The National Security Council takes critical decisions about keeping this country safe. It was established in 2010, in part following lessons learned from the Iraq war, to ensure proper co-ordinated decision making across the whole of Government. It operates with the full breadth of expertise in the room, with Ministers from the relevant Departments and advisers and officials, including the Chief of the Defence Staff, the Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, the heads of the intelligence services and others.
The decisions that it makes are critical to the safety of British citizens and to British interests both in this country and around the world. For example, it is inconceivable today that the Cabinet could take a decision to commit combat troops without a full and challenging prior discussion in the NSC, on the basis of full papers, including written legal advice, prepared and stress-tested by all relevant Departments, and with decisions formally minuted. I am sure that the whole House will recognise how important it is that those decisions are taken in an environment in which members of the council and those who advise them feel free to speak their mind, with absolute certainty that the advice that they provide and the conclusions that they reach will remain confidential.
The leak investigation into the disclosure of information about 5G was constituted in order to ensure that the integrity of the NSC in general was upheld and, vitally, that participants in NSC meetings could continue to hold full confidence in its operation and the confidentiality of its proceedings. The Prime Minister set out her response to evidence from the leak investigation last night, and has thanked all members of the National Security Council for their full co-operation and candour during the investigation.
The unauthorised disclosure of any information from Government is serious, and especially so from the National Security Council. The Prime Minister has said that she now considers that this matter has been closed, and the Cabinet Secretary does not consider it necessary to refer it to the police, but we would of course co-operate fully should the police themselves consider that an investigation were necessary.
The House will recognise that it is the policy of successive Governments of different political parties not to comment on the detail of leak investigations, and I will not comment on specific circumstances or personnel decisions.
The primary duty of any Government is to keep our country safe and secure. On that we all agree. This leak from the National Security Council is a fundamental breach of that duty. Let us be clear here: the Prime Minister believes that her former Defence Secretary leaked information from the National Security Council; he vehemently denies it. Only one of these accounts is accurate.
I do not think we have ever seen a leak from the National Security Council, and that is why this is so serious. The damning letter from the Prime Minister was a result of her understanding that to leak from that committee was an abdication of responsibility and public duty. It is indicative of the malaise and sickness at the heart of this ailing Government. It is indicative of the sorry state the Conservative party finds itself in. In response to receiving the most brutal sacking I can think of, Gavin Williamson has protested his innocence. Therefore, this matter cannot be, as the Prime Minister says, closed.
The essential point here is that the Prime Minister has sacked the Secretary of State for Defence because she believes there is compelling evidence that he has committed a crime, but despite that she does not believe that he should face a criminal investigation. Where is the justice in that? In what world is it acceptable that the Prime Minister should be the arbiter of whether a politician she believes is guilty of criminal conduct in office should face a criminal investigation? Can the Minister confirm that there were no leaks from the leak inquiry itself, given that details seem to have been passed on to a national newspaper on
At the heart of this battle in the National Security Council was whether the Prime Minister’s judgment that Huawei should be allowed to be part of our critical infrastructure network was sound. Many believe it was not. Our Five Eyes partners are so concerned about the UK allowing this company to participate in our 5G network that they are considering whether they can safely continue to share intelligence with us. The Minister will know that for the Americans and the Australians to raise public concerns on this matter is unprecedented. The Five Eyes network is the intelligence apparatus that has helped keep this country safe for nearly half a century. I know that. I have been a Defence Minister, and I have seen the material that we share with each other in total confidence.
In his defiant challenge, the former Defence Secretary has put the Prime Minister’s integrity and judgment in the spotlight. Whether or not he is guilty should be a question for the criminal justice system. The question that the Minister has to answer today is whether he is confident that the Prime Minister’s decision to allow Huawei to participate in our 5G networks keeps this country safe and protects our intelligence relationships with our allies.
The hon. Gentleman elided several different subjects in his questions. On the substance of the Government’s policy decisions, it has been said already from this Dispatch Box several times that the review of 5G networks by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is a matter of public record. The Government have committed to telling the House of their conclusions once those decisions have been taken and approved at all levels within Government and once we are ready to bring the information to the House. That will be the time for the House to learn what the Government have decided and to hold Ministers to account for their decisions.
