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Mr. Prisk: Although I understand the hon. Gentleman's wish to see a more positive approach to recruitment, I am sure that he recognises that the employment criteria and vetting for the intelligence services are somewhat different from that of the BBC World Service.

Simon Hughes: Absolutely; I mentioned the World Service only as an example.

There has been a terrible growth in gun crime in this country; we are not stopping guns coming across the borders. The Home Affairs Committee recommended a

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common border force. I would be interested to know whether the intelligence agencies and the Government have considered whether we would do far better on all our external border issues if we reduced the number of different agencies that have different objectives—the police, the immigration service, Customs and Excise—to achieve more efficient management of people, goods and traffic reaching our shores.

The Liberal Democrats have always argued that there should be greater accountability of the intelligence services to the House. We keep to that case: there ought to be and could be more openness, and it would be good if, in this Parliament, the Committee became a proper Select Committee like the Defence Committee. I hope that that can be achieved, and that we can therefore continue to support the intelligence services while exercising greater but appropriate scrutiny of them both on the Floor of the House and in Committee.

3.55 pm

Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East and Washington, West): I too speak as a new member of the Intelligence and Security Committee, and as someone who has found its work during the past year fascinating and worth while. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend—and good friend—the Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor), who as a new Chairman has chaired it with skill and total fairness.

None of us who serves or who has served on the Committee could have expected that the issues with which we deal would suddenly become so pressing or topical as they certainly have been since the tragic events of 11 September. Indeed, it is remarkable that, in the debate in the House on intelligence services slightly more than a year ago, there was little mention of Afghanistan and no mention of al-Qaeda. However, it is also true that my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), the then Foreign Secretary, struck a telling note when he said:


All members of the Committee are interested in and sometimes concerned about the perception of it. I well remember the recent press conference at which we presented our report. Members of the press were uncertain about which breed of dog we were—tame poodles or Rottweilers leaping from our kennels. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that people are sometimes inconsistent in criticising our work or that of the agencies as either threatening liberties or not going far enough in protecting our citizens and taking effective action against those who pose a threat.

I certainly did not join the Committee simply to listen meekly and accept what I was told unquestioningly. There would be little point in that and little job satisfaction in not using the opportunity of Committee membership to ask searching questions to probe the workings of the agencies. I therefore believe that all of us on the Committee approach that role very seriously.

From reading our debates in Parliament on the subject, I know that colleagues take a much more measured and realistic view of the Committee's role, although I note that interesting comments have been made about how it might evolve. As members of the Committee, we are always thinking about that. Occasions such as this allow

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opportunities for an exchange of views between those of us who happen to be members of the Committee and those of us who are not but who none the less are tremendously concerned about and interested in the issues with which we deal. My right hon. Friend the Chairman of the Committee recently sent hon. Members a booklet about its work, in which I hope all hon. Members, whether or not present today, will take an interest and use as a way to foster dialogue with those of us who serve on it.

I agree with the comments that have been made about the valuable nature of the work of the agencies. I also endorse what has been said about the fact that some of the targets that the agencies are attempting to find out about are, by their very nature, hard and elusive ones. Unfortunately, the price of failure by any intelligence agency anywhere in the world is high. It is often said that terrorists have to be successful only once to cause havoc and have a huge impact.

I shall refer briefly to one or two items in the report about which I feel particularly strongly. One involves resources, which a number of right hon. and hon. Members have already mentioned. We believe strongly that the services should be able to access the resources that they require, although it is always true that they could always do more with more money. That is self-evident, but, at the same time, we have to ensure as far as we can that they have the resources to carry out the necessary range of tasks.

Language training has been mentioned, most recently by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes). That is an important issue, although it must be recognised that there is a long lead-in time involved in such training, which is why assessments, and their analysis, are important in ensuring that action taken to recruit and train can, if possible, be taken at the right time to ensure the availability of those language abilities to the services.

I also feel strongly about the issue of co-ordination. My right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury mentioned the fact that the ministerial Committee had not met, and that is something that I, too, feel strongly about. Obviously, we know that the relevant Ministers meet during a crisis, and that has been happening with great regularity and frequency since 11 September. We all feel, however, that if hindsight is a wonderful thing, so are lateral thinking and the sharing of information. Having Ministers across the relevant Departments looking at the issues, evaluating trends, and asking questions of the services in a joined-up way is an important task that should be undertaken. I do not believe that there should be self-contained ministerial bailiwicks in this field. Having been a Minister myself, both in the Home Office and the Foreign Office, I am aware of the usefulness of co-ordination. If the Home Office is examining drugs policy, for example, the fact that some of the states that supply drugs might also—from a foreign policy point of view—present real dangers and threats to the rest of us should be considered jointly, and we would like to urge Ministers to adopt such a joint approach.

International co-operation is also important, as a number of hon. Members have mentioned. Obviously, our co-operation with the United States is very close, and very welcome, as is our co-operation with other countries such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and, increasingly,

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with the European Union. We must also examine opportunities for working with other countries, as they appear. The situation with Russia, for example, is very different from what it used to be, and Russia and other countries could well have intelligence information that it would be extremely useful to share.

There are difficulties involved in such international co-operation. Building up sufficient trust presents a challenge, as does the fact that countries work in different conditions and geographical contexts, and have different legal systems and priorities. The gains from effective international co-operation are, none the less, important, and can benefit us all. One striking feature of the events of 11 September—and the preparations that had gone into them—was the fact that the terrorists concerned had passed through and stayed in several different countries, and shown themselves to be highly internationally mobile. International co-operation is, therefore, the key to an effective response to such operations.

A number of challenges have arisen specifically from the experience of 11 September. The disruption to terrorist networks is certainly welcome, but it may also mean that many well-known terrorist networks could now disappear or go underground, and that terrorists themselves could move on to different countries from the ones in which they have most recently been operating. That provides a real challenge for the intelligence services.

As the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey mentioned, it is important that new technologies provide effective communications systems that can withstand electronic attack from outside, as well as systems that are capable of penetrating terrorist networks. That, too, is a continuing challenge.

New technologies must continue to be combined with traditional approaches. If we think of the threats to the communications and transport systems here in the capital, for example, vigilance by travellers and the public is also an important, but basic, need. The ways in which the Government and the police alert people to the action that they should take if they perceive a threat will continue to be important, and I urge Ministers seriously to consider that dimension.

Reference has been made to the new machinery of government that has been set up, along with the appointment of Sir David Omand as security and intelligence co-ordinator as well as permanent secretary to the Cabinet Office. I would like to take this opportunity to pay personal tribute to Sir David, with whom I had the pleasure of working when I was a Minister in the Home Office along with my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), now the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, who was a Minister with me at that time. My hon. Friend and I, and other hon. Friends, will be delighted that Sir David, after battling courageously with illness, has been able to take up such a key role, and it would be impossible to find a better qualified candidate to do this work. I hope that he will ensure that some of the points about co-ordination that we have raised in this debate will be properly addressed.

I conclude by reiterating my thanks to the staff of the services, who deserve respect for the work that they do in protecting and defending us in the sometimes dangerous and always complex world in which we live.

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4.8 pm


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