Chilcot Report
Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister
12:30 pm

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Gordon Brown (Prime Minister; Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, Labour)

The Government are today publishing the results of work on the use of communications intercepts as evidence. Those results are contained in the report of the committee of Privy Councillors drawn from the three major parties that was chaired by the right hon. Sir John Chilcot. I am grateful to Sir John, Lord Hurd, Lord Archer, and Mr. Beith for that report. It is thorough, measured, detailed, and unanimous, and it properly reflects both the seriousness and the complexity of the questions that their committee was asked to address.

Let me again pay tribute to our security agencies for all that they do, quietly and effectively, in the defence of our country. I have met and listened to those who lead our agencies, as well as many who serve in them. I praise the expertise, professionalism and courage that they show, often in the most testing and dangerous of circumstances but always in the best interests of our country. I acknowledge, as I believe that all here acknowledge, that what they do defends our freedom, protects our security and saves lives.

The use of intercept in evidence characterises a central dilemma that we face as a free society: preserving our liberties and the rule of law while at the same time keeping our nation safe and secure. In July, in the first statement that I made on security to the House, I said that I favoured the principle of using intercept material as evidence in criminal cases if, but only if, a way could be found to do so while protecting the higher interests of national security. I therefore invited the cross-party Chilcot committee to advise on

"whether a regime to allow the use of intercepted material in court can be devised that facilitates bringing cases to trial while meeting the overall imperative to safeguard national security."

Today, I am publishing a version of the Chilcot committee's report. The committee itself has prepared this version, which omits—in the interests of national security—certain sensitive facts and arguments. Its main conclusions and recommendations, however, are exactly those of the full report.

Briefly, the report examines in detail both the potential benefits of accepting intercept as evidence and the risks that might arise from such acceptance. However, it concludes that it should be possible to find a way to use some intercept material as evidence, provided—and only provided—that certain key conditions can be met. Those conditions relate to the most vital imperative of all: safeguarding our national security. The Government accept that recommendation, and take the accompanying conditions very seriously.

Intercepts are strictly controlled under the 2000 legislation. Interception is allowed only if it is necessary to obtain information that could not be acquired in another way, and any interception must be proportionate to what it seeks to achieve. The relevant decisions of Ministers are overseen by a senior judge and by the interception of communications commissioner, who reports at least annually. In addition, an investigatory powers tribunal exists to consider complaints from the public, and it has powers to order appropriate remedies.

The most recent figures for numbers of interception warrants are in the interception commissioner's annual report, which was published on 28 January. A total of 1,435 intercept warrants were issued in the last nine months of 2006 and that compares with 2,407 in the previous 15 months.

The Chilcot report notes that there are already limited circumstances in civil and terrorist proceedings where intercept can be used in evidence. Each of those instances includes appropriate protections, such as closed proceedings, to ensure that the use of intercept does not put our national security at risk. For any new regime, the Chilcot report sets down conditions. It starts from the proposition that

"any material risk to the strategic capability of the UK's intelligence agencies would be unacceptable",

and that

"Any disclosure of interception capabilities could have a profound impact on national security".

That is right. The report also says that any resulting reduction in inter-agency co-operation

"could have a profound impact on law enforcement agencies' ability to combat serious crime and terrorism",

and the Government also agree with that assessment.

The report sets out nine conditions in detail. They relate to complex and important issues, and include: giving the intercepting agencies the ability to retain control over whether their material is used in prosecutions; ensuring that disclosure of material cannot be required against the wishes of the agency originating the material; protecting the current close co-operation between intelligence and law enforcement agencies, which is crucial; and ensuring that agencies cannot be required to transcribe or make notes of material beyond a standard of detail that they deem necessary.

The committee that reported to us acknowledges that further extensive work is needed to see whether and how those and other conditions—intended to protect sensitive techniques, safeguard resources, and ensure that intercept can still be used effectively for intelligence—can be met. That is a unanimous recommendation that the Government accept, so we will proceed to develop a detailed implementation plan under which material might be made available for use in criminal cases in England and Wales, strictly subject to all the Chilcot conditions being met. The report is clear that if the conditions could not be met, intercept as evidence should not be introduced, and the Government accept that.

