Earlier today, I moved amendments tabled by Andrew Tyrie MP to make provision for an elected chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee which scrutinises MI5, MI6 and GCHQ.
At present, the ISC is a Government committee of parliamentarians. The Bill makes it a Parliamentary committee whose members are appointed by the Houses of Parliament on the Prime Minister’s nominations. The nominees would then elect their own chair. The Committee must have access to highly classified material, so it can’t operate along identical lines to a select committee.
I argued that a chair elected by a secret ballot of MPs would have more authority, lending greater credibility to the whole committee, just as for the select committees. Candidates would have to secure the consent of the Prime Minister in advance. I won’t reproduce all the arguments: the text of the debate will be available here tomorrow (update: the debate is here). I chose to withdraw them given the lack of support from both front benches.
Andrew has done an enormous amount of work in this area, producing the CPS report on this Bill, Neither Just nor Secure (PDF), and chairing the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition. Unfortunately, he was required as chair of the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards so I stepped in. I’m glad we aired this issue. In the context of several encroachments on our traditional principles of liberty and justice, it’s vital that the ISC holds the intelligence and security services to account and that it is seen to do so effectively.