Amendments made: 63, page 19, line 31, at end insert ‘, and
(b) after “Committee” insert “of Parliament”.’.
Amendment 64, page 20, line 18, at end insert ‘, and
(b) after “Committee” insert “of Parliament”.’.
Amendment 65, page 21, line 35, leave out ‘7(2)’ and insert ‘7(1)’.—(James Brokenshire.)
Queen’s consent signified.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I commend the Bill in its present form to the House.
The first point to reflect on, in considering the Bill in its entirety, is the debt we owe to our security and intelligence services. Unfortunately, we face unprecedented threats at different times from various enemies, both at home and abroad. It is extremely important that we have highly efficient intelligence and security services to protect the lives of our citizens and the normal civilised business of the country. We have to support the intelligence services on which we rely so heavily.
Secondly, this country upholds the highest standards of human rights in this area of its activities, as in other areas. We all expect those who work in our intelligence and security services to have the same regard to the values that we are defending as everyone else does—that we do have regard to the rule of law. The British Government are, and, as far I am aware, always have been, firmly against the use of torture, firmly against unlawful and extraordinary rendition, and firmly against practices on which some of our allies take a more relaxed view. I would like to think that the British intelligence and security services are not only among the best in the world, but uphold much higher standards in the way they conduct themselves than is true of the vast majority of the nation states of the world.
The vast majority of Members agree that we are grateful to the security services, and that it is important that they are held as accountable as everyone else. We follow another principle that the Government, as far as possible, hold dear, which is that of transparency: avoiding unnecessary secrecy wherever possible, and being as open in our dealings with the public in every aspect of our public life. Plainly, that has to be modified to a certain extent to protect the absolutely essential secrecy that our security services need, and which the people who co-operate with them, the agents who help us and the various people we have to rely on throughout the world, need.
I believe that the part of the Bill that we will look back on with greatest pleasure is the considerable steps we are taking to give extra powers to the Intelligence and Security Committee. In ensuring that the security services are held accountable, accountability to Parliament is extremely important. I will not rehearse all the arguments, which have taken most of today, but the Committee is now to be truly a Committee of Parliament. The House of Commons will be able to elect the membership—on the nomination of the Prime Minister, but members will be appointed by parliamentary vote. The Prime Minister’s nomination is a necessary precaution in case some unknown feature of a Member of Parliament’s background might make him or her a less suitable member of the Committee than would otherwise be the case.
As we have seen over the years, the Intelligence and Security Committee is one of the most important Committees of the House. Its membership, not surprisingly, tends to comprise heavyweight individuals from all parts of the House of Commons, with a membership that is highly respected in all parts of the House for the work it tries to do. However, I will not repeat what my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department set out in the debate. We have examined in detail the various processes that we now have in hand to enable the Committee to require evidence to be given to it and to hold the security services thoroughly to account, in all the sensible circumstances that can be managed, while at the same time ensuring that no risk is posed to national safety and national security.
The most controversial part of the Bill is the one we debated on Monday, in which we seek to make the security and intelligence services more accountable to the judiciary and courts of this country, particularly as in the last few years a growing number of people have alleged before our courts malpractice against the security services and sought substantial damages for events in which they say our security services were complicit. Things are plainly unsatisfactory as they stand, and we have all quoted many distinguished members of the judiciary to illustrate that. Opponents persuade themselves that they are so against the principle of closed proceedings of any kind that they wish to keep the present law, which they regard as satisfactory.
I am afraid I am still at the stage where I do not see how on earth we can say that the present law is satisfactory. People bring claims and are prepared to give evidence, as they are perfectly entitled to, in support of them.
The nature of the evidence that the security and intelligence services and the Government would wish to produce to defend some of those claims is of the kind that cannot possibly be given in open court. The courts have made it clear that sometimes there is indeed scope for closed proceedings, but that they cannot be held through an ordinary civil action unless Parliament has decided the circumstances in which these should be allowed.
We already have closed proceedings in this country in several areas—there are about 14 instances of different jurisdictions where we have closed proceedings, largely in the immigration field. It is of course less than perfect justice, because the only possible challenge to the evidence is from special advocates who have been security cleared, and they are not as free as they would be in an open court case to take full instructions from their clients. Everybody knows that, but in fact they have more weight as advocates than most people appreciate. Given the circumstances, most judges are prepared to listen to challenges, realising that they have to bear in mind that they need to be particularly scrupulous, because there are limitations in how far the evidence is being tested before them.
The best test is that special advocates win in closed sessions—I have been fond of citing one or two instances as these proceedings have gone along. The last case that the Government lost—that of Abu Qatada, which caused a tremendous public controversy and still is—was lost before a judge, Mr Justice Mitting, who does not have the reputation of being a melting-heart liberal. Abu Qatada won in closed proceedings in a British court, defeating my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the Government in our attempts to remove him for a trial in Jordan. Obviously the judge was not satisfied that torture would not play a part in the proceedings if Abu Qatada was sent there. The idea that Ministers have the ability to present things to a judge in circumstances where the closed advocates have no hope is mistaken. What we will get is a judgment, whereas what we get at the moment is silence.
