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Clause 19

Part of Counter-Terrorism Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:45 pm on 29th April 2008.

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Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Minister of State (Security, Counter-terrorism, Crime and Policing), Home Office 5:45 pm, 29th April 2008

The amendments appear to have been drafted in the belief that clause 19 creates new permissions or prohibitions on what the intelligence and security agencies can and cannot disclose. It does not. The distinction between subsections (3), (4) and (5) is simply that they revert to the parent legislation and its definitions. For example, section 1(2) of the Security Service Act 1989 outlines the functions of the Security Service. They include the protection of the UK’s national security and economic well-being, a support role in respect of the prevention and detection of serious crime and so on. So when we consider the proper discharge of the functions of the Security Service—I cannot call it the SS. I got into trouble for saying that. We can call it the Security Service or SYS, but never, for obvious reasons, the SS, and quite rightly.

The discharge of national security is included in the functions, so there is no point in repeating it in the clause. National security is included separately in subsection (4) not because the Secret Intelligence Service somehow does not have such a function, but as the hon. and learned Gentleman will know, its principal concern is with the overseas dimension of activities rather than national security per se.

As I understand it, the functions outlined in the legislation do not include national security, because that is the job of the Security Service, but, clearly, for the purposes of the Bill and the information gateways that we are establishing, national security would be an additional function for SIS, and I believe it to be entirely the same for GCHQ. In other words, subsections (3), (4) and (5), as they currently stand, deliberately mirror the information gateway provided by section 2(2)(a) of the 1989 Act and sections 2(2)(a) and 4(2)(a) of the Intelligence Services Act 1994, and do more than that, by establishing the proper relationship in respect of disclosure.

Accordingly, the effect of lowering or removing criteria in subsections (3), (4) or (5) would not in itself allow or prohibit the agencies from disclosing information, as each agency will still be governed by the terms of the 1989 Act or the 1994 Act as appropriate.

I am sure that it is not, but if the intention of the amendments were to stop or undermine the agencies undertaking the full range of statutory functions that Parliament has set them, this would not be the way to go about it. I am sure that that is not the case. What we are dealing with in this clause is the ability to share data and disclose information. The clumsy interaction of subsections (3), (4) and (5) reflects more on the distinct nature of the parent legislation that created the agencies than anything remotely nefarious.