HC Deb 10 January 1996 vol 269 cc215-303

Order for Second Reading read.

3.55 pm
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Michael Howard)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill is short but significant. Its purpose is to ensure that the forces of law and order have all the available tools and assistance at their disposal in seeking to combat the threat that is posed by organised crime. Its effect will be to enable the Security Service to bring all its skills and experience to bear in support of the law enforcement agencies when they take on criminal gangs, drug traffickers, money launderers, racketeers and others involved in organised crime.

I shall begin by explaining a little of the background to the Bill, and specifically the way in which it fits into the Government's broader strategy for fighting serious and organised crime.

Organised crime and those who perpetrate it are a menace to society. We are confronted with sophisticated criminals who are well organised, well resourced and well equipped, who have no compunction about using violence to achieve their ends, and who have no concern for those whose lives they ruin, especially by addiction to the drugs they peddle. The consequences of their activities are misery and human tragedy on a huge scale.

In due course, we shall examine, as we should, the civil rights implications of the provisions of the Bill. However, we would do well to remember that the greatest infringement of human rights in our society comes from the bullets, the knives and the drugs that are the stock in trade of the criminals against whom the Bill is aimed. A great deal is already being done by law enforcement agencies to tackle that type of crime, but there can be no room for complacency.

The Home Affairs Select Committee published its third report of the 1994–95 session, on organised crime, in July 1995. It acknowledged that organised crime was a cause for concern. Let me take the opportunity to pay tribute to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) and the Committee he chairs for producing a very helpful and constructive report. The Government published their reply to that report yesterday. We agree with a great deal of what is contained in it.

We especially agree with the fifth recommendation of the Select Committee, which states: While we recognise that intelligence gathering has a vital role to play in the fight against organised crime we do not conclude that the present situation yet calls for substantial inroads to be made into ordinary citizens' freedom from intrusion by the State". As I shall demonstrate to the House, the Bill does fully protect the freedoms of ordinary citizens. However, it is the first part of the recommendation that I think is especially pertinent—the recognition that intelligence gathering is vital in the fight against organised crime. The Bill seeks to make that activity more effective.

It is important that we recognise that the nature of serious crime is changing. Of course, individuals may carry out a hold-up or bank robbery in isolation. But today's serious criminal is equally likely to be a member of, or more loosely affiliated to, a group of others involved in a continuing series of criminal activities. The law enforcement agencies can no longer think in terms solely of solving individual crimes. If particular members of the group are caught and convicted, the group may well carry on with its criminal activities. These activities can continue over months, or even years, and membership of the gang may well be amorphous.

These are often people who, through ill-gotten gains, have purchased apparently respectable businesses and other cover for their activities. When faced with such criminals, who share many of the characteristics of terrorist groups, good intelligence operations are clearly vital. We wholeheartedly endorse this recommendation of the Select Committee.

That is why we think it necessary to take a number of steps to enhance the capability of our law enforcement agencies to gather and use intelligence when fighting organised crime. Many of these were announced by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in his speech at Blackpool on 13 October. The package of measures that we are putting in place includes strengthening the central contribution of the National Criminal Intelligence Service; developing the regional crime squads to provide a national police response to tackle organised crime; and engaging the Security Service to support the fight against serious crime.

Since its creation in 1992, the National Criminal Intelligence Service has made an impressive contribution to the fight against serious crime. It has proved to be the focal point for the gathering of intelligence on organised crime and a useful liaison point for overseas law enforcement agencies. But we agree with the Select Committee that the NCIS could be made more effective, and that its role can be developed.

In doing so, we need to define the status of the NCIS more clearly. At present, it is a part of the Home Office, although, clearly, its day-to-day management is a matter for the director-general rather than Ministers. We intend to give it a clearer and separate identity, with the freedom to manage its own affairs and to make further improvements to its effectiveness.

We also intend to create a national crime squad. We need to develop the existing regional crime squads to ensure that there is an effective national tier to the operational policing response. Again, it is important to recognise the changing nature of serious crime. Much more serious crime is now national and international. We must do more than just respond; we must get ahead of it.

The necessary building blocks are already in place. Regional crime squads have in recent years played an important and effective role in combating high-level criminality that crosses various local boundaries. But there are limitations. The regional crime squads are based on voluntary collaborative arrangements. Their national co-ordinator has no authority to direct the deployment of their resources. These arrangements are no longer adequate to meet the challenges we face. They must be revised, reinforced and brought up to date.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed):

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has made it quite clear that the Government have still not resolved what the national crime squad is going to be—whether, for instance, it will operate throughout the United Kingdom or just in England and Wales—what its relationship to the NCIS will be, and therefore what the relationship with the Security Service will be. Does he appreciate how difficult it is to work out how the Security Service will relate to the police, when it is not known what the national structure will be?

Mr. Howard

I do not accept that the right hon. Gentleman's conclusion follows from his earlier points. I was about to come to those very matters.

As the House will appreciate, the two measures which I have just discussed—putting the NCIS on a proper footing, and the creation of a national crime squad—have far-reaching implications. We are working through these implications with the Association of Chief Police Officers, whose views on all this I regard as of great importance, and other interested bodies, to ensure that the structures we create are those that will work effectively and which will command widespread support. Some of these changes are likely to need legislation. We hope to be in a position to introduce such legislation in the next Session.

There is, however, one element of our response that is discrete, which can be implemented in advance of the rest of the package; that is the basis of the Bill: to enable the Security Service to act in support of the law enforcement agencies against serious crime.

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)

Is not the Secretary of State putting the cart before the horse? There is a real fear that the relationship of the Security Service to the police will be uncertain. It is all very well to talk about developing structures, but, as Sir Paul Condon said in his Police Foundation lecture last year: I will argue that we have a foundation on which we can build. However, in some places the foundation is too weak to sustain additional pressure, and change is necessary. Britain's senior policeman is saying that the structures and the foundation that exist may not be good enough to take the pressures that might result from the Bill.

Mr. Howard

I have just spelt out that we accept that change is necessary, and that we are currently in the process of working through that change's implications with the Association of Chief Police Officers and others, but that is no reason why we should wait longer than is necessary to avail ourselves of the contribution that the Security Service can make in the fight against serious organised crime. That is the implication of the questions of both the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and the hon. Gentleman. Should we wait another year before availing ourselves of the contribution of the Security Service, when there is no need to do so?

The Security Service was founded some 87 years ago. In 1909, it consisted of one person, Captain Vernon Kell, formerly of the South Staffordshire Regiment. Today, the service has some 2,000 staff. The service's history has been characterised by its ability to deploy its skills and techniques to respond to changing threats and to the changing demands on it.

As the brochure on the Security Service that I published in 1993 makes clear, in its early years the service concentrated on the threat posed by German spies. In the 1920s and 1930s, the concentration was on the perceived Bolshevik threat. In the years leading up to, and during, the second world war, attention was concentrated on the threat from fascism.

In the cold war years after the second world war, the Security Service once more turned its attention to the communist threat. In the 1970s and since, a great deal of its attention has been given to countering the threat posed by terrorism emanating from certain groups and countries in the middle east. More recently, as the House will know, the service has played a prominent role in countering Irish terrorism, and, since 1992, it has had the lead role in that regard on the mainland. Its history has therefore been one of flexible response to changing threats and changing priorities. Over the years, our country has been extremely well served by the service.

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South)

Is not the background to all this the fact that the Security Service is running out of threats, and that a new one is having to be invented to save large public spending cuts that might otherwise have to be introduced to these bloated organisations?

Mr. Howard

I do not share the hon. Gentleman's rather idyllic view of the world in which we live. There are, alas, still far too many threats, but if it proves to be the case that some spare resources are available in the Security Service, we should avail ourselves of its particular skills and expertise in the fight against organised crime, which is one of the greatest threats we face.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

I for one would not underestimate MI5's traditional role in combating the curse of international terrorism, but if MI5 is to have extended powers under the Bill to deal with serious crime, is that not all the more reason to ensure that accountability exists?

Is the Home Secretary aware that the limited parliamentary accountability—which now consists of the Intelligence and Security Committee, which is not answerable directly to Parliament or to the Prime Minister, does not even meet in parliamentary buildings, and in the servicing of which the House of Commons Clerks are not involved—is inadequate? Therefore, if such extended powers are to be introduced, there should be proper accountability to Parliament.

Mr. Howard

I shall deal with accountability shortly, but hon. Members will not be astonished to hear that I do not share the hon. Gentleman's view, and that I do not accept that the arrangements for accountability are inadequate.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

Given that the Bill refers to the United Kingdom and to the British islands, what role will be played in the scheme of things by the Scottish Office and by Scottish police forces? Has consultation taken place with the Scottish Office and with senior police officers throughout Scotland?

Mr. Howard

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that consultation is taking place with the authorities in Scotland. I have just been talking about our intention to create a national crime squad, but as the hon. Gentleman will know, there is already a Scottish crime squad. In some respects, the putting in place of the arrangements necessary to make the new role for the Security Service as effective as we would like it to be will perhaps be somewhat easier in Scotland than in the rest of the kingdom.

Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay)

I am a little concerned about my right hon. and learned Friend's reference to flexible response. He correctly identified the Security Service as starting out in 1909, but is it not a fact that the role of the Security Service remained unchanged and limited to direct threats to the realm involving counterespionage, counter-sabotage and counter-subversion, until November 1989? That was when the first substantial change took place, authorised by Parliament, in order to extend the powers to terrorism. Today we are dealing with perhaps an even greater extension of Security Service powers into the criminal justice system.

Mr. Howard

As my hon. Friend says, it is true that the first legislative change was incorporated in the Security Service Act 1989, but as I have sought to explain and identify, there were changes in earlier years. Those changes were considerable, and marked a different attitude on the part of the service to the various threats that it had to counter.

Although I do not disguise from my hon. Friend or the House the fact that the proposals included in the Bill mark a further change, I contend that they are part of a tradition of change and flexible response which has been a hallmark of the service. Although the Bill marks a new departure for the service and takes it into a new area of work, such changes in direction are by no means unprecedented.

Mr. David Ashby (North-West Leicestershire)

Perhaps my right hon. and learned Friend can help me with something which has been worrying and puzzling me. He will know that, for a long time, I have advocated a national police force and fought against the proliferation of police forces. For example, I have maintained that we have Customs and Excise as a major police force as well as various local police forces. We now have a criminal intelligence section and a further proliferation with the transport police, the atomic police and the ports police.

There are so many police forces that we do not know where we are going or where we are coming from. We are now to have another police force, rather like the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which will be more related to Customs and Excise than anything else because it will be drug-related.

My right hon. and learned Friend talked about organised crime, upon which, as he will know, the Select Committee has been reporting. He will know also that at the moment there is a great threat from eastern Europe. How will all that come together? Is it not time we started to talk about a national police force with a national role, with various subsidiaries, of which the Security Service would be one?

Mr. Howard

I am sorry to say that I do not accept my hon. Friend's analysis. The Bill does not propose another police force. The Security Service will not become a police force. Of course, we need a national component in our policing service, and we have that component. However, I do not believe that it would be sensible to remove the local accountability of the police service in this country, which is, in many ways, one of its great strengths. I do not accept what my hon. Friend said about the British Transport police and other separate police forces. They have particular and specific roles, and I believe that it makes sense to have arrangements for them.

I believe that the time has come to bring the skills and experience of the Security Service to bear in the war against those who, if they do not themselves necessarily pose a threat to national security, have the capability to do serious damage to the fabric of society and to destroy people's lives.

I come now to the detailed provisions of the Bill. Clause 1 adds to the functions of the Security Service. As the law currently stands, in the form of the Security Service Act 1989, the remit of the Security Service is confined to combating threats to national security and threats from abroad to the economic well-being of the United Kingdom. The Bill will add a third function, which is to act in support of the prevention and detection of serious crime.

Those words mirror the words in the Intelligence Services Act 1994, which gives a role in fighting serious crime to both the Secret Intelligence Service—SIS—and Government communications headquarters—GCHQ—and emphasise the fact that the role of the service will be a supporting one. The law enforcement agencies will retain the primary duty for tackling crime, and will be responsible for tasking the Security Service in its serious crime work.

Mr. Beith

I am glad that the Home Secretary has made that point, but the Bill does not say that. It makes no provision to ensure that work is undertaken in that area only if the police task the Security Service to do so. Why has not the right hon. and learned Gentleman seen fit to include that in the Bill?

Mr. Howard

I do not accept the right hon. Gentleman's interpretation of the Bill. As I pointed out, the Bill contains the words "in support". I contend that the meaning that I have spelt out relating to the way in which we envisage the Security Service working is, in fact, the meaning of the words contained in the Bill. If the right hon. Gentleman takes a different view, that can be explored in Committee. If he wants to propose different language, that can be explored in Committee.

However, I urge upon the right hon. Gentleman—and this is an extremely important point—that it would be thoroughly undesirable to insert language in the Bill that would prove an invitation to legal challenge, and would end in guilty men walking free from the courts through legal technicalities. That is something to be avoided. We believe that the language in the Bill gives the meaning we want, while minimising the dangers that I have identified.

Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)

I accept what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said about not so constraining the wording of the Bill that that wording then negates its original purpose. I want to press him on the use of the phrase "serious crime". Up to now, he has rightly justified the extension of the powers of the Security Service by reference to the dangers of organised crime. However, the Bill refers to "serious crime". Will he explain why the draftsman chose to use the phrase "serious crime", but the right hon. and learned Gentleman, in his justification, has referred to "organised crime"?

Mr. Howard

The reason is much the same as the one I gave in response to the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed. The view has been taken that that wording is likely to minimise the prospect of legal challenge, which would lead to the unfortunate consequences that I have identified. If the hon. Gentleman or his hon. Friends have alternative versions, they can be considered in Committee.

Dr. Godman

I am a little concerned about the provision in clause 2—

Mr. Howard

I have not finished clause 1 yet.

Dr. Godman

I will wait.

Mr. Howard

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his patience.

The principle of the Security Service working only in support of the law enforcement agencies in serious crime matters is endorsed by all the parties involved. It is reinforced by the second half of clause 1, which imposes an additional duty on the Director-General of the Security Service. The Bill imposes a duty on the director-general to ensure that there are arrangements in place for co-ordinating the Security Service's work against serious crime with the activities of police forces and other law enforcement agencies.

The co-ordination arrangements will be governed by the agreed principles to which I have already referred—police primacy and tasking. This is an especially important facet of the measure, and it was of considerable concern and interest to the Intelligence and Security Committee, whose report on Security Service work against organised crime was published just before Christmas. Perhaps I could take this opportunity to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) and his Committee for their constructive report, which recognised that the Security Service could bring a distinctive package of skills to the fight against organised crime.

Clearly, if the Security Service is to be effective in its work in support of the law enforcement agencies, it is vital that this work is effectively co-ordinated with the work of those agencies. There is no question of the Security Service being self-tasking or working on its own in isolation without the knowledge of the law enforcement agencies. The Security Service will work closely with those agencies, and, as the Intelligence and Security Committee recommended, will be tasked by them.

Mr. Barry Sheerman ( Huddersfield)

We are now into the detail of the Bill. I, like many of my hon. Friends, have been waiting patiently to intervene since the Home Secretary said in the first part of his speech that he was going to come to an important and major section on accountability. Will he assure us that he will return to it? When he turned to the Bill's details, I became worried that he had skipped that part.

Mr. Howard

I give the hon. Gentleman the assurance he seeks.

The way in which the co-ordination will usually operate is that the Security Service will be tasked in particular areas or operations by the National Criminal Intelligence Service, which will in turn liaise closely with local police forces and regional crime squads. It may be that the Security Service will be invited to look at a particular type of crime, group or area that is suffering from organised crime. In any event, it would clearly be sensible for its resources to be deployed where they can have the greatest effect.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

On accountability, and bearing in mind the problems when the customs have worked with police forces and regional crime squads in the past, would not part of the solution to the problem be for officers from the security services who were seconded to a particular case or investigation to carry the powers of a constable? In that case, they would have the power to arrest, to bear arms and all the other powers that a constable has—as well as being accountable.

Mr. Howard

That would clearly be one answer, but I do not think that it would be the best answer, because the Security Service is not a police force, and those who work for it are not police officers. Its accountability arrangements—I come to the point that I assured the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) that I would indeed come to—are different from those of the police. Apart from the fact, to which I have already referred, that the Security Service will not operate independently but only in support of and at the request of law enforcement agencies, there are additionally, as the House will know, already a considerable number of safeguards in place to ensure that the Security Service does not abuse its powers.

The Director-General of the Security Service is personally accountable to me for all the service's activities. There is in place a Security Service commissioner, supported by a tribunal, to carry out independent oversight of the service's activities and to provide an avenue of complaint, and if required, redress for those who feel that they have been subjected to unfair treatment by the service. All Security Service warrants, about which I shall say more in a moment, will continue to require the signature of a Secretary of State, and will continue to be subject to scrutiny by the commissioner.

I should again stress that the Security Service is not to be given any new powers. It has not been given the power of arrest or any of the other rights that are traditionally enjoyed by the police. It is merely being given the ability to use its existing powers in a new field.

Mr. Allason

How many complaints have been considered by the Security Service tribunal?

Mr. Howard

I do not think that I can give my hon. Friend that figure off the top of my head, but I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State will deal with it in his winding-up speech.

Mr. Allason

Is it not a fact that that figure—even a ballpark figure could be 25, 50, 100 or 1,000—is secret? Is not one of the problems about accountability the fact that, although there may well be a structure in place, we are not allowed to know—since November 1989 precisely—how many investigations, if any, have been conducted? All that is known is that no complaint has been upheld.

Mr. Howard

As I indicated, my right hon. Friend will deal very fully with that point.

Mr. Rogers

I seem to recollect from the passage of the Intelligence Services Act 1994 that that figure was given and is in the public realm. I recollect that something like 52 complaints had been put forward, and that the vast majority of them were considered to be relatively frivolous. Some had been investigated, even though they were not upheld. I think that the figure was around 50 between 1989 and the consideration of the Intelligence Services Act.

Mr. Howard

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I am afraid that I cannot confirm or fail to confirm his recollection on that point.

The Security Service Act 1989 originally gave the Security Service the power to apply for warrants, to be signed by a Secretary of State, authorising entry on or interference with property. Those so-called "property warrants" applied, naturally enough, only to the two functions of the Security Service that were laid down in that Act.

The Intelligence Services Act 1994 extended the power to apply for property warrants to both the SIS and GCHQ and, with one caveat, allowed them to do so for each of their three main functions: national security, economic well-being and serious crime. The caveat was that a serious crime property warrant could not apply to a property in the United Kingdom.

Clause 2 extends the right to apply for property warrants in serious crime cases to the Security Service. It will allow the service to apply for such property warrants in serious crime cases in relation to property in the United Kingdom, although it leaves in place the restriction against the SIS and GCHQ doing so.

If the Security Service is to become an active participant in the fight against organised crime in Britain, it makes sense for it to be given the ability to deploy the full range of tools that it uses in its other work. The service has very particular skills and expertise, and, on occasion, it will need property warrants in order to carry out its functions effectively. It therefore seems sensible to allow it to have the right to apply for serious crime property warrants in relation to property in the United Kingdom. As I said earlier, all such warrants require the approval of a Secretary of State, and are subject to scrutiny by the commissioner.

The work of the SIS and GCHQ, although it involves action against serious crime, is far more internationally focused. The SIS in particular has a remit which requires it to concentrate on the actions and intentions of persons abroad. The Bill makes no change to the role or responsibilities of either agency. We therefore do not consider it appropriate for the Bill to remove the restriction on SIS and GCHQ property warrants applying to property in the United Kingdom.

I greatly value, of course, the contribution that both the SIS and GCHQ make to the fight against serious crime. The fact that they are tasked by and enjoy close links with the law enforcement agencies provides a useful example and model of co-operation between law enforcement agencies and intelligence services.

Dr. Godman

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I am sorry for my over-eagerness earlier.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has twice said that the granting of a warrant will be up to a Secretary of State. Will he confirm, then, that, in the investigation of a serious crime in Scotland, a member of the Security Service would seek such a warrant from the Secretary of State for Scotland?

Mr. Howard

I think that that would be the normal course of events, but the wording of the legislation is such that it is possible for more than one Secretary of State to grant and authorise that activity, and to sign such a warrant. The hon. Gentleman will understand the convenience of that, because frequently such warrants must be signed urgently, and the relevant Secretary of State may not be in the country at the time. Those arrangements are therefore as flexible as I am sure the hon. Gentleman would like them to be.

Property warrants are clearly a potentially important element in the armoury of the Security Service in its work in support of the prevention and detection of serious crime. The service, however, does not underestimate just how intrusive a power that can be, and nor do I. Accordingly, the Bill limits the circumstances in which a property warrant may be applied for by the Security Service in serious crime cases.

The Security Service can obtain a property warrant only if it relates to conduct which falls within the definition of serious crime which is within the Bill. Conduct which falls within the definition is criminal activity which involves the use of violence, results in substantial financial gain"; or involves a large number of people in pursuit of a common purpose; or is the kind of conduct for which someone with no previous convictions could reasonably expect to receive a prison sentence of three years or longer. Members of the House may well recognise that definition, as it is precisely the one used to govern the issue of warrants in serious crime cases under the Interception of Communications Act 1985. The definition has worked successfully in connection with that Act, and we see no reason to depart from it for the current purpose.

Before I leave the subject of warrants, I should make one other point. There is no specific statutory authority for the present arrangements whereby chief officers of police may themselves authorise the use of intrusive surveillance equipment in tackling serious crime. There are guidelines that control police activity of that sort very closely, and there is no evidence that they are being abused.

However, I accept that, as the Home Affairs Select Committee has recommended, a statutory system would be preferable. That is another matter that we are currently working through with the Association of Chief Police Officers. But I do not see it as providing any cause for withholding from the Security Service the necessary powers that clearly are already, and will continue to be, governed by statute and set in the context of their own accountability arrangements.

Ms Liz Lynne (Rochdale)

If the Security Service is granted a warrant, will the local police authority and local police officers on the ground be informed?

Mr. Howard

I do not know that it would necessarily be appropriate for the police to be informed of every operational detail of the work that the Security Service was carrying out. Of course, in all but the most exceptional circumstances, the local police would know in general terms of the work being carried out, because it would be taking place in support of their own activities, but it does not necessarily follow that they would need to know all the operational details in every respect. I do not think that they would regard such knowledge as relevant in every case.

Clause 3 makes it clear that the Bill extends to Northern Ireland, as it does to Scotland. The Security Service is a United Kingdom-wide organisation, and serious crime is a United Kingdom-wide problem. It therefore makes sense to ensure that the Security Service will be able to operate in its serious crime role throughout the United Kingdom. It will operate in support of the law enforcement agencies in Scotland and Northern Ireland in the same way as it will in England and Wales.

Customs and Excise, too, is a United Kingdom-wide service, and the Security Service's work in support of it will be on the same basis throughout the United Kingdom. With regard to the police, in England and Wales the Security Service will be tasked by the National Criminal Intelligence Service, and similar practical arrangements will be put in place in Scotland and Northern Ireland, where the lead is currently with the Scottish crime squad and the Royal Ulster Constabulary respectively.

Over the years, the Security Service has built up very particular skills and expertise. It has a long record of successes in long-term intelligence gathering and the infiltration of hostile organisations. Those are precisely the kinds of skills increasingly required to deal with the menace of organised crime.

That is not to say that the police do not possess such skills—indeed, I pay tribute to the many successes that the police and the Customs and Excise have had in dealing with organised crime—but we need to respond to the threat of organised crime with the full range of resources and techniques at our disposal, which must include the resources and skills of the Security Service.

Initially, the number of officers that the service will be able to deploy in pursuit of the new function will be small. The resources that it will be able to devote to that area of its work in future will depend on external circumstances and on the competing demands on its resources. In particular, much will depend on the continuance of the ceasefires in Northern Ireland. The costs will be borne from within the Security Service's existing provision.

The menace of organised crime is large and growing. We must fight it with every means at our disposal. The participation of the Security Service in that war will reinforce our ability to fight it effectively, and I commend the Bill to the House.

4.33 pm
Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)

No one who has read the Home Affairs Committee's excellent report on organised crime should be in any doubt about the extent of the threat that such crime poses to this country and its citizens. The Select Committee was right to conclude that, taken as a whole, the extent of organised crime is a cause for serious concern.

Organised crime has not reached in the United Kingdom the proportions that it has reached in some other countries, and it is my fervent hope and belief that it never will. None the less, it is a cancer that, left unchecked, destroys the very fabric of decent society and makes inoperable the rights and duties that are fundamental to any functioning democracy.

Some countries have been run by or for the benefit of organised crime. Panama under General Noriega was one notorious example, while Colombia has been another. The military regime in Nigeria is characterised not only by its brutal disregard for human rights, but by the associated complicity of the regime in serious and well-organised international criminal networks. The collapse of the Soviet Union and other communist bloc states has been the occasion for the development of highly organised criminal conspiracies in those countries, involving the trafficking of drugs and other contraband, illegal immigration and money laundering. Even within the EU, there are some member states where the tentacles of organised crime reach well into government, as they have in Italy and the south of France.

None of this organised crime—either outside the United Kingdom or within it—yet poses a threat to the security of the United Kingdom itself, but the Select Committee was right to say in its unanimous report that the government and the police will need to take effective pre-emptive measures if an irretrievable expansion of organised crime in this country is to be avoided. The question before the House in the form of the Bill is: what kind of pre-emptive measures will be appropriate and effective to meet the current and potential threat of organised crime?

