The Lord Speaker (Baroness D'Souza): My Lords, I regret to inform the House of the death of the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, on 18 November. On behalf of the House, I express our condolences to the noble Lord's family and friends.
To ask Her Majesty's Government, in the light of their proposals to change the school qualifications system, what plans they have in relation to the teaching of the arts in secondary schools, including visual arts, drama, music and dance.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Hill of Oareford): My Lords, creative subjects such as art, drama and music should be part of pupils' educational and cultural experience. We are considering how to ensure that high-quality qualifications are available in these subjects and will make an announcement in due course. We recognise the importance of the arts through our national plan for music education and our support for the music and dance scheme. This year we are spending around £110 million on music, dance and other creative arts in schools.
The Earl of Clancarty: My Lords, the Minister will be aware of the huge concern expressed by many in the arts about arts and design being omitted from the EBacc-a concern, will the Minister take note, shared by the CBI? Does the Minister accept that if cultural skills and learning do not take an absolutely central role in the school curriculum, we will lose out in the development of the creative industries, which are going to play, without a doubt, a significant part in the regeneration of this country?
Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, I agree very much with the noble Earl about the importance of the creative industries and about the importance of those subjects-it is important that they should be taught in schools. I am aware of his concern about the EBacc and the anxiety that it might lead to a narrowing of what is offered in schools. We think that the EBacc, for those schools that want to follow it, would still allow
19 Nov 2012 : Column 1614
Lord Lloyd-Webber: My Lords, the Chinese seem to be taking a different attitude to all areas of the arts. They realise how important the creative industries potentially are to their economy. In everything from applied arts to music to drama, they are actively seeking our teachers as well as sending students to us here to learn. It is vital that the Government take on board that the creative industries are important to our economy and that we must recognise that within education.
Lord Hill of Oareford: I very much agree with my noble friend about how important the creative industries are from an economic point of view. He makes his point with a great deal of experience and force. However, the case for the arts in our curriculum should not rest solely on the economic benefit that they bring-although that is considerable-but on the fact that they have merit and value in themselves, and young people should have the chance to learn about them because that is part of a rich and broad education.
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, does the Minister appreciate that young people with learning difficulties benefit enormously from this particular list of subjects, which help them not only to learn something new but to integrate with their fellows, and perhaps to join society later on in life?
Baroness Wall of New Barnet: My Lords, is the Minister aware that what ought to be included in the discussion around the arts, drama and dance is how these subjects will lead to employment in the way in which the qualifications are designed and delivered? The creative and cultural sector skills councils are all one now and it would be advisable to talk to Creative Skillset about what skill sets employers are looking for.
Lord Hill of Oareford: I agree with the noble Baroness that it is important to talk to employers and a range of interested parties that can help contribute to our thinking. It is worth making the point that the original thinking behind the EBacc was driven by the relatively small number of children who had that mix of EBacc subjects, which experience seems to suggest are most likely to lead to those children being able to go to our top universities. When only 4% of children on free school meals were doing the EBacc subjects, it was pretty clear that the number of those children who were going to be able to go to our top universities would be constrained. The idea behind the EBacc is not to set about a narrowing of education but to try to tilt the balance back towards some more rigorous subjects. About 15 years ago, half of all children did the equivalent of the EBacc subjects; today it is about 22%. If we can tilt it back a bit more that way, I think that would be good.
Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: My Lords, last February, in response to Darren Henley's admirable review of cultural education, the Government committed to immediately drawing up a national plan for cultural education. It is now November and as "immediately" has still not occurred, can my noble friend tell me when we are going to see this plan?
Lord Hill of Oareford: We have already announced and taken steps on some of the elements of Mr Henley's excellent plan. The formal response is not as immediate as he, others and my noble friend would have liked, but we are expecting it early in the new year.
Baroness Jones of Whitchurch: My Lords, does the Minister not acknowledge that the maths on this simply do not add up? There are only so many teaching hours in a day and given that it has been estimated that the EBacc will take about 80% of the curriculum time, is it any wonder that the latest figures from the Joint Council for Qualifications are showing that entries for GCSE in design and technology, art and design, music and drama are already beginning to fall? The Government's policies are already having an impact on the take-up of these important subjects.
Lord Hill of Oareford: I make the important point that EBacc subjects are not compulsory. It is for schools to decide what is the best thing to offer; if schools think that the EBacc is not right for all their pupils, they should act accordingly. However, as I said, if between 20% and 30% of time is available for other subjects, it is perfectly reasonable to expect that those important subjects we have discussed will continue to be offered. In terms of what has happened so far to the number of pupils taking GCSEs, obviously any results we have had so far in 2012 cannot have been affected by the EBacc since the time lag means that none of that would have worked through.
Baroness Afshar: My Lords, I declare an interest as the mother of a music teacher who insisted that I stand up and talk about her experience, because she finds that children who are not necessarily academic become valorised by being taught music, which enables them to do other academic subjects. She wanted me to read the following quote from a very well known music director.
Baroness Afshar: My question is: are we going to stifle future music directors whose talent would bud if only they had the confidence that they gain by doing a subject such as music? If that subject is not valorised, they are not recognised.
Lord Hill of Oareford: I hope that I have made it clear, my Lords, that it is hugely important that that desire should not be stifled. Children should be able to study music through the money that we are putting in through the national music education plan, through the new music hubs that we have established and through the support that we are giving to schemes which will make available instruments to children learning for the first time. All those things will help make sure that music is valued, as it should be.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Lord Marland): My Lords, in October, the Chancellor announced that he intended to create a new employment status called employee owner. This new employment status has different employment rights from employees. Employee owners could own shares worth between £2,000 and £50,000 in companies they work for and will not be subject to capital gains tax.
Lord Monks: I thank the Minister for that reply, but can anyone here imagine a decent employer trying to bribe workers to give up their employment rights in return for shares of questionable value? After all, some 50% of small firms fold within five years. Will not decent employers agree with Justin King, the boss of Sainsbury's, who said that this is not what we should be doing? Will the Government stop once and for all encouraging employers to show a degree of contempt for workers' rights and ditch this tawdry proposal?
Lord Marland: My Lords, I have obviously read the TUC's views on this, and I am not surprised that the noble Lord should wish to propound them, but we must understand that this is a voluntary, not a compulsory, scheme between employees and employers. Surely that is the best way forward for employee relations, as the noble Lord must concede.
Lord Razzall: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, if the Government are determined to proceed with this proposal, it is absolutely essential that, when legislation is brought forward, safeguards are built in to ensure that there is no compulsion from the employer on the employee and that a mechanism is put in place whereby appropriate legal advice can be obtained by any employee before he takes up this offer?
Lord Marland: I could not agree more with my noble friend. We should obviously look at this proposal. It will go through this House as it is going through the other place at the moment and we will have the opportunity to scrutinise what is currently a concept and put some straight edges on it, which this House always does so well. I could not agree more that it needs looking at very carefully. However, this is a voluntary scheme, as I have said, and it is surely in the best interests of corporate endeavour to have employees and employers working together as a scheme.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, is it not a fact that one person's volunteerism is another person's bullying? Does the Minister agree that these plans are on a par with efforts now being made to disestablish the NHS Agenda for Change national pay scheme?
19 Nov 2012 : Column 1617
Lord Marland: We have to be very careful about bandying around harsh words such as "bullying". That is not reasonable. We have a voluntary agreement. Companies in my experience-I have a reasonable amount of experience-do best where both employees and employers co-operate. I was proud to be a founder shareholder of a business where well over 80% of the employees were shareholders. It meant that there was a community of interest and spirit of endeavour. We want to encourage that. It is incumbent on this Government to find ways of generating enterprise and a spirit of going forward together. This scheme does that admirably.
Lord Marland: I am afraid that I am not much for making a commentary on share prices; my record is not outstanding in that regard. I wonder whether Mr King's competition is with Waitrose, where of course there is broad employee ownership and, I understand, a very good spirit of co-operation.
Lord Hughes of Woodside: Does the Minister not agree that there is nothing incompatible in a good company recognising workers' rights? Why is he suggesting that it would be better to have shares and not to have employment rights?
Lord Marland: No one is suggesting for one moment that we do not recognise employee rights. It would be outrageous not to do that. We have no intention of doing that. We are putting forward a very sensible and well thought-out scheme, which recognises employee rights but also recognises that if you want to be a shareholder in endeavour or to create value for yourself in a small, emerging company then you have to take the same road as the people who are employing you. This is a fantastic opportunity for employees to share in this enterprise and it is a terrific scheme.
Baroness Brinton: Does the noble Lord accept that there is a world of difference between a mutual association such as Waitrose, where the entire staff own the organisation, and the proposed scheme where employees may have a small share? I wonder whether he might consider that the comment coming from Sainsbury's is more about motivating employees.
Lord Marland: My noble friend makes a good point. It is a factor of balance and I merely used the Waitrose example as a contrary to the Sainsbury's example. The range here is from £2,000 to £50,000. It is a significant shareholding to have £50,000 in a company, if you so wish it, so I think that this is set fair for a good future.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, does the Minister not accept that there is a difference between past employee shareholdings and a trade-off, which is what is proposed for employment rights? I suspect that our late colleague, Lord Bill McCarthy, would have asked a forensic question at this point. How does the Minister expect this scheme to run? Is it to be a one-off trading of all your employment rights or is there to be a sort of tariff, where you trade in flexible working for so many shares, maternity rights for so many more, the right to join a trade union for a few more and health and safety legislation for a few more than that? How is this actually going to work and what are employees being asked to sell?
Lord Marland: As the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, knows, I normally have a high regard for his interventions but not in this case. The Benches opposite have to be so careful about bandying words such as "bullying" and talking about giving away employees' rights. Noble Lords need to read the text to understand that we are not giving away all employees' rights.
Lord Marland: Noble Lords should read the text properly so that they understand that it is a limited forgoing of some rights in favour of having a tax-free shareholding in the company. That is gain and loss, up to a point, but it is only marginal.
Baroness Northover: My Lords, since 1988 the number of polio cases has fallen by over 99%. Polio is now endemic in just three countries: Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. We remain strongly committed to polio eradication and are exploring with the Global Polio Eradication Initiative how to increase impact and sustainability and how to broaden the funding base, including from non-government donors.
Baroness Jenkin of Kennington: I thank my noble friend. As she points out, polio eradication is an outstandingly successful development programme. During just one day in India, for example, Rotary International is able to vaccinate 172 children. In the UK, the Government's match-funding initiative has been able to leverage £123 million from non-government sources from a £40 billion investment. Given the success of this programme, will the Government commit to looking at renewing and extending it with a higher cap in future?