Similarly, the committee recommends that in the event of a regime being introduced that later fails to meet the Chilcot conditions or otherwise threatens our security, that regime should be removed pending the introduction of another, under which the conditions can once again be met. The Government also accept that recommendation. The report also states that the committee has seen no evidence to suggest that the need for measures such as control orders would be reduced by the introduction of intercept as evidence.

Designing a regime to meet the Chilcot conditions will require, as the committee notes, a substantial programme of work, covering legal, operational and technical issues. The work must involve and engage the intelligence agencies, Government Departments, the legal system, and those responsible for communications. The Chilcot team have made it clear to me that the necessary work should be led by an implementation team within Government, which should move ahead comprehensively and quickly. However, the Chilcot team also told me that they would not expect the work to be concluded in time to inform the Counter-Terrorism Bill currently before Parliament.

The Government strongly believe that it is in the national interest to draw on a wide range of expert external advice. The cross-party nature of the Chilcot report has been of great value. I am therefore grateful for Opposition parties' agreement that Sir John Chilcot, Lord Archer, the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed and another member to be nominated should advise on Privy Councillor terms during the next stage of the work.

The Chilcot report also notes that communications technology is changing rapidly; there is a switch towards internet protocol communications, with the clear implications that that brings for our security. Accordingly, we have launched the interception modernisation programme to update our capability to ensure that, under those new circumstances, our national interests will continue to be protected. The new regime for intercept as evidence must be designed to work safely and effectively for that new capability, too.

As the Chilcot report states, the challenges ahead are complex and must not, and will not, be underestimated. The Government acknowledge and endorse the valuable work of the committee, and are grateful for the committee's support in our continuing efforts to meet the double challenge that we face as a nation. The challenge is at all times and without fail to protect our nation's security while advancing the rule of law. This we will always seek to do. I commend the statement to the House.

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David Cameron (Leader of the Opposition; Witney, Conservative)

May I first thank the Prime Minister for his statement, and join him in paying tribute to our security services? Nothing matters more than our national security and keeping us safe from terror. Our aim should be to catch, convict and imprison more terrorists. Last year, I pressed Tony Blair to make intercept evidence available in court. When he was not prepared to take that up straight away, I suggested that a cross-party committee of Privy Councillors look at how intercept might be used in court. I am glad that that work is now complete. I join the Prime Minister in thanking all of those who took part. They have done their job, and now he must do his. Will he confirm that the implementation group that he intends to set up will not be a talking shop for further delay, but a vehicle for making the recommendations happen? Will he give us a commitment to Government legislation as soon as possible?

Does the Prime Minister agree that up till now there have been four issues that have held back the use of intercept evidence in court: first, a clear recommendation from an independent body that that is the right and necessary thing to do to protect our country; secondly, a lack of a clear understanding of the benefits that it could bring in criminal and terrorist trials; thirdly, a satisfactory method of protecting vital intelligence-gathering techniques; and fourthly, a legal framework to ensure that the effective use of intercept in court can happen while maintaining a fair trial? Does the Prime Minister agree that the report effectively gives good answers to all four questions? Let me take them in turn.

First, the report is admirably clear when it says:

"We therefore agree with the principle that intercept as evidence should be introduced."

Does the Prime Minister agree that, as this is the first Government-commissioned report by a group of people who are independent from the Government, that is an incredibly powerful recommendation? Secondly, on the real benefits of using intercept in court, does the Prime Minister agree that the report does not just cite experience from abroad, but quotes the UK's Crown Prosecution Service? Is not the CPS clear that the use of intercept will significantly influence the course of trials and—it finds—lead to more guilty pleas and fewer abortive trials?

The third issue is the importance of protecting intelligence sources and methods. Does the Prime Minister agree that the report is extremely helpful in that respect, too? In particular, does he agree with the report when it states that

"Australia does appear to us to be a compelling example of how intercept as evidence can be used in a Common Law jurisdiction"?

Is it not extremely helpful that the report states:

"The Australian example, in particular, provides a number of interesting ideas for how the UK could attempt to derive benefit from intercept as evidence, whilst not unacceptably increasing the risk of disclosure to intelligence agencies and their sensitive capabilities and techniques"?

