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Intelligence and Security Committee: Russia Report

Volume 804: debated on Thursday 9 July 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to facilitate the publication of the report of the Intelligence and Security Committee entitled Russia and sent to the Prime Minister on 17 October 2019.

My Lords, the Government acknowledge the continued interest in the publication of the Intelligence and Security Committee’s Russia report. This report is the independent ISC’s property and it is not for the Government to publish. We have received nominations from all relevant parties and are in the process of constituting the committee.

My Lords, despite that Panglossian reply, is it not abundantly clear that the Government deliberately and improperly suppressed the publication of the report to avoid embarrassment in last year’s general election? Why, six months after that election, have the Government irresponsibly failed to appoint a new intelligence committee which could publish the report? This is a shabby episode, increasingly typical of No. 10 Downing Street.

My Lords, the noble Lord’s statement was certainly not Panglossian, but it was very wide of the mark. An announcement on membership will be made very shortly, and a Motion will be tabled for agreement by both Houses next week. The noble Lord’s wild charges against the Prime Minister are wholly unfounded.

My Lords, it is widely known that Russia interfered in the Brexit campaign, with targeted influence operations and disinformation campaigns, and it continues to interfere, presently around Covid-19. The continued obstruction of the publication of the Russia report reinforces the reasons for an already catastrophic decline of trust in this Government, enables the continued undermining of democratic debate and damages the credibility of the ISC and the integrity of our democracy. How can this be justified?

My Lords, again, I reject the charge of delay or conspiracy of any kind, but I do agree most strongly with what the noble Lord, with his great experience, has said. We know that disinformation is a common tactic used by the Kremlin, and we always take proactive action to defend our democracy. The Government are engaging with international partners, industry and civil society to tackle this threat.

I would have thought that it would be in the Conservative Party’s interest to have the report published, simply because there are so many rumours swirling around about Russian interference in planning projects, for example—and it is true that the Conservative Party has taken £3.5 million from Russian donors over the past 10 years. To quash those rumours, would it not be better to publish the report and then if there is any fault anywhere, the donors could be given their money back?

My Lords, another series of wild charges, which I reject, has been read into the record. I repeat that an announcement on the membership of the committee will be made shortly and a Motion will be tabled for agreement by both Houses next week. The report is the property of the committee, not the Government.

My Lords, from Litvinenko to the Salisbury poisonings, we have seen the blatant actions of the Putin regime on British soil as well as those in Ukraine and elsewhere. I am banned from going to Russia for saying something somewhat disobliging about Putin. I understand what my noble friend says about the committee, but it is very important that we publish this report because it will be more disobliging than anything I have said and it will let the British people and, indeed, the British Parliament see the malignant behaviour of the Putin regime in this country and elsewhere. Please can my noble friend facilitate, so far as he is able, the publication of this report?

My Lords, I will not repeat what I said about the view that we take of the Putin Government’s disinformation activities. I note what my noble friend said. I hope I have told the House that a Motion will be tabled for the establishment of the committee next week, and I am sure the committee will take note of what my noble friend and others have said about the importance of publishing the report.

My Lords, I am sorry that the Minister has used the term “wild charges” to describe the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. I have read in a number of serious British newspapers comments on major financial contributions to the Conservative Party in recent years by Russian oligarchs resident in London and their families. If those are wild charges, I am surprised the Conservative Party did not sue. In these circumstances, can the Minister guarantee to this House that the report will be published before we rise for the Summer Recess?

My Lords, I can only repeat what I have told the House. Motions will be laid for the constitution of the committee next week. It is then the responsibility of the committee to decide how and when it publishes its report. I am sure it will take note of what the noble Lord and others have said. But again, I wholly reject the charge that the Prime Minister in any way is responsible for delaying the report.

My Lords, I welcome my noble friend’s assurance that the new committee will soon be established and that the Motions will be laid for its constitution. In October 2019, the then chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee stated that there was a long-standing agreement that the Prime Minister will endeavour to respond to ISC reports within 10 days. Does my noble friend agree that that agreement should be reinstated? Given that the Government have had the Russia report since October and approved it in December, will they issue their response at the same time as the report is published?

My Lords, the Government must see the formal publication of the report before considering action. Under the Justice and Security Act 2013, the ISC has responsibility to exclude material that any Prime Minister considers prejudicial to the continual discharge of the committee’s functions. Therefore, the role any Prime Minister undertakes in examining the report must be carefully done and is an important statutory process.

Noble Lords will be well aware of the value of this type of informed report. Regardless of any publication date, will its unredacted content be available to those undertaking the 2020 strategic defence and security review?

My Lords, I cannot comment to the House on the form, nature or exact timing of the publication of the report. I can tell the House that the committee will be constituted shortly.

My Lords, the Minister has been quite clever with words. Of course the Government are not responsible for publishing the report, but they are responsible for setting up the Intelligence and Security Committee. It is hard to avoid the question of why the Government have dragged their feet on this. However, we welcome the announcement that we will see a Motion in Parliament next week. Can the Minister confirm, first, that the committee will be set up this week and, secondly, that there will be debates in both Houses, before Parliament rises, on the content of the report? The point that the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, made was very important. The Prime Minister has already seen this report and has been told that there is nothing in it that cannot be published. Why can he not publish the Government’s response immediately upon publication?

My Lords, I repeat: let us see when the report is published and take course from there. The noble Baroness knows that not every aspect of moving towards agreeing the Select Committee’s composition is in the hands of the Prime Minister. He is statutorily required to consult, for example, the leader of the Opposition. I think we should all come together now, agree and welcome the fact that the committee is being constituted. It took at least five months the past two times the committee was constituted. It is a delicate matter and takes some time.

My Lords, Christopher Steele was the head of MI6’s Russia desk and spent his life tracking Russian influence operations. He told senior British intelligence about Russian interference in the EU referendum. That was later confirmed by Parliament’s DCMS Committee. What, if anything, did the then Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson do about Steele’s alarming warning about the serious attack by a hostile foreign power on the integrity of British democracy?

My Lords, I am not going to comment on the activities of Mr Steele. What I would say is that the result of the referendum was in the hands of 17.4 million people who I do not think were bamboozled by KGB agents.

My Lords, when working in Moscow as an adviser within a Russian government ministry for three years, I developed a tremendous regard for the Russian people. However, subsequently I was given clear evidence of Russian interference in our democratic processes by a private investigator and referred that information to the Electoral Commission. I do not actually expect the Government to publish the report, but can the Minister give any assurance to the House that our security services now have procedures in place to prevent future elections in this country being turned upside down by Russia or, indeed, any other country?

My Lords, I certainly endorse what the noble Baroness said: we have no quarrel whatever with the Russian people, their great culture and their achievements. I have said that we are fully aware of the activities of the current regime. The Government are fully engaged at all times in trying to protect the integrity of democratic processes within this country.