Skip to main content

Intelligence and Security Committee: Russia Report

Volume 678: debated on Wednesday 22 July 2020

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, if she will make a statement on the Intelligence and Security Committee’s report into Russia.

This Government will not tolerate any foreign interference in the running of our sovereign state. We have long recognised the threat posed by the Russian state, including from conventional military capabilities, espionage, cyber-attacks, covert interference and illicit finance. We have been clear that Russia must desist from its attacks on the UK and our allies, and we have been resolute in defending our country, our democracy and our values. We categorically reject any suggestion that the UK actively avoided investigating Russia.

The UK has a record of taking strong action against Russian wrongdoing. This is demonstrated by our responses to the Salisbury attack, the ongoing illegal annexation of Crimea and, just last week, cyber-attacks on research and development facilities in the US, the UK and Canada. Our world-class intelligence and security agencies continue to produce regular assessments of the threats posed by hostile state activity, including any potential interference in past or current UK democratic processes. Our 30-year Russia strategy is designed to move us to a point where Russia chooses to work alongside the international community.

Since the Committee took evidence in January 2019, much more has been done. We have established the Defending Democracy programme and strengthened our cross-Government counter-disinformation capability. In March, we formally avowed the existence of the joint state threats assessment team. Earlier this month, we launched the UK global human rights sanctions regime to target serious human rights abuses, with 25 Russian Government officials already sanctioned.

We have committed to bring forward legislation to counter hostile state activity and espionage. This will modernise existing offences to deal more effectively with the espionage threat, and consider what new offences and powers are needed. This includes reviewing the Official Secrets Acts and considering whether to follow our allies in adopting a form of foreign agent registration.

We are taking action at every level. We have stepped up our response to illicit finance through the introduction of new powers by the Criminal Finances Act 2017, including unexplained wealth orders, and the establishment of the multi-agency national economic crime centre within the National Crime Agency. The rules on investment visas have already been tightened, but we will continue to consider whether any further changes are required to ensure that they cannot be abused. Let there be no doubt: we are unafraid to act wherever necessary to protect the UK and our allies from any state threat.

I thank the ISC past and present and all involved in producing the Russia report:

“until recently, the Government had badly underestimated the Russian threat and the response it required.”

Not my words, but the damning indictment of deep systemic failings in the Government’s approach to security that the Russia report sets out. It is not so much that the Government studied what was happening and missed the signs. The truth is that they took a conscious decision not to look at all, as in the case of the 2016 referendum. If there is any doubt about the failure of Ministers to look, let me tell the House what the report says:

“The written evidence provided to us appeared to suggest that HMG had not seen or sought evidence of successful interference in UK democratic processes”.

Who provided the written evidence? If we check the footnote, it was the Government themselves. No wonder the Government were so desperate to delay the publication of the report. Sitting on it for months and blocking its publication before a general election was a dereliction of duty.

We have no issue with the Russian people. It is the Russian state that is involved in a litany of hostile activity, cyber-warfare, interference in democratic processes, illicit finance and acts of violence on UK soil. The report finds a failure of security departments to engage with this issue to the extent that the UK now faces a threat from Russia within its own borders. Does the Minister accept that that is in a situation when the UK is, as the report says, a top target for the Russian regime? Does he also accept, on defending the UK’s democratic processes and discourse, that no single organisation was offering leadership in government? Instead, it was, in the words of the report, “a hot potato” passed from one to another, with no body taking overall responsibility.

I thank our security services for the work they do, but they need help, and the report makes it clear that they have not received the strategic support, the legislative tools or the resources necessary to defend our interests. The report concludes that

“recent changes in resourcing to counter Russian Hostile State Activity are not (or not only) due to a continuing escalation of the threat—but appear to be an indicator of playing catch-up.”

When will the Government stop playing catch up? Anyone who saw the Prime Minister’s failure to engage on this at Prime Minister’s questions will be extremely worried. When will the Government treat this matter with the seriousness it deserves, act on the findings of the report and put the security of our country first?