Because of the power that they can wield over individual citizens, there is an absolute necessity in a democracy to ensure that all law enforcement agencies—the police, customs and the security services—are properly accountable for what they do within a clear statutory framework. As it happens, the accountability of the police was one of the first serious issues that I sought to tackle when I entered the House almost 17 years ago.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

Too long.

Mr. Straw

It has indeed been too long—certainly too long on the Opposition Benches.

I introduced two ten-minute Bills aimed at strengthening the powers of police authorities by providing an independent element for the investigation of complaints against the police and for the establishment of a national police agency. These matters are relevant to the Bill, and have consequences to which I shall return later in my speech.

Of all the law enforcement agencies, the ones that understandably arouse the greatest potential anxiety are those that operate, albeit for very good reasons, most secretly—the intelligence agencies. Until recent years, the agencies worked under what I believed to be thoroughly unsatisfactory arrangements. There was no statutory framework for their operations and there was no accountability of any kind to Members of this House. During the past 11 years, there has been a marked change for the better. The Interception of Communications Act 1985, the Security Service Act 1989 and the Intelligence Services Act 1994 mean that there is now a statutory framework for the interception of communications, for the control and operation of the agencies themselves and for some accountability to this House through the Intelligence and Security Committee.

The arrangements might not be perfect—indeed, they might need to be strengthened in the light of experience—but they are a significant improvement on what went on before. I believe that that improvement has been welcomed by a great many of the dedicated staff of the agencies.

Mr. Mullin

On the question of strengthening the accountability procedures, does my hon. Friend recall that when the previous Intelligence Services Bill was going through the House, Labour Front-Bench Members stated that the Committee that was being set up should be made accountable to Parliament, and not to the Prime Minister? Is that still the position of Labour Front-Bench Members?

Mr. Straw

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, both for asking that question and for letting me know that he was going to ask it. Of course we want the intelligence agencies to be properly accountable to this House. The question is how best that can be achieved while maintaining the operational integrity of the agencies. The arrangements have been in place following the 1994 Act, and it will be important to keep them under review. If they need to be strengthened, measures will be brought before the House to ensure that that is done.

Mr. Howard

So the answer is no.

Mr. Straw

No, the answer is maybe.

Mr. Rogers

As the person who was responsible for tabling those amendments during proceedings on the Bill that became the 1994 Act, I am rather surprised that my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) should raise that matter. He knows that the 150 amendments that we tabled did not represent the position of the Labour party but were probing amendments.

Mr. Straw

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for that explanation. When the Bill was going through the House, my responsibilities related to the Department of the Environment, not to any of the agencies that we are discussing today. We all look forward to my hon. Friend's speech later in the debate.

I paid a brief tribute a few moments ago to the work of the staff of the Security Service. In doing so, I place on record my appreciation of the approach of the retiring Director-General of the Security Service, Mrs. Stella Rimington. She has led the way in ensuring greater visibility, and far more public understanding of the purpose of the Security Service and its broad methods of work, without compromising the necessary operational secrecy of that agency.

The proposal in the Bill to extend the work of the Security Service to work in support of the police in serious crime represents a clear departure from its existing functional limits. It is a change that should not be made lightly. It is one about which I thought long and hard before recommending to my right hon. and hon. Friends that we should support the principle of the Bill. It is my view that there is a job to be done, that the Security Service has the skills and expertise necessary to deal with the job and that it should do the job, provided that Parliament is satisfied that it will take on the function and supplement the work of existing law enforcement agencies with adequate safeguards as regards its accountability.

Although we support the principle of the Bill, serious questions need to be answered today and during later stages of the Bill as to whether operational and accountability arrangements are satisfactory. Those questions relate to the definition of serious crime, to the relationship between the Security Service, the police and the other law enforcement agencies and to the consequences for the criminal justice system of involving Security Service employees in criminal justice investigations—in terms of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, the giving of evidence and the handling of complaints.

Wider issues have to be examined, including the need for a single statutory regime for surveillance, about which the Secretary of State spoke a moment ago, and the future of national policing functions. I shall deal with those issues in turn.

In practice, the work of the Security Service in fighting organised crime is likely to be confined to assisting in the investigation of very serious organised crime. In its evidence to the Select Committee, the Home Office included an informative working definition of organised crime, which is used by the National Criminal Intelligence Service, but which runs to more than 500 words. It could not be incorporated into the Bill. The Select Committee advised in its opening recommendation that we should not hinder the work of law enforcement with over-precise definitions of organised crime.

None the less, while I take account of what the Secretary of State said in answer to my intervention, the current drafting of clause 1, which uses the term "serious crime" without qualification, may be too loose. I hope that that matter will be examined in Committee. The use of that term without qualification contrasts with the qualifications imposed on its use in clause 2 in relation to intercepts. The Secretary of State mentioned a few moments ago that the term "serious crime" in relation to intercepts means an offence which involves the use of violence that results in substantial financial gain or, for example, for which it would normally be expected that a first offender would receive a sentence of three years or more.

Since I cannot conceive of any circumstance in which the Security Service would be helping to investigate crimes unless there were a reasonable prospect of the perpetrator serving a sentence of three years or more, I should like to hear from the Minister why the term "serious crime" in clause I should not be similarly qualified.

It may be argued—the Secretary of State touched on this—that that precise form of wording was used in the Intelligence Services Act 1994 in respect of the Secret Intelligence Service and Government communications headquarters, Cheltenham. We are all well aware that parliamentary draftsmen become affectionately attached to words that they have got through the House once. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) will remind us, one of the issues that he raised so eloquently during the Report stage of the 1994 Act was the definition of serious crime and whether it might have been better to have used a more qualified term.

It is accepted across the House that the role of the Security Service will be supplementary to that of the police and other law enforcement agencies. In his speech on the Loyal Address, the Secretary of State emphasised that the expertise of the Security Service would be there to "help" the police. In a letter that the Minister of State wrote to the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee yesterday, he spoke of the Security Service supporting the police and other law enforcement agencies in tackling serious and organised crime.

Although the word "support" is used in the Bill, it is used in the context of support in respect of the prevention or detection of serious crime". The words, support of the work of the police, or words to that effect, are not used.

There is understandable anxiety, not least among some police officers, that the Security Service might start to take the lead in some investigations. As far as I can divine from the fairly Delphic wording of the report of the Intelligence and Security Committee, that was its anxiety, too. It spoke of the contrast between the SIS and GCHQ, whose tasks are generally set separately by Ministers, and the Security Service, which it said was essentially self-tasking in relation to its existing statutory functions. The Committee concluded, in paragraph 8: In so far as the Service is to be given a new role in countering 'conventional' criminal activity, the legislation needs to make very clear that it will be working in support of the law enforcement organisations. That conclusion is entirely right. The words, in support of the law enforcement organisations are the problem. They do not appear on the face of the Bill. When the Minister replies, I should be grateful if he would deal with that matter and answer the anxieties that I am raising and the serious anxieties raised in the unanimous report of the Intelligence and Security Committee.

Mr. Sheerman

I was astounded that the Home Secretary did not give us any assurance of greater accountability, given this fundamental change in the law. If there is not to be any substantial increase in accountability, is not the fear that the tail of the security services will start to wag the dog of the criminal justice system justified?

Mr. Straw

That is an anxiety. I listened carefully to the Secretary of State, who made it clear that the Bill's purpose was that the Security Service should assist law enforcement agencies—that it should not be self-tasking. Given the anxieties that have been raised and the natural anxieties that are bound to exist, and which are shared on both sides of the House, about the work of organisations such as the Security Service, which necessarily have to work in secrecy, it is better for such a qualification to be placed on the face of the Bill, particularly as the Intelligence and Security Committee has recommended that course.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)

I am inclined to agree with that point, but does not the Bill open up the Security Service Act 1989? We can now examine the nature of the remits, which was raised by the hon. Gentleman. National security as a term or reference point has caused considerable anxiety to many of us, as it has throughout the western world. Are we to understand that Labour is likely to re-examine those definitions and tasks in Committee?

Mr. Straw

Yes. As I have said, we support the principle of the Bill, but have reservations about its wording and the precise arrangements for accountability in its operation. We shall certainly seek to raise those reservations in Standing Committee and on Report, if appropriate.

Mr. Shepherd

Why can that not be done here in the Chamber?

Mr. Straw

I am doing it here now.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

Order. We cannot have a sub-debate involving seated interventions.

Mr. Straw

The matter raised by the hon. Gentleman will have to be taken up with the usual channels, but I understand that there has been no argument about the intention to deal with the Bill in Standing Committee.

The change in the legislation will have an important impact on the criminal justice system. Because of the importance of its work to national security, Parliament, the public and the judicial system have accepted that the Security Service should be far less publicly accountable for its operations than the police or other law enforcement agencies. That has meant, for example, that officers in the Security Service have routinely given their evidence in court in camera, or without their true identities being disclosed.

As the Director-General of the Security Service said in her Dimbleby lecture, M15 has no executive powers", so any operations leading to the arrest of suspects, even within its existing functions, must be carried out by the police. None the less, national security—although extremely important—is a relatively narrow field. It must be accepted that in ordinary criminal trials, however serious, in which issues of national security are not involved, witnesses from the Security Service should not expect routinely to be treated differently from those from the police or customs. That would not exclude evidence being given in camera, or without the disclosure of true identity, when there were good reasons. Indeed, in certain circumstances, the police and customs already give evidence in that way. I believe, however, that the ground rules should be the same.

The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and its codes lay down clear rules relating to the gathering of evidence by the police, but we need reassurance from the Minister on whether and how the requirements of PACE will work in respect of Security Service staff involved in joint operations in the investigation of serious crime.

The handling of complaints that arise from a joint police-Security Service investigation greatly concerns police officers to whom I have spoken. As complaints against a member of the Security Service are covered not by the Police Complaints Authority, but by quite separate arrangements, some police officers have expressed to me a fear that, if things go wrong, the police might be left to carry the can.

I accept that, when two separate agencies are working on a single investigation, there can be no tailor-made answer to the problem, just as there is no tailor-made answer to the problem of complaints involving a joint operation by police and customs. I believe, however, that the matter should be considered further in Committee, that guidance should be published and that Ministers should consider explicit co-operation and access for the Police Complaints Authority to the Security Service commissioner in the event of complaints against both police and Security Service officers arising from a joint operation.

I shall now deal with two wider issues relating to the Bill and the overall policy framework behind it. First, there is the need—raised by the Home Secretary—for a single regime for interception, bugging and property intrusion. As the Home Secretary observed, at present, interception of communications generally is strictly controlled by statute, as is intrusion into property by the Security Service.

As the Home Affairs Committee said, there are significant gaps in those overall arrangements. Police intrusion into property is controlled non-statutorily and senior police officers have made it clear to me, as they did to the Select Committee, that they are anxious that their use of such powers is not properly based in law. In some cases, the police's operations in those areas make them vulnerable to civil actions for trespass at the very least. In addition, with the advance of technology since 1985, some surveillance techniques, including bugging, have become much more widely available, and they, too, are outside the current statutory framework.

I therefore welcome both the Home Affairs Committee's recommendations and the Secretary of State's confirmation that proposals to place the whole of that area on a single statutory footing will be brought before the House at an early opportunity.

The last issue that I wish to raise concerns the future of national policing arrangements. The Labour party strongly believes in locally based, locally accountable police services. Such a system has served the country well and is infinitely better than drifting into a national police force. It is also much better than ending up with competing overlapping law enforcement jurisdictions, as has happened in the United States.

We want the arrangements for locally based, locally accountable police services to be strengthened, not least through the establishment of proper democratic arrangements for local accountability of the Metropolitan police to the people of London in respect of that service's local police functions.

Some police functions, however, must be carried out nationally. The fact that that has always been so is one explanation for the distinctive arrangement of having the Home Secretary as the authority for the Metropolitan police. Over the past few years, that national arrangement has been formalised through the establishment of the National Criminal Intelligence Service.

Like the Secretary of State, I pay tribute to the work achieved at the NCIS, but it is accepted across the House that it is in transition and needs greater clarity about its future structure and organisation. It is absurd that the NCIS is allowed to be involved in static surveillance but prohibited from following its target when it moves. The internal running of the organisation is complicated by the fact that all its staff are on secondment. The discipline of those police officers is, therefore, the ultimate responsibility not of the director of NCIS but of the police officers' parent chief constables. In the long term, that is not satisfactory.

The Home Affairs Committee also recognised that separate regional crime squads with no central executive direction should be replaced by a more nationally co-ordinated structure. During his speech at the Conservative party conference, the Prime Minister wrote up in lights the idea of establishing a national squad. Yesterday, however, the Minister of State gave a much more qualified response to the Select Committee's report on that proposal. He said that the creation of a national crime squad was not straightforward. I wonder whether he cleared his remark with Downing street, because it was not what the Prime Minister led us to believe. I see much advantage in having a national squad, but we accept that it would not be straightforward.

Mr. Beith

A Scottish Office spokesman made an even more qualified comment shortly before Christmas when asked whether the national squad would apply to Scotland. He told The Herald that his department was looking into the idea and consulting with interested parties, but that judgment on the feasibility of the idea would be reserved until the consultation is complete". The Prime Minister has suggested that a national squad is about to be created.

Mr. Straw

The Prime Minister, on this issue as on many others, was slightly ahead of himself when he made that speech.

I should be glad if the Minister would tell us, when he replies, whether we will have one national police operation or two. I inferred from what the Secretary of State said that there will be both a strengthened NCIS and a separate national crime squad to absorb the work of the regional crime squads.

Mr. Michael Stephen (Shoreham)

I have here an extract from the Prime Minister's speech on 13 October 1995 in Blackpool. He said: So for the first time ever, we're discussing with the police the establishment of a national squad. This will have one mission: to take on organised crime in this country and break it". The hon. Gentleman cannot say that the Prime Minister was ahead of himself.

Mr. Straw

The hon. Gentleman is making heavy weather of my point. For the avoidance of doubt, I, too, have brought along a copy of the Prime Minister's speech.

I have raised the question of whether the proposals will result in one national body or two. There is a strong case for establishing a single national police agency within a framework which would incorporate the work of the NCIS, the work of the regional crime squads and the remaining functions of the Metropolitan police that are primarily national in character.

Most of the crime that so blights people's daily lives is local in character. It involves yobbish behaviour, disorder, vandalism, street violence and burglary. Much of it appears to be highly disorganised and opportunistic, but behind much of the local and apparently disorganised crime lies the scourge of illegal drugs. Their supply is now part of a highly organised, international, multi-billion dollar industry. Totally ruthless individuals are ready to wreck the lives of thousands of young people and to destabilise communities in the pursuit of greed. In some countries, those ruthless individuals are ready to undermine the very foundation of decent society.

We welcome the use of any additional resources to help the police in their vital fight against organised crime. We have, as I have explained, some reservations about the arrangements for the operation and accountability of the Security Service in its new role. However, we welcome the principle and the purpose of the Bill.

5.2 pm

Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater)

The hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), with whom I had an earlier practice round on this matter elsewhere, described the issue of organised crime as a threat that had to be invented. I much preferred the language and the commitment of the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), who left no doubt of his and his right hon. and hon. Friends' recognition of the seriousness of the threat that faces this country from serious organised crime. That threat does not need to be invented. If anybody tried to dismiss it as lightly as that, he would be doing no service to the people of this country.

I know that the members of the all-party Intelligence and Security Committee agree with me about the seriousness of the threat. We have already studied the matter and, as the House knows, for convenience in advance of the debate and the Bill, we produced a report on Security Service work against serious organised crime. We believe that the seriousness of this problem is not to be underestimated.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, when he introduced the debate, described serious organised crime as a menace to society. Certainly, we have to consider the implications of many aspects—I shall talk later about the threat from the drug trade—of organised crime: the fact that it is affecting society from so many different angles; the pervasiveness of the threat; and the capacity and organisation of serious organised crime. There can be no question but that we must ensure that we bring to bear all the resources available to a democracy to try to protect society from that threat.

The establishment of the drug trade must be, arguably, the most impressive feat of organisation in recent times. If it is a free market enterprise, urged on by the enormous profit potential that exists, one has to have some respect for the capacity of manufacture, export, import and distribution that has made those products available on such a scale in every constituency in this country and in every corner of the world. That has been achieved by massive, international organisation, backed up by intimidation, violence and ruthlessness on a scale that is a major threat to our society.

The present law enforcement agencies have had, by any standards, substantial successes. I understand that the street value of the drugs that were seized in the past year is some £500 million. However, even against that achievement, drug prices in real terms have fallen, which means that the product is readily available. Tragically, we know that to be the case. The importance of the challenge of dealing with the drugs trade cannot be underestimated against the background of the recent great personal tragedies that have occurred because of the continuing availability of illegal drugs.

Mr. Mullin

I do not want to spoil a good story, but some of the massive organisation behind the international drugs trade came from some of the regimes that the United States intelligence agency set up in south-east Asia and central America. That went on for so long because the Central Intelligence Agency was not accountable.

Mr. King

I shall not pursue that line because this is a serious problem. If we are distracted, we will do no service to the people of this country. I know the threat that is faced by my constituents and by the hon. Member's constituents and their children. Chasing after old issues will do no service to them.

The other crimes that are a threat develop from the drug trade, such as money laundering. We face risks from massive financial frauds and extortion, which are major threats to the economies of the world, not least to our own and to the City of London. Those are major international issues. I had never heard of advanced fee fraud until the arrests that took place in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason), as has been mentioned. When those arrests were made, we began to hear some evidence about the scale of the international conspiracy that was involved. That was manifest robbery, being conducted on a massive international scale. Other problems include letter of credit fraud, benefit fraud and immigration fraud. Those are not small-time activities, but are becoming international conspiracies that are a major threat to our country.

I noticed, in connection with my right hon. and learned Friend's visit to India, that the master forgers—he described Madras as possibly the world capital for forgery—are now believed to have cracked every security feature of the British visa. Coupled with financial fraud and rackets on that scale is the extortion and intimidation of those who are involved.

Madras may be the world capital for forgers, but there is some concern that eastern Europe may be the world capital for counterfeiting. The threat to the currencies of the world from counterfeiting—another international fraud that could threaten the currency of our own country—must also be of great concern to us.

We know that there are problems with drugs, other forms of fraud and major criminal activity, accompanied by intimidation, as I said, by extortion and by murders. We have seen that happening on our streets and the threat to our police forces. We know of the fear that now exists in our major cities. We never hoped to see such fear although we knew that it existed in, for example, the United States. We have seen the growth of ethnic gangs, with the Afro-Caribbean influence in the importation of crack and the west African association with benefit fraud and the drug trade.

The product of criminal activity in the world, especially in the drugs trade, is now estimated to amount to $500 billion a year. The impact of that on the whole international financial framework simply cannot be dismissed as a new and rather interesting sideline. I believe that it is a major threat to the national fabric and, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary said, a menace to our society. Against that background, we are discussing whether the Bill should receive a Second Reading today and whether the Security Service should be brought into the fight against serious organised crime.

Mr. Richard Shepherd

My right hon. Friend gives voice to major concerns felt by all of us in the House. However, he may be aware that the Security Service Act 1989 sets out the remit of the Security Service; that is part of the problem. The Act says: The function of the Service shall be the protection of national security and, in particular, its protection against threats of espionage, terrorism and sabotage…It shall also be the function of the Service to safeguard the economic well-being of the United Kingdom against threats posed by the actions or intentions of persons outside the British Islands. The remit is already widely drawn. Why is it necessary to extend it? The main points are covered in the 1989 Act.

Mr. King

That is precisely the point that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary made. As he realises, there is much that is not covered. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) referred to the threat to national economic well-being. I am discussing some of the things that cannot at the moment be described as such, but which, if we do not pay attention to them, will become so.

I remind my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills—I remembered this today—that John F. Kennedy wrote a book called "While England Slept" in which he talked about the fact that this country nearly lost its independence and freedom because it failed to recognise the imminent threats and because it slept as the threats grew. Against that background, to engage in these issues and to pretend that the threats are well met by the present position is wrong.

I shall return to my normal balanced and calm role, with my responsibility as Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee. We take these matters seriously. We believe that the Security Service can bring a distinct package of skills to bear. However, in our report, which I hope the House found useful, we set out a number of concerns. We believe that the concerns are agreed between the parties, as our report makes clear. We believe that the primacy of responsibility must remain with the law enforcement agencies and that the Security Service should act only in support of them.

I support what the hon. Member for Blackburn said on this point; these are matters that need examination. I understand the arguments used by the Home Secretary who can pray in aid the Home Affairs Select Committee in support of his position. These are matters that the Standing Committee will have to address. I do not think that there is anything between us. The problem is how the role of the Security Service is defined in the Bill. There is no question of a secret Security Service police force being set up as a separate activity. The Security Service must act in support and the legislation must make that clear.

The point was well brought out by the hon. Member for Rochdale (Ms Lynne) when she asked whether information about warrants issued to the Security Service would go to the police authorities. She asked whether there would be self-tasking by the Security Service and whether it would appear to be going for warrants on its own initiative without the police knowing. That is an area of concern that must be clarified and on which my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary sought to reply earlier.

The Home Affairs Select Committee raised the point—I welcome the Home Secretary's response—about the police issuing their own warrants and about the activities of chief constables. We do not yet have information about how freely chief constables make use of their warrant powers; we would be grateful for further information on that. However, we welcome the fact that the Home Secretary is discussing the issue with the Association of Chief Police Officers so that we can get the matter clarified.

We also welcome the references in this debate to the need for a better definition of serious organised crime. As has been said, the present definition has been lifted from the Interception of Communications Act 1985. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Ashby), whom I consulted and who is sitting behind the Home Secretary now. He advised me that the definition of somebody who was likely to receive three years for a first offence could include somebody who was guilty of a series of burglaries, of a mugging or of a wounding with intent. Those offences are clearly not intended to be covered by the Bill. There is no suggestion that a Secretary of State should be entitled to give a warrant for the interception of communications to the Security Service for crimes that, compared with serious organised crime as envisaged in the Bill, are petty although serious in the normal criminal sense. Clearly, that area needs attention.

The House will accept that the matters I have raised are ones for the Standing Committee. We believe that the general concept is widely supported. The issue that still needs attention, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary fairly recognised, is the development of a national crime squad. It could be argued that one should not proceed with the idea of introducing the Security Service into dealing with serious organised crime until one was clear with what body it would be working and what the ultimate arrangement in law enforcement would be. But that proposition has not been advanced by the Intelligence and Security Committee.

We believe that the issue is so important that with good sense and building on the work already being done by National Criminal Intelligence Service, there is every justification for making progress in introducing the Security Service and its distinct package of skills. However, we believe that there is a need for early understanding and for progress towards the arrangements within which the Security Service will ultimately work.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, when he introduced the proposal at the Conservative party conference in Blackpool, used a memorable phrase. He said that young people in this country were far less likely to be killed by an enemy missile than they were to be at risk from a drug dealer on the streets of our towns. That is right. The threats our young people face will be wider than that in the future. Pornography and a range of other matters can corrupt and undermine our society. The most effective action we can organise is justified.

The Security Service can make a significant and useful contribution against that background. I support the Bill on Second Reading and I support the need for sensible and constructive discussion in Committee to ensure that the valid concerns about the Bill are properly met.

5.18 pm
Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)

It is a pleasure to come out of the monastic seclusion of the Intelligence and Security Committee in the Cabinet Office and to be able to talk about the issues this afternoon. They are important, although my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) may think that they are trivial. I am a simplistic person who believes that, generally, the framework of law in a free society is there to protect people and not necessarily to restrict their freedom. I judge every measure that comes before the House in terms of how it will affect my constituents—the people who have elected me to Parliament.

At the outset, I endorse and support the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw). I also welcome the Government's positive action in the matter. However, I am disappointed with the undue haste in legislating on that proposal. I do not know whether it is the result of a vacuum in the legislative programme, but it is putting the cart before the horse.

The issue that we considered in the Intelligence and Security Committee was in what way the Security Service might "plug in", if I may use that term, to the law enforcement agencies so that extremely limited resources might be deployed effectively. The general feeling that I get from speaking to people is that the Security Service is a massive organisation, which can deploy thousands of people, with huge resources, to that task.

As I represent a mining constituency, and having been through the miners' strike, I disagree profoundly with the theory that the Security Service has had only a very simple counter-espionage and counter-subversion role in the past few years. It is now fairly clear that it played some part in the miners' strike, but I do not want to go down that lane especially.

What disappoints me about the introduction of the Bill is the fact that, as the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), the Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, said, the setting up of the required working relationship is a complicated problem, which could not be resolved by the simple addition of a phrase to the Security Service Act 1989. It deserved far more than what is in the Bill. It is all very well to say, "We can resolve that problem in Committee", but according to the Home Secretary, we are talking about a short Bill of two or three clauses, which will be substantially amended or added to in Committee. That is not the way to introduce legislation.

There have been cries that that matter should be discussed on the Floor of the House in the way that the Security Service Bill was discussed in 1989. If, however, the matter goes into Committee upstairs, the House should consider what legislation will go up there. It is not good enough to say, "We tagged on a sentence to a previous Act and then let it be amended further in a different way." I know that it will be argued, and has been argued, that the Bill provides only a framework, but on a contentious matter, which may have profound constitutional implications, the devil will be in the detail and that detail must be hammered out. Therefore, I am disappointed that the Government did not take full note of the report that the Intelligence and Security Committee sent to the Prime Minister before the Christmas recess.