In the main, we have been attacked by people who say how much they deplore secrecy and silence, yet the effect of being granted a public interest immunity certificate, which is the only course open to Ministers wishing to withhold evidence that could damage national security, is total silence. The evidence cannot be used by the claimants, cannot be taken into account by the judge and is not available to the defence. As we all know, cases are being brought with increasing regularity in which the Government have no alternative but to offer no defence, because no evidence can be called, and then to start negotiating the amount money to be paid in compensation.
I have never given exact figures for the compensation involved—although some have appeared following interviews with me—because the claimants usually want to enter into confidentiality agreements on the settlement. However, there is no harm in telling the House that millions of pounds are being paid out to claimants whose cases have never been tested or challenged. I make no apology for repeating my suspicion—one that is held by most objective people—that there is a serious risk that some of the money is finding its way to very undesirable quarters, and probably to terrorist groups in the case of certain plaintiffs. I am not talking about all of them, and I will not say which of them this applies to—that was never decided by the courts—but some of those people will have links to organisations that will have some of that money on them. I do not think that the public understand why the Government cannot defend themselves. That gives rise to genuine disquiet among perfectly intelligent liberal members of the general public.
We have had a long, satisfactory debate, during which the Bill has been transformed in both Houses. We are still not in total agreement on the wording, but we agree on the principles. The judge will have the widest possible discretion to decide that he is going to hear evidence in closed proceedings only when it is relevant and has to be heard to decide the case, and when it would damage national security if it were given to the wider world. Furthermore, the just and effective administration of justice will have to be served by hearing it in private. I will not repeat all the arguments that were put on Monday.
The overall effect of the Bill will be to improve the reassurance that we can give to the public and to the world that we uphold the highest standards in this country, and that we seek to maintain them by holding accountable those who work on our behalf. I believe that the outcome is not only legally sound but an eminently sensible common-sense solution to the obvious practical problems that arise when we wish to combine the rule of law with the protection of national safety and security. I commend the Bill to the House.
I am most grateful for your advice, Mr Speaker. I am sorry that the Minister without Portfolio did not give way to me earlier. He has again made the assertion that the Government are being forced to settle cases, but his assertion would have more appeal if they did not regularly settle cases before exhausting all their options and before applying for a strike-out. I do not think that his admonitions about people seeking confidentiality agreements to hide the amount of compensation that they were getting could apply to Mr Belhaj, for example. The Minister is to some extent peddling damaged goods again, and that is regrettable as he is one of the last defenders of human rights in his party. I thought he might have had a little more to say about article 6 and the common law right to a fair trial. I must get on, however; I am aware of the Speaker’s request.
I want to begin with thanks. This is not a long Bill but it is a difficult one, given the nature and complexity of its subject. It touches on two fundamental concepts: national security, and the fairness and openness of justice system, which we prize and for which this country is still regarded as a role model. In addition to the Front-Bench teams who have laboured hard—exemplified by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull
North (Diana Johnson), the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, James Brokenshire and the Minister without Portfolio—we have had the benefit of the great expertise of some senior Back Benchers.
I mention in particular, although they are not here, Mr Tyrie and Mr Davis. I mention, too, members of the Intelligence and Security Committee, several of whom are here, particularly Dr Lewis and my right hon. Friend Paul Murphy, who served and brought their experience to bear on that Committee. Then, of course, there is my hon. Friend Dr Francis and his colleagues on the Joint Committee on Human Rights, who have been forensic in their scrutiny of this Bill since it emerged as a Green Paper almost 18 months ago. We have had the advice of eminent lawyers too numerous to mention and all pro bono. I must, however, mention Tony Peto, who not only advised members of all parties but found time to co-author with the hon. Member for Chichester a book, “Neither Just nor Secure”, in time for the Committee stage. Copies, I am told, are still available.
There is substantial agreement on two parts of Bill. Part 1 improves the scrutiny of our intelligence services—something that has come a long way since they first emerged from the shadows in 1994. A point well made by ISC members on the Public Bill Committee was that there is a developing relationship between Parliament and the security services, which tries to balance the need for scrutiny with the effectiveness of the vital job those agencies do. The Bill takes that a step forward in enhancing accountability: it is too little and too slow for some, but it is moving in the right direction.
The clauses reforming the Norwich Pharmacal jurisdiction seek to re-assert the control principle and to protect the security interests of allied countries—not only in their interest but ours, since the success of our security services relies on close working relationships with their equivalents overseas. Thus far we agree, but how can that explain the definition of sensitive information in clause 15 as information relating to “an intelligence service” rather than to “a foreign intelligence service” as our amendment proposed? It looks like another attempt gratuitously to extend the protection given to secret information for reasons other than those given. It is a pity we did not have time to debate that matter further—perhaps even now, the Government will, of their own volition, look at that point.
