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Intelligence and Security Committee Report on Russia

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:35 pm on 5th November 2019.

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Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State 12:35 pm, 5th November 2019

As the first Member who has no particular hook on which to hang their congratulations to you, Mr Speaker, may I in any event, and rather gratuitously, welcome you to the Chair?

I would like to answer my right hon. and learned Friend’s question regarding publication of the ISC’s report on Russia. The ISC provides invaluable scrutiny and oversight of the work of the intelligence community to Parliament, so I am grateful to it for conducting this timely inquiry into our work on Russia. Russia’s reckless behaviour in Salisbury and Amesbury shows that, now more than ever, we cannot afford to be complacent about the Russian threat.

Because the ISC deals with matters of national security and intelligence, its reports always contain sensitive information, so it is entirely right that they go through an intensive security review before publication. This report is one of a number of ISC reports that the Government are currently considering. The current length of time that this report has been with the Government is not unusual, as this has averaged around six weeks for reports published in recent years, and three to four weeks for a response to be forthcoming from the Government.

For example, the details of the counter-terrorism review following the attacks and the 2017-18 annual report were sent together to No. 10 on 12 October 2018. We were asked to respond 10 days later on 26 October. We responded on 8 November, and then the checked, proofread report was published on 22 November. Similarly, the details of the detainees report were sent to No. 10 on 10 May 2018. Again, the ISC asked for a response within 10 working days on 24 May. We responded on 30 May, and then the checked, proofread report was published on 12 June. In both cases, the process took approximately six weeks, because by law it is imperative that the process is thorough.

In accordance with the Justice and Security Act 2013, the impact of releasing sensitive information must be carefully considered by the Prime Minister on the advice of civil servants. We cannot rush the process and risk undermining our national security. There is no set timeline within the memorandum of understanding with the Committee for the Government to clear such reports for publication, and under the same memorandum there is no set timeline for a response, nor is such a deadline set in the governing legislation.

I want to assure the House that the Committee is well informed of this process, which is continuing along standard parameters that apply before every publication. Once the process has been completed, we will continue to keep all relevant parties and the House informed.