I am worried that the Bill is likely to undo the substantial progress that has been made in bringing the intelligence and security agencies out of the closet in the past few years. As my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn said, it would be churlish not to congratulate the Government on what they have achieved. At the heart of the matter is the issue of using secret services in a free democracy as part of our everyday policing of that democracy. As Sir Paul Condon said in his 1995 Police Foundation lecture, which I referred to in an intervention earlier: there is a great belief and adherence in this country to the notion of individual freedom and liberty. Without doubt, people want to enjoy life unhindered by crime and the fear that it produces, and look to the police to enforce and maintain the law firmly. However, at the same time, they do not want intrusive methods, overt force or a lack of discretion to impose unnecessarily upon their everyday lives". That is the balance that must be achieved in the argument and in the operation of the Bill.

One of the arguments that has been developed during the debate is that surrounding the question of whether there is a need for the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South suggested that the need was being invented. I could not disagree with him more profoundly, and I do not believe that most people, when they consider their constituency, would accept that a need is being created.

Regardless of what we may say in support and praise of the law enforcement agencies, there is no doubt in my mind that the battle against organised and serious crime is being lost on the streets of my constituency. I witness evidence of that in the tragedies that take place among young children—even some of junior school age—whose lives, freedoms, liberties and choices for the future are being circumscribed by the evil men who operate in the milieu that we are discussing.

Mr. Mullin

No one questions that there is a serious problem, especially in relation to drugs. What we question is whether the intelligence services, which do not have a very good record of accountability, are the appropriate way of tackling it. If it is such a big issue, why are we talking, as I understand that we are, about only 20 or 30 personnel being transferred to that work? It is quite a small matter. I therefore feel that that is a put-up job.

Mr. Rogers

That is where I disagree entirely with my hon. Friend. Perhaps we come from different positions and hold different attitudes about that, but I believe that it was Senator Barry Goldwater who said that extremism in defence of liberty is a virtue and moderation can be a vice. I shall return to that matter later.

In paragraph 7 of our report, the Committee said that there were certain key aspects that have not yet been fully resolved. They relate to the tasking, command, integration and accountability of the Service, particularly where its work extends into the operational field (in the areas of surveillance, agent handling and the use of technical devices); there is still much work to be done on the practicalities of co-operation in an area where the Service must operate clearly within the constraints of the Criminal Justice System. I resent the idea that those of us who support the Bill are letting loose a monster on society. I do not believe that that is true. My experience of coming into contact with people who work in those services is that, by and large, they are extremely dedicated people and very anxious that there should be a legislative framework in which they would operate. As I say, perhaps quite differently from my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South, having spent a year on the picket lines supporting the miners of my constituency, I will give way to no one in wanting the services and the law enforcement agencies made accountable. I am not coming from a position of weakness in that respect or trying to defend my attitude towards civil liberties or citizens' rights. There must be a balance, and we are trying to achieve that. That is what we are trying to argue today and, I hope, in Committee.

Mr. Ashby

I speak as someone who finds himself frequently, in those issues, on the side of the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin).

Did the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) hear the programme on Radio 4 this morning in which the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock) reminded us that the security services possibly had a massive, continually growing file on her in relation to her Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament activities many years ago? That would be inappropriate nowadays, in 1996, when we realise how trivial and how stupid it was, yet one recalls what one thought at the time and the way in which one operated. Things change.

How do the hon. Gentleman, and the Committee on which he serves, regard such matters? We must consider the relationship between the security forces and the police forces. It is a difficult aspect of policy. How does he regard it?

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. This is turning into a small speech, not an intervention.

Mr. Rogers

At the press conference following the first meeting of the Committee, I was asked by journalists whether, during the first couple of weeks, I had been able to gain access to my MI5 file, detailing my membership of certain groups. I therefore quite understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying. He is right to say that society is dynamic and that things change. Our attitudes, too, must change; we must reflect what is going on outside and not become entrenched in dogmatic attitudes to the secret state. We could easily spend all year philosophically discussing the secret state in a democracy.

Our premier policeman, Sir Paul Condon, also said in his lecture of last year that he was not confident that we could enter the 21st century with the status quo in relation to combating organised and international crime. If our top policeman says that something is wrong, we should surely acknowledge his expert advice. I would not claim that Sir Paul is a spy under the bed, working against the interests of society at large. Given his attitude, and other evidence that I have seen, I believe that the status quo must be altered and that we have a duty to bring all our available resources to bear against these evil people.

International crime is soaring, and unless we do something about it now, the game will get ahead of us—perhaps irretrievably, as the Home Affairs Select Committee said last year in its excellent report. Frontiers are coming down, trade is expanding, financial services and technological developments are all making the profits from crime easier to recycle and launder.

One of the biggest problems for crime syndicates is disposing of their money. That is why I am disappointed by the fact that the Government do not regulate the City and our money markets with as much enthusiasm as they watch for social security swindlers, as they call them. Perhaps if they controlled some of the fat cats up the road a little more diligently, we would be more prepared to accept what they say about ordinary people who may cheat the social security system out of a pound or two.

There is no doubt that the evil people who control crime are winning the battle and are seizing every opportunity to do so. They exploit every weakness to expand their empires. As a result, in recent years we have all heard the cries for change.

The Select Committee did an excellent job for the country last year by publishing its comprehensive report. Its conclusion—that the fight against organised crime must involve more than just the usual law enforcement agencies—acted, perhaps, as a trigger for this debate. I am, however, concerned about the reticence expressed in paragraph 55: While we recognise that intelligence gathering has a vital role to play in the fight against organised crime we do not conclude that the present situation yet calls for substantial inroads to be made into ordinary citizens' freedom from intrusion by the State". We could all agree with that as a general statement, but it concerned arguments about the Government's right to examine tax records and other paperwork relating to people suspected of serious financial crimes.

In answer to an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South, I referred to what Senator Barry Goldwater said in 1964: Extremism in the defence of liberty is no vice; moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue. That is why I fail to understand the moderation and reticence of the Home Affairs Select Committee on this point.

Mr. Bermingham

If my hon. Friend reads the whole of paragraph 55, he will find that we said that we had not examined the matter in detail and were therefore not in a position to make a recommendation. Does he agree that experience teaches that the last thing that a major criminal ever does is file a tax return?

Mr. Rogers

I cannot therefore see why the Select Committee, of which my hon. Friend is a member, referred to tax returns. I referred to them only because I saw them mentioned in the report.

Mr. Mullin

Is my hon. Friend aware that Goldwater also said that America should drop the nuclear bomb on Vietnam to blow the leaves off the trees so that the Americans could see whom they were fighting? I do not, however, see how that assists the debate.

Mr. Rogers

Neither do I. I wonder why my hon. Friend mentioned it—

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Hillhead)

I hope that my hon. Friend will accept from me that he is probably the only Labour Member of Parliament ever to quote Senator Barry Goldwater with approbation in a speech dealing with civil liberties. The Senator was one of the most reactionary, anti-democratic and anti-freedom people in the entire history of United States politics.

Mr. Rogers

In general I would agree, but he did get one thing right—the quotation I have given the House.

I return to the central point that there are evil people at large, even in our junior schools. Our children need protection from those criminals. There have been tragic suicides and overdoses; there have been ruined lives and parental heartbreaks. We are all aware of the increase in drug-related crime, and in muggings, assaults, robberies and car theft. People have a right to protection from such crimes—a fact to be borne in mind in any discussion of liberties.

My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) and I last summer launched a drugs campaign at the beginning of the school holidays in our respective constituencies. I was amazed to learn the extent to which drug taking has infiltrated schools—the right hon. Member for Bridgwater has heard me say as much before. The idea is that people should be helped to help themselves, so in the Rhondda valley and in Taff-Ely we have set up drug awareness groups that can help, among other things, to relieve the misery of mothers whose kids have committed suicide or died from overdoses. They are in a good position to describe which citizens' rights need defending. They look to us to create a framework in which their rights can be defended.

I certainly agree with my hon. Friends who have intervened that a balanced measure is called for here. We cannot allow a secret organisation in our criminal justice system without a proper system of accountability.

Mr. Winnick

In an intervention, my hon. Friend said to my hon. Friend the Labour Front-Bench spokesman that, when we were considering last year's Bill, the amendments in Committee were probing amendments.

Mr. Rogers

Some of them were.

Mr. Winnick

Would I be right in saying that, when my hon. Friend, supported by all Labour Members, pressed from the Committee Front Bench that the scrutiny Committee should be accountable to Parliament, that was not a probing amendment? We were committing ourselves. With his experience of the Committee that he has been speaking about, does he agree that what we said in Committee is right and proper, even more so if MI5 is going to have its work extended? In the way in which the Committee operates, there should be proper accountability to Parliament; it should not simply be to the Prime Minister.

Mr. Rogers

It would be presumptuous of me to presume on the prerogative of the Leader of the Opposition, who I hope will be the next Prime Minister, and to say what his views will be about how the system will be organised. The day after he wins the next election, he will be responsible for the intelligence and security services, so it would be extremely presumptuous of me to prejudge his view in this matter.

However, as my hon. Friend has asked me, I can relate that matter only to the working of the Intelligence and Security Committee. Part of the problem that we are attempting to overcome is the extremely difficult dilemma of balancing the responsibility that we have been charged with statutorily with our responsibility to parliamentarians. As Committee members, we must have trust from both sides. We must have trust from the agencies that we are there to oversee, involving administration, finance and policy development, but we also have a responsibility to our fellow parliamentarians. Our first responsibility statutorily, however—there was no big argument about this in Committee following the amendments that we tabled—is to the Prime Minister who appointed us and who, in law, is responsible.

I accept that a dilemma exists and that there will be a dilemma for the Labour Government as to exactly how far they go in opening the intelligence and security services to the public gaze, but that matter is not for me: it is for the Leader of the Opposition or the next Prime Minister to expound himself. As I said, I would not be that presumptuous. However, I know that it is important to militate all resources in pursuit of crime.

Mr. Richard Shepherd

I am still puzzled at this. We are at some disadvantage in the House in that we cannot reach in and know the evidence that has led the hon. Gentleman to the conclusion that this formula of words or the Bill is appropriate. For instance, I do not know why it was not possible for the views of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis to be published by the Committee, unless there is some injunction against that, but I have not heard anything as to the balance of the argument. Who supports the measure? Do the police support the security services having a purchase into intimate domestic matters that affect our civil liberties, with all the panoply of the Official Secrets Act 1911—the right to designate individuals, the absolute offences attached therein, bugging—the whole thing? What was the clinching argument that convinced the hon. Gentleman that this is the appropriate way forward? Who supported it?

Mr. Rogers

I was coming to the accountability issue in relation to the Bill's proposals, with which I do not agree particularly. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman did not listen closely when I started my speech. I said that I was most disappointed by the fact that the Bill was only a one-sentence addition to the Security Service Act 1989. I have substantial reservations.

I did say that a Committee is not the place to amend such a short Bill and that we should not then lumber it with what the Home Secretary said he was prepared to take on board. It would have been far better if the Government had taken their time, and presented a far more comprehensive Bill so that we could have discussed it properly. Rightly, the issue is what is serious crime as described in the Bill.

The Home Affairs Select Committee rightly said—this is the basic issue that we should be considering—that the search for intelligence about organised criminal activity should not be hindered by concern about precise definitions of what is and what is not 'organised' crime. In the desire to define organised crime, we should not hinder the pursuit of criminals. The NCIS and the Home Office, however, have come up with a definition. One could read at great length those different definitions, but why did not the Government wait until publication and consider the Intelligence and Security Committee's report, where we discuss the problems of serious and organised crime, before publishing the Bill?

A simple illustration will demonstrate my point. Sexual child abuse could be an individual act; that is a serious crime. The collective acts of paedophile and child pornography rings are also serious crimes, but they are organised crime. Surely we are not suggesting that the security services should be involved in individual criminal acts, but that is the suggestion in clause 2(3B)(a) and (b). That is why I have substantial reservations about the Bill.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean)

I have been listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman's excellent speech. On his last point, I can see a danger. He seems to be arguing in favour of the use of the word "organised" and the paedophile ring that he has taken as an example may be a good one. Would he not be concerned that, if we had a definition using the word "organised", some serious paedophile offenders with some clever lawyers might escape justice and walk scot free because they managed to prove to the courts that, although they were serious criminals, they were not organised as such, or the Security Service would be found to have been acting inappropriately in pursuing people who proved that they were not organised?

Mr. Rogers

Frankly, that is a trivial point. If the Government's legislative lawyers cannot come up with a decent form of words other than what is in the Bill, I should like to know what they are being paid for. I do not know whether the phrase "serious and/or organised crime" could be incorporated in the Bill, but I hope that the Government will not leave it in this simplistic context.

Mr. Ashby


Mr. Rogers

I do not want to give way again as I want to conclude my speech simply by saying again why I have strong reservations about the Bill. As I said at the beginning of my speech, this measure puts the cart before the horse. The policing structures in Great Britain are not available to use the security services' resources to the best advantage.

As was said earlier in the debate, we all want police forces to maintain their traditional impartiality and to be accountable to local communities. Those are the real strengths in protecting and preserving individual freedoms, but, manifestly, the present structures do not work and the battle is being lost. Everyone who has considered the matter, from the Home Affairs Select Committee, to the Association of Chief Police Offers, the National Criminal Intelligence Service, the security services, and anyone and everyone who has given evidence on this matter, acknowledges that. Sir Paul Condon's phrase, that in some places the foundation is too weak to sustain additional pressure and change, is correct.

Although I welcome the fact that the Security Service is to be involved in organised and serious crime, I feel that the Government have not given sufficient consideration to the structure of the Bill to allow it to pass Second Reading without some criticism.

5.50 pm
Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary said that the Bill was short and—I think he said—sensible. I trust that my contribution will be the same; it will certainly be short.

Over Christmas, I received letters about drugs from four children from Whetstone in my constituency. The children were aged between eight and 11, and I suspect that their primary school teacher might have put them up to it. All the children—the oldest was Simon Clay, aged 11—said that they were worried about drugs, and that the Government should do something about it. I am delighted that our drugs education programme is getting through. All four letters suggested that we should employ what they called "the secret service" to deal with drug dealers. I suggest that out of the mouths of babes and sucklings comes the truth.

In the city of Leicester, if not in my constituency, organised crime, particularly drug dealing and trafficking, is rife, and we see the problems spreading. In the past fortnight, there have been shootings in Belfast by a deceitful IRA front organisation called Direct Action Against Drugs. It claims to be against people involved in drugs.

Violence is certainly perceived as increasing in our society. There has been the business with knives, and in the past six weeks we have seen the tragic murder of Mr. Lawrence. We have seen guns used more often and police being assaulted. In the past couple of days, a chief constable has expressed his concern in the newspapers. All that is often linked to gangs. Three apparent drug dealers—I cannot comment from knowledge—were murdered in a Range Rover beside a reservoir in Essex during the past month.

In the House, we are often accused of being out of touch. It is true that we are insulated. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers), who made what was generally an extremely sensible speech, said that we are not necessarily at the front line in the war against drugs. That is fair. We do not hang around in playgrounds or on campuses where drug dealers are to be found.

To a certain extent, we are insulated by virtue of our age as well as our life style from the reality of much of the drug dealing in the back streets of our inner cities. The people of our country are not insulated, and, as the hon. Member for Rhondda said, the parents of young people who are at risk from drugs and criminal violence want sensible action for themselves and their children.

Violence is the most frightening manifestation of organised crime, but the power and the rackets of syndicates, whether from Latin America or south-east Asia, can and do spread. Organised crime involving the Mafia, the so-called Russian mafia, eastern European groups and other international groups is becoming more evident in western Europe.

As I have said, drugs are an obvious manifestation, but, as the Select Committee report pointed out, the international organised crime groups are involved in other huge and lucrative rackets such as counterfeit currency, money laundering, smuggling, illegal immigrants—that was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King)—possibly nuclear smuggling, illegal weapons dealing and high-technology crime, which, although I do not understand it, is certainly understood by them. They might be involved in prostitution—although I believe that the white slave trade is a bit outdated—and a raft of other criminal activities which threaten the fabric of our society. It may sound as if I am overstating the issue, but to some people in our cities, such problems are a grave worry every minute of their day.

I fear that we are less likely now to find honour among thieves. Those kindly avuncular crooks such as Fagin have been replaced by ruthless and violent gangs who will intimidate police officers, prison officers, judges and juries as well as the families of those people. Sadly, that is a growing problem, and the man and woman in the street, if they still exist, fear organised crime and the increase in violence which are typified by the shootings and stabbings I have mentioned.

With tongue in cheek, the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) suggested, to a certain extent rightly, that the job of the security services now has less to do with countering Soviet spies. That is self-evident. Threats to the United Kingdom remain, but the KGB and eastern European security services have changed. I recall the activities of the Bulgarian secret service agent, although I cannot remember his name—

Mr. Allason

Georgi Markov.

Mr. Robathan

I thank my hon. Friend. He was murdered on a bridge with the tip of an umbrella, which introduced cyanide or some other poison into his system. Such agents no longer exist.

I fear that some opponents of the Bill have watched too many James Bond films and read too much Le Carre. They tend to see anybody in the security services as a cross between Walter Mitty and a character from the pages of Fleming or Gerald Seymour. Indeed, such people do exist—I remember Mr. Bettany, who was a Walter Mitty character.

The vast majority are not like that. When I was in the Army, I saw a little of the work of the Security Service, and I can speak with some experience. I was generally impressed by the hard-working and highly capable people who were often using extremely sophisticated equipment which required complicated training. They showed great skill in gathering intelligence.

Violent international organised crime is not so dissimilar to subversion and terrorism, which the Security Service is used to combating. The Security Service is an excellent organisation, which, as has been said, is perhaps not used as intensively as it was. It is as well suited to assisting in the battle against organised crime as it has been to dealing with previous threats against our society.

The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) made a speech which I thought was generally very sensible. He mentioned our local county police forces and supported that system. I also support that structure. It is well liked, and I wish to see it continue. I do not believe that a national police force such as that mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Ashby) would find favour with the population. Organised crime is not just based in a county such as Leicestershire or in the Metropolitan police area. The need for national organisations is well understood. I am glad to see that the DNA database which was set up recently is working.

Mr. Ashby

That is national.

Mr. Robathan

As my hon. Friend says, it is a national database.

Mr. Bermingham

Will the hon. Gentleman accept that the problem with local police forces, regional crime squads and the security services is caused by funding? For example, the NCIS will often develop from its computer information about a particular group of people who are seeking to import drugs. It may be that regional crime squad No. five—the south-east regional crime squad—is allocated. It then has to go to, for example, the Essex police or Kent police to ask whether it is all right to act. I have been told that, on a number of occasions, the necessary funds have not been available. Unless there is a national funding system, things fall apart, and the criminals are not caught.

Mr. Robathan

That is a good point. I am not against nationally based organisations. I wish to see our police force developed further, while remaining based in local areas. There is great affection for that system within local populations. The hon. Gentleman mentioned drug dealing, which we are discussing today, but crime in the streets of his constituency or my constituency may remain local, and should be dealt with locally as far as possible. The hon. Gentleman made a good point about funding, which, although it is a real issue, is possibly not the issue being dealt with today.

I should like to see the national Security Service used against national and international crime in the way that has been described. It is a development of our resources, and I believe that the development of institutions is usually better than any revolutionary or radical change.

This Bill will consolidate the existing organisations and improve their workings and usage. The people on the streets of Britain want action against organised crime, which concerns them greatly, so they will welcome the employment of the Security Service in the fight against crime. Liberal Democrat opposition to the Bill is but another example of slightly misguided ideology—putting so-called civil liberties before the liberties of all citizens of the United Kingdom, who should be allowed to live their lives and go about their lawful business in freedom and security.

I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister to take account of two related concerns. First, the workings of the Security Service must remain covert and secret. Details about operational techniques or individual security officers should not be revealed in open court. We need to protect the weapon—the body—that we want to use against organised crime. Officers will not be operating in uniform; they will be operating covertly.

Secondly, the people who will try to find out details about the service and the techniques will be clever lawyers working for the benefit of clients who may or may not be criminals with powerful, violent organisations behind them. If we want the Security Service—the secret service, as it was called by my constituents aged eight to 11—to remain secure, we must ensure that the law does not undermine that by demanding the identity of security officers.

That matter was raised by the hon. Member for Blackburn. I fully accept his point that accountability is important, but on this occasion the hon. Gentleman and I take different positions. I trust that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary can reassure me that the work of the Security Service will not be undermined or negated by slick, clever, overpaid lawyers.

Mr. Ashby

In my hon. Friend's reference to a slick, clever, overpaid lawyer, does he mean a lawyer who gets an innocent man acquitted or a guilty man convicted?

Mr. Robathan

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who, as a lawyer, is right on cue. Indeed, he obviously has personal experience of the issue. I do not think that any hon. Member would want innocent people to be convicted, but many in this House, as well as many people less insulated from the workings of society, are concerned that our criminal justice system enables barristers to be paid so much money that they work to obtain acquittals for clients who, in their hearts, they believe might be guilty.

Mr. Ashby

Those barristers get £180 a day.

Mr. Robathan

Apparently, the poor barristers get only £180 a day. However, I have met one or two who earn a great deal more than a quarter of a million pounds a year. Perhaps they have obtained acquittals for one or two guilty men.

I welcome the Bill, which I believe will play a valuable role in the fight against organised crime. It will be welcomed by everyone in the country except criminals, organised crime syndicates and, perhaps, Liberal Democrats.

6.3 pm

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

I am glad to have the opportunity to say that I accept that there is a useful role for the Security Service in assisting in the fight against organised crime. Our amendment sets out the ways in which we believe the Bill does not satisfy that objective. It almost exactly parallels the report of the Intelligence and Security Committee, which I hope the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) will read. It explains why we think that the Bill should have been cast in a different way.

Another danger arising not just from the hon. Gentleman's speech but from some other speeches is that we might create expectations that the proposed changes cannot satisfy. It will be of no service to those who work in MI5 to create expectations that cannot reasonably be satisfied.

My assumption is that the numbers of staff initially made available will be very small, so that the number of inquiries in which they can be involved must also be very small. Perhaps only a bare handful of inquiries will be undertaken at any one time. We must not lead people to expect that the massive problems of drug trafficking, violent crime, international criminal organisations and all manner of other offences—even prostitution, which the hon. Member for Blaby mentioned—can be significantly tackled by such a small number of people.

The suggestion by the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, in response to Dame Stella Rimington, the Director-General of the Security Service, was that the analytical skills of the Security Service could be brought to bear in cracking some of the criminal syndicates. It could usefully supplement the capacity of the police if those skills were brought to bear in an appropriate way. However, I do not believe that the Bill will secure that. It does not match the intentions described by the Home Secretary today.

To some extent, I was reassured by what the Home Secretary said he sought to do through the Bill. However, as he said it, I was reminded of a remark by the current Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, in another context—that, having taken a Bill to a Special Standing Committee where it was examined in a more inquisitorial way, he quickly discovered that it did not meet the purposes for which it had been drafted, and even with amendment could not be made to meet those purposes. Ministers sometimes set out their intentions but then find that a Bill does not meet them.

If the Security Service is to use the capacity that I have described in support of the law enforcement agencies, it must be on a tasked basis. That is how the Secret Intelligence Service and GCHQ currently support law enforcement internationally. They are asked to do certain things to back up the attempt to crack international drug smuggling or to locate organised gangs trying to commit crimes. They set about those tasks and then provide the authorities concerned with helpful intelligence that can be acted upon.

The Bill does not provide such a procedure for Security Service involvement in the fight against organised crime. The police lead is not specified in the Bill. I would be much happier if it were made clear in the Bill, as the Committee suggested in its report, that the work must be in support of the law enforcement agencies. If we do not get that right, we run the risk of undermining the authority and confidence of the police.

The Bill does not deal with the present differences in the way that the Security Service operates. Its director-general has a responsibility to interpret the remit of the service and to decide the priorities, in a way that does not apply to the directors of the other two services in the area. They are tasked by Departments to do certain things.

The Security Service has a unique responsibility to consider the matters within its remit and assess the extent to which they represent a threat to the security of the state or the economic well-being of the country, and then to take appropriate action. The service reports to the Home Secretary on that action, but the tasking responsibility lies with the service. If we imported that procedure into the work of the Security Service as it relates to the police and organised crime, it would not fit with what the Home Secretary envisaged in his description—it would be a very different structure indeed.

Theoretically, if the Security Service were to operate on the same basis as it does in other areas, it would decide whether the priority was gang warfare in Manchester, for example, and then deal with it independently—whether or not the chief constable of Manchester thought that it was the highest priority or that it was not currently being sufficiently tackled by the resources available to him.

Mr. Rogers

As I understood the Home Secretary, he said that the Security Service, in its envisaged role, would be tasked by the National Criminal Intelligence Service. I realise the implications of that, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman did cite a precise tasking master.

Mr. Beith

I was pleased to hear the Home Secretary use those words, but the NCIS is not mentioned in the Bill. Indeed, the notion that the Security Service will be tasked by anybody is not mentioned in the Bill. The parent Act gives the Security Service the responsibility to assess for itself where the threat lies and where to deploy its resources.

My experience as a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee, albeit for only a short time, is that the services work to their statutory remits and that they are different. The culture of the services that have a tasked relationship with customers—that is, the SIS and GCHQ—is different from that of the Security Service. It is the direct and proper result of the fact that the statutes are framed differently.

