Security services' scrutiny attacked

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The Independent Online
THE DECISION to put hand-picked Privy Councillors in charge of scrutiny of MI6 and MI5 was attacked yesterday by the Campaign for Freedom of Information.

'I don't think a lot is going to be made public. They may not be able to inquire into most aspects of these services' work,' said Maurice Frankel, leader of the campaign, which is preparing a hostile response to the White Paper on open government.

'We have seen in open government generally promises for a lot more openness, which in practice don't deliver that,' Mr Frankel said.

His attack, echoed by Labour spokesmen, followed the disclosure in the Independent yesterday that John Major had decided to appoint a committee of Privy Councillors to carry out the scrutiny role. It is not expected to cover GCHQ, the secret communications post, because of the sensitivity of its links with United States agencies.

The decision, to be announced with the Queen's Speech at the opening of the next session of Parliament in November, also drew criticism from Sir Ivan Lawrence, the Tory chairman of the cross-party Commons Select Committee on Home Affairs, which wanted the task of scrutinising the intelligence and security services itself.

'It would inspire more public confidence if parliamentarians - who are not looking into the secrets of the day- to-day operations but only policy and expenditure, which are parliamentary matters - looked into this rather than hand-picked Privy Councillors,' Sir Ivan said, adding that it was a 'bit patronising' to suggest that Privy Councillors, who swear an oath of secrecy, would be more capable of keeping secrets than MPs.

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