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.