The Home Secretary's civil servants—perhaps for ease of drafting—have simply hung the change that he wants to make on the peg of the existing remit. The Intelligence and Security Committee sought to explain why that would not work unless the remit was restricted in some way. Unless it is made clear that the work has to be undertaken in support of the law enforcement agencies and with their consent, it will import an inappropriate new kind of self-tasking into the fight against organised crime, which in no way corresponds with what the Home Secretary says that he is seeking to do.

My concern is further underlined by the way in which the Bill is drafted in respect of the co-ordination between the Security Service and the police. The Director-General of the Security Service is told, as it were, to write the rules for co-ordination between the Security Service and the police. The Bill casts on the director-general the responsibility for ensuring that arrangements for co-ordination are in place. A strange back-door way of specifying that co-ordination should exist has been found.

It is not adequate to let—in effect—the Security Service write its own rules. I do not say that because I think that it will do so in any improperly motivated way. I just do not think that it is a sensible way to do it. We do not give the police such responsibility. We do not tell them that it is their job to arrange co-ordination with the local community. We enact provision for police authorities. We enact the main features of the relationship between the police and the rest of the community, and we should do the same with the Security Service.

The rules which are to be set up for co-ordination are not subject to approval by anybody. They are not the subject of a statutory instrument which comes before the House, nor do they have to go before the Intelligence and Security Committee. Once the director-general is satisfied that arrangements exist, the machine can start and roll into effect. Her or his decision that the arrangements are in place is sufficient to start the clock, which is not satisfactory.

A further weakness in the Bill is that there is no national structure into which all the proposals are being plugged. The National Criminal Intelligence Service is not mentioned in the Bill. The police national squad is still a creature of Government speculation and imagination rather than reality. The Prime Minister set out the idea in his speech but, as I quoted earlier, the Scottish Office said that the feasibility of the idea—the principle of it—was still being examined so far as it affected Scotland.

We are being invited to grant the Security Service the right to a relationship with a police national structure which might exist in a year's time. It might be UK-wide; it might just affect England and Wales. It is not clear.

Mr. Rogers

It is putting the cart before the horse.

Mr. Beith

As the hon. Gentleman says, it is putting the cart before the horse.

I have not yet been convinced by the evidence that I have been shown that so much can be achieved in the months between the Bill going through the House and the decision on the national squad and Scotland to make its passing absolutely essential before the Government have completed their consultations on wider matters.

Indeed, if the matters are so important, why have the Government not got on with them? After all, the statement was made at the Conservative party conference in the autumn. One assumes that, if the Prime Minister makes a statement on a new policy at the party conference, he has already done some of the work on it, or some of it has been done on his behalf. Perhaps that is too generous an assumption. The work had not been done at all. The speech was the beginning of the idea. Surely the Government could put some more expedition into the consultation, so that, by the time the Bill has reported, we know what system we are trying to plug the mechanism into.

If we do not get it right, some rather disturbing possibilities could arise, of which we must take account when considering a constitutional Bill. For example, the Security Service could undertake a task because it had a different order of priorities from the police. It could undertake a task because it believed that the Hampshire police were not according sufficient priority to certain aspects of organised crime in their area, and could therefore carry out investigations. I do not think that that is what the Home Secretary envisages, but the Bill leaves that possibility open.

Indeed, because of the way in which the Bill is drafted, the Home Secretary could decide, because he was under political pressure and was being challenged about something going on in Merseyside, to tell the Security Service that it ought to investigate something to which he thought the Merseyside police were not giving sufficient attention. Again, I do not think that that is what the Home Secretary is telling us he wants to do. Why write a Bill that is open to such interpretation?

The issue of warrants has also been left to be resolved later. The Home Secretary referred to it, and said quite rightly that he was not satisfied with the present arrangements concerning the police and wanted to improve them. It is notable to those of us with civil liberties concerns that the Security Service system for the approval of warrants is better than the police system. The Security Service system requires specific authorisation by Ministers, and is subject to quite a, thorough review procedure. We have certainly had the opportunity to ask the judges who undertake it questions about how it is carried out.

In the police forces, the chief constable makes arrangements for the approval of intervention on property—the difference does not apply to communications. The system is not ideal for police officers, because they are open to action for civil trespass; there are all sorts of problems with it.

If the two systems run side by side, it will be extremely confusing and would open up the possibility that, in a joint operation, Security Service personnel could say to the police, "Look, our warrant procedure is terribly cumbersome. Let us do it on one of your warrants. You have only to ask the chief constable. Let us not bother with our rigmarole of going to the Home Secretary." The purpose of the warrant system would be defeated in order to get on with something that the Security Service felt was urgent. Such confusion should not be left in the drafting and passing of new legislation.

If the police are not told about a warrant issued to the Security Service in respect of their area, ridiculous possibilities arise. My hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Ms Lynne) mentioned them to me earlier.

Let us say that a Security Service operative, acting on a Home Office warrant, is seen by a next-door neighbour, who rings the police. The police could come dashing in to arrest the Security Service personnel, totally unaware that the operation is supposedly in support of them. It must be co-ordinated. I think that most chief constables would expect to know if an operation was taking place in their area, and it is reasonable that they should know, and be able to make the appropriate arrangements. If they are to do their jobs properly, they should be given that opportunity.

We have not quite resolved the danger of divided accountability, although it is difficult to resolve. The Security Service is directly responsible to the Home Secretary for its actions and the police are responsible to their local police authority, but there are no arrangements in the Bill to resolve that discrepancy.

It is not clear to whom the public would complain. If an operation were carried out in support of the police in the pursuit of organised crime and a member of the public was affected because it went wrong, would they complain to the Police Complaints Authority, or to the Security Commission?

We also have a problem about the definition of organised crime. Some adverse comment was made about the use of "organised" in the definition. I have forgotten which Government Member was complaining about it. [HON. MEMBERS: "The Minister."] I must therefore draw the Minister's attention to the fact that, when the Prime Minister announced the proposal to the Conservative party conference, it was intended to tackle organised crime. That was what the Prime Minister said. He talked about a problem with organised crime with which the security services could help. We cannot now say that "organised crime" are unhelpful words to use in this context. To tackle it was the whole purpose of the exercise.

Organised crime can be committed at any one of a number of levels. A gang of kids raiding several sweetshops is an organised crime, but not what we would consider serious. Some serious crimes are not highly organised, such as murders and sex offences, as hon. Members have said, but are very serious. Such crimes do not have the element of organisation which the Security Service can help tackle. Indeed, that led the Committee to conclude that the Bill should deal with serious organised crime—that is what we are talking about.

I must also mention the problem of giving evidence before the courts. It relates not only to the fact that Security Service officers would, in some cases, have to appear, yet their identity be concealed, because otherwise the rest of their work would be impaired, but to the fact that the Security Service is not geared to the preparation of cases to bring before courts as the police are. That emphasises that the added value that the Security Service can bring into crime detection and prevention is in the analysis, and, to some extent, the gathering, of information from that analysis. It will need the police to ensure that a case is properly prepared to bring before courts and put to the Crown Prosecution Service.

The Intelligence and Security Committee report comments quite strongly on a number of the points that I have mentioned. It is a unanimous report.

The Home Secretary paid tribute to the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) for his work on that Committee. I happily endorse that tribute. A truly valuable endorsement, however, would be to have the Committee's recommendations properly dealt with in the Standing Committee. It would be an empty tribute if all the advice of the Intelligence and Security Committee is ignored. Although the Bill and the report of the Intelligence and Security Committee were published on the same day, the Committee considered the possibility that the Bill would appear in its present form. It was alarmed by that, and set out a number of ways in which the Bill could address those issues which must be considered.

There has been rather too much pressure to go ahead with one part of the jigsaw before the other pieces have been put in place. It is not too late to remedy that oversight. It could be done in the Standing Committee, particularly if the Home Secretary is prepared to ensure that we enact what he told the House today. The timetable, however, has been determined a bit too much by party conferences and imminent elections and things of that kind. As a result, confusion has arisen, which runs the risk of undermining the police rather than assisting them.

When the proposals were announced at the Conservative party conference, I was struck by the idea that, had they been announced in the House, answers would have had to be prepared for questions such as: is the national squad for the whole United Kingdom or is it just for England; and will the squad be linked with the NCIS or will there be two separate bodies? Consideration of the Bill will be difficult, because those questions are still unresolved, which shows that things have been put in the wrong order.

It is not too late to put matters right. We should be quite clear, however, that the legislation could—if we get it right—enable the Security Service to give limited but valuable assistance to the police in analysing criminal gangs in order to track them down, bring some of them to justice and prevent some serious crimes. The legislation will not be the revolution we should love to have—one which drastically reduces serious crime. If we get the legislation wrong, we will do no service to the police or to the Security Service.

6.21 pm
Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay)

May I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of the Security Service and its personnel? I should also like to recall the tragic loss of five members of the Security Service who died in the Chinook helicopter crash. That was the largest disaster that has ever befallen the Security Service in the first or second world wars and at any time in the post-war era. It was a reminder of the risk that people who work in the Security Service must face daily. Anybody with any experience of terrorism or the murky world of intelligence and counter-intelligence is aware of the serious pitfalls that exist.

I should also like to pay tribute to the retiring Director-General of the Security Service. She has done more than most people to try to foster a sense of responsibility in the media in their dealings with the work of the Security Service. She has presented herself and her organisation in a rational and coherent fashion. It is because of her and her recently retired legal adviser, David Bickford, that Opposition Members, who for some years expressed serious concerns about the kind of people who work in the Security Service, have had an opportunity to meet those people and to discuss relevant topics and issues with them. They, too, now recognise the important work carried out by the service and the dedication of the individuals involved. The people who work for the service are not right-wing fanatics. They are not all bugging and burgling their way across London, as was alleged by Peter Wright and subsequently disproved.

In paying tribute to the Security Service, we should take care not to put it on a pedestal. The service is no panacea to the troubles that have befallen our country—the scale of the threat to the country cannot be underestimated. All hon. Members have received letters such as that described by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan). People have genuine concerns about their communities, in which they see their neighbourhoods, friends and families crumbling because of the invidious influence of the drug pushers.

The media coverage during the past four or five weeks has demonstrated time and again how perfectly ordinary and reasonable families with good standards and backgrounds can be terribly undermined by the effect of drugs on youngsters. Drug dealers operate in neighbourhoods in Liverpool, Bristol and elsewhere, even in my own constituency of Torbay. The police sometimes feel powerless to enter some properties and consider that they do not have the resources to maintain the kind of sophisticated surveillance they think might enable them to deal with the drug barons. Picking up the dealers on the street is one way to deal with the drug problem, but the key has to be long-term intelligence collection and long-term surveillance in order finally to get to the drug kingpins.

The threat from organised crime is well established, although it can of course be exaggerated. The Home Affairs Select Committee has done a commendable job in studying the true scale of the problem. We are all aware—particularly those who have been involved in studying the problem in the United States and the work of the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency—that in the United States an entire civilisation is at risk from the drug pedlars. That country is being eaten alive by the people who prey off the dependency and weakness of others.

The United Kingdom has a pretty good record in dealing with drug smugglers. When it comes to money laundering, the British Secret Intelligence Service is regarded as one of the world's experts in the monitoring, identification and prevention of that activity, which is of course directly allied to drug smuggling.

There is widespread acceptance that the British authorities have been outmanoeuvred and outgunned for a long period not only by organised crime but by small gangs of individuals. The police find it difficult to cope with them because there are 43 different police forces with 43 different police computer systems, none of which is compatible with each other. That is why there is talk now of a national police force.

Crime is extremely mobile, and that was part of the incentive for creating regional crime squads. We are talking now about a national crime squad. When the suggestion was made that there should be the equivalent of a national detective service—the equivalent perhaps of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the United States—there were serious concerns about having a national police structure, particularly from some of the far-flung regional police forces and the police committees. We have got over that hurdle.

I welcome the proposition for a national DNA register and especially the way in which special branch has been at the forefront of co-ordinating and liaising with separate police forces. That is the way forward. Harnessing that technology will also provide police with an opportunity to fight crime. I believe that the national DNA register may make the crime of rape one of the most easily detectable in the next century, and I welcome that.

Mr. Robathan

Is my hon. Friend aware that, as I understand it, 170 cases are already being pursued because the DNA register has produced a match?

Mr. Allason

I welcome the way in which modern technology can be harnessed in support of the community to prevent, deter and detect crime. Indeed, I shall go further and say that I would be pleased to see a national paedophile register. There are also many other areas in which crime could be tackled on a national basis.

We all understand the scale of the threat to this country, but the question before us today has nothing to do with that scale. The question is whether a particular very small organisation that has been in existence since 1909, with a fascinating history, is the appropriate organisation to deal with crime on that scale.

First, I ask: what is the catalyst, the Incentive, for the Bill? I recall asking in 1989 what the catalyst was for the Security Service Bill, as it then was. The question was shrugged off, and it was suggested to me that it was unpatriotic to inquire why a particular Bill should be presented.

An Opposition Member suggested, cynically I thought, that an attempt was being made to outmanoeuvre the provisions of an anticipated judgment in the European Court of Human Rights. I must admit that that Member turned out to be absolutely correct. The United Kingdom was under an obligation to introduce the accountability and protection introduced by the Security Service Act in November 1989.

We should be worried about the danger of making a virtue of a necessity, and that is where the concern, on which the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) has already touched, lies. What precisely has driven this particular legislation at this particular time?

Certainly the provisionals are not out of business in Northern Ireland. The Irish National Liberation Army remains a potent threat, as do the loyalist paramilitaries. There also certainly remains a threat from eastern Europe. Anybody concerned about the proliferation of chemical, biological, bacteriological and nuclear weapons must be worried.

It is not unreasonable that, as Mrs. Rimington has stated, the Security Service should flex its muscles and analytical skills in that context. If the prospects of Islamic fundamentalism, of terrorism, of nuclear components falling into the wrong hands and of people being able to manufacture viable nuclear devices do not fall into the category of a serious threat to the realm, I do not know what does.

I supported the extension of the Security Service's power into counter-proliferation, but I had considerable reservations when it was proposed to extend its power into counter-terrorism. I shall explain to the House in a moment why I had those reservations.

The fact is that in the current climate the Security Service has, in a sense, run out of things to do. There is, thank God, a ceasefire in Northern Ireland, and there is a skill deficit in the eastern bloc countries that posed a threat to this nation in the past. To that extent, the Security Service has to deal with a slight gap.

Over the years, the service has built up extraordinary skills in surveillance and monitoring, and in the collection, collation and distribution of intelligence. Nobody who has studied the service can doubt the tremendous skills available to it. The surveillance skills are remarkable. It should not be forgotten that the terrorist provisionals who went down to Gibraltar were under constant surveillance by the Security Service.

We are talking about dedicated men and women who operate in all sorts of environments and who are literally never noticed. Their operations are not like an episode of "The Bill", with a detective sergeant pushing a camera out of a window at something across the street. The skills that the Security Service can deploy are extraordinarily sophisticated.

Of course it is a tremendous waste for those skills to lie idle for any period; so there is certainly a case for what within the intelligence community is called "taking in washing". That is, in order to retain the surveillance skills and the technology within a closed, classified and controlled environment, the service can be given tasks and then report to a particular police agency or organisation, providing it with an enormous dossier on an individual target. I am well aware of the work that the Security Service could do in the way of taking in washing.

I want to say something about the way in which the Security Service has presented its case in connection with the Bill. I am concerned about the public relations campaign that has been mounted to allow it to extend its role. The speed has been astonishing.

On 13 October the Prime Minister announced that the role of the Security Service would be extended. The Bill was, I believe, published on the day the House rose for the Christmas recess—a slightly odd time for Members of Parliament wanting to complete their Christmas shopping to have to engage with the minutiae of important and serious legislation. To schedule the Second Reading for the day after the House returns from the recess also shows undue haste, especially as the Government response to the Select Committee report was published only Yesterday.

In my judgment, we have had a very short time in which to study the Government's response, to look into the detail of the Bill and to try to get advice. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), who has taken evidence on the Bill from an undisclosed number of people, but I am afraid that Back Benchers have not had the same opportunity to talk to those who may have an expert opinion on the subject.

The haste with which the Bill has been presented to the House gives me some cause for concern. The campaign has certainly been well orchestrated. The Security Service even appointed a director of corporate affairs to liaise with Whitehall and promote the proposition that the service should go beyond taking in washing.

Is the Bill the consequence of a direct threat to the realm from organised crime, or has it appeared because the Security Service is seeking a role in a changing world? That is one of the issues that the House will have to address.

It is suggested that the Security Service has special analytical skills that it can devote to organised crime, so as to "crack it". The analytical skills of the Security Service relate first to the collection and collation of intelligence. Ninety per cent. of this work is in the development of individual, personal and subject files, which are very detailed, comprehensive and bureaucratic. They are not always accurate but, by and large, they are pretty good. The files are supported by the work of the special branches across the provinces. The analytical skills which Mrs. Rimington described extend to the other activities in which the Security Service indulges in order to be able to create those files, including the interception of mail and other communications and the running of agents.

Here we reach the first hint of concern, because the Security Service is certainly skilled at running agents. The skills of an agent handler are particularly difficult, and are acquired only after a long period. But the House must not forget that the business of running agents is also conducted by detectives, who run informants, and by special branch officers, who operate to very specific Home Office guidelines. So I would ask the Minister whether the Home Office guidelines that apply to the running of informants will be extended to deal with the way in which the Security Service might run agents to deal with organised crime.

I shall now refer to the Security Service itself, and whether the service is the organisation best suited to take on organised crime. Within the service, there is by no means a unanimous view on this subject. There is certainly a widespread belief that the organisation is in some difficulty because of the lack of a perceived threat from the traditional areas of responsibility of the Security Service.

With the indulgence of the House, I shall briefly describe the background of the Security Service, because it has not changed considerably in all the years it has existed since 1909. There have been two dramatic changes—one in 1989, and the other which is being contemplated today. Back in 1883, the Fenian bomb outrages in London prompted the creation of what was then known as the Irish special branch. Metropolitan police detectives—some with the skill of Gaelic—were collected together to fight the manifestation of Irish nationalism on our streets. Curiously, the newspaper headlines of 1883 were remarkably similar to those of 1993, with bomb outrages in Whitehall, and so on.

The special branch was created for the single purpose of fighting the manifestation of Irish nationalism but, because of a specific case involving the Globe newspaper, it went on to deal with official secrets. Official secrets legislation was passed in 1889 as a consequence of the disclosure of secrets in the Globe. It turned out that, despite the protests of the Foreign Secretary of the time, the details of the Anglo-Russian treaty produced in the newspaper were entirely correct. An attempt was made to investigate the source of the leak to the Globe, and it turned out that a journalist was involved.

Happily, at that time the Foreign Office employed fewer than 100 people, some of them on a part-time basis. One of those employees turned out to be journalist, and he was charged under the terms of the Larceny Act because it was believed that he had stolen a copy of the treaty. I know about this case only because my great-great-great uncle was the prosecuting counsel, and he entirely screwed it up. The Larceny Act depended on the theft of an actual item, and the gentleman who had "stolen" the text of the Anglo-Russian treaty turned out to have a photographic memory—he had stolen nothing.

The case was dismissed, and my great-great-great uncle, Sir Harry Poland, did not survive as a Treasury counsel for very much longer. As a consequence of that case, legislation on official secrets came before the House. In 1914, defence of the realm legislation was introduced to deal with German espionage and the perceived threat therefrom. After the first world war, two further official secrets measures were introduced to deal with the interception of communications.

Since 1909, when it came into existence under the leadership of Major-General Sir Vernon Kell, the Security Service has had roles in counter-espionage, counter-sabotage and counter-subversion. That continued through the second world war and on to the introduction of positive vetting in 1950, when a Labour Administration realised that there was a serious threat to this country of penetration of the establishment by communists and others who did not subscribe to a parliamentary system of government. That change was not dramatic, because it was covered by the category of counter-subversion.

It was only the desire of the Security Service to extend its role into counter-terrorism in very recent years that made a difference. This was really the first time that the Security Service had started to get involved in the criminal justice system. I opposed that change, because I believe that a terrorist who commits homicide is guilty of murder. It is not a political crime, and I believe such cases should be dealt with by the criminal justice system. The moment one makes a special case for those people, one is in danger of undermining the validity of their convictions.

I have always wanted the police to continue their principal role in counter-terrorism. Even when the Security Service was introduced into Northern Ireland, the police always had the prime responsibility for investigating terrorism and conducting counter-terrorism operations. The reason for that was that the Security Service has always been reluctant to be accused of acting like the Gestapo. People who lived through the second world war remember the tactics adopted by the Gestapo and the secret police in totalitarian countries. They will also recall the way in which the tribunals operated in this country against suspected enemy aliens who were due for internment under the provisions of section 18(b) of the defence of the realm legislation. That was an unhappy period in our history, and there is still concern—as there was then—that the Security Service should never be tarred with the accusation that it had become secret police.

I recall being told that one of the ambitions of intelligence officers was to avoid being engaged in work that would bring to them that kind of opprobrium, as it is often forgotten that the Security Service can operate only with the support of the community. Running a surveillance operation means going to private householders, asking for their support and for facilities and explaining a part of what the objective of the operation is. Therefore, Security Service officers have been very careful in the past to avoid getting involved in the spectacle of giving evidence behind screens or of producing witnesses who cannot be properly cross-examined and whose antecedents are unknown.

Security Service officers have been perfectly prepared to acquire and supply intelligence to the police, who have found it extremely useful, but they have always tried to avoid giving evidence in court. The reason for that is simply that, like special branch officers, they are not very good at it. They have not been trained in the terms of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. Every detective in this country has served as a police officer and carries the same warrant card as the ordinary bobby on the beat. He is subject to the same accountability. A complaint against a police officer is dealt with in precisely the same way whether he is a member of CID or the uniformed branch. That is an enormous and important protection to the community.

In terms of efficiency and getting convictions in court, I have severe reservations about deploying officers of the Security Service. They start from a very low base. They will be on a high learning curve in taking in the rules of evidence, the rules of taking statements under judges' rules cautions and the rest. If they do not do so, defence counsel will have a field day.

Although I recognise that the Security Service may have a role in "taking in washing"—it certainly has a role in counter-proliferation—I am concerned about the balance that is being struck between civil liberties and the correct demands of the community to protection from drug dealers and organised crime

. The Security Service is a unique organisation within the British constitution. It is self-tasking. The director-general makes up his or her mind about what investigations the service should conduct. It has never in its history taken guidance from politicians about whom it should monitor and watch, whose bank account it should investigate. I believe that that is entirely right and proper. The tradition has always been that, for example, if a Member of Parliament's telephone is to be the subject of a surveillance warrant, the warrant should certainly be approved by the Prime Minister. The Security Service certainly must have the accountability that justifies its extraordinary degree of independence which is unique within the British government system.

I now turn briefly to the criminal justice system. There is a case for the Security Service to "take in washing", but an awful lot of organisations already in existence deal with the drugs problem and organised crime—Customs and Excise, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Secret Intelligence Service and GCHQ, to name but a few. They have skill in surveillance and have developed technology of clandestine monitoring. If one intends to add money to the activity, why not give it directly to those organisations instead of to the Security Service?

The Security Service may have a role to play, but I submit that we must be very careful when we balance these issues. In recent months, we have seen some worrying cases. Brian Nelson in Northern Ireland, who was an intelligence source, is now serving a long prison sentence even though his handler described him as the bravest man he had ever met and said that he was responsible for saving many lives.

Let us consider, as Lord Justice Scott is doing, the case of Paul Henderson and Paul Grecian, suppliers of intelligence to both the SIS and MI5. When they attempted to protest their innocence, they were the subject of public interest immunity certificates which looked likely at one stage to deny them their principal defence that they had been working in league with the security agencies.

Mr. Stephen

My hon. Friend will be aware that a public interest immunity certificate does not exclude evidence from proceedings but simply places the matter before the judge, who decides whether the evidence in question is admissible.

Mr. Allason

I only wish that that were the case. I am confident that after the Matrix Churchill report comes out, it will be, but I remind my hon. Friend that a Minister had severe reservations about signing one of the certificates in that case and asked that those reservations be passed on to the judge. They were not passed on. The prosecuting counsel subsequently expressed his dismay at not even knowing that a Minister had had severe reservations.

I recognise that the public interest immunity certificate is a useful tool for the protection of informants, the Security Service, the police, the authorities in Northern Ireland and the Inland Revenue and they have often been usefully deployed, but there are cases in which people have had their defence inhibited by the use of the certificates and they have felt that they have had a raw deal. There are several cases, which I will not go into now, in which defendants have been convicted. Instead of accepting their conviction and doing their bird, the fact that a secret arm of government has interfered in the investigation or the prosecution leaves a nasty taste in the mouth.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater said, several concerns must be dealt with before the Bill can go any further. The tasking, command, integration and accountability of the Security Service have all been raised by my right hon. Friend. I have heard little from the Government today to answer any of those concerns, but I hope that when the Minister of State, Home Office—my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean)—replies to the debate he will be able to respond to them.

I also hope that my right hon. Friend will agree to disclose some of the agreements that he mentioned on the radio this morning with the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the police. As far as I know, they have never been disclosed. They are not in the Library. If the House is to give a fair wind to the Bill, the integration that has been described should be disclosed to the House so that we can satisfy ourselves that the balance between the protection of the community and the protection of defendants accused of serious crimes is absolutely right. If we get it wrong, we will not have another bite at this particular cherry. Therefore, I urge caution on the House. By all means send the Bill up into Committee. I hope that the Committee will scrutinise the legislation line by line. If we do not, we may well live to regret it.

