New Clause 3 - Access to intelligence material

Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:00 pm on 5 July 2011.

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‘(1) The Home Secretary will brief nominated representatives of Her Majesty’s Official Opposition on the intelligence material relied upon by the Home Secretary in pursuit of a TPIM notice under section 2 of this Act.

(2) The Home Secretary will agree with Her Majesty’s Official Opposition the mechanism for nomination of representatives under subsection (1).

(3) The Home Secretary will consult with the Independent Reviewer of Counter-Terrorism Legislation on the elements of the intelligence material referred to in subsection (1) that must be included in the briefing to the nominated representatives.

(4) The Home Secretary is not under an obligation to disclose all intelligence material relied on in issuing a TPIM notice but must brief the nominated representatives so that they have a sufficient understanding of the factors and actions the Home Secretary has taken into consideration in pursuing a TPIM notice against an individual.’.—(Shabana Mahmood.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Shabana Mahmood Shabana Mahmood Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

It is pleasure to rise to speak to the new clause, which was tabled following Lord Carlile’s evidence and in light of the Joint Committee on Human Rights report of 2010. Opposition Members do not have access to the intelligence material that the Government do. It can be difficult for us to engage fully in debate when we are not aware of all the issues at the forefront of the minds of the Home Secretary and her Ministers when making decisions about counter-terrorism.

I am conscious that there is a fair bit of knowledge of counter-terrorism issues among Opposition Members, having recently come out of government. However, the  new clause envisages a situation in which the Opposition have no access even to very recent historical intelligence evidence.

Photo of Julian Huppert Julian Huppert Liberal Democrat, Cambridge

The hon. Lady talks about opposition, and the new clause has a capital “O” for the official Opposition. Will she recognise that there are a number of parties that are not in government, and that even the Liberal Democrats may not always be in government? One of the issues identified by Lord Carlile was that he thought that our party should have access to this information. If the hon. Lady is going to go down that line, does she not agree that access should be wider than just the two main parties?

Photo of Shabana Mahmood Shabana Mahmood Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 4:15, 5 July 2011

I am grateful for that intervention because I was going to explain that the new clause is framed in such a way to enable a debate and to create a start for dialogue with the Government about how to put in place a mechanism to allow the official Opposition and other Opposition parties access to the intelligence material that Ministers see. I was not able to put this into the new clause, but the role of the Intelligence and Security Committee might be relevant. I am conscious that two of its members are sitting behind me. They have access to highly sensitive data and material. When they contribute to debates, they have that in mind, although they cannot in any way tell anyone about it. We might be able to have a discussion about the ISC’s role so that we can formalise a structure through which information might be shared, although I recognise that that any process could not affect its scrutiny function.

This area is worthy of more detailed discussion with the Government, so I will be grateful if the Minister indicates whether he will be prepared to enter into dialogue with the Opposition. When we engage in debates of such importance, it is important that we can do so on almost the same terms, although we recognise that those terms cannot be exactly the same.

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The new clause would require the Home Secretary to provide a briefing to the Opposition on the intelligence material forming the case against an individual each time a TPIM is imposed. The precise intelligence material to be shared would be agreed with the independent reviewer of counter-terrorism legislation and would have to provide

“sufficient understanding of the factors and actions the Home Secretary has taken into consideration in pursuing a TPIM notice against an individual.”

I agree that well-informed debate and a co-operative approach are important when considering matters such as terrorism legislation. However, the hon. Lady will appreciate that there are limitations to what is possible in this area, and that is why debates on matters of national security are often difficult. Some people are understandably reluctant to believe things without having seen the sensitive underlying material themselves. That was part of what Lord Carlile said in his report, and that, in many ways, is where the new clause stems from.

The issues are particularly sensitive when it comes to individual cases because a range of sensitive intelligence that may refer to ongoing investigations could be involved. It is because of those sensitivities that, even in government,  the underlying intelligence case is shared only with those Ministers and officials who have a need to know. It is not shared widely, so I am concerned by the new clause because of its grounding on that fundamental point. It would be unprecedented and inappropriate for Opposition politicians routinely to receive briefings on sensitive intelligence in individual cases.

As I said, such material is not shared widely beyond those who have a need to know. That has not been the practice of successive Governments, whether on control orders or other sensitive cases. That said, we are eager that any debates on these issues are as well informed as possible, so the Government will continue to provide briefings on Privy Council terms to Opposition Members when appropriate.

