With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 9, page 1, line 9, at end insert—
(2B) A person is not eligible to be elected as Chair of the ISC unless that person—
(a) has received the formal consent in writing of the Prime Minister to that person’s candidature, and
(b) is not a Minister of the Crown.’.
Amendment 10, page 2, line 3, leave out subsection (6).
Amendment 11, in schedule 1, page 16, line 5, after ‘person’, insert
‘elected as the Chair or’.
Amendment 12, page 16, line 7, after ‘(2)’, insert ‘The Chair or’.
Amendment 13, page 16, line 12, after ‘is’, insert ‘the Chair or’.
Amendment 14, page 16, line 16, leave out
‘Parliament by virtue of which the person is a member of the ISC’ and insert ‘Commons’.
Amendment (a) to Government amendment 58, line 11 at end add—
‘(e) may make payments to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority and House of Lords in respect of any expenditure incurred, or to be incurred, in relation to remuneration payable to ISC members in respect of their membership of the ISC.’.
Before I deal with amendments 8 to 14, which stand in the name of, among others, my hon. Friend Mr Tyrie, I should explain that my hon. Friend has been unavoidably diverted by long-standing and immovable duties in relation to the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards. He sends his profuse apologies to the House.
I am acutely aware of what is at stake in relation to the Intelligence and Security Committee. In 2009 the Joint Committee on Human Rights published a report entitled “Allegations of UK Complicity in Torture”, which considered the ISC’s ability to work within a circle of secrecy and yet deliver credible scrutiny. It states:
“The missing element, which the ISC has failed to provide, is proper ministerial accountability to Parliament for the activities of the Security Services. In our view, this can be achieved without comprising individual operations if the political will exists to provide more detailed information to Parliament about the policy framework, expenditure and activities of the relevant agencies.”
The provisions in the Bill are therefore welcome on the whole, but amendments 8 to 14 would remedy a crucial deficiency in the struggle to provide that political will to answer to Parliament.
The amendments would have a very simple effect. They provide for the election of a Chair of the ISC from the House of Commons on the same basis as the election of Select Committee Chairs, apart from the fact that candidates would be required to obtain the formal consent of the Prime Minister in writing before standing. Ministers would be ineligible.
There are three reasons why reform of the ISC is needed. First, it tried, but failed, to get to the bottom of British involvement in rendition; its investigation of British complicity in extraordinary rendition was a test that it failed.
As an ISC member of seven years’ standing, may I say that I take grave offence at what the hon. Gentleman has just said? We looked very thoroughly at the evidence on rendition, and arrived at suitable conclusions. I think that to make a blanket allegation of that kind without providing any evidence to back it up, which I hope he will now do, is unacceptable.
The hon. Gentleman’s intervention has slightly pre-empted a quotation that I was about to give. In a recent pamphlet, my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester wrote:
“The ISC found no evidence that the UK agencies were complicit in any extraordinary rendition operations and concluded that, during the critical period (from 2001 to 2003), the agencies had no knowledge of the possible consequences of US custody of detainees generally, or of Binyam Mohamed specifically.”
He went on to say:
“The opposite was the case. Successive court judgments have now made clear that the UK ‘facilitated’ the interrogation of Binyam Mohamed. Furthermore, High Court judgments in February and July 2009 concluded that crucial documents were not made available to the Committee by the Secret Intelligence Service, which led to the Committee’s Report on Rendition being inaccurate”.
I see Mr Howarth shaking his head, and I regret that he is offended, but the reality is that allegations have been made about the Committee’s performance, and made credibly, by my hon. Friend. What the amendments seek to do is not to haul the Committee over the coals, but to demonstrate that there is a strong, clear case for the Chair to be elected.
The ISC thought that it had reached the truth, but it had not. MI6 had been complicit in extraordinary rendition, and it was left to the courts to expose the truth.
I am following the hon. Gentleman’s argument with interest. What evidence does he have to suggest that the information would have been provided if the Chair had been elected by this House? We all want that information to be provided, but how would this proposal fix the problem?
It is, of course, very difficult to prove such things conclusively, but I will come on to discuss the evidence that the election of Select Committee Chairs has made those Committees more authoritative, which is a point the Government have endorsed. First, however, I want to raise two other issues.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving his opinion, and I do not mean any slight against him personally, of course, but before addressing that specific point I would like to talk about the experience the House has had since Select Committee Chairs have been elected.
The second reason why the ISC needs reform is because its independence has been compromised by its ties to the Executive. In recent years, a string of appointees have come out of Government to chair the Committee, only to return to the Front Bench afterwards. Until the June 2009 reshuffle, all of the preceding three Chairmen of the Committee went straight back into senior Government posts. They were Ann Taylor, now Baroness Taylor of Bolton, and the right hon. Members for Torfaen (Paul Murphy) and for Derby South (Margaret Beckett).
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, especially as I must apologise because I will not be able to attend much of this debate as I have to travel overseas.
I put it to my hon. Friend that the point he makes is already met by the reforms in the Bill, because in future not only will the House of Commons have to approve any member of the Committee and be able to reject recommendations from the Prime Minister, but the Chairman will be elected by the Committee members from among themselves, who in turn will have been approved by the House of Commons. It was the Prime Minister who appointed me and all my predecessors; that is the current situation, but he will no longer have that power.
My right hon. and learned Friend accurately reflects the Bill’s contents, but as I shall explain later, I do not think it is right that the Chair should be elected by the nominated members of the Committee approved by the House. I think the Chair should be elected by the whole House under secret ballot.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the situation outlined by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington
(Sir Malcolm Rifkind) would be analogous to MPs being chosen by sitting MPs? True democracy means that those outside the little magic circle of the Whips’ favourites have a say.
I am sorry to disagree with both my hon. Friends, especially as they really are my hon. Friends. That analogy breaks down because this is not MPs being elected by other MPs; rather, it is the Chair of the Committee being elected by a group of MPs who will have been chosen with the final say-so of the House of Commons. The other point I would simply make is that I do not think people who know either me or my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Malcolm Rifkind would regard us as falling entirely in the Whips’ narks category.
Since my hon. Friend has brought me on to this territory early, let me deal with these points now, first by saying to my right hon. and learned Friend that I well remember the month when he became Secretary of State for Defence, because it was when I graduated from initial officer training. I am very well aware of his august experience and the extent to which it exceeds my own. I am also well aware that my hon. Friend is a man of great character and integrity and personal courage. This is not really the issue, however. The issue is the institutional arrangements we put in place not necessarily to constrain my right hon. and learned Friend and my hon. Friend, but to ensure the Committee is credible both now and in future.
I want to be clear about my hon. Friend’s position. Is he concerned that, as on previous occasions, I might be asked to rejoin the Government in the near future? If so, I would be grateful if he would share any relevant information with me.
