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Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): The Prime Minister will be aware that the Police Service of Northern Ireland has issued a public warning about the significant threat from the Real IRA and its need to take profile precautions. I know he will agree that all democratic parties should join in condemning the Real IRA, which is stuck in the Provo thing of the past, but does he also agree that, beyond that proper condemnation, the best thing that all the democratic parties can do to unite in defying and denying the throw-back agenda of the Real IRA is to secure the devolution of justice and policing sooner rather than later?
The Prime Minister: This is our objective: I condemn absolutely any organisation that preaches the cause of violence in Northern Ireland. We have come such a long way over the past few years thanks to the co-operation of all the parties and the people of Northern Ireland. We are determined to build on that with economic prosperity for Northern Ireland in future years and that is what we will do, working with the people of Northern Ireland.
Q14. Mr. John Baron (Billericay) (Con): Now that the Information Commissioner and an information tribunal have instructed the Government to release the John Williams draft of the 2002 Iraq dossier, saying that it could add to what we know about the role that spin doctors played in presenting the case for war and highlighting discrepancies in the evidence produced by the Foreign Office, will the Prime Minister release the document immediately? If not, why not?
Q15.  Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): In 2004, the Sharp Corporation of Japan committed investment to Wrexham and the UK for the manufacture of a new generation of photovoltaic cells and renewable energy modules. What effect does my right hon. Friend think that rejection of the Lisbon treaty would have on future inward investment in the UK?
The Prime Minister: We all know that Japan invests in Britain and that it sees Britain as its road into the rest of the European market. We all know that 60 per cent. of our trade is with the rest of the EU. Those people who want to detach us from the rest of Europe are making a huge mistake, not just politically and environmentally but economically. This Government have created 3 million jobs and are determined to create even more.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): The Government are today publishing the results of work on the use of communications intercepts as evidence. Those results are contained in the report of the committee of Privy Councillors drawn from the three major parties that was chaired by the right hon. Sir John Chilcot. I am grateful to Sir John, Lord Hurd, Lord Archer, and the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) for that report. It is thorough, measured, detailed, and unanimous, and it properly reflects both the seriousness and the complexity of the questions that their committee was asked to address.
Let me again pay tribute to our security agencies for all that they do, quietly and effectively, in the defence of our country. I have met and listened to those who lead our agencies, as well as many who serve in them. I praise the expertise, professionalism and courage that they show, often in the most testing and dangerous of circumstances but always in the best interests of our country. I acknowledge, as I believe that all here acknowledge, that what they do defends our freedom, protects our security and saves lives.
The use of intercept in evidence characterises a central dilemma that we face as a free society: preserving our liberties and the rule of law while at the same time keeping our nation safe and secure. In July, in the first statement that I made on security to the House, I said that I favoured the principle of using intercept material as evidence in criminal cases if, but only if, a way could be found to do so while protecting the higher interests of national security. I therefore invited the cross-party Chilcot committee to advise on
whether a regime to allow the use of intercepted material in court can be devised that facilitates bringing cases to trial while meeting the overall imperative to safeguard national security.
Today, I am publishing a version of the Chilcot committees report. The committee itself has prepared this version, which omitsin the interests of national securitycertain sensitive facts and arguments. Its main conclusions and recommendations, however, are exactly those of the full report.
Briefly, the report examines in detail both the potential benefits of accepting intercept as evidence and the risks that might arise from such acceptance. However, it concludes that it should be possible to find a way to use some intercept material as evidence, providedand only providedthat certain key conditions can be met. Those conditions relate to the most vital imperative of all: safeguarding our national security. The Government accept that recommendation, and take the accompanying conditions very seriously.
Intercepts are strictly controlled under the 2000 legislation. Interception is allowed only if it is necessary to obtain information that could not be acquired in another way, and any interception must be proportionate to what it seeks to achieve. The relevant decisions of Ministers are overseen by a senior judge and by the interception of communications commissioner, who reports at least annually. In addition, an investigatory powers tribunal exists to consider complaints from the public, and it has powers to order appropriate remedies.
The most recent figures for numbers of interception warrants are in the interception commissioners annual report, which was published on 28 January. A total of 1,435 intercept warrants were issued in the last nine months of 2006 and that compares with 2,407 in the previous 15 months.
