Mr Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con)
Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is a wonderful birthday present to rise to support the Government on this important and interesting legislation, which I am grateful to have had the opportunity to study and read around. In fact, it has been interesting to discover just how much one can learn about the work of the security and intelligence services.
Before going any further, it is worth taking this opportunity to say that, as a Member of this House and, indeed, as a former member of the armed forces, I have always believed our default position should be to stand with the police, the armed forces and the defence and intelligence services, which seek to secure our freedoms, to keep us safe and to work in the public interest.
When thinking of where I might find words to praise them, I went back to the 2016 report from the Intelligence Services Commissioner, the right hon. Sir Mark Waller. It was his final report before the institution was superseded, and he said in the executive summary, on page 5:
“I would like to record that the United Kingdom is extremely fortunate with its intelligence agencies. They combine an extremely high level of operational competence with a collaborative approach and a respect for the law which makes them trusted and respected internationally.
The UK Intelligence Community’s attitude to ethics in general, and legal compliance specifically, is impressive and reassuring. While there is some legal debate about certain powers, I have never seen any evidence that the agencies institutionally would knowingly break the law… In terms of my inspections, I have found that the substantial compliance teams in each organisation and the relevant departments of state think deeply about the application of executive power and the intrusion into the privacy of its citizens. Everyone I inspect approaches the process in an open manner. Indeed, rather than hiding problems, they are often proactive in raising the most difficult issues with me.”
I was very reassured to read those words from the former Intelligence Services Commissioner, who was responsible in Government for supervising the intelligence services. Indeed, I think all of Government could learn from that culture of compliance.
The point that I am trying to make is this. In this Bill, once again we are handing very significant powers to agents of the state that they will then use with some degree of discretion; I will come to specific examples later. That is why it is vital that from the top to the bottom, the entirety of Government is led with a spirit of compliance with the law—a compliance culture. The document—admittedly, a 2016 report—goes on to talk about some of the risks inherent in the security and intelligence services, and some of the safeguards that are in place. It is all very reassuring. Indeed, the later Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s most recent report also includes a number of important points about safeguards.
Let me turn to some specific points. We have already had a pretty good canter around clause 23, but as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam (Sir Jeremy Wright) said, it is worth pointing out that it is a widely drawn clause. We all have to be sensible and mature in recognising that our work overseas through the Secret Intelligence Service is bound to seek to procure just some of those things in the explanatory notes that we are making criminal offences in the UK. We have to be realistic that when we are furthering our own interests—sometimes against hostile powers—we need to give people this waiver in relation to seeking to procure offences overseas.
Of course, the security services must be able to encourage and assist offences overseas, particularly when it is deemed necessary, but deemed necessary by whom? The particular point I want to make about clause 23 that has not been made is that when one goes through the commissioner’s various reports, one can see there is a fairly widespread use of so-called section 7 thematic warrants, within which SIS in particular can operate with a fairly wide degree of discretion and with internal controls on what is done. That means that a person like me, who is always instinctively wary of powers given to the state, must trust that institutions not open to all of us to scrutinise have processes in place; and, as I have said, we can be reassured that they do have very robust and important processes, and a great culture of compliance with the law.
But what would happen if, God forbid, one day this country was led by somebody at the very top who did not have a strict culture of compliance with the law? I think I have made it clear how I voted tonight. And what if, after a period, that culture of non-compliance in No. 10 Downing Street were to permeate throughout the whole apparatus of the state? What if the machinery of government was changed so that supervision of the intelligence and security services was moved within No. 10—just for example, since that is proposed; or has it happened? It is certainly on the cards.
I am extremely wary of a clause drawn this widely in the context of thematic warrants. I should also say, with great respect to SIS, that there is within the commissioners’ documents—the most recent and the 2016 document—evidence of, shall we say, sparse record-keeping, which has not always served the institution well, particularly in relation to rendition, to which I will come. I therefore hope that my right hon. Friend the Security Minister will not mind my saying that there are extremely good reasons for drawing clause 23 a bit tighter, including defending the integrity of the institutions, and our brave men and women within them who defend us. There seems to be a general consensus that that should be done, so I hope that he will look carefully at clause 23.
The next point I wanted to make was about the 1989 Act, but we have cantered around that, so I refer to my earlier remarks; the issue of damage needs to be dealt with.
Let me turn to STPIMs. As I said to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, I remember when TPIMs were very controversial in this place. I think the principle involved in TPIMs and STPIMs is now water under the bridge: the point has been conceded and we have all moved on. I do not like fuzzy justice—to me, the idea of restraining somebody’s liberties without a conviction undermines the rule of law as it is generally understood—but okay, we have plenty of safeguards, so now the devil is in the detail. It will require minds more learned than mine to propose amendments to STPIMs to ensure adequate safeguards.
The reason why I am so interested in the Bill relates to the general assault on liberty that we saw after 9/11. As a former member of the armed forces, I thought that there were certain ultimate values that we were willing to fight and die to defend, and that we were compromising those values by giving the state the power to restrict liberty without a conviction—that is one of the reasons I came here. Well, I have to admit that I have lost that argument. It is water under the bridge, but it is a pretty important argument to have lost, so as part of reversing that assault on liberty post 9/11, I look to the Government and learned minds outside to ensure adequate safeguards in relation to STPIMs.