As I am sure my right hon. and learned Friend knows, I am often in close contact with the Whips, but not usually on that matter.
The third reason why the ISC needs to be reformed is because it has seemed unwilling to demonstrate that it challenges the information it receives from the intelligence and security agencies. The Joint Committee on Human Rights found the ISC’s 2007 report on rendition to be “opaque” and too readily accepting of the accounts presented by the agency heads, without sufficient justification.
The crucial reform that is necessary is direct election of the Chair by the House of Commons. The Wright Committee—the Committee on Reform of the House of Commons—thought extremely carefully about this issue. Paragraph 74 of its report states:
“The credibility of select committees could be enhanced by a greater and more visible element of democracy in the election of members and Chairs.”
It also states:
“Their election by a small group of Members, acting under party constraints, is evidently not conducive to producing a truly independent figure with the required weight inside and outside the House which House-wide election might confer.”
That is precisely my point.
Those of us who were elected in 2010 have experienced first hand only the operation of Select Committees under Chairs directly elected by the House, so I personally struggle to draw a comparison. However, in responding to the Liaison Committee’s second report of Session 2012-13 on Select Committee effectiveness, resources and powers, the Government acknowledged:
“Chairs of select committees are now elected by the whole House, giving them increased authority and independence.”
Who am I to disagree with the Government on this point?
That is precisely the reason for these amendments. It may suit the Government to be scrutinised by carefully selected nominees who elect a Chair from among themselves, as the Bill proposes, but the risks to the credibility of the Committee are obvious.
The hon. Gentleman is seeking to make the perfectly logical and rational argument that the Chair and membership of the ISC are analogous with the Chair and membership of other Committees. Does he not accept, however, that as the ISC deals with intelligence matters and our secret intelligence services, other factors must be taken into account, because the trust relationship—not collusion or a cosy relationship, but a trust relationship—between the agencies and the members of the Committee is crucial to effective scrutiny? If the agencies do not have that confidence and trust, they will be less forthcoming.
The right hon. Lady’s question pre-empts some of my other remarks, but let me just draw her attention to what amendment 9 states:
“The Chair is to be a member of the House of Commons elected in the same way as the Chairs” of other Committees, and:
“A person is not eligible to be elected as Chair of the ISC unless that person—
(a) has received the formal consent in writing of the Prime Minister to that person’s candidature, and
(b) is not a Minister of the Crown.”
So the Prime Minister, and the security establishment, would have the opportunity through that procedure to approve or reject a person who wished to stand for election as Chair of the Committee. That is not a perfect situation, but it is one that recognises the point the right hon. Lady makes.
This is meant to be a helpful intervention. I think my hon. Friend accepts that if we are to have this Committee that is unlike any other in that it is the only Committee with access to top-secret, classified information, it is not good enough simply to say that any Member of this House, however honourable, who happens to be fortunate enough to win an election should automatically be appointed Chairman of such a Committee. Am I right that my hon. Friend acknowledges that that would be an impossible situation?
I certainly agree with my hon. Friend on that point, but that is why the amendment is phrased in the way that it is. It does not seek that individual members of the Committee should be elected; that is a compromise that those who introduced it have agreed to. There is agreement that Committee members should be nominated by the Prime Minister and approved by the House, as the Government have proposed. The crucial distinction is that the Chairman, who is the key figure of the Committee, should be elected by secret ballot of the whole House and that that Chairman should have been previously agreed to by formal consent of the Prime Minister in writing, which gives the Prime Minister and the security establishment the opportunity to exclude any Member who might not be an appropriate person.
Has my hon. Friend taken on board the ultimate argument against his amendment—that is, the invidious position in which it would put the Prime Minister of the day? If someone has sought to stand as candidate for the Chair and the Prime Minister has refused to give his consent, that is not a private matter. That would become a public matter and the Prime Minister would either have to refuse to give his reasons or, if he did give his reasons, those might be very damaging to the reputation of the individual Member concerned. When the ISC considered this question, as we did when we were putting forward our original proposals to the Government, we rejected that idea precisely because it would put the Prime Minister in an invidious position that he could not be expected to carry out without creating much greater problems.
I recognise that my right hon. and learned Friend is advancing that argument with the best possible intention, but we live in a time when, because of terrorism and the fear of terrorism in particular—to pre-empt my concluding remarks—there has been an encroachment on our fundamental principles of liberty and justice, which we see elsewhere in the Bill. It is in that context that we must make sure that the security services are held properly to account in a transparent and credible way.
Here is the crucial point: in other Select Committees, transparency can do the heavy lifting, but as has been mentioned, transparency is not available in relation to the ISC. Precisely because of that, we need an elected Chair. I appreciate that the Prime Minister might find himself in a position where he had to reject a candidate in advance of their election, but that is surely a better option than going forward with a Committee whose independence from prime ministerial patronage can be questioned. I appreciate that the Prime Minister might have to engage in some politics on this issue, but that is after all his job.
Like others, I do not take offence at the argument, but I think the hon. Gentleman’s representation of the nature of those who serve on the Committee is a long way short of my experience, if I may put it that way. Am I to understand that no matter how well qualified a Member of the House of Lords might be to chair the Committee, the hon. Gentleman’s amendment would preclude that from ever happening?
Let me take both those points. I do not wish to cast any doubt on particular members, but we are in a position where the Committee’s success can be questioned and we need to deal with that on an institutional basis. Yes, the substance of the amendment would preclude a Member of the other House from being the Chairman of the Committee.
Amendments 8 and 9 provide for the election of the Chair from the House of Commons on the same basis as departmental Select Committee Chairs, with the exception that they would have to have the Prime Minister’s consent to their candidature. The amendments do not make provision for the election of members of the Committee. We think that together these amendments would lead to increased authority and credibility for the Chair, which is not to cast any aspersions on my right hon. and learned Friend. I feel sure that if he stood for election, I would be strongly inclined to vote for him. The point is to set up the institutions so that they are beyond reproach. Amendments 10 to 14 are consequential on amendments 8 and 9.
In conclusion, as I said, the problem is that terrorism and fear of terrorism have led Governments—for honourable reasons, I do not doubt—to erode principles that ordinarily we would regard as sacred principles of our systems of justice and liberty. I refer in particular to closed material procedures, but also to terrorism prevention and investigation measures, which have been dealt with on other occasions. In that context, it is vital that the House, the wider public and non-governmental organisations are reassured that the security agencies are answerable to the House, albeit in secret, through a Chair who enjoys the authority conveyed on him by Members. That is why we have tabled the amendments, and I hope that the House will adopt them.
