On Monday, the Government announced that it would not allow a report examining Russian infiltration into UK politics to be published prior to the dissolution of Parliament. Compiled by the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), the report includes analysis from British intelligence agencies and requires clearance from the Government to be released.
The Chair of the ISC, Dominic Grieve QC MP, has asked ministers for a "credible reason" for the delay.
"For what purpose is the Prime Minister still considering it?"
Dominic Grieve QC MP told the House that the reasons for the delay given by a Government spokesperson were "bogus". He stated that the work of readying the report for publication began in March and finished in October, when security agencies and the National Security Secretariat indicated that the report was safe to be published. He said that it was "unprecedented" that the report received no response after being sent to the Prime Minister on 17 October.
Mr Grieve noted that if the report is not published before dissolution then MPs will have to wait for it to reform after the general election. He asked the Minister to explain the reasons for the delay and to withdraw a suggestion made by a Number 10 spokesperson that the report had been leaked by members of the Committee.
The Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee said:
"How is it that the Prime Minister has claimed through the Number 10 spokesman that there must be further delays for consultation about national security, and I ask this of the Minister, when the agencies themselves have indicated publicly this morning in response to journalistic enquiries that the publication will not prejudice the discharge of their functions? So for what purpose is the Prime Minister still considering it?"
"We cannot rush this process"
Responding on behalf of the Government, the Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Christopher Pincher MP, thanked the Committee for its work. He stated that it was "not unusual" for delays to happen when reviewing and responding to ISC reports. He stated that the Prime Minister had been extremely busy in recent weeks obtaining a Brexit deal.
The Minister highlighted the sensitive nature of the reports and noted that the Prime Minister has "very specific and particular" under the Justice and Security Act 2013 to check and redact the information they contain.
The Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) told MPs:
"In accordance with the JSA 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 this process at the risk of undermining our national security. There is no set time-limit within the MoU 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 there such a deadline set in the governing legislation."
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