Lord Butler of Brockwell (Crossbench) opened the debate with Amendment One which proposed the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) become a parliamentary committee. He argued: '... the Intelligence and Security Committee will serve Parliament and the public better if it is made clear that it is indeed a committee of Parliament and not a creature of the government. Since its creation in 1994 the committee has played an independent part, but because the committee is appointed by the government, it has often been difficult to convince outside observers of its independence.' Amendment One was later withdrawn.
The government minister, Lord Henley (Conservative) explained that changing the name to Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament would lead to further implications of parliamentary privilege. He added: 'Any change that has the possible impact of increasing the risk of unauthorised disclosure of sensitive information should be very carefully thought through.'
After agreeing to Clause One, without any amendments made, members of the Lords discussed whether the ISC should still exist when the House has prorogued (the pause before a new parliamentary session). They also discussed that a minimum of three of the nine members need to be present for the committee to do its work and whether the ISC will hold public meetings.
Three probing amendments (proposed in order to question and lead to debate) made by Baroness Hamwee (Liberal Democrat) and Baroness Smith of Basildon (Labour) addressed the ISC holding public meetings and how it should operate. Lord Henley responded '... the committee has access to extremely sensitive intelligence information, public disclosure of which could cause significant damage to national security. Therefore, the way it operates will inevitably be different from that of departmental select committees, and it must not necessarily be conducted in public.'
Members of the Lords also began to discuss the main functions of the ISC and agreed Clause Two of the bill without changes before closing the first day of committee.
The Justice and Security Bill continues committee stage on Wednesday 11 July.
About the Justice and Security bill
The first reading of the Justice and Security Bill took place in the House of Lords on 28 May 2012. The bill proposes:
- Strengthened oversight by Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) of the Security Service, the Secret Intelligence Service, the Government Communications Headquarters and other activities relating to intelligence or security matters.
- To expand the statutory remit of the ISC and allow Parliament to have a more substantial role in ISC appointments.
- For closed material procedure in relation to certain civil proceedings in the High Court, the Court of Session or the Court of Appeal. Also to extend closed material procedure for cases containing sensitive information and connected purposes.
Background information on the bill
What is committee stage?
Detailed line by line examination of the separate parts (clauses and schedules) of the bill takes place during committee stage. Any member of the Lords can take part.
It usually starts no fewer than two weeks after the second reading and can last for one to eight days or more.
Members can put forward their suggested amendments (changes) to the bill. These amendments are published in a marshalled list. In the marshalled list the amendments on related subjects are grouped together.
During committee stage everything in the bill has to be agreed to. All proposed amendments can be discussed and there is no time limit, or guillotine, on discussion of amendments. Members can vote on the amendments if no clear agreement on an amendment is made.
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