The one thing I agree with in what the hon. Gentleman said is the threat we face from Russia, as I made clear in my opening statement, in terms of all the different varieties in which that threat presents itself. We recognise and have always recognised the enduring and significant threat posed by Russia, and Russia remains a top national security priority for this country. However, in terms of the other assertions that he makes, I reject them. It is a bit rich for those on the Labour Front Bench to lecture this Government on our stance in relation to Russia, given that the shadow Foreign Secretary herself even said at the weekend that the Labour party had got its position wrong.

The hon. Gentleman highlighted the issue of strategy, and again I point to the Russia strategy that was implemented in 2017. Indeed, a cross-Government Russia unit is focused on all this and brings things together across Government with accountability through the National Security Council. He highlights the issue of the protection of our democracy. Unlike the Labour party, I am proud that we stood on a Conservative manifesto that committed to defend our democracy, highlighting that we will protect the integrity of our democracy by introducing identification to vote at the polling station and stopping postal vote harvesting, and through measures to prevent any foreign interference in elections. I look forward to the Labour party supporting those measures, which it did not in its own manifesto at the last general election.

Our approach to the threat Russia poses is clear-eyed. That is why we have taken the steps that we have, and, as I outlined, all the different measures we have implemented over the last months and years. Indeed, we have set out the message to Russia that, while we want to maintain a dialogue with it, there can be no normalisation of our bilateral relationship until Russia ends the destabilising activity that threatens the UK and our allies and undermines the safety of our citizens and our collective security.

We take the issue of our national security incredibly seriously. As I have said, I will take no lectures from the Opposition on putting the interests of this country first.

Given that the Minister has so much to say on this subject, it is really rather sad that it is having to be said in the context of an urgent question rather than a voluntary statement by the Government.

The Russia report could not have been produced to this high standard without the dedication, the expertise and, above all, the objectivity of the ISC’s brilliant staff, some of whom I have worked with previously, yet according to the journalist Tim Walker some people within Government tried to sack the secretariat and make political appointments. Will my right hon. Friend, as I still regard him, resist the temptation to fob us off with clichés about not believing everything we read in the media and give this House now a categorical commitment that no party political special advisers will be allowed anywhere near the ISC?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments on the work of the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament. He will recall that he and I served on the Bill Committee establishing the ISC so he will know the weight and consideration I give to it, and indeed to the work of its officials and those who work to support its activities, inquiries and investigations. He can certainly have my assurances on the weight and support I give to his Committee.

I commend the work of the previous Committee, which produced the report that is the subject of this urgent question. I also commend all members of the Committee for the robust and rigorous work that I know they will do in the course of this Parliament.

Unlike the Minister, I will at least have the grace to congratulate the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) on his election to the chairmanship of the Intelligence and Security Committee, and he will have our backing in making sure he stays there because he is an independent-minded person and the right person to chair that Committee. Like him, I thank the Committee for publication of the report.

There is a lot of stuff in the report; this is a cow that is going to give us a lot of milk for quite some time, and it deserves to be taken seriously and considered objectively. The issues it raises in relation to actively looking the other way on interference in the Brexit referendum need to be addressed objectively by both Government and the Opposition.

That also applies to what the report has to say about the Scottish referendum. I have banged on more about this than any other MP or politician in Scotland; in fact in Scotland, my party has a stronger record on this than any other political party. So let us have the inquiry into Brexit and the 2014 referendum campaign; let us bring that forward, and be clear that that is something only the United Kingdom Government can do—and if they do, the Minister will have my support in that.

When do the Government intend to bring forward the legislation that the Minister mentioned, for example on foreign agents, and can he clarify that there will be ample time to debate the rather confused and obscure effort across Government to counter this threat seriously?