That brings me to the contentious part of the Bill—that relating to closed material procedures—which regrettably leaves this House in a far worse condition than it was when it arrived. Not only have the key safeguards added to the Bill by the other place on the advice of the JCHR been removed, but new and alarming departures from the normal standards of civil justice have been put on the face of the Bill. This has been done as late and as obliquely as the Government could get away with. I hope their lordships will when the Bill returns to them later this month reimpose their necessary amendments and fillet the unwelcome additions.
There is not time to rehearse every attempt at mitigating the effect of secret courts that the Government have rejected, but in brief we have had 18 months of feigned
U-turns, compromises and Pauline conversions from the Minister without Portfolio. In the end, they amounted to two important but not fundamental ameliorations. The door was opened to judicial discretion by accepting the Lords amendment on “may” instead of “must” at the entry to clause 6. Citizens will, after a series of wobbles and changes of heart, now have the same status as the Secretary of State to apply to enter a CMP. The two core changes sought by the Opposition in support of the other place have been firmly rejected: judicial balancing between the interests of national security and fair and open justice at the gateway to the CMP; and requiring the court to look at other more open, more tested and more equal ways of proceeding to trial before invoking the CMP—the so-called last resort.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Government were also unwilling to concede considering public interest immunity as a first option, judicial balancing of evidence once the CMP process was under way or to support a sensible renewal clause designed to give parliamentary scrutiny to this botched-together part of the Bill. These are all matters to which their lordships, including some of the finest legal brains in the country, will wish to address their minds. I hope and trust they will renew their attempt to make this part of the Bill work in the interests both of national security and open and equal justice. I hope—I am sure—they will not be deceived by the Government’s flimsy attempts to make purported concessions on these points.
The recent Government amendment 47, to ask the court to consider whether the Secretary of State has considered PII, is purely cosmetic. The hon. Member for Chichester described it as bath-time activity for the Minister without Portfolio—and it certainly comes with the customary large amount of soap. Similarly, clause 7, inserted in Committee, purports to challenge the CMP process continually and expressly on disclosure being completed. The court could do that of its own motion in any event, but it in no way mirrors the balancing act called for in our amendment 38, which was defeated late on Monday evening.
Have these purported concessions been presented to appease the Daily Mail, or—by way of winning the support of the members of the junior coalition party—the Liberal Democrat party conference? If so, they have done neither. The press, from left to right, remains hostile to this part of the Bill in its current form.
This weekend, the Liberal Democrats—when they are not reviewing their process for leadership selection—will vote again on a motion that states, first,
“Liberal Democrat parliamentarians to vote to delete Part II of the Justice and Security Bill”, and, secondly,
“Party policy to remain that the Liberal Democrats will repeal Part II of the Justice and Security Act (if so enacted) as soon as we are in a position to do so.”
Dr Huppert may have saved his skin by his votes on Monday, but 50 of his colleagues may find the air in Brighton less sweet. Even Sir Menzies Campbell may find his comment on Second Reading coming back to haunt him. He asked Mr Clarke
“whether he understands that the detailed amendments made in the House of Lords have been regarded by many people as being entirely favourable and reasonable.”—[Hansard, 18 December 2012; Vol. 685, c. 713.]
The hon. Gentleman has again made references to matters connected with the Liberal Democrats in regard to which he was factually wrong, but I do not have time to correct them all. However, may I take him up on his point about our being “in a position to do so”? Let us say that after the next election there were some Labour involvement in the resulting Government. Would he then commit himself to repealing part 2, or is he in favour of it when it comes down to it?
I certainly would not commit myself to repealing part 2, because it includes the Norwich Pharmacal jurisdiction, which we support.
Finally, let me deal with the new heresies that have been slipped into the Bill during its passage in the House of Commons. I have time only to raise the issues rather than exploring them; further comment must be a matter for the other place.
The first of those issues, which was raised by us in Committee but not dealt with satisfactorily by the Minister, relates to clause 6(4)(a), which currently sets as a condition precedent to the court’s ordering a CMP that
“a party to the proceedings…would be required to disclose sensitive material in the course of proceedings to another person (whether or not another party to the proceedings)”.
We fear that the provision will be used in part to prevent the use of confidentiality rings, allowing the citizen's own lawyer to be excluded from receiving information. It was that eventuality that we sought to prevent through our amendment 28, which was not reached on Monday but which would have added the words
“and such disclosure would be damaging to the interests of national security”.
Our second significant concern relates to Government amendment 46, which was tabled only last week and was introduced to the Bill on Monday. There has been no opportunity to debate the amendment, which adds to clause 6(7) the phrase
“or on such material that the applicant would be required to disclose'”.
That appears to allow an application for a CMP to be made on the basis of irrelevant material which is not the sensitive material that the party applying—usually the Secretary of State—fears having to disclose. It may therefore allow the court to take into consideration material that is merely embarrassing or damaging to international relations. The Government have excluded such material from consideration in the CMP, but it seems it may now be adduced to trigger the process.
If we are right about that, there are other ramifications. The gisting requirements—which, as the special advocates have pointed out in their latest submission, are already very weak in the Bill—ask the court to consider, not to require, a gist, and thus allow a case to be decided entirely on the basis of evidence that one party has had no right to challenge. In addition, a gist need only be made of material that is disclosable. That presents the possibility of a CMP being granted on the basis of non-disclosable material, and the court not even being asked to consider whether it is necessary to gist that material to the open lawyer or client.
