New Forest East



Dr Julian Lewis: Mr Deputy Speaker, may I begin this short contribution by warmly endorsing what you had to say by way of congratulations to the new Secretary of State [for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Kwasi Kwarteng)]? He is genuinely one of the most popular Members in any part of the House, and I am sure that his delayed but nevertheless entirely merited accession to the Cabinet was greeted with wide acclamation.

The best must never be allowed to be the enemy of the good. This is a good Bill, but there are, as the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) said, opportunities for it to be improved further in another place, which I hope will happen. It is never good form to repeat from the lengthier preliminary stages what one has said in any detail in the final Third Reading debate, so I will just quote one small extract from the memorandum of understanding between the Prime Minister and the ISC, which the Secretary of State may not have heard me read earlier. Paragraph 8 of the memorandum of understanding says:

“only the ISC is in a position to scrutinise effectively the work of the Agencies and of those parts of Departments” –

meaning other Departments such as his –

“whose work is directly concerned with intelligence and security matters.”

On Report, the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), said that it will be open to the ISC to request the secret information that cannot be published. That is a great step forward, and I thank him for it genuinely, because previously there were remarks to the effect that the ISC’s writ did not run anywhere near the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. That appears to have been dropped, and that is a big step forward.

The reason why it is necessary to recognise this is not that we want to make extra work for ourselves. It is because we entirely agree with the Government that the security threats constantly change, morph and spread themselves out into different areas of activity and, inevitably therefore, into different areas for which different Departments have responsibility. We cannot possibly do our job of inspecting and scrutinising those parts of security issue information that have to be classified if we are not allowed to go into those Departments only in so far as that type of information has spread with a new threat into a different Department. If the Government are saying – and I see some nodding heads on the Front Bench – that it is now accepted that the ISC can ask the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy for this sort of information, that is a huge step forward, and we thank the Government for it. We still believe that it would be better for it to be formalised in the way that Sir Richard Dearlove suggested in Committee.

I will conclude with a message that I would like the Ministers to take to their colleagues in the Cabinet Office. The Cabinet Office seems to have a strange sort of fear of the Intelligence and Security Committee, because every time we try to do our job, it seems to want to push back. The message I wish to give to them is this:

“Friends, colleagues – comrades, even – of the Cabinet Office, the ISC is not your enemy. We are your constructively critical friends. You know what? Sometimes we get it right: we got it right over Huawei. It would have been good if successive Governments had listened a bit earlier over Huawei, but they got there in the end. If you lock us out, you are simply shutting off a safety valve and a mechanism for correcting mistakes that you need not make. Don’t make that mistake again. Apart from that, congratulations on a very good Bill indeed.”