The hon. Lady referred to the role of the ISC. It is worth highlighting that the Green Paper looking at closed evidence and security is considering the ambit of the scrutiny that is applied to the security services. In some ways, I suppose that the role of the ISC comes within that context. If that forms a basis for further consideration and discussion, building on what Lord Carlile indicated in his last report, it might provide an opportunity to return to the issues in that purview.

It is right that, in most instances, the Privy Council briefings should be in general terms and on wider strategic issues, such as the terrorist threat picture. If more detail is provided, it should be on issues of critical and immediate importance to national security, such as when a major terrorist attack has occurred. It is not right that details of intelligence should be routinely provided for individual cases when there would be no clear purpose to doing so. I therefore invite the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood to withdraw the new clause, although I recognise the underlying point that she wished to pursue by tabling it.

Photo of Shabana Mahmood Shabana Mahmood Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I am grateful to the Minister for his comments. In light of our brief discussion, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

On a point of order, Mr Caton. Having concluded our debate on the Bill’s provisions and new clauses, we have reached the point in our proceedings when we thank you, Mr Caton, and Mr Scott, for overseeing our work in Committee. If I may say so, this has been a very good Committee. I have had the pleasure and privilege to serve on a number of Public Bill Committees over the past few years, including with several right hon. and hon. Members who are in the room. The quality of our debate and the contributions made by Members on both sides of the Committee have added to the scrutiny and consideration of the Bill prior to Report.

I have greatly appreciated our—at times robust—debates. Members have rightly made passionate contributions, and we have had a good Committee stage because of the engagement by all Committee members, our informed approach, and the constructive attempts to improve the Bill. We will certainly reflect on the proceedings of the past few weeks.

Mr Caton, you and Mr Scott have certainly kept us on the straight and narrow. You have kept us in order and assured that our proceedings have been undertaken  effectively. I thank the Doorkeepers for keeping us safe and ensuring that everything has been in good order in a broader sense. I also add my thanks to the Clerks for the support that they have provided to you, Mr Caton, and to other members of the Committee, and to the Hansard reporters for recording our Committee debates.

More broadly, I genuinely thank Opposition Front Benchers for the way in which they have engaged in our consideration of the Bill. I also thank Opposition Back Benchers for their contributions. There were occasions when I wondered where the Front Bench stopped and the Back Bench started, but Opposition Members have certainly added to our deliberations.

I thank my hon. Friends on the Government Back Benches for their sterling support. They have contributed their own points and thoughts, and our proceedings have been better as a consequence. I shall certainly mark out my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham, whose learned contributions have given rise to robust debates across the Committee.

I thank my Whip for his support. As hon. and right hon. Members will know, there are often two silent members of the Committee: the Whip and the Parliament Private Secretary, who ensures communication with officials. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon for his support and the service that he has provided.

Last, I thank my officials and the parliamentary counsel. Again, they are silent in Committee, but I pay tribute to their support outside the Committee and during our deliberations. Those who have been Ministers will appreciate their professionalism, dedication and hard work.

We have had a good Committee. It is notable that we have had sufficient time to consider the provisions carefully, in depth and in detail. We believe that the Bill sets out the right way forward following on from the counter-terrorism review. I look forward to continuing several of the debates that we have started in Committee when the Bill returns to the House on Report.

Photo of Gerry Sutcliffe Gerry Sutcliffe Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Further to that point of order, Mr Caton. May I put on record our thanks to you and to Mr Scott for your chairmanship of the Committee? Like the Minister, I want to thank the Clerks, and the Doorkeepers and the police, who all who keep us safe.

The quality of debate in Committee has been excellent. I am grateful that the Opposition had the experience of two former Home Office Ministers, now members of the Intelligence and Security Committee, who have been a big help. I am grateful to all Labour Members, including our Whip and my Front-Bench colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood, who I believe has to leave us shortly to go elsewhere. They have all done a sterling job.

The Minister was right about the quality of the contributions made by Government Members. The Government Whip usually tells their Back Benchers not to say anything, but that has not been the case in this Committee. We have heard some fantastic contributions, and I want to single out the hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham—I will visit his constituency when I am next anywhere near it—because  the expertise that he has brought to the Committee has been helpful. I thank Government Members for giving us their experience.

We have had a good Committee. I am sure that we will return to those issues about which we disagree on  Report, but I am grateful to the Minister for the generous way in which he has conducted himself, because I think that the Committee has been the better for it.

Bill, as amended, to be reported.

Committee rose.