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Intelligence and Security Committee

Volume 804: debated on Tuesday 14 July 2020

Membership Motion

Moved by

That this House approves the nomination of Lord West of Spithead as a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament.

The Intelligence and Security Committee is not a usual Select Committee governed by parliamentary rules. It has a wide-ranging role in overseeing MI5, MI6, GCHQ, Defence Intelligence, Joint Intelligence, the National Security Secretariat and the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism. It is supposed to be less partisan and more independently minded even than Select Committees. Yet the accusation is that not only have the Government packed it with willing supporters with no expertise in this area but that the Prime Minister has also made it clear that he wishes Chris Grayling to chair it. As Dominic Grieve, former chair of the committee and former Attorney-General, put it:

“The whole point about this committee is it is non-partisan.”

He made it clear that the Prime Minister should not

“be seeking to tell the committee who should be the chair.”

If Mr Grayling turns out to be the chair, the Government’s protestations that they played no part will ring hollow.

The SNP’s Ian Blackford stated:

“The likely nomination of Chris Grayling as chair—who has a distinct record in government as a jack of all trades and master of none—will deliver a blow to the effectiveness of the committee’s work.”

This committee usually has two members from the House of Lords. Why have the Government not nominated someone from their Benches? The Guardian reports:

“Normally the Tories would have nominated a peer as a member, but the concern was that any nominee might be less likely to support”

Chris Grayling. Even the Telegraph reports:

“Two senior Conservative MPs told The Telegraph that the fact a new committee has not been formed since December’s general election was a result of ‘the complete control freakery of the Cummings group within No 10 … They want total control of key appointments so they can appoint their own people.’”

Mr Grayling, whom the Guardian gently describes as “accident-prone”, has no previous experience in this area. Yet, as the Independent puts it, while we face

“a bewildering and frightening range of external and internal threats from rogue states, hostile powers such as China and Russia, and terrorists … the committee is about to be headed by someone thought of as a Downing Street stooge who is out of his depth.”

In that context, I welcome the nomination of the noble Lord, Lord West, by the Labour Party. He is supremely qualified for the position. If we are all allowed to nominate the chair, I propose that it is the noble Lord, Lord West.

Meanwhile, we have not yet seen the report on Russian influence on our politics. The previous chair and committee signed it off for publication almost a year ago. It must be published immediately so that it can be scrutinised before the Summer Recess, and not in a redacted and altered state. The delay in the release of the MPs’ report examining Russian influence on British politics is “not normal”, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former Foreign Secretary and former chair, insisted. He also declared:

“It is an absurd position that No. 10 Downing Street have put themselves in.”

I therefore look forward to the noble Baroness’s response.

First, I thank my noble friend Lord Lothian and the noble Lord, Lord Janvrin, for their long-standing and excellent service on the committee.

In answer to the noble Baroness’s series of questions, the size of the committee and the process for nominating its members are clearly set out in Section 1 of the Justice and Security Act 2013. Both Houses agreed to the process in that Act, which is, as she rightly said, consciously different from that of appointing a conventional Select Committee. The nine members of the ISC have been proposed by the Prime Minister following consultation with the leader of the Opposition, and it is not unprecedented for this House to provide only one member of the committee. In the 2005 to 2010 Parliament, this House provided only one member. On this occasion, the Prime Minister has decided to nominate five Conservative MPs. As the noble Baroness will also be aware, selection of the chair is a matter for the committee itself.

Finally, the noble Baroness asked about the Russia report. The report is the property of the independent ISC and, as such, it is not for the Government to publish it but for the committee to lay its report before Parliament —and the sooner we get this Motion agreed, the sooner the committee will be able to get on with that work.

Motion agreed.

Sitting suspended.