I shall try to be brief because I know that a great deal of ground needs to be covered in these debates. Steve Baker has served a useful purpose by ventilating the issue through the amendments. I do not want in any way to detract from that. First, however, he bases the argument on an event that he portrays inaccurately, and I will say a word about that in a moment. Secondly, in trying to make the role of the Chair subject to the will of the whole House, he fails to understand the nature of the composition of such a Committee and the responsibilities placed on it, and I will also say a few words about that.
My right hon. Friend Paul Murphy was the Chair of the Committee when we examined the issue of extraordinary rendition. The way that the hon. Gentleman portrayed what we did grossly misrepresented the process that we went through. First, as my right hon. Friend has just reminded me, there was a break at one point in our consideration of the Bill at the request of the then Government while further information was forthcoming.
Secondly, the hon. Gentleman implied that vital information had not been put before us. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen said in an intervention, the information that we did not have at the time did not change our conclusions at all. We subsequently got that information and, in further annual reports, we pointed out that there was a problem with retrieval of the information that the agencies held. It was never a deliberate attempt on their part to mislead us and the information concerned did not materially affect the conclusions that we drew. So the example that the hon. Gentleman uses to justify his case is, frankly, wrong.
There is a whole separate debate to be had about that. The hon. Gentleman rightly referred earlier to part 2 of the Bill, which deals with closed material proceedings. There are a number of problems with the Binyam Mohamed case, the main one of which concerned the doctrine known as the control principle. That creates serious problems for our relationships with partner agencies, particularly the United States, but if I were to go too far down that road, Mr Deputy Speaker would pull me up because we have already dealt with amendments to part 2. The process of considering the issues by the Intelligence and Security Committee is not as the hon. Gentleman portrayed it.
On my second point, I shall be brief because in his intervention the Chair of the Committee cleared that up. We have gone a very long way to making the ISC more like a Select Committee, but it never can be identical to a Select Committee, as I think the hon. Gentleman acknowledged, because of the nature of the material that we have to deal with. As a member of the Committee, I am content that the appropriate person to have the final say and to have the recommending powers on who is an appropriate person to chair that Committee should be the Prime Minister of the day—not that I do not trust the House of Commons. As a long-standing Member of the House, I have every confidence in it, but in this one exceptional circumstance I do not think that that is the appropriate way to do it. Although in democratic terms the hon. Gentleman’s amendment is well intentioned, I do not think it is appropriate.
Why does the right hon. Gentleman consider it inappropriate to give the Prime Minister of the day the opportunity to approve—or reject—the candidacy of particular Members and then allow them to go forward, with the benefit of that approval, to be elected by the whole House so that they can enjoy the authority of the whole House? My right hon. and learned Friend Sir Malcolm Rifkind, who is no longer in his place, advanced the argument that the Prime Minister would be in an invidious position, but that does not seem to be what the right hon. Gentleman is concerned about. Why should we not have prime ministerial approval and then an election?
Because, as I have already said and as the hon. Gentleman acknowledges, the ISC is a different kind of Committee. The people concerned are handling different information—information that they cannot share—and there are occasions when there is an ongoing operation, things are moving at a fast pace, it is impossible to convene a meeting of the full Committee, and the Prime Minister, the heads of agencies and the Foreign Secretary—whoever is relevant—have to be able to talk to somebody. On some occasions the Chair has been the person they speak with, which is entirely appropriate, but in order for them to be able to do so the Chair must have the confidence of senior Ministers and the heads of the agencies. I think that is an important principle. Otherwise, they will feel inhibited about sharing vital information, which often has to be provided at very short notice, with the Chair at least.
Is not it precisely because the Committee’s work is so vital—in some senses it is more important than almost any other Committee, because it relates to fundamental issues of statecraft and national security—that there should be at least some modicum of democratic accountability, albeit under the system of de facto licence, as identified by my hon. Friend Steve Baker? It is precisely because that work is so vital that it should not be left to the grandee system to ensure that the people who are meant to be overseeing what happens are awake and alert to the job.
The hon. Gentleman’s intervention seems to be predicated on the view that the Committee is entirely unaccountable, but that is not the case. We produce an annual report and other reports during the course of the year, and they are debated in both this House and the other place, along with other matters we have dealt with over the year. Therefore, to that extent there is accountability. In that sense the way the Committee operates is already similar to the way Select Committees operate, and it will become more so as a result of the Bill.
However, I still think that whoever chairs the Committee has a special role and that an appropriate veto over an individual’s promotion to it has to be in the hands of the Prime Minister of the day. I have no reason to believe that the current Prime Minister, who is not a member of my party, would not perform that role properly. I also believe that no Prime Minister would promote the candidacy of someone they did not think would have the confidence of the whole House, not just that of the Committee. In that context, I think that the accountability is already there. It might be a little bit opaque in some respects, and in others it might be indirect, but it is there and it is appropriate.
I would like to confine my remarks to an elaboration of a point that was made very effectively by my hon. Friend Dr Huppert, who sadly is not in his place at the moment. There seems to be a conflation of two separate concepts: whether the election of the Chair directly will aid the Committee’s credibility; and whether it will aid the efficacy of its performance. For the life of me, I cannot see how the method for electing the Chair would make any difference whatsoever if, for example, the Committee was carrying out an investigation and one or other of the security agencies chose not to supply it with certain information that ought to be supplied. I would have thought that the best insurance for an agency supplying the information that should be supplied is the consequences of what would happen if it did not do so and the omission came to public attention, as it inevitably would.
If the Chair is elected and enjoys the authority of the House, apart from any prime ministerial patronage or the appearance of it, he would have the authority, and not just with the agencies, but in the public sphere, to be able to tell the Prime Minister that he was dissatisfied with the information provided by a particular agency, and in that way the two mechanisms come together and authority over the agencies is increased.
I am afraid that I do not think that cuts any ice whatsoever, because one cannot be in a position to be dissatisfied with information that one has not been given and does not know exists. The suggestion, which is implicit in my hon. Friend’s intervention, that the person who was Chair at the time of the particular historical episode to which he refers—it was before my time on the Committee—would have acted in any way differently had he been elected, and that he did not act simply because he felt insufficient legitimacy to do so because he had not been directly elected, is frankly unrealistic.
My hon. Friend Steve Baker seems to overlook the fact that changes in the Bill will massively strengthen the Committee’s position. The Committee will be able to require information to be provided, whereas previously it could only request it. That is a huge difference. The position of the House of Commons will be strengthened vis-à-vis the Committee’s membership, because previously the House could express an opinion about whether it had approved the people nominated to be members, but in fact the Prime Minister had the final say, whereas now the House will have the final say. If the House does not like the cohort of people who have been nominated, it can throw them out and the Prime Minister will have to nominate someone else.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe is focusing his attention on a really rather narrow issue, because the House of Commons will have the final say on who all the members of the Committee, at least from the House, will be, which at the moment is seven of the nine. Therefore, those members, who will themselves have been directly appointed by the House on the nomination of the Prime Minister, will then be in a very strong position to choose one of their own number to be Chair.
