Intelligence and Security Committee

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The Intelligence and Security Committee was established by the 1994 Intelligence and Security Act and therefore has statutory authority and obligations. It is a unique committee, as it is not a committee of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Instead, it is a committee of nine parliamentarians appointed by the Prime Minister and reporting to him. It has been argued that the ISC should be a select committee of Parliament, but in practice it has greater powers than a select committee: in its inquiry into the Vasili Mitrokhin affair it was able to obtain papers from former administrations and official advice to ministers, both of which are forbidden to select committees.

After each general election the Prime Minister appoints the nine parliamentarians to the committee in consultation with the Leader of the Opposition. Members are mostly from the House of Commons, but at least one must be from the House of Lords. Serving ministers are not allowed to be members, but several members have previously held ministerial positions. Details of the most recent committee, including its final report and the government's response, are on its web page[1] (http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/intelligence/). This committee ceased to exist when Parliament was dissolved on 11 April 2005; the Prime Minister will appoint a new committee after the UK general election on 5 May 2005.

The Committee's formal responsibilities are to examine the expenditure, administration and policies of the Secret Intelligence Service (popularly known as MI6), Security Service (popularly known as MI5), and GCHQ. It has however in practice extended its oversight responsibilities to include the Defence Intelligence Staff [2] (http://www.mod.uk/aboutus/keyfacts/factfiles/dis.htm) and Cabinet Office Joint Intelligence Committee machinery. Its own views of its responsibilities are set out in a brochure on oversight[3] (http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/publications/reports/intelligence/intel.pdf).

The work of the committee is invariably conducted in secret, though a sanitised annual report is issued. The committee also produces reports on issues of particular concern, either on its own initiative or at the request of government ministers. From 1999 to 2004 the committee employed an Investigator, John Morrison.

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