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Mr. Mates: The right hon. Gentleman has just made two remarks that should not go unchallenged. He mentioned the fear that Lord Hurd's undertaking would not be adhered to, implying that he was receiving less intelligence information than the Foreign Affairs Committee had received before the establishment of the Intelligence and Security Committee. I venture to suggest that the information is no less and no more: there was not any then, and there is not any now.

As for the right hon. Gentleman's second remark, can he really suggest with a straight face that the Executive and the Chief Whip had nothing to do with his appointment to the Committee?

Mr. Anderson: I have never had much contact with the Chief Whip, but I will say this in mitigation, if I may. As a member of the Select Committee on Liaison, I invite the hon. Gentleman to consult "Shifting the Balance" and subsequent reports. Those who chaired the Select Committees were unanimous in suggesting that if we were to perform our role as a legislature properly, the task of appointing Committee members should be transferred from the Whips to another body--a proposal that I gladly accepted.

Dr. Godman: The intervention of the hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates) was certainly blunt.

I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) and I were recommended to the Foreign Affairs Committee by the Chief Whip; that is a matter for conjecture. I remind my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), however, that our investigation of circumstances surrounding the Sierra Leone affair was sustained and complicated, and that we were not helped by the obduracy of the Foreign Office when we requested general information.

Mr. Anderson: Given the sturdy independence of members of the Foreign Affairs Committee, if we were all there at the Whips' behest the Whips seem to have done a pretty bad job, and their intelligence seems not to have been very well founded.

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Traditionally, foreign affairs in the United Kingdom have been very much the domain of the Executive. Only rarely has the legislative body been allowed to intrude. The situation has become even more difficult lately, given the speed of communications, the potential for secrecy, and so forth. To some extent, that total dominance by the Executive changed with the appointment of Select Committees at the beginning of the 1980s, but we still have a long way to go in comparison with the United States. That is an obvious comparison, although I concede that the constitutional relationship between the Executive and branches of the legislature is different in the United States, and that that causes differences between our arrangements. However, the same can be said in respect of some of our European Union partners.

Some advances have been made in the current Parliament, but not enough. We could end up with reports that were not entirely in focus, which would be bad for the House and bad for democracy. Paragraph 92 of the Liaison Committee's last report, "Shifting the Balance", states:

We shall indeed return to it, fortified by what the right hon. Member for Bridgwater and his Committee have done in preparing such an excellent platform. This is not an ending point but a process, and that process has been helped by the right hon. Gentleman's work. It is certainly clear from the work of the Foreign Affairs Committee--on which I am delighted to serve, with my two colleagues who are present--that the current position is unsatisfactory, and I look forward to returning to the matter in the next Parliament if I, too, am re-elected.

5.9 pm

Ms Rosie Winterton (Doncaster, Central): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak because, as many Members have said, this may be our last debate before the general election and, with the retirement of the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), the Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, and others including my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), we have reached a watershed in the Committee's development.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) made several comments about the Committee and improvements that could be made, but I am sure he agrees that, since the Committee's inception in 1994, under the chairmanship of the right hon. Member for Bridgwater, an incredible trust has been built up between parliamentarians on the Committee and the intelligence and security agencies. That trust would have been unimaginable 10 years ago.

I understand that the Director-General of the Security Service said at a conference recently that he cringed at some of the matters that he and the Security Service felt unable to share with members of the Committee when it was established. He paid tribute to the trust that has been achieved and the work of parliamentarians on the Committee in building up that trust, which has enabled the agencies to become more transparent and more open. That is the aim of the Committee and the agencies in this process.

It is particularly important that we maintain the move towards openness and transparency in this new era, especially because the agencies work in closer co-operation

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with law enforcement agencies on operational matters. As that relationship becomes closer, it is important that there is accountability and openness in it. Openness and transparency mean proper scrutiny not only by the Committee and the parliamentarians on it, but by Ministers.

The meetings--or lack of meetings--of the ministerial committee have been mentioned. At least the Government gave a commitment in their response to our report that an attempt would be made to make the committee meet annually and that it would meet shortly. Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary can confirm that that remains the Government's ambition, because it also remains an important part of maintaining democratic oversight. We must maintain too public confidence and trust in our security agencies. People must feel that someone is making sure that the agencies are properly accountable.

