Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament

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PurposeStatutory Committee of Parliament responsible for oversight of the UK intelligence community
Julian Lewis
Parent organisation
UK Parliament
Formerly called
Intelligence and Security Committee

The Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament (ISC) is a statutory joint committee of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, appointed to oversee the work of the UK intelligence community.[1][2]

The committee was established in 1994[3] by the Intelligence Services Act 1994, and its powers were reinforced by the Justice and Security Act 2013.[1]

Work of the committee[edit]

The committee's statutory remit (under the Justice and Security Act 2013) is to examine the expenditure, administration, policy and operations of the security and intelligence Agencies; the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), the Security Service (MI5) and Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and Defence Intelligence in the Ministry of Defence, the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism (OSCT) in the Home Office and the intelligence-related work of the Cabinet Office including the Joint Intelligence Organisation (JIO) and the National Security Secretariat (NSS).[4]

The members of the committee are notified under the Official Secrets Act 1989 and are given access to highly classified material in carrying out their duties.[5] The committee holds evidence sessions with government ministers and senior officials (for example, the heads of the security and intelligence agencies), expert witnesses such as academics and journalists, and other interested parties. It also considers written evidence from the intelligence and security agencies and relevant government departments.[6]

The work of the committee is invariably conducted in secret. The committee produces an annual report which focuses on administration and finance, and special reports on operational or policy issues which it considers are of particular concern.[7] The government is required to respond to the committee's reports within 60 days.[4] The committee published five reports in 2018 – a report examining the 2017 UK terror attacks, two reports on detainee mistreatment and rendition, a report on diversity and inclusion in the UK intelligence community and an annual report.[8] In 2019 the committee published a statement on 5G suppliers[9] and was due to publish a report on Russia but was unable to do so because the prime minister did not confirm that the report could be published before Parliament dissolved for the 2019 general election.[5]

Unlike a select committee, the ISC shares its reports with the government and agencies it oversees in advance of publication. This is to ensure that no details which might damage national security are published. Each report is subject to four stages: requests for factual amendments; requests for redactions; contested requests for redactions (where the committee is unwilling to accept an initial redaction request, representatives of the agencies must appear to argue the case); and confirmation from the prime minister that the document no longer contains any details damaging to national security. By convention, the prime minister has 10 working days in which to examine the report and confirm that there are no national security issues outstanding. Once that certification is received the committee makes administrative arrangement to lay the report before Parliament.[10]


The ISC is unusual, being a statutory committee rather than a normal parliamentary select committee. Originally constituted under the Intelligence Services Act 1994[11] the committee was reformed, and its powers expanded by the Justice and Security Act 2013. The committee has an independent secretariat of analysts and investigators and an independent webpage.

The degree to which it is independent was historically questioned by journalists and privacy groups such as Liberty although the ISC itself says it is independent because it is composed of cross-party MPs and peers and operates in a non-partisan manner.[12] The ISC gained stronger powers under the Justice and Security Act 2013 and is no longer appointed by the prime minister: as a result its reports since then have been seen as independent.[13]


Parliament appoints the nine members from both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, after considering nominations from the prime minister, made following discussion with the Leader of the Opposition. The committee elect their own chair from amongst the members. Serving ministers are not allowed to be members, but members may previously have held ministerial positions. Members of the committee cease to be members when Parliament is dissolved, and new members are appointed after the new Parliament convenes.[5]

Malcolm Rifkind was chair until 24 February 2015, when he resigned following a sting by journalists involving a bogus Chinese company and his suspension from the Conservative Party. Former Attorney General Dominic Grieve was elected by the committee as his replacement on 15 September 2015 when it reconvened after the 2015 general election.[14][better source needed] He was re-elected as chair by the committee on 23 November 2017 when it reconvened after the June 2017 general election.[15]

On 15 July 2020, it was reported that Chris Grayling had failed to secure the nomination as chair of the committee.[16] Acting against the Conservative Whip, Julian Lewis was elected chair by the members of the ISC.[16] As a consequence, he had the Conservative Whip temporarily removed.[16] A 'senior government source' told the BBC that Lewis "has been told by the chief whip that it is because he worked with Labour and other opposition MPs for his own advantage".[16] Grayling subsequently resigned from the committee on 28 August.[17] Bob Stewart has been appointed as Grayling's replacement.[18]

The membership of the committee for the 2019–2024 Parliament is as follows:[19][20][21][22][23]