We have produced our response to the Committee’s report, and I commend it to the hon. Gentleman. He highlights the issue about an inquiry, which underlines the fact that it is the work of the intelligence and security agencies to assess any new evidence as it emerges. Given that long-standing approach, we do not believe that it is necessary to hold a specific retrospective inquiry. If evidence were available to be found, it would emerge through our existing processes. We have seen no evidence of successful interference in the way that has been described by some. Indeed, that leads many people to think that it is more about re-arguing some of the issues of the Brexit referendum, not respecting and reflecting the outcome of that referendum. We are working at pace on the legislation and I am sure that there will be plenty of opportunities in the House to debate that, as well as other issues related to the report.

The report highlights concerning aspects of Russian interference in UK affairs with a sinister combination of 21st-century technology and tactics that are reminiscent of the cold war. Much of the report is redacted for obvious reasons, but can the Minister assure the House that he is satisfied that, where mistakes were made or threats were underestimated, they are already being put right to ensure that our democracy and economy are protected from nefarious influence, now and in future?

We keep all of our response under review, which is why I have highlighted all the different measures and steps that are in place to guard against the risk from action, interference or espionage by any hostile state or hostile state activity and what that requires. That is why, for example, in 2017, we established the NSC-endorsed Russia strategy. My hon. Friend has my assurance on the steps that we have taken and will continue to take to guard our national security. We will ensure that it is absolutely at the forefront.

It was not lost on the House that the Minister did not answer the question of the Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee. Will he do so now, please?

I was clear about the weight and importance of the independent scrutiny that the ISC provides and why, from my perspective and the Government’s perspective, we will always examine and reflect carefully on its incredibly important work. I was also clear about the importance of that being conducted in the independent way in which it has always fulfilled its role and responsibility. I am quite clear that that will continue into the future.

The ISC report suggests that the SNP has questions to answer about Russian interference. Does the Minister agree that, given that Scotland and the independence referendum are at the centre of the allegations, it is right that the SNP explains what it knew about the issue and when?

My hon. Friend has made her point clearly and firmly. We wait to see how the SNP responds to the various points that have been flagged. Obviously, our priority is the national security of our whole United Kingdom, and the Government firmly continue to do that work.

I wish that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon), or the special adviser who wrote that question, had actually read the report, because clearly she has not.

One of the Committee’s main recommendations was the need for a Bill to reform the Official Secrets Act and for an espionage Act. I welcome what the Minister has announced today and, more broadly and more informatively, what was in The Times this morning. The former director of MI5 and the right hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid) when he gave evidence to the Committee supported that.

In 2017, the Law Commissioners set off a consultation process about that, which is yet to report. I ask the Minister when it will report. I also urge him to make sure that we get the legislation in place, because it is needed. Let us hope that it is not just some spin to take the headlines the day after the report was announced. Let us get it into action.

I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said about legislation. He will note that in the Queen’s Speech, we committed to introduce legislation to counter hostile state activity and espionage. It is right that we put in place steps that reflect things like the foreign agent registration-type processes that exist in other countries, as well as receiving the Law Commission report on the Official Secrets Act. I can say to the right hon. Gentleman that the commitment of this Government is to act at pace and speed to get this right, to ensure that we do our utmost to strengthen powers where they need to be strengthened and, in the interim, to take all necessary action to call out and highlight Russian activity and take further action as appropriate.

As a Select Committee Chair, may I welcome this report? Scrutiny is good. It helps to raise the bar and it is healthy for democracy. However, for those who follow such events, it has long been recognised that Russia poses a national security threat. It regularly buzzes our airspace with its MiGs, and the Foreign Affairs Committee “Moscow’s Gold” report highlighted many of the same issues as this report. Does the Security Minister agree that Russia’s cyber and disinformation actions are a reflection of the changing character of conflict, with calibrated state-sponsored attacks designed to interfere with our politics and economy, but beneath the threshold of any military response? Does he agree that we need to adapt quickly to that new form of political competition?