Baroness Northover: I start by paying tribute to my noble friend for her own commitment in this area. We can indeed eliminate polio, providing everyone contributes in the way she has indicated. My noble friend is right; the Rotarians were instrumental in securing strong,
19 Nov 2012 : Column 1619
Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: My Lords, the Minister will know, as she has clearly just said, that there are lessons to be learnt from the example of India, where for 18 months now not a single case of polio has been reported. Could we have a more explicit description of what has been learnt? What efforts have been made to improve the take-up of the vaccine in Pakistan and Nigeria, where fear and suspicion are being peddled by some religious leaders and others to persuade parents to refuse to allow their children to be immunised?
Baroness Northover: Yes, the lessons from India are being carried over, and it is excellent to see that India is offering technical support in Nigeria and Pakistan. That is also where NGOs can play a part in reducing levels of suspicion about vaccination. There are a number of challenges, not least from the fact that there is a lot of conflict in the areas where there is not yet adequate take-up. However, that has been eradicated in the DRC and Somalia, so this can be done. It is a matter of making sure that we drive through and finish this particular programme.
Lord Chidgey: Does my noble friend recognise that the Global Polio Eradication Initiative currently faces a funding shortfall of up to $700 million, which is jeopardising its potential for completely eradicating polio? With vital programmes facing delay or cancellation and countries that were previously polio-free now facing the risk of re-infection, what targets are the Government setting for restoring the public/private sector global donor fund, which has now dropped to 20 members from 50?
Baroness Northover: My noble friend is right that we are concerned at the lack of engagement by some countries. This is a window of opportunity. There is a programme to try to eradicate polio by 2018. We will all be aware of what an incredible achievement that would be. We are so close. The United Kingdom has been a major donor in this area. In 2011, 9.04% of the contribution to the eradication of polio came from the UK. Gates is a very powerful player here. We are very pleased to see the Secretary-General of the United Nations convening countries to try to ensure that they are engaged, and the key ones to engage here are Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Baroness Northover: There is a very clear programme, which the Global Polio Eradication Initiative is taking forward. There is an independent monitoring board, the chair of which is Sir Liam Donaldson, of whom noble Lords will obviously be well aware. There is an effective strategy to deliver this by 2018 but it needs
19 Nov 2012 : Column 1620
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the Minister rightly spoke of the need to ensure that there is matched funding. What are the Government doing to find and stimulate new sources of innovative finance so that state finance can be used to trigger investment from other sources?
Baroness Northover: The Rotarians might be the kind of example that the noble Baroness is thinking of. There have been a number of match-funded programmes, and we are continuing to look at developing this further. It is extremely important that it is not only the donor nations that carry this forward; there must be engagement in the countries in question. It is encouraging, for example, to see the effort that was put in in India and the current efforts in Nigeria. It is by those countries tackling this, taking ownership of it and ensuring that their communities are responding that we will eradicate this disease.
Baroness Northover: One strain of polio has already been eradicated. In India, for example, the last case of polio was a number of months ago, and it will be given a clean bill of health by 2014. Vaccination has to continue for some time afterwards, as the noble Lord will appreciate, to make sure that there are no as-yet-undetected cases. That is built in to the way the programme is being taken forward to 2018.
Lord Newby: My Lords, under the Infrastructure (Financial Assistance) Act, the Government intend to issue up to £10 billion of debt guarantees to support the building of both private-rented and affordable-rented homes across the UK. As commonholds typically consist of privately owned properties and given that, in any event, commonholds are relatively rare, it is unlikely that any commonhold scheme will come forward under the guarantees programme.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: I am disappointed to hear that commonhold is unlikely to benefit. Does the Minister agree that many young people, particularly first-time buyers, would like to be empowered owners of their own homes and that commonhold is the fairest way of doing that in blocks of flats? Does he
19 Nov 2012 : Column 1621
Lord Newby: I absolutely agree with the need for joined-up government. As noble Lords would expect me to say, on a whole raft of housing initiatives, not least in relation to the Infrastructure (Financial Assistance) Act, the Treasury and the Department for Communities and Local Government are working extremely closely together.
I understand why the noble Baroness is such a keen proponent of commonholds, but between 2002 and the present day, there have been only 15 commonhold developments in England and Wales comprising a mere 161 units.
Lord Newby: My Lords, the initial commitment of £700 million consists of a commitment by a significant number of pension funds to put in £100 million each as a starter. We are working very hard with them to scale up the programme, but it is a new programme. Pension funds have never done this kind of thing before and, not surprisingly, they want to dip their toe in the water before they immerse themselves more fully. I am very confident that they will see this initial £700 million as an effective investment, and then they will rapidly scale it up in the way that the noble Lord wishes.
Baroness Kramer: My Lords, I declare an interest in that I am a tenant in a flat in a mansion arrangement such as that described. Surely, moving into mansion flats is very attractive for couples or individuals when they are downsizing, which therefore frees up the whole of the housing chain. Will the Minister encourage the relevant department to look at strategies for encouraging commonhold so that this move is not discouraged by the endless confusion over freehold and leasehold? Perhaps there could be talks with Core Cities to encourage developers to follow these kinds of policies as a way to make more housing available all through the spectrum.
Lord Newby: The Government and I will be very happy to make that commitment. The problem with commonhold is that virtually no one knows what the word means. Since being asked this Question, over the
19 Nov 2012 : Column 1622
Very often the management of mansion blocks is by a management company in which each leaseholder has a share. At their best, they can work very effectively and are almost identical to commonhold, but clearly there are ways in which we can improve how those blocks are managed.
Lord Barnett: My Lords, does not the noble Lord appreciate that there is a major need for large infrastructure plans to be implemented now? Industry has made quite clear that guarantees are not sufficient. They want some Treasury cash. Why is the Treasury not willing to introduce just a little cash to implement these plans?
Lord Newby: Our experience is that everyone wants some Treasury cash but, sadly, they cannot all have it. It may be of some comfort to the noble Lord to know that in the past quarter, housing starts were up 18% over the previous quarter. In terms of social housing, housing association starts were up almost one-quarter.
Lord Myners: My Lords, will the Minister explain the circumstances in which it would be cheaper for the taxpayer for infrastructure to be financed with the use of a Treasury guarantee than for that same expenditure to be funded directly by the Treasury?
Lord Newby: My Lords, the noble Lord is making a classic error to assume that there is an endless pot of Treasury money for use in infrastructure expenditure. As he knows only too well, guarantees do not feature as public expenditure unless they are called in. Our expectation is that the 70 expressions of interest we have had so far under the Infrastructure (Financial Assistance) Act are all extremely viable schemes and that the guarantees will not be needed.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I rise on an allied matter to the Electoral Registration Data Schemes (No. 2) Order 2012. Perhaps I may ask the Minister to update the House on when it will be able to consider the second day in Committee of the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Strathclyde): My Lords, the Bill is not on the Order Paper or in Forthcoming Business. Therefore, I have nothing more to add to announcements that I have made in the past.
Baroness Boothroyd: My Lords, I was not able to be in the House when this matter was raised recently but, of course, I have read the exchanges and the related documents. I hope that the House will allow me to put a few comments on the record.
During my time as Speaker, I worked with three Clerks of the Commons. I believe that I had their great respect and support. They certainly had mine. If there was any success in that Speakership, much of it was due to their support and advice. Much of the time, the Clerk and I were as one with the way in which we should proceed. But, if I recall correctly, there were a couple of occasions when I overruled that advice. The decision was a very difficult one, taken against considerable professionalism and precedence. But I took it in what I believed to be in the best interests of the democratic process, and to provide debate on a contentious issue of public interest and concern-and the roof did not fall in.
For us, of course, there is no Speaker here to make that ultimate decision. We all know what the Companion tells us; it has been repeated many times recently in this House. But by its very nature, it is advice that is offered to us and it is only advice; it is only expected to be taken. It is not a command, nor is it written on tablets of stone. I put it to the Leader of the House that, as there is no individual in this House to make the ultimate decision, is it not for your Lordships' House to make that final decision? Certainly, such a decision and the order of the business of this House should not rest with the Leader nor with the Opposition, nor should it rest with any other individual who does not carry the authority to do so.
We are an integral part of the democratic system. The way in which your Lordships conduct their business is a matter for the House itself. I concern myself at this stage not with the substance of the amendment itself, or its merits or demerits, but with the question of admissibility. That is the principle question. Should this House not initially deal with the question of admissibility? I accept that it would be difficult to do so without discussing the substance, but it would not be impossible. Of course, following a decision on the principle, the substantive amendment would then either fall or be dealt with in the usual matter. That is surely the common-sense way of approach.
We are constantly being reminded that we are a self-regulating House. Let that be demonstrated, and let us carry out that self-regulation and operate the democratic process that we are here to perpetuate, for goodness' sake.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will be interested in the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, and I look forward to the Leader's response to what she has said. I thank him for his earlier reply.
It is now a full fortnight since the Government told your Lordships' House that they had not concluded their considerations on the issues in relation to the
19 Nov 2012 : Column 1624
The Government should conclude their considerations and bring this Bill back to this House. As the noble Baroness suggested, they should let this House-this self-regulating House-decide what it wishes to do in relation to this amendment and get on with its job, its constitutional role, of scrutinising legislation, however uncomfortable that might be for the Government.
Lord Strathclyde: I assure the noble Baroness that the Bill will not progress without the full scrutiny of this House. As I said earlier, the Government have not reached final conclusions on their deliberations but I am glad that there has been this short pause. As the noble Baroness has just informed the House, the pause has given an opportunity to those most eminent Members of this House to explore with the clerks whether the amendment can be made admissible. That is entirely the right approach. It would be strange and unfortunate if we were to break the precedence of many years and for this House to accept an amendment decreed as inadmissible by the clerks.
Perhaps I may be the first to welcome back the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd. It is a pleasure to see her in her place and to hear her speak with such eloquence once more. It is one of the great advantages of this House that those with pretty much an entitlement to sit in this House are former Speakers of the House of Commons. With the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Martin of Springburn, we have the best examples of those who have sat in that illustrious Chair in another place, both giving their views on the advice they received and what they did with it when they were Speakers of that House.
There is also another wonderful thing, which is that the House of Commons is the House of Commons, the House of Lords is the House of Lords, and this House has developed different processes and procedures. While we are a self-regulating House, it is not a self-regulation of anarchy; it is self-regulating within the rules. Perhaps I may conclude by repeating once again what the noble Baroness, Lady Jay of Paddington,
19 Nov 2012 : Column 1625
"It is a consequence of our procedures that the House has collective responsibility for observing these procedures and that all Members of your Lordships' House therefore need to co-operate to see that procedures are observed".-[Official Report, 20/4/99; col. 1112.]
