JUSTICE AND SECURITY BILL, THIRD READING – 7 March 2013
Dr Julian Lewis: I will not go down the route that has so far been followed in this Third Reading debate, other than to observe that we must never forget that we are talking about civil cases, not criminal cases. They are not cases affecting people’s life and liberty; they are cases in which people, sometimes extremely unsavoury people with links to extremely dangerous organisations, are walking away with very large sums of public money. That is not a situation that can be allowed to continue. If the Opposition, in their heart, did not know that that was true, they would divide the House tonight, but they are not going to do so.
Instead, I will concentrate briefly on part 1, which strengthens the Intelligence and Security Committee. I believe that it was no coincidence that part 1 was added to the Bill, because there are two distinct and separate elements to the Bill. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) said, in what I must say was a masterly exposition of his position and, I think, that of most thoughtful people on this side of the argument about closed material proceedings, the consideration is not that there is an ideal answer, or even a satisfactory answer, but that all we can do is choose the least worst answer. To make that least worst answer to the problem more palatable, the strengthening of the ISC was added to the Bill.
I make no apology to the Minister for coming back to something that I, and others, raised quite strongly on Report: if the ISC is indeed to be strengthened, it must receive the resources it needs to carry out that strengthened and increased role. For those who did not hear me say it earlier, I remind the House that the ISC has only eight members of staff, and it has to pursue a number of inquiries and investigations every year, as well as its major annual report. That compares very unfavourably with the staff support for other Committees and inquiries, such as the 14 staff members for the detainee inquiry, which had only one specific issue to investigate, and the 12 staff members for the Committee on Standards in Public Life.
The ISC is currently funded to the tune of £750,000 a year. In the impact assessment published with the Bill, the Government cited a revised figure of £1.3 million that reflected their estimation of what the ISC would need to carry out the extra duties that are being placed on it in order to reassure the public that proper scrutiny is being carried out. The figure that is actually being offered is £850,000 – an increase of about one seventh on the existing budget. This would continue to leave the ISC worse off than all its international counterparts and worse off than the bodies that I listed. This is our last opportunity publicly to press the Government to commit to a substantive increase in resources. I hope that the Minister will confirm that the Government’s own published impact assessment will not be discarded when it is convenient to do so once this difficult Bill has been enacted.
I conclude – earlier than I would have liked, but I feel that I must – with a single observation. Everybody agrees that the contribution made to the evolution of this Bill by the Members of the upper House has been very considerable. Who can seriously maintain that that sort of expertise would be available to people on either side of the argument if we had undermined, restructured and, in effect, destroyed the upper House in the way that was so irresponsibly proposed? If this Bill ends up being better when it gets on to the statute book than it was when initially proposed, that will be in large measure due to the improvements made in another place. We therefore have reason to be grateful that the other place is available, and will remain so in the indefinite future, to assist us in the development of controversial and complex legislation such as this Bill.