Security Service

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 30th March 1998.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The arrangements for ministerial accountability of the Security Service are set out in the Security Service Act 1989. They have been strengthened by the establishment and work of the Intelligence and Security Committee, and I am always happy to receive the views of hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Baker), on such matters.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

Will the Home Secretary confirm that it will be possible to introduce much more openness into the Security Service without endangering national security in any way? For example, will it be possible to publish information on the number of individuals on whom files are held? Perhaps the method of dealing with telephone tapping warrants could be changed so that the public can know how many warrants have been issued in relation to individuals.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I accept that there should be the greatest openness in the work of the Security Service, provided it does not endanger national security in any way. That is a key proviso. The hon. Gentleman will know that I have taken several decisions that have secured greater openness. I hope to continue to do that, but the test must always be whether a change will endanger national security.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex

I applaud the Home Secretary's answer. Does he agree that openness is all very well so long as the Security Service's ability to do its job remains of the first importance? Will he take it from me that the process has gone quite far enough and that the Security Service must now settle down and get on with doing its extremely important job without feeling that someone is leaning over its shoulder any more than is absolutely necessary?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's compliments in the first part of his question. It is important that everyone in the public service, including those in the security and intelligence agencies, are accountable for their actions and are held properly to account, particularly by responsible Ministers. The issue of openness often arises in respect of the history of those agencies, but it cannot, in practice, arise in respect of their day-to-day current work. There is quite a good case for opening more historical files than have been opened up to now, and 1 am currently considering that matter.