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3.23 pm

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): I shall be very brief as I am hoping to catch the eye of the occupant of the Chair after the Easter recess, on Monday 23 April, when I hope we shall have a debate on privileges. I hope to participate in that debate prior to the next general election.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) is in the Chamber, and I should like to reply to his intervention on a matter that, as he knows, has been discussed by some of our hon. Friends--the nature of the process by which Committee members are appointed.

The truth is that, if I were a Chief Whip, there are some hon. Members on both sides of the House whom I would not appoint to the Committee. That has nothing to do with whether one has been a rebel in the past or has asked hundreds of questions that may have been embarrassing to the security services. I remember a time, in the mid-1980s, when I would go to the Table Office to table questions that included names. When I was not looking, the staff would ring someone to check whether I was allowed to do so, and I always presumed that they were ringing the services to find out whether the name would identify someone who was active. But we have moved on from that.

We could never allow a system whereby someone could be appointed without great consideration. Ultimately, the whole system survives because of the relationship between the services and the Committee. The problem is that one Committee member could completely destroy the Committee's integrity and credibility. Even so, I am in favour of having on the Committee people who are questioners.

I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock would make a particularly good Committee member. I believe that he would adopt the same type of attitude to its work as I have had, and I know that he has the interests of the state very much at heart. The fact that someone is a maverick should not necessarily prevent their membership. It is a matter of where their loyalty lies. That is the issue. As a Committee member, one very quickly discovers that that is critically important.

Outsiders who consider our activities may wonder how far we have come. We have moved on from the 1980s, when it was very difficult even to ask a question and one certainly never received an answer. Although I was not able to go on the trip, some Committee members have been to Moscow to meet all types of people, some of whom I presume probably had the closest contacts with former regimes in the former Soviet Union. That is a measure of the change that is occurring.

It is a measure of the trust that the services have in the Committee that they felt that they could add their support for such a visit--in the knowledge that nothing would be compromised, and that we would be helping the process of creating and generating international relationships which in the longer term may benefit both the former Soviet Union and the United Kingdom. There are matters of common interest, such as the fight against drugs and international organised crime. There would also be, to some extent, a matching of views on Islamic issues.

I now want to deal with the critical shifts that I think have been made during my membership of the Committee. When I joined it, having spent 12 years on the Public Accounts Committee, one of the things that struck me was that--although we knew that the National Audit Office was in the background--prior to the appointment, in 1997, of "the new boys and gals", the Committee never took evidence from the NAO. One of

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the first things that I, and other hon. Members, did on being appointed to the Committee was to press for the development of that relationship.

I have always regarded the NAO's role as critical to monitoring what is happening inside any Department. It is the NAO, on behalf of taxpayers, that follows taxpayers' money. I think that the public might be very interested to know that the NAO can go as far as examining the detail of a particular investigation by officers in the services, pass comment on that operation in relation to financial accountability, and, if thought to be necessary and appropriate, make that information available to the Intelligence and Security Committee. If the NAO believes that there has been a misuse of public money, for example, it can draw that to our attention.

I confess that we have not been presented with operational information of that nature. However, it would be within the Committee's power to have access to such information if we felt that that was necessary. Although obviously we would not have access to the details of the operation or the personnel involved in it, access to the other information demonstrates the level of intensity that the NAO can apply in its investigation if it chooses to do so.

I believe that the compromise arrangement on an investigator--it was a compromise to some of us--was also very important. I was taken by the idea of an inspector general when the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) returned from their visit to Australia and were so enthused by what they had found. Subsequently, some of us argued most strongly for the establishment of an inspector. However, we compromised on an arrangement that was proposed, I think, by the hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates,) which has proved to be an excellent arrangement. It has introduced the principle of someone outside the Committee, but acting on our behalf, having the right to go in and find out precisely what is happening in greater detail than we can, reporting to us within the remit set by law.

Stephen Lander talked about something at the Royal United Services Institute lectures that I thought would never be referred to in public. He said that, on occasions, he felt able to go further than the law required in terms of providing information to the Committee. To outside students of our activities, that should be very interesting, because it shows that our remit extends further than the legislation and that we are therefore more effective than might be supposed. We can go further, on occasions, without compromising any element of national security.

I have been struck, on visiting the agencies, by the number of young people there. The agencies offer a career that must be unparalleled in our public service. It may not be the best-remunerated career in the world, although reports show that there are developments in that area, but it must certainly be the most exciting.

It is quite wrong for people outside to presume that the agencies are riddled with people on the right wing of politics, who fly the flag and are incapable of considering libertarian principles. In fact, they contain people of all political persuasions. I have had some fascinating discussions about politics with people whose name I did not know. I cannot emphasise enough how acutely aware they are of the civil libertarian arguments that take place

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here. They would never allow their politics to interfere with their judgments in carrying out their public duties. It is very impressive.

I understand from my sons, and I have discussed it with agency personnel, that there is much discussion in universities about applying for intelligence work, particularly at GCHQ, which must be having one of its finest periods for recruitment. Many people on relevant courses are being attracted to and applying for jobs at GCHQ. That is good news and bodes well.

A young man in his mid-30s in one of the agencies--I am not breaching security in saying this--told us about his work, within the limits of what he could say. His sense of commitment was remarkable. We could tell that he had the national interest absolutely at heart. I must not say too much, but I want to emphasise how impressed I was by our conversation. If he has the opportunity to read Hansard, I hope that he will be able to identify himself, because there are many such dedicated people in the agencies. I told him that many people in the House of Commons would be most impressed if only they had the opportunity to talk to him.

I do not want to labour the arguments about Select Committees--I have done so repeatedly over the years, in the Committee, on the Floor of the House and outside--but there is one very important matter that the House should take into account. We are moving into a century that will be very different from the previous one. Throughout this century, there will be more and more attempts by Governments of all political persuasions to compromise our civil liberties, not because they want to but because they feel that they have to if the wider freedom of all individuals in society is to be preserved. It is a tremendous dilemma to decide how far we can allow the state to go.

National identity cards are an example. Some see them as an invasion of individual freedom. I do not. There is a division of view within the Conservative party. Some Conservatives--right-wingers such as the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth)--regard them as infringing civil liberties. I am not making a party political point here, because the same is true of the Labour party. My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore) would be completely opposed to them, preoccupied as he is with civil liberties, whereas I take the opposite view and regard them as necessary for the future.

I believe that national identity cards are inevitable, and will come regardless of which party is in power. I remember when closed circuit television cameras were introduced on our streets. Civil libertarian groups in my constituency were outraged and saw them as an intrusion, but now I never hear any criticism of them at all. People want them. There was an element of principle to begin with, but compromise was inevitable. Every time we move the debate on and allow such principles to be compromised, we must have a check in place with which the public can identify. There has to be effective public scrutiny, and that has to be through this institution.

If we are to allow such intrusions to take place--which we will; in the end they will be accepted, or at least acknowledged as being for the wider good--we need

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them to be overseen by an institution that is identified with elections and has the imprimatur of Parliament. That is why I want the structure to change.


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