I can reiterate to the House that the Government’s priorities for the future of telecommunications remain stronger cyber-security practices, greater resilience throughout telecommunications networks and diversity in the marketplace. Again, as has been said before from this Dispatch Box, this is a policy challenge that goes beyond a single company or even a single country, and we continue to work very closely with all our Five Eyes allies and with other international partners.
The problem with this particular case was not so much the material disclosed as the forum from which the leak came. The Prime Minister set up the inquiry and took the decisions she took yesterday in order to maintain the integrity and secrecy that is essential for the proper conduct of the business of the Government of the United Kingdom, whichever party happens to be in office. As far as I am aware, the inquiry was conducted on the basis of confidentiality throughout its proceedings. It came to conclusions that were reported to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and she took the decisions she announced yesterday.
This boils down to what is set out in paragraph 1.6 of the “Ministerial Code”:
“Ministers only remain in office for so long as they retain the confidence of the Prime Minister. She is the ultimate judge of the standards of behaviour expected of a Minister and the appropriate consequences of a breach of those standards.”
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is not only the work of our intelligence and security services that could be compromised by unauthorised disclosure but the Council’s access to information and advice provided by our allies on a top secret basis? Can he reassure us therefore that our allies have been reassured in turn that this sorry episode will not be repeated?
Appropriate contact is of course being made with our key allies, as my right hon. Friend would expect. He is absolutely right. I, like he, can recall discussions that involved not only material of the highest level of classification within the UK Government system but the sharing of information disclosed to us in confidence by key allies. Without going into detail—for obvious reasons—I should remind the House that among the subjects discussed at the National Security Council in the last year alone have been our analysis of and response to the chemical weapons attacks in Salisbury and our analysis and response to the civil war and conflict in Syria. I think that Members on both sides of the House will appreciate the importance of these discussions remaining confidential at all times and of all participants having full confidence that that will continue to be the case.
This is a most disgraceful episode from Gavin Williamson. Fair play to the Prime Minister for acting as swiftly as she did, but I am afraid that it is not in her gift to say that the matter is closed. Indeed, the fact that we are here shows that it is far from closed. The fourth paragraph of the Prime Minister’s letter states that all the Cabinet Ministers interviewed
“answered questions, engaged properly, provided as much information as possible”,
yet the conduct of the right hon. Gentleman was not “of the same standard”. What was his conduct? What exactly did he avoid answering?
What is the purpose of this investigation? Surely to God it was not set up only to determine who the leak came from. Surely once that has been determined there must be a more severe consequence than just someone losing their Cabinet position. If the integrity of the Government—what is left of it—is not to be further shot to pieces, there must be more severe consequences. Does the right hon. Gentleman who has been sacked have a future in the Conservative party, or will he be suspended from it? Will he be eligible for future candidacy within the Conservative party, and will he have his CBE removed by the Government? Finally, will the Minister stand at the Dispatch Box and answer a clear question? Has the Official Secrets Act been broken—yes or no?
The hon. Gentleman’s final question is not a judgment that I or any other Minister in any Government can make. Whether a criminal offence has been committed is a matter for independent prosecution authorities, and ultimately for the courts. I said earlier that I would not go further into the details of the investigation and its conclusions than had already been set out in the Prime Minister’s public statement.
Members across the House will recognise the history of the close working relationship between my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire, and that ought to persuade the House that the Prime Minister would not have taken such a decision were there not compelling evidence and no credible alternative explanation for what happened. As the hon. Gentleman said, the Prime Minister stated in her letter that during the investigation the conduct of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire and his team was in contrast with the full co-operation received from other ministerial members of the NSC and their teams, and the Prime Minister came to the decision that she announced last night.
On the hon. Gentleman’s request for further punishments, honours are not a matter for a ministerial decision but for an independent committee in any case, but I would just say that my right hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire has lost a job that he loved and to which he was utterly committed, and I think that should stand.
I entirely endorse the words used by my right hon. Friend in his statement, and it is necessary that the working of the National Security Council is kept confidential. Without that, our allies cannot trust us, and it would become impossible to discuss secret matters within Government. Does he agree that we seem to have watched the progressive breakdown of collective responsibility? Unfortunately, that appears to have a corrosive quality, which starts in people’s willingness to contradict colleagues over policy issues in Cabinet, and creeps incrementally into a willingness to brief externally on discussions of an increasingly secret nature. Does he share my hope that if some good comes out of this most unfortunate episode, it will finally be a shot across the bows for those who think that such behaviour is acceptable?