This is not so much a bad Bill as a Bill with a bad heart. We will not be voting against Third Reading, because there is much in part 1 that we support, but we believe that even at this stage the clauses on CMPs can be improved—indeed, must be improved. We look to the other place once again to provide the necessary heart massage. We hope that the Justice and Security Act will secure an effective way of trying difficult cases with serious national security implications without jeopardising hard-won and much-prized principles of fair and open justice. We have never excluded the CMP option, but we believe that it is such an affront to the basic, open and fair principles of English common law that it must be confined to the tiny minority of cases in which proper judicial discretion and other tried and tested methods have been exhausted.
Part 1 of this Bill is a logical extension of a process that began approximately 20 years ago. The development of the relationship between the Intelligence and Security Committee and the services, based on respect but also on a clear understanding of their respective responsibilities, has been a substantial and important constitutional development, and nothing should take away from that.
The Minister without Portfolio described me as a heavyweight. It is a description I have been trying to avoid as I get older, for reasons he will readily understand, but there is no doubt that the matter we are discussing causes considerable controversy, and let me begin by saying I do not like part 2 of the Bill. Quite often we have to pass legislation that we do not like, however, because in our judgment it is necessary to do so, as the balance favours having the legislation. That is the principle on which I base my conclusion in this case, for which I will not be the darling of the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton, not least because I am going back to my constituency—not to prepare for government, but to explain the consequences of the Government’s decision to close the Royal Air Force base there, which has been a source of great pride and has made an enormous contribution to the life of the community. What I will say and do is contrary to the expressed—and potential—views of the Liberal Democrat conference. I respect those views, but I think I am entitled to expect in return that my party colleagues will respect mine.
I base my views on this difficult matter on three influences: first, the fact that I have been a member of the ISC for some years; secondly, my experience as a Member of this House; and, thirdly, the fact that the law has been my trade since 1968 and I believe I know and understand it as well as any other Member of this House. I also believe that I have done as much as anyone to pursue the objectives of ensuring the protection of the citizen and the preservation of human rights.
The implication that those of us who support this legislation do so out of a slavish willingness to advance the interests of the United States has caused me some resentment, as has the suggestion that we are a cat’s-paw of the intelligence services. Not only are these claims insulting, but in my case they are palpably wrong. In recent years, for example, I have argued very strongly for an alteration in the extradition arrangements between our two countries, and 10 years ago almost to the day I and the then leader of my party were leading the opposition to the too-close association with George W. Bush and the United States in the unhappy venture into Iraq.
However, when senior officials in the current American Administration look us in the eye and tell us that their apprehension about the confidentiality of their sources is influencing the quality of the intelligence they are willing to share with the United Kingdom, should we ignore or dismiss that? If that position is then supported by American agencies themselves, should we ignore or dismiss it? When the UK’s agencies confirm under cross-examination their impression that the quality of shared intelligence with the United States has diminished, should we ignore or dismiss that? When the Americans say they are concerned about the risk to the lives of their agents or the revealing of techniques and procedures, should we ignore or dismiss that?
Do I like closed material proceedings? I do not. But do I think public interest immunity certificates are the answer? I most certainly do not. I have re-read chapter 13 of the Scott inquiry into arms to Iraq. It is heavyweight reading, but if any Members wish to become advocates for the value and validity of PII, I recommend they read it and find out the true implications.
If one wants to avoid embarrassment, a PII certificate is one of the most effective ways of doing so. If one wants to prevent a litigant from accessing evidence that might assist that person in establishing a case, PII is a very convenient way of doing so. One thing that has interested me more than anything else in this rather controversial debate has been the fact that many of the interested parties that now express confidence in public interest immunity certificates have previously been the first to criticise them.
The Bill has improved. Has it improved as much as I would prefer? Of course not, but how many times can any one of us put our hand on our heart and say that the piece of legislation for which we have voted is precisely and exactly as we would have wished? We are at a crossroads between principle and necessity, and we have to ask whether the balance that has now been struck is acceptable. That, essentially, is a question of individual judgement and it is that individual judgement that our constituents send us to this place to exercise every time we are faced with a dilemma of the kind the Bill obviously creates. Why do I say that? The balance struck is sufficient because of the developed and controlling role of the judiciary or the judge in any case and because of the palpable independence of the judiciary in these matters. We need only consider the Binyam Mohamed case, the observations of the Master of the Rolls and the extent to which the Government of the day were unable to escape the consequences of the action raised against them.
As is often the case, distinguished lawyers of sound judgment take different views of these matters. Sometimes, it seems to me that it is like a game of political contract bridge: “If you play your 700 lawyers and my good friend Baroness Kennedy, I will play my Ken Clarke and my Lord Woolf in an attempt to outbid you.” Such decisions are often as much a matter of instinct as logic.
