I beg to move,
That Dr Julian Lewis be removed from the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament under Schedule 1 to the Justice and Security Act 2013 and Mr Keith Simpson be appointed to that Committee under section 1 of that Act.
Under the terms of section 1 of the Justice and Security Act 2013, members of the Intelligence and Security Committee are nominated by the Prime Minister and appointed by the respective House. The current vacancy for a Conservative member arises from the resignation of Dr Lewis. The Prime Minister has nominated Mr Simpson, following the required consultations with the Leader of the Opposition. The House is now being asked to make the appointment in accordance with the Act.
I will detain the House for just a brief moment. I indicated some months ago to the Chief Whip that it was my intention not to apply to stay on the Committee if I am fortunate enough to be re-elected to another term in this House. I did so because, although the intelligence agencies are, for the most part, well-resourced, well-led and do everything that we expect them to do, the situation is not so rosy for defence policy. In a choice between focusing on where I might be able to make a difference—on defence policy—and continuing with the pleasurable task of overseeing the intelligence and security services, I have opted for the former.
I should like to take this opportunity to say that it has been a fascinating five years, working with the excellent staff and under the outstanding chairmanship of my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Malcolm Rifkind. The Committee has worked harmoniously on many issues. I should like leave my term with the Committee by putting on the record just one thought. The intelligence agencies, the Security Service and GCHQ are damned if they do and damned if they do not. I saw this in relation to two inquiries. I shall make one point about each and then sit down to allow a great deal of unused time allocated for this short debate to be applied to other matters.
In relation to the Woolwich atrocity inquiry, people asked how the intelligence services knew that the people who went on to commit the atrocity had been radicalised, yet were unable to stop them. The answer is that—[Interruption.]
Order. Excuse me. The right hon. Gentleman is addressing the House. It is bad manners to witter away, Mr Simon Burns, when one of your own hon. Friends is addressing the House. Try—I know it is difficult for you—to learn some courtesy.
The question was often asked why it was that the intelligence services knew certain people had been radicalised and held extremist views yet were able to go on to commit attacks. The answer is that until people break the law they cannot be locked up. We really would be living in a police state if everybody with extreme views was followed 24 hours a day, which is the only way in which low-level and uncomplicated attacks can be prevented. There has to be evidence of attack planning. If not, some such things will inevitably slip through the net.
My only point on this matter is to say that, having tried to follow people, it takes 24 people to follow just one person. Just think of all the people in this country who we suspect of harbouring evil thoughts against us and imagine how big our security services would need to be.
That is exactly the case. It would take only a few hundred people with extreme views to exhaust the resources of any reasonably-sized security service in a modern democratic state, and that must never be the case. Instead, we should look at how many complex attacks have been carried out successfully and how many have been thwarted. As far as I am aware, no complex attacks have been successfully carried out on British soil since the 7/7 atrocities.
Moving on to the inquiry on privacy and security, this leads one to the question of where to draw the boundary between the wish to preserve the people’s privacy so their innocent communications are not examined and the need to develop leads that can be investigated further. I was a little surprised—I hope you will indulge me for a moment or two, Mr Speaker—to see a short item in The Times on Saturday about a protest by some of the privacy groups that had given evidence to the ISC on this question. It reads as follows:
“Civil liberties groups demanded last night that a parliamentary committee correct its report on the surveillance state, saying they had been deliberately misrepresented. The intelligence and security committee criticised the pressure groups over their opposition to GCHQ’s collection of bulk data on communications”—
Order. I must just warn the right hon. Gentleman not to be too persuasive in his oration, because if he is, the House might vote against the motion, forcing him to remain a member of the Committee that he has declared his desire to leave. I say that by way of a cautionary note and gentle encouragement.
I assure you, Mr Speaker, that I am on my ultimate—not even penultimate—point.
The report continued:
“and suggested that they believed that terrorist attacks were a price worth paying for individual privacy. The report reprinted edited transcripts of evidence sessions with Big Brother Watch,
Liberty, Justice and Rights Watch UK. Renate Samson, the chief executive of Big Brother Watch, asked the committee for an ‘immediate correction’ to its published report and said that the representation of the evidence session was ‘improper and false’. She said that the ISC’s portrayal of the evidence was ‘an attempt to undermine, discredit and damage our organisation’s reputation’. Isabella Sankey, director of policy for Liberty, said: ‘Instead of attempting to put words into the mouths of privacy campaigners, the ISC should have put its efforts into scrutinising the agencies.’”
People interested in the matter can judge for themselves. If they go to the ISC’s website, at http://isc.independent. gov.uk/public-evidence/15october2014, they will find the full transcript, and I suggest that they examine questions 19 and 20, put by Hazel Blears; questions 28 and 29, put by my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Malcolm Rifkind; and questions 32 and 33, put by Mr Howarth. In there, they will find the following exchange. The Chairman asked:
“If evidence emerged through bulk interception that even you acknowledged had led to terrorists being arrested or prevented from carrying out their objectives, are you saying that, as a matter of principle, you believe so strongly that bulk interception is unacceptable in a free society that you would say that that was a price we should be willing to pay, rather than allowing intelligence agencies to use bulk interception methods?”
Isabella Sankey, of Liberty, replied: “Yes.” Dr Metcalfe, of Justice, replied:
“Yes. Just as you would solve a lot more crimes if you had CCTV in everyone’s houses, and if you opened everyone’s mail and e-mail and read it on a daily basis. Yes, you would solve a lot more crimes and a lot more terrorists would be in jail; that would be a good thing, but it would be bad for our society as a whole.”
The Chair then asked:
“And that is the view of your colleagues as well?”
The director of Big Brother Watch replied with one word: “Yes.”
It has been a pleasure serving on this Committee. When it was put to me that it would assist my right hon. Friend Mr Simpson to get his feet under the table, even for the last few days of this Parliament, I was only too happy to accommodate him. He will be a splendid successor, and perhaps he will not try the patience of the House as long as I have today.