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Wednesday, 11 June, 2003, 13:40 GMT 14:40 UK
The infamous dossier
Ann Taylor
'Risks are being taken with national security.' Thus the Intelligence and Security Parliamentary Committee in its annual report.

It's the organisation which is supposed to uncover whether the Prime Minister misrepresented intelligence reports to try to ginger up support for the war in Iraq. But it also repeats - for the third time - that ministers are not exercising strategic control over the intelligence services.

Is anyone listening? And if not, how can Downing Street be held to account?

The Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee is the former Labour Cabinet Minister, Ann Taylor. Jeremy Paxman spoke to her and asked her if she was confident that her Committee would get to the bottom of the information contained in the infamous dossier.

Chair, Intelligence & Security Committee:

I think so. We've seen every sign of co-operation so far. When we had our previous inquiry into the Bali bombings we didn't have any difficulties getting the information and witnesses we wanted.

Will you be able to compel the Prime Minister or any officials from Number Ten to appear before you?

We are confident we'll get to see all the people we want to see and if we don't we will say so.

How can a committee that is set up by the Prime Minister, hold the Prime Minister to account?

We hold the Government to account yearly in our annual report. We publish criticism that we make of the agencies or the Government and indeed of ministers. Our report is published and debated in Parliament. We make our criticisms publicly known. It was the same on the Bali report and it will be the same on this report when it's published in due course.

The Government doesn't pay the slightest attention to you?

Well, everybody will be able to read our report. You are wrong as the Government did pay attention to us on Bali. We criticised the threat assessment system and we made recommendations. There have been changes to the threat assessment system. We are pleased to see that. We feel the work we did was constructive.

We have here a committee appointed by Government. Which meets in secret. Which can't compel witnesses to attend and which will publish, we hope, a report likely to be splattered with asterisks.

If you look at the Bali report there were no asterisks in that. If you look at the Bali inquiry, no-one refused to give evidence. If you look at the Bali report we got all the papers we wanted, hence the ability to make a report which had practical recommendations - then taken on board and debated in Parliament. We've every confidence we will get the full co-operation of Government. There is no possibility that the evidence we take could be taken other than behind closed doors because some of it is highly classified. If we didn't take it behind closed doors then we wouldn't be given that evidence at all.

How can you know you have had all the evidence if the decision to give you the evidence is in the hands of those people into whom your inquiring?

We start off with assessments and explain the process in our Bali report. Then ask for extra information dependant on what's there. We also compare notes with people who are conducting inquiries. We will keep an eye on what is happening in the States. There have been significant and specific allegations made in the press over the last few weeks. We'll be able to take some detailed evidence and get information on that. You ought to remember that we started this process in February and we state in our report what our initial impression was of the dossier that was published last September and the different dossier that was published in February, and why some of the difficulties arose and indeed what's been done since about the use of the intelligence-derived material in dossiers of that kind. We've been asking questions. We do have reference points when it comes to following up these issues.

The Prime Minister, before he became Prime Minister, said that the powers to withhold evidence from you were "far too sweeping".

Many people had severe doubts about this committee when it was first established in '94.

Aren't they right?

Over the years you have seen a great deal of change, in terms of the information made available to the committee. It was Robin Cook who said that appearing before our committee was a very tough call indeed. He did go on-the-record, publicly, as talking about the way that the committee work and was flattering about the committee.

Do you think this arrangement for oversight of the intelligence services is the best possibility one we could have?

It's inevitable that it will always be an evolving situation. You've got to remember that it wasn't until '94 that we even publicly recognised the existence of SIS or GCHQ which was a peculiar situation. The confidence and competence of the committee has increased over the years, as people have developed some expertise. What happens in the future, I don't know. It's inevitable that when you are dealing with highly-classified information you aren't going to get public hearings that some people might like to be flies on the wall for. We take our job seriously. We put in a lot of hours. Most members of my committee, indeed all, are senior members with a lot of experience. We are not going to waste our time if we don't think that something worthwhile is going to come out of it at the end.

Ann Taylor. Thank you.

This transcript was produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.

Jeremy Paxman
spoke to the Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, the former Labour Cabinet Minister, Ann Taylor.
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