Fourthly, there is the question of legal model to get the recommendations right. The issue is how we both protect intelligence sources and maintain a fair trial. Does the Prime Minister agree with the report specifically that a reinforced system of public interest immunity could enable the evidence to be used in a way that protects the intelligence services, but guarantees a fair trial?

Finally, let me ask about plans for implementation. The report will mean nothing unless it is implemented. I know that the Prime Minister is establishing a cross-party advisory group. Will he guarantee that he will accept our nomination of a Privy Councillor for that group? Does he understand that there will be a nagging suspicion that setting up another committee to look at the implementation of the recommendations will lead to delay? Does he accept that there will never be unanimity in Whitehall on the matter? Another committee will deliberate, reflect and no doubt have different views. That is what committees do. That is what happens in Whitehall. Does he agree that, at the end of the day, it is a political decision and has to be made by a politician—and that means him?

It is clear what needs to be done: intercept in court so that we catch, convict and imprison more terrorists. Does the Prime Minister agree that we must not put off endlessly what needs to be done?

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Gordon Brown (Prime Minister; Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, Labour)

I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's general support for what we are doing, and I am grateful for the degree of all-party consensus that has developed. The actions that we are taking with the implementation group are a vehicle not for delay but for getting on with implementation. I agree that we want to achieve legislation as soon as possible.

If the right hon. Gentleman accepts the report's conclusion, he must also accept that the Chilcot team—including representatives from his party—acknowledge that a considerable amount of work remains to be done. They do not conclude that all the questions have been answered and that all that is lacking is political will. They conclude that what we need to do is look in detail at the legal and technical implications that arise from their wish to see the right balance struck between liberty and security.

The report does not say that Australia is the model for how we should move forward. It uses Australia as an example of where it has been possible to have intercept as evidence, but it does not propose that we accept the model that is used in Australia, which is quite different from the public interest immunity proposal that the right hon. Gentleman accepts has been put forward by the committee.

We have always accepted in principle the case for doing this. We have always hoped that clear benefits would be available. The Metropolitan police survey of terrorist cases shows that the rate of prosecution could rise from 88 to 92 per cent. However, the committee also shows that considerable hurdles need to be crossed. It wants the intercepting agencies to have the ability to retain control over whether the material is used in prosecutions. It wants to ensure that disclosure of material cannot be required against the wishes of the agency originating the material, and that agencies cannot be required to transcribe or make notes on material beyond the standard of detail that they deem necessary.

All those issues will have to be looked at in considering the demands of courts and court cases. I believe that a considerable amount of work still needs to be done. I am glad that we have an all-party agreement to move forward. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman understands that there are technical and legal issues to be resolved. The purpose of the advisory group is to continue with the all-party co-operation, and I look forward to the nominations to be put forward by his party.

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Nicholas Clegg (Party Leader; Sheffield, Hallam, Liberal Democrat)

I, too, thank the Prime Minister for advance sight of his statement and the report. I pay tribute to Sir John and all his colleagues for having produced what is self-evidently a very thorough and rigorous report on a sensitive and delicate issue. I warmly welcome the fact that they have opened the door to allowing intercept evidence to become admissible in court, even though that door is only ajar and further work needs to be done to make the recommendation a reality. We have long argued that intercept evidence should be admissible in court, in keeping with so many other jurisdictions around the world. That is part of our wider belief that we can and should do more to strengthen our judicial system so that there are more prosecutions in anti-terror cases.

I welcome the Prime Minister's emphasis on a cross-party approach on this issue; I regret that there is not that emphasis on other important issues in the anti-terrorism debate—notably, the extension of the period of detention without charge. Given that we have made so much progress on this issue and on issues such as post-charge questioning, I urge him to revisit the need for a further extension—to up to 42 days—of the period during which the police can detain people without charge.

May I ask the Prime Minister three specific questions about the mechanics of what happens after the production of the Chilcot report? First, I acknowledge and understand that it is unlikely if not impossible for any further implementation recommendations to be produced during the passage of the Counter-Terrorism Bill through the House. However, will he be more specific and commit that the work will at least be complete during this Parliament? Without a timetable, legitimate fears will be provoked that there will just be delay on delay in the crucial implementing phase of the process.