Closed material proceedings have been described as Kafkaesque, but I doubt that those who say so have read Kafka. Others have said that they illustrate a form of Soviet-style justice, but a many litigants and accused persons in the Soviet system would be perfectly happy to swap their arrangements for those in this country, both north and south of the border. I would prefer not to have closed material proceedings, but I am satisfied that in this case the protections are such that they are justified.
I very much respect the views of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but is he satisfied, as a Liberal, with the notion that from now on a litigant will not be allowed to look at the evidence in their case and cross-examine it on the basis that it will be made available to them? After all, is that not quite a serious procedure that is quite different from the defence withdrawing a piece of evidence or not adducing it at all?
It is a procedure that already exists in our law. If my hon. Friend is concerned about the universal application of the principle, that argument was lost some time ago.
Yes, that argument was lost a long time ago, but is that a reason to pass the Bill into law when it makes the situation worse? Once again, it suggests that the view of Parliament is that somehow it is okay to go through a judicial process in which the defendant is not fully aware of the case against them and in which the public is totally unaware of the issue. It sets a dangerous precedent to have any avoidable secrecy in the judicial system.
Since the hon. Gentleman puts the point that way, let us turn it around and ask what he would do. Would he have elements of the conduct and the sources of the security services—sensitive, and perhaps at great risk to those who provide human intelligence—exposed in our courts? That seems to me the only possible alternative, or else, as has been suggested, we simply say there is a financial cost to be borne and we will settle any case that may have the consequence of causing such sensitive information to be revealed. That is not justice, as I understand it. That is the failure of the judicial system to reflect the reality of the proceedings which are brought before us.
It is always open to the defendant to choose not to adduce evidence to support his case. If the state does not want to adduce the evidence, nobody is suggesting that it has to reveal the sources of agents or information. The state simply does not produce it.
But if the case raises the kind of issues that were raised in the case of Binyam Mohamed, what does my hon. Friend think the response would be if the state said, “We’re not producing any evidence at all”? What inference does he think people would draw if no defence was mounted? Of course the inference drawn would inevitably be one of guilt.
I finish by saying this: a lot has happened since the twin towers in New York were bombed and thousands of people died. Not all of it could be described as something of which we are proud, but the one thing that certainly happened then and which was reflected in many of the speeches that were made here on the special occasion when Parliament was summoned, and much of what has happened since then, has demonstrated that things were irretrievably and irrevocably changed as a result of that. We have only to look at the incidence of proceedings being taken in this country in relation to acts of terrorism or proposed acts of terrorism to realise the extent of that change. That is why, although I have no love for this legislation, I believe it is appropriate.
I have a great deal of respect for Sir Menzies Campbell. In the course of his remarks he said that we must all exercise our judgment, and like other right hon. and hon. Members I do so today. If I may say so without being misunderstood, the right hon. and learned Gentleman put a more reasoned case than did the Minister, but I am strongly opposed to the measure, which, however it is dressed up, is a denial of a system of justice that has been built up in this country over centuries. I have no doubt that the Bill will be carried today, and in due course it is likely to be carried into law, but it will be a poor day for Parliament when it is.
I speak as a non-lawyer. Whatever limited legal work I have done outside the House between seats, I am not qualified as a lawyer, but I understand and I probably understood from the very beginning that there are certain basic rights when a person is accused—the right of defendants and their counsel to know the full case and the evidence against them. As I said, this has been built up over centuries in this country and it is now being undermined. However limited the cases may be, some defendants will not be able to have that right. I consider that very unfortunate indeed.
Under closed material procedure, special advocates will be appointed instead of counsel appointed in the normal way. Defendants will not know the evidence against them, nor will their counsel or solicitors. It is interesting to note that even special advocates who have operated in other fields that have developed in the past few years have argued, as the Minister knows, that that is an unfair way of proceeding.
We are supposed to be satisfied that only a limited number of cases will be dealt with in such a way, but that does not satisfy me. If it is only one case, in my view that will be one too many. It is all very well the right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife being satisfied—as I have said, I respect him and his integrity—but why have 700 lawyers, including a large number of QCs, indicated that they oppose it? Why has the Joint Committee on Human Rights made it clear that it is not satisfied with the outcome? Can they all simply be dismissed as some sort of civil liberties lobby that does not know what it is talking about?
We know that the basis for what has been brought before us is the cases of rendition, torture and the alleged complicity of British security personnel. Those cases have been debated on various occasions in the House of Commons, and I have taken part in those debates, but is it not important that we parliamentarians and, more importantly, the British public know whether or not the allegations are true? The right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife, in defending his position, said that if we do not follow what is proposed we will not get the necessary intelligence information from the United States. Are we really going to decide on that basis? Are we really going to decide that what has been built up over centuries, the right of defendants to fair proceedings and the right of their counsel to know what is going on at every stage, should be thrown overboard and into the dustbin because otherwise the United States might not provide us with intelligence information? And is it in their interests not to do so?
