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Ministers block release of Lebedev peerage details on security grounds

Lord Lebedev (Dominic Lipinski/PA)
Lord Lebedev (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

The Government has said it is withholding detailed security advice relating to the awarding of a peerage to the Russian-born businessman Evgeny Lebedev in order to “protect national security”.

The House of Commons approved a Labour motion earlier this year seeking to force the Government to release documents about the Prime Minister’s involvement in the appointment.

In response, ministers have simply released the blank form Lord Lebedev was required to fill in by the House of Lords Appointments Commission, the public citation announcing his appointment, a list of the other peerages awarded at the same time, and a letter congratulating him on the news.

It followed questions as to whether the Prime Minister asked anyone in the security services to reconsider or withdraw their assessment of Lord Lebedev – who is the owner of the London Evening Standard and a shareholder in The Independent – ahead of his appointment in November 2020.

Lord Lebedev and Boris Johnsoneerage
Lord Lebedev, left, and Boris Johnson at a reception in 2009 (Ian West/PA)

His father, the oligarch Alexander Lebedev, was a former KGB agent.

In a statement, Cabinet Office minister Michael Ellis said the Government was “committed to openness and transparency” but said it had to take into account security concerns as well as the need to maintain the “integrity” of the honours system.

“It is also the case that when considering requests for information from Parliament, the Government has a responsibility to consider whether it is in the public interest to place information into the public domain,” he said.

“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.”

Mr Ellis said that in response to a separate request, the Government would be sending information relating to “any national security matters arising” to Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, which normally sits in private.

“I believe this sharing of information illustrates the Government is acting in good faith in responding to Parliament’s request for information,” he said.

Mr Ellis added: “Lord Lebedev is a man of good standing. No complaint has been made about his personal conduct. He has been vocal in his criticism of the Putin regime.”