Secondly, will the Prime Minister clarify exactly what the relationship will be between the implementation group and the advisory group? It is, of course, a good thing that the advisory group will have a cross-party composition, but if it is to have a somewhat passive, observatory role, it will not fulfil the function that many people want it to fulfil: to hold the implementation group's feet to the fire to ensure that the Chilcot report recommendations are followed up in detail in the months ahead.

Finally, although I realise that it would be inappropriate to name the individual civil servants in the implementation group, will the Prime Minister at least enumerate which Departments and agencies will be part of it, so that once it reaches conclusions there will be an endorsement, on behalf of all the Government and all the Government agencies, of the group's implementing recommendations?

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Gordon Brown (Prime Minister; Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, Labour)

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his general welcome for our proposals. At the end he raised issues about the nature of the implementation group; perhaps we can arrange talks on Privy Council terms about how that will move forward. I agree that in principle it is right to do this, and I have always thought that there is a very strong case for doing so if we can find the means. The problem is that although we can draw parallels with other jurisdictions, ours is distinctive—not just because of the adversarial system and the European convention on human rights, but because of the special capabilities that we have in Britain and our co-operation with overseas services.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman agrees that, as the committee has told us, the position on control orders has not changed. I would like to think that we could have the same degree of consensus on the proposal about questioning and the 42 days. I still believe that the proposal put forward by Liberty which he and the Conservative party supported is a basis for moving forward. In the legislation that we put forward, we have made proposals in line with that. I hope we can have discussions on that in the future.

On the distinction between the implementation team and the advisory group, let me make it clear that an implementation group was recommended by the Chilcot committee. It did not feel that it could continue with the technical and legal work on its own, and it suggested that we set up an implementation committee. The advisory committee will be there, as its name suggests, to advise as we go through the work.

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Keith Vaz (Leicester East, Labour)

I warmly welcome the Prime Minister's statement and the speed with which he has accepted Sir John Chilcot's recommendations. As he knows, this is entirely in keeping with the Home Affairs Committee's decision of 11 December to recommend that intercept evidence be used. In view of the current climate, is he satisfied that the robustness exists for the accountability and supervision of the whole area of surveillance? Once he receives the Rose report, if he is not satisfied will he—at the risk of exciting the Leader of the Opposition—initiate a review of this area, to ensure that it is robust and that there is proper accountability and supervision?

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Gordon Brown (Prime Minister; Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, Labour)

The remit of the Rose review was set out by the Justice Secretary on Monday. It will report very quickly—in two weeks' time, when the Justice Secretary will come and make a statement. I welcome my right hon. Friend's support for what we are doing on the major issue of the use of intercepts in evidence.

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Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham, Conservative)

Obviously the House will applaud the decision to move forward. It will be important, however, to ensure that the trials are fair and that the interests of the defendants are taken into account. That being so, please could the implementation group contain people with current experience of representing defendants in criminal cases, or at least take urgent and clear advice from such persons? The interests of the defendants must be taken into account.

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Gordon Brown (Prime Minister; Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, Labour)

This will all be taken into account. I do not know whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman is volunteering for the work—

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Gordon Brown (Prime Minister; Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, Labour)

There seems to be some support for that on the Opposition Front Bench. We will look at all these issues. It is important that we look at it from the point of view of how a trial will look in the future. I suggest that the right hon. and learned Gentleman look at the section in the report on public interest immunity certificates. He might find that the way that is being suggested by the committee is to his satisfaction.

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David Winnick (Walsall North, Labour)

No one in this House underestimates for one moment the terrorist danger to our country and our people. If, arising from the Prime Minister's welcome statement today, there is near all-party agreement on many measures, not least on combating the acute danger of terrorism, will the Government give serious consideration to the question of detention without charge? No evidence whatever has been produced to justify going beyond 28 days, and the Director of Public Prosecutions has said that he is quite satisfied with 28 days. Why create this division when there is no necessity to do so?

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Gordon Brown (Prime Minister; Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, Labour)

My hon. Friend brings the issue back to 42 days, but I have to say that the Home Affairs Committee, of which he is a member, has said that as a precautionary principle it might be necessary to move beyond 28 days. The issue is not whether, in principle, it is necessary at some stage to move beyond 28 days. The real question is whether we can find agreement on how we do it. I hope that we can find that way forward.

