'WARNING OVER TOP SECRET MATERIAL'

By Tim Sculthorpe

Press Association – 13 May 2014

Not all MPs can be trusted to handle sensitive, Top Secret intelligence material, a senior Tory MP warned tonight. Julian Lewis, a front runner in the race to be named chairman of the Defence Select Committee tomorrow, said it would not be possible for members of the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) to be elected from within the Commons and still have access to some of Britain's most secret files.

Mr Lewis made his case after veteran Labour MP David Winnick (Walsall North) spoke on a motion intended to put his Labour colleague Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) on the committee. Mr Winnick, who entered the Commons in 1979, insisted he would make the argument each time an appointment was made – even though he did not oppose the idea of Ms Mactaggart joining the committee. He said:

''However, I am far from satisfied at the method of an MP being nominated, in the name of the Prime Minister, is the best way for an MP to go on the ISC. I take the view it should be subject to election.''

Mr Lewis, MP for New Forest East and a current ISC member, said while it could be possible to elect the chairman from the pre-screened appointed membership, elections to each seat were impossible. But he said:

''This particular committee, unlike any other committee has access to highly classified information up to the range of Top Secret, Strap Two, and occasionally higher than that. There are some people who believe this country should have no secrets at all.

''If we had no secrets, there would be no classified information and there would be no case for treating the membership of the ISC any different from the membership of the defence committee or anything else.

''There are some people who think we should have secrets but who think there is not a single MP who could not be trusted to know them. If that is one's view then, indeed, again there would not be any argument to be had for saying membership of the ISC should not be elected.

''But the membership of this House reflects society in all its varied shades and phases and types and categories – and the fact is, I don't think there are many people who would say out of 650 members there aren't at least some who are not quite as discreet enough, or not quite tight-lipped enough, to share in the most sensitive secrets of the security and intelligence agencies. Some people are better suited than others to be allowed to see it.''

Mr Winnick appeared to be angered by his Labour colleague George Howarth's endorsement for Mr Lewis's position. Addressing his colleague, Mr Howarth said:

"I congratulate you for one overriding quality I have observed you to possess over the years. You are consistent – it is just that you are consistently wrong.''

Mr Winnick shouted:

''That was a disgraceful remark George''

from a seated position before leaving the Commons.

Ms Mactaggart's appointment to the committee was endorsed by the Commons.