Intelligence and Security Committee
Richard Ottaway (Croydon South, Conservative)
My right hon. Friend makes a perfectly good point.
Let me go back to the point that I was making a second ago about evidence. The key difference is that the Select Committee on Transport, for example, has employees, businesses, users, passengers, station masters and so on coming before it. One simply does not get that in the intelligence world, as there is no equivalent. There are plenty of conspiracy theorists out there, but there is not enough time to address all their arguments. In truth, our input is predominantly from agents. If we were sitting as a Select Committee, that input would be limited.
When I joined the Committee, I was fairly sympathetic to the idea of its becoming a Select Committee after my experience on the Foreign Affairs Committee. Having been on it for three years, I have simply reached the conclusion that that would not be an improvement, that the situation would probably be worse and that it would be less effective. We should focus on making the ISC as similar as possible to a Select Committee, which is what we are trying to do, subject to the reforms that I am suggesting.
I feel most uncomfortable with the question about the precise role of the ISC. Is it with the agencies or against them? Does it provide oversight or a check or balance? The Committee's job is defined, as is the job of a Select Committee, as the provision of oversight of policy, finance and administration. That definition is wide and vague, and can be broadly or narrowly interpreted. During my time on the ISC, I have seen a narrow interpretation. A Select Committee has more freedom to range and is wide-ranging in its scope. My third proposal for statutory reform is a clearer statutory definition of the role of the Committee combined with powers to deliver on it.
Let me conclude with the point made by the Chairman of the Committee about resources. The ISC has fewer resources than a Select Committee has. It has fewer staff. If we are to up our game, we have to bite the bullet and give more resources to the Committee. Without those resources, no serious progress can be made. Let me allude, too, to the issue of accommodation for the Committee. The White Paper said that the Committee should not sit in the Cabinet Office. When the Foreign Secretary is winding up, will he mention whether he feels that we should move out of Cabinet Office facilities, by which, of course, I mean the wider Cabinet Office estate? Does he feel that the wider Cabinet Office estate is an appropriate setting for the Committee's location?