Lord Grocott: My Lords, I have been listening carefully to the Leader of the House and he has not clearly informed the House of the position in relation to this Bill. It is not unheard of for Bills to be abandoned during the course of a normal parliamentary Session; indeed, I am delighted that the Government decided to abandon the House of Lords Reform Bill. When they abandon a Bill, they normally make a clear statement to the House on their intentions. However, at the moment, we are getting very mixed messages from the Government. Whenever his counterpart, the Leader of the House of Commons is asked about the position in relation to this Bill, he states clearly-and procedurally he is right-that it is now a matter for the House of Lords. Thereby, the Bill is within our ownership and the Commons can do nothing about it until we have considered it and taken it through its proper stages. The noble Lord said during his reply that there was to be a "short pause". The House is entitled to have at least some indication from the Leader of what he means by that.
Lord Strathclyde: First of all, to avoid any doubt because it is important to be clear, I can confirm that the Bill has not been abandoned; it has been postponed. When the Government have come to a conclusion that it should continue, the House will be informed in the normal way, either on the Order Paper or in an edition of Forthcoming Business. However, I can lend some comfort to the noble Lord, Lord Grocott. Although the current edition does not propose a date for the Bill, it includes plenty of other government business that we can get on with.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I do not wish to prolong this, but I wish to say-because the Leader keeps quoting my noble friend Lady Jay in our exchanges, and I fully respect what my noble friend said when she was a very fine Leader of this House-that it is ultimately for this House to decide on the admissibility of an amendment, because this House, ultimately, is self-regulating.
Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, I hope that Members, wherever they are in the Palace of Westminster, will make a point of listening to this debate as it is a very important one and raises an issue which has been under continuing discussion, certainly in the House of Commons but outside it as well, over the past 14 years. The issue is very simple: the Intelligence and Security Committee-the ISC-which comprises Members of the Commons and of the Lords and which monitors the agencies responsible for national security, is to be reorganised. The Government propose that it should comprise a committee of parliamentarians constitutionally detached from Parliament: that is, an arm's-length committee.
My Amendment 1 proposes full Select Committee status for the ISC, thus enabling it to enjoy the absolute protection of privilege conveyed under Article 9 of the Bill of Rights 1689. Amendments 2 and 4 in the next group in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Butler, seek to graft on to the Government's arm's-length committee proposal all the rights and privileges of a full Select Committee. The Government claim that they can do this under some highly controversial statutory provision which lawyers believe could be overturned in the courts.
The issue for the House today is simple: why is there all this ducking and weaving by the Government to avoid giving the ISC full Select Committee status, which is what my amendment seeks to do? The noble Lord, Lord Henley, who was the Minister when these matters were considered in Committee, argued that the Government's proposal for the arm's-length committee was to ensure that safeguards are in place to protect against the disclosure of sensitive information, retain a statutory ability to prevent publication of sensitive material, ensure that the most sensitive material can be withheld from the committee and to ensure that safeguards exist so there is adequate provision for those exceptional circumstances where the disclosure of information even to the chairman would be damaging to national security. I find that quite remarkable. The Government also seek to ensure that, as regards appointments to that committee, there is little risk of unauthorised disclosure. I argue that all these safeguards
19 Nov 2012 : Column 1627
There are three issues to be considered: the confidence of the public in the new arrangements; the practicality in terms of protecting national security; and, finally, privilege itself. On the confidence of the public I can do no more than quote the very wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Deben, in Committee. He said:
"Is it not better to use the strength of the Select Committee process and procedure and, above all, of public understanding rather than to try to create something special?-[Official Report, 9/7/12; cols. 925-6.]
On practicality, my amendments provide a choice. We could put this whole arrangement into statute with the consequential deletions of Clauses 1 to 4, or we could proceed by way of a series of parliamentary resolutions, which is my preferred option. Let me explain.
I believe that Parliament could carry resolutions that would make the committee as hermetically sealed as the structure that currently exists. We are told that such a committee could not be prevented from taking evidence in public session. In response, I argue that a resolution of both Houses could introduce a general prohibition on the Select Committee taking evidence in public. It could further place a requirement on the committee to seek the permission of the appropriate agencies and the Prime Minister in conditions of dispute. As prime ministerial appointees, members are currently responsible for reporting collectively to the Prime Minister. It is argued that such limited powers to report would not be possible if the committee were appointed by the legislature. There is no reason why the resolutions of both Houses should not stipulate the procedure to be used in the publication of reports. They could require the committee to publish its report subject to sidelining by the Prime Minister, as happens today, for reasons of national security. A resolution of both Houses could require that the committee sought the approval of the appropriate agency before reporting to the House. The resolutions could further provide that, in the event of a dispute arising between the agency and the committee over reports to the House, the matter could be referred again to the Prime Minister and the committee could be required to comply with his or her decision.
It is argued that although a Select Committee is neither more nor less likely than the ISC to leak, as a Select Committee it would have the right to publish reports in a way that could prove prejudicial to the interests of national security. A resolution of the House could introduce in response to that problem: a general prohibition on the Select Committee publishing reports without approval. It could further place a requirement on the committee to seek the permission
19 Nov 2012 : Column 1628
It is also argued that a move to a parliamentary arrangement could lead to greater pressure on Ministers to be accountable as witnesses with less emphasis on agency heads giving evidence. The argument is not supported by an examination of practices in some of the other committees of the House. All that is possible by way of resolutions in the House of Lords and House of Commons. I also argue that the committee needs increased powers to call persons and papers and to communicate with other committees. There are times when the information that comes before the committee should, in certain circumstances, be referred to other Select Committees, but, of course, with the permission of the agencies.
The ISC also needs the power to take evidence under oath. Select Committees have that power. It would not take all evidence under oath but it should at least have the power to do so. As I say, Select Committees have that power but the ISC does not. Without going into any details, there are times when the committee, if assurances were given under oath, might have the confidence, with the approval of the Prime Minister, to make statements that would be extremely helpful during the course of public debate and in the exercise of reassuring public opinion, which in my view is a very important consideration. Again, all is possible by way of parliamentary resolution or statute, if that be the will of Parliament.
To nail my case to the mast, I call in aid the wise words of that old parliamentary sage, the former clerk of the House of Commons, Mr W R McKay, who, in a letter to me of 21 July 1998-14 years ago-told me:
"You asked for my comments on the attached paper about a possible Select Committee on Security and Intelligence. The general premise in the paper, that select committees are creatures of the House is correct, and the House may, either in the committee's order of reference or by instruction, require a committee to sit in private or to take evidence or report in a particular manner. Thus the House could, if it so decided, require a committee to obtain the consent of an external body (you suggest the Prime Minister, or a relevant agency) before publishing particular evidence or, conceivably, before publishing a report ... the interpretation of the order of reference of a select committee is a matter for the committee itself to decide".
He quotes page 633 of Erskine May, the 2012 edition of which is updated on page 635-I checked this morning. He then sets the precedents for such a committee, going back to 1837: to name but a few, the Joint-stock Banks Select Committee of 1837, the National Expenditure Select Committee of 1939-40, and the Special Commission on Oil Sanctions of 1978-79. This is a former clerk to the House of Commons indicating to me that this is possible
The remaining and perhaps most important issue is privilege, which I have been discussing with the Minister outside the Chamber and in it. My proposals under Amendment 1 automatically carry with them the defence of privilege. The Government's alternative approach-supported by the noble Lord, Lord Butler-for an arm's-length committee established under statute does not enjoy any form of parliamentary privilege. The noble Lord, Lord Butler, argues that by adding the words "of Parliament", the committee can be seen as a servant of Parliament. He then quotes three examples: the Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament, the Public Accounts Commission, and the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission. I can now add two more to his list: the Speaker's Committee on the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority-IPSA-and the House of Commons Commission itself. All are creatures of statute. None attracts any measure of protection under Article 9. These are not my words, but the words of the current clerk of the House of Commons in a letter to me last week, which he gave me permission to quote in this Chamber.
The proceedings of these arm's-length committees which I have quoted and those of the committee proposed by the Government are not proceedings in Parliament. It would be misconceived, an abuse, and wrong for them to acquire Article 9 protection. Statutory committees are a breed apart: they are outside bodies and one cannot just hand out the protection of privilege-an historic parliamentary right-as if it were confetti. The proposition that parliamentary privilege be applied by statute to the Intelligence and Security Committee is something which I personally view with deep concern if it is to be done under the arrangements being proposed by some both inside and outside this Chamber.
I do not doubt the ability of Parliament to legislate to apply parliamentary privilege. However, I believe that this would be misconceived. Privilege is not a kind of stardust which can be sprinkled on outside bodies; it attaches naturally to Parliament and the committees which it appoints directly. Furthermore, a new statutory provision might well encourage the courts to intervene in the application of parliamentary privilege: for example, to define what is and is not a parliamentary proceeding. This would have implications for the whole committee system in both Houses. While a court might have no difficulty in deciding that evidence formally given or a report made by a committee was covered by privilege, what about briefing material prepared by the staff for an evidence hearing, or visits or letters from the chair to members of the committee? We have no guarantee of the protection of privilege in these circumstances.
It might be said that over the years there has been little opportunity for the courts to decide on such matters, but in practice that is wrong. The House of Commons authorities intervene in a significant number
19 Nov 2012 : Column 1630
It is only too easy to challenge these matters in the courts-as we have experienced over the years. We all agree that the ISC needs the protection of privilege. The issue is how we do it. I appeal to the House that if we are to do it, we should do it properly. I fear that there will be a last-minute attempt, on a whipped vote in the Commons, perhaps on a Thursday afternoon when they have all gone home, to graft on to the Bill some statutory provisions covering privilege, or some means of protecting the ISC. All that will do is lead to future problems in the courts. Let us sort this out here today. I beg to move.
Lord Butler of Brockwell: My Lords, the Intelligence and Security Committee has considered very carefully the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, to which the Opposition have given their support. As he said, they have some advantages. The committee is as enthusiastic as anybody about displaying the fact that it is a servant of Parliament and not just of the Executive. As the noble Lord said, if the committee were to become a Select Committee, that would automatically confer the protections that it needs to protect its proceedings in the interests of national security. However, I regret that, for reasons that I will explain, we cannot recommend that the House goes down the avenue that the noble Lord has recommended. We believe that the objectives can be achieved in other ways.
