Yesterday's House of Commons debate on the Anti-terrorism Crime and Security Act report by the Newton Committeee of Privy Councillors has been completely overshadowed in the media by the ex GCHQ translator trial and Claire Short Official Secrets affairs.
The MI5 expansion was officially announced in a bizarre and weasely fashion:
" Mr. Blunkett:
The surveillance and work of the security services are our best means of prevention, and that is why I can confirm that we have already substantially increased the resourcing of the Security Service so that we can double its capacity to process and use the materials that it adduces as part of its intelligence gathering. The development of the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre that we established last June will be helpful for drawing together a range of evidence from not only MI5, but MI6, GCHQ and the defence intelligence service. The increase of staff numbers by 50 per cent. will also be helpful.
Mr. Oaten: Liberal Democrats fully support the Home Secretary's plans to staff up MI5 and other intelligence services. He said in the press?and just now on the Floor of the House?that he expects a doubling of staff. What is the date by which he hopes to achieve that increase?"
N.B. an increase of staff numbers by 50 per cent (i.e. allegedly from around just over 2000 to 3000) is an increase of one half, and not a "doubling of staff" i.e. an increase of 100%. which would imply about 4000 staff.
Update from the new MI5 website which was re-launched at the end of April 2004:
"The Security Service currently employs around 2,200 people, 2,100 of whom are full-time. 47% of staff are women and 53% are under the age of 40. 140 staff currently work in the Service on secondment or attachment from other departments and agencies."
"Mr. Blunkett: That has already begun. I confirm that at the end of last year we agreed additional resources for this year and the next with the Security Service so that it could develop its work, as it has been doing. We described that privately and in more detail to the Intelligence and Security Committee. Obviously, recruitment, training and ensuring that people operate in an acceptable way takes time. Resources have been provided at each stage at which the Security Service has requested them so that it may continue its expansion at a scale and rate that is appropriate to its ability to recruit.
We have also increased the co-ordination of special branches, following the review that we undertook, by pulling them together into eight regional co-ordinating units. We have appointed a new co-ordinator, Bryan Bell, who was the assistant chief constable of Cleveland, to undertake that work. I referred to the White Paper a moment ago, and I shall say more about that and the necessary border controls and co-ordination in due course. All the elements go together in terms of prevention, surveillance and making sure that we act on an acceptable basis.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): I hope that the Home Secretary will accept that I wish to make a non-partisan point. It is vital that the security services are expanded to meet the threat, but is it really such a good idea to make announcements that major recruiting programmes are under way in advance of the expansion? Is there not a danger that people sympathetic to the al-Qaeda cause may make special efforts to get themselves recruited? Would it not usually be better to do the recruitment first and make the announcement afterwards?
Mr. Blunkett: Actually, that is what I have just said; I was very careful. I notice that the right hon. Member for
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Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), who is a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee, is smiling. He knows that that is correct. I was confirming that we had done it rather than giving al-Qaeda notice that something terribly new was about to happen. However, I take the point.
Dr. Lewis: I am sorry to have to return to this point, but the BBC news report on this subject stated:
"The Home Secretary will announce plans to recruit another 1,000 staff in Parliament next week".
Is he saying that the report is wrong and that the recruitment has already taken place, or is he saying that it is going to take place?
Mr. Blunkett: The BBC was wrong in only one regard. I am confirming the event this afternoon. The point is well taken that we do not want to parade what we are doing to those who would use what we are doing against us. The point is noted."
So why was the BBC the recipient of an accurate briefing, presumably by the Home Secretary himself or by someone acting on his authority, in advance of any statement to Parliament on thes important National Security matters ?
Unsuprisingly, despite the call by the Newton Committee to replace the Internment without Trial part 4 section of the Anti-terrorism Crime and Security Act, this was rejected by the vote of the Labour and Conservatives, against the Liberal Democrat amendment, with the honourable exceptions of some of those who had spoken knowledgably in the sparsely attended (except for the actual vote) debate.