I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend about the corrosive effect of unauthorised disclosures. We all have to be honest with ourselves. I do not think there has been a Government in history from which there have not been leaks and gossip from time to time—as I look at Labour Front Benchers, my mind goes back to what we saw under the Blair and Brown Administrations. But I do want to say this in response to my right hon. and learned Friend: above all, when it comes to National Security Council discussions—I think this applies to the Cabinet, too—there is great merit in the very old-fashioned precept that Members should speak with complete candour in the room and shut up when they get outside.
Stewart Malcolm McDonald asked the Minister a very direct question: whether he thought that the Official Secrets Act had been broken. In reply, the Minister said that it was for others to decide. Has the Attorney General been asked for his opinion? Was any other legal advice sought by the Prime Minister in coming to her conclusion?
It is not a matter for the Attorney General or any other Minister. This decision has been taken on the basis of the lack of confidence that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, regrettably, came to feel in my right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State for Defence. It followed the principles I set out in quoting from paragraph 1.6 of the ministerial code.
Having been somewhat involved in the establishment of the National Security Council in its current form, and having sat on it for six years, I completely understand the Prime Minister’s correct understanding that it has to be, as the Minister said, a sealed container if it is to do its work appropriately. Does he agree that notwithstanding the rather brilliant confections of Opposition Members, on this occasion—thank goodness—so far as the substance is concerned and regardless of its legal standing, which I accept is a matter for others to decide, there does not appear to have been a compromise of any classified information?
I do not want to rush to make that assumption because normally all papers that are considered by the National Security Council are at an extremely high level of classification. The key point—I think this is the thrust of my right hon. Friend’s question, and I agree with him on it—is that the issue at stake was less the substance of the material that was disclosed than the principle of a leak from the National Security Council. The fact of that leak—that breach of confidentiality—is what puts at risk the mutual trust that is essential for all Ministers and advisers attending those meetings to have in one another, and the trust, as my right hon. Friend Sir Michael Fallon said earlier, that we expect our allies to have in our respecting the confidentiality of the material that they share with us.
The Prime Minister may or may not be right, and as far as the Government are concerned, her exchange of letters yesterday is the end of the matter, but surely when it comes to matters in this House, different considerations apply. Gavin Williamson and the Prime Minister are both Members of the House, and they now have very different versions of events in relation to a matter of some national importance. It is surely important that the House should know which of them is right. For that reason, surely either the Prime Minister has to publish the evidence on which she relied, or somebody else has to be allowed to mark her homework. It cannot be possible that both mutually contradictory versions can be allowed to stand.
What we are talking about is a leak inquiry, carried out on the instruction of the Prime Minister, on behalf of the Cabinet Secretary, by another appropriate official, into the unauthorised disclosure of the proceedings of the National Security Council. It is an internal Government matter, just as any such disclosure and any leak inquiry would be considered a matter for the Government concerned—Labour, Conservative or coalition. I really do not think that it would be right to be in a position where the House collectively tried to establish itself as an investigating authority into internal matters relating to the conduct of Ministers as members of the Government, or the conduct of officials as members of the Government. Those are matters that it is quite proper for the Government to determine, and it is then for Ministers, as I am doing this morning, to come to explain the Government’s decision and be held to account by the House.
Having also sat on the NSC for several years, I recognise the importance of undertaking this leak inquiry. However, at the heart of this is a broader question about the approach that both the NSC and the Cabinet need to take to serve the national and public interest. I completely agree with my right hon. Friend on the NSC, but surely an element of this extends to how Cabinet is conducted, the rules around it and the behaviour of those who sit in the Cabinet.
Is it not now time to be clearer about the ministerial code of conduct and the role of the public interest in briefings given externally? I say that because we have a freedom of information law that clearly sets a public interest test that is routinely applied by Departments, yet it seems that the Secretaries of State running those Departments can routinely set that test themselves, without any regard for the way in which their officials would do so from day to day by almost certainly excluding ever publishing advice to Ministers when the public ask for it.