Member Party Constituency
Rt Hon Sir Julian Lewis MP
Conservative New Forest East
Rt Hon Sir John Hayes CBE FRSA MP Conservative South Holland and The Deepings
Owen Thompson MP SNP Midlothian
Rt Hon Maria Eagle MP Labour Garston and Halewood
Rt Hon Kevan Jones MP Labour North Durham
Rt Hon Sir Jeremy Wright KC MP Conservative Kenilworth and Southam
Col Rt Hon Bob Stewart DSO MP Conservative Beckenham
Rt Hon Theresa Villiers MP Conservative Chipping Barnet
Admiral (retired) Rt Hon The Lord West of Spithead GCB DSC PC Labour N/A
List of committee chairs
Name Term
Rt Hon Tom King CH 1994–2001
Rt Hon Ann Taylor 2001–2005
Rt Hon Paul Murphy 2005–2008
Rt Hon Margaret Beckett January–October 2008
Rt Hon Kim Howells 2008–2010
Rt Hon Sir Malcolm Rifkind KCMG QC 2010–2015
Rt Hon Dominic Grieve QC 2015–2019
Rt Hon Julian Lewis Incumbent

The Russia report[edit]

The "Russia report" is the Intelligence and Security Committee's report into allegations of Russian interference in British politics, including alleged Russian interference in the 2016 Brexit referendum.[24][25] According to the report, there is substantial evidence that Russian interference in British politics is commonplace.[26][27] According to the Guardian, the main points of the report are:[24]

  • UK government failed to investigate evidence of successful interference in democratic processes
  • 'Credible open-source commentary' suggesting Russia sought to influence Scottish independence referendum
  • Russian influence in the UK is 'the new normal'
  • Links between Russian elite and UK politics
  • Intelligence community 'took its eye off the ball' on Russia
  • UK's paper-and-pencil voting system makes direct interference harder
  • Defending UK's democratic processes is a 'hot potato'
  • Errors in Salisbury poisoning and weapons watchdog hack do not diminish Moscow threat
  • New legislation needed to replace outdated spy laws.

The inquiry began in November 2017, and a 50-page report was completed in March 2019.[28] The report thereafter went through a process of redaction by intelligence and security agencies and was sent to Prime Minister Boris Johnson on 17 October 2019.[28] Johnson's government refused to publicly release the report before the general election in December 2019.[29] A number of legal actions were undertaken to try to force the government to publish it: one brought by the widow of the murdered Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko, and another brought by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.[30][31]

Prime Minister Johnson approved its release on 13 December 2019, the day after the general election,[32] Johnson pledged in Prime Minister's Questions in February 2020 that the report would be released, but that it could not be released until the Intelligence and Security Committee (which disbanded following the dissolution of parliament ahead of the election) was reconstituted; a former chair of the committee, Dominic Grieve, said that this was an "entirely bogus" reason for delaying publication.[28] Grieve stated that the time between approval of release and publication was typically 10 days.[33] By June 2020, the report had still not been released, and the Intelligence and Security Committee had not been convened, the longest gap since the committee's creation in 1994.[33] This prompted a cross-party group of 30 MPs to urge the committee to be reconstituted and the report to be published, writing that serious issues of "transparency and integrity" of the democratic process were raised by the withholding of the report.[33]