I agree with my right hon. Friend. I commend the ISC and his Committee for their work, for their reports, and for the way in which they have put this into focus. I hope to assure him that offensive cyber capabilities are now a critical part of our work, and we will ensure that we integrate that within our military and in some of our broader response to the issues as well—appropriately bounded, obviously, by legal and policy oversight. He is right to highlight the changing nature of conflict and activities against states, and that is why, through our National Cyber Security Centre and other initiatives, we continue to enhance and be vigilant against the threat outlined.

I have been warning about Putin’s Russia for 19 years now, and calling for the Magnitsky sanctions for 10 years. What mystifies me is that Government Ministers still give out golden visas to dodgy Russian oligarchs, that Government Ministers still grant exemptions to dodgy Russian oligarchs so that they can hide their ownership of businesses in this country, and that Government Ministers still take millions of pounds from dodgy Russian oligarchs. We have to clean up our act, and it has to start with the Government.

I recognise the work of the hon. Gentleman over a number of years on Magnitsky sanction-type regimes, as he rightly pointed out, and I hope that he will recognise and welcome the steps that have been taken in that regard. Equally, I highlight our work to tighten tier 1 visas and the retrospective examination that continues of visas granted before 2015. I assure him of our continued review of and vigilance about the abuse of our immigration system and, if further action is required, we will carry it out. I also assure him of the transparency of the workings of support for politics, which the Government underlined with their manifesto commitment.

I fully accept what the Minister says about this Government acting, and I give credit where credit is due. I have met folks in the Russia unit, and I thank them for their work. However, from 2007 to at least 2014, as the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) said so eloquently, we were hugely complacent and it damaged us. My question is about a foreign agent registration process, because I am unclear about it. Is the Minister talking about spies—making it illegal for the GRU to have people here—or is he talking about foreign lobbying? I have been calling for a foreign lobbying Act for two years now, and the foreign agent registration process in the US is about foreign lobbying, on which we badly need new and updated laws.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. We have been examining the laws in different countries that govern foreign agent registration. We are drawing that together into something that will be effective from a UK standpoint, learning whether that has been effective and applying that to our law as we prepare for the introduction of legislation countering espionage and hostile state activity. I look forward to continuing that discussion with him.

I declare my interest as the chair of the new all-party group on technology and national security and as a member of the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy. The remarkable insight from this report was the lack of horizon scanning, understanding, mitigation and response to modern threats in the technological frontier from hostile states. On the assumption that the Minister agrees that we need to invest in and enhance our capabilities in this technological frontier, when does he intend to come to the House with the Government’s strategy to secure our national security?

Members will have heard what I said in my opening statement about the various steps that have been taken, including on countering illicit finance, dealing with the potential abuse of visas and investing through our national cyber-security strategy to counter cyber being exploited against us in so many different ways. That work continues. We also continue to work with those involved in the internet and social media on our online harms legislation, which we remain committed to. That underlines the breadth of our response.

My right hon. Friend may be aware that I have done more than most to try to stop the return of Russia to the Council of Europe, so I recognise the enduring threat that it poses. Does he share my belief that the Russia report largely underplays the bigger picture and that there is a distinct risk to the UK through the international institutions to which we jointly belong?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for all his work. Russia seeks to advance the sense of a state that supports the rules-based order, yet through all its other actions, we can see that there is a fundamentally different approach. I would underline his focus on the fact that we need to be clear-eyed about the threats and risks posed through multilateral organisations. I look forward to working with him and others as we continue to call that out and ensure that our interests are best reflected through those organisations in upholding the rules-based order.

The Minister still has not answered the question posed by the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), who alleged that there was a political attempt to remove the secretariat of the ISC and replace it with political placemen or women. Was the Minister aware of that—yes or no?

