§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Second Reading debate resumed.
§ Lord Denning
My Lords, we may now revert to our Bill—not a little Bill—concerning the interception of communications. I should first like to thank the Government for introducing this measure and to thank the noble Viscount the Lord President of the Council for the clarity with which he expounded it.
Telephone tapping is obnoxious and distasteful to all ordinary, law-abiding citizens. I should like to think that tapping was already contrary to law but our common law has not developed, as I would have liked it to develop, a right of privacy or a right of confidence. The nearest the law has come to that is in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. It states:Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence".Sir Robert Megarry, the Vice-Chancellor of England, in a judgment, could find no warrant for any illegality in telephone tapping. I am very glad to see, in the very first clause of this Bill, that although we have not declared a right of privacy or confidence, we have it enforced in the criminal law in regard to telecommunications; that for the first time, a new criminal offence is created for the person who interferes with or taps telephones, or the like, without lawful authority. That is in the first clause of the Bill, and most important it is.
On the other hand, we must recognise that there are exceptions to that principle—exceptions in the interests of society at large. We have heard about security and espionage, but more particularly—as was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon—we have the case of Mr. David Malone. I will remind your Lordships of that case. Mr. Malone was an antiques dealer. The police became suspicious that he was a receiver of stolen goods; that, dishonestly, he was handling stolen goods. The police applied to the Secretary of State for a warrant to be allowed to intercept Mr. Malone's telephone. The Secretary of State granted a warrant and the police intercepted the suspect's telephone. I suppose that the police obtained much valuable information.
The outcome was that Mr. Malone was prosecuted for handling stolen goods. The case went before a jury. Mr. Malone was acquitted on some of the counts. On others the jury disagreed. The case was re-tried, and again the jury disagreed on some counts. The prosecution declared that there was no use continuing any further; it offered no evidence and Mr. Malone was acquitted.
Mr. Malone then brought an action before the Vice-Chancellor, Mr. Justice Megarry—complaining that the police had acted unlawfully. He came to know of their actions only because, in the course of the court proceedings against him, a detective sergeant read 1286 from his notebook a record of what had been recorded from a telephone conversation.
One can see that it is very important that in order to detect and to prevent crime or to catch a criminal, the police should be able to tap telephones. That is very important for society at large. In the case I cite, Mr. Justice Megarry said that nothing wrong had been done, but he went on to emphasise that there ought to be legislation upon the matter. He said:Any regulation of so complex a matter as telephone tapping is essentially a matter for Parliament and not for the courtsThat is why this matter is now before your Lordships.
I can understand the Government of the time saying, "This is all too difficult a matter to deal with by legislation. The law has worked very well in the past. It would be troublesome to introduce new legislation". However, Mr. Malone's case went before the European Court of Human Rights. That court found that Britain had not fulfilled the convention. These were the words of the exception, which appear in Article 8(2):There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as in accordance with law as is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security … for the prevention of disorder or crime"—and so forth. That is the exception. The European Court found that we had broken with that convention; that what we had done was not in accordance with the convention because we did not have a law that was sufficiently detailed to deal with this matter. The European Court stated that:The law of England does not indicate with reasonable clarity the scope and manner of the exercise of the discretion conferred on the public authority".So according to the European Court, our law is not specific enough and is not clear enough. We were entrusted with the task of remedying the situation, and that is what the Government are now doing in this Bill.
I should like to thank the Government because this is a most difficult subject on which to legislate. I have mentioned the first clause. It is now a criminal offence for anyone to carry out telephone tapping unless with lawful authority. Clause 2 states that telephone tapping may be done if one has a warrant from the Secretary of State. It is permitted in the interests of national security, for the purpose of preventing crime, and so on. However, there is one small query concerning where telephone tapping can be carried out, under Clause 1(1)(b) not with the consent of the Secretary of State but,with the consent of a person occupying the premises to or from which the communication is sent".I am nervous about that. Can the proprietor of a hotel, who is the occupier, consent on behalf of any of the people in the hotel for the telephones to be tapped? That provision needs looking at. But there it is. The usual provision is that it can only be done with a warrant from the Secretary of State for the purposes mentioned. The Bill fulfils what we have done in the past.