I in no way underestimate the acute terrorist danger facing this country. The atrocities of 7/7 came as no surprise to me, and I am sure that is the view of other Members who anticipated, as I did, that at some stage there would be a terrorist attack. Indeed, it might occur again—who knows? Yes, we are faced with an acute terrorist danger. I do not challenge that at all. They are demented, murderous psychopaths who want to bring death and destruction to our people. But if Parliament has a duty to defend our citizens, which indeed it does, I take the view that it has another duty and another obligation: to defend the rule of law and the traditional rights that have been built up in this country. That is why I cannot support the measure before us today. I believe that it is wrong and that it undermines so much of the British justice system that I think that we should be ashamed if it gets on to the statute book. Whatever I can do as one Member to show my opposition to the Bill, I will do it.
The debate will finish no later than 5 o’clock, so can all Members please show time restraint in order to allow everyone who wishes to speak to do so.
I will not go down the route that has so far been followed in this Third Reading debate, other than to observe that we must never forget that we are talking about civil cases, not criminal cases. They are not cases affecting people’s life and liberty; they are cases in which people, sometimes extremely unsavoury people with links to extremely dangerous organisations, are walking away with very large sums of public money. That is not a situation that can be allowed to continue. If the Opposition, in their heart, did not know that that was true, they would divide the House tonight, but they are not going to do so.
Instead, I will concentrate briefly on part 1, which strengthens the Intelligence and Security Committee. I believe that it was no coincidence that part 1 was added to the Bill, because there are two distinct and separate elements to the Bill. As my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Menzies Campbell said, in what I must say was a masterly exposition of his position and, I think, that of most thoughtful people on this side of the argument about closed material proceedings, the consideration is not that there is an ideal answer, or even a satisfactory answer, but that all we can do is choose the least worst answer. To make that least worst answer to the problem more palatable, the strengthening of the ISC was added to the Bill.
I make no apology to the Minister for coming back to something that I, and others, raised quite strongly on Report: if the ISC is indeed to be strengthened, it must receive the resources it needs to carry out that strengthened and increased role. For those who did not hear me say it earlier, I remind the House that the ISC has only eight members of staff, and it has to pursue a number of inquiries and investigations every year, as well as its major annual report. That compares very unfavourably with the staff support for other Committees and inquiries, such as the 14 staff members for the detainee inquiry, which had only one specific issue to investigate, and the 12 staff members for the Committee on Standards in Public Life.
The ISC is currently funded to the tune of £750,000 a year. In the impact assessment published with the Bill, the Government cited a revised figure of £1.3 million that reflected their estimation of what the ISC would need to carry out the extra duties that are being placed on it in order to reassure the public that proper scrutiny is being carried out. The figure that is actually being offered is £850,000—an increase of just over one seventh on the existing budget. This would continue to leave the ISC worse off than all its international counterparts and worse off than the bodies that I listed. This is our last opportunity publicly to press the Government to commit to a substantive increase in resources. I hope that the Minister will confirm that the Government’s own published impact assessment will not be discarded when it is convenient to do so once this difficult Bill has been enacted.
I conclude—earlier than I would have liked, but I feel that I must—with a single observation. Everybody agrees that the contribution made to the evolution of this Bill by the Members of the upper House has been very considerable. Who can seriously maintain that that sort of expertise would be available to people on either side of the argument if we had undermined, restructured and, in effect, destroyed the upper House in the way that was so irresponsibly proposed? If this Bill ends up being better when it gets on to the statute book than it was when initially proposed, that will be in large measure due to the improvements made in another place. We therefore have reason to be grateful that the other place is available, and will remain so in the indefinite future, to assist us in the development of controversial and complex legislation such as this Bill.
It is a great pleasure to follow Dr Lewis, who brought his customary forensic skills to bear in his description of what has happened in relation to the Bill. I entirely accept his point about the resources that we will need to do the job properly.
I have been a member of the Committee since 2005. When we have had the opportunity to discuss oversight with parliamentarians from other parts of the world, they have always expressed envy for our system. I think that our system is now even more enviable. I am proud to be a member of the Committee and think that the changes will result in our being able, resources permitting, to do a better job than we have done so far.
On part 2, as Sir Menzies Campbell said in a customarily elegant and well-judged speech, in the best of worlds nobody would want to support closed material proceedings. He explained very well the particular circumstances in which many of us think they are necessary.
I have been struck in particular by how the views of people such as David Anderson QC have changed. He started out by saying that they were not acceptable and that there was no place for them in our legal system. He then had the opportunity to inspect the files of the cases pending and, as a result, he ended up with the same conclusion—in fact, it was almost identical—as the right hon. and learned Gentleman, namely that there is no ideal solution, so we have to make a choice between bad and worse, which is, in effect, what we have done.
I echo what the hon. Member for New Forest East has said. I have sat through much of the debate on this Bill, although some of us were not allowed on the Bill Committee, so I did not have the opportunity to debate it there. Much of the tone and rhetoric of the debate on the Floor of the House on Report and Third Reading would have been entirely appropriate if we had been discussing criminal proceedings, but we are talking about civil proceedings. The problem that we have to come to terms with is that, because the Government are unable to defend themselves in civil proceedings—some of those involved may be of good character, while others may be of doubtful character—they end up spending millions of pounds in compensation that might not be paid in other cases, but certainly would in others.