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. Before I call the next Member, let me say that one Opposition Member took much more than 30 minutes and a Conservative Back-Bencher took a great deal more than 30 minutes. There is a great deal of interest in the Bill. I cannot impose a 10-minute limit, but I appeal to hon. Members to behave in such a way that I am able to call them all.

6.58 pm
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

There is undoubtedly more agreement between the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) and me tonight than there was when he opposed my ten-minute Bill on trade union rights at GCHQ which I introduced on 25 January 1994, the 10th anniversary of the ban. I do not criticise the hon. Gentleman for opposing me because as a result of his opposition we won the vote, for what that is worth.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Committee proceedings on the Bill. I hope that I am not hopelessly destroying his chances of being chosen to serve on the Committee when I say that I trust that he will be one of the Conservative members of the Committee. I have no hesitation in saying that, because the last time that we discussed security matters the hon. Gentleman was not chosen and I for one genuinely regretted that fact—I am sure that I was not the only Labour Member to do so. He undoubtedly had an input to make and could not do so because he was not chosen.

I am not necessarily opposed to the measure, although I certainly have a number of reservations and doubts about it, as do many hon. Members, not least on the grounds of accountability. During debates on the intelligence services, I have often said that, even if the curse of terrorism were absent—for 25 years it was far from absent when the IRA and other paramilitaries conducted their terrorist operations—there would undoubtedly be justification for an organisation such as MI5, or whatever it would tend to be called. I am not aware of any democracy, let alone dictatorship, that does not have some form of security organisation. It would be very odd if a democracy did not give itself such protection.

I hope that my use of the past tense will be justified, but I was critical of the way in which MI5 gave the impression that too many of its officials were not merely right wing—they have as much right to be right wing as left wing—but very right wing indeed. Frankly, although employed by an organisation whose task, first and foremost, is the defence of parliamentary democracy, I would question whether those officials—I trust that they were a small minority—had any real confidence in parliamentary democracy. I do not want to keep on about Peter Wright, but he is as good an example as any of someone whom I would certainly not accept had any strong feelings about parliamentary democracy—certainly not the sort of feelings that we have.

As for the present, I hope that those way-out elements are absent from the organisation with which we are dealing tonight. If I had to hazard a guess, I would say that there are far more Conservative voters among the senior ranks in MI5 and MI6 than non-Conservative voters and I have long held that view, but their politics are certainly a matter for themselves.

I accept that it might be useful for MI5 to help in the detection and prevention of serious crime. Like a number of my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), I believe that it is important for the description "serious crime" to be more tightly drawn and I hope that the Minister will accept that. I am sure that it will be necessary for a number of amendments to be tabled in Committee—some probing and some not—because of those two words.

The Home Secretary might be right to argue that MI5 can deal more effectively with such criminality as he described on occasions than the police acting on their own. I do not underestimate the difficulties and dangers of criminality, certainly as far as the organised drug trade is concerned and because so many young people are involved in drugs and other problems that can endanger their lives. Of course, those are serious problems, but is it really necessary for MI5 to come in on the act? Would it not be more appropriate for the police to act on their own or with other law enforcement agencies as they do at present?

The fact that problems would arise during court cases has been mentioned. Security Service personnel can give evidence in court on an anonymous basis. Will it be possible for such officers to be cross-examined on their evidence? The position of the police is well regulated by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984—a necessary Act, which laid down clearly the ways in which the police had to act as regards powers of stop and search, entry and seizure, arrest and detention. Moreover, their powers are detailed in the codes of practice through which the Act operates, which all adds up to some control and accountability—control and accountability to which MI5 will not be subject.

The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 also established the Police Complaints Authority. How much more controversial would controversial cases be—the police have been involved in such cases, for example with the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four and so forth—if MI5 played a role, especially if they were criminal and not simply terrorist cases? We must be very careful and clear. That is why the Committee stage is of such importance with a measure of this type. The wording will have to be more tightly drawn. We do not want to get ourselves into a situation that we will later regret.

Will the Security Service be able to take action to deal with serious crime when it has not been requested to do so by the police and other enforcement agencies? What are the views of the police in the matter? That question has been very much in our minds and has been touched on in the debate. For all that I know, the police may be very enthusiastic and may have been pressing the Home Secretary to give the security services such powers. There are rumours, on the other hand, that the police are not altogether happy, but have not gone public. We are entitled to know their position and, in particular, that of the Metropolitan police. Do they believe that they will be substantially assisted by the security services? Surely we do not want sharp rivalry between the police force and the Security Service. That would not be desirable and nor would it do much to deal with serious crime.

Perhaps the Minister will tell us whether it will be possible for MI5 to carry out such activities, where it believes that that is necessary, without the police being notified—acting on its own, without the sort of co-ordination that would exist in most cases, I assume, between the police and the security services.

Those are the sort of questions that we need to probe in Committee and on Report. I will not vote against the Bill tonight, but while I accept that there might be a case for MI5 having those additional powers, because of all my doubts and reservations I am clear in my mind that the case for proper parliamentary accountability and scrutiny of MI5 is strengthened. I have long argued that case. It is not some issue that I have taken up recently, as I argued it in the 1980s and before. I argued that, as in other democracies in the western world, such as the United States, Germany and the Scandinavian countries, MI5 should receive some parliamentary scrutiny.

I accept that the Government have taken a modest step in that direction—I was a member of the Standing Committee on the appropriate Bill—by setting up the Intelligence and Security Committee, but it does not satisfy the need for proper parliamentary accountability.

When the likes of myself, my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) and the rest have raised the issue in the past, the Government's response was clear. They said that such accountability was not necessary and that the security services were subject to ministerial control. They said that we had no justification for raising such issues. Although it was not said openly, they hinted that we were just causing trouble. It is interesting to note that, although that was the argument many years ago, it was not quite the argument when the Government conceded that there was a case for some scrutiny—hence the reason for setting up the Intelligence and Security Committee. The Government have accepted, albeit to a limited extent, the need for Parliament or, at least, parliamentarians to look into the work of the security services.

I have never argued that proper parliamentary scrutiny should necessarily operate in exactly the same way as the work of other Select Committees. I do not suggest for a moment that the Select Committee should investigate future operations, or should necessarily investigate those that have already taken place. I do, however, believe that there is a case for parliamentary scrutiny that does not currently exist.

Hon. Members may ask what is wrong with the existing Committee. For one thing, it does not report to Parliament. Unlike other Select Committees, it is not accountable to the House of Commons; it is accountable to the Prime Minister, to whom it reports annually. The Prime Minister decides whether the report, or part of it, should be deleted: he judges whether the report should be submitted to the House in its current form, or in a different form. I do not consider that to be parliamentary scrutiny as such.

Moreover, the Committee does not sit in a parliamentary building. I do not understand that. Other Committees sit upstairs in private, and in many instances—with perfect justification—a policeman is present, either outside or inside the room.

Mr. Stephen

Has the hon. Gentleman not heard of the sophisticated eavesdropping devices that exist nowadays?

Mr. Winnick

That would have to be dealt with by the House of Commons authorities. But given that the Committee sits in the Cabinet Office, how do we know that such modern techniques do not operate there? How do we know that they do not operate in the Cabinet? In fact, we are not particularly worried about that, as we receive pretty full reports of what happens in Cabinet meetings in any event.

Moreover, the Committee is not serviced by any of the Clerks of the House. I understand that, before a clerk is appointed, the application is scrutinised by the security services. That may be justified. The fact remains, however, that this Committee is serviced by the Cabinet Office, and that in itself constitutes an insult to the House of Commons.

I shall continue to press the case for parliamentary accountability and scrutiny of the security services. I am sure that I shall not be alone in the parliamentary Labour party in so doing. Furthermore, I find it difficult to believe that, when we are allowed the scrutiny that I have long advocated, many hon. Members—even Conservative Members—will suggest that it should be abandoned. We must try to function in this respect as a mature democracy, as other countries have. I feel that the Bill is deficient in that important respect, among others.

7.13 pm
Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest)

I am no expert on the security services, and I suspect that the same applies to most other hon. Members; but I recognise an expert when I see one. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason), whose speech—although somewhat overlong—displayed rare balance and expertise. If parliamentary scrutiny is to mean anything, there is every reason for my hon. Friend to play a prominent and vociferous part as a member of the Standing Committee.

Despite my lack of expertise, I can say two things. First, the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) spoke of the greater openness that now prevails. That is illustrated by the fact that, 10 years ago, we probably would not have been debating the security services in the Chamber. Indeed, I understand that the Government did not even publicly recognise their existence. The hon. Member for Walsall, North may have reservations about whether the Select Committee should report to the Prime Minister rather than the House, but I feel that the advances made in 1989, when the security services were put on a statutory footing, and in 1994, when parliamentary oversight was improved, represent real developments in the accountability of the services—as is appropriate in a healthy democratic system. Along with others, I pay tribute to the work of Stella Rimington, the present director-general.

Secondly, I welcome any legislative or, indeed, other action to combat the curse of serious crime. I profoundly agreed with my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary when he spoke of the large and growing menace of organised crime. While I may not be an expert on the security services, I believe that we are probably all near-experts on the appalling damage that such crime can do to our constituents. There is the carnage caused by drugs; there are immigration rackets, which are bad not only for race relations but for those who are duped by such organised crime when they come to this country. Currency scams undermine our economic structure. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) described Madras as the counterfeit currency capital of the world, and I am sure that what can be done with British visas can also be done with British currency. Organised crime can have appalling effects, especially in an increasingly technological age.

Like other hon. Members, I recognise that intelligence is crucial to the combating of organised crime. Along with Stella Rimington, whose 1994 Dimbleby lecture has already been mentioned, I appreciate that the reduction in resources devoted by the security services to espionage—and, happily and, we hope, permanently, the reduction in resources to combat terrorism following the ceasefires in Northern Ireland over the past year and a half—mean that more resources and expertise can be diverted to support law and order. That is why I consider it sensible to amend the 1989 Act to widen the remit of the security services beyond the combating of espionage, terrorism and sabotage and the safeguarding of economic well-being— although, as I have said, it could be argued that the services now have a legitimate interest in the prevention and detection of organised crime, as that endangers our economic well-being.

I also support clause 2, which would amend the Intelligence Services Act 1994, giving the Security Service an opportunity to apply for warrants to investigate crime in a domestic context. It seems curious that other services are allowed to apply for warrants but not on a domestic scale. If we want to operate effectively against organised and other crime, our security services must be able to operate in the country of origin.

I recognise the importance of co-ordinating our activities against the monster of organised crime. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater said that there were £500 million worth of drugs seizures last year, £176 million of which were made by regional crime squads. That is a drop in the ocean given the total trade in drugs, so it is important to co-ordinate organisations such as the National Criminal Intelligence Service and encourage further co-ordination through the national crime squad, once it is up and running, and the Home Office directorate of organised and international crime. My only reservation is that we should not think that a vast army will go into battle against organised crime. I understand from the Library's briefing that the Security Service's total resources are only £150 million a year and the number of staff employed in the general intelligence group is just 340. As those are not all operatives and only a proportion of them will be able to take up their new responsibilities, we should not expect miracles from them in a short time, even on a laundering or, as my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay said, "washing" basis.

Although I agree with the principles of the Bill, I understand the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Walsall, North and those hon. Members who have tabled an amendment tonight about civil freedoms. It would be ironic if a democracy set up a service to protect itself but put in place a system that oppressed its people. As vice-chairman of the parliamentary human rights group, I do not want some of the abuses that exist in other countries, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater documented, mistakenly imported into the United Kingdom.

The two important issues are, first, accountability of the security services and, secondly, their relationship with the law enforcement agencies. I, too, am concerned about the relatively loose definition of "serious crime". Clause 2(3B) mentions "violence" and "substantial financial gain", but "substantial" is not an exact word. It also says: a large number of persons in pursuit of a common purpose", which can be interpreted as widely or narrowly as one would want. Although we want to give the intelligence services the maximum range possible to help them fight organised crime, we must tighten up that definition in Standing Committee.

The present system of accountability, with two tribunals for the security services and two commissioners, works well. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay, I am slightly worried that definitive figures—somebody mentioned 54—for the number of complaints made against the security services are not released. The Home Office should see whether a more open regime could be introduced.

Like other hon. Members, I should like the protections which the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 at present provides to the public to apply to intelligence officers who are called on to give evidence in Crown courts in cases of organised crime. That matter has not been carefully thought through. I understand that this is a framework document that does not deal with detail, but unless the detail is adequately scrutinised and assurances are given in Standing Committee, the potential for abuse will remain.

The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) mentioned the relationship between the secret services and the law and order forces. It is inevitable that their paths will cross. The same trends that drive international terrorism in terms of technology and speedier travel drive international crime. We heard how the two intermingle in many parts of the world, including Britain. The security services used to have primacy over the police, but where crime and terrorism are virtually synonymous, it may be difficult to establish lines of accountability between the police and the security services, especially, as the Intelligence and Security Committee said, given that the security services are "self-tasking" and set their own priorities. The Committee took up that matter in its latest report and said: In so far as the Service is to be given a new role in countering 'conventional' criminal activity, the legislation needs to make very clear that it will be working in support of the law enforcement organisations. Accountability of issues will also need to be resolved, as will the differing systems under which authorisation is given for the interception of communications and for the entry on, or interference with, property. I happen to agree with what Lord Cuckney said in the House of Lords on Second Reading of the Bill. He said that, although those problems look mountainous and sinister now, they will pale into proportion once the police and security services can work together to combat organised crime. He said that their different functions will prove complementary in their approach to common problems. Although I agree that that will happen, we cannot take it for granted; hence the reservations that I have expressed.

I welcome the Bill, which will help us to advance in our fight against the menace of organised crime.

7.27 pm
Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West)

Like the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason), I pay tribute to the Security Service, not because I have an intimate knowledge of its operations, but because the freer and more open a society becomes the more susceptible it is to subversive activity and terrorism, so one needs the protection of such a service. On one of the media channels this morning, somebody said that we do not really need such organisations. That is absurd.

I want, in a short speech, to discuss accountability and the relative powers of the police and other law enforcement agencies. With the collapse of the eastern bloc and communism, and the prolonged peace in Northern Ireland, many skilled people in the Security Service must either be made redundant or be redeployed. It is as simple as that.

We have, however, had the rising threat of international drug trafficking and organised crime, which are areas on which the spare capacity might be refocused. Such areas of operation might seem ripe for harvesting, but concerns have been expressed by organisations such as the Association of Chief Police Officers. The notion of imposing new national structures on what is essentially local policing is found to be unacceptable. National co-ordination is viewed as acceptable by many senior police officers, but national operational units are not.

A balance has to be struck between the benefits of a coherent response to cross-border organised crime and the dangers of creating a readily available key to the control of the whole of the nation's police. For that reason, my local police force and its excellent chief constable, Tony Leonard, oppose the notion of any operational override of local policing via the head of the NCIS, given that that postholder answers directly to the national political office of Home Secretary. Likewise, I have always felt that any central role that draws together the activity of the regional crime squads should be one of co-ordination only and not an executive operation.

Concerns have also been expressed about the implications of the direct reporting by the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis to the Home Secretary.

I recognise the skills and experience of the Security Service and readily acknowledge its excellence in counter-subversion and counter-espionage, but I am concerned about the narrowness of its abilities in comparison with the broader community-oriented and community-developed skills of local police forces. The narrowness is less important when the Security Service is engaged in its covert roles, but it will become a significant hindrance when its personnel are directed towards more general, mainstream police operations.

I am also concerned about the incomplete accountability of members of the Security Service, which the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs) spoke about at some length. Members of the Security Service are not yet—quite understandably—touched by the ethos of public openness that police forces experience. Although there are some mechanisms in place to call the Security Service to account, I see little practical change. The culture of accountability has not manifested itself in the willingness of the Security Service to offer its structure, policies and accounting to public scrutiny, or in any of its members making themselves accessible to public debate, despite the efforts of the retiring director, Stella Rimington. The culture of accountability is much more widespread and pronounced in the police service.

I am also concerned that operatives within the Security Service, because of their necessary secrecy and because evidence gathering has been subordinate to intelligence gathering, will be inexperienced in many aspects of court procedure. That is not an insuperable problem, but there must be a substantial shift in cultural thinking as well as in attitudes to equality of opportunity and open management.

Substantial skills are vested in the Security Service and it has considerable resources—the equivalent of 12 senior investigating officers, some 200 surveillance operatives and about 2,000 staff in total. That is not insignificant. There is evidence that the Security Service is already positioning itself for its new role with preparatory structures. Moves are being made.

My wish is that the general public will be able to benefit from the talents of the Security Service in the wider fight against serious crime, in co-operation with local police. Together, they would offer the maximum threat to serious and organised crime. However, any such benefits must arise from a solution that meets the shorter-term aim of the need to fight and beat serious cross-border organised crime and which avoids jeopardising people's long-term liberty in other directions.

We need to take certain positions on the question of cross-border crime which should embrace the following broad policy elements. First, the House should recognise that a national and coherent response to serious, organised crime is necessary. Secondly, the active use of Security Service skills is desirable. Thirdly, we need to minimise the constitutional risk—and the link between the political position of Home Secretary and the National Criminal Intelligence Service should be severed. Fourthly, the historical link between the Home Secretary and the Metropolitan police should also be severed to reduce the constitutional risk further.

I make those points because, even if we do not amend the Bill in Committee, it will be useful to stimulate debate and to have statements from Ministers. Those points are important to the police service and many other people working in the crime agencies. Fifthly, the head of the NCIS, if permitted or encouraged to assume a direct operational role as opposed to a mere co-ordinating function, should be allowed to do so under a well-defined and tightly controlled remit. Finally, if the national co-ordinator of the regional crime squad is to have a direct operational role—in the NCIS or separately—the accountability structure should mirror the tripartite system.

So how do we achieve those aims? We need legislation to clarify the position of the Security Service and its accountability for its planning, resource management and actions. The Bill fails to do that, and the Committee stage will be an opportunity to amend it. Amendments will be needed to redefine the role and scope of the post of head of the NCIS, if the postholder were to assume authority for direct operations.

The provisions of the Police and Magistrates' Courts Act 1994 should be left undisturbed, as they define the Home Secretary's constitutional position vis-à-vis local police authorities and chief constables.

The head of the NCIS must be a police officer whose career has developed through accountability to local communities, so that he or she is sensitive to local needs and so that decision making in conjunction with local commanders works well. We need to have a very clear structure for the accountability of the head of the NCIS. He or she must be a person of such seniority of rank and experience that he or she commands authority and credibility in the management of a country-wide police operation. However, that person must be subordinate to locally appointed chief constables on matters of resources and delegated control. I also believe that the board of management must have the power to appoint and remove the head of the NCIS and that having CID experience is important. Deployment of Security Service personnel must be carefully defined. Many of those matters have not been scrutinised today, but I hope that they will be considered in Committee.

The Bill is important. It is a short Bill—it has only two main clauses—but it is revolutionary in terms of our structures. If we use the Security Service in the way set out in the Bill, there will be an impact on all the other enforcement agencies. The relationship between those agencies is not defined in the Bill. I very much hope that there will be a full debate on the matter because we are dealing with the interaction of powers, the scope of powers and accountability. That is as important as the direct accountability of the Security Service; that point has not been made today.

The principle of the Bill is right and I agree with the many hon. Members who have said that. However, there are gaping holes in it and in people's understanding of the ramifications of what will emerge from the relationship of the police with the other agencies.

7.40 pm
Mr. David Ashby (North-West Leicestershire)

I promise to speak for only 10 minutes, Madam Speaker. Even if I am halfway through my speech at 7.51 pm, I shall sit down. I shall keep that promise; I am most grateful that you have called me.

This has been a fascinating debate. We have heard a great deal about things that we have never heard about before. I had a friend whom I always suspected was in the Security Service. If I could only have talked to him—he is now dead—about all the washing, laundry and ironing that he had to do, I might have been able to have a rapport with him.

We have heard it all from the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason). We now know that we are talking about one great big launderette in which half the machines are being used and half are not. The ones that are not being used are super-duper—the very latest model of washing machine. They are there to be used and I agree that we should not leave machinery lying idle.

The only problem is that, next door, there is an absolutely super, much bigger, launderette which is able to take laundry from all over the country and to wash it. It does not do the ironing, but it does do the cleaning and it delivers the laundry to others who do the ironing at the operative end. That launderette is the National Criminal Intelligence Service. We have two launderettes, one better than the other because it has super machinery.

The NCIS has one other thing—a dry cleaning service—because it operates overseas and gets information from other information-gathering organisations in Europe. It has that advantage. We now have to consider how we can place the half-used launderette alongside all the other launderettes and how we can get all the machines operating together. That will be the work of the Committee.

We must remember one thing. We shall have no success with the NCIS unless we leave it as an information-gathering organisation; it simply cannot be an operational arm. It would resist time and again any suggestion that it should have an operational arm and it has good reasons for holding that view. When one talks to similar organisations in other countries, as I have, one finds that they all say the same thing. They say, "We have to be information gatherers; we must not have an operational arm. We have to gather the information and let it out to others." We have had similar discussions about similar information-gathering arms, such as the Government communications headquarters.

We have also had talk about the interception of communications. I am not allowed to talk about that because the Interception of Communications Act 1985 says that one cannot say whether the interception of communications happens but, with a nod and a wink, it works extremely well because it is concerned with information gathering. Anyone who has had any contact with anything to do with the interception of communications knows how effective it is as a result of being information gathering. We have to be careful on this point.

I shall not repeat the speeches that have been made by others—I am watching the clock—because I agree with virtually everything that everyone has said. We shall have to be careful about the relationship between the agencies. We must think about the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and we must think about other codes of conduct.

I do not agree entirely with the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers), who went on a great deal about a balancing act. I am sure that new Labour does not believe that liberty and justice are balancing acts. One is not half guilty or half innocent; one is either guilty or innocent and there is no halfway measure. There is no halfway measure about human rights and there is no halfway measure about the right and wrong procedures or about what is oppressive and what is not. Those are absolutes and I do not believe that any balancing act is involved.

The House has misunderstood the reasons why some of the Bill's provisions are vague. They have to remain vague. We have been talking about organised crime. When it comes to court, it is just a crime. It may be the importation of a large amount of cannabis or heroin, but it is a crime and not a series of crimes. If there is a series of crimes, there is a series of different charges; it has to be that way.

When we talk about serious crime, we cannot talk about a figure or a limit. We may be talking about the importation of only £100-worth of heroin, which is the subject of the charge. However, in dealing with the case and in sentencing, the judge will know that importation is part of an action by a large section of organised crime and he will sentence accordingly, even though the case involves only £100 or £1,000-worth of heroin. We cannot really put limits on or try to define too much what we intend to do. If we do, we shall spoil what we want to achieve.

Organised crime is a term that we can use, but it is not a term that lawyers will be able to use. We all understand, however, what organised crime is. In the Home Affairs Committee, we have taken evidence and we understand some of the threats to this country from those who have organised crime in other countries and who wish to organise crime here. We are fortunate in that we have not had a great intrusion, although intrusion there is, but we must realise that it will come and we have to be prepared for it.

One area in which the Security Service will be able to help tremendously will be in investigating, alerting us to and finding out more about the threat from beyond our shores. It will have a role in looking at that threat in eastern European countries and in Russia, where the greatest threat is to be found. That organised crime has already penetrated other countries, such as America.

Somebody said earlier that the white slave trade does not exist any more; I can tell the House that it does. It exists in southern Spain, where all the prostitutes come from eastern Europe and are organised from eastern Europe. They are well organised in Spain, where there has been penetration of prostitution. I call that organised crime, and it is the sort of thing that we have to keep from our own shores. Much of what has to be said has been said. We shall have to look carefully at the Bill to ensure that we are not throwing out the baby of traditional justice and liberty with the bath water. We must remember that we have a wonderful society here today and that we want to keep it like that. That is why we have to fight crime and why we must ensure that our standards remain the same. I support the Bill.

7.49 pm
Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South-East)

I shall not take long, because I know that many hon. Members want to speak and it is not pleasant to sit for a long time and not be called to speak.

I agree with those who urge caution in relation to the Bill. It is easy to be carried away regarding actions that we might want to take to fight crime. I should prefer to wait until about the time of Third Reading, when we shall be in a better position to judge, having read what emerges from Committee—which amendments are accepted and which rejected—before deciding irrevocably whether to accept the Bill. That leaves the question open, but I am one of those who would prefer to err on the side of caution than go over the top and live to regret it, as many people have done.

We cannot tackle crime in isolation. We must be tough on crime in the measures that we take, but other additional measures need to be taken, especially regarding inner cities. There is the issue of unemployment. I shall not digress, but one cannot fight crime with the Bill in isolation from the other problems that exist in the inner cities, where people are driven into crime, for a variety of reasons, to make money because they cannot make money legitimately. We must tackle those issues in addition to fighting organised crime.

Like the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Ashby) and several others, I am a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee. We visited three countries and considered the various facets of organised crime. During those visits, we met some very senior police officers and Ministry officials and discussed a range of issues from wide-ranging matters such as organised crime to more specific matters, such as identity cards, and sought out opinions.