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Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed, Liberal Democrat)

Will the Prime Minister note that the group received unlimited co-operation from the agencies and other bodies, and from many individuals, and unstinting support from our very small staff? May I take it as a clear political commitment that the Prime Minister intends to bring in a regime that ensures that guilty people are locked up on the basis of good evidence, and that he intends to do so while ensuring that all the safeguards for vital national security intelligence, as well as the intelligence needed for the pursuit of crime, are in place?

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Gordon Brown (Prime Minister; Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, Labour)

That is exactly what we want to do, but the conditions or tests that have been set down by the Chilcot committee—of which the right hon. Gentleman was a distinguished member; I thank him for his work—are of a legal and technical nature and have to be worked through. I think that he would agree that his committee recommended that, if we could not find satisfactory answers to these conditions, we should not recommend moving ahead. It is our hope that we can find satisfactory answers, but it is important that the tests are met and that the conditions that have been set down are satisfactorily delivered. That is the next stage of the work of the implementation group, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will join the advisory committee to work with it.

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George Howarth (Knowsley North and Sefton East, Labour)

Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge that intercept evidence, such as that connected with the recent Crevice trial, has been used to prevent some appalling terrorist atrocities in this country? Will he ask those responsible for taking this work forward to take into account the fact that, if such evidence is to be used in court, it could inhibit important operations?

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Gordon Brown (Prime Minister; Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, Labour)

My right hon. Friend takes a great interest in these matters, and has a great deal of experience of them. I thank him for his observation. Intercept evidence can be hugely important. As I said in my statement, it is already used in certain instances. The important test now is to ensure that, if we are to use it, the conditions set down by the Chilcot committee are met. When my right hon. Friend looks at those conditions, he will see that they are strenuous, but, for the safety and security of the security services, it is important that we meet them.

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Hywel Williams (Spokesperson (Children, Schools & Families; Health; International Development; Treasury; Work and Pensions); Caernarfon, Plaid Cymru)

Plaid Cymru welcomes the use of intercept evidence in court, not least because it might reduce the pressure for pre-charge detention. The report defers to the experience of many other countries. Will the Prime Minister highlight what particular lessons the Government learned from the experience of those other countries in this regard?

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Gordon Brown (Prime Minister; Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, Labour)

A great deal has been learned from the attempts that have been made in other countries to use intercept evidence in court. However, I must draw to the hon. Gentleman's attention the observation of the committee—and my reading of the report—that Britain has a very distinctive system. We have an adversarial system, we are subject to the ECHR—which is not true of Australia or America—and we have a high level of co-operation with other intelligence agencies around the world. We also have the kind of high degree of co-operation between the police and the security services that sometimes does not exist in other services. The solutions to the challenges that we face in Britain will be unique, which is why a different model from that of other countries is being proposed for examination by the Chilcot committee. I hope that, when the hon. Gentleman looks at the committee's work and the tests that it has set, he will see that we are providing a British solution to the problem.

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Gavin Strang (Edinburgh East, Labour)

May I thank the Prime Minister for making this statement himself? He will be well aware of the reasons why some right hon. and hon. Members are opposed to the use of intercept evidence in court. I applaud his decision to give the go-ahead to the programme of extensive and comprehensive work to which he referred, and to which the report refers. May I invite him to ask the Leader of the House to facilitate a debate on the Chilcot report in the House of Commons in due course?

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Gordon Brown (Prime Minister; Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, Labour)

It will be a matter for the House as to whether there is a debate on these issues. The Chilcot report asks for more work to be done, and I hope that it can be done quickly and with a degree of comprehensiveness so that people can be satisfied that we have dealt with the issues that the report raises. I am sure that there will be an occasion that we, as a Government, will find to make it possible for a debate to take place.

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Jeremy Wright (Whip, Whips; Rugby and Kenilworth, Conservative)

The Prime Minister will recognise that when the prosecuting authorities in criminal courts wish to avoid the disclosure of an observation site, for example, they can make an application under the public interest immunity procedure. If that application is unsuccessful, they always have the option of not proceeding with the prosecution. As that system already exists and works well, could not any adaptation of it necessary for the use of intercept evidence be done sooner rather than later, given that the Government have—rightly, in my view—decided that this proposal is a good idea?

