The government has resisted Labour’s calls to publicly release the advice security services gave to Boris Johnson ahead of his decision to nominate Lord Lebedev for a peerage.
Today, ministers have published a set of documents regarding the appointment of Lord Lebedev. However, they have been heavily redacted.
A written statement by Cabinet Office minister Michael Ellis states that, although not made public, “the government has provided a response to the Intelligence and Security Committee”.
He adds: “I believe this sharing of information illustrates the government is acting in good faith in responding to parliament’s request for information.”
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In the publicly released documents, there is nothing on the advice given from the intelligence services.
The documents released into the public domain today, which total just nine pages, include:
• An email containing a House of Lords Appointment Committee consent form
• A blank consent form
• A long citation explaining who Lord Lebedev is
• A list of names vetted by the House of Lords Appointment Committee
• A press note of who would be awarded political peerages in 2020
• An email sent to Lord Lebedev explaining the procedure of being introduced into the Lords
The statement published by Mr Ellis on Thursday reads: “As laid out in today’s House of Commons paper, the disclosure of these documents reflects the need to protect national security, to maintain integrity in the system for the awarding of honours and dignities by the Crown, the vetting of nominees for probity and the data protection rights of individuals.”
In March, MPs voted for the publication of the documents related to the Russian-born businessman, and the prime minister’s decision to put him forward for a place in the House of Lords.
It came after a report in the Sunday Times suggested Mr Johnson had pushed ahead with the nomination of the Moscow-born newspaper owner even after intelligence officials raised concerns about the appointment.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the prime minister had “serious questions to answer”.
The government initially attempted to block the Labour motion seeking to force the publication of the documents, suggesting it was anti-Russian.
But Conservative whips later allowed the motion to pass unopposed.
The government then missed the original deadline for publication, which was due at the end of April.
At the original deadline, Mr Ellis said more time was needed to consider what redactions would be required on national security grounds.
In the statement issued on Thursday, Mr Ellis states: “I can assure parliament that proper consideration would be given to any information which indicated national security concern arising from a prospective appointment before a decision was made.
“Were the prime minister to recommend a peerage against the Commission’s formal advice on propriety, the Commission has previously undertaken to write publicly to the relevant Parliamentary Select Committee.”
It continues: “The chair of the Commission, Lord Bew, has noted in evidence to PACAC (The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee) last month that that was not the case in this appointment. He has also noted that no pressure was exerted on the Commission on this matter. The conclusion of the Commission’s deliberations are clear.”
The statement also states that Lord Lebedev “is a man of good standing”, adding: “No complaint has been made about his personal conduct. He had been vocal in his criticism of the Putin regime.”
Responding at the time of the original deadline, Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said the “whole things reeks of a cover-up”.
She added: “If the prime minister wasn’t involved in forcing through the appointment of an individual of concern to our intelligence services, why won’t he come clean and publish the guidance in full, as parliament voted for?”
The documents have now been provided to parliament for MPs to scrutinise.
Lord Lebedev, the son of a former KGB agent, owns the Independent newspaper and the Evening Standard. He was awarded a peerage in 2020.
He has denied posing a “security risk” to the UK and has backed the publication of the government’s advice on the issue, tweeting: “I have nothing to hide.”
But opposition MPs have raised questions over whether Boris Johnson ignored advice to reconsider the nomination.
Last month, the chairman of the House of Lords Appointment Committee denied there had been pressure to approve the appointment from Number 10.
Lord Bew told MPs there had been “uncertainty” around the case, which had involved “a special set of circumstances” and “particular complexity” around conversations with vetting agencies, but that Boris Johnson had not personally intervened.