House of Commons Library

The Intelligence and Security Committee

Published Tuesday, August 28, 2018

This paper describes the functions and powers of the Intelligence and Security Committee, which is responsible for scrutinising the UK's intelligence and security agencies. It outlines reforms to the Committee under the Justice and Security Act 2013, and summarises recent inquiries.

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The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) is a Committee of Parliament appointed to scrutinise the UK’s three main intelligence and security agencies and other intelligence activities.

Following criticisms that the ISC was opaque and insufficiently independent, the ISC was reformed under the Justice and Security Act 2013. These reforms made the ISC a Committee of Parliament, provided greater powers, and increased its remit, including oversight of operational activity and the wider intelligence and security activities of Government. The reforms also removed the veto power from the Heads of the Agencies, requiring that they must disclose any information requested by the ISC unless vetoed by the Secretary of State.

The ISC’s members are nominated by the Prime Minister and appointed by their respective Houses. The members are subject to the Official Secrets Act 1989 and have access to highly classified material in carrying out their duties.  

The ISC reports directly to Parliament, although it may also report to the Prime Minister where necessary for reasons of national security. In addition to its annual reports, the ISC has also published special reports on matters including the murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby, women in the intelligence community, investigatory powers, and the UK’s lethal drone strikes in Syria.

Commons Briefing papers SN02178

Author: Joanna Dawson

Topics: Intelligence services, Terrorism

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