CONSIDERATION OF LORDS AMENDMENTS
Dr Julian Lewis: It is a pleasure to follow all the Back-Bench speeches so far.
I would like to blaze in capital letters what the Minister [for Media, Data and Digital Infrastructure (Julia Lopez)] said:
“This is, first and foremost, a national security Bill.”
Something very similar was said when the National Security and Investment Bill – now the National Security and Investment Act 2021 – was going through this House and the other place earlier this year. The Intelligence and Security Committee is, as it always has been, a non-partisan organisation. I will therefore be saying some things to please and, probably, to annoy both sides.
The Committee considered the five amendments at a recent meeting. We agreed that the entirety of Lords amendments 1 to 3 was broadly beneficial. We looked at Lords amendment 5 and we understood the temptation to flag up the importance of the Five Eyes relationship. We agreed – it is interesting how closely our deliberations, without consultation, conformed to the views of the Chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Julian Knight) – that it was, as he put it, a case of gilding the lily, because whenever a serious objection is raised on security grounds by one of the Five Eyes partners, we take that with the utmost seriousness. That leaves us with Lords amendment 4. For the life of us, we cannot understand why the Government are opposing it. We believe it would strengthen parliamentary scrutiny and provide a valuable annual stocktake on the progress being made on the diversification strategy and how it is helping to improve national security. Therefore, like the Chairman of our parallel Committee, I will not be voting against Lords amendment 4 tonight.
Where does that leave us as a Committee in terms of the two Bills and the amendments thereto? You may recall, Mr Deputy Speaker, that there have been intense arguments both in this place and in the upper House about the failure of the Government to accept amendments that would allow the Intelligence and Security Committee to scrutinise closely the secret aspects that are inevitably involved in those two Bills. I will not digress on this both because I lack time and because you, Mr Deputy Speaker, would instantly call me to order. I will simply say, on ensuring that there is ISC scrutiny of the classified elements that follow from this legislation, that arguments have been advanced by the Government in the other place to say, “Well, the face of the Bill isn’t the place to do it.” We agree with that now; we are taking the Government at their word. Therefore, we have written to the National Security Adviser and asked him to take up the issue with the Prime Minister, so that the memorandum of understanding between the Prime Minister and the ISC can be brought up to date to cater for the provisions of this Bill and the earlier Bill that should be part of our purview. That is what the Government promised in 2013 when the legislation was originally put through, for our Committee’s powers, and it is a promise that we expect them to keep.