SAS and other elite units operate without democratic oversight – unlike MI5, MI6 and GCHQ
Political pressure is building for the UK’s special forces to be subjected to parliamentary scrutiny for the first time – bringing them into line with rest of the military and the intelligence services.
The SAS and other elite units that make up the UK’s special forces are usually deployed on covert operations.
Any questions in parliament about them are met by the Ministry of Defence with “no comment”, even when their presence in conflict zones has been established by the media.
But MPs are now pushing for the special forces to be subjected to parliamentary oversight.
At a Westminster meeting organised by the Oxford Research Group, a thinktank, the Conservative MP Crispin Blunt, former chairman of the Commons foreign affairs committee, said: “It is my view there is a gaping hole in parliamentary oversight.”
Other countries with similar elite forces – such as Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Norway and the US – subject their forces to democratic scrutiny.
Also speaking at the meeting, the former defence and foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, who chaired the parliamentary intelligence and security committee until 2015, said: “I think it is unanswerable that there should be some form of oversight of the special forces.”
He added that if MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, which in most cases were more secretive than the special forces, could face oversight, then so could the troops.
But, he said, parliamentarians with the oversight role should not be given the right, as in the US, to be told in advance of operations. Rather than that, any scrutiny should be after the event.