I disagree with my right hon. Friend on this point. I think that Ministers and their officials take their duties to put the public interest first very seriously. That is absolutely central to the principles of not only the ministerial code, but the civil service code which, let us not forget, has statutory force, unlike the ministerial code. In my experience of the last nine years in government, Ministers take those principles very seriously indeed, and their officials—particularly senior officials—are clear and robust in reminding Ministers of those duties. I agree with my right hon. Friend in hoping that lessons will be learned from this particular episode about the importance of mutual trust and the confidentiality of Cabinet proceedings.
For well-rehearsed reasons, this is clearly an extremely serious matter, and it is aggravated by the source of the leak being the Secretary of State for Defence. Many people believe that this really marks the complete disintegration of the Government, with some of their members—I emphasise “some”—having completely swept aside any scrap of decency and honour in the pursuit of blatant personal ambition. This is really important. This is not somebody who has said, “I fundamentally disagree with this decision because it is against the public interest.” It is somebody who has leaked information because of his personal ambition and because of the crisis that exists in government. I do not think there is any question at all—no ifs, no buts—that this matter has to go to the police. In that event, will the Minister undertake that the Government will fully co-operate at all levels—including all Ministers, aides and officials, including special advisers—in that police investigation, which is now critical?
If the police consider an investigation to be necessary, the Government, at all levels—Ministers, officials and special advisers—will give full co-operation.
In this country, we believe in natural justice. In any company, the civil service or anywhere else, someone accused of a disciplinary offence, let alone a criminal offence, is given a chance, in an impartial forum, to prove their innocence. As a matter of natural justice, how will the former Defence Secretary now be given an opportunity to prove his innocence?
It is difficult not to sympathise with the former Defence Secretary, because in a kangaroo court one cannot prove oneself innocent. That is what many of us are worrying about. If the former Defence Secretary has done what is alleged, he should of course face the full criminal law, but the Minister is completely wrong to say that it has nothing to do with the Attorney General. The Official Secrets Act states categorically that a prosecution can proceed only if the Attorney General allows it to proceed. Any member of the public can go to the police and demand that there be a full investigation—I suspect that many people will—but has the Attorney General’s advice already been sought, and how will the former Defence Secretary be able to make his representations to the Attorney General?
The hon. Gentleman mixes up a number of matters. The Attorney General’s consent is required to a prosecution under the Official Secrets Act, but the Attorney General has no power to initiate an investigation or a prosecution. The hon. Gentleman is also continuing to confuse two points. What we are dealing with—this is at the heart of the issue and the decision before the Prime Minister yesterday evening—is not so much the substance of what has been disclosed as the fact that the leak was of proceedings of the National Security Council. Therefore, whether or not the various harm tests under the Official Secrets Act were met in this particular case, the Prime Minister reached the decision that, regrettably, she no longer had confidence in my right hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire. That was why she reached that decision in her assessment of the public interest.
The right hon. Member for New Forest West looks as though he is about to start to sprint. I think that he must be heard.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Outside this House, a right hon. Member is being called a liar, and inside this House, a number of Members have implied as much. Natural justice demands that the evidence be produced so that his reputation can be salvaged or utterly destroyed, doesn’t it?
I have, I think, taken great care in the language that I have used in the House today, and I am not in the business of going around making allegations of the kind that have apparently been made outside the House. The fact is, however, that having read the investigation report, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister reached the conclusion that there was compelling evidence to suggest responsibility on the part of the former Secretary of State for Defence for the leak from the National Security Council, and that was why she took the decision that she did
Of course the principles of good governance must be upheld, but does this mark a turning point? Further to the question asked by my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve, does this mean that in future we will not see breaches of ministerial collective responsibility that undermine our negotiating position as we leave the EU?
I sincerely hope that all Ministers will abide by the principle that one speaks with complete frankness in trying to shape and take decisions about collective Government policy, and then when one leaves the room one supports that Government policy and does not disclose details of the various arguments and debates that may have taken place in Cabinet or Cabinet Committees.
I do not know whether Gavin Williamson has undertaken a leak or not—I am not party to that information—but from having sat on the Intelligence and Security Committee and being subject to the same official secrets arrangements and the same briefings that Ministers get, I do know that if I had leaked from that Committee, I would have been subject to a criminal prosecution. My question to the Minister is simply this: did the Cabinet Secretary’s report or the Prime Minister’s assessment suggest that at any time the criminal threshold has been crossed, and has a report been made at any time to the police, as would be the case for any crime committed on business or personal premises?
