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

I am grateful for my right hon. and learned Friend’s welcome for Sir Adrian’s report and the new principles that the Government have accepted. I was expecting him to express disappointment about our decision with regard to a judge-led inquiry.

I do not want to spend too much time going over old ground, but, as I said in response to Emily Thornberry, the ISC was given access to all the material that the Government supplied to the Gibson inquiry and in relation to other matters. I understand that the Committee took more than 50 hours of oral evidence, reviewed 40,000 original documents, and devoted more than 30,000 staff hours to its inquiry.

The one point of difference concerned the Committee’s request to take evidence from junior officials. The Government attempted to find a compromise that would enable some of them to appear, but we were unable to reach agreement on that. It is a long-established principle that junior staff are not required personally to answer to parliamentary Committees. That is recognised in the Government’s memorandum of understanding with the ISC, which permits the Committee to take oral evidence from Ministers, agency heads and senior officials. A number of those whom the Committee wished to interview had been junior officials at the time of the events in which the Committee was interested.

Let me now respond to my right hon. and learned Friend’s direct question. One of my concerns about the judge-led inquiry is that it would give rise to expectations about closure, but would not be able to deliver them. By definition, the sort of material that we are talking about could not be discussed openly without risk of harm to the national interest. Apart from the fact that we see neither a legal nor a policy reason for resuming a judge-led inquiry, I fear that the offer of closure would eventually be seen as a grave disappointment by those who are arguing for a such an inquiry because of the necessity for secrecy.