There is no difference in the House about the requirements that we need. We want to demonstrate that the Intelligence and Security Committee is a servant of Parliament. We all agree that on most occasions its evidence will need to be taken in private. We all agree that there will have to be safeguards in relation to appointments to the committee, and that both the evidence and the witnesses need protection from judicial intrusion or from the Freedom of Information Act 2000. There must also be safeguards against the committee inadvertently compromising national security in its published reports. There is no difference between us on any of these matters. The only question is how they should be achieved.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, would like the committee to become a Select Committee of Parliament, which would automatically confer privilege. He also wants the safeguards that I mentioned to be protected and conferred by parliamentary resolution. Safeguards secured by such resolution would confer privilege but would not automatically protect the proceedings of the committee from the Freedom of Information Act. As I understand it, if such protection from a Freedom of Information Act request is to be given, it has to be considered by, and depends on a certificate from, the Speaker. I see that the noble Lord is nodding his head at that.
That illustrates the difficulty. The noble Lord is recommending that the safeguards for national security in the proceedings of the Intelligence and Security Committee would no longer be a matter for the Executive but would be protected by a resolution of Parliament. In other words, responsibility for protecting national security would be transferred to Parliament, but I submit to the House that that is objectionable in principle. The Executive cannot surrender their responsibility for protecting the work of the intelligence agencies and national security. That, in the last resort, must be a matter for the Government. That is the fundamental objection to the noble Lord's proposal.
There is another objection. There can be circumstances in which the Government ask the Intelligence and Security Committee to inquire into a very secret matter in order to satisfy the Government that the intelligence agencies have not been behaving wrongly. That is not something that a Select Committee could be used for. That sort of secret request, where something needs to be looked at in confidence, is not something that the Executive could require a Select Committee to do on their behalf. The Intelligence and Security Committee simply would not be able to fulfil the functions that it needed to fulfil if it became a Select Committee of Parliament. I say that with regret, because there are many advantages to that route.
The noble Lord made a big point of saying that to proceed by way of giving the Intelligence and Security Committee-a committee created by statute-parliamentary privilege has disadvantages. I acknowledge that. When it comes to my amendment, which seeks to confer the advantages of privilege on the Intelligence and Security Committee, I acknowledge that point and I will not be pressing that way of doing things. But of course it is perfectly possible, and indeed more desirable, to put those protections in the Bill without any reference to parliamentary privilege at all. That would overcome the objections that the noble Lord has legitimately raised. I suggest to the House that that is the better route.
For those reasons, I regret that I and my noble friend Lord Lothian, who regrets that he cannot be here today, and the Intelligence and Security Committee cannot advise the House to take the route that the noble Lord has proposed.
Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I rise to speak with some hesitation because I have not been able to take part in these debates previously. However, I feel as a former chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee that I should echo some of the concerns that the noble Lord, Lord Butler, raised, particularly what he said about the Executive not being able to surrender responsibility for security.
On the other hand, I very much agree with what my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours said about the importance of privilege for the Intelligence and Security Committee and I am not entirely convinced that this can be solved in any other way. I have a dilemma. There are conflicting things that we are all trying to do. We are trying to make the Intelligence and Security Committee as effective as possible. I am not convinced
19 Nov 2012 : Column 1632
However, he has not gone into the practicalities of a Select Committee on this occasion as he has done on others. For example, every member of the House of Commons can attend a Select Committee, so the normal rules could not apply there. The practicalities of location could be met, I am sure. I am left with this dilemma because I do not think there is any way in which the Executive can give up their responsibility. I am not sure about the mechanisms that have been mentioned-for example, the Speaker giving authorisation-and I am worried about freedom of information, although I am worried about freedom of information on a raft of issues and not only on this one.
There are two groups of amendments and, in a sense, we are going on to the next group, which relates to parliamentary privilege and is absolutely essential to the issue of whether we need to go down the path of a Select Committee. My noble friend thinks however, that if there were to be a Select Committee as he envisages, with all the complications that exist, it would increase the confidence of the public. On the first occasion on which the ISC, as a Select Committee, refused to give information or agreed to redactions that people then probed and it was not able to give answers, the Select Committee would be criticised just as much as the ISC has been in the past. I hope that my noble friend will resist the temptation to raise expectations about any increase in accountability or transparency were this committee to become a Select Committee of the House because I do not think that it could function in that way.
Many of us who have been involved worry that the agencies took a little time to come round to giving information when the ISC was first established-I see the noble Lord, Lord King, who was chair at that time, nodding in agreement-and we could suffer a setback if this committee became a Select Committee. It might be recoverable, but we would have to re-establish a system of confidence once again. I hope my noble friend will not raise expectations that this would suddenly mean more accountability and transparency. The one issue that concerns me is making sure that the ISC has all the protection that it needs.
Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, the House is getting a surfeit of chairmen, members and former members of the ISC and I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness. She followed directly after me-I think that is right, if my memory is correct-and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours was a very diligent member of the committee during part of the time when I was chairman. I would like to welcome a promising new young member of the ISC in the shape of the noble Lord, Lord Butler-who, very unusually, has sat on both sides of the fence, as one might say, and speaks with all the authority of seeing it from both sides.
I respect the approach that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, has taken. He has the credit of
19 Nov 2012 : Column 1633
I am very disappointed that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, has tabled Amendment 1 because I thought the previous feeling of the debate in Committee was that it was right to consider Amendment 2-which had previously been Amendment 1-the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Butler, and then, in the light of what the House thought about that, to move to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours. The noble Lord is a very astute parliamentarian and his Amendment 1, if I may say so, is entirely a device to get in at number one, because if the House was to vote for it his subsequent amendments would abolish it. If the House agreed to Amendment 3, it would delete the clause in which he had just carried Amendment 1. It would then delete all the clauses that apply to the ISC. That, of course, is the position. He is saying that nothing should be set up under statute and therefore you do not need anything in this Bill about the ISC. You pass the responsibility for creating the appropriate committee over to the authorities in the House of Commons with the support of this House. We do not have the opportunity to consider the alternative approach yet, although the noble Lord, Lord Butler, has given us a good snapshot of what the House might be interested in doing.
There was common agreement in Committee that it is absolutely vital that the committee develops, as it has progressed significantly beyond the 1994 Act which limited its powers and responsibilities simply to the Secret Intelligence Service, the Security Service and Government Communications Headquarters-GCHQ. In those first few years, we extended progressively into the assessment staff in the Cabinet Office, the JIC organisation and the Defence Intelligence Staff. I brought in the NAO to oversee the finances and produce reports on financial aspects on which we needed further advice. We also took in evidence on police activities, including in the area of serious crime, and a whole series of different things which spread its range. I would like to think that, under successive memberships of the committee, it has commanded significant public confidence. Indeed, I remind noble Lords that it has been going for 18 years and I do not think there have been any serious allegations of leaks. There might have been, if not a nod, perhaps a suggestion of one, but I have to say that over the period there have been significantly more from the intelligence agencies, which are meant to be distrustful of our ability as parliamentarians to contain secrets. On this occasion I will not go into the details of Mr Shayler and Mr Tomlinson, both people who did not give great service to our country in particularly difficult times.
I did not realise that the noble Lord, Lord Butler, was going to mention this, but there is a role for the ISC that is quite outside Parliament, in the sense of being mandated by it, on which the Government did come to the committee. The Home Secretary at the time, Jack Straw, rang me and said, "We have a problem. Some very serious allegations are being made and it is not going to be dealt with simply by us issuing denials that they are true. Will the committee undertake to investigate the allegation of a failure by the Security Service in connection with the Secret Intelligence Service to root out serious Warsaw Pact Soviet espionage?". If people do not know what I am talking about, it got into the tabloids as the "granny who came in from the cold". A KGB archivist, Mr Mitrokhin, provided the most amazing fund of top secret intelligence. Having been turned down by the United States-I think he went to the US embassy in Vilnius, although at the time all sorts of people were turning up at US embassies, so they said that they had too many of them-but fortunately a suitably intelligent British agent spotted the potential value of the archive. It was top secret stuff and I said that we would undertake the investigation only on the condition that we had access not as circumscribed in the Act but to any secret information that was in any way relevant to the case. We took full evidence, including from Mr Mitrokhin himself, and many noble Lords will have seen the outcome of that. The report showed that although one or two mistakes were made, the more serious allegations against the intelligence and security agencies were not justified. I like to think that that report, from an all-party committee drawn from both Houses, investigating an absolutely top secret matter, commanded considerable public confidence.
It is important that this committee commands public confidence in this country. As the Foreign Secretary says in his article in the Times today-more in connection with Part 2 of this Bill-it is important, too, for this committee to have a role in maintaining international confidence. As a country, we depend enormously on our intelligence agencies and what they produce, but also considerably on a whole network of alliances of intelligence agencies. The difficulties of the world at present are such that one cannot be sure from where the next challenge, terrorist threat or any other sort of threat, such as that from organised crime, might emerge. We must maintain international confidence that our intelligence agencies and parliamentary oversight procedures are secure to the standards that our allies would expect for information that may be extremely sensitive as far as they are concerned.
As the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, made clear, that background is such that, whatever we come out with here, it cannot be an ordinary committee. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, wants to abolish the ISC as it stands under statute and just create a select committee. He then, very properly, includes a whole range of extra requirements that would have to be added to a select committee for it to operate in this way. He very confidently said that all the necessary safeguards would be available. However, I do not know what authority he has for saying that, as it will be a matter for the House to decide which of those safeguards it wishes to impose. That is why the point
19 Nov 2012 : Column 1635
I wait to see whether the Minister can help us on the legal point made by the noble Lord, Lord Butler. We have managed to stumble along for 18 years without getting too worried about the issue of privilege, but it now seems to be becoming much more of a concern that we should have that protection, if it is necessary. Why can it not simply be put in the Bill and made quite clear what that privilege protection is? That would seem to be an entirely satisfactory way to deal with it.
A number of complications arise, whichever route we take. When the noble Lord, Lord Henley, summed up the debate in Committee on this point, he made clear that the Government would go away and reflect on the comments that had been made. We were privileged at that time to have the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, here, who, as your Lordships will know, of course has considerable experience in the security field with the responsibility that he had. He said that he respected and welcomed what the noble Lord, Lord Henley, had said and that he would wait to hear the Minister's conclusions when he came back-we welcome the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, who has now taken over that responsibility-but he did not actually, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, knows, support the Select Committee route. I do not support it at this stage either but do support the steps that need to be taken. I think the noble Baroness and I are pretty much in step on this: we should ensure that the committee is recognised to have as parliamentary a status as is possible, while retaining for the Executive the overall responsibility for national security and ensuring that the ISC-which I would like to think has made a reasonably promising start-can continue to evolve and serve the nation as it has sought to do in the past.
Baroness Smith of Basildon: My Lords, this has been an extremely interesting debate, as was the debate we had in Committee. I am at something of a disadvantage-or perhaps it is an advantage-as the Minister and I are the only speakers in this debate who have not been members or indeed esteemed chairs of the ISC. I think I heard the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, say, "Good"-I hope it is.