In conclusion, my hon. Friend Mr Slaughter on the Front Bench talked earlier about his amendment—which I and other right hon. Friends opposed on Monday evening—to, in effect, adopt the Wiley test for fair and open proceedings. He has failed to convince me repeatedly about such a test when the alternative is closed material proceedings. That makes no sense to me whatsoever. The real alternative, as the Minister without Portfolio said in his opening speech, is public interest immunity orders, which would mean that nothing got in front of a court or a judge. That is the choice. This is a better Bill than it was when it came from the other place. If there is no Division, I will support the Bill through my non-vote.
It is fascinating to follow Members’ comments on the internal dynamics of all parties, but I will not comment on them. I am not a fan of closed material proceedings, for reasons that have been expressed. I will not go through all the discussions we have had during the Bill’s previous stages.
The point has been well made that the measure does not apply to criminal cases, but there is a view that it does in some cases. We are still waiting for absolute clarity on whether it applies to cases of liberty and habeas corpus. I am sure that the Minister without Portfolio will be able to give us the latest update on that. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, James Brokenshire, made it clear in Committee that the position has changed somewhat.
Even without that, there are lots of cases where this is already in our law and which I find even more alarming, because they affect people’s liberty much more. We heard on Monday from Richard Fuller about a Special Immigration Appeals Commission case in his constituency. I remember talking to him about it two years ago, when his constituent was under detention during the period of the case, which was based on closed material proceedings, under legislation introduced by the previous Government. As I understand it, two years on the constituent is still being detained under the same legislation, because of evidence he has not had the chance to see. Whatever we think about a civil case, where money is involved, I hope that everyone here would say that a case involving two years of somebody’s life—curfews and the sort of internal exile that we saw with control orders and, to a lesser extent, terrorism prevention and investigation measures—is more serious. We should not allow ourselves to ignore that.
The Bill has been on a long journey and in that time it has got a lot better. Since the Green Paper, a huge number of changes have been made to what material would be excluded. There was the incredibly important switch from the language of public interest in keeping something quiet to the language of national security, which was definitely a step in the right direction. I do not think that anybody in the House wants to see silenced information that would just be embarrassing to the Government. I am sure that Governments would be quite capable of arguing that public interest includes their not being embarrassed too often.
It is also important that we have excluded inquests. It is right that we say to a family who want to know happened to a loved one that they will definitely know the truth and that they will not be told, “Something happened, but we can’t tell you.” It was a pleasure to follow Mr Howarth, but I was surprised that he, along with some of his Labour colleagues and some Conservative support, wished to bring inquests back within the scope of the Bill. I am very pleased that that amendment was not put. Had it been, I hope it would have been defeated thoroughly.
We saw further changes in the Lords. I pay great tribute to the Joint Committee on Human Rights for its sterling efforts. There are interesting questions about how the Government and the Joint Committee might work together more on some of these issues. We have had the slightly unusual case where the Joint Committee made some suggestions, the Government claimed to have satisfied them and the Joint Committee disagreed, but all this happened at a very slow pace. Perhaps there should be some way for the Committee, its Chair or the legal adviser to talk to the Government early on about draft amendments and to say, “Yes, this would achieve what we are trying to do, but with some wording differences”, as opposed to disagreeing fundamentally on whether it achieves the same thing.
As a new member of the Joint Committee, and with the Chairman in his place, I would like to say that we would certainly like a routine system that gives us time to look at the Bill and to report, not just to the Government but to the House, so that we can have a proper debate that does not get curtailed or circumscribed because there is no time to do either those jobs properly.
I agree. That is now firmly on the record.
As a result of the Joint Committee’s work in the Lords, we saw the switch from “must” to “may”, which gave judicial discretion. That was one of the key changes made to the Bill. As a result of our efforts in the Commons, that led to full equality of arms and the reporting and review process, which the Minister agreed to take away and then came up with. It is definitely moving in the right direction, but there is further to go. I have mentioned the clarity on the subject of habeas corpus, but there is still the issue of a renewal process, be it annual renewal or five-yearly renewal, to give the House the chance to say, “Is it doing just what its proponents want it to do, or is it going further, as many of us feared it would?”
There have been several votes on the principle of the Bill, including one in the House of Lords, when my colleagues were joined by a total of two Labour peers and one teller and five others, and lost quite convincingly. It is a shame that amendment 1, tabled by Caroline Lucas, was not taken on Monday, because it would have given the House the chance to have that vote. I pressed the same principle in Committee. I hope that the Lords will now step up and do more on this. Part 1 is a good step forward; part 2 is not. I hope that in the process of ping-pong we will be able to make further progress, because sadly it seems that it will pass through this House.
Oh, you are asking me to do maths as well. I will be extremely brief.
I have no quarrel with Sir Menzies Campbell in respect of his sincerity, honesty or support for human rights or how he put his case today. I disagree with his final point, but I have no quarrel with the judgment he reached or why he reached it, because I have observed him and his general approach to human rights in the House for a long time. When I say that I do not agree with him, it is not out of anger; it is out of sorrow. I am sure that in the next five minutes he will change his mind and take a different approach, or perhaps he will not.