The Home Affairs Committee's recommendation should not be seized on by the Home Secretary as a way to legitimise the use of intelligence services to fight crime. That report stands on its own. We have not had much time to discuss and consider the Home Secretary's response to the report. Many hon. Members may believe that, because they have heard other hon. Members say that they have read the Home Affairs Select Committee's report and the Home Secretary's response, that is a good recommendation to support the Bill. I prefer to read what the Home Secretary said about the Home Affairs Committee's report before I make a final decision.

One must use several measures, not only the Bill, to fight organised crime. The funny thing about some of the information that we have about organised crime is that there does not appear at any stage to be a Mr. Big who may be targeted in this country. We know that there are organisations such as the Mafia and the Russian mafia abroad, which can be very elusive. People should bear that in mind. If the Home Secretary and his colleagues feel that the Bill will tackle organised crime with major success, I would urge caution, based on evidence from abroad. The organisers of organised crime are very elusive indeed. The Mafia certainly are. We know about other organisations such as the tongs and triads. One finds oneself in a very difficult maze when one tries to tackle those organizations.

The Home Secretary is taking considerable powers on himself, because at the moment the Asylum and Immigration Bill is passing through the House of Commons. About two years ago, the Home Secretary took some additional powers on himself when he produced the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill. One wonders whether, with those two Bills, the Home Secretary has taken into consideration the issue of the safeguarding of civil rights in the fight against crime.

We should seriously question why one person, the Home Secretary, under the Police and Magistrates' Courts Act 1994, can totally change the police policy of a given area, for example the west midlands. Powers are being given to the Home Secretary, which we must scrutinise carefully. He can, in certain ways, direct the intelligence services. We must ensure that the Home Secretary's powers are limited and that it is the police who control, for the purposes of fighting crime, the operations of the intelligence services, not the other way round.

We should think very deeply about those measures because they might, if not handled properly, have profound constitutional implications for the country. I am not one of those who would like a British Federal Bureau of Investigation, because the FBI's overall record is questionable. We must be extremely worried about civil rights and citizens' rights. We must also think very deeply about the way in which the police and the intelligence services work together and have control.

I was interested in the Home Secretary's opening statement, in which he referred to the fight against bullets and knives. If he was so worried about fighting the possession of knives and the issue of people being able to acquire knives, why has he taken about 18 months to act? Now he is using knives as a justification for using the intelligence services when he might pass an Act to deal with knives, instead of leaving that to a private Member's Bill some time this month.

Some of the knives that one sees, which can be sold to 12 and 14-year-old children without any control, are horrendous, to say the least. Many people experience that in the inner cities. We want to fight, not only against the bullet, but against knives and against other causes of crime.

I shall not repeat what honourable colleagues have said, much of which I agree with. I urge the House to approach the Bill very cautiously indeed.

7.56 pm
Mr. Michael Stephen (Shoreham)

For the past 30 years, the attitude of the British criminal justice system towards criminals has been one of resigned toleration. Fortunately, we now have a Government, and especially a Home Secretary, who realise the terrible danger that criminals pose to our society and are determined to take the necessary measures to combat them.

The Home Secretary's Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 has given the police much wider powers to combat criminals than they had previously. My Bail (Amendment) Act 1993 has helped in dealing with bail bandits. However, organised crime today is reaching horrendous proportions and if we do not deal with it very firmly and quickly, we shall find ourselves in the dreadful position that pertains in some north and south American cities.

Of organised criminals, perhaps drug dealers are the worst. They are ruthless, they will stop at nothing, they use firearms and they present a very dangerous threat, even here in our own capital city. Organised crime includes counterfeiting. An especially dangerous form of organised crime is immigration racketeering, whereby unsuspecting people are brought to the United Kingdom from other countries by racketeers and end up in virtual slavery to those racketeers. I am very glad that the Home Secretary is taking measures under the Asylum and Immigration Bill to tackle them.

The Prime Minister is right to say that today, after the end of the cold war, the children of Britain are in greater danger from drug dealers than they are from a nuclear missile.

In the war against organised crime, intelligence is vital. My hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) took a very long time trying to persuade us that perhaps the intelligence services have no role to play in that, but I was not persuaded. I do not mind whether the security services are seeking a role. The fact is that they have skills, expertise and information that are vital in the fight against crime, and we should be very foolish indeed not to use them.

Mr. Rogers

I disagree with the hon. Gentleman about the security services looking for a role. They have been co-operating with all the law enforcement agencies for a number of years. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) asked about the police view of all this. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that prominent policemen have suggested using the intelligence gathering expertise of the security services.

Mr. Stephen

I entirely agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman says. I was expressing my disagreement with other hon. Members who have said that the reason for this Bill may be that the security services are seeking a role. I do not think that they are; and whether they are or not is immaterial.

Let us not suppose that the conventional threats from which the security services have protected us over the past 40 years have gone away entirely—they are more likely to be in suspended animation. We would be foolish indeed to dismantle a system that has protected us well from those threats for many years.

I must take issue with my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay on his point about public interest immunity certificates. It matters not whether the Minister who signs a certificate does so willingly or reluctantly. The important factor is that he signs it. That action puts before the judge the sensitive evidence that is the subject of the certificate. It is therefore not a gagging certificate in any sense of the word. It enables the judge to see the evidence and decide for himself whether it should be admitted. Many of our constituents may wonder why the Bill is necessary. They may always have thought that the security services help the police combat organised crime, and they may be surprised to learn that they have been legally prohibited from doing so. The Bill is necessary to remove that restriction, which is why I fully support it.

Of course, when gathering the information that they will need, the security services will need warrants to enter properties in the United Kingdom; but that right is limited by clause 2. The security services commissioner is already in place, and it is his duty to review the use of warrants by the security services.

The role of the police is vital, and the Government do not suggest that the security services should supplant that role in any way. Clause 1(1) states that the function of the service is to act in support of the prevention and detection of serious crime". One might have expected to read "in support of the police", but it is clear in any case that the role is a supportive, not a principal one.

The evidence collected by the security services may have to be put before a court, but the chief role of the security services will be to assist the police to discover evidence, not to give evidence in court themselves. It is more likely to be a police officer who has been put on to the evidence by the security services who will give it in court—not an employee of the security services. If it should become necessary for such an employee to give evidence, however, then arrangements can be made in suitable cases, just as they have been made in the past for serving SAS personnel, so as to ensure that security is not compromised. There is also a security services tribunal in which complaints against the service can be heard and determined.

The gathering and use of information is already restricted by section 2(2) of the Security Service Act 1989, which makes it clear that the director-general is under a duty to ensure that there are arrangements for securing that no information is obtained by the Service except so far as necessary for the proper discharge of its functions or disclosed by it except so far as necessary for that purpose or for the purpose of preventing or detecting serious crime or for the purpose of criminal proceedings. The director-general is also required to ensure that the service does not take any action to further the interests of any political party. All hon. Members are concerned about civil rights, but we are also concerned about the protection of the public. I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Ashby) that there can be any absolutes in these matters. It is always a question of balancing the civil rights of the individual against the protection of the public. In a free and democratic society, we must all surrender some of our rights for the common good. I am quite confident that the Government have got the balance right in the Bill.

An additional safeguard comes in the form of the external staff counsellor, to whom any member of the security services can turn if he or she has doubts about the work that they are instructed to do. Moreover, we have the parliamentary Committee which oversees the expenditure, administration and policy of the Security Service. Its members are senior parliamentarians whose judgment and integrity we can all trust. I do not think it desirable that the sensitive information which comes to their attention should be available to Parliament generally—I am sure that they can be relied on.

The Bill does not propose to give the Security Service any additional powers; it merely allows it to operate in a new area. Like many other hon. Members, I have my doubts about the definition to be found in lines nine to 12 of the Bill. It is too vague. Although we do not want to restrict the Security Service in its fight against organised crime, we do not want it to have the power to deal with wholly inappropriate cases either. As a matter of practice, I think it unlikely that it would, and, if it did, the Home Secretary would face considerable criticism at the Dispatch Box. I ask the Minister to think again and, if he can, to come up with a tighter definition in Committee, and one that will satisfy the concerns expressed by hon. Members on both sides today.

It is important to note that the Security Service has no executive powers. It is not a police force, so I imagine that it will be up to the service to ask the police to execute any warrant that it may wish to use.

Local police forces are an important part of our constitution—the system whereby power has been dispersed around the country. I would not want that reversed, but crime is not local; organised crime can be national or even international. The regional crime squads have certainly been effective. In 1994–95 they recovered £176 million-worth of drugs and £36 million-worth of counterfeit money. I am also glad that the national crime squad that the Prime Minister has proposed is taking shape, and I hope it will come into operation soon. We cannot fight organised criminals without a proper national crime squad. Whether such a squad is desirable is a matter for this House. We can take the advice of police officers and other experts, but it is for us and no one else to decide whether this country should have a national crime squad.

The investigation of crime should be co-ordinated, but it is also important to co-ordinate the prosecution of crime. There are many prosecuting agencies, including the Crown Prosecution Service, the Inland Revenue, Customs and Excise and the Department of Trade and Industry. In recent cases, it has been found that the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing has caused enormous trouble for individuals and for the Government. I hope in future that the Attorney-General's office will have a much more effective liaison and co-ordinating role in the prosecution of crime.

It is no good catching criminals unless one is prepared to deal firmly with them. I welcome the recent introduction of much longer, extended sentences for persons who have been convicted of serious or persistent crime. Once the persons have been convicted and sentenced, it is necessary that they are dealt with much more firmly in prison.

I do not subscribe to the view that people go to prison just as punishment. They go to prison for punishment as well. The House must send out a message loud and clear to drug barons who will use even murder for their purposes that anyone who deliberately takes another person's life should know, before he pulls the knife or the trigger, that he will go to prison for the rest of his natural life.

8.10 pm
Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Hillhead)

To borrow a phrase from earlier, I was not sure whether, in his hearty felicitation to Stella Rimington, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) was advancing a sort of probing amendment, or whether it represented the Front-Bench team's position. In any event, I am not alone in the parliamentary Labour party's ranks. As the author of an early-day motion calling for Mrs. Rimington to be sacked from her job, which obtained the support of more than 50 of my fellow Labour Members, it would be a little foolish of me to join in the Front-Bench spokesman's congratulations on her retirement.

I am sure that those congratulations were sincere, but they were misguided. My good as well as honourable Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) lived through the same period as me. As an activist, I will never forget the role played by Stella Rimington as head of F branch of MI5 in subverting and sabotaging the National Union of Mineworkers' legal withdrawal of labour, when the enemy within was identified by the security services, almost certainly—contradicting a point made earlier—under the direction of the political leadership of the day, and when all sorts of atrocious abuses of miners' liberty took place. People who toiled in the bowels of the earth to produce wealth for this country had their democratic rights and liberties systematically subverted by MI5 under Stella Rimington's direction. In those circumstances, it is no less than a monstrosity for us to offer her any congratulations.

The Home Secretary was at his most emollient this evening, but frankly, he was no more persuasive in that guise than in his more usual wolfish manner. I have sat through virtually every minute of this debate, and one of the overwhelming things that has struck me is how little wholehearted support exists for this measure in the House.

Apart from the hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen), who seemed more or less wholehearted until the last few minutes of his speech, virtually everyone has stated their support in principle, before laying into the measure with a barrage of anxieties, caveats and even criticisms. That makes me wonder how it can be that this measure is to go through the House this evening without the opposition of a substantial number of people.

I make it clear that, because it is apparently my party's line, I will not vote against the measure, but I cannot be dragged into voting for it. Like others, I think that, when this measure returns for Third Reading, all of us must seriously consider whether the measure has been sufficiently amended to take care of the many anxieties that have been expressed.

An enormous red herring has been dragged through the debate from the beginning. It is that, somehow, if we do not support the measure, we are soft on organised and serious crime. As I listened to hon. Member after hon. Member accurately describe the horrendous growth and proliferation of crime, and the fear and misery that goes with it, I considered two issues.

First, who has presided over that monumental increase in the evil of crime? Who has been in office for the past 17 years, when crime has multiplied in the way that it has, and who has presided over the country's economic and social conditions, in which crime and drug-taking has bred so prolifically? Does anyone believe that the housing estates of Glasgow and of this country's other great cities, where young people are injecting deadly junk into their veins, can be separated from the despair and hopelessness that those people have experienced in that period? Does anyone think that those two matters are separate?

The second question that occurred to me was: if this problem is so gigantic, and it is, how can we begin to believe that, by transferring a few dozen or even a few hundred G-men from MI5, or a few millions or even a few tens of millions of pounds of their resources, we will make a serious dent in this problem?

I am led to this conclusion: why do not we spend extra money on our police force to tackle problems of criminality? If the people in MI5 are exceptionally skilled—everyone here seems to think they are—why do we not make them into policemen and transfer them into the civilian police, where they can operate under normal policing conditions, including normal standards of accountability?

I do not have sufficient confidence in the accountability of the Security Service willingly to go along with this proposal. I have said so before, in the debate on the Queen's Speech. I am too mindful of the times not in the distant past, when some sections of the Security Service have acted not only outwith, but against, the law, willingly to see them transferred on to our streets as a secret adjunct to the civilian police force.

The hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) made a remarkably powerful and well-informed speech, which some people have foolishly rebuked because of its length, but, frankly, there was little more to be said after that speech. He said that not all MI5 members bugged and burgled their way across London—that is true—but that some of them did; and who were they bugging and burgling? It was the elected Prime Minister, who was titularly in charge of the very Security Service that was subverting him. It was not disproved. On the contrary, it was confirmed by the head of MI5 to the late Harold Wilson that he had been bugged and burgled by a section of the security services.

I talked earlier about MI5's role in the great miners' strike of 1984–85. Only this week, I have been grappling with the scandal—of which, I assure the Minister, we have not heard the last—of a conspiracy involving captains of British industry, acting in concert with Security Service members and the Saudi Arabian Government—a dictatorship at that—to subvert the democratic liberty of a political refugee living in this country, and to plot perhaps his kidnapping and perhaps even his murder while living here, so I am sorry to break with the consensus.

I am sure that there are good men and women in MI5. There must be. One of the ridiculous aspects of this matter is the painting of the Security Service as a brigade of James Bonds. MI5 and MI6 are composed of ordinary flesh-and-blood people, some of them brilliant, some fools, some knaves and some communist spies, so let us not paint that group as a panacea for the terrible ills that we have all been describing and that we all see every day in our constituencies. It is a service of good men and bad men, good women and bad women. This evening, reference enough has been made for that to be demonstrated.

I do not believe that the Government have made a very good case. I do not know why there was no Scottish Office Minister here today. When my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) asked the blindingly brilliant question about which Secretary of State would have the right to sign warrants to set the security services loose on crime issues in our country, the Home Secretary, uncharacteristically—he is a clever man—floundered and could not answer the question. He had to seek refuge in waffle. The truth is that the Secretary of State for Scotland must be the person to sign such warrants in Scotland, or we will change the entire basis of the governance of Scotland. The Minister of State on the Front Bench is a former Whip attached to the Scottish Office, and he must know that. That question was not dealt with properly, and had not been thought of in advance.

The nub of the issue is that identified by the Intelligence and Security Committee. Who will these people take their orders from? Who will task them—to use the word that has been used today—who will they relate to, and to whom will they be accountable? The Government have not even begun to advance answers to those critical questions. They had better do so in Committee and on Third Reading if the measure is to command any intelligent and informed support.

8.21 pm
Mr. Charles Hendry (High Peak)

The speech of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) will send a chill through hon. Members on both sides of the House and many others who heard it. It shows the innate hostility that exists among too many Opposition Members—although not all of them—and the pathological hatred that still exists of those who seek to prevent the subversion of our democratic processes.

The hon. Gentleman's speech was disappointing, because he trivialised the drug problem. It is not a problem that exists solely in rundown inner-city housing estates in Scotland. It occurs throughout our country, regardless of class, background, sex or region. It is not a response to hopelessness, but an international problem which affects this country as it affects socialist and other countries throughout the world. It needs to be reacted to in that same international and co-ordinated way.

I want to start with the drugs problem. On new year's day, as many of us were celebrating the start of the new year, one young girl was fighting for her life in Peterborough district hospital. Helen Cousins, aged 19, had taken an ecstasy tablet at a new year's eve party and immediately went into a coma, showing some of the symptoms that had so tragically killed Leah Betts only a few weeks previously. Thankfully, on 3 January, she regained consciousness, but she nearly became the first victim of drug misuse in 1996. That is a fear which affects every parent of teenagers in this country. It was perhaps ironic that her regaining consciousness coincided with the receipt by many hon. Members of a video called "Sorted", which was prepared by Granada Television and circulated to every secondary school in the country with the intention of warning children of 11 and over about the danger of drugs. It is hard to imagine a more disturbing and worrying film. In the film, Leah Betts's father asks, "Why Leah?" As one watches the film, the reasons for her death become more evident.

We see one of Leah's friends saying:

We didn't want to drink, so we took the pills. That unwittingly vocalises a myth that is shared by so many young people and which is propagated by those involved in the organised crime behind the drugs trade that ecstasy and similar tablets are somehow a cleaner and healthier alternative to some of the temptations facing young people in our society.

Leah Betts's sister said that the drugs were known as "Doves" because of the image of the bird stencilled on the tablets. That is another disturbing motif. In the name of fashion, people are taking a designer drug in the same way as they would buy designer clothes, but it has all the connotations of peace, contentment and well-being. Again, that is an image propagated by the evil people in the drugs trade. What we see is the terrifying portrayal of the way in which organised crime is preying on young people throughout the country. As I have said, we cannot pretend that it affects only one section of our society, because it occurs throughout the country, regardless of education, sex or background.

Of course, a great deal is going on to deal with that. There are many excellent education programmes, and I am privileged to be associated with one called Life Education Centres, which takes the message to primary schools so that children of the youngest ages can be made aware of the problems of all types of addiction and related problems. However, those efforts are being undermined day after day by people who derive an immensely wealthy living from the organised crime of the drugs trade.

Although they are an integral part of the chain in the drugs industry, the problem is not just with the petty criminals or the young people who are passing on the tablets at very little profit to their schoolfriends and mates. We must be most worried about the organisers, those at the very top of the chain, who are the hardest to reach because they are so many steps away from the front line where the drugs are being made available.

The Bill addresses not just the drugs problem but illegal immigration racketeers, illegal arms dealers and those who become involved in multiple vehicle theft. That is why we need to address the issue differently.

Organised crime is changing. It is more organised, more complex, more insidious and more international than ever before. That is why our police need extra support. They need not just extra financial support but extra skills, which are different from those which have been evident in the police force in the past. That is why we are right to make it possible for the Security Service to co-operate in a way that has not been possible in the past.

The Security Service has particular skills in long-term information gathering, surveillance, intercepting communications and other things which are vital to the police as they try to carry out their work. Although the Bill will provide extra powers for the security services, especially extending the search and entry powers beyond cases of suspected terrorism and subversion, it does not give them the same powers as the police. The police will continue to be in the lead and that is an important safeguard for civil liberties. It is important to retain a balance, so that both organisations are involved in the battle.

I listened with care to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason), but I had a feeling that he was attaching too much importance to the historical purity of the security services and was not giving enough recognition to the fact that all the resources that we have available in this country should be used to tackle the problems that we have to face now.

It is crucial that we have greater co-ordination among the organisations fighting crime. My constituency shows clearly the need for such co-operation. It is positioned close to the borders of Greater Manchester and South Yorkshire, and it is clear that much of the crime experienced by my constituents is committed not by Derbyshire residents but by those who live outside the area and outside the jurisdiction of our police.

That is why we have needed greater co-ordination through the NCIS and the DNA database and through the mutual exchange of information, so that fingerprints from different parts of the country can be compared more clearly. That is the progress we have been seeing, and that co-ordination is vital. It must continue if we are to make it easier to tackle crime.

We need to take things further to facilitate the co-operation between the police and the Security Service. As other hon. Members have said, there is a need for caution. We need to ensure that the definitions in the Bill are fair and accurate, and that the potential for excess is avoided.

We want to ensure that we do not go too far and that there continue to be proper accountability, reporting lines and control. We need to ensure that the historic roles of the Security Service are not threatened as it continues to do its vital work. The Bill is a welcome step forward, and it is easy for me to support it tonight.

8.30 pm
Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

The Bill could well carry the title of an early Rolling Stones record—"Not Fade Away". With the end of the cold war and with the Irish ceasefire, MI5 is looking for a role. I understand that Ministers do not want it to go out of existence because other dangers might arise at some future point. It is a case of not fading away—that is what the Bill is about.

The Government want to extend MI5's role to include drug trafficking and organised crime, yet those tasks are already being performed by the police. Although it might be reasonable to consider extending MI5's role in that way, I am concerned that the original intention that it should assist the police has changed to taking the lead. That suggestion was contained in a paper submitted to the Cabinet by Stella Rimington, Director-General of the Security Service. Such a change has wide implications for the police. I am not convinced that MI5 should take the lead, and any such change must be justified by Ministers.

Hon. Members have already referred to Peter Wright and "Spycatcher". Mr. Wright said that, during the 1960s, he and his colleagues in MI5 bugged and burgled their way across London. The Bill widens the scope for bugging and burglary, because it allows the Security Service lawfully to enter or interfere with property. If the Government want that, they should consider compensation for the higher insurance premiums that people will have to pay.

There is a suspicion that the warrants to allow such behaviour are signed far too easily by Ministers. Under the Bill, the warrants will be extended to cover computers, telecommunications and E-mail. That may be acceptable where there is reasonable suspicion of drug trafficking or organised crime, but not for a fishing exercise. Ministers cannot be relied upon to draw that distinction before they sign warrants. Quite frankly, it would be better if judges were able to draw that distinction and sign warrants.

Has the Data Protection Registrar been asked about the Bill's implications? After all, the Security Service will have access to Government information technology and the ability to break encryption codes; it has even been suggested that it will have access to census data, something which Governments have always said would not happen. Has the registrar been asked about those aspects? If not, the Government have been negligent.

I am worried about the possible sub-contracting of activities by the Security Service. After all, privatisation is the name of the game. The service may well sub-contract some aspects of burglary and bugging. In what way do the powers in the Bill relate to such sub-contracting? It is my view that sub-contracting should not be allowed. I ask the Minister to respond to that point.

The Government are not in a position to do anything about the protection of MI5's informants. As the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) said, the informants against Matrix Churchill and Ordtech were abandoned when the Government's role was discovered. The Bill does not deal with that issue. That brings me to the issue of public interest immunity certificates. New and proper guidelines should be drawn up for their use, which should be restricted. I am sure that the Scott inquiry will recommend something along those lines. Judges, not Ministers, should have the final say on the issuing of those certificates.

I remain alarmed about the role of the Security Service in industrial disputes, which under current legislation are viewed as subversion. Hon. Members have already referred to the example of the miners' strike. Indeed, the parent Act is used in an anti-trade union way. Often, that subversion is put on the same footing as serious crime—and it should not be. Clause 2 provides that a warrant should be signed only for crimes that would merit three years' imprisonment. That virtually rules out any action by MI5 in industrial disputes, as very few of them would meet the provisions of clause 2. I am thinking of tabling an amendment to ensure that MI5 is removed from a role that I believe it has been wrongly given.

High finance fraud is organised crime, but MI5 has a poor record on that—for example, BCCI and Maxwell. How many other big businesses have been diddling their customers, pensioners and employees? The Security Service has not done very much about that. I suspect that it does not have the expertise for such a role.

One key problem is the role that the Security Service plays in national interest and national security matters. The scope is very wide. I am convinced that civil servants and Ministers use it for their own and their party's benefit. Therefore, a proper definition of that role must be contained in law if it is to be properly applied, not abused. The interpretation of "national interest" should not lie with civil servants and Ministers; judges should interpret it within the law.

As a number of my hon. Friends have said, the accountability of the Security Service is poor. A tribunal was set up under the 1985 Act to deal with the interception of communications, but no complaints have been upheld to date. A Security Service commissioner and tribunal were established under the 1989 Act, but no complaints have been upheld to date. As far as I am aware, the Intelligence and Security Committee of this House has made no significant adverse criticisms. On that record, it seems that we have a perfect organisation—yet we all know that every organisation makes mistakes. Because no complaints have been upheld, it is obvious that they have not been properly acknowledged.

In referring to the Intelligence and Security Committee of the House—although it is not really a Committee of the House but is a Committee of the Government, because it reports to the Prime Minister—Liberty said that it could not do its job properly, because there were draconian controls on its access to information. It said: The 1994 Act fails to give real and substantial control of the work of the services to Parliament. Greater accountability to Parliament is needed. There will be no accountability to Parliament or the law while there are such vague, wide definitions—or no definition—of crucial elements of the Security Service's operation that make it impossible for a judge to adjudicate on any relevant issue.

There may be a continuing role for MI5, but that should not be at the expense of fundamental civil liberties. We should improve civil liberties and the accountability of the security services to this House.

8.39 pm
Mr. David Faber (Westbury)

I apologise to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and, in their absence, to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) for not being present for the start of the debate. The Social Security Committee, on which I serve, was finalising its report on the Child Support Agency. I have, however, enormously enjoyed the debate since I arrived just after the opening speeches. I especially enjoyed the fascinating history lesson about the Security Service given by my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason).

Much has been said about the end of the cold war, the ceasefires in Northern Ireland and the need to find the Security Service some role to fulfil. It is irrelevant whether the service itself is seeking that role or others are seeking the role for it. We live in an age of localised conflicts around the world, illegal nuclear proliferation and, sadly, a very fragile peace in Northern Ireland. The Security Service has a great deal on its plate without the further tasks that it is being required to undertake. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen); I do not mind whether the Security Service has sought the role or others have imposed it, it is a role for which it is clearly well designed and which it is well able to fulfil.

