THE credibility of the security and intelligence agencies is being hit by ineffective oversight, an influential group of MPs has said.

Scrutinising the work of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ should not be undertaken exclusively by the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), the Home Affairs Select Committee said in its latest report.

And the MPs have recommended that membership of the nine-strong ISC should be elected like select committees and the chair should always be a member of the Commons, subject to election by the whole House.

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In addition, it said the ISC chair should always be a member of the largest opposition party.

The report comes after the current ISC chair Sir Malcolm Rifkind defended his committee's role and powers in a speech to Oxford University's Wadham College.

Alluding to John Le Carre's fictional Cold War spy George Smiley, committee chairman Keith Vaz MP said: "The current system of oversight is designed to scrutinise the work of George Smiley not the 21st century reality of the security and intelligence services.

"The agencies are at the cutting edge of sophistication and are owed an equally refined system of democratic scrutiny.

"It is an embarrassing indictment of our system that some in the media published leaked information to ensure that matters were heard in Parliament.

"The Intelligence and Security Committee should be given a democratic mandate in the same way as other select committees.

"We will then be able to robustly defend our methods of scrutiny and better serve those who protect us, and the public."