My hon. Friend Mr Winnick put it well when he said that the House has to make decisions on important issues of human rights, liberty, the rule of law and the role of Parliament. Successively over the past 30 years, and even before that, we have enshrined in law on many occasions various forms of secrecy, denials of justice and denials of evidence, and people have been wrongly prosecuted as a result. There is a litany of miscarriages of justice that many Members of this House have been involved in over many years, most of which have centred on withholding evidence, secrecy or, in some cases, confessional evidence.
Since 2001, there has been a significant game change. Draconian anti-terror laws have been introduced in this country and many others. As a result, the most grotesque miscarriages of justice have taken place, including Guantanamo Bay and extraordinary rendition. All the legislation has been enshrined on the basis that we have to protect the security services and prevent what they do from seeing the light of day.
As I understand it, the Government’s position is that they cannot defend cases where there has been British involvement with other security services in the abuse of human rights when the individuals involved seek restitution in the British courts because it would mean identifying where their evidence came from. They have therefore paid out millions of pounds. Instead of admitting that we have been a party to human rights abuses, we are passing legislation to bring a new process into law.
I understand the point made by Dr Huppert, when he said that the Bill is not as bad as when it started its journey. My hon. Friend Dr Francis, the Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, has done a lot of good work to improve the Bill, as he has for many other pieces of legislation.
However, I feel that the Bill sends out the wrong message. We should have had a debate and a vote on the removal of part 2 on Monday. It is regrettable that we did not. I am opposed to the Bill because I do not like the secrecy or the protection of those who commit human rights abuses, whether they be in the pay of this state, another state or somebody else. The use of open courts and criminal law where appropriate is far more satisfactory. I therefore register my dissent against the Bill.
I am sorry to intervene late in my hon. Friend’s speech. Not only did we not vote on part 2; we did not even reach the provisions on Norwich Pharmacal. That means that a foreign power can now determine whether a British court can expose wrongdoings that take place under the auspices of that foreign power.
My hon. Friend makes a strong point and it is well put. The relationship with other security services appears to take precedence over rights, independence and justice in this country.
For the reasons I have given and for many others that would take up too much time, I have grave concerns about the Bill. We have a duty as parliamentarians to defend human rights and liberty, and not to cover up injustice and wrongdoing, which this Bill could end up doing.
I want to have a conversation with my good friend, my hon. Friend Dr Lewis. We all know that the Bill is about civil cases and not criminal cases, but as he well knows, because he has been a litigant, civil cases are very important and can affect a person’s whole life. They should therefore be treated with great seriousness.
We should not approach debates where human rights are involved by saying that the litigants belong to a class of people whom we find reprehensible. It may be that they are reprehensible, but that argument is often used about minorities. It is used at the moment about Islamists and it would have been used about the IRA in the 20th century, the civilian German nationals who were interned in 1940, the Fenians in the 19th century, the French earlier than that, the Jesuits in the 17th century, the Chartists and John Wilkes. So let us not get into the mindset of, “These are unpleasant people.” They also have a right to justice.
We should sometimes imagine how we would feel if we were the litigant. Let us suppose that we felt that something terrible had happened and our rights had been infringed in some way. How would we like a procedure whereby we went to court and halfway through the defence suddenly said, “This is all very secret and we cannot share it with you” and the judge said, “Okay, I’ll adjourn that and listen to the evidence on your behalf Member for New Forest East. You can trust me. I am appointed by the state. Or perhaps we can get some barrister appointed by the state and he can hear it”?
Let us then suppose that a few hours or days later the judge says, “You haven’t heard this evidence against you, but I think your case doesn’t stand up.” What happens when he sums up at the end of the case, as of course in public he cannot adduce all this secret evidence? How would hon. Members feel if they were the litigant? Would they feel that they had received justice? What does it say for our worldwide reputation if serious allegations about torture and so on are made and a large part of the case—and the reason why the litigant did not win his case—is determined on the basis of secret evidence?
We are then told that we are putting our security services at risk. That is nonsense, because the security services are like any other defendant, in that they can choose what evidence to submit to defend themselves. Is it really beyond the wit of man to defend these cases satisfactorily, for the most part? A question of the identity of agents may arise, but nobody is suggesting that the agent has to be brought before the court of law, or to have himself or his practices identified. Surely there are ways in which the case can be defended a lot of the time. I leave that point with my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East. I know he takes the rights of litigants and human rights seriously, and we are taking a serious step today—
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is a rule of law that if the Government are not able to defend an action and the evidence they are not able to put into court goes to the heart of the case, thus making the case unfair, they have the right to apply to strike the case out? If a case is untriable, the Government are able to strike the case out.
Yes, my hon. and learned Friend is an experienced leading counsel. I would have thought that there are various ways in which this problem could be resolved. The sky will not fall in. Our security services are not going to be put at risk. But there is a principle of natural justice and I think that we should proclaim it.