I will say one more thing on the matter. I do not think that the world would collapse if my hon. Friend’s amendment were successful, but we are taking a giant stride in the right direction. One thing I have found through working on the Committee is that it, probably more than any other Committee—all Select Committees like to flatter themselves for being relatively non-partisan—is totally non-partisan. Even if one wanted to be partisan, there is no one there to watch one being so, so there really is not much point. I can honestly say, as I said in an intervention at an earlier stage of the Bill’s consideration, that if anything unfortunate were to happen to my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Malcolm Rifkind, who chairs the Committee, I would almost certainly find myself voting for the Chair, if I had the option of voting for another Committee member, on a non-party basis.
I do not think that what my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe is proposing would be earth-shatteringly damaging if it went through, but I really do not think that it is terribly necessary, and I am concerned that people would put themselves forward and say, “I wish to be in this position,” only to find that they had been vetoed, for reasons they could not be told, by the Prime Minister. That would be a coruscating experience for all concerned.
Had I been inclined to support amendments 8 to 14, my inclination would have dropped dramatically over the past half hour as a consequence of hearing the speech made by Steve Baker. I do not think for one second that the Committee’s significance depends on the Chair. The Chair is an important member of the Committee—the first among equals. During the two years I chaired the Committee, including the period when we considered extraordinary rendition, there was certainly unanimity among the members, as Dr Lewis has just mentioned, as there is now, so the Committee had to come to a consensus.
It is preposterous to argue that whether or not the Chair had been elected would have made the slightest difference to the report on rendition or to the Committee’s eventually recommendations. That issue can be dealt with in another place and at another time, although Mr Tyrie, who was supposed to move the amendment—we have had an explanation of why he cannot be here—had a particular interest in rendition, but Members of the House will know that the Committee dealt with a host of other important issues affecting this country’s intelligence services.
Twenty years ago, the Committee started on a journey. Before the law was changed, there was no Committee of this House—in the Commons or the Lords—to deal with the intelligence services. Indeed, just before the inauguration of the Committee, the very existence of MI6 was denied publicly by the Government. In those 20 years there has been a dramatic shift in how the intelligence services have been made more accountable. The latest of those shifts is proposed in this Bill, which is a very good Bill in that regard. The accountability and transparency that it requires—there is obviously a limit to how much transparency one can have when dealing with the intelligence services—is something that I am sure we all welcome and support.
I support the proposal that the members of the Committee—who, by the way, are themselves subject to approval by the House of Commons and the House of Lords—will decide on who the Chairman of the Committee is to be. The Prime Minister does not do that. The Prime Minister could have a say in who the members are, but ultimately the House of Commons makes that decision. Those members will know among themselves who they feel to be the best person for the job. We have to bear it in mind that this is not a Select Committee. If it were, it could be argued that its Chair should be elected in the same way as for a Select Committee, but it is not—it is a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament. The Chair of the Committee, who is usually, and should be, a Member of this House, reports to the House annually, and a debate is also held in the other place. Having the members themselves choose the Chair of the Committee is a very significant development.
The Committee can never be the same as a Select Committee, because if it were, it would not be doing its job. It has to command the trust and the confidence of the intelligence services because of the nature of the business they deal with. The only way to do that is to have people on the Committee who are trusted not only by their colleagues here and in the House of Lords but by the three agencies, so that they can ensure that there is the fullest flow of information of highly sensitive and secret detail that the Committee can deal with. That is why it is different from other Committees. I think that the proposals in the Bill, which have been refined over the past couple of years, are such that everybody will be able to support them today.
Another matter covered in this group of amendments is the way in which the ISC is financed. Under the Bill, the Committee is no longer a statutory Committee—it becomes a Committee of Parliament. As a consequence, the Government will pay Parliament for the workings and expenses of the Committee. I fully support the Government amendment. My hon. Friend Diana Johnson is going to discuss the remuneration of the members of the ISC—more particularly, that of its Chair. Of course, all of us who have held these positions over the years have had no remuneration. I welcome and support this development and only wish that it were retrospective so that I could claim two years’ back pay, but that is not going to happen. My hon. Friend’s amendment refers to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, which I hope will support this measure. I also hope that the Chair of the ISC will get the same remuneration as is paid to the equivalent Chairs of Select Committees: in this case, I imagine, the Foreign Affairs, Home Affairs and Defence Committees. Sir Malcolm Rifkind is extremely hard working in his position, and I believe that this is a right and proper thing to do.
I have the good fortune, in the interests of brevity, to be able to acknowledge all that has been said on both sides of the House, but I would like to add a thought or two of my own.
This Committee is sui generis; there is nothing else like it. To seek to bring it within a certain structure runs the risk of ignoring the fact that it has particular characteristics. The Chair of the Committee has particular characteristics, too, because by convention the Committee does not talk to the press. When any request is made for information from the print or electronic media, the proper course of action, which, if I may say so, I have studiously followed since my election, is to refer the matter to the Chair of the Committee. The Chair then finds himself in a very difficult and sensitive position regarding the extent to which he is able to respond to possibly legitimate inquiries about the work of the Committee, in so far as that is consistent with the fact that he, like all of us, signs the Official Secrets Act. No member of any other Select Committee in the House of Commons does that. Particular skills are therefore essential for the chairmanship of this Committee that are not necessarily required in the chairmanship of other Committees. I respectfully suggest that those who are best able to assess those skills are the members of the Committee themselves. Of course, they must have confidence in their Chair.
The Prime Minister has the ultimate responsibility for security under our conventional constitutional arrangements. That is why his role must be acknowledged, and I believe the Bill does exactly that.
One of the consequences of amendment 9 is that no member of the House of Lords, however well qualified, could ever become Chair of the Committee. I do not suggest that that would be a matter of routine, but there may, in exceptional circumstances, be an individual who, by reason of experience, judgment and knowledge, would be particularly suited, and it would not make much sense if the Committee were not in a position to endorse that individual for chairmanship.
The amendment contains an inherent contradiction. It begins:
“The Chair is to be a member of the House of Commons elected in the same way as the Chairs of Departmental Select Committees.”
As I said, this Committee is different in that its Chair has to sign the Official Secrets Act. The amendment goes on to say that he must have
“received the formal consent in writing of the Prime Minister”.
That is not an election that accords with the way in which Chairs of departmental Select Committees are elected.
I will finish this point, if I may.