There is an obvious need for us to use the Security Service's expertise to help tackle the increasingly complex and sophisticated threat of organised and serious crime. It is difficult to quantify that threat. Indeed, until recently, it has been very difficult to establish the extent of the problem. As I understand it, since October, the National Criminal Intelligence Service has been piloting a notification system in 10 police forces around the country. It is to be hoped that that will prove a successful means of gathering nationwide data on the exact extent of the problem.

As serious crime becomes more sophisticated, crucial and good intelligence becomes more important. The Security Service, whatever we have been told, has a proven record of mounting intelligence investigations into the most secretive organisations. The Bill would enable the Security Service to use that expertise to complement the law enforcement agencies such as the police and Customs and Excise.

It is important to stress that the police and the existing agencies are already doing an excellent job—as many hon. Members have said. They are achieving considerable success in the fight against all aspects of crime, as was highlighted most recently in the welcome and continuing drop in the crime figures, but there is no doubt that we need the broader package of skills that would be brought to the problem by the Security Service, which were listed most recently by my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Hendry). Those assets can only be of value and of support to the police. If anything, the Bill is not only welcome, but somewhat overdue.

What is the nature and the extent of the threat of serious crime and what are we doing at the moment to combat it? There is no single or simple definition of serious crime, and we are still at an early stage in the collection of data via the NCIS on the extent of the problem.

As the Home Affairs Committee recognised last year in its report, there is little point in worrying about the precise definition of serious crime. The Bill does not seek—rightly—to impose any such narrow definition. Key characteristics are widely recognised, although the nature of crime will always change as new opportunities for the criminal to profit arise.

It would surely be wrong to apportion fewer resources to one crime, just because it was not considered organised, when it might be extremely serious. There are certain obvious categories of serious crime—most notably the obscene international trade in drugs, about which we have heard a great deal, most recently and most eloquently from my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak.

One or two hon. Members—my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) and the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick)—have said that Members of Parliament are not always at the sharp end of drug abuse; that we are not on the streets seeing the pushers and the effects of drugs. I like to think that I am one of the Members of Parliament who occasionally sees the sharp end of drug abuse, albeit at the other end—rehabilitation and the appalling time that drug addicts have trying to come off drugs.

For someone such as me, who sees the pain and misery caused by drug abuse, nothing could be more important than to use every available resource. I was particularly glad that, just a couple of weeks before Christmas, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary came to Downview prison to see the work of the Rehabilitation of Addicted Prisoners Trust, of which I am a trustee, which is trying to break the dreadful spiral of drug abuse in prisons and crime on the outside. Many people who see the dreadful effects of drug abuse understand the problem and will welcome the Bill as a further step to fight the evil trade of drug trafficking.

What else is being done in the battle against organised crime and what are our plans for the future? At present, individual police forces tackle crime in their own areas and there are of course six regional crime squads with more than 1,400 officers at their disposal who are able to deal with serious crime at regional, national and international level.

At the Conservative party conference last year, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced a commitment to discuss the creation of a so-called national squad to tackle organised crime, and in its report published in the summer, the Home Affairs Committee recommended that the present structure of the regional crime squads should be replaced by a more nationally co-ordinated structure.

That could, perhaps, be done by giving the national co-ordinator of the regional crime squads the executive role which he lacks. No doubt discussions between the Home Office and the police on the best way in which to put my right hon. Friend's commitment into practice are under way. We all look forward to hearing more about that.

During the debate on the Loyal Address in November, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary announced a commitment to strengthen the role of the NCIS, giving it greater freedom from the Home Office, which is surely to be welcomed.

As has been said frequently in the debate, organised crime poses a diverse threat, and it is right that a range of agencies with diverse skills and abilities should be made available to tackle it. No single agency can do it on its own and it is important that individual contributions are properly co-ordinated. Regional crime squads and Customs and Excise are already doing an excellent job. Various hon. Members have cited figures that illustrate the squads' success but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs) said, it is likely that they are only the tip of the iceberg. The package of measures in the Bill will further strengthen our response to organised crime.

How will the Security Service become involved in the day-to-day operations as soon, I hope, as the Bill receives Royal Assent and becomes law? Clause 1 extends the functions of the Security Service to uphold our national security and maintain our economic well-being. A new, third, function will be to act in support of law enforcement agencies to detect and combat organised crime.

It is crucial to note that the Security Service will be supporting the police and Customs and Excise in accordance with the arrangements for co-ordination, which can surely best be made between the director-general and the agencies. It is obviously important that members of the Security Service should familiarise themselves as soon as possible with the workings of and the personnel in the police forces and Customs and Excise departments with which they will be dealing.

A number of key principles should be established to govern that co-ordination. Law enforcement agencies must retain the principal responsibility for countering serious crime. Work against organised crime will be co-ordinated by the NCIS and other co-ordinating groups. The Security Service will not set its own tasks, but will rely on groups such as the NCIS and Customs and Excise to set them for it. The Security Service has, over many years, established excellent working links with law enforcement agencies throughout the country, and it is crucial that they should be built on as soon as possible.

A successful and harmonious working relationship between the Security Service and the police is at the very heart of the Bill's success. Those of us who recognise the outstanding work done by our individual local police forces and who speak up on their behalf regularly would not want anything that might harm or weaken their ability to combat crime locally to be done.

It is understandable that the police should have expressed anxieties during the preparation of the Bill. I am delighted that its final version has been reached in agreement with them. The police work under extremely strict legal guidelines. They greatly value the reputation for accountability and transparency that they have built up with the public over many years. They are naturally concerned that any work undertaken by the Security Service should adhere to existing arrangements under which they already work.

I very much hope that the police will be reassured by certain key principles, first, that the prime responsibility for countering organised crime should remain with the law enforcement agencies, most notably the police themselves. Secondly, as I have already described, the Security Service will be set its tasks by the NCIS and other, existing, co-ordinating groups. Thirdly, the Security Service will at all times act in support of the NCIS, local police forces, regional crime squads, Customs and Excise and whoever tackles a particular crime. The police will also be reassured by the fact that the Security Service will at all times draw on its full range of skills, capabilities and expertise. It is vital that it devotes the full range of its resources to the new part of its job just as it would to any existing interest.

As my right hon. Friend the Minister knows only too well, it is vital to those of us who have devoted considerable energy during the past two years to safeguarding, and we hope increasing, the funding available for our local police forces that the cost of Security Service involvement should be borne by the service itself. It should not affect adversely in any way existing police funding settlements. The resources that the Security Service chooses to devote to its new function are for it to decide and will depend on existing commitments.

Initially, the service might find the additional resources from within its existing budget. Given the uncertainty of the world in which we live, however, it should always be ready to respond to unforeseen circumstances to protect our national security. I strongly hope, therefore, that given the Security Service's important new role, Ministers will consider carefully at all times the resources that are available to the service via the single intelligence vote.

We live in an ever-changing world, but one that is still dangerous. The old threats might not seem quite the same, but the Security Service still has a crucial role to play at home and abroad in safeguarding the national security of the country. The menace of organised crime, especially the evil of drug trafficking about which we have heard so much today, is ever more with us and poses every bit as great a threat as did the issues of old to the well-being of future generations. The Bill will greatly strengthen the hand of the police in the battle against such crime. I hope that it will be supported by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

8.51 pm
Mr. Ken Livingstone (Brent, East)

Like many of my colleagues who have already spoken, I am critical of the Bill because I believe that any worthwhile parts of MI5 should be absorbed into the police force and made subject to the normal rule of law. I say that because there is a deeply entrenched climate of treason within MI5. We have all heard about the events in the 1970s and the events in Northern Ireland, but the climate of treason and strong links between the Conservative party and MI5 officers have been endemic throughout the century.

We all know about the Zinoviev letter, which led to the downfall of the first Labour Government in 1924. It is now believed to have been produced by two Russian emigres who were working in Berlin. They passed the forgery to an MI5 officer, Donald im Thurn. Once in the hands of MI5, senior officials realised that its details of an alleged communist plot would be a devastating blow to the Labour Government in the closing days of the election campaign. MI5 leaked the letter to a Tory Member of Parliament and former intelligence officer, Sir Reginald Hall. It also leaked it to Tory central office and the Daily Mail, which obligingly ran it on its front page.

In the run-up to the 1929 election, the links between MI5 and the Tory party were renewed. The head of MI5's investigation branch, Major Joseph Ball, was employed by Conservative central office to run agents inside the Labour party. After the election, Ball was rewarded with the directorship of the Tories' research department.

The major problems inside MI5 concern its relationship with the former Prime Minister Harold Wilson. As the Minister responsible for trade in the Attlee Government, he attempted to increase exports to the USSR. He constantly ran up against United States Government opposition towards any growth in such trade. Wilson felt that the United States used the hysteria of the cold war to prevent Britain from increasing its trade with the USSR. His was not a position that was likely to be viewed with favour in MI5. In fact, there was near hysteria in MI5 when he was sent to the USSR to negotiate the sale of 20 advanced jet engines. Wilson was only a junior Minister carrying out a Cabinet decision, but from that point on he was viewed with suspicion by MI5 officers.

When the unexpected death of Hugh Gaitskell led to the election of Wilson in 1963, MI5 immediately tried to recruit Wilson's campaign manager, George Caunt, to spy on the Labour leader. Shortly before the 1964 election, the FBI told MI5 that it had discovered a KGB mole who had been operating inside MI5 in the key post-war period. The fact that Sir Anthony Blunt was a KGB agent and had close connections with the Queen was certain to create a spy scandal as damaging as that of Kim Philby. Even worse for MI5 was the knowledge that it had been tipped off about Blunt's spying a decade earlier and had failed to take action. It now feared that Wilson would use the opportunity of the scandal to dismember its organisation. Sir Roger Hollis, then director-general of MI5, and Arthur Martin, head of the counter-espionage department, decided on a cover-up and did not even tell the outgoing Tory Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan. Instead, Blunt was granted immunity and was interrogated by Peter Wright, who made the position clear in "Spycatcher", when he wrote: We had strict orders from successive Director-Generals to do nothing that might provoke Blunt to go public. All that was concealed from Wilson when he became Prime Minister, and he was also not informed when Hollis and his deputy, Graham Mitchell, eventually came under suspicion as KGB moles.

Other news was kept from Wilson. In 1961, Anatoli Golitsin, a KGB defector, had arrived in the USA with all sorts of wild allegations few of which yielded anything of substance except the identity of the Admiralty spy, John Vassall. By coincidence, shortly after Wilson's election as Leader of the Opposition, Golitsin was sent to Britain to be interviewed by MI5. His agreed fee was £10,000 a month—£70,000 at today's prices—which was a considerable incentive to keep the interest of his MI5 hosts. Although he had made no mention of it during his two-year interrogation in the USA, Golitsin now told MI5 that he had heard of a KGB plot to kill the leader of a west European political party so that its man could take over. That was all that Peter Wright and other extreme right-wingers inside MI5 needed to confirm the suspicions that had been hanging around ever since the jet engine trade deal and Wilson's annual visits to the USSR while in opposition. They believed that the assassinated party leader had to be Gaitskell.

Oblivious to the suspicions of MI5 and the CIA, the new Labour Prime Minister Wilson issued instructions that MI5 was to stop tapping the telephones of Members of Parliament, although it never occurred to him that MI5 could continue to get access to the information gleaned from taps on Members of Parliament run by the CIA or GCHQ. He also instructed that MI5 should stop using Members as agents without knowing that one Tory Member, Captain Henry Kerby, had been used by MI5 to ingratiate himself with Wilson's shadow Cabinet colleague George Wigg by spying on the Tory party for Wigg. It gives one great encouragement that such people might have a greater role in law enforcement in the future.

The instructions from Wilson caused deep resentment inside MI5, where some officers retaliated by leaking damaging bits of gossip about members of Wilson's Government from MI5 files to the press. That was of course a breach of the Official Secrets Act 1911, but no one has ever been prosecuted.

MI5 believed that seven members of Wilson's Government and three other Labour Members of Parliament were either spies or at the very least security risks. Only one of those 10, Will Owen, the Member of Parliament for Morpeth, eventually turned out to be guilty. He had been taking £500 a month from Czechoslovakian intelligence in exchange for low-grade information that it could most probably have got cheaper by buying Hansard and reading the quality press. All the other names on MI5's list were completely innocent, but that did not stop MI5, in particular Peter Wright, hounding Bernard Floud, who had been devastated by the death of his wife. MI5 pursued him until he finally committed suicide in a moment of despair.

When Treasury Minister Niall MacDermot had his promotion to the Cabinet blocked following MI5 pressure on Wilson, he resigned from politics in disgust. The other seven Members on MI5's list were John Diamond, Tom Driberg, Judith Hart, Stephen Swingler, John Stonehouse, Barnet Stross and, of course, Wilson.

The MI5-inspired rumours about Wilson eventually reached the ears of former Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, who asked James Scott-Hopkins, a former MI6 officer who had become a Tory Member of Parliament, to conduct his own investigation to discover whether there was any danger of Wilson's being blackmailed.

In the summer of 1967, people from MI5 met people from the CIA, the FBI and the Australian and New Zealand security services in Melbourne, Australia, where they were addressed by Golitsin about his Wilson allegations.

Matters began to hot up when the press baron Cecil King, a long-standing MI5 agent, began to discuss the need for a coup against the Wilson Government. King informed Peter Wright that the Daily Mirror would publish any damaging anti-Wilson leaks that MI5 wanted aired, and at a meeting with Lord Mountbatten and the Government's chief scientific adviser, Solly Zuckerman, he urged Mountbatten to become the leader of a Government of national salvation. Lucky old Britain. Zuckerman pointed out that that was treason, and left the meeting. The idea came to nothing because of Mountbatten's reluctance to act.

All that might seem quite eccentric in the cold light of day—[HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] Absolutely. Conservative Members with lunatic—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

Order. I am not concerned with eccentricity, but I am concerned with the fact that we are dealing with the Second Reading of a Bill. The hon. Gentleman must now relate his remarks more closely to the Bill.

Mr. Livingstone

Madam Deputy Speaker, I am pointing out that treason against Labour Governments has been endemic in MI5 throughout its history, and that it has co-operated with Conservative Members of Parliament against the elected Government of the day. On those grounds, and because I do not believe that Stella Rimington or anybody else has done anything to change the climate of treason in the organisation, I oppose the Bill. I believe that MI5 should be broken up, and any worthwhile bits of it given to the police to operate as usefully as they can within the law.

What I have described might seem quite eccentric, but it is important to remember that a former intelligence officer once drew up plans about where to site an internment camp in the Shetland islands for Labour Members of Parliament and trade union activists whom MI5 felt might be disloyal, if it felt it necessary for the state to step in.

The late Harold Wilson was not the only one under suspicion. While the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) was Leader of the Opposition, the Tory Member of Parliament, Captain Henry Kerby—as I have explained, he was an MI5 agent who had ingratiated himself with George Wigg—was used to spread rumours that the right hon. Gentleman was a homosexual who had had an affair with a Swedish diplomat.

Doubts about the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup were not confined to the more extreme elements who clustered round Peter Wright. The newly appointed head of MI5, Mr. Hanley—otherwise known as Jumbo—did not inform the right hon. Gentleman that investigations were taking place to try to determine whether Sir Roger Hollis had been a KGB agent.

The head of MI5 did not inform the Leader of the Opposition of MI5's doubts about Wilson, either, or reveal the contents of the file on Wilson that he had inherited from his predecessor, Furnival Jones, and which was kept in his safe, filed under the name "Henry Worthington".

The second factor that increased MI5's alarm at the time was the rise in trade union militancy and the swing to the left in the Labour party. Any pretext that MI5 existed to catch Russian spies went right out of the window at that point. From 1972, there was a vast growth in the sections of MI5 that were involved with domestic surveillance.

Trade unionists, peace campaigners, Cabinet Ministers and political activists in their tens of thousands became the objects of illegal telephone taps and letter intercepts. Recruitment of agents on a scale not considered necessary even at the height of the cold war meant that, by the mid-1970s, even a small group of left-wingers meeting anywhere was likely to have an MI5 agent reporting back on its activities. By the end of the 1970s, 2 million British citizens had security files held on them by MI5.

A constant drip of innuendo about Wilson's loyalty was fed by MI5 to Private Eye, and Michael Halls, the liaison officer between No. 10 and MI5, considered Marcia Williams to be a security risk and funnelled damaging smears about her and Wilson to Private Eye. As Peter Wright put it in his book: most people in MI5 didn't have a duty to Parliament. They have a duty to the Queen…It's up to us to stop Russians getting control of the British government. Although it is easy to dismiss some of what I have described as the work of a lunatic fringe, the views of MI5 chief Sir Michael Hanley are well known. When he was asked at a seminar for junior MI5 officers what would happen if Michael Foot became Prime Minister, he replied: I and every other officer in the service will have to consider our position. Other officers in MI5 did not share Hanley's sense of resignation, and 30 MI5 officers, including Peter Wright, engaged, on Wright's own admission, in 23 criminal conspiracies and committed 12 acts of treason against the elected Government of the day.

Finally, what was happening came to the attention of Sir Maurice Oldfield, then head of MI6, who took Wright to dinner at Lockets restaurant in July 1975 and asked him about the extent of the plot in MI5 against Wilson. Having heard Wright out, Oldfield told him to put MI5 chief Hanley in the picture. This Wright did the next day, and in his book he says: Hanley…went white as a sheet…he was learning that half of his staff were up to their necks in a plot to get rid of the Prime Minister. While Hanley was pondering what to do to defuse that time bomb, George Weidenfeld the publisher asked to see Wilson and warned him about the gossip—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman again, but I warned him before about giving what is virtually a potted history, according to him, of MI5. He must relate what he says to the debate. The hon. Gentleman has now illustrated the point well beyond what is necessary to illustrate his reason for opposing the Bill—I take it that he does. I must also point out that he appears to be reading, whereas of course "Erskine May" tells us that Members, apart from Ministers, may not read, although they may look at notes.

Mr. Livingstone

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. As you will recall, I submitted 360 questions about MI5 and its treasonable activities during the previous Parliament, and every one was rubbished by the Government. I constantly received evasive answers. When I raised the matter with the then Prime Minister, Mrs. Thatcher as she then was, she denied them vigorously.

Then, of course, two thirds of the way through that Parliament, a statement was made to the House admitting that there had been a "clockwork orange" plot against the Labour Government, and that the allegations in Peter Wright's book were effectively true. A special inquiry was set up to examine how people had been damaged in that process and we then found, to our horror, that MI5 officers tried to nobble the inquiry set up to investigate the allegations made by Colin Wallace.

When we consider that record, we realise that it involves more than one or two eccentrics such as Peter Wright, and that there is clearly a culture of extreme right-wing politics in MI5, which has been there throughout this century. Occasionally there are brought to the surface very deep links with individual Conservative Members of Parliament who have been able to use MI5, disinformation and black propaganda to damage Labour Members of Parliament and Governments.

I believe that nothing that Stella Rimington has done has changed that culture of treason and anti-Labour bias. I believe that the existence of MI5 is a threat to democracy in this country, and has been terribly damaging—fatal in some cases—to those who have been on the receiving end of it. For that reason, I believe it should be wound up. Anybody who wants to challenge any of the points I have made tonight should know that every single one of them has been proven academically. There is not a single fact in that list of horror stories which could be challenged on the ground of accuracy.

9.7 pm

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)

After the speech of the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone), it is clear that the arrangements of law relating to our security and intelligence services and to GCHQ do not give all hon. Members confidence in the integrity of the routes that they follow. The hon. Gentleman focused his attention on whether the operation of the service was accountable, decent and effective, and he will clearly have a busy time amending the entire range of the Government's legislation. He should be grateful to the Government, who have given him an opportunity to do so.

The hon. Gentleman touched on some of the matters that have genuinely concerned hon. Members on both sides of the House, including the extent of the service's remit. Listening to colleagues and to the new members of the Intelligence and Security Committee, it has been depressing to realise that there is almost no description of the remit of the service given within the body of legislation; yet, with regard to the drug problem, the SIS has a mandate for serious international crime, so it can follow the matter through. Why, then, do we need the changes to the Security Service?

The Security Service has as its remit national security. That is a huge swathe of a definition that has concerned bodies and communities overseas that have taken common law and the English language as their subject. They include groups in Australia, New Zealand, the United States and, of course, the fabulous and famous MacDonald commission in Canada. The commission examined the great difficulty that we face—balancing our freedoms and liberties on the one hand and our security on the other. The commission made that fabulous comment regarding freedom "under the law".

What we have today is an incoherent system of control, or half-control. It is difficult to thread one's way through the subject. We have a Committee made up of Members of this House and of another place whose remit is so limited that it is excluded from examining the commissioner's work and aspects of tribunals. The Committee cannot look back before the time it came into existence, and cannot look at some of the questions that have caused anxiety in the House.

The Bill gives an opportunity to try to define within the terms of the MacDonald commission and with regard to our liberties and freedoms what is necessary in terms of appropriate oversight. But, more important, it provides a definition in statute of what are the appropriate tasks. These are not general phrases that can give rise to anxieties among hon. Members that the tasks are being carried out improperly. I happen to believe that they are not, and there is no reason to think that they are.

Why are we, of all the advanced democracies in the world, so secretive and self-obsessed with what is the proper and prudent defence and protection of our liberties, certainties and confidence as citizens of the United Kingdom? This secrecy derives from the defence of the realm Acts of the second world war, and it can be heard from some of the older fuddy-duddy judges. The intense secrecy almost leads to the Government coming upon the rocks over the Scott inquiry. It is necessary to lie to one another in Whitehall and to keep the House of Commons understanding that a policy is contrary to what it actually is; the whole thing then blows up in one's face.

One of the difficulties with the Bill is that we hear much about the wonderments of the service, but how do we know? Where is the body of information? We have never had a White Paper or any of the other instruments of Government on this subject. There has never been a set of principles enunciated as to what guides the United Kingdom Government and the House of Commons in the conduct of what is, let us remember, the most onerous of intrusions into the freedoms and liberties of our people. We have learnt that most of the activities of the Security Service—carried out under some vague concept of prerogative power—were not lawful. Therefore, the House had to legislate to put on a lawful basis something that hitherto had been unlawful.

The range of legislation includes not just the intelligence and security services Bills but the interception of communications measures and also something that has not been mentioned, the Official Secrets Act. The House can imagine how onerous that Act is. I, as Secretary of State, can notify someone, and that individual, once notified, commits an absolute offence if he reveals any aspect of his work. That is why I shall be supporting the Bill on whistle-blowers which is to come before the House on 1 March. Our freedom is the first concern of this House, and security is necessary for our freedom.

I wanted to question how the information was evaluated. I have heard reference made to the good work carried out by the Home Affairs Select Committee on organised crime, but I see nowhere in the Committee's reports interviews with security services personnel, or with police who said that they wanted the intelligence services to come into the police's business to guide and assist them. In fact, the Committee did not interview anyone, and the section on intelligence gathering is what one might call a commonsense attempt to try to get the facts. We have not been told the views of those who are involved in protecting our security, liberty and freedom. However, the police are accountable, and their operations are transparent. These are fundamental questions.

The only two speeches today that were worth anything—if everyone else will forgive me—were those of the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and of my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason), who expressed great anxieties and asked how the Bill had come about. From where did the push to task the intelligence services—we should never forget that they are self-tasking—with this new power come? I do not know the balance of the argument because we have had no White Paper. We have never considered in a neutral forum what is the proper balance and what are the principles that should guide us. That is important.

We do not know what the Intelligence and Security Committee gets up to. I believe that its report was extremely useful. It would have been useful if the House could have seen some of the evidence that led it to its conclusions. It cannot all be secret information.

Mr. Rogers

The hon. Gentleman has been extremely unfair not only to me but to other hon. Members who have expressed the same strong reservations. Every Opposition Member who has spoken has expressed reservations about the content of the Bill and said that he wants to amend it. Any reservations that the hon. Gentleman now propounds are exactly the same as those that have been expressed by Opposition Members.

Mr. Shepherd

I am sorry if I do the hon. Gentleman an injustice. It was not my intention to do so. My intention was to cite—I know that it is invidious to do so—the two speeches that touched on the reservations.

As we have had no abstraction or setting aside such as the MacDonald commission, it is difficult to make a judgment about the Bill. In 1993, when the first brochure was published on the Security Service, there were no plans to include crime. In 1994 in the Dimbleby lectures, Stella Rimington said that the service would become involved only if organised crime posed a threat to national security, which is one of the tests. If we examine the remit of the Security Service, we can get an understanding of some of the anxieties about whether the Bill is necessary and whether the service does not have adequate powers now.

In November 1994, there were press reports that the Director-General of the Security Service saw benefits in closer liaison with the police. On 16 May last year, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, in reply to a parliamentary question from the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), said: The Government have no plans to amend that legislation."—[Official Report, 16 May 1995; Vol. 260, c. 191.] Clearly, words were going around about reform of the Security Service.

On 17 July, the Home Affairs Select Committee report was published. I do not think that it contained any reference to the intelligence services and their application.

We then had an announcement at the party conference on 13 October by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that the Bill would be introduced. Then, as a result of the interest shown by members of the Intelligence and Security Committee, its report was published on the Wednesday of our Christmas rising. The Committee had clearly been following the issue.