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Gordon Brown (Prime Minister; Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, Labour)

If that were the only issue, it might be possible to move more quickly. When the hon. Gentleman reads the Chilcot report, he will find that there are nine tests, rather than just one. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed will agree with that. The report raises issues such as the protection of sensitive techniques used by the intelligence services; the safeguarding of resources—which will be an important issue—as well as ensuring that intercept can still be used effectively for intelligence; and the protection of the present close co-operation between intelligence and law enforcement agencies. All those issues must be dealt with, and I would be failing in my duty to the House if I did not say that the Chilcot report leaves us with very big hurdles to overcome. I believe that they can be overcome, but the technical and legal work that is necessary to do that will have to be comprehensive.

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Andrew Dismore (Hendon, Labour)

I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend's announcement. The Joint Committee on Human Rights first recommended the use of intercept evidence almost two years ago and has repeated that recommendation in a series of reports since then. Its use would bring us into line with international practice. Will my right hon. Friend consider releasing the public interest immunity plus work that has been done so far, as we have asked, which would inform the debates on this matter? Will he consider whether it is possible to include in the Counter-Terrorism Bill enabling powers to proceed with this issue should it be possible to do so at an earlier stage?

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Gordon Brown (Prime Minister; Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, Labour)

That was not the recommendation of the Chilcot report. When I met the membership of the committee, we had a detailed discussion about some of those issues. If we said that enabling legislation could be introduced before we had reached a solution to some of the problems that had been raised, we would raise false expectations that we had such solutions. Those solutions still have to be found, and the legal and technical work still must be done. Obviously, whatever information can be made available to the Committees of the House of Commons will be made available. When my hon. Friend looks at the report in detail, he will find that the Chilcot committee is not recommending that we rush ahead without having done the legal and technical work but that we do that work before we make a final decision.

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Sammy Wilson (East Antrim, DUP)

The Prime Minister will be aware of the increased security threat posed by the dissident IRA groups in Northern Ireland and the sophisticated criminal gangs now operated by former paramilitaries. The police in Northern Ireland have said that the use of intercept evidence would be very useful to them in stamping out the crimes associated with such activity. Given that the security services are now carrying the main responsibility for intelligence gathering in Northern Ireland and that policing and justice are not devolved, can the Prime Minister explain why, if intercept material is to be used, its use will apply only in criminal cases in England and Wales and will not be extended to Northern Ireland?

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Gordon Brown (Prime Minister; Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, Labour)

This is a recommendation of the committee, in the first instance, in relation to public interest immunity certificates. That is why, for example, the use of such material could not be applied immediately to Scotland, but I will consider the points that the hon. Gentleman has raised.

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Martin Salter (Reading West, Labour)

The Prime Minister is aware that the Home Affairs Committee, in our all-party report on counter-terrorism, concluded that intercept evidence should be used in terrorism trials. However, we also concluded that on its own it was no substitute for other measures—in other words, it was no silver bullet—and that those other measures could include an extension of pre-charge detention for a temporary period and only in exceptional circumstances where the security services were overwhelmed by multiple plots.

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Gordon Brown (Prime Minister; Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, Labour)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The committee investigated that issue and concluded that the use of intercept evidence does not alter the necessity for control orders. Nor does it preclude a debate about an extension of detention beyond 28 days. I am grateful for the work of the Home Affairs Committee, which has reported on these matters on two occasions, and made the case for precautionary action in view of what it believes may happen in future. The issue is whether we can find an agreement that not only recognises in principle that it is right to move forward, but leads to a practical scheme to which everyone can agree.

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Henry Bellingham (Shadow Minister, Justice; North West Norfolk, Conservative)

I welcome today's statement. Can the Prime Minister confirm that the official Opposition will have the opportunity to nominate a Privy Councillor to the working party? What would happen if the prosecuting authority were determined to use intercept evidence but the intercept agency had different views. Who would have the final say?

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Gordon Brown (Prime Minister; Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, Labour)

In my statement I did read out that one of the conditions outlined in the Chilcot report included, "Giving the intercepting agencies the ability to retain control over whether their material is used in prosecutions", so it is clear that the committee acknowledges that the key which unlocks the possibility of using intercept evidence is held in the first instance by the security agencies. I think that, on reflection and on reading the report, the hon. Gentleman will probably agree that that is the right conclusion. It is one of the tests that have to be met. Of course we welcome the nomination of a Privy Councillor to the committee, and we will agree on that.