I support the amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours, and I will explain the reasons why. I join the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, in paying tribute to my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours because the way that he has brought forward this argument today does the House a great service.
In Committee, many Members of your Lordships' House, who have had a lifetime's experience of these matters, proposed a number of different ideas for reform of the Intelligence and Security Committee, ranging from the designation of parliamentary privilege
19 Nov 2012 : Column 1636
What we have in Part 1 of the Bill, as illustrated by this and the next group of amendments, is a missed opportunity. In Committee, we discussed a range of different options for strengthening the independence of the ISC beyond what is proposed in the Bill. What emerged were two different blueprints for achieving pretty much the same aims and objectives. First, the noble Lord, Lord Butler, and the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, two distinguished members of the committee, proposed an arrangement along the lines of existing parliamentary committees established by statute, such as the Ecclesiastical Committee, the Public Accounts Committee, the Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, and the House of Commons Commission. The committee as envisaged would have the independence and powers afforded by being a creature of Parliament rather than the Executive, but would retain the security of checks and balances provided for in statute. The second way forward, proposed by my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours, seeks to establish the Intelligence and Security Committee as a fully fledged Select Committee of Parliament, having all the privileges attached to that arrangement, but with safeguards or restrictions provided through resolutions of Parliament rather than statute. I think my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours used the phrase "hermetically sealed".
However, both these blueprints are seeking to achieve the same end point. They are both seeking a concept of the ISC as a creature of Parliament rather than the Executive; independence that is recognised by the public but still guarantees the absolute security of sensitive information disclosed to the committee; and maintaining the good relations and trust that have been established with the agencies. It seems that the choice between the two concepts is one less of principle and more of practicality: which proposal will best achieve this end? My noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours and the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, have both confirmed that they are seeking to achieve the same ends.
As my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours has already stated, chief among the advantages gained by being a parliamentary Select Committee is parliamentary privilege. This would grant the ISC, among other things, protection of members and witnesses by parliamentary privilege, which encourages free disclosure within the secure confines of the committee; the power to take evidence under oath; and the power to hold witnesses in contempt for deliberately misleading the committee.
I have listened carefully to my noble friend's arguments about the designation of parliamentary privilege, and in Committee we debated and supported amendments moved by the noble Lord, Lord Butler, and the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, to grant the ISC parliamentary privilege by amending the Bill of Rights. Indeed, I have attached my name to similar amendments in the next group, because I fully support the ISC obtaining parliamentary privilege. However, if, as my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours, has compellingly argued today, there are serious problems with seeking to designate privilege in this way, it would appear that a Select Committee arrangement is the only option that would satisfactorily guarantee the committee these powers. The notion that privilege, if gained in the way that has been proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Butler, and the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, may be struck down by the courts, which I am absolutely clear is not what they are seeking, is hugely concerning. If witnesses and members of the committee had given evidence to that committee under the assumption that they had immunity, only later to have that immunity revoked, it would have huge implications for the work of the committee. The absolute and total guarantee of parliamentary privilege is therefore a compelling reason to support the ISC's move to full Select Committee status.
The question then rests on whether a Select Committee arrangement could be relied on to act in a way that absolutely guaranteed, without qualification, the protection of our national security. The Opposition would support the establishment of the ISC as a Select Committee only where such a guarantee could be satisfied. Under no circumstances should any change in the structure of the ISC result in sensitive information being disclosed that could put at risk our national security or the safety of intelligence sources or operations. Restrictions or safeguards on the committee's powers could include a number of areas-we have heard of some of them today-and others that may be agreed by Parliament. For example, the Prime Minister could veto the publication of material by the committee for reasons of national security; proceedings of the committee could be closed to the public unless agreed by the Executive and/or provided for under its own terms of reference, such as annual public hearings of the heads of the agencies; there could be an executive prerogative to instruct the Leader of the House to dissolve the committee or to remove one of its members by a resolution of Parliament; or there could be a veto or agreement of a nomination to the committee. I use those just as examples- there will be others that I am sure will occur to your Lordships, particularly those who have been members of the ISC-but providing for such safeguards in legislation, as in the Bill before us, is perhaps the clearest way of ensuring that they are met.
I completely agree with the noble Marquess on that point. In the majority of cases, the committee must sit in private. To do otherwise would not only damage the reputation of the committee, as I have said, but, most seriously, undermine its core function of effective oversight over the intelligence services. However, as has been argued by my noble friend, the mechanism by which Select Committee powers and terms of reference are constituted are sufficiently flexible conceivably to provide for any one of those concerns.
I understand from my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours that he has it on the authority of clerks of both this House and the other place that Parliament may, either through the committee's order of reference or by instruction, specify the terms under which the committee may sit, may take evidence and report, including requiring the consent of another body including the Government. Indeed, there are already known precedents for such restrictions. The Defence Select Committee already holds evidence sessions in private in order to hear classified and national security-sensitive information. For its recent report on maritime surveillance, published in September this year, it held part of its first evidence session in private. As my noble friend has indicated, there have been instances in the past where the House has resolved that a committee report to the Prime Minister and it may even be precluded from publishing certain material on the grounds of national security. Given those assurances, a Select Committee arrangement would both guarantee the ISC parliamentary privilege and ensure the necessary safeguards for our national security.
My understanding is that, if the House were today to pass my noble friend's amendment and the Government accepted the will of your Lordships' House, the Government could seek to withdraw Clauses 1 to 4 of the Bill in the Commons and then issue a statement that they would seek agreement through a resolution of the House to establish the ISC as a Select Committee of Parliament. If the Government and the Opposition were unable to reach agreement over the terms of such a resolution-including all the necessary safeguards that I have referred to and others-then presumably the ISC would continue under its present arrangements.
We have heard a compelling argument from my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours that it is not possible to designate a body of parliamentary privilege such as the ISC simply by amending the Bill of Rights or by other statutory means. If this is indeed correct, it is undeniably a compelling reason for pursuing the Select Committee route rather than the statutory one. However, even if were possible to do so, there is a further reason why we believe that the Select Committee should be the model that we aim for. That reason was expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Deben. I am sorry that he is not here today as his contribution in Committee was valuable. In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Deben, was supported by the noble Lord, Lord King, and the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, when he asked:
"Is it not better to use the strength of the Select Committee process and procedure and, above all, of public understanding rather than to try to create something special"?-[Official Report, 9/7/12; col. 926.]
This is more than just a cosmetic change. The parliamentary Select Committee structure is one widely recognised as being capable of serious and robust scrutiny. It is a concept that is familiar to the public and one that they understand as being independent. While I agree with the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, about public confidence in the committee I do not think that most of the public know of the existence of the ISC, whereas they are aware of the structure and work of Select Committees. Even if it were possible to guarantee the committee watertight parliamentary privilege, as I now seriously doubt, it would still ultimately be a hybrid committee. A halfway house would undeniably be better than what we have in the Bill but it would still be a peculiar body. If we are to go to all the effort of dressing up the ISC to look and sound like a parliamentary Select Committee, although with question marks over parliamentary privilege, why not simply have a Select Committee to do the job fully?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Taylor of Holbeach): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, for presenting his amendments in such a typically articulate way. He draws to our attention the challenge that faces us in achieving confidence-the word that was used by many noble Lords and spoken of by my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater. In a nutshell, this is about the scrutiny of Parliament and the responsibility of government, and how those two can be reconciled. Although the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, talked about not wishing to create a special committee, this is a special committee because it deals with matters that are self-evidently outside normal public scrutiny.
This group of amendments, which I thank the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, and others for bringing to the House, concern the status of the ISC and, although we have not talked about it much, the remit of the Intelligence Services Commissioner. As my noble friend Lord Henley previously noted, the Bill proposes a number of important changes to the ISC's status. Members of the ISC would be appointed by Parliament, rather than as at present by the Prime Minister, and those members would be free to choose their own chair. The ISC is created by statute to ensure that there are safeguards in place to protect against the disclosure of sensitive information and therefore the Government do not consider it appropriate for the ISC to be a full Joint Committee established under the Standing Orders of each House, as other Joint Committees are. I hope that noble Lords will find it useful for me to expand on this reasoning.
It is essential that the ISC operates within a framework that protects the highly sensitive material to which it has access. In particular, the Government must be able to prevent the publication of sensitive material by the ISC. They must have be able to withhold the most sensitive material from the committee-albeit that those powers are rarely used currently and can be expected to be rarely used in future-and must have some role in the appointment of members of the ISC. Without guarantees in those three areas, the risk of disclosure of information that might damage national
19 Nov 2012 : Column 1640
The Bill provides the necessary guarantees in each of those three areas. The Prime Minister would be able to require matters be excluded from the ISC's reports if the matter would be prejudicial to the discharge of the functions of the agencies or the wider intelligence community. Ministers would be able to withhold information from the ISC in the limited circumstances provided for in paragraphs 3 and 4 of Schedule 1. A Member of this House or of another place would not be eligible to become a member of the ISC unless they had first been nominated for membership by the Prime Minister.
Although it may be possible to replicate those safeguards in Standing Orders of this House and another place, Standing Orders can be amended at any time, as noble Lords will know, and can be suspended for a specific period, or dispensed with for a specific purpose, by a Motion in the relevant House. Standing Orders do not therefore have the same permanence, or provide the same level of protection to sensitive information, as statutory provisions to the same effect.
It seems to me that we can divide the noble Lord's amendments into two sets. Both are concerned with the same aim-that the new ISC should be a Select Committee-but they get there by different routes and with different consequences. It is not absolutely clear what the effect of the noble Lord's first two amendments would be. If we were to accept them and the amendment that he proposes to Schedule 2, the ISC would still be created by statute in the Bill and safeguards would still exist to protect national security in the three areas that I have listed. My noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater drew attention to the inconsistency of the amendments, but we accept the noble Lord's wish to draw the issue to the attention of the House in the way that he has by tabling Amendment 1.
The noble Lord's amendment would not create a full Joint Committee, because that can be done only by the Standing Orders of each House. It would create an entirely novel body-a Select Committee established by statute. To what extent would such a body share the characteristics of other Select Committees? The Bill makes clear, even were it amended in other respects according to the noble Lord's wishes, that the ISC is quite different from other Select Committees in fundamental respects-for instance, in relation to appointments and reporting. That being so, it is unclear whether or to what extent changing the ISC in this way would give it the other characteristics of a Select Committee. Indeed, the risk is that describing the ISC as a Select Committee when it has characteristics that are not shared by such committees could mislead as to the ISC's true character. For these reasons, I hope that the noble Lord will see fit to withdraw his amendment and that the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, will reconsider her position on it.
