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The Intelligence and Security Committee said its work has been ‘severely hampered’ due to agencies’ failure to meet deadlines.

By Gavin Cordon

Independent Online – 13 December 2022

Britain’s intelligence agencies have been rebuked for failing to provide information on time to the parliamentary watchdog overseeing their work. The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) – made up of senior MPs and peers – said its work has been “severely hampered” over the past year due to the agencies’ failure to meet deadlines for responding to its inquiries.

In its annual report, it said that it had called on the heads of the agencies – including MI5, MI6 and GCHQ – to account for their performance.

“This is a very serious issue, as it prevents the committee from effectively performing its statutory oversight role,”

it said.

“If the ISC’s oversight is being frustrated, then the ISC cannot provide any assurance to the public or Parliament that the intelligence agencies are acting appropriately, and therefore that they merit the licence to operate that Parliament has given them through their statutory powers. Despite numerous complaints, the situation has not improved and, if anything, has got worse.”

In a press release to accompany the publication of the report, the committee said that since its completion they had been reassured that the agency heads recognised the need to address the situation.

However, the committee also expressed concern that it had not been given oversight of a number of new intelligence organisations within government, despite past assurances by ministers that its remit would be extended to cover any new bodies.

They include

  • the intelligence policy department in the Foreign Office,
  • the transport security, resilience and response group in the department for Transport,
  • the joint biosecurity unit in the Department for Health and Social Care,
  • the investment security unit in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy,
  • and the telecoms security and resilience team, the office of communications and the counter disinformation unit in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

The committee chairman, Julian Lewis, said they were “deeply disappointed and concerned” at the Government’s failure to update their remit.

“The only avenue for effective parliamentary oversight of security and intelligence matters is the ISC,”

he said.

“Each piece of new legislation devolving such matters away from the bodies already overseen by this committee should therefore come with a commensurate expansion to this committee’s remit. Otherwise the effective scrutiny by Parliament of national security issues across Government is being actively avoided. This is genuinely troubling.”