Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:38 am on 18th July 2019.

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Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Minister of State (Cabinet Office) 11:38 am, 18th July 2019

May I first genuinely thank the right hon. Lady for her kind words at the start of her remarks? I think it is fair to say that when we have tilted lances at each other we have done so in the spirit of mutual respect, even if it has sometimes been no holds barred in terms of the professional combat in which we have been engaged.

If I can seek to respond to the questions the right hon. Lady posed to me, the Government did listen to the ISC; indeed Sir Adrian’s revisions—incorporated in the new principles, which the Government have accepted today—reflect in many detailed aspects the precise recommendations of the Committee in its two reports of 2018.

Without going into detail about internal matters and procedures within Government, I can assure the House that there was very genuine and very detailed deliberation within Government about the right way forward. While the decision on matters relating to security intelligence always rests with the Prime Minister ultimately, the House would, I am sure, have expected that other senior Ministers with an interest in these matters would be consulted and would have given their advice to the Prime Minister, and that happened.

The right hon. Lady asked me about the views of civil society. I never made any claim in my statement that the Government’s response or the proposals by Sir Adrian reflected in full the views of civil society. What I can say is that Sir Adrian, in the course of his review, took great care to consult civil society; he convened meetings where representatives of civil society could make their representations to him and put forward their ideas. The Government have accepted Sir Adrian’s recommendations in full, without qualification. If Sir Adrian, in his recommendations, chose not to reflect everything that particular civil society organisations wished to see, that was a judgment by Sir Adrian, and it was right for the Government to rely on the independent commissioner to be the prime source of advice to us on these matters.

The right hon. Lady asked, in particular, about the idea of an express prohibition on Ministers. As she will have seen, in his report Sir Adrian did say that he looked at whether extra duties should be imposed on Ministers, and he considered that that was not part of what he should be proposing. However, as I said in my statement to the House, it is already the position that Ministers are bound by the law and by the ministerial code. The ministerial code requires Ministers to comply with the law in all their actions as Ministers, and we include in the definition of compliance with the law compliance with the United Kingdom’s international treaty obligations. Those duties on Ministers are very clear already, and that is reinforced by the fact that the civil service code, which operates on the basis of comparable principles, is grounded in statute, so it is straightforwardly a breach of that statute for civil servants to act in any way, professionally, that would breach the law.

I would just say to the right hon. Lady that the Government were as open as we could possibly be during the various inquiries and investigations that have taken place. For example, the Intelligence and Security Committee had access to the Government material that was presented to the Gibson inquiry and to the agency chiefs’ responses to the 27 themes and issues identified by Sir Peter Gibson in his preliminary report, and the Committee was provided with the Intelligence Services Commissioner’s views on the current compliance with those aspects of the consolidated guidance that he is responsible for monitoring. We therefore tried to be as open as possible, within the limits of what it is possible to discuss openly, about the issues we are debating today.