The amendment contains a contradiction in saying that we must elect the Chair in accordance with general circumstances while adding an extra requirement. That would make it a little difficult to maintain the unqualified democratic support that the mover of the amendment sought to persuade us to accept would be part of the process.
I admire the way in which the right hon. and learned Gentleman is attacking my amendment and seeking to show a contradiction. We all agree that this Committee is different because of its need to access classified information, and that is the reason for having a different provision that does not exist in the case of other Select Committee Chairs.
First, I had a concession on the peers and now I have a concession on what appears to be an inherent contradiction.
It seems to me that these provisions meet the necessary requirements of a Committee that is sui generis and that they are entirely in accord with the extension of scrutiny and responsibility that the rest of the Bill provides.
Let it be stated from the beginning—this should be made absolutely clear—that this is not about the integrity of any member, past or present, of the Intelligence and Security Committee. I am certain that Steve Baker, who moved the amendment, is under no illusions, because it would be defeated in a vote. I hope there will be a vote, but am not sure that there will be.
I think that this has been a useful debate, however brief, because we rarely have the opportunity to debate how ISC members are appointed. My right hon. Friend Paul Murphy has reminded us that until about 25 years ago there were no statutory regulations on the security agencies. I remember clearly my attempts to have debates on M15 and so on in the 1980s, but they were not welcomed, to say the least. In so far as M15 and M16 are accountable to Parliament, I thought it only right and proper that we should have the opportunity now and again to discuss their role.
As I stated many years ago, let me make it clear—in case anyone thinks otherwise—that I am not against the security agencies. Even when there was no acute terrorist threat such as that which we face now, I made the point time and again that every democracy has a right to protect itself and should have some sort of agency against those who want to do harm to it.
What we are discussing today is not, as I have said, a matter of integrity, but whether the House should have an opportunity to elect those who serve on the ISC. I see no reason why we should not do that. I do not like the view that has been expressed, more or less, that the security agencies could veto people whom they do not particularly like.
I do not think that anybody is advancing the argument that the heads of agencies or the agencies themselves should have a veto. It is merely that they should be able to feel confident in the person who chairs the Committee. The difference is subtle, but they are two different things.
When the agencies were put on a statutory basis, however, and appointments duly made, it was argued that if certain people were made members the security agencies would not supply the information requested because they would not have confidence in them. I do not believe that it is possible to divide the House into those Members who can be relied on in that manner and those who cannot. There should be no such division. Are any of us who have the honour to be elected Members of this House fellow travellers of terrorist organisations or willing to betray the trust of our country? I do not accept that Members can be divided accordingly.
If the Chair of the ISC and its members were elected by the whole House—that is not going to happen at this stage, unfortunately—they would have more authority and more credibility. That does not mean that, had the Committee been elected in the past, it would have come to different conclusions. That is not what I am saying; what I am saying is that, instead of appointments, there should be elections, as is the case with Select Committees.
My hon. Friend is making a speech that he has made for many years and his important views are sincerely held. Does he not accept, however, that there has been a big change in the system, in that the appointment of Members of this House to the Committee is subject to the approval of us as Members of Parliament? That was never the case before.
Yes, of course, and that is an improvement. I do not challenge that. Indeed, as I have said, placing the agencies on a statutory basis was an improvement and a step forward from what happened previously. I hope that, when Members on the two Front Benches agree—I do not know when that will happen—the next step will be elections, which will be far better for credibility, which is essential, than appointments.
It seems odd that we are debating, in the 21st century, whether elections are desirable for Committee positions. I would have thought that we passed that stage some time ago.
Does my hon. Friend not accept, however, that this is a joint Committee and that other such Committees of the House are not elected, but subject to parliamentary approval in exactly the same way?
Yes, I do accept that, but it would be useful if Commons members of the Committee were elected. What they do in the other place is entirely a matter for them.
As I said at the beginning, this is a useful debate that gives a minority of us the opportunity to express our views. I hope that, in due course and over the years ahead, the House of Commons will make the sort of decision on this matter that some of use would like to see.
I am pleased to follow Mr Winnick. I am sure I have agreed with him on previous occasions, but I am not sure on what issues. I agree with the thrust of his remarks. Like him, I start by saying that I have the highest regard for those of our colleagues who currently serve on the Intelligence and Security Committee and those who have done so in the past. It is not my view that we would get better people to serve on the Committee if we elected them, but neither do I think we would get worse people.
Having been elected by colleagues to serve as a member of the Wright Committee on Reform of the House of Commons during the previous Parliament, and given that one of our recommendations has been discussed, I want to make a brief contribution to this debate. Of course, we made other important recommendations, including the introduction of elections for Select Committees. I hear what other Members have said about this being a different type of Committee that is not entirely analogous to Select Committees, but when we considered our proposals we heard all the same arguments—that it would lead to frivolous appointments, that the House would behave in a partisan way in choosing Select Committee Chairs or members, and that the House of Commons could not be relied on to do this in a reasonable, rational way.
Although I did not realise at the time that my election as chairman of the 1922 committee meant that I would be responsible for conducting the elections of Conservative members to Select Committees—I inadvertently increased my work load considerably as a result—I think, three years on, that those elections have been a great success. The Chairmen are good people who have been elected for the right reasons, which demonstrates that we have made a wise change.
We reflected long and hard on this recommendation for a particularly important and sensitive Committee, and that is why we also recommended a safeguard that it should not be possible for somebody to be a candidate for election as Chairman of the ISC if they did not enjoy the confidence of the Prime Minister. I am entirely open to other suggestions as to how it could be done.
I think that it is important to have a safeguard and that, with that safeguard in place, an election would be entirely reasonable.
The question, as we have heard, is whether it would make a difference to the stature or efficacy of the Committee if it were elected rather than appointed. It could make a difference in either direction. As my hon. Friend Steve Baker ably argued, the Committee could enjoy a higher stature as the result of an elected status. One hopes that that will be the case in due course. Some Members have raised the fear that it would have a lower status. They argue that potential members and Chairs of the Committee might not enjoy the confidence of the security services in particular and that, therefore, the Committee would function less well.
Again, I do not believe that to be the case. I think that fundamentally the House is capable of reaching that very serious conclusion, making that judgment and choosing somebody on the basis that they would be the right person to serve as Chairman. I join those of my colleagues who have fallen over themselves to stress that my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Malcolm Rifkind, who sadly has had to go on travels elsewhere, is an admirable Chairman. I would be delighted not only to vote for him, but to propose him as Chairman. He would be an obvious choice.
I am listening to the hon. Gentleman’s argument, but I am convinced that we are not getting to grips with the difference between Joint Committees and Select Committees. The ISC is a Joint Committee, like the Joint Committee on Human Rights, and is appointed. Is it not ironic that an unappointed Committee should have asked for another Committee to be elected, even though it had the same status?