Those are the main provisions and I shall not dwell upon them now except in two respects. The noble Viscount mentioned the important point about setting up a tribunal. If anyone suspects that his telephone is being tapped—of course, he cannot prove it but he may wonder whether it is happening—and he may be 1287 an ordinary private citizen, or he may be a rogue or criminal, he can now, under this procedure, apply to a tribunal. It is not a proper judicial tribunal, but a tribunal which will investigate; a tribunal of investigation to see whether there is anything in his complaint and whether or not his telephone is being tapped. If it is being tapped, the tribunal can ascertain whether or not the Secretary of State had given a warrant. That is a most valuable safeguard for the ordinary individual.
I make this qualification. In this clause the Government, quite rightly, have been very careful to try to keep things as secret and confidential as they can. It is like in the case of a police informer. In the witness box the policeman cannot be asked who told him what and what are the details. Some information must be kept absolutely secret and confidential and there are provisions in regard to the tribunal in that respect. It is a strange tribunal. It need not give any reasons. It can give compensation. There is no appeal from it, even under the latest procedures, and there are restrictions on what you can bring out in evidence or in examination of the witnesses.
I can see the difficulty but, on the other hand, in this very important and, if I may say so, secret sphere it is important that all investigations made should be kept confidential. You should not let the rogues and spies get at your machinery. At any rate, this tribunal is most important and no doubt your Lordships will look at the details of it in Committee.
We then come to the commissioner who will monitor the arrangements. What a good proposal that is. I always like to think that I was almost the initiator of these commissioners. I dealt with the Profumo case. I remember Lord Kilmuir and his report. Since then the practice of having a commissioner has become a much more practical way of dealing with such matters. It is a good provision to have a commissioner to monitor everything to see how it goes on and to report. I am in two minds as to whether he should report to a Select Committee or to the Prime Minister. On security matters certainly let it be to the Prime Minister. I learned in the Profumo case that the Prime Minister is the person who has to take responsibility for the security of our realm and he, or she, would be the right person to have many of these reports; certainly those on security.
On the whole, I sincerely welcome the Bill and I hope that your Lordships will give it a Second Reading.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ The Countess of Mar
My Lords, I know we all agree that in some circumstances it is necessary in the national interest to intercept telephone conversations and the mail. This piece of legislation has been welcomed in many quarters, particularly by my former colleagues in the Post Office and British Telecom. Their unions have for a long time been worried about the lack of a precise statutory framework for interception; and for the past five years they have been actively campaigning for one.
However, the welcome must be a qualified one, for there are a few deficiencies in the Bill. I am confident that these will be rectified during its progress through 1288 your Lordships' House. Recently there has been a great deal of publicity given to the increasing number of so-called leaks of secret and confidential Government information. Employees of British Telecom, and presumably of other companies who provide or will provide telecommunications services, must be protected from the temptation to inform individuals that they are under surveillance or to leak such information to the media. In the course of their duties telephone engineers often come across taps or are instructed to put them on. It is highly unlikely that they will ever see a warrant and, therefore, they have no means of knowing whether or not the interception is legal. There are bound to be occasions when they are worried.
It has always been the policy of British Telecom management to regard telephone tapping as a Home Office matter, and staff do not have the usual recourse to their supervisors or senior management to discuss their doubts. For obvious security reasons their trade unions would not want to become involved.
We need to understand the nature of the kind of person who may be involved in such a situation. My knowledge of British Telecom engineers is that they are men and women of great integrity who take a professional pride in their work. They are also very public spirited, but they will be extremely reluctant to report to the police their suspicions of any illegal procedures. I understand that the Minister in another place gave an assurance that they would be able to approach the commissioner with a case, but even this does not really provide a sufficiently clear-cut channel.
I ask your Lordships to imagine the quandary of a telephone engineer who comes across a tap which he suspects is illegal. He is probably very good at his job, but perhaps he is not very literate. He knows, for reasons which I have already explained, that there is not much point in approaching his boss. He knows that there is this eminent man in London to whom he can take his problem, but he is reluctant to put pen to paper because of his supposed inadequacy. He desperately needs to talk to someone about it to get it off his chest but he is bound by the Official Secrets Act. He can either shelve his problem and remain unhappy about it, or he can leak it and risk prosecution.
