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Dr. Godman: May I remind my right hon. Friend that when he, as Chairman of the Committee, requested such meetings, those requests were supported by every member of the Committee, Tory, Liberal Democrat and Labour?
Mr. Anderson: I am obliged to my hon. Friend for that observation. We are indeed an all-party Committee. We have worked on a consensual basis and, save in respect of the Sierra Leone report, we have always produced unanimous reports. The quality of the reports that we produce can be affected by access or lack of access to intelligence material. Our focus can be misdirected if we do not have access to some of that material, so the effectiveness of the Committee's reports could be adversely affected.
For example, as part of the Committee's inquiry into Sierra Leone and the Sandline affair, we asked the Foreign Secretary for access to relevant intelligence reports and assessments. The request was refused on the basis that intelligence information was not normally released to Select Committees. We also sought to hold a private evidence session or, failing that, an informal meeting with the head of the Secret Intelligence Service. Both options were refused by the Foreign Secretary, who told us that the Intelligence and Security Committee was the appropriate Committee to examine the work of the SIS.
Mr. Anderson: It is difficult to answer that without serious consideration. I should have thought that, at the very least, we should have access to the level marked "Secret". I remind my hon. Friend that members of the Committee that has been chaired so well by the right hon. Member for Bridgwater have a distinguished parliamentary past. Comparing person with person, we have on the Foreign Affairs Committee several individuals who have been Ministers in the Ministry of Defence, the Northern Ireland Office or the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Person to person, I think that our background is at least as distinguished as that of the Intelligence and Security Committee. It is, therefore, rather sad that we are not considered trustworthy in this context. I may revise my view on the "Secret" classification, but I believe that we need all relevant information that is consistent with national security.
Mr. Tom King: I have considerable sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman's remarks, but the level of classification is not the point. There is no question about the integrity of the Foreign Affairs Committee. Of course, classification of information as secret depends on the issue that is involved. If a particular issue falls within the purview of the Foreign Affairs Committee, but is classed
Mr. Anderson: I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for providing a rather better answer than I did on the definitions that are at stake. Certainly, it is partly a question of trust. I am pleased that, as Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, he has broken down some of the aura of lack of trust. I hope that that will allow those involved to be a little more flexible in their relationship with Parliament.
There is not all that much overlap between the two Committees. Much of the recent Intelligence and Security Committee report deals with the future intelligence and security programme in terms of administrative matters such as the financing of the new headquarters and so on. There is no overlap between such work and that which is done by the Foreign Affairs Committee. Equally, on Sierra Leone, I understand that the work of the Intelligence and Security Committee focused on secret communications and on the fiasco that occurred, about which I shall not go into detail. That matter would not, of course, have been within the remit of the Foreign Affairs Committee. However, some information might have helped my Committee in another direction. Certainly, we would have been assisted by having access to the reports, or at least by being told that no reports were relevant to our work. That might have ensured that our report was more properly centred.
During the inquiry into Kosovo, my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), who is Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence, and I wrote to the Prime Minister asking to hear evidence from the Joint Intelligence Committee and the Chief of Defence Intelligence. The Prime Minister refused to allow the Joint Intelligence Committee to give evidence to either of our Committees. He was willing for the Chief of Defence Intelligence to appear only before the Defence Committee. Like the Foreign Secretary before him, he cited the Intelligence and Security Committee as the appropriate forum for hearing such evidence.
It provided intelligence on ***
GCHQ monitored the situation *** and helped to provide reassurances that ***
GCHQ stated that some *** of the intelligence that went to UK customers was *** in origin."
Dr. Julian Lewis: My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) informed me before he left the Chamber that, in his inimitable fashion, he had totted up the asterisks. They totalled 720 in the main report and 4,005 in the annexes.
Mr. Campbell-Savours: Perhaps the matter is not as simple as it appears. The number of asterisks shows the level of the information that we received. They show that the Committee has access to information that perhaps Parliament did not realise it received.
Mr. Anderson: I am sure that that is true. However, it is also true that we were denied any of that information for our work on Kosovo. Access to it might have led us to modify or even abandon some of our conclusions. Information, to which we did not have access, was available to the Government. Perhaps we did not receive it because the Foreign Affairs Committee is not trusted in the same way as the Intelligence and Security Committee. We have always kept secure any information that we received from the Government, and there is therefore every reason to trust our Committee.
The Foreign Affairs Committee has stated its regret about the Government's refusal of its request for limited access to germane intelligence. I stress the words "limited" and "germane". We also stated that such obduracy had inhibited the Committee's work and was inimical to the Government's best interests. We emphasised that the Committee had a long history of receiving confidential and classified documents from the Foreign Office and that it had always handled them with the utmost discretion. I refer colleagues who want to follow up the references to that part of our report on Sierra Leone that considers the history of the relationship, and covers the Crown jewels, the Belgrano affair and other matters.
It is therefore regrettable that the Foreign Office does not regard the Foreign Affairs Committee as sufficiently trustworthy to have access to intelligence material or personnel. I concede that the attitude has modified, but only in a limited way. Proper scrutiny of Government sometimes requires access to such information.
The Intelligence and Security Committee is appointed by the Executive, not the House; it reports to the Prime Minister, not the House; its secretariat is responsible to the Government, not to Parliament. The work programme that paragraph 8 of the Committee's latest report outlines shows little overlap with the work of the Foreign Affairs Committee.