Clearly if there had been evidence to convince the Cabinet Secretary that a crime had been committed, or that prima facie a crime might have been committed, he would have reported that to the Prime Minister and come to a different judgment about whether the Government needed to refer the matter to the police. The decision that the Cabinet Secretary came to was that this matter did not need to be referred to the police. To take up the right hon. Gentleman’s initial point, there is a difference between the tests for criminal offences that are, as he will recall, set out in great detail in the various sections of the Official Secrets Act, and falling below the standards of confidentiality and other conduct required of Government Ministers under the ministerial code.
There are a few troubling aspects of this affair, to put it mildly. As we have seen—most people would, I think, agree about this—there have been a number of leaks from the Cabinet as a whole, particularly in the past two years, yet inquiries into those leaks either do not seem to have been pursued or have not led anywhere. An impression is given that a leak from the Cabinet might be okay but a leak from the NSC is not, and we must be very careful to avoid that. I do not think the ministerial code even mentions the NSC or says that it requires a higher level of propriety. Are there any proposals to change the ministerial code in this regard?
Because the National Security Council is constitutionally a Committee of the Cabinet, it is automatically covered by the provisions of the code that apply to the Cabinet and all Cabinet Committees. The particularly serious nature of this leak is derived from the fact that it is inherent in the nature of National Security Council discussions and the papers going before it that the very highest degree of secrecy needs to be maintained, but my right hon. Friend’s point about the need for higher standards as regards Cabinet and Cabinet Committee meetings is also well made.
The Minister just said that the former Defence Secretary is not accused of committing a criminal act. If he broke the Official Secrets Act, he is accused of committing a criminal act. Can the Minister now answer the question that has been asked three times and he has failed to answer: has the advice of the Attorney General been sought or not?
As I said in response to an earlier question, the role of the Attorney General under the Official Secrets Act is not to authorise or initiate investigations, but to give or withhold consent for a prosecution if and when a finished case is presented to him.
I know from sitting firmly on the other side of the official ministerial divide how hard it is to get officials, let alone our allies, to share important, and particularly secret, information with Ministers at all. Does my right hon. Friend agree that what matters is that we protect the integrity of the National Security Council if it is to operate at all properly?
How can this matter be closed as far as our security partners are concerned given that Gavin Williamson has said that he is innocent? Has he been interviewed under oath at any stage during the investigation, because I note that he is not here to set out his position on the Floor of the House and it is vital that our security partners now have confidence? If it was not the former Secretary of State for Defence, who was it?
It is regrettable that the Deputy Prime Minister did not offer to make a statement to the House and instead had to respond to an urgent question, and that he is not giving away the information that Members are requesting. The former Secretary of State has sworn on the lives of his children that he did not leak the information. This seems to have been a kangaroo court reaching a decision in secret without any evidence to base that decision on. Mr Speaker, you will remember what happened to my right hon. Friend Mr Mitchell. There was a rush to judgment and he was forced to resign, but it was then proved that what he was saying was true. Is the Deputy Prime Minister absolutely sure, without any reasonable doubt, that the former Secretary of State is guilty, or could it just be possible that the kangaroo court has made a mistake?
There was a thorough investigation. Every ministerial member of the National Security Council, and those officials and special advisers who might have had access to the material relating to the proceedings of that particular meeting, was spoken to and, as the Prime Minister’s letter yesterday made clear, co-operated fully with the investigation. The investigation report was presented to the Prime Minister by the Cabinet Secretary and, having studied it, my right hon. Friend came to the conclusion that there was “compelling evidence” to suggest responsibility on the part of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire. As she said in her letter to him yesterday, she took into account the fact that, in the findings of the investigation, there was a difference between the conduct of the former Secretary of State and his team compared with the conduct of other Ministers and their teams. That is why she came to the conclusion that she did. I repeat that this comes back to the question of Ministers serving in office so long as they retain the confidence of the Prime Minister. That is a principle that has applied to every Government in this country, and it is what applied in this case.
By all accounts, the former Defence Secretary is the 38th person to lose their job in a Government riddled with incompetence and disloyalty, so it really is going some actually to be sacked by the Prime Minister. What she has described as a grave breach of trust has been enough to lead to his sacking, so why has it not been enough to call in the police?