The noble Lord's next four amendments would, together, remove the first four clauses, which deal with the ISC. It is to be assumed that the noble Lord's intention with those amendments is that a new ISC should be created solely by the Standing Orders of each House. Indeed, the noble Lord said so in his speech introducing his amendment. I have already listed the vital safeguards relating to appointments, reporting and provision of information contained in the Bill. Without these safeguards, we will increase the risk of unauthorised disclosure of the sensitive information to which the committee has access. As I have already said, Standing Orders can not adequately replicate the safeguards against disclosure of information that might damage national security contained in the Bill. It is only by enshrining these safeguards in statute that we can ensure that they are sufficiently robust and enduring.
Lord King of Bridgwater: My noble friend has put much more clearly what I tried to allude to. The only correct position that would seem to emerge from the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, and the noble Baroness who speaks for the Opposition is that nobody should vote in favour of Amendment 1. If they vote for it and do not carry Amendment 6, we will have a complete muddle. What is involved here is actually not voting on Amendment 1; the issue about the Select Committee should properly be addressed under Amendment 6.
Lord Campbell-Savours: If Amendment 1 were to be carried, there would be discussions in the House of Commons. It would probably come back with a decision and an announcement to the House that it intended to set up a committee by way of parliamentary resolutions, so none of those issues would arise.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I hope that I can reassure my noble friend and the noble Lord that I intend to use my eloquence so that the House is not presented with this issue of confusion. That must be my task, and I will pray in aid the words of the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell. I hope that the House will not mind if I quote him at length. In Committee, he said:
"I think we all agree that the ultimate purpose is that the public should have confidence in the committee's scrutiny of the intelligence services. However, it was clear from the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, that if this were to be a Select Committee, it would have to be hedged around by a very large number of parliamentary resolutions, and that would have the same effect as the constraints that are written into the Bill. The question is: would that make it more convincing if it were a Select Committee when it was a Select Committee unlike any other because it would be so inhibited by those restraints?
They say that something which looks like a duck and quacks like a duck can be regarded as being a duck, but this would not look like or quack like a Select Committee; it would be something completely separate".-[Official Report, 9/7/12; cols. 933-34.]
I can see much force in that argument. It was reinforced today by the noble Lord and by the former chairman of the ISC, the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton, and my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, raised the question of parliamentary privilege. It may be possible to give the committee bespoke statutory immunities that would provide it with protections which would replicate aspects of privilege. The noble Lord said that that might well be what the Government are proposing, but it would not be the same as legislating to provide the same privileges for the committee. If the ISC were given privilege by statute, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, said, that might encourage courts to rule on proceedings in Parliament. Courts already rule on this question. The Supreme Court judgment in the recent Regina v Chater case is an example of that. For instance, it might be possible to give protection for witnesses before the ISC so that the evidence they give to the ISC in good faith cannot be used against them in criminal, civil or disciplinary proceedings. The Government are considering whether that is a viable approach and whether it is the best approach to tackle this issue. We may bring forward amendments to deal with this issue at a later date.
The addition of the "of Parliament" amendment, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Butler, and the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian-accepted in principle by the Government and to which we will come presently-would have a number of consequences. One possible consequence is that the ISC would have the power to take evidence on oath. This, in turn, raises the possibility that those who intentionally mislead the committee, while giving evidence under oath, would be subject to the same sort of sanctions which might apply in similar circumstances to a witness before a Select Committee. If, on further analysis, that is not a consequence of that amendment, we would be content to look at whether there is the need for a provision in the Bill to make clear that the ISC may take evidence on oath. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, will be happy not to move his amendment in the light of what I have described of the Government's position on these matters of privilege.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, I apologise for that and will move on to deal with the substantive issue. The work of the commissioner is a different role from that of the committee. Of course, it complements it. I hope that we will be able to use our ability to enhance it and ensure that it continues to meet our needs. The Government believe in strengthening oversight and, clearly, the commissioner has a role in that.
Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, I am grateful to all those who have participated in this debate. In my response, I want to dwell on something that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, slipped into the middle of a sentence. He used the word "aspects" of privilege. The distinction between what I am calling for here-Article 9 protection under the 1689 Act-as against what he is proposing, is full privilege for a Select Committee of Parliament to be known as the intelligence and security services Select Committee.
When I talk about full privilege, I am not talking about some qualification of freedom of information legislation, which I suspect is what the Government and perhaps even the noble Lord, Lord Butler, have in mind, but about full privilege under the Act: rights of access to documents covered by privilege; rights to call Ministers covered by privilege; rights to hold in contempt covered by parliamentary privilege; rights to insist on evidence being taken under oath, if necessary, under parliamentary privilege; rights to have witnesses protected from the courts; rights to have Members protected from assault on free speech; and protection of Members against a threat of intimidation or any undue pressure which prejudices their rights to act freely as Members of Parliament.
These are rights contained in Article 9 of the Bill of Rights, which I do not believe that it will be possible for the Government to allocate as they propose, whether under the statutory provision which we have been talking about up until today or the amendment of the freedom of information legislation, which is the debate going on behind the scenes.
I would like to deal with the issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, when he talked about transfer of responsibility from the Executive to the Speaker. As I understand it, under the arrangements that the Government propose, instead of a Speaker's Certificate being required in an FOI case there would be a ministerial certificate. This House is full of lawyers, and I am not a lawyer-but am I mistaken in thinking that a ministerial certificate can be overturned by an information tribunal? That is what the law says, although I am not a lawyer and am ready to stand corrected. But if that is the case, it means that this is not an argument over whether you are simply transferring the responsibility from the Executive to the Speaker, potentially you are transferring it from the Executive, on matters of national security, to the information tribunal. Perhaps I am wrong but, even as a barrack-room lawyer, I think that I have got that right.
On the view expressed by my noble friend Lady Taylor of Bolton, I regard perception as extremely important in this whole discussion. Is a halfway house committee, detached from Parliament, more credible in terms of public perception than a full Select Committee of Parliament, circumscribed in the ways that I have suggested to the House in the course of moving my amendment?
I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, cannot support me today, but we are on the route. As I said to him before, privately, inevitably we will end up with a Select Committee-the question is when.
My noble friend Lady Smith of Basildon pointed to the precedent of a Select Committee on Defence in the House of Commons handling these matters in conditions of secrecy and dealing with them as if they were matters of national security, and secret. I understand that committees of this House have dealt in exactly the same way with very sensitive material and have not leaked; all I am asking is that those committees be replicated in a wider Select Committee, comprising Members of both Houses.
Finally, this is not a precedent. Countries throughout the western world have Parliaments that have Select Committees on intelligence. Some on occasion even meet in public-I have not advocated that. They do not leak, and when the members of our ISC travel abroad, as I did when I was on the committee for five years we often met Members of other Parliaments who sat on Select Committees in their Parliaments dealing with these matters. In the United States of America, in the Congress and the Senate, they have Select Committees. If they can do it, why cannot we? It is on that basis that I wish to test the opinion of the House on this amendment.
Lord Butler of Brockwell: In moving Amendment 2, I wish to speak also to Amendment 4, with which it is grouped. I hope that I can deal with this group of amendments shortly because the Minister, rather unusually, dealt with them in his response to the previous group of amendments and asked me to withdraw them, which I will do.
However, if I have a complaint against the Government, it is that I moved these two amendments in Committee, seeking that the Intelligence and Security Committee should be described as the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament to emphasise its role as a servant of Parliament rather than as a servant of the Executive. I also moved Amendment 4 in Committee, which seeks to confer privilege on the committee. On that occasion the Minister-the noble Lord, Lord Henley-spoke sympathetically in response to both amendments, as, indeed, has the Minister today. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, said on 9 July, some four months ago:
"Noble Lords will understand from what I have said that there is a degree of sympathy for both amendments, and particularly the first, but more work needs to be done".-[Official Report, 9/7/12; col. 918.]
These are probing amendments. The Minister has said again that he is sympathetic to the addition of the words "of Parliament". A more substantial issue is Amendment 4, which seeks to confer privilege on the Intelligence and Security Committee. As has come out in the earlier debate, there are genuine difficulties about that. I acknowledge that in response to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours. I understand that the clerks of the two Houses of Parliament see difficulty in extending parliamentary privilege in this way.
On behalf of the Intelligence and Security Committee, I want to make it clear that the safeguards that are provided by parliamentary privilege are essential-not parliamentary privilege itself. Provided those safeguards can be in the Bill-in other words, the protection of witnesses and the protection of the proceedings of the committee from judicial intrusion or the Freedom of Information Act-that is equally satisfactory. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours expressed some doubts about that and the Minister, in reply, said that there were aspects to be considered. It seems to me that it cannot be impossible for those protections to be provided statutorily in the Bill. Provided that is done, I would not seek, nor would the Intelligence and Security Committee seek, to press Amendment 4. I hope to hear from the Minister, if he does not mind repeating himself a little, that the Government will seek to provide those protections that the Intelligence and Security Committee needs in an alternative way from that of privilege. I beg to move.
Lord Campbell-Savours: I wish to intervene only very briefly, perhaps to rephrase the question about the ministerial certificate that I put during the course of my previous intervention. Is it true that the ministerial certificate could be overturned by a tribunal? Perhaps those in the Box can advise the Minister. If that is the case, it means that the responsibility has been transferred from the Executive to the tribunal, as against being transferred from the Executive to the Speaker. We should know whether that is the case.
If I am correct, the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, is suggesting that somehow that to which I am referring could be dealt with in the legislation whereby there would not be a right to challenge a ministerial certificate, as is the case with a Speaker's certificate. When he talked about judicial intervention, perhaps he was referring specifically to that. As I understand the freedom of information legislation, it is not possible for a challenge to be mounted against a certificate granted by the Speaker. That is why I always felt that it was far better that the Speaker had that role, because the Speaker of the House of Commons would always uphold national security. It is inconceivable that a Speaker could not be trusted in these circumstances. It seemed to be being suggested that because this power was being transferred from the Executive to Parliament, it was placing something in jeopardy. On the contrary, I should have thought that the Speaker of the House of Commons-whoever that might be at any stage, now or in the future-could be thoroughly relied on to be as secure as the intelligence services themselves in protecting national security.
In one of his amendments, the noble Lord seeks to add the words "of Parliament". Where we have a committee set up outside of Parliament-at arm's length-are we saying that, in order to make it look as if it represents Parliament in some way, we simply tag "of Parliament" onto the end to give it the imprimatur of Parliament. As a concept, it is ridiculous and it abuses the institution. What other organisations or statutory bodies of such notable importance are going to be set up with these words simply added onto the end in order to give them some extra credibility? I am opposed to an amendment of that nature.