The right hon. Gentleman makes a valuable point. We are engaged in a process here. There has been a considerable amount of reform. Mr Winnick alluded to the history: 25 years ago there was no oversight, then we got an oversight Committee and now we have a proposal to allow a parliamentary veto of its membership. Like him, I find it hard to believe that this is the last stage in that journey, and I suspect that 25 years from now we might have different arrangements in the other place and be looking at a completely different constitutional arrangement, which Joint Committees will have to reflect.
For me—I cannot speak for the other members of the then Committee on Reform of the House of Commons—the fundamental point is not about the ISC, which I suspect would have much the same membership, would behave in much the same way and, like now, would have a high status and be held in high regard by the House. Fundamentally, this is an argument about the House of Commons and whether we have the self-confidence to believe that we should be taken seriously as a Parliament and a representative Chamber and whether we are prepared to take on this enormous responsibility. Just as the election of Select Committee Chairmen and members has enhanced the House, I believe that eventually this next step will also enhance it. It will prove us capable of making that responsible judgment and ensuring we have a Committee overseeing these vital and sensitive matters that is chosen democratically, but which is capable of enjoying the respect of the Government, the security services and the whole country. That could be done in a slightly more open and democratic way.
I plan to speak to amendments 8 to 14, which deal with the election of the ISC Chairman, and then Government amendment 58, which deals with the broad proposals for the financing and resources required by the ISC. After that, I shall speak to amendment 58(a), which stands in my name and that of my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary and would make provision for payment to members of the ISC.
It has been helpful having this debate and hearing the experiences of past and serving members of the ISC and other hon. Members who have taken an interest in the area for many years. It was important to hear the historical context and the explanation of why we are in this position. My right hon. Friend Paul Murphy explained that when the ISC was set up in 1994 it represented a huge change in the relationship between Parliament and the security services and that we have been on a journey ever since—this is part of that journey. It was also interesting to hear what my hon. Friend Mr Winnick said about the fight to get the ISC set up. It is important that we understand the history and why we are in this position, but we must also recognise the important work that the ISC does, and I pay tribute to all its members, who put an enormous amount of time and effort into their roles. It is vital that the public have confidence in the security services, and that demands confidence in their oversight.
In our debates in the other place and here in Committee, there were extensive exchanges between the Government and the Opposition about how to strengthen the role of the ISC. Since inception, the ISC has been composed of Members of Parliament, yet because of its unique nature, it has often been portrayed more like a component of the Executive, not least because its secretariat is provided by the Cabinet Office. The Government have now finally decided, however, formally to constitute the ISC as a Committee of Parliament. Changing its name to the “Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament” emphasises not only that the ISC is composed of parliamentarians, but that they are doing the work of Parliament while serving on the ISC.
In Committee, we debated whether to move to a full Select Committee status for the ISC, and there was lengthy debate about what it would mean and how it would operate. I think there was clear recognition from both sides of the House that the special nature of the role of the ISC and the sensitive and secret information it routinely dealt with made its constitution worthy of separate and special consideration. Many parliamentarians are calling for reform to be hastened. I would like to set out the Opposition’s view. My right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary has called for the ISC to become a Select Committee. We recognise that, were that to happen and because of the special nature of its work, we would have to consider the most appropriate way of appointing a Chair.
We think that amendment 8 gets the matter the wrong way around: it would deal with the election or appointment of the Chair, whereas we need to deal first with the fundamental issue about the status of the Committee. The Bill provides for a Committee of Parliament, with the rules for its operation and procedure laid down in statute. Hon. Members will know that Select Committees are not created by statute, but formed by a resolution of the House and governed through Standing Orders. I recently reread the chapter in the book by Mr Tyrie about the ISC and what reforms were needed. Of course, he referenced the Wright Committee recommendations about the ISC’s becoming a Select Committee and having an elected Chair, just like other Select Committees.
The problem is, however, that in the Bill the Government are establishing the ISC as a Committee of Parliament, not a Select Committee. We are, then, in a very different place from the established Select Committee structures. I note the comments of Steve Baker, but amendment 8 would give the ISC the partial look of a Select Committee, when it actually is not a Select Committee. I also note that setting out in a Bill how the Commons should elect a Chair is problematical, because the House is governed by Standing Orders. Will the Minister say whether it is in order to put in a Bill a mechanism for how the House should operate?
My second problem with the amendment, which has been touched on by right hon. and hon. Members, is that it would require the Prime Minister to give written consent to any Member wishing to stand as Chair. As has been recognised, that does not happen with any other candidate for a Select Committee position, although it goes some way to recognising the special nature of the Committee. It would present lots of problems, however, as it would mean that the Prime Minister could decide not to endorse a candidate—an elected MP—as not suitable for a role, which would put the Prime Minister in a difficult position. I am not sure it is one we want to move to.
Let us imagine that, say, half a dozen people wanted to apply. Has the hon. Lady considered what would happen if the Prime Minister took the view that only one of them was suitable? What would happen to the element of choice lying behind the views expressed today?
That is one of the more ingenious arguments for not having an election. It seems to me more than likely that the vast majority of Members of this House would meet the Prime Minister’s basic requirements for being suitable to keep state secrets. I cannot accept that argument. It seems to be an ingenious way of saying that democracy is not appropriate.
Nobody is saying that democracy is not appropriate. We are just highlighting some of the issues with the amendments that have been tabled.
The basic problem that the Opposition have with the hon. Gentleman’s amendments is that they put the cart before the horse. The first issue that needs to be addressed is the status of the Committee. We should then decide how to elect or appoint a Chair to that Committee.
My hon. Friend is making a very good case, so I hesitate to interrupt her further. Does she accept that there is a world of difference between the Prime Minister saying, “I think this is a suitable person to be the Chair of the Committee” before Parliament endorses them, and Parliament electing somebody and the Prime Minister then having to say, “I don’t think this is a suitable person”? Those two positions are entirely different. She is right about that.
My right hon. Friend makes that point very clearly. I will return to my argument, because I am conscious that other Members wish to speak about later proposals.
The Opposition are of course sympathetic to attempts to widen accountability and open the ISC as much as possible. In Committee, we supported a number of amendments to do just that. We tabled amendments so that we could consider whether an Opposition Member should always chair the Committee, as with the Public Accounts Committee, and whether there should be a majority of MPs—elected representatives—on the ISC.
I have some experience of that point. I was Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee for nine years. The Chair of that Committee is the sole auditor of the accounts of the security services, so he sees in great detail all the accounts of the security services. He is not vetted by anybody, including the Prime Minister. He is elected by all Members of the House. Nobody has ever suggested that an elected or appointed Chair of the Public Accounts Committee is a threat to national security, so this is a fuss about nothing.
