Government Refuses To Publish Full Documents Relating To Lord Lebedev Peerage Advice
The government has resisted calls from Labour to publish the full documents relating to Russian-born newspaper owner Evgeny Lebedev’s appointment to the House of Lords.
In a written statement on Thursday, Cabinet Office minister Michael Ellis said it was “essential that confidentiality of these arrangements” is maintained, and insisted the existing vetting process for peerages was “suitably robust”.
Labour had attempted to force the government via a binding motion to publish the official advice given to Boris Johnson by security services after he recommended Lebedev for a peerage.
The Sunday Times has previously reported that Boris Johnson had dismissed concerns raised by the House of Lords appointments commission (HOLAC) over Lebedev.
Parliament voted in March for the HOLAC advice to be made available to MPs by 28 April, but the government missed this deadline by two weeks.
Documents were made available to MPs on Thursday, but they were heavily redacted and did not contain references to the commission’s advice.
The nine-page release includes details of HOLAC’s consent form, background information on Lord Lebedev, a list of names vetted by the commission, a press notice on the 2020 peerages, and a congratulatory email to Lord Lebedev.
In his written statement, Ellis suggested that publicly publishing the full advice would “undermine” the appointments process for peerages, but said that a separate response had been provided privately to the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC).
"I believe this sharing of information illustrates the government is acting in good faith in responding to parliament's request for information,” he wrote.
But in an extraordinary statement, the ISC said they were "suprised" by Ellis' response, highlighting that they had requested the information on Lebedev seperately from Labour's motion, and had only been given the information on Wednesday.
"The Committee is therefore not yet in a position to determine whether the information provided is sufficient, whether the response meets the statutory provisions which govern the Intelligence Community's obligations to the Committee, and whether the Committee will have further questions arising," the statement read.
The ISC added that its request "should have remained a private – and classified – matter of oversight".
"The Committee is surprised by the statement by the Minister for the Cabinet Office today which links the classified provision of information to the Committee with the entirely separate parliamentary process."
Ellis also said in his statement that the disclosure of the nine-page document “reflects the need to protect national security” and “maintain integrity in the system for the awarding of honours”.
“It is essential that the confidentiality of these arrangements are maintained as it is this that ensures the vetting procedures are suitably robust and command confidence, whilst also protecting the private and personal data of those individuals who have entered into the vetting process,” Ellis continued.
“The routine disclosure of such confidential information would undermine the Commission and Crown’s ability to consider the probity of those nominated for a peerage and have long-term and damaging consequences for the peerage appointments system, and to individuals.”
Ellis added that he hoped the system of humble addresses, which was used by Labour to attempt to force the publication of the documents, should not be used in future for “political point scoring”.
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