I am happy to say that I do not have any knowledge of what the hon. Gentleman is saying; I do not recognise that at all. From my standpoint, it is important that the ISC is able to conduct its work and present its report to the House, given the mandate that this House provided it with through the legislation establishing it.

I pay tribute to all those working in the British intelligence and security services who are putting their lives at risk here and abroad, including my father, who spent 45 years working for the Government, facing the Soviet Union as the enemy during the cold war. This report highlights that, as we have always done, we need to adjust and adapt to a new battlefield. Can the Minister assure me that the intelligence services and the armed forces will get every resource and piece of legislation they need to be effective?

Like my hon. Friend, I pay tribute to the work of our world-leading and incredible intelligence and security agencies and the steps they take day in, day out to assure our security. We should all be proud and supportive of their actions. My hon. Friend will know that an integrated review and a spending review are ongoing and can be assured of the importance and emphasis we give to our national security. That will be reflected in this process. We will protect and guard our future against the range of threats out there from those looking to undermine this country. We stand firm against that.

For years, when I was campaigning for an infected blood inquiry, I was familiar with the “nothing to see here” response from Whitehall, until it was decided that there was something to see. If a chief constable played down a spate of local muggings because police chose not to investigate, any MP worth their salt would not accept that. It should not be any different when it comes to properly investigating and taking action to protect our national security and democratic institutions from those who wish to subvert those institutions, weaken or divide our country and break up our alliances. Should not any welcome measures taken to strengthen national security be taken in the full knowledge of what those weaknesses are by having an inquiry into Russian interference in 2016?

Our work is informed by regular assessments by our security and intelligence agencies to ensure that dynamic response, hence the reason we are not persuaded by this call for a separate inquiry. We have seen the ISC report and responded to it, but in defending our democracy, we are vigilant against the threats and challenges. Indeed, we have a defending democracy programme looking at further steps and legislation to underpin that. The hon. Member certainly has the Government’s commitment to standing firm on those issues and to the security work that continues to inform all our actions.

I want to pick up on the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood). Russia poses a serious threat to this country and is changing that threat, so can my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government will continue to work with NATO and our other international allies to tackle this threat and that we will be resolute in defending our country, our democracy and our values from a hostile state?

I can give that assurance to my hon. Friend. I recognise very clearly the importance of NATO, especially its work on cyber and other support. In that context, I would cite the example of the steps we continue to take to support our allies in the Baltic with the challenges that remain there. The strength of NATO and how that guards our security remain so important to our future policy.

The Committee said that Ministers did not want to know or ask about Russian interference in elections and referendums. It seems they did not want to ask either about dark money funnelled into the Brexit referendum through the Democratic Unionist party by a former Scottish Tory vice-chair, Richard Cook. How will the right hon. Member stop foreign donations polluting our elections?

It seems as if again the issue is about trying to rerun the Brexit referendum, but I would say on the hon. Member’s broader point that through the defending democracy programme, we are taking further steps to safeguard our voting system and democracy. I hope that she supports that and all the measures I identified earlier—for example, on individual voter ID. She will also know how transparent we are. We do not accept foreign donations and are stepping up our response to illicit finance through the National Crime Agency.

I recommend to my right hon. Friend the report published yesterday by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee on misinformation during the pandemic. It makes clear that state campaigns, including those from Russia, lay at the heart of it. Does he agree that social media companies hold great power yet have been left unaccountable for their inaction, and does he have any general reflections on the ISC report generally, which has caused great interest in the House and certain parts of the country? Does he think it might be welcomed by President Putin in Russia?

My hon. Friend makes several relevant points on the role of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the need for social media companies to do more. They need to step up, which is why we are introducing legislation on online harms and looking into the further role required of them.

I recognise the point about disinformation. I am sure that the important work of the cross-Whitehall counter-disinformation unit is reflected in the report that my hon. Friend references, which I will certainly look at. The important message we need to send from this House in respect of the ISC report is about that sense of vigilance and being clear-eyed about the threats posed by Russia, but equally that we are not picking an issue with the Russian people. This is about the Russian state and the Russian Government, so we are looking to them to shift their position, which is what our strategy is all about.