Baroness Smith of Basildon: My Lords, much of the debate regarding this amendment was covered in the debate on the previous group of amendments. I will therefore keep my comments brief. We put our names to the amendments proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Butler, and the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian. We considered that the arrangements that they are proposing for the ISC, which is a variation of a statutory parliamentary committee, to be the next best option were the Select Committee option to fail.
In the previous debates, I referred to a committee being strengthened in its independence by the privileges and status afforded by being a creature of Parliament rather than a creature of the Executive, while retaining robust safeguards over the constitution and the work of the committee in the interests of national security. The idea of a security committee that is covered by parliamentary privilege and also bound by safeguards established by statute is of course attractive, as it would give the absolute guarantee needed on issues such as the disclosure of sensitive information and the appointment of members. However, my concerns lie-the noble Lord, Lord Butler, also acknowledged these deficiencies-with the argument raised by my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours that parliamentary privilege conferred in this way would be suspect and potentially challengeable in the courts. That makes me nervous and I am sure that it makes other Members of the House nervous. If my noble friend is right that the present statutory committees of Parliament are not covered by privilege, it is difficult to see how statute can provide for it in this case, for the fundamental reason that the committee will not be a fully fledged body of Parliament.
In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Henley, said that discussions would take place. The noble Lord, Lord Butler, referred to that. I am very concerned that, if I understand correctly, the noble Lord, Lord Butler, said that no discussions on the issue have taken place with the Government. There is an overwhelming desire on all sides of the House to get the issue right.
Baroness Smith of Basildon: I do not know whether that is better or worse. It is disappointing that the Government have not been able to reach a conclusion, given the overwhelming desire on all sides of the House to get this right and to ensure that the committee has the privilege that it will need to do its job properly. I remain concerned about the process that is being used. I wait with interest to hear what the noble Lord will say about the consequences of pursuing parliamentary privilege in this way. Without assurances that the committee will have full privilege, I will have serious reservations about the viability of the proposed amendments, despite the fact that I fully support the aims behind them.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, I was tempted to make a relatively short summary for this debate, but the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Butler, give me the chance to elaborate on certain matters to
19 Nov 2012 : Column 1650
The Government are in principle supportive of the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Butler, to change the name of the committee to the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament. While we are not in a position to support the amendment at this stage, we will be in a position to do so later. I hope that in what I say I will give the House reassurance that the time since July has not been totally wasted, and that the Government are quite a long way down the road of sorting out the particular issues to which noble Lords quite rightly drew the attention of the House. If the ISC becomes a committee of Parliament, it may even be necessary to make some consequential amendments. The amendment may bring the ISC within the ambit of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 by making it a part of the House of Commons and the House of Lords for the purposes of the Act, which was alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours. It may change the ISC's status under the Data Protection Act 1998, as Section 63A of that Act may become relevant, making the corporate officers of the House of Commons and the House of Lords the relevant data controllers for the ISC's data-processing activities.
The noble Lord is right to make sure that the Government are aware of these issues. He may be referring to the exemption in Section 36 of the Freedom of Information Act. Suffice it to say that a number of other exemptions in the Act would also be relevant in an FOI request, not least Section 23, which is an exemption for information relating to or supplied by the agencies, which is an absolute exemption. If the noble Lord would like further details about this before Third Reading, I am happy to provide him with them. It may well be necessary to bring forward consequential amendments to make clear the status of the ISC under the Data Protection Act and Freedom of Information Act. Those matters will need to be thought through thoroughly. I hope that noble Lords will accept that the Government intend to proceed in this way.
The second amendment deals explicitly with the significant issue of parliamentary privilege. We have discussed this at some length in the previous group of amendments because much of the debate hinged on the protection of privilege. The House has considered this matter on a number of occasions in recent years. The Government's most recent consideration of the issue is contained in the Green Paper published in April this year.
Freedom of speech in the context of the Bill of Rights is just one aspect of parliamentary privilege. At present, the Intelligence and Security Committee
19 Nov 2012 : Column 1651
The noble Lord tabled the same amendment in Committee and my noble friend Lord Henley expressed a degree of sympathy with it on behalf of the Government and said that more work needed to be done. I hope that I have reassured the noble Lord that this work has indeed been done. The parliamentary authorities and the ISC have both been involved in these discussions, and discussions with the parliamentary authorities have highlighted that it would be a unique proposition for a statute to confer parliamentary privilege in this way. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, referred to that. It is conceivable that doing so could have wider and possibly unwelcome ramifications for the relationship between the courts and Parliament.
As I have already said, we have considered whether it is possible, instead, to give the committee bespoke statutory immunities that would provide the committee with protections that would replicate certain aspects of parliamentary privilege. For instance, it might be possible to give protection to witnesses before the ISC, so that evidence they give to the ISC in good faith could not be used in criminal, civil or disciplinary proceedings. We are considering whether this is a viable approach and whether it is the best approach to tackling this issue, and we may bring forward amendments.
Lord Campbell-Savours: The noble Lord has repeatedly said, "We are considering", and "It might be possible". There is an element of doubt. It may be possible, but if it is not possible, are they then ruling out Select Committee status?
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, I have every confidence that a solution to the issues and challenges of providing the necessary protection will be found. However, I was not intending to use this debate to present those conclusions to Parliament. I am sure the noble Lord will look forward with interest to hearing them in due course.
Lord Butler of Brockwell: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply and to other noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. I wish to make two points. First, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, is being a little unfair in describing the Intelligence and Security Committee, even in its present form, as detached from Parliament. We do not feel detached from Parliament and, certainly in the circumstances described by the Minister, when we are more closely appointed by and report to Parliament, we will be even less detached. So there is some point in adding the words "of Parliament".
Secondly, the Minister raised a point about the certificate of exemption under the Freedom of Information Act. He said that a Minister's decision can be challenged at a tribunal whereas, on his understanding, the Speaker's certificate cannot, and so the committee would be safer in the hands of the Speaker than in the hands of the Minister. I had hoped, when he raised this point in the previous debate, that a lawyer would intervene and advise us. My understanding is that the Executive always has the last say on this. The Minister is quite right that a tribunal can overrule a Minister but, in the end, a Minister can overrule a tribunal. An example which the House will remember is the risk register on the Health Bill where, in the end, the Minister overruled the tribunal. My understanding is that a Minister always has the last word. I pause for a moment in case there is a lawyer in the House who can correct me but, if not, I offer that as my belief.
On the basis of what the Minister said and in the expectation that a solution can be found to providing the protections that the Intelligence and Security Committee needs other than by means of conferring parliamentary privilege, I am happy to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Butler of Brockwell: My Lords, again I can speak quite briefly to the amendment, which provides that the chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee should be remunerated on a basis similar to that of chairs of Select Committees of the House of Commons.
I emphasise that the present chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee has not asked for this amendment to be brought forward. However, the members of the committee feel strongly that the chair has to do a large amount of work-as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord King, and the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, also did-and that it is an anomaly that, whereas other Members of the House of Commons who are chairs of Select Committees receive remuneration, the chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee does not.
As I understand it, the Government's position is that this is, in these days, a matter for IPSA. However, I hope that they will be willing to put this issue to IPSA with their recommendation that it should consider it sympathetically. If the Minister is prepared to go as far as that, my colleagues and I on the Intelligence and Security Committee will be happy not to press the amendment.
Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, I vigorously support this amendment because it has always been my view that the chairman should be remunerated. I served under the chairmanship of the noble Lord,
19 Nov 2012 : Column 1653
Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, I support what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, has just said-in the knowledge that there is no back pay in this world. It does seem very weird to be considering this. I am not sufficiently familiar with the remit of IPSA, but although we have been arguing about the extent to which this committee is or is not part of Parliament, in the area of pay and rations it appears to have been put right inside it.
Baroness Smith of Basildon: My Lords, my name and that of my noble friend Lord Rosser have been added to this amendment, as was the case in Committee. We argued then, and argue again now on Report, for the establishment of the ISC along lines similar to that of a Select Committee, and indeed preferably the same lines. It would therefore be inconsistent not to argue that the chair of this committee should be remunerated in much the same way as the chair of a Select Committee. The work that is undertaken is enormously serious and therefore the role should be recognised and fairly compensated on par with that of a chair of a Select Committee.
We have just heard comments about whether IPSA is the appropriate body for this role, and in Committee it was the Minister who said that it was. I have been involved in politics both in your Lordships' House and in the other place for a good many years and I still enjoy irony, which is much underused in politics, so I find the argument of the Government rather ironic given the debate over Select Committee status which has underscored the difference between this committee and a committee of Parliament. Perhaps the Minister can change the Government's position and we will accept the amendment.
The details of the committee's arrangements are to be established in statute, but when it comes to discussing remuneration, it will be for IPSA to decide. It really does not seem appropriate for that body to do so, and the Government cannot have it both ways. If the ISC is to remain a body provided for in statute and ultimately accountable to the Executive, which is the case in this Bill, then regardless of any closer ties to Parliament it remains a creature of the Executive. It therefore seems completely illogical for IPSA to be the body which decides on the remuneration of the committee's chair.
19 Nov 2012 : Column 1654
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, we turn now to the remuneration of the ISC chairmanship. I have to say that the loyalty which members of that committee have shown to the chairmen and the work they undertake reflects the commitment that those who have held that office have demonstrated to the security services. I note the widespread view that this position should be properly remunerated in some way or another, and the Government support that view. There is no real consistency in the way that Select Committees are treated and no absolute rule that all Select Committee chairmen will be paid. In the Commons at present, not all Select Committee chairman receive a salary for those functions. In the Lords, there is only one such salaried chair, the chairman of the EU Select Committee, who is paid a salary-not by virtue of holding that position but by virtue of also being the Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees.
I ought to explain why the Government think that IPSA should be the body that considers the level of remuneration. At present for Members of the House of Commons, pay is the responsibility of IPSA. Currently IPSA pays MPs' salaries in accordance with resolutions of the House. Those resolutions specify which chairs of committees should receive additional pay. As I have said, not all Select Committee chairs are so specified. I should add for the sake of completeness that from 1 April 2013, IPSA will itself determine MPs' salaries in toto. It will have responsibility for setting the salaries for MPs generally and may determine that MPs who hold a position or office specified in a resolution of the House should receive a higher salary than ordinary Members of Parliament. That is, I think, a matter for Parliament. IPSA will only say what the pay should be for those holding such a position.
Where the chair of a committee is an office specified by a resolution of the House, the Government would be happy to support a Motion to that effect, which would indeed mean that the matter could be considered.