The Chilcot report notes that there are already limited circumstances in civil and terrorist proceedings where intercept can be used in evidence. Each of those instances includes appropriate protections, such as closed proceedings, to ensure that the use of intercept does not put our national security at risk. For any new regime, the Chilcot report sets down conditions. It starts from the proposition that
any material risk to the strategic capability of the UKs intelligence agencies would be unacceptable,
Any disclosure of interception capabilities could have a profound impact on national security.
could have a profound impact on law enforcement agencies ability to combat serious crime and terrorism,
The report sets out nine conditions in detail. They relate to complex and important issues, and include: giving the intercepting agencies the ability to retain control over whether their material is used in prosecutions; ensuring that disclosure of material cannot be required against the wishes of the agency originating the material; protecting the current close co-operation between intelligence and law enforcement agencies, which is crucial; and ensuring that agencies cannot be required to transcribe or make notes of material beyond a standard of detail that they deem necessary.
The committee that reported to us acknowledges that further extensive work is needed to see whether and how those and other conditionsintended to protect sensitive techniques, safeguard resources, and ensure that intercept can still be used effectively for intelligencecan be met. That is a unanimous recommendation that the Government accept, so we will proceed to develop a detailed implementation plan under which material might be made available for use in criminal cases in England and Wales, strictly subject to all the Chilcot conditions being met. The report is clear that if the conditions could not be met, intercept as evidence should not be introduced, and the Government accept that.
Similarly, the committee recommends that in the event of a regime being introduced that later fails to meet the Chilcot conditions or otherwise threatens our security, that regime should be removed pending the introduction of another, under which the conditions can once again be met. The Government also accept that recommendation. The report also states that the committee has seen no evidence to suggest that the need for measures such as control orders would be reduced by the introduction of intercept as evidence.
Designing a regime to meet the Chilcot conditions will require, as the committee notes, a substantial programme of work, covering legal, operational and technical issues. The work must involve and engage the intelligence agencies, Government Departments, the legal system, and those responsible for communications. The
Chilcot team have made it clear to me that the necessary work should be led by an implementation team within Government, which should move ahead comprehensively and quickly. However, the Chilcot team also told me that they would not expect the work to be concluded in time to inform the Counter-Terrorism Bill currently before Parliament.
The Government strongly believe that it is in the national interest to draw on a wide range of expert external advice. The cross-party nature of the Chilcot report has been of great value. I am therefore grateful for Opposition parties agreement that Sir John Chilcot, Lord Archer, the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed and another member to be nominated should advise on Privy Councillor terms during the next stage of the work.
The Chilcot report also notes that communications technology is changing rapidly; there is a switch towards internet protocol communications, with the clear implications that that brings for our security. Accordingly, we have launched the interception modernisation programme to update our capability to ensure that, under those new circumstances, our national interests will continue to be protected. The new regime for intercept as evidence must be designed to work safely and effectively for that new capability, too.
As the Chilcot report states, the challenges ahead are complex and must not, and will not, be underestimated. The Government acknowledge and endorse the valuable work of the committee, and are grateful for the committees support in our continuing efforts to meet the double challenge that we face as a nation. The challenge is at all times and without fail to protect our nations security while advancing the rule of law. This we will always seek to do. I commend the statement to the House.
Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): May I first thank the Prime Minister for his statement, and join him in paying tribute to our security services? Nothing matters more than our national security and keeping us safe from terror. Our aim should be to catch, convict and imprison more terrorists. Last year, I pressed Tony Blair to make intercept evidence available in court. When he was not prepared to take that up straight away, I suggested that a cross-party committee of Privy Councillors look at how intercept might be used in court. I am glad that that work is now complete. I join the Prime Minister in thanking all of those who took part. They have done their job, and now he must do his. Will he confirm that the implementation group that he intends to set up will not be a talking shop for further delay, but a vehicle for making the recommendations happen? Will he give us a commitment to Government legislation as soon as possible?
Does the Prime Minister agree that up till now there have been four issues that have held back the use of intercept evidence in court: first, a clear recommendation from an independent body that that is the right and necessary thing to do to protect our country; secondly, a lack of a clear understanding of the benefits that it could bring in criminal and terrorist trials; thirdly, a satisfactory method of protecting vital intelligence-gathering techniques; and fourthly, a legal framework to ensure that the effective use of intercept in court can happen while maintaining a fair trial? Does the Prime Minister
agree that the report effectively gives good answers to all four questions? Let me take them in turn.
