New Forest East



The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy  (Nadhim Zahawi): ... I turn to the new clauses and amendments that consider reporting and accountability, with a particular interest in small and medium enterprises. The aims of these amendments are laudable, and the Government are a strong supporter of SMEs and of appropriate safeguards around information sharing and transparency. Indeed, as Members will be aware, clause 61 sets out the minimum reporting requirements that the Secretary of State must meet in the annual report. This clause provides for the fullest parliamentary and public scrutiny of the detail of the regime, which at the same time avoids giving rise to national security risks when published at an aggregate level.

On top of that, new clause 7 would create additional reporting requirements to the Intelligence and Security Committee. While I very much understand the grounds for seeking such reporting, and I was grateful for the discussion with the Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East, the Government are unable to accept this amendment. I wish instead to welcome and encourage the ISC’s security-specific expertise and its review of the annual report when it is laid before Parliament. Indeed, there is no restriction on the Secretary of State providing further information in the annual report, should it be appropriate, to the ISC.

Dr Julian Lewis: For the sake of clarity, the annual report that will be supplied to Parliament will not have any security-sensitive information in it. The Minister says that we could request further information. The only information we want to request is the information of a security-sensitive nature that will routinely have played a part in leading to these decisions. I do not want to tell any tales out of school. All I can say is that the Minister seemed very receptive when I put forward the idea of an annexe to the report, which would come to the Committee, or alternatively there could be an unredacted or redacted version of the report. Is he saying that the Cabinet Office is declining to do that? If so, it would appear that the malign influence of one Mr Cummings is not entirely eliminated from that Department.

Nadhim Zahawi: I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s intervention. What I was saying is that there are no restrictions. His Committee will be able to invite the Secretary of State to give evidence to it, and it will also be able to ask for further information, which the unit will be able to provide.

Mr Kevan Jones: The Minister is wrong when he talks about asking the Secretary of State, because his is not one of the Departments that we overlook, but it is already there that this information be provided. I do not know why he and the Government are resisting this, because it will give certain confidence in terms of ensuring that decisions are taken on national security grounds. If he thinks for one minute that the Cabinet Office will divulge information easily to us, I can assure him that it will not. It does not do so. We have to drag it out of them kicking and screaming every time. I am sorry, but this is very disappointing.

Nadhim Zahawi: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. Let me repeat again: there are no restrictions on the Committee requesting further information from the unit or from the Secretary of State.

Dr Lewis: Is this what the Minister wants? Every year, the Committee will request to have a comprehensive explanation of the security sensitive information that has underlain the different decisions that the unit has taken. All he is saying is that we can request this ad hoc every year and we will get it – I will believe that when I see it. If that were to be the case, there could be no possible objection to incorporating this in the legislation now so that it is not at the whim of a future Minister to either give us what we need or deny us what we need.

Nadhim Zahawi: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his intervention and his powerful argument, but I just repeat that there are no restrictions on his Committee requesting that information.

Mr Kevan Jones: rose – 

Nadhim Zahawi: I will not give way. There is a lot to get through and time is short. ...

[For Julian's earlier speech in this Report Stage debate, click here, and for his follow-on speech in the Third Reading debate, click here.]