For the reasons that I have given in response to a number of earlier questions. The key issue here is less the substance of what was disclosed and more the fact that the disclosure was made in respect of proceedings of the National Security Council.
Notwithstanding the particulars of this case, is it not time for the Government finally to bring forward the espionage Bill, which would include the long overdue root and branch reform of the Official Secrets Act? Despite the Deputy Prime Minister’s comments today, is it also not the case that Cabinet leaks will continue as long as Cabinet papers retain their current classification? Is it not time for a review of how Cabinet papers are classified, and should they not all be classified as secret or above?
The question of the classification of documents is kept under review the whole time. In my recent experience, some Cabinet papers have been classified at secret level and others at a lower level. The classification depends on the substance of what is included in those papers. My hon. Friend also asked about future legislation, and we are obviously keen to bring forward the measure to which he referred, and other Bills, to the House as soon as we can.
The former Secretary of State for Defence clearly thought that it was his way or the Huawei, and he has been told by the Prime Minister to go away, but he has not shut up. Is it not the reality that we will not get the truth unless the former Defence Secretary makes a resignation or sacking statement to this House and we have the chance to debate it to get to the bottom of the fiasco?
Whether my right hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire wants to apply to you, Mr Speaker, to make a personal statement is a matter for him, but there has been a public exchange of letters between him and the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister came to her decision for the reasons that she gave, and I have tried to set those out this morning. Her sense that the decision was necessary was accompanied by a sense of real sadness, because this is not a decision that any Prime Minister would take lightly and it would not be made without considerable regret.
The National Security Council is a relatively modern phenomenon, and my right hon. Friend has set out some of the issues that the body discusses. The clear concern of the House, however, is that if my right hon. Friend Gavin Williamson is not responsible for the leak, which is what he says, then someone within the NSC is. It is therefore vital that there is an independent police investigation to demonstrate whether or not he is guilty.
It is obviously for the police to decide whether they believe that the case merits their investigation, but it is not their job to conduct leak inquiries regarding material disclosed within Government, for which there is an established system. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister concluded in her letter to the former Defence Secretary that there was no credible alternative explanation to this particular leak.
The events of the past week have brought into sharp relief both the importance of handling such sensitive information responsibly and the perception that that is undertaken securely. With that in mind, will the Minister reassure me that if the Government had concerns that the Official Secrets Act may have been broken, the matter would be referred to the relevant authorities?
Clearly, the Cabinet Secretary made a careful assessment of those matters in coming to his judgment, but that judgment is that this is not something that the Government should refer to the police, and the Prime Minister considers the matter closed. Again, I repeat, it is the fact that this was a disclosure from the National Security Council that is at the heart of the seriousness with which the matter has been taken.
I welcome what my right hon. Friend has said, and I have two questions. First, will he confirm that it is not naive or misplaced still to believe that we have a senior civil service that is imbued with integrity and probity and that we can rely upon? Secondly, following the question from my right hon. Friend Sir Michael Fallon, we know that the security and intelligence family is close and, like all families, it relies on a mutual relationship of trust. Will the Minister assure me and the House that, rather than just taking it for granted that our allies consider that we are still trustworthy and steadfast, we will go out proactively and positively to reaffirm that case? Not to do so would clearly put our country at risk.
First, yes, I am very confident that we have an impartial and professional senior civil service that is always ready to serve the elected Government to the best of its ability, whatever political stripe that Government bear. Secondly, it is actions rather than words that will demonstrate to our allies on security and intelligence matters that they should continue to trust us, just as we look to their actions when there are reports of things going wrong within their systems, but it is absolutely right that we must act swiftly and be clear about putting right any flaws in our system of the kind that we have experienced with the NSC in the past couple of weeks.
Given that this has never happened before, is not the real question how it can be that the former Defence Secretary, or indeed anyone else, has felt so emboldened and confident to leak confidential information now? Is not the answer to that, in large part, that this Government are so fractured and weakened that they have lost the authority and cohesion to be able to govern? That process will now be compounded by the Government beginning to eat themselves alive in the search for a new leader. Is not the real way to guarantee that this does not happen again for the Government to put themselves out of their own misery and call a general election?
Dear, dear. It takes a bit of brass neck for an SNP Member to talk about fights between party leaders. The truth is that the Prime Minister has taken very firm and swift action in response to the leak investigation that was carried out on her instruction. The Government are getting on with the task of developing policies designed to protect and enhance the national security of the United Kingdom in respect of both the safety of our citizens and the defence of our interests around the world.