In order to get everybody in, it would be helpful if we could speed up the questions and the answers.

Further to the question from the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), and for absolute clarity for people watching at home, Russians who invest £2 million or more in the UK can get a visa and in five years can convert that visa into citizenship. Does that not mean that restricting political donations to British citizens makes no real defence?

On the tier 1 investor visa, to which I think the hon. Gentleman refers, work is ongoing to review past visas and, indeed, to look at further changes as needs be. If that is required in our national interest, that is what we will do.

In the context of this report, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is absolutely shameful that Alex Salmond, the former First Minister of Scotland, remains in the pay of the Kremlin as an apparatchik of Russia Today, and that so few nationalists condemn him for it?

My right hon. Friend has, in his customary and very powerful way, set out the position on Russia Today and those who have supported it and those who have been engaged in it. We all have firm questions, doubts and real concerns about the objectivity of Russia Today. It is right that we have Ofcom and other agencies that are there and the independence of Ofcom on its regulation and therefore the need to step up and make sure that that sense of—

The Minister will be familiar with the four horsemen of the apocalypse; I believe that Russia is one of those horsemen and a real danger to the free world. Will the Minister further outline what lessons we have learned from the report that will help us to counteract the very real presence of Russian interference, especially in social media? How do we balance safety with our inalienable right to hold and express our political opinions?

The hon. Gentleman wrapped a few questions into that contribution. The point is that we are taking this issue forward in relation to our legislation on online harms and working with social media and other companies to ensure that information is valid and we do not have that sense of disinformation. We are being vigilant against the threats that are posed.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that Mr Putin sees the potential weakening of our United Kingdom as a win for Russian interests and that our country is better defended, better protected and better together?

I absolutely endorse what my hon. Friend has said so succinctly and so clearly. It is in the interests of our United Kingdom to stand together and be united in that way, and we very firmly are better together.

The ISC’s report states that Russian influence in the UK has become the new normal. Individuals with close links to Putin are now well integrated into the UK’s business and social scene and accepted because of their wealth. Surrounding these oligarchs is an industry of enablers who, wittingly or unwittingly, help to extend Russian influence and the nefarious interests of the Russian state in the UK. What steps will the Minister now take to tackle the growth of this industry and the ability of wealthy individuals to influence British politicians and parties and our democracy?

Dirty money—money obtained through criminality or corruption—has no place in this country, and there should be no doubt that we will ensure that the full weight of the law enforcement regime bears down on those who look to use, move or hide the proceeds of crime. Our National Crime Agency is vigilant. We have introduced unexplained wealth orders. We will continue to enhance our legislation to ensure that corruption is rooted out, and that where dirty money is identified and seized, action is very firmly taken.

As a former special adviser at the Ministry of Defence during both the Syrian and the Ukrainian conflicts, I am well aware of the threat that Russia continues to pose to the UK and our allies. Will my right hon. Friend clarify what immediate next steps the Government will be taking to counter the disinformation and cyber-attacks—including, at the moment, against the vital work on a coronavirus vaccine?

The disinformation point is a very relevant one. Our counter-disinformation unit is led by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, bringing all this action together across Government to highlight and call out work with the social media companies over this important time. It does incredibly important work to guard against disinformation now, as it has done before. It will continue to do that, as well as leaning towards the online harms legislation that I have already spoken of.

Let’s park the lines from Mr Cummings, shall we? The Conservative party takes money from the Russians, No. 10 suppressed the report, and the Prime Minister forgot that his first duty is the security of the British people. So will the Minister go away and tell the Prime Minister to investigate the Kremlin’s role in undermining our democracy?