These debates always provides an opportunity to pay tribute to the hard work, professionalism and enthusiasm of those who work in the agencies. They want a proper system of parliamentary oversight to be achieved, so that if they are suspected of any wrongdoing, they can prove that proper accountability and oversight are in place.

We rely on those who work in the agencies to protect us and to enter dangerous situations on our behalf. That is why it is only right that they receive recognition for the work that they do, and in that work they should also have proper employment rights. That is why the Committee emphasised in the 1999-2000 annual report the recommendation that those who work in the agencies should have

I am glad that the Department of Trade and Industry has now moved to make that a reality. It is a pity that it has taken so long because that sends the wrong message to the people who do a lot to protect us. However, let us hope that that provision can now be enforced quickly.

Scrutiny is also important for reasons relating to public resources and to the agencies' budgets. The single intelligence vote is about £900 million, which is a lot of money. Other right hon. and hon. Members have referred to the Committee's concerns about the new accommodation project at GCHQ. The Committee has played an important role in ensuring that such projects are accountable, and that there is proper reporting to Parliament--including the Prime Minister and other Ministers--through the Committee, about that issue. That is a huge project, and it is important to keep Parliament informed about it.

It is also important to ensure, in relation to the budgets and general working of the security and intelligence agencies, that the agencies' work does not overlap. The appointment and work of the efficiency adviser is important in that context. I hope that the Home Secretary will give us an assurance that efforts will continue to be made to ensure that there is no overlap between the work of the agencies, or between the work of the agencies and the law enforcement authorities. We are also considering whether increased joint working is possible. We need to ensure that there is no repetition of work undertaken by the agencies.

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Many right hon. and hon. Members have referred to the work that the agencies undertake on tackling organised crime. As we said in the interim report, we took evidence from Keith Hellawell that showed greatly improved co-operation on that issue. That evidence also showed that the agencies were fully integrated into the Government's anti-drugs strategy, and that additional funds are now going into tackling the problem. I hope that the Home Secretary will reassure us that he is still considering whether more can be done to use the agencies to help in that work, and to help to tackle the disturbing new aspect of organised crime, mentioned by the hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates), involving criminal gangs bringing illegal immigrants and so-called bogus asylum seekers into this country. The tragedy that can result from such activities was demonstrated by the deaths of the 65 Chinese people in June last year. We must see if there is more that we can do.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) referred to the Official Secrets Acts--something that the new Committee should look at. In our interim report, we pointed out that the traditional threat of espionage from hostile foreign Governments has not receded, while other matters, such as cheque-book journalism, have increased. Disclosures are increasingly being made--sometimes anonymously--through media such as the internet with no obvious means of redress for the UK authorities. The injunctions taken out by the Government are civil matters and tend only to prevent disclosure in the UK. Obviously, this matter needs additional work and the new Committee must look at it closely.

The right hon. Member for Bridgwater said that we might consider his chairmanship to have been intolerable. I would certainly disagree. I thank him and all members of the Committee who have helped and supported me since I joined it last year. One of my enduring memories of the right hon. Gentleman was of our recent visit to Russia, when we had a number of unusual meetings with people with whom, I suspect, he would not have expected a few years ago to be indulging in friendly conversation.

The Committee's visits to other countries, and our meetings with other parliamentary oversight committees to advise them on what has worked and what has not worked in this country, have been important. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Bridgwater on the way in which he led those visits, which have led to important links with other countries. I also wish to thank Alistair Corbett and his team for the help that they have given to the Committee and to me.

We have heard many arguments about turning the Committee into a Select Committee or whether it should remain as it is. Following the general election, there will be an opportunity, with the establishment of the new Committee, to review how it has worked so far. It will be important for the Prime Minister and the ministerial committee to draw on the expertise of those who have been on the Committee since its inception and of those senior members who may be retiring.

The right hon. Member for Bridgwater wondered whether some of the Committee sittings could be held in public. This will be the time to discuss that, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will agree that we should review the system. The Committee should be re-established quickly and should continue to evolve

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positively, to maintain the trust of the services and to operate in the effective way in which it has operated in the past.

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