We therefore agree with the principle that intercept as evidence should be introduced.
Does the Prime Minister agree that, as this is the first Government-commissioned report by a group of people who are independent from the Government, that is an incredibly powerful recommendation? Secondly, on the real benefits of using intercept in court, does the Prime Minister agree that the report does not just cite experience from abroad, but quotes the UKs Crown Prosecution Service? Is not the CPS clear that the use of intercept will significantly influence the course of trials andit findslead to more guilty pleas and fewer abortive trials?
The third issue is the importance of protecting intelligence sources and methods. Does the Prime Minister agree that the report is extremely helpful in that respect, too? In particular, does he agree with the report when it states that
Australia does appear to us to be a compelling example of how intercept as evidence can be used in a Common Law jurisdiction?
The Australian example, in particular, provides a number of interesting ideas for how the UK could attempt to derive benefit from intercept as evidence, whilst not unacceptably increasing the risk of disclosure to intelligence agencies and their sensitive capabilities and techniques?
Fourthly, there is the question of legal model to get the recommendations right. The issue is how we both protect intelligence sources and maintain a fair trial. Does the Prime Minister agree with the report specifically that a reinforced system of public interest immunity could enable the evidence to be used in a way that protects the intelligence services, but guarantees a fair trial?
Finally, let me ask about plans for implementation. The report will mean nothing unless it is implemented. I know that the Prime Minister is establishing a cross-party advisory group. Will he guarantee that he will accept our nomination of a Privy Councillor for that group? Does he understand that there will be a nagging suspicion that setting up another committee to look at the implementation of the recommendations will lead to delay? Does he accept that there will never be unanimity in Whitehall on the matter? Another committee will deliberate, reflect and no doubt have different views. That is what committees do. That is what happens in Whitehall. Does he agree that, at the end of the day, it is a political decision and has to be made by a politicianand that means him?
The Prime Minister: I am grateful for the right hon. Gentlemans general support for what we are doing, and I am grateful for the degree of all-party consensus that has developed. The actions that we are taking with the implementation group are a vehicle not for delay but for getting on with implementation. I agree that we want to achieve legislation as soon as possible.
If the right hon. Gentleman accepts the reports conclusion, he must also accept that the Chilcot teamincluding representatives from his partyacknowledge that a considerable amount of work remains to be done. They do not conclude that all the questions have been answered and that all that is lacking is political will. They conclude that what we need to do is look in detail at the legal and technical implications that arise from their wish to see the right balance struck between liberty and security.
The report does not say that Australia is the model for how we should move forward. It uses Australia as an example of where it has been possible to have intercept as evidence, but it does not propose that we accept the model that is used in Australia, which is quite different from the public interest immunity proposal that the right hon. Gentleman accepts has been put forward by the committee.
We have always accepted in principle the case for doing this. We have always hoped that clear benefits would be available. The Metropolitan police survey of terrorist cases shows that the rate of prosecution could rise from 88 to 92 per cent. However, the committee also shows that considerable hurdles need to be crossed. It wants the intercepting agencies to have the ability to retain control over whether the material is used in prosecutions. It wants to ensure that disclosure of material cannot be required against the wishes of the agency originating the material, and that agencies cannot be required to transcribe or make notes on material beyond the standard of detail that they deem necessary.
All those issues will have to be looked at in considering the demands of courts and court cases. I believe that a considerable amount of work still needs to be done. I am glad that we have an all-party agreement to move forward. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman understands that there are technical and legal issues to be resolved. The purpose of the advisory group is to continue with the all-party co-operation, and I look forward to the nominations to be put forward by his party.
Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): I, too, thank the Prime Minister for advance sight of his statement and the report. I pay tribute to Sir John and all his colleagues for having produced what is self-evidently a very thorough and rigorous report on a sensitive and delicate issue. I warmly welcome the fact that they have opened the door to allowing intercept evidence to become admissible in court, even though that door is only ajar and further work needs to be done to make the recommendation a reality. We have long argued that intercept evidence should be admissible in court, in keeping with so many other jurisdictions around the world. That is part of our wider belief that we can and should do more to strengthen our judicial system so that there are more prosecutions in anti-terror cases.
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