Lord Gilbert: I apologise for interrupting the Minister. Have the Government given any serious consideration to the possibility that the chairman of this committee, like the chairman of the PAC, should always be a member of the Opposition?
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I have indicated to noble Lords that the chairman of this committee will actually be elected by the members of the committee itself, from within the membership of the committee. It is a matter for the members who they choose, in the customary manner. The chairman does not have to be a member of the Opposition or a member of the Government; he has to command the confidence of the members of the committee, who vote for the position.
Lord Gilbert: We have a long-standing convention that the chairman of the PAC is a member of the Opposition. I think that is thoroughly healthy and am
19 Nov 2012 : Column 1655
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: The noble Lord is persistent but he is more persistent than the committee has been long standing. The committee in its present form has not yet been set up. The new committee will establish its own traditions and it is not for me standing here at the Dispatch Box as a member of the Government to say how the committee should conduct its affairs when I, and the Government, have said that the committee will elect its own chairman. It is a matter for the committee to decide.
Lord King of Bridgwater: My noble friend will recognise that this is a long-standing issue that has been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert. I happen to strongly support what he said and believe that it would be in the interests of the reputation and credibility of the ISC-which is of great advantage to the Government and the nation-if it is seen to be a committee that is in no sense government-led, or led by a member or supporter of the Government, but is chaired by a member of the Opposition.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I am not at all doubting the value, for example, of the Public Accounts Committee, to which the noble Lord referred. However, it is up to this committee to decide whether to establish its own tradition. To predetermine its traditions, as suggested by the noble Lord, gives a false description of what "tradition" really represents.
I hope that the noble Lord will allow me to move on, because I was going to suggest another scenario: of course, there is no reason why the chairman of this committee should be a member of another place. It is a Joint Committee of both Houses, and although noble Lords may consider it unlikely that a Member of this House would be elected its chairman, that may indeed happen, and it probably would not be appropriate for the salary to be determined by IPSA in that respect. It would be a question of us seeking to resolve the issue should the occasion arise.
I understand what noble Lords and the noble Baroness are trying to achieve; that is, some sort of established practice within existing committee procedure. I have some sympathy with the argument. The ISC is an important committee, carrying out a very valuable oversight function, and the chairman of that committee has a critical role in that respect. However, deciding on the appropriate level of financial support for the chair of the ISC is very much a matter for existing mechanisms within the two Houses and would be best resolved in that way. It is for Members of the House of Commons and, for Peers, the House Committee to resolve this issue, not the Government. I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Butler of Brockwell: My Lords, on the basis that Members of your Lordships' House receive no remuneration for being chairs of Select Committees, I am happy to have removed any incentive to run for
19 Nov 2012 : Column 1656
Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: My Lords, I rise to move Amendment 7. This is the first time I have intervened on Report so I draw the House's attention to the various relevant entries on the register of interests. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby for having put her name to this amendment.
I did not take part in the debates on Part 1 in Committee. My interests were much more with Parts 2 and 3, and I have tabled some amendments that we shall debate on Wednesday. However, developments since have led me to table this amendment, which inserts a new paragraph at the beginning of the section headed "Procedure" in Schedule 1 that provides for the direct election of the chairman of the ISC by Members of the House of Commons. To borrow the phrase of my noble friend Lord King, it is an evolutionary development in the power and prestige of the committee.
My purpose in moving this amendment can be simply stated. First, it is to buttress the independence of the chair of the ISC. Secondly, it is to increase the democratic accountability of that role. Thirdly and most importantly, it is to increase public confidence in the operations of the ISC. I make it absolutely clear that I am in no way attacking or criticising the existing or past holders of the office of chairman of the ISC, but my amendment reflects the fact that with the provisions of this Bill as a whole, the Government are moving into new, uncharted and potentially dangerous territory, which requires us to consider whether extra precautions are needed to buttress our civil liberties. I note in passing how the reputation and reach of the existing Select Committees appear to have increased since their chairs were directly elected.
The amendment would establish a further check and balance appropriate to the consideration of matters as complex and as delicate as national security. First, it would open up the chairmanship of the ISC to any Member of Parliament who wished to stand for it. In doing so, it would reduce the concern-I make no assessment as to whether it is justified-that leaving the appointment of the ISC entirely in the hands of the Prime Minister runs the risk of being rather too
19 Nov 2012 : Column 1657
Secondly, the amendment would balance this by requiring each candidate to obtain the formal approval and consent of the Prime Minister before standing. This would eliminate candidates who might have shown no prior interest in or experience of the intelligence or security field, or shown-dare I say it?-an overdeveloped interest in opportunities for self-promotion. Thirdly, the amendment does not seek to wrench apart the existing arrangements immediately. The other provisions of the Bill will take some time to bite and so should this provision.
Let me also make it clear what the amendment does not do. It does not seek to make the ISC a Select Committee of Parliament-we have had an extensive debate on the amendments proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours-so the reporting arrangements would remain unchanged, with the Prime Minister able to require redaction or exclusion as under Clause 3(4) of the Bill. I accept the force of the argument that there must be limits to transparency in this area.
My principal reason for tabling the amendment is that, as we move slowly but apparently inexorably into the shadowy world of closed material procedures, special advocates and restricted reporting, we need to ensure that there is at least one person at the heart of the process who has a direct democratic mandate given to him or her. As an example of how this power might be used, a number of amendments have been tabled to Part 3 of the Bill about review procedures, sunset clauses and so forth. A directly elected chair of the ISC could and should play a vital role in reassuring Parliament and the public that the new powers to be given under the Bill are being exercised properly but above all proportionately. I beg to move.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, my name is also attached to the amendment and I congratulate my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts on an extraordinarily brief and clear description of the reasons for it. I begin by paying a moment's tribute to the person-no longer alive, I am sad to say-who started the whole process of Select Committees. I still remember when I was a Minister in the Labour Government which fell in 1979 the amazement that I felt when Lord St John of Fawsley got up and proposed the idea of Select Committees, which were to be independent of the Whips and free to be accountable to Parliament and to express their concerns about matters of public policy. I think that the Select Committees have done this Parliament very proud indeed, not least at the far end of this building, in the House of Commons, where, time and again, they have come up with remarkable insight and courage in a way that has added hugely to the prestige of Parliament, a prestige that was becoming slowly lost because of the inevitable predictability of so many of our open debates.
The amendment which my noble friend has moved, which I support, fully comprehends the point made so effectively by the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, which is that no Act of Parliament should be able to take away from the Prime Minister his fundamental responsibility for the security of the citizens of this kingdom. However, there is no need to go as far as the present ISC does in accountability passing to the Prime Minister rather than to Parliament as a whole.
The ISC is of course a special case. It is unlike any other committee of Parliament. It is certainly unlike Select Committees, but also unlike other committees that have served Parliament over the years. It is different, of course, because of the sensitivity of the material that it deals with. It is therefore the responsibility of this House, in its consideration, to try to get the correct balance between accountability to Parliament and the sensitivity of much of the material that the ISC deals with. The noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, said that effectively, but rightly indicated that there was room for some evolution of this committee. Perhaps I might say a word or two about that evolution.
The proposers of this amendment have chosen it very carefully to ensure that a totally unsuitable person cannot be appointed to be chairman of this committee. As my noble friend Lord Hodgson said, we are leaving a veto with the Prime Minister against a candidate for chairmanship who might be wholly unsuitable. That is absolutely right because the Prime Minister, by the nature of his office, has a greater access to detailed intelligence than most of the rest of us. However, I have one word of warning because the issue of accountability to Parliament is of the first importance. In responding to an earlier amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, properly stressed time and again the importance of treating sensitive information with due respect and care. What he did not mentioned enough was that the House faces a genuine concern about intelligence. It is simply not the case that there is no public concern about the work of the Intelligence and Security Committee. I hope that I do not offend people by mentioning two cases that spring to mind.
One is that the general issue of intelligence goes back a very long way. Those of us who recall the period immediately after the Second World War will remember the so-called Cambridge group, who turned out to be extremely able people in the intelligence that they sent to the Soviet Union, and that every one of them was totally accepted as a respected member of the establishment. It took a long time for people to realise that people such as Sir Anthony Blunt and others could actually be spies.
Lord Clinton-Davis: I have a great deal of sympathy with this amendment, but I cannot understand why the Prime Minister should be asked for formal consent. Consent, yes, but I do not understand the argument for formal consent.
I want to go back for a moment to the other source of considerable concern about intelligence, one with which I have fairly close acquaintance: the doubts that were raised about the intelligence used as the basis for the British involvement in the invasion of Iraq. At the time, the question was whether the intelligence we had about the possibility of Iraq having nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction was sufficiently sound for us to rely on. It was my view and that of my party that it was not; it was the view, equally honestly held, of other Members of this House, that it was. There was uncertainty, which has left behind it a strong desire to seek greater accountability. We would be very foolish not to recognise that that is still a live issue.
I come back to the issues concerning the particular proposal that we have made and that my noble friend has put before your Lordships. The proposal that the House of Commons as such should be entitled to elect a chairman of such a key committee will enable it to take into account its experience of committees of this kind. I have a good deal of sympathy with the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, which was supported by the noble Lord, Lord King, that the chairman should normally be drawn from the opposition Benches. That seems to be a kind of double guarantee that the committee would seek to be objective and not to protect people who should not be properly protected.
The second argument for the House of Commons as such to appoint the chairman, subject to a veto of candidates by the Prime Minister, is that that would essentially make the committee the creature of the House as a whole. The committee would no longer report specifically to the Prime Minister; it would report generally to Parliament. That is an excellent idea because it brings all parties-indeed, both Houses of Parliament-together in supporting the intelligence committee.
I conclude by saying a word about formal recognition. That is simply to indicate how seriously the proposal of the Prime Minister's ability to draw the line at particular candidates must be taken. It would require him to agree in writing that that candidate should not be allowed to go forward in a certain, limited number of cases. I say as loudly and clearly as I can that this amendment meets the needs for greater accountability and what the noble Lord, Lord King, and the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, said about the need for evolution of the committee to make it more accountable and democratic, in the broadest sense of the word. It is a proposal that the House should consider very carefully before making any final decision about it.
Lord Gilbert: I am grateful for the noble Baroness's support on my little, modest proposal but I am afraid that I cannot follow her on this business about any member of the House of Commons being able to stand for the chairmanship and then the Prime Minister having the right, or duty, to veto. Can she not see the possibility of the appalling public relations shambles which that could lead to? She has much experience in ministerial office. As soon as it is known that the Prime Minister has vetoed a candidate, there will be enormous pressure on him to say why and all sorts of invidious matters will be drawn out. I am afraid that it would be very unfortunate, to put it mildly.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|