I will take no lectures from the Labour party, or indeed the Whips’ question that the hon. Gentleman has asked me. This Government and my party are vigilant on issues of national security, and we will remain so. We will be clear-eyed as to the threat that Russia poses, and where further action needs to be taken, as I have said, we will do so.

The report said that it was surprisingly difficult to establish who has responsibility for what. That conclusion is supported by the Government’s response, which alludes to the responsibilities of the Paymaster General, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, DCMS, the Home Office, the Defence Secretary, the Foreign Secretary, and the PM. At 10 am this morning, we still did not know who had drawn the short straw and would come to the House to defend the indefensible. Are not this report, the Government’s delay in publishing it and their reaction to it just further examples of the incompetence and arrogance that we have come to expect of this Conservative and Unionist Government?

No. I am very comfortable in underlining the Government’s commitment to defending our national security. As for the hon. Gentleman’s point about structure, this is about having a whole-Government approach, ensuring that each part of Government is engaged and working, with the concept of fusion in drawing this together. That is what we do, with our National Security Council and the accountability through that to deliver.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm for the people of Wolverhampton that our intelligence and security agencies are capable of identifying and dealing with any threat in this evolving battle space?

I can tell my hon. Friend of the support and resourcing that is given to our intelligence and security agencies and how we have such world-leading capabilities. We can be proud of the work they do for us—and therefore for his constituents in Wolverhampton, and indeed for constituents across the country—as we give them that support in defending our security.

The ISC stressed the need to ensure that our response to the threat from Russia is not solely focused on national events and organisations. So what does the Minister intend to do to protect our public sector—our NHS and local government services, which he knows all about—from malicious Russian cyber-intrusion once funding for the national cyber-security programme comes to an end in March next year?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point, because our cyber-defences are something in which this Government have very clearly invested. He highlights the National Cyber Security Centre, and I know the work that it does with local government and the devolved Administrations in ensuring that they are vigilant against the threats. Indeed, only last week, it called out Russian activity against pharmaceutical companies and others to ensure that our knowledge remains here and that we guard it against attack.

This morning, on the radio, Commissioner Cressida Dick said that people should be concerned about “the threat from Russia”. Will the Minister assure me that our security services will work with our police services to make sure that they have the data, the information and the resources to deal with any local threats?

There is strong join-up between our security and intelligence agencies as well as our police. Indeed, when looking at the work that I do each week, I see that join up and see that work, so my hon. Friend can absolutely have my assurance in that regard.

The Minister has told us today that he is confident that there is no need for an investigation into any potential Russian interference in the EU referendum, because if there had been any, it would have been detected by existing processes. Given that this report sets out that there was Russian interference in other referendums and that the Russians continue to be involved in British politics, why does he think that the Russians chose to sit that one out?

Again, we are certainly hearing some questions that are about trying to refight the referendum. Actually, we should respect the referendum, and that is what this Government have done, and we have been elected on a mandate to deliver on the Brexit referendum. None the less, the hon. Lady certainly has my assurance that we are vigilant against that sense of intrusion and disinformation, and I have outlined the steps that we are taking to guard against that.

It comes as no surprise to me that the Russian state seeks to infiltrate and influence so many aspects of our society, but I am particularly worried by Russian cyber-activity, especially attempts to steal our secrets, intellectual property and new technologies. I know that, in recent years, more resources have been given to the security and intelligence services, particularly GCHQ and the Army’s 77th Brigade, but does my right hon. Friend agree that our offensive cyber-capabilities may well have to be enhanced further given the persistent and increasing threats from Russia?

My hon. Friend, with all of his experience, has highlighted a very important point about the need for offensive cyber-capabilities. We were the first NATO ally to offer offensive cyber-capabilities to the alliance. I am quite sure that this is an issue that will be of core interest and focus as we look at the integrated review. He sets out a compelling argument for further investment. I am quite sure that that will be reflected on very carefully.