One of the ingredients of the report was that "serious crime" was a better expression than "organised crime". That was Wednesday 20 December. The Committee held a press conference at 12.30 pm that day. Later that afternoon—most Members of the House had gone; there had been a terrific vote the night before—the Government published the Bill. I did not have a copy. I do not know how many Members collected a copy on that Wednesday while the House was still sitting. The business for the second day after our return was the Second Reading of the Bill.

Mr. Rogers

That is putting the cart before the horse.

Mr. Shepherd

I accept the very point that the hon. Gentleman makes. Last night, the Government published their response to the Home Affairs Select Committee. Is that a way to legislate? That is all I ask. It is profoundly mistaken. One of the reasons for the crisis in the standing of the House and the confidence of the British public in it is that people no longer trust our ability to make proper legislation. It is incoherent, it is often ill thought through and it is not tested.

The Asylum and Immigration Bill has been raised. I was tempted by the idea of pre-legislative consideration of the contentions behind that Bill. I see no problem with that as a proper arrangement. The Canadians do not legislate without a White Paper, some form of commission or a proper examination of the contentions within a piece of legislation.

We are looking at this legislation blind. It will go into Standing Committee upstairs and it is my guess that I will not be a member of that Committee. I was not a member of the Standing Committee on the Intelligence Services Bill. We know how the House works, and one accepts that, but is it an appropriate and proper way to legislate? That is the truth of the matter.

Most of my hon. Friends know no more than I do about the security or intelligence services, yet they proclaim that this Bill is the most appropriate route forward. Few hon. Members have the knowledge or the understanding to know whether, in truth, it is the appropriate route. That is all that this Second Reading debate is about.

I get nervous when I hear so many hon. Members saying that everyone is wonderful and that the legislation is wonderful. I am Scottish—being born in Aberdeen, I guess that I qualify as such—and the moment that I hear such a consensus, the hair at the back of my neck prickles. There is something wrong in this. I do not know where the force came from. As recently as May, the Home Secretary assured the House in a written answer that there were no plans for this legislation, which was dumped on us on the very day the House rose for the Christmas recess. We are dealing with it the day after coming back, having had the Christmas and new year holiday in between. The House's ability to consider the legislation on the information available is very limited. That is my caution.

Is there not another way to legislate, with pre-Second Reading hearings? It would make use of the talents and resources of the House if we considered the contentions in legislation.

9.20 pm
Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth)

I listened with interest to the reservations that the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) expressed about the way in which we legislate in the House. It is a point that the Opposition frequently make—the need for a more considered and reasonable way to deal with legislation and for more opportunity to think in advance of its publication.

That reservation is a general one and it is correct. It seems odd that it should be raised tonight, however, when there has been a reasonable and constructive Second Reading debate, which frequently does not happen, and when the sort of reservations that the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills raised have been mentioned by many hon. Members and will clearly be the subject with which the Standing Committee will deal seriously in due course. The very fact that the Home Secretary has shown a willingness to hear suggestions demonstrates that the Standing Committee stage will be more constructive than usual and I hope that the Minister of State will give us some promises in that direction in his reply.

This has been an interesting debate on the contribution that MI5 can make to the fight against organised crime, as well as the checks and balances that are essential in a democracy. There has also been a subtext of the wider role and history of the intelligence services, but I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House who have gone down that avenue will forgive me if I do not pursue them, because I want to concentrate on the Bill and the elements that need to be added to it during its scrutiny in the House.

The Bill has been introduced against a background of general concern about organised crime, which was the subject of the recent report by the Select Committee on Home Affairs. It comes at a time of increasing public anxiety about a series of particularly violent incidents. Although generally seen to be local in nature and not directly related to organised crime, those incidents fuel a public sense of unease.

In recent years, there has been a heated debate about the best way to tackle crime. The Home Secretary has offered tough action and the Labour party has certainly refined a coherent strategy to be tough on crime and on the causes of crime, but there have also been major changes in the accountability of the police.

In the Police and Magistrates' Courts Act 1994, the Home Secretary took considerable powers over police finances—the power to set national performance indicators—and established new-style police authority committees, in which the role of elected members was reduced. At that time, there was no acceptance of proposals that were widely supported by police and local authority associations, to give a statutory basis to a partnership approach, which would have required the police and the local authority to work together and with the local community to tackle crime. For that reason, I was particularly glad to hear the Home Secretary affirm his support today for local policing and to hear that he is against the nationalisation of the police service.

How, though, is that to be achieved by the Bill? We must strike a balance between effective leadership and co-ordination in the fight against organised crime, and local accountability—two principles that inevitably involve tension, but whose importance was acknowledged by the Home Secretary.

Given the existence of police authorities in the new form determined by the Home Secretary, I am slightly puzzled by their exclusion to date from consultation on the Bill. I know that the police authorities have offered their co-operation, and that, like us, they want strong legislation that is supported in all quarters; I therefore hope that the Home Secretary will involve them as debate on the Bill continues.

The Police and Magistrates' Courts Act 1994 maintains the underlying concept of the police service as a local responsibility, but provides that it should also deal with serious offences that transcend regional boundaries. That is what we are discussing today. I hope that the Home Secretary will allow representatives of police authorities to be involved in discussions on matters on which concern has been expressed today by hon. Members on both sides of the House—in other words, to take part in the debate about the best way in which to achieve the Government's objectives, and to deal with such issues as structure, accountability, the definition of organised crime and the measurement of performance standards in an area of joint responsibility.

Listening to the views of experts from a variety of countries at an international conference on organised crime not long ago, I was particularly impressed by the way in which organised crime differs in different countries, notwithstanding the international element in serious crime. In the past we have tended to think of sinister monolithic organisations, but to a great extent organised crime is a market in which the entrepreneurs flourish by taking opportunities that are there for the taking. It is important to design our system of law enforcement and intelligence in a way that denies opportunity in the specific conditions of the United Kingdom, and to resist expansion into the UK market by those who have succeeded elsewhere.

There are no simple solutions. We need to retain the basic values of the British police, and local accountability, while providing national co-ordination and leadership by means of the right systems and structures.

There has been extensive debate about whether there should be a single national police agency—an expanded NCIS or a new agency—to undertake national and international inquiries, or to co-ordinate the input of agencies, including customs, as well as the police and security services. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) spoke of the need to grasp that nettle; I hope that the Home Secretary will do so quickly, and in the same spirit of co-operation and search for consensus that characterised the speeches from both Front Benches today. There are reservations about the structure and resourcing of the NCIS and its accountability, some of which were acknowledged by the Home Secretary. It is important that the Home Secretary and Parliament should lay down clear tasks for the national agency.

The Bill deals with a narrow but significant point. There is an increasing belief that, following the end of the cold war, the resources of the security services should be used in the fight against organised crime at national and international level. The Bill gives statutory authority for that—we accept the principle—but it contains little detail, as a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House have pointed out. It does not clearly provide for the systems that are needed to provide accountability, transparency, control, supervision and discipline, and to deal with complaints.

Several hon. Members on both sides of the House—including my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) and the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason)—spoke with passion about the history of the subject, and the importance of checks and balances. The same issues have been raised by the Committee that the House established to study the issues, which has reported under the chairmanship of the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King). Several chief constables and senior police officers have also expressed that opinion over recent weeks.

In introducing the debate, the Home Secretary explained that his purpose in having a wide-ranging but simple Bill was to obtain maximum flexibility and avoid spurious legal challenges that would allow the guilty to walk free. Although I agree with him on that purpose, Parliament must be precise on the powers that it gives and the purposes for which they are to be exercised. The systems to which I referred are in place for the police and those issues must be clarified in respect of joint operations or circumstances in which the security services act in support of the police.

The Home Secretary had fuelled expectation that he would set out his approach to those issues in the debate and confirm that the police will task the Security Service to act in support of those inquiries. The verb "to task" is a rather inelegant term. Although it is commonly understood and familiar in police service jargon, it is less precise in normal usage of the English language and it has no established meaning in law. I am glad that the Home Secretary made his intentions clear and gave specific confirmation of who will task the security services, but he did not deal with the detail and it is not in the Bill.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn said in his opening comments, the Bill says that the Security Service will act in support of the prevention and detection of serious crime, but it does not say that the service will act in support of the police. It would be simple to say in clause 1 that the Security Service's function will be to act in support of the police and other law enforcement agencies in preventing and detecting serious crime. The Bill should provide detail on how accountability to the police will continue as the task that it is given at the beginning of the exercise is carried out.

The Bill refers to "serious crime", not organised crime, although the Home Secretary made it clear that organised crime is its specific target. I am sure that we shall have an opportunity in Committee to explore exactly what that means. One hon. Member referred to paedophiles and I share the Minister's view that we should not so define the Security Service's functions that an individual who is not part of an organised activity, although the activity is organised, can walk free. However, we must be specific in setting the limits of the activities and targets. For instance, would the three recent murders in Essex come within the ambit of organised crime? The Committee stage should he used as an opportunity to explore those definitions.

The Home Secretary stressed that the security services are not being given new powers. Ministers must satisfy the House, however, that the unqualified term "serious crime" is not too wide. I do not want to create a legal minefield, or the possibility that the House's intentions will be frustrated, by being over-precise. I simply want to clarify the broad intentions of the phrase. The Home Secretary's sympathies and intentions appear to he entirely in accord with those principles, so I hope that we shall have cross-party co-operation in seeking an acceptable form of words. He offered to listen to our suggestions and he will have our active co-operation in seeking to square that important circle. The right hon. Member for Bridgwater stressed the need for the Standing Committee to resolve that issue. It will enhance the House's reputation if we do so in a positive atmosphere.

In the spirit of co-operation that has characterised this part of the debate, I have given notice of the issues that we must cover in forthcoming debates in Committee. My remarks and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn reflect the spirit and content of the report to the Prime Minister by the Intelligence and Security Committee, which even the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills acknowledged as a useful report. It said: Within that broad policy"— which we welcome— there are clearly some very important decisions to be taken on exactly what the Service's role will be, the structures within which it will work, its accountability and what has been termed by Chief police officers 'transparency'". We welcome the fact that the Committee brought its report forward rapidly so that it might be, as the Committee noted, available to those involved in developing the policy and drawing up the necessary legislative changes. Some hon. Members have commented—they are correct—that there was a very short gap for consideration after the publication of the report. Indeed, we do not have a Government response to it—we hardly could have in the time. I hope that the Minister will tell us that the Government's response to the Committee's report will be available to the members of the Standing Committee when they debate the detail of the Bill.

Some of the important points in the report should be highlighted. For instance, the report mentions "agreement on principles", and I hope that the Minister will inform us whether those principles are accepted by the Government. I refer specifically to the items listed on page 2 of the report. The report states that the Committee were told that preliminary agreement had been reached on a number of principle…as follows: —primacy of responsibility for countering organised crime lies, and should remain with, the law enforcement organisations; —in respect of intelligence work on organised crime, the Security Service should work through NCIS and the existing co-ordinating groups…It should not operate independently and unseen by those bodies; —the Security Service should act in support of NCIS, Chief Officers of Police, Regional Crime Squads and HM Customs and Excise". One important question is on whom accountability rests when there are local activities in a police force area. Does it lie on the NCIS or on the chief officer of police, whether a chief constable or the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis?

The set of agreed principles referred to in the Committee's report also includes an important one that was touched on by a number of hon. Members: the Security Service should bear the costs of its own contribution. I hope that the Minister will assure us that that is the case, because it is important.

The Minister also needs to confirm the Committee's understanding on page 3 of report about the way in which the relevant agencies will be co-ordinated, both at operational level and at a policy level.

The report will be an important text for the Standing Committee when it considers the details of the Bill and what should be added to the Bill. If the type of safeguards that hon. Members on both sides of the House have requested and the reservations that have been expressed, again from both sides of the House, are not to be reflected in the Bill, they at least should he clear and in the public domain. The Standing Committee will have a more than usually important task because of the narrow and unconditional nature of the provisions in this short Bill. I hope that the Committee's debate will be constructive and helpful.

There are also elements in the report of the Select Committee on Home Affairs which need careful scrutiny. I welcome the fact that the Government's response to the report states: The Government attaches particular importance to increasing our knowledge of the level and types of organised crime prevalent in the United Kingdom. Often in politics, Ministers and Opposition representatives are expected to have absolute and universal knowledge, and never to admit that they do not know everything about the subject with which they are dealing. We actually know far too little about the realities of crime. The published crime statistics are not always illuminating about realities. The Home Secretary's recognition in the Government's response to the Home Affairs Select Committee is welcome and gives an appropriate basis for trying to improve the standard of knowledge within the country generally, within the Government and within the House; I welcome his remarks.

The Home Affairs Select Committee, the Intelligence and Security Committee and the Government's response to the Select Committee show the wide-ranging debate which is going on at present. Today's debate has been characterised by the willingness of the Home Secretary to open up debate constructively, and to seek both consensus on and effectiveness in the Bill. It has also been characterised by the positive response of the shadow Home Secretary to the Home Secretary's statement. I hope that the Minister will, tell us that that approach will be extended to law and order generally and to the Standing Committee proceedings.

I have to disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hillhead. The Home Secretary is greatly to be preferred when he offers co-operation and reason than when he is in his normal wolfish guise. I am, of course, simply quoting my hon. Friend's words.

The House has a duty to protect the individual citizen and the public at large against misuse of power; after all, that goes to the root of our existence. We also have a duty to ensure that the public are protected against the serious crime which threatens the very foundations of civil society, which we exist to protect. That is a local as well as a national issue, as the hon. Member for Westbury (Mr. Faber) illustrated graphically, and most of us can think of similar examples in our constituencies.

I promise the Minister constructive debate in Committee, with the purpose of fashioning legislation that balances the two key principles. The Home Secretary invited suggestions and he has made it clear that the Committee has a real job to do. We will take up with enthusiasm the opportunity offered to us.

9.41 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean)

This has been a useful and constructive debate marked by a number of informed contributions. This is one of the rare opportunities I have had of reading those words, which begin every ministerial winding-up speech, with a straight face. It actually has been an informed and well-tempered debate. I shall spare the blushes of the Opposition by not concentrating at length on the contributions by one or two Opposition Members, except to say that I suspect that Conservative central office will study the contributions by the hon. Members for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) and for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) and will find some useful nuggets for Conservative Party News for the next few months or, indeed, the next few years. There was sufficient material in there.

Apart from those rare contributions, there has been gratifying support from both sides of the House for the principle that the Security Service should be able to assist the law enforcement agencies in their work against serious crime. Almost everyone was agreed on the principles. The only area of disagreement was whether the wording in the Bill met the principles on which we all agree. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary made a powerful case in dealing with that point and I shall now deal with it likewise. In Committee, we shall explore some of the complex legal arguments that we are not able to explore on the Floor of the House tonight so that we can, I hope, satisfy all shades of opinion on both sides of the House that the Bill will do what we believe it ought to do.

Dr. Godman

As someone who is not likely to be invited to join the Committee, may I remind the Minister that, some five hours ago, I asked the Home Secretary a question about the role of the Secretary of State for Scotland in relation to clause 2? Can the Minister, five hours later, confirm that an application for a warrant submitted by Security Service personnel operating in Scotland will be determined by the Secretary of State for Scotland and not by the Home Secretary?

Mr. Maclean

I have nothing to add to what my right hon. and learned Friend said. He made the point that the law states that a Secretary of State may sign such a warrant. In many cases, that could be the Home Secretary who has primary responsibility throughout the United Kingdom. However, it could be the Secretary of State for Scotland and it could be other Secretaries of State as appropriate. The House has sensibly phrased the legislation to permit warrants to be determined by a Secretary of State.

Many colleagues mentioned the threat from organised crime.

Mr. Rogers

I believe that the right hon. Gentleman is inadvertently misleading the House. The Security Service Act 1989 does not give any Secretary of State the power to sign a warrant. It refers specifically to "the Secretary of State" and, under the terms of the Bill, that is the Home Secretary.

Mr. Maclean

I believe that, if the hon. Gentleman reads Hansard, he will say that I was not inadvertently misleading the House. I said that the Home Secretary in many cases would be the lead authority to deal with those warrants, but it could be that the legislation does speak about the Secretary of State and there may be occasions—one may wish to explore some in Committee—when the Scottish Secretary may be the appropriate authority.

Mr. Galloway

Will the Minister give way briefly on that point?

Mr. Maclean

No; we have gone through that point. It is a small, technical point.

Dr. Godman

No, it is not.

Mr. Maclean

Having served on many Committees and Scottish Committees with the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman), I am very sensitive to the argument that he makes about the Scottish legal system and some of the wonderful and unique institutions in Scotland, including the police service, but I believe that matter is more deserving of Committee than of the 15 minutes that I have left tonight.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) for confirming from the Opposition Benches his strongly held and, I believe, knowledgeable opinion, now that he serves on the Intelligence and Security Committee, that there is a genuine threat from serious and organised crime. That was described eloquently by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King). It was confirmed by the hon. Member for Rhondda, in a very telling speech. The Home Affairs Select Committee described it as a cause for serious concern, and we are taking measures on an international front to tackle that threat.

The United Kingdom has not suffered as much damage at the hands of organised crime as have many countries. No one has said that that is a cause for complacency—it is not the Government's opinion—but it is a reason for me to echo the tributes that were paid to the sterling efforts of all our law enforcement agencies. Credit is also due to our financial institutions and public bodies.

To tackle the threat of organised crime from former communist countries in eastern Europe, we continue to develop closer co-operation with Governments and law enforcement agencies in central and eastern Europe and countries of the former Soviet Union. We do so both bilaterally and in conjunction with our European Union partners.

Under the Home Office overseas drugs-related assistance programme, the countries of eastern Europe are priority targets for law enforcement equipment and training. We have given £4.6 million in aid to the region in the past three years, including support for the United Nations international drug control programme, reflecting its increasing importance as a transit route for heroin bound for the UK.

The police are also working with their counterparts and Her Majesty's Customs and Excise is providing drug law enforcement training and technical assistance in those countries and other—drug sources and transit countries.

Key aims for all that work are improved intelligence and improved co-ordination of efforts among a variety of agencies. Those aims are central to the Bill before us and central to our efforts to tackle the menace of organised crime.

I believe that the hon. Member for Hillhead said that everyone who has spoken so far has claimed that the Bill is a panacea. No one claimed that; the Opposition did not and my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary did not. No hon. Member who spoke has claimed that the Bill is a marvellous panacea for all the problems of organised crime and drug trafficking in towns and cities. We have said—it was wrong of the hon. Gentleman to exaggerate those comments—that the Bill makes a sensible and important contribution to the battle against organised crime.

My hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason), in an important speech, asked, as did other hon. Members—including my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd)—what the catalyst was for the legislation and why it was being introduced. The answer is that we have identified that in the Security Service there are some skills, especially analytical skills, and it has some resources and, God willing, if Northern Ireland continues in its present course, it may have some capacity to contribute to the battle. I simply say to the House, if there are those skills, if there is that capacity, we should all be pretty daft to look that gift horse in the mouth.

My hon. Friend the Member for Torbay asked what applications had been received by the Security Service tribunal. I can tell him that, in the past five years, 187 applications have been received and have been determined. No determination has been made in favour of a complainant, which does not imply that everything is perfect, as the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) suggested. It simply means that the independent investigators on the Security Service tribunal have concluded that the service behaved properly in respect of the 187 people who complained.

Mr. Allason

Does my right hon. Friend recognise that one of our concerns about the performance of the tribunal stems from the fact that it is not empowered to investigate anything relating to any file initiated before November 1989? Under the current legislation, therefore, if an investigation is initiated which relates to a person who was on file before then, the tribunal will say that the case cannot be investigated. Does my right hon. Friend recognise that that is the central flaw in the current arrangements?

Mr. Maclean

I recognise the facts that my hon. Friend has stated, but not that they constitute a central flaw in the arrangements. I repeat that the tribunal did not find in favour of any of the 187 complainants. The House set up the arrangements and has, I believe, generally been satisfied with them. They are a form of redress that did not exist before.

I come next to an extremely important point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay, by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) and by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) in his excellent speech. I set out the following facts in order to satisfy some of the demands made by my hon. Friends and by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael). I refer to the principles agreed and signed up to by the police and the Security Service. They are referred to in the ISC report as the principles that will govern the service's work against organised crime. I am happy to put them in the public domain tonight and to confirm them.

First, the law enforcement agencies and the Security Service have agreed that primacy of responsibility for countering organised crime lies, and should remain with, the law enforcement agencies. Secondly, the Security Service will be tasked through the NCIS and the relevant co-ordinating groups and will act in support of the NCIS, the chief officers of police, the regional crime squads and Her Majesty's Customs and Excise. Thirdly, the Security Service's contributions will be co-ordinated through the NCIS and existing structures; it will not operate independently. Fourthly, the Security Service will be able to draw on its full range of skills, capabilities and expertise. Finally, the costs of the Security Service's involvement will be borne by the Security Service. I hope that these facts provide the reassurance that many hon. Members on both sides have asked for.

Mr. Rogers

It is all very well to talk about the NCIS tasking the Security Service, but the problem is that the NCIS itself does not have a properly structured relationship with operational police forces. It is an intelligence-gathering agency. We have expressed strong reservations about the Bill, and I have spoken about putting the cart before the horse, because until the operational aspects of the police in respect of organised crime are sorted out, the resources of the Security Service are likely to be dissipated.

Mr. Maclean

I cannot agree. The provisions of the Bill form a discrete area of law. We are not extending the powers of the Security Service; we are permitting it to operate in a slightly different field. It is possible to do so without defining in the Bill all the details to do with the NCIS, its evolving relationship with the police, and the development of a national crime squad. We intend to deal with such matters next year if we possibly can, but the simple measures that we are debating tonight do not depend on them.

I look forward to a constructive Standing Committee in which we can explore the legal consequences of using alternative wordings such as "serious" or "organised", or "organised and/or serious" and so on. Having considered those, there are potentially serious legal consequences—I am grateful to the hon. Member for Rhondda for raising them—if the guilty go free because they have exploited a technicality as we in Parliament have not used the correct word. We intend carefully to explore those matters. If we can find a word that allows the House to feel that it has all the control over the Security Service that it needs and that, at the same time, does not allow unscrupulous lawyers to undermine cases, the Government will be perfectly satisfied.

We believe that the phraseology that we have at present satisfies that need. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary said earlier, we believe that the term in support of the prevention and detection of serious crime achieves the aims on which we are all agreed. The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed is shaking his head. We do not want to inhibit the service's operational effectiveness. There is a danger that we could create a position where the service's activities would be open to endless legal challenge on the question of whether every individual action was demonstrably taken in support of a law enforcement agency, if that were in the Bill, but we shall explore that matter.

I was asked about evidence in court. Of course, the Security Service has been gearing up to give evidence in court and has been doing so. Since it has had some responsibility and has taken the lead in combating Irish terrorism on the mainland, it has worked closely and well with the police. It has learnt that, if it is to give evidence in court, it must have a police officer's skills and learn the rules of evidence. The service is conscious of the fact that, if it is to get into the court domain, much of the information that it may collect will have to satisfy the rules of the laws of evidence. It is also aware of that when it comes to giving evidence in court.

We expect that, as the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed said, the bulk of the service's work will be in using its exceptionally good analytical skills. We expect that much of it will be back-up work to the police, providing information having been tasked by the NCIS, but if Security Service officers are required to give evidence in court, they must have those skills.

A balance will have to be struck as to the secrecy that will have to be maintained, and the amount of openness that will be required in court. If the balance comes down on the side of secrecy, those officers may not be able to give evidence, which may mean that the case may not proceed, but that is no different from the position in some of the regional crime squads or in the ordinary police, where we have problems on disclosure. That is why we are taking action on disclosure.

The hon. Member for Blackburn asked about the national police squad and whether we should go for one squad or two. As the Home Secretary said, we are working through the implications of the new arrangements with the Association of Chief Police Officers. A range of possible operational models exists, but this sector will always involve co-ordination of different responsibilities. Even if we had one squad, some people would do the intelligence bit and some the operational bit. Even if there were two, there would have to be co-operation.

We do not rule out the possibility of one agency performing both intelligence-gathering and investigative functions, but no one organisation can tackle organised crime alone and I would not want to risk losing the particular strengths that the NCIS has developed in its present more specialised role. We are, however, carefully considering all those issues and I note the hon. Gentleman's marginal preference for one national squad.

The House should be in no doubt that organised crime is a menace that needs to be tackled. Organised criminal activity plays a substantial part in criminal life in this country. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary said in opening the debate, the law enforcement agencies have enjoyed some notable successes in their efforts against crime. There is no room for complacency. We now need to move forward and to do more.

The Security Service has particular skills and expertise. Years of having to deal with terrorist groups has given it considerable expertise in infiltrating hostile groups and in gathering and analysing intelligence. Those are precisely the skills that can be useful in attempting to foil organized criminal groups. It would be wrong to deny ourselves the opportunity to put such skills at the disposal of the law enforcement agencies so that they may be used in the prevention and detection of serious crime.

The Bill will be widely welcomed outside the House. It has been warmly welcomed by hon. Members on both sides of the House, with a few exceptions. I believe that the British people will be pleased to learn that we are bringing in extra skilled players to support the law enforcement agencies in their work against crime. The only people who will not welcome the Bill are the criminals who will see that the Bill, together with the package of measures against organised crime to which my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary referred, is an indication of the Government's firm determination to maintain the attack against organised crime. The Bill is an excellent plank in our strategy against organised crime and I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).