SECURITY & INTELLIGENCE SERVICES – 3 July 2003

Dr Julian Lewis: While we welcome this improved co-ordination among the intelligence agencies, can the Minister tell the House why the Government have been resisting our recommendation that such co-ordination should be carried on at ministerial level, too, and that the Government should appoint a dedicated Minister devoting his or her entire time to co-ordinating the various Ministries in precisely the same way that the agencies are now correctly being co-ordinated?

[The Minister of State (Europe), Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Dr Denis MacShane): I will return to the point of ministerial oversight later in my speech. … The Prime Minister receives regular reports from the heads of the agencies, and both the Foreign Secretary and the Home Secretary are apprised of the agencies' work on a regular basis.]

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Dr Lewis: I am grateful to the Minister for allowing me to intervene again, but I remind him that he said that he would address the point that I raised earlier: if the threats are so serious, why have the Government not appointed a specific Minister to be devoted entirely to co-ordinating the measures necessary to meet such dangerous threats? The Opposition have done that, in shadow terms, by appointing my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) to his post.

 

[Mr MacShane: The hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) has many friends in the House and I hope that he will be promoted to the Shadow Cabinet one day, although I do not know who will be removed to make way for him. I repeat what I said when I talked about ministerial oversight: I am content with the oversight of my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary, the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister. They form a good trio and we do not require extra Ministers to duplicate their work.]

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Mr Michael Ancram (Devizes): … Reading the report is sometimes something of a surreal experience due to the omissions that were deemed necessary. I am not sure how one should pronounce asterisks in the House, but paragraph 28 illustrates the surreal nature of the report better than others. It says:

"*** continues to deliver considerable value to GCHQ and it may exceed its design life. As a consequence, GCHQ expects to extend the expected life of *** and make the corresponding accounting changes. *** will start later this year. The Committee wishes to record the significant contribution that *** makes to intelligence collection."

And so would all of us, if we had the first idea what "***" was.

Andrew Mackinlay: … As the right hon. Gentleman is on the subject of asterisks, I draw hon. Members' attention to the glossary of terms on page 3 of the report. It says that CNI stands for "Critical National Infrastructure", and so on. The glossary is very helpful because it gives the meaning of "***" – or dot, dot, dot. One looks with great anticipation to find out what dot, dot, dot means, and the answer in the glossary is dot, dot, dot. The whole report is dotty and barmy. It should not be defended and people should not pretend that it represents a satisfactory oversight of our security and intelligence services. It is a sham.

Mr Ancram: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree with my serious point that when the Committee reports on its current inquiry, I hope that it will be neither asterisked nor dot, dot, dotted.]

Dr Lewis: I, too, noticed the omission on page 3, and I might be able to enlighten the House to an extent. All the acronyms in the glossary are in alphabetical order, so whatever the missing organisation is, it comes alphabetically between FCO and GCHQ. The organisation almost certainly begins with the letter "F". I thought that it might be a shady Northern Irish organisation, but I have decided that "F" probably stands for "Forty-five minutes". [Laughter]

Mr Ancram: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that helpful and deductive piece of work. I shall certainly ask for his assistance when I try to complete The Times crossword in future.

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Dr Lewis: I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way again and I shall endeavour not to try the patience of the House. In preparation for the debate, last night I looked at the uncorrected transcript of the evidence taken by the Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday 19 June from Mr. Ibrahim al-Marashi, the author of the dissertation – the article – in the "Middle East Review of International Affairs", which was used in the second dossier. Something struck me which I had not heard before. My right hon. Friend may be interested to know that in response to question 701 on page 43 of the transcript, Mr. al-Marashi said:

"If I could estimate, I would say that 90 percent of this intelligence dossier was taken from the three articles: by myself ... and the two articles in Jane's Intelligence Review, virtually unchanged."

So only 10 percent at most was not from articles by academics like himself.

[Mr Ancram: Again, I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who underlines effectively the point that I have been trying to make.]

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[Andrew Mackinlay: … My final point relates to paragraphs 90 and 91 of the report and the Wilson doctrine. … It is a matter of fact that the telephone conversations of Mo Mowlam, when Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and Jonathan Powell, the Prime Minister's chief of staff, with the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Martin McGuinness) were recorded. The Wilson doctrine makes it clear that, unless and until Parliament is told otherwise, there will be no eavesdropping of the conversations of Members of Parliament. … The Wilson doctrine is important to our parliamentary democracy, because Members of Parliament, as legislators, should not be subject to such intrusive surveillance by the executive branch of government. … ]

Dr Lewis: I should like to put to the hon. Gentleman a hypothetical scenario. What does he think the security and intelligence services should do if they have reason to believe at some future stage that someone who has been elected to the House of Commons is secretly in contact with an extremist, fundamentalist terrorist organisation? Does he believe that such people should be off limits purely because they are Members of Parliament?

[Mr Mackinlay: I am grateful for that intervention, as the hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. I have said that the matter should be revisited, as the Wilson doctrine needs to be updated and could take such issues into account.]