The full report was released on Tuesday 21 July 2020 at 1030 BST.[34]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "The Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament". Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  2. ^ "Justice and Security Act 2013" (PDF). Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  3. ^ "Where is the Intelligence and Security Committee and why does its absence matter?". 9 June 2020. Retrieved 25 October 2020. At nearly six months, the time taken to appoint the ISC on this occasion has now exceeded that taken to appoint the committee after every previous general election since the committee was established in 1994.
  4. ^ a b "Annex A: Memorandum of Understanding, Intelligence and Security Committee Annual Report 2013 – 2014" (PDF). 25 November 2014.
  5. ^ a b c "House of Commons Library Briefing Paper: The Intelligence and Security Committee" (PDF). 5 November 2019.
  6. ^ "Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament".
  7. ^ "The Justice and Security Act 2013". 25 April 2013.
  8. ^ "ISC Committee Publications".
  9. ^ "ISC Statement on 5G suppliers" (PDF). 19 July 2019.
  10. ^ "How the Committee works – Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament".
  11. ^ "Section 10 – The Intelligence and Security Committee – Intelligence Services Act 1994". OPSI.
  12. ^ "UK spy watchdog 'taken in' by security agencies – MP". BBC. 27 February 2015. Retrieved 16 March 2015.
  13. ^ "Institute for Government: The row over the Intelligence and Security Committee may require Parliament to review the Committee's role". 15 November 2019.
  14. ^ "ISC Press Release" (PDF). 15 September 2015 – via Google Groups.
  15. ^ "ISC Press Release" (PDF). 23 November 2017.
  16. ^ a b c d BBC News Online (15 July 2020). "Russia report: Julian Lewis appointed chair of intelligence committee". BBC News. Retrieved 15 July 2020.
  17. ^ Sabbagh, Dan (28 August 2020). "Chris Grayling resigns from intelligence and security committee". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 August 2020.
  18. ^ "Order Paper for Wednesday 16 September 2020 Part 1: Business Today". UK House of Commons. 16 September 2020. Retrieved 16 September 2020. The Prime Minister: That Chris Grayling be removed from the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament under Schedule 1 to the Justice and Security Act 2013 and Bob Stewart be appointed to that Committee under section 1 of that Act.
  19. ^ "House of Commons Session Votes and Proceedings Monday 13 July 2020". House of Commons. 13 July 2020. Retrieved 14 July 2020. Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament: Ordered, That Chris Grayling, Sir John Hayes, Stewart Hosie, Dame Diana Johnson, Mr Kevan Jones, Dr Julian Lewis, Mark Pritchard and Theresa Villiers be appointed to the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament under section 1 of the Justice and Security Act 2013.—(Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg.)
  20. ^ "Appointment of Replacement Member of a Committee". House of Lords. 14 July 2020. Retrieved 14 July 2020. The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Evans of Bowes Park) to move that this House approves the nomination of Lord West of Spithead as a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament.
  21. ^ "Intelligence and Security Committee News". Intelligence and Security Committee. 14 January 2022. Retrieved 28 January 2022. The Rt Hon. Dame Diana Johnson DBE MP has, in accordance with the Justice and Security Act, written to the Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament tendering her resignation from the committee, following her election to the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee.
  22. ^ "Intelligence and Security Committee News". Intelligence and Security Committee. 27 January 2022. Retrieved 28 January 2022. The Rt Hon. Mark Pritchard MP has, in accordance with the Justice and Security Act, written to the Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament tendering his resignation from the committee, following his appointment to the United Kingdom Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
  23. ^ "Business without Debate Volume 727: debated on Tuesday 7 February 2023". UK Hansard. 7 February 2023. Retrieved 9 February 2023. That Stewart Hosie be removed from the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament under Schedule 1 to the Justice and Security Act 2013 and Owen Thompson be appointed to that Committee under Section 1 of that Act.
  24. ^ a b "UK report on Russian interference: key points explained". The Guardian. 21 July 2020. Retrieved 31 January 2022.
  25. ^ Tom Harper, Caroline Wheeler, Richard Kerbaj and (17 November 2019). "Revealed: the Russia report". The Sunday Times. ISSN 0956-1382. Retrieved 17 November 2019.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  26. ^ Castle, Stephen; Landler, Mark (21 July 2020). "'No One' Protected British Democracy From Russia, U.K. Report Concludes". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 21 July 2020.
  27. ^ Neilan, Cat (21 July 2020). "Politics latest news: Russian attempts to influence UK politics are the 'new normal', report claims". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 21 July 2020.
  28. ^ a b c "Russia report: When can we expect it to be published?". BBC News. 7 February 2020.
  29. ^ "U.K. Delays Russian Interference Report Until After Election". Time. Retrieved 17 November 2019.
  30. ^ Reuters (15 November 2019). "Russian meddling report – dissident's widow goes to law". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 17 November 2019. {{cite news}}: |last= has generic name (help)
  31. ^ "Bureau of Investigative Journalism fundraises to take the UK Government to court over Russian Report". Mousetrap Media. 14 November 2019. Retrieved 17 November 2019.
  32. ^ "Notice on 17 December 2019". Intelligence and Security Committee. Archived from the original on 17 July 2020. Retrieved 24 February 2019.
  33. ^ a b c Mattha Busby (20 June 2020). "Russia report: UK MPs condemn 'utterly reprehensible' delay". The Guardian.
  34. ^ "20 July 2020 – The Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament". Archived from the original on 16 January 2021. Retrieved 21 July 2020.

External links[edit]