CONSERVATIVE
New Forest East

POINT OF ORDER – NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER – 27 November 2017

Dr Julian Lewis: On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will recall that I raised a point of order on 23 October about the fact that the new National Security Adviser, Mark Sedwill, had declined to give evidence to the Select Committee on Defence about the ongoing capability review, saying that that was a matter for the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy. Mr Speaker, you will have seen from Defence questions – others may have seen this from a major article in the Daily Telegraph today – how crucial the capability review is for defence, even though Mark Sedwill said in his letter declining to come to the Defence Committee:

“Because the main decisions on defence were taken during the 2015 SDSR, this review is not defence-focused.”

I beg to differ. Given that the then National Security Adviser, Kim Darroch, and his deputy, Julian Miller, gave oral evidence to the Defence Committee on 11 September 2013, what powers does the Committee have to instruct relevant witnesses to appear before us when both the substance of the matter and the precedent are in favour of our wishing to take evidence from a witness such as the National Security Adviser?

[Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order, of the detailed content of which I had no advance knowledge. However, I make no complaint about that whatsoever.

I listened carefully to what the right hon. Gentleman said, and I would respond as follows. First, in my judgment, it is not principally for Mr Sedwill to be the judge of which Committee has competence – I use the term “competence” in the technical sense – in respect of this matter, or indeed to conclude that only one Committee is involved. That is a matter about which other people will have a view, not least parliamentarians. I would very politely suggest to the National Security Adviser that he should be sensitive to the views of senior colleagues.

Secondly, it is a matter of established fact – not least testified to by the exchanges at Defence questions this afternoon – that questions relating to the subject matter that the right hon. Gentleman describes are in order. If such questions were not in order, they would not have been accepted as oral questions by the Table Office, but they were in order, and therefore so were supplementaries appertaining to those tabled questions. That therefore gives the matters a relevance that the National Security Adviser, with the very greatest of respect, is in no position to deny. Thirdly, I would say it is a well-established principle that if a Select Committee requests that a witness gives evidence, in almost every case that potential witness accedes to that request.

Finally, I simply say to the right hon. Gentleman – I do not know whether it is relevant in this case – that I know of an instance in which a potential witness indicated that he did not believe he had much to say that would add to the deliberations of the Committee in question. ​However, he was advised that, whether or not he thought that what he had to say would greatly assist the deliberations of the Committee, the Committee nevertheless wished to see him. It might even have been the case that Committee members wanted to say things to him, almost irrespective of whether he wanted to say things to them.

All in all, I therefore think there is a compelling case on this matter. There are powers available to Committees to report a refusal to appear to the House, and thereafter the matter can be escalated. I very politely suggest that it would be highly undesirable for such a procedure to be needed in this case.

In the light of all those considerations, I hope the right hon. Gentleman’s efforts to secure the attendance of the National Security Adviser will now bear fruit. Moreover, I have known the right hon. Gentleman for 34 years as of last month, and while I am sure that the National Security Adviser is an extremely formidable fellow, I would say to him, through the right hon. Gentleman and through the medium of the House, “Give up the unequal struggle and just appear.”]