The various tests for a criminal offence are set out in detail in the Official Secrets Act. Whether or not that threshold has been breached depends on harm tests, and those harm tests are different depending on the category and the content of the information we are talking about.
Surely one risk of this leak is that it effectively predetermines the public mood on the substantive issue of Huawei in a more hawkish fashion before we have come to our own policy conclusions. Of course the Five Eyes are our most important allies, and we have to do everything we can to reassure them, but we are also a sovereign country, and we have our own unique circumstances and our own more nuanced position with Beijing, so can I urge my right hon. Friend to continue all the work across Whitehall in a calm, deliberative and, above all, objective fashion so that we come to the right policy on the point of substance?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those comments, and he is right. In carrying out that work, it is vital that we have a forum in the National Security Council where the intelligence chiefs can talk frankly to Ministers about their assessment of the balance of risks and threats this country faces and where Ministers, taking account of the best advice available to them, can weigh up how to strike the right balance between this country’s future and developing security interests and our future and developing economic interests to try to steer a way forward that delivers the best outcome for the people of the United Kingdom.
Should any evidence or confirmations disproving these allegations come to light as individuals write up this story, what would be the consequences or implications of that?
My hon. Friend invites me to engage in a bit of hypothetical speculation. If there were to be any such clear evidence, I think the Prime Minister would want it reported to her immediately and given to her in full. It would clearly need to be the provision of information that provided some other credible explanation for the leak that has taken place.
I hold the Minister in high regard. Last week, during Prime Minister’s questions, he implied that Huawei was “a private firm”, effectively at arm’s length from the Chinese state, as one of our own firms would be. Is that not at best a half truth? Huawei is 99% owned by Chinese trade unions and that, in effect, is being part of a one-party state. Therefore, Huawei is, in effect, an arm of the Chinese state.
Huawei is officially owned by its employees and is a private Chinese company. It is true, as I believe I said at the Dispatch Box and I have certainly said on previous occasions, as have other Ministers, that there is an issue here, in that Chinese law requires all Chinese companies to co-operate with the Chinese state. But, as I said earlier in response to another question, the review of 5G goes beyond a single company or a single country, because we need to make sure, among other objectives, that we have a diverse marketplace, so that the Government have a genuine choice of suppliers available to them.
I will take the points of order, on the assumption, which I would like to think is safe, that neither Member would seek to continue the debate we have just had. I feel sure that these are matters of order and that the Front-Bench Members will focus with a laser-like intensity on that.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In his answer to me earlier, the Secretary of State said that the matter of investigating a criminal act is one for the police, not for Ministers. Can you assist me as to what remedy there is if I think he may have inadvertently misled the House on that? While we have been in the Chamber, the Metropolitan police have told “ITV News” that the matter to investigate is one for the Cabinet Office and if it shares the information with the police they will investigate, but they will not investigate unless the information is shared. Will the Deputy Prime Minister clear this matter up? Is there a way he can do that? Perhaps he could agree to share the information with the police from the Dispatch Box.
The hon. Gentleman has, as I think he knows, found his own salvation: by means of the attempted point of order he has registered his point. He has placed on the record information that may have been known to some Members but, for example, was certainly not known to me, because I have not been consulting electronic devices but have been merely attending to my duties in the Chair. If the Minister wishes to respond, he is free to do so, but there is, at this point, no sign of him uncoiling. However, Tom Watson is a dogged terrier, and I feel sure he and others will pursue these matters if they feel so inclined in the days ahead.
Well, I am not sure I see the appropriateness of the inclusion of the word “former”.
“accused of any criminal offence”.
However, in response to my question, he said that that was not for him to determine. Given the further information just shared by the Labour Front Bencher, both of those things do not stack up, so I wonder whether the Deputy Prime Minister felt that he should, if you would indulge him, come to the Dispatch Box to clear up these issues that have been raised by me and Tom Watson.
I would if he did, but he doesn’t, so I won’t. But I rather fancy that these matters will be explored further in the days ahead. Realistically, it does not seem to me that there is obvious scope for the scrutiny of this matter further in the Chamber today, but who knows what subsequent days might bring. Let us leave it there for now.