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Lord Howe of Aberavon: I accept the correction with alacrity. I am sorry to have uncloaked a secret which perhaps we did not need to know the answer to. At all events I endorse my noble friend's strictures and also her tributes to the service of which she was such a distinguished member. She identified very well the difficulty of operating what I described as a high speed, multi-directional, leakproof sieve, which is what is involved in getting intelligence to the right place.
My noble friend was right also to remind us that, although the world is much more open now in many ways, it is not significantly less frightening. It is a world in which people--at least people in democracies--have come to expect much more candour from those who govern and take at its face value Balfour's proposition that,
My noble friend Lord Campbell said that we must take trouble to justify the role of the intelligence services. But, as he and the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, pointed out, there is still another side to that equation. In the real, operational world of intelligence and security, the need-to-know test remains of crucial importance. Achieving that balance is difficult, particularly when we are going through a process of moving from darkness into light.
I have a vivid recollection of just how badly we handled the matter--I have mentioned this in the House before--when we first began disclosing the reality of GCHQ to an astonished world. At 11 a.m. on the
Since then there has been a near torrent of change. My noble friend Lord Cuckney rightly pointed out the many protections which statutes of the past 10 years have introduced for the citizen. In that context, the Intelligence and Security Committee, as the House will recognise, has potentially a most important and useful role to play in helping to establish a bridge of mutual confidence between the services and the public whom they seek to serve. It is right that that should be done by the means of reports direct to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, who is uniquely responsible for co-ordination of the services and it is right that the committee should be representative of both Houses of Parliament.
In the process of securing its own legitimacy, the committee realises that it must have in mind two distinct objectives. It needs to establish its independence--that it is not in any sense in the pocket of the services and that it has not been the victim of what I believe is known as "agency capture". That is necessary not just for its general credibility but, more particularly, in case the need arises, as it might, for urgent investigation at speed of some matter of critical importance which could happen at any time. If the committee is to be seen as qualified to undertake that task, it needs to convince people of its independence in that way.
On the other hand, the committee needs to convince the agencies--those who work in them as well as those who command them--that the committee and its members can safely be regarded, so far as is proper and necessary, as totally reliable partners within the ring of secrecy. Candour between the services and the committee, which is essential, can be achieved only if each side can be totally confident of the other's commitment to security. So far as my word counts for anything, I can assure the House that my colleagues on the committee are equally conscious of the importance of both sides of that critical equation.
In fact, for a number of reasons it is a propitious time for the committee to start work. The first reason is that the tasking of the agencies is undergoing great changes both ways on an unprecedented scale. One need only look across at what one used to call the Iron Curtain or across the Irish Sea to understand that. I emphasise that it is both ways because my noble friends Lord Cuckney and Lady Park emphasised the long-term nature of the threats that we face and the need to recognise that the tasks have to be adjusted with care.
The second reason for care is that the services, as several speakers pointed out, have been called to take on new tasks, for example, in the field of serious organised crime. Incidentally, we recognise there the
The third reason why it is a well timed invention is that the services themselves more than ever before are learning the possible value of the input of external expertise and advice. The investigation conducted by Sir Michael Quinlan, the former Permanent Under-Secretary to the MoD, was of enormous value. So too was the examination conducted at GCHQ by Sir Roger Hurn, the chairman of Smiths Industries. Both have made contributions of great importance.
The committee is also aware, as are the services, of the lessons to be learnt from the experience of other countries. Like the services themselves, we have been studying most closely some of those implications. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, referred to some lessons that might be learnt from the experience in the United States. We are looking at continental Europe as well as the rest of the Anglo-Saxon world for what might be learnt. The noble Lord was quite right to underline the importance of the Ames case: 10 years' continuously treacherous conduct by a senior CIA officer gives a warning that is perhaps even more alarming than any from the earlier years of our own services. The lessons of that case need to be studied most carefully.
The committee has one other possible merit, which to some extent surprises me: the ability that it may develop to take a panoptic view of all the services and agencies and of the lessons from comparing the problems and practices of the different services. I am now conscious of the fact that I have a broader and more comprehensive insight today than was ever available to me during 11 years' service in successive high offices of state.
Perhaps I may also say to your Lordships that I am encouraged by the way in which the committee has approached its task, taking full advantage of the strength of our constitution--namely, its multi-party nature--and taking full advantage of the diversity of experience of the members of the committee. Although all save two have had experience of office, the contribution made by those two is in no sense insignificant--one Labour member and one Liberal Democrat of long experience, the right honourable gentleman Alan Beith. All of them make a contribution that is well worth while. The only other member with previous Cabinet experience is my right honourable friend Tom King. I pay tribute to his well judged chairmanship of the committee, as also to the commitment of all my colleagues to a workload that is so Stakhanovite that I am becoming increasingly daunted by the prospect of remaining one of their number.
Let me draw my speech to a close. What is taking place here is an important exercise in open government. As many noble Lords pointed out, it goes far beyond anything that our media in particular might have dreamt of, even 10 years ago. Therefore, it is important--I echo a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont-- to remind the fourth estate as well as ourselves of the role that it can and should wish to play in preserving the proper balance of our free democratic society. We are
I close by drawing to the attention of the media an important observation that first came to me from a distinguished member of their own profession and one, incidentally, who did more than any other lay individual to promote televising parliamentary proceedings. I refer to Sir Robin Day and his book Grand Inquisitor. There he offers a quotation from the sometime Liberal Member of Parliament and Lord of Appeal, who died in 1921, Lord Moulton, who wrote as follows:
The price of freedom is not just eternal vigilance. It is also, on the part of the fourth estate as well as on the part of the rest of us, unflagging discretion, an obligation that rests on all those who claim a genuine interest in the security of our nation.
Lord Bethell: My Lords, I believe that I am the only speaker so far in this debate never to have had any official connection with the intelligence or security services. However, I am one of those, like the others who have spoken, who have a great admiration for the services and for their achievements in recent years.
The reforms recently introduced by this Government are excellent and positive and I congratulate the Prime Minister and Ministers on bringing them about. It is essential that there should be a statutory basis for the services and if it were not for the reforms of the past few years we would probably not be taking part in this debate at all. My noble friend Lady Park mentioned that, in theory, there was always complete parliamentary accountability for the services at every point. But until recently, of course, there was a convention that the facts of the services were not discussed in this House or in another place.
My noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, are the only two who have spoken so far who have doubts about the changes that have taken place and who are prepared to emphasise the need for secrecy as overriding the idea that the people have, so far as possible, the right to know what is done in their name. There have been some important steps taken towards that right--it is a right and it is essential--because, while we must have guardians for the nation's security, someone must guard the guardians. The only body which can, at the end of the day, be that guardian is Parliament.
I realise that in the past Ministers--in particular the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Home Secretary--have had control over the services. But, as has been pointed out, it is not easy for busy Ministers
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