The hon. Gentleman speaks with great experience as the former Chair of the Public Accounts Committee. However, the Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee deals with far more than just the finances of the security agencies, so it is not quite the same.
On that point, the hon. Lady’s response is correct. The people who advise the Intelligence and Security Committee on the finances of the security and intelligence services leave the meetings when other matters—namely, classified information—are under discussion.
That information is very helpful.
I have explained why the Opposition will not support amendment 8. Government amendment 58 relates to the money, staff, accommodation and other resources that will be made available to Parliament for the new Committee. I wonder whether the Minister can help me, because I am slightly confused about the intention of the Government with respect to the support that will be provided to the ISC. In his response, will he set out how he expects the secretariat to the ISC to be provided? In Committee, we discussed a proposal suggested by the membership of the ISC for a non-departmental public body to be established to provide secretarial support. That does not appear to be what the Government are doing. Will he therefore explain what will happen?
Does my hon. Friend agree that there is consensus across the House that the Bill will strengthen the scrutiny of our secret intelligence services and that that is welcomed by everyone? In Committee, the Opposition were forceful in saying that if we are to have increased scrutiny, we need the necessary resources to do the job. The Opposition talked about a figure of £2 million. The Government’s impact assessment has a figure of £1.3 million. There is no agreement on resourcing, and without resourcing, it will be impossible to do the job that the Government want us to do.
My right hon. Friend raises an important point to which I hope the Minister will respond. Parliament is trying to reduce its costs by 25% over the course of this Parliament. I wonder whether the money that is being transferred to Parliament will be ring-fenced for the work of the ISC and whether it will be expected to make any savings out of that budget.
Will the Minister also deal with the issue of the staff who will be transferred to support the new Committee? Am I right to assume that TUPE will apply? What discussions has he had with the Clerk of the House about this matter? Has he written to the Clerk of the House formally requesting that he starts to make preparations for such an undertaking?
On the accommodation for the Committee, there are clearly security issues that need to be considered. Does the Minister have any further information about where he envisages the Committee being accommodated? Will any separate secure accommodation have to be provided?
Finally, amendment (a) to amendment 58 would provide for the payment of members of the ISC. It follows on from other amendments that the Opposition have tabled to try to strengthen the role of the ISC within Parliament. The role of chairing the ISC will be every bit as important and time-consuming as chairing any other parliamentary Committee. We therefore feel that it should be recognised in the same way.
At present, the ISC is a statutory body funded by the Cabinet Office. When the responsibility for funding the ISC transfers to Parliament, the responsibility for any payment to the Chair will also be a matter for Parliament. Given what I have said about the procedures of the House, I appreciate that that will probably have to be dealt with through Standing Orders rather than statute. In that case, I will be happy not to press amendment (a). I am sure that the Minister will be able to explain the funding situation.
I will just explain why amendment (a) refers to all members of the Committee and not to the Chair. Again, the Minister might be able to help me on this point if there has been any progress. The amendment covers Members of the House of Lords as well because, unlike Members of the House of Commons, they do not get a flat salary, but receive an attendance allowance. As I understand it, they do not receive that allowance for attending the ISC on days when the Lords is not sitting.
I am grateful if that is the case. If the Minister could explain that, it would be helpful.
Amendment (a) was also drafted to include all members of the Committee in case it is felt appropriate in the future to make payments to members of Select Committees alongside the payments that are made to Chairs.
Before dealing with Government amendment 58, which provides the Government with the necessary powers to make a financial contribution to the Committee, I will add a few words to the interesting and lively debate that we have had on the election of the Chair. I will not repeat every argument. My hon. Friend Steve Baker put the case robustly and had some pretty strong support. However, every member of the ISC who is here has responded and he has had to take on some of the more formidable Members on both sides of the House. He is also facing the opposition of all three of the major parties.
I assure him that this is not an establishment stitch-up—quite the reverse. Perhaps the best way of illustrating that is by putting everything in the context of what we are trying to do in this part of the Bill. We are making a remarkable advance in strengthening the powers of this Committee to hold our security and intelligence services to account. For 20 years the Committee has steadily contributed on that front, and we are marching forward considerably in the Bill. This part of it is just as important as the part we debated on Monday, as we are stepping towards making our security services more accountable to Parliament. We are enabling judges, in exceptional cases, to take all the evidence into account and make an adjudication when allegations are made by individuals; and we are committing to holding judicial inquiries when worrying circumstances occur—subject, of course, to those inquiries being able to get under way once police investigations have been properly completed.
These amendments are important, and they are being proposed in the context of a situation where all parties agree that they want this Committee to be a parliamentary Committee and no longer a creature of the Government. We therefore wish to give it more resources and the structure that enables it to do an even better job. The only thing that distinguishes the Committee from a Joint Committee or Select Committee of this House is this problem of the extremely sensitive nature of some of the information that it sees. Only where it is unavoidable are we departing from the normal process of allowing the House of Commons to have a powerful Committee of its own choosing and to exhort it to do its job and report back properly on what is and is not happening in this area.
I think we are all agreed that strengthening the scrutiny of the Secret Intelligence Service is an important and welcome step forward. However, I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would agree that simply saying that we want to increase scrutiny is not enough. Instead of having the right to request information we are moving to a situation where we would be able to require it. We need additional investigators and that will require a substantial increase in the resources available to the Committee. Simply saying that we want increased scrutiny is not enough. I know he understands that, so will he tell us now that we will be getting an increase in resources to enable us to do the job he wants us to do?
I encounter many people making bids for resources for their particular, extremely important, activities. My right hon. Friends at the Treasury are receiving a very large number of these bids all the time. I have had some experience of public spending, and I can tell the House that it is not wise to engage in negotiations across the Floor of the House—it is certainly not wise for a non-Treasury Minister to do so. For this purpose, in this debate, given those present, I think we can agree that it is the Government’s intention that this Committee should be properly resourced to do its job, which is why we are taking a power to supplement Parliament’s financing of the Committee. Obviously, the Government have the right to query and test the figures that are put to them, and there are ways in which this can eventually be negotiated.
I hope not to get bogged down. I wish to assist our Front-Bench team by pointing out that the Intelligence and Security Committee has eight staff, whereas the detainee inquiry, which looked at only one issue, had 14 staff and the Committee on Standards in Public Life has 12 staff. As Hazel Blears pointed out, the Government’s own impact assessment suggested that to do what is being required of us we would need a budget of £1.3 million, which compares with the existing budget of £750,000. At the moment only £850,000 is being offered, and if the gap is not bridged, this whole reform will be a waste of time.
