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MI5: Political Impartiality

Volume 478: debated on Monday 23 June 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department pursuant to the oral answer of 9 June 2008, Official Report, column 16, what criteria govern the range of subjects on which it is appropriate for the Security Service to express a professional view without contravention of its political neutrality. (210476)

[holding answer 16 June 2008]: The Security Service is the UK's security intelligence agency. It works to protect the UK against covertly organised threats by obtaining, collating, analysing and assessing secret intelligence relating to threats to national security.

Section 1 of the Security Service Act 1989 establishes the functions of the Security Service as:

“... the protection of national security and, in particular, its protection against threats from espionage, terrorism and sabotage, from the activities of agents of foreign powers and from actions intended to overthrow or undermine parliamentary democracy by political, industrial or violent means ...”;

“ ... to safeguard the economic well-being of the United Kingdom against threats posed by the actions or intentions of persons outside the British Islands ...”; and

“ ... to act in support of the activities of police forces, the Serious Organised Crime Agency and other law enforcement agencies in the prevention and detection of serious crime ...”.

It is on these functions that it is appropriate for the Service to advise the Government, normally in private. This in no way conflicts with the duty placed on the Director General, by section 2(2)(b),

“... that the Service does not take any action to further the interest of any political party...”.

This requirement for political neutrality is reflected in the Home Secretary's reply of 9 June. There might from time to time be circumstances in which a statement is made for public information. It is for the Director General to decide when and in what circumstances to issue such a statement in consultation with the Secretary of State, other agencies or Departments, or the police, as appropriate.