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John Spellar (Warley, Labour)

I welcome the report and the Government's response but may I express some concern at the response of the Leader of the Opposition, who seems to be following the shadow Home Secretary in arguing that this is all simple, straightforward and easy, whereas the Chilcot report suggests the contrary? Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the very desirable objective of catching and convicting terrorists is balanced against the equally desirable and necessary objective of preventing terrorist outrages in the first place, whether at home or abroad?

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Gordon Brown (Prime Minister; Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, Labour)

I have said that we will do nothing to put the security of our country at risk or, as I have said directly to them, to put in jeopardy the work of our security agencies. In common with my right hon. Friend, I disagree with the Leader of the Opposition when he says that it is only a matter of political will. The committee makes it absolutely clear that there are considerable legal and technical challenges that must be overcome. That is why we will work in detail on an implementation regime. I believe that we can move forward, but we must not underestimate the real issues that have been raised by the Chilcot committee, which must be dealt with.

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Evan Harris (Shadow Minister, Innovation, Universities and Skills; Oxford West and Abingdon, Liberal Democrat)

Does the Prime Minister accept that the committee indicated in paragraphs 49, 59 and 210 of its report that there was potential for a limited or modest increase in the number of prosecutions, although he did not make reference to those recommendations in his statement, and that if that is the case, then taken together with post-charge questioning and the use of the threshold test by the prosecutors, that must decrease the justification for an increase in pre-charge detention?

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Gordon Brown (Prime Minister; Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, Labour)

I do not accept that. In some cases, the use of intercept evidence will make it necessary for the police to have a longer period assembling evidence. As for his point about my not mentioning to the House any studies that have been done, I did mention the Metropolitan police study, which said that the chance of successful prosecutions in terrorist cases was increased from 88 per cent. to 92 per cent. That is a limited rise in the number of prosecutions, but we must take it into account. I urge the hon. Gentleman not to confuse the debate about the use of intercept evidence in a court with the problems that the police have in assembling evidence given the complexity and sophistication of terrorist groups in the first place.

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Margaret Moran (Luton South, Labour)

I welcome this review, which I seem to recall the Leader of the Opposition railing against a few short minutes ago. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that this further work will include consideration of the complexity of the technology, data sharing and safeguarding issues, which are currently extremely confused, not only in terms of security but of the public services? Does not that complexity add to the argument for greater pre-charge detention time to enable the intercept evidence to be more closely and forensically analysed to secure evidence and thus the security of the UK?

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Gordon Brown (Prime Minister; Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, Labour)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has taken a great interest in this matter. It is important to recognise—it is sometimes misunderstood in debate in the House of Commons—that in principle all parties have said that there is a case for going beyond 28 days' detention; it is just the vehicle by which we go beyond that which is an issue. The Liberal and Conservative parties thought that they could support the proposals put forward by Liberty, which meant that there were circumstances in which we could go beyond 28 days. The issue then, having accepted in principle that it may be necessary to go beyond that limit, is the nature of the mechanism by which that can be agreed. At the moment, the Conservative and Liberal parties cannot agree with the proposal that we have put forward, but I have to tell them that in principle they have already said that they agree that it may be necessary to go beyond the 28-day period.

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Patrick Mercer (Newark, Conservative)

I welcome the consensus that has been reached on intercept evidence. I absolutely understand the safeguards that need to be put in place and the comments that the Prime Minister made to my hon. Friend Jeremy Wright. The fact remains that in the 1980s I was a practitioner of intercept in Northern Ireland; this issue has been around for a very long time. May I urge the Prime Minister, please, to make as much speed as possible with this, because the interception and prosecution of terrorists and the deterrence of terrorist crime is so important, as he knows?

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Gordon Brown (Prime Minister; Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, Labour)

Let us remember that for all these 20 years intercept has been used; it is just that it has mostly not been used in courts of law. The question now is whether we can establish a scheme that will work. We have already agreed that the British system is unique and that the scheme cannot simply be one taken off the shelf from other countries. I believe that all the parties now agree that certain tests have to be met. We are going to proceed speedily and comprehensively to answer those questions. I hope, like the hon. Gentleman, that we will be able to come up with a conclusion that is satisfactory to all parties in the House.