I can say only that I, like my right hon. and hon. Friends, am fully aware of the Committee’s views on the amount of funding that it will require. Yet again, I take note of my hon. Friend’s points on the matter, but I repeat that there is not much point in my standing here carrying out a negotiation with him or any other member of the Committee about the figure we arrive at. As someone who has been at the Treasury, I think that the Government must combine providing the right resources, which are undoubtedly going to be more than the Committee has had in the past, with doing a bit of negotiating about what is the necessary cost. Report stage is not the place to resolve the final figure.
Similarly, the status and nature of the Committee will not be resolved finally by statute or by debate on the Floor of the House. A long discussion has been going on to make sure that the Committee has the right status and structure to do its job effectively, and I think we are very near to reaching a successful agreement between the Government, the Opposition, the House authorities in both Houses of Parliament and the current members of the Intelligence and Security Committee on what its status should be. I am told that we still have to have further discussions with the House of Commons Commission and the House Committee in the House of Lords, but I think everybody is becoming satisfied that we are resolving that matter. We are also resolving the question of the accommodation, which probably will have to be on the Government’s estate rather than the parliamentary estate, for security reasons. I will go into more details if hon. Members wish, but I realise that we still have quite a lot of the Bill to deal with. Unless hon. Members are particularly interested in knowing the precise current status of these discussions, I hope I may take it that the House is reasonably satisfied that all parties are going to reach a satisfactory conclusion. I assure the House that the Government have been anxious throughout to make this Committee powerful, properly resourced and as much of a parliamentary body—a body that is accountable and resembles the Select Committees of the House in every way possible—as it can be. I think that soon this will all be resolved.
I shall now deal with amendment (a), tabled by Diana Johnson, although she anticipated my reply. Government amendment 58 is required in order to give us the necessary authority to make the financial contributions that we are going to be arguing about. Amendment (a) seeks to oblige the Government—or at least expressly to empower them—to make an additional amount available for the payment of Committee members. That is not necessary, nor, in my opinion and that of the Government, is it wise to start putting the matter of the payment of members of Select Committees or parliamentary Committees into statute, or implicating the Government directly in that. The payment of members of this Committee, the Chairman of this Committee and members of Select Committees is a matter for the House of Commons, the House of Lords and the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority—from every point of view, it is best left there. Where the Government have to initiate all this, it is a feature of all Governments, of all political complexions, that they can get very politically embarrassed on questions about the remuneration of any Member of either House. So a process that leaves the matter with IPSA and the House of Commons is preferable to the hon. Lady’s amendment.
Finally, I shall touch on the spirit of political debate we have had on the question of whether the Chairman should be elected, and again I must say that the Wright Committee produced a splendid report. My hon. Friend Mr Tyrie first proposed this, but he is not able to be here because he is serving on his Banking Commission, as we all realise. We worked together, when we were in opposition, with my right hon. Friend Sir George Young, who is now the Government Chief Whip, on a thing called the democracy taskforce, advocating the election of Chairman of Select Committees and producing proposals that were remarkably close to those of the Wright Committee. I certainly start on the same basis as my colleagues who have been drawn to this part of the debate, but we have heard all the arguments why, in this particular case, the proposal does not work. We are already making the whole thing approved by Parliament. No longer will the Prime Minister appoint the Chairman; the Chairman will be elected by those who know—or will know—him best: members of the ISC.
One difficult hurdle that cannot be overcome by those who think such a system is not good enough and want the whole House to elect the Chairman, subject to prime ministerial veto, is that a veto will be difficult to exercise. We are on much safer ground if the Prime Minister nominates people and invites Parliament to elect them, as we have proposed, rather than letting people put themselves forward and the Prime Minister moving in and vetoing an individual, which unfortunately could occur.
During my time in the House I have known more than one person—including Members from both sides of the House and in one case a personal friend from my party—who could not have been appointed to this Committee and would have been vetoed. That would not always have been for political reasons; I suspect that sometimes the security agencies knew something about those people’s history or private lives that would have made them totally unsuitable to sit on the Committee. I need only hint at such things to show why we cannot just let the House of Commons elect absolutely anybody, subject to prime ministerial veto.
It is clear from the amendment that we do not seek to allow the House of Commons to elect anybody, and it is not a veto but an opportunity for the Prime Minister to approve candidates. Such a mechanism could take place in private; it would not need to be all over the front pages that someone had been turned down. The process could be done beforehand and the candidate would just have to obtain formal written consent for them to stand.
My hon. Friend is confident that if someone starts campaigning and positioning himself or herself for this job, but then suddenly stops campaigning because the Prime Minister puts an end to it, it will all remain secret and no one will accuse the Prime Minister of political bias—whereas actually they will, and everybody will realise that something about the candidate has caused the agencies successfully to blackball him or her. We cannot agree to that. Some of the Members I am talking about have served in government and would have been perfectly suitable to be Chair of the Health or Education Committees, but partly because of the job I was once in, I knew that I would not have put them on this particular Select Committee and would have wanted the Prime Minister to stop that appointment. I do not think there is an answer to that.
The system has been devised in such a way because Members on both sides of the House, and current members of the Committee, have done their best to make this as democratic and parliamentary as we possibly can. The Wright Committee has transformed things in this House. The Government have introduced the election of Select Committees and they are being made more powerful. Alongside that reform, we are making the Intelligence and Security Committee far more parliamentary and powerful. The fact that there is a comparatively detailed difference in the way that Parliament votes for the Committee members and how the Chair is elected does not undermine the policy and the Bill.
I hope I have explained why everybody involved, including those on the Opposition Front Benches and my allies in the Liberal Democrat party, have been driven to the conclusion that this is the best way of resolving the problem and moving to a decent amount of parliamentary democracy, without jeopardising our national interest. I therefore hope I can persuade my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe to withdraw the amendment and persuade the House to give the Government power to continue negotiating these finances by accepting amendment 58.
Not for the first time I have made common cause with a well-known Member from the left of the Labour party, and I am grateful that on this occasion I have done that for the first time with Mr Winnick. I was also grateful for the support from my hon. Friend Mr Brady, who brings to bear his experience from the Wright Committee.
Some of the arguments against these elections have been somewhat ingenious, and I shall treasure Hansard tomorrow when I look at the remarks of Sir Menzies Campbell, who I think brilliantly set out the advantages of appointment over democracy. I shall look at that with some joy. We have all understood what the Bill provides; it certainly takes us forward although, as I have said, I would prefer the Chair to be elected in the way that I outlined. I am glad we have held this debate and aired the issue.
The Opposition have said that this provision puts the cart before the horse, but they did acknowledge the context, which is crucial. We have seen encroachments on the principles of liberty and justice, which many of us thought we were sworn to defend. However, in the view of this Government, and the previous Government, such measures have proven necessary to protect the public, and we are where we are. With that in mind, and having listened to both Front-Bench speakers, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.