previous Administration, he will consult, and that the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) consults Privy Council members from Northern Ireland on security and intelligence matters, so that their voice is heard on those points?
I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington will have heard what the hon. Gentleman has said. As for the reassurances that he seeks from me, first he asked whether the inquiry would be short and sharp. The answer is yes: it is limited to a year. Do we want to make it clear that the inquiry will not sap the morale of intelligence officers? Absolutely: the purpose of getting on with the process within the first couple of months of a new Government is to try to clear this issue away. It is not easy and it will take some time, but it is better to start now, with an ordered process—the mediation, the public inquiry, the guidelines for the future—in order to try to put our security services and our safety on a much better footing.
If the inquiry team believes that, for the sake of the credibility of the inquiry, intelligence material should be put into the public domain, and if it is safe to do so, can the Prime Minister confirm that he will allow that to happen?
That is a very good question. The answer is that if it is safe to do so, yes of course. This is not some political witch hunt to get at Ministers from a previous Government; that is not what this is about. Likewise, it is not about trying to cover up bad things that might have happened. It is about trying to get to the bottom of what happened, to explain the context and to get the information out there. As the Minister for the intelligence services, however, I have to have regard to what it is safe to release, and that is a responsibility that I have to take very seriously.
Is the Prime Minister aware, from the general tenor of the questions this afternoon, that his statement is very welcome throughout the House? He is to be commended for it. Can he confirm that the 46 documents originating from the CIA—about which there has been a lot of discussion—will be made available not only to the inquiry but perhaps more widely as well?
The point is that the inquiry can follow the evidence wherever it leads—but let me be clear that it is not an inquiry into what the US authorities have done. It is an inquiry into what UK personnel may or may not have done. It is important that we get that straight. The stain, if you like, on the British situation is the allegations of complicity, and of what our personnel might have witnessed or in some way been complicit in. That is what we have to deal with. We are not trying to have some great inquiry into the practices and procedures of other intelligence services; that is not what the inquiry is about.
I very much welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. It will be even more warmly welcomed by Mrs Zineera Aamer and her children —the family of Shaker Aamer, the last UK resident in Guantanamo Bay. They are also my constituents. They are British citizens, and they have suffered greatly over the past eight years. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it adds urgency to the case that, in the event of the inquiry deciding that it wants to take evidence from Mr Aamer, he should, ideally, be available to give it?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point on behalf of her constituents. As I said in my statement, there will be opportunities for public evidence to be given to the inquiry, including from those who are making allegations against UK personnel. It is important that that is available, but as I said, a lot of this inquiry will not be held in public, because of the nature of what it is investigating.
I congratulate the Prime Minister and wish him well with the inquiry. I think that it is the fifth to have been set up since 9/11 and Iraq. If this one can bring some closure and draw a line, we would all be a lot happier. He made a point about mediation. Could part of that process involve encouraging certain gentlemen not to go out around the country supporting Islamists and jihadi principles and practices? That is a real problem. If they are free in our country, it is better that they do not encourage others to do things that are not very helpful.
The right hon. Gentleman and I would probably agree on the need to confront and defeat those who put forward extremist Islamist arguments. That is something that we have to do for the good of our country and for the good of the world. He asked whether an inquiry could draw a line under all this. All I would say is that I do not think there has yet been a proper attempt to look systematically at the set of allegations about whether British personnel were in any way complicit because of the things that they witnessed or were involved in. That has not been done, and it needs to be done. I would ask people who disagree: what is the alternative? Do we really want to let the civil cases roll on year after year, and have the people in our security services jammed up with paperwork trying to fight them? It is much better to clear them away and get to the bottom of this, to ensure that those people can get on with the job that they do so well.
I think that many hon. Members on both sides of the House will understand the approach to mediation in some of the civil cases, but does the Prime Minister accept that the situation is a bit more controversial when it comes to compensation, particularly if no wrongdoing on the part of the security services has been proven? Will he therefore agree to having at least some level of transparency after these processes have been completed, perhaps by publishing the amounts of compensation involved—or at the very least by not exempting that information from the Freedom of Information Act 2000?
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that this is a difficult process. Nobody wants to pay compensation that is not warranted. I would say two things to him, however. One is that it is getting increasingly difficult for the security services to defend themselves in the civil actions, because the information that they would use to defend themselves would then be made public. They do not want that to happen, so they do not bring the information forward and they cannot therefore win the case. The second thing that I would say to him is that the point about mediation is that it is a private process, and if we start advertising our mediation strategy—or, indeed, our mediation outcome—it is not necessarily going to make mediation very easy in future.
I, too, very much welcome the statement, and I find it extraordinary that, after the Labour years, a Conservative Prime Minister is making it. The Prime Minister says that he does not want to be political, but perhaps I can encourage him just a little bit. Given the Labour party’s refusal, when in government, to accept claims of torture, and its various attempts to try to make all this go away, does he not believe that former Ministers and Secretaries of States should appear before the inquiry?
It will be a matter for the inquiry to decide who it wants to see as witnesses, and it will be able summon whoever it wants. Let me stress again that this is not some attempt to draw former Ministers into some great argument; that is not what it is about. If the inquiry wants to talk to Ministers to ask them what information made it, or did not make it, to their Departments, of course it can. Above all, this is a clear attempt to get to the bottom of what happened in those very difficult years in very difficult times when allegations were made which, as the hon. Gentleman says, need to be addressed. I am pleased that our new Government have set up what I think is the right process for doing that.
Several hon. Members
Last, but certainly not least, I call Mr. Mark Durkan.
I thank the Prime Minister for acknowledging dimensions of this issue that the previous Government either denied or dithered about. Does he also accept, however, that not all of us can join in the canonisation of the security services, because many of us believe that they were complicit in some of worst crimes carried out by both loyalists and republicans in Northern Ireland? Can the Prime Minister address the peculiar sequence that now seems to be in front of us: mediation, compensation, then investigation by this inquiry—and then, presumably, adjudication and publication thereafter? Might that not be a self-frustrating sequence?
I hope that it is not. We have spent some time looking at this issue, trying to find the right way to deal with it, and we think that mediation, followed by the judge-led inquiry, is the right way to get to the bottom of it. On the hon. Gentleman’s point about the security services, I would ask him to take a wide view and look across the years, across the history and across what the security services do today—not just in Northern Ireland but right across our world—to help keep people in this country, and indeed in this House, safe. I think we should end on the note of paying tribute to those brave men and women—they are never known about, and some of them die in this cause and cannot be mourned properly by their families—and of thanking them for what they do on our behalf.
Several hon. Members
I can see that the House is hungry.