Despite repeated requests and reminders from hon. and right hon. Members, this Government have dithered and delayed for 10 long months and tried their very best to suppress the Russia report, and now we all know why. Given the threat to our national security and the fact that it was about preserving and protecting our very democracy itself, how could this Government have been so incompetent, so asleep at the wheel, and not even asked the bare minimum obvious questions?

I do not recognise the hon. Gentleman’s characterisation at all. I welcome the fact that, speedily after its creation, the ISC report was published, shining a light on the issue of Russia and the need for vigilance, which this Government continue to demonstrate. It is that approach that we take through from this rather than the political characterisation that he sought to proffer.

The ISC report rightly thanks five Russia experts from outside the intelligence community, two of whom have done some great work with the Legatum Institute. Will my right hon. Friend join me in thanking those individuals, the institute and, indeed, its visionary founder, Christopher Chandler, for having the courage and the commitment to expend the resources and take the risks to oppose Russian wrongdoing from the private sector?

I commend Legatum and all those who have sought to assemble evidence of the impact and the effect. I think it has added to the report the ISC has produced. I look forward to that continuing as the ISC gets into its stride in this Session and I look forward to the contribution that so many people have to offer to help ensure that the ISC does its job well and can work to ensure that our response to these national security issues is as well-informed as possible.

As if it was not bad enough that we have unelected peers making major decisions for Scotland, the report raises serious questions about several Members of the House of Lords, their links to business interests in Russia and the potential for those relationships to be exploited by the Russian state. Will the Government urgently support measures to enhance scrutiny of the incomes of the Lords to the same level as the rules for registering MPs’ interests?

I agree that the transparency of information about political donations is incredibly important. I should say to the hon. Lady that the relevant code is the responsibility of the House itself and it is kept under review by the House of Lords Conduct Committee. I am confident that the Conduct Committee will give due consideration to the clear recommendations made in the ISC report.

The people of Darlington voted to leave the EU in 2016. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the referendum accurately recorded the genuine will of the people, and that the Government were right to deliver on that mandate and take us out of the EU?

I am not quite sure that that fits in with our subject, so what I am going to do is move on to Yvette Cooper, the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee.

I served on the ISC in the late ’90s. We had a big Labour majority in Parliament and a Conservative Chair, the much-respected Tom King. There is a long tradition of Members of both Houses putting aside party politics to engage in independent scrutiny of the vital work that our intelligence agencies do and, crucially, to work in support of the national interest. The Government put that at risk at their peril, so can the Minister answer the question put by the current ISC Chair, the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis)? Will he now rule out any attempt at Government interference in the work of the ISC, any political appointments to its secretariat and any special advisers to be appointed by him? Will he rule that out now, yes or no?

I am very clear, as I have been in response to previous questions, on the need for independence by the ISC. I do not want to see its independence questioned or drawn into any doubt. It is important that the ISC is independent and rigorous. The right hon. Lady can have my assurance on the steps that I take to uphold that.

Yes, Russia is attacking our democratic structures, and internationally Russia and others are also undermining our greatest assets, our alliances and multilaterals. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need a unit at the Foreign Office specifically focused on protecting our interests and upholding the democratic nature of elections of presidents and chairs of multilateral organisations?

I absolutely recognise the different threats and challenges. That is why we have the Government Russia unit, which brings together the diplomatic, intelligence and military capabilities to maximum effect. There is a specific lead official at the Foreign Office who is responsible for our work on Russia. Therefore, the important point my hon. Friend makes about vigilance and the need to draw that information together is absolutely in place. We will continue to ensure that the interests of this country are, through that work, at the forefront and that we defend our nation’s security.

In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am suspending the House for three minutes.

Sitting suspended.

On resuming—

Royal Assent

I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that Her Majesty has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts and Measure:

Supply and Appropriation (Main Estimates) Act 2020

Finance Act 2020

Stamp Duty Land Tax (Temporary Relief) Act 2020

Business and Planning Act 2020

Channel Islands Measure 2020.