There is provision in the Bill for a member of the public who suspects that his communications are being intercepted to apply to the tribunal to have his case investigated. The tribunal is to consist of legal men but it sounds so much less intimidating than the commissioner. Would it be possible to enable those engaged in the provision of telecommunication services to approach the tribunal, or some locally authorised representative of the commissioner or the tribunal, to deal with their problems, and who would, if necessary, pass any evidence of infringements of Clause 1 to the police?
Another cause for concern is that while employees are not liable to prosecution under the Official Secrets Act for any evidence they give to the commissioner, they have no guarantee that they would not be subjected to disciplinary action by their employer. The Government are already intervening in the normal managerial decisions by requiring positive vetting in areas of security and a little further intervention in this case would be enormously beneficial to employees.
1289 I have little doubt that the response of the noble Viscount the Leader of the House will be that no employer would be so petty and that there is no need to legislate for such a remote possibility. The provision of telecommunications services is no longer a matter for a single state-owned corporation whose day-to-day management is bound by the management methods of the Civil Service. Private companies can and do behave very differently. We must ensure that employees of these companies, as well as the public, have total confidence in the operation of this Bill and that they, as well as the Secretary of State, will use it.
Other noble Lords have already spoken about the need for a precise definition of certain terms, and I agree with them. However, I do not propose to venture into any of the legal arguments. My prime concern is that all our citizens should be protected by this Act. The position of employees in businesses which provide communication services must be clarified. I certainly hope that occasions when they need to take their suspicions to a higher authority will be few and far between, and I am confident that they will not abuse any system which is set up. To incorporate into the Bill the two safeguards about which I have spoken would be relatively simple and I hope the noble Viscount will view them favourably.
My Lords, the time has marched on very much faster than I thought it would and I must leave by ten minutes past six. I hope the noble Viscount will accept my apologies if I do not manage to stay for his winding up.
§ 5.51 p.m.
§ Lord Foot
My Lords, the House has been particularly fortunate, in my view, in having this Bill presented to us by the noble Viscount the Leader of the House. Not only has he explained it all with great clarity but I think it only right to say that while he is only a recent convert to the belief that we have to put this business of interception upon a statutory basis, nevertheless he has been involved in this problem for many years and I do not think anybody who has had the opportunity of looking back over the history of this matter will be in any doubt about the anxiety that the noble Viscount has always shown, that whatever we do in this matter we must at all costs preserve the liberty and privacy of the subject.
I can offer only a few miscellaneous observations but as I was thinking of what I might say I was struck by the thought that this Bill differs very substantially from some of the Bills that come before this House in that now, at any rate, it enjoys the benefit of a wide measure of acceptability, of general approval, cross-party. That is a very considerable asset. It distinguishes it, for one thing, from a Bill like the Local Government Bill with which we have been preoccupied over the last week or so. There there is no agreement upon the fundamental objectives of the legislation; but here there is a wide measure of agreement, and that seems to me to be entirely satisfactory. I would join with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, in commending, first of all, the first clause of this Bill, which makes the unlawful interception of communications a 1290 criminal offence and attaches to that criminal offence, as the noble Viscount has said, substantial penalties.
The second thing upon which there is now general agreement, I believe, is that it is right that at long last the whole of this process of interception should be put upon that statutory basis. I think it is also true—and this has emerged clearly in this debate—that there is a general agreement across all parties upon the two propositions which are the twin pillars on which this Bill rests. The first of those is that a modern democratic state must have the power where its security is threatened to take appropriate steps of interception to discover where its enemies are and what they are about to do. The other thing that is agreed upon is that those operations, that process of interception, must necessarily and in the nature of things take place in secret. But side by side with that, the other twin pillar on which the Bill rests is the belief, which I hope is shared on all sides of this House, that interception is always a grave invasion of the privacy of the subject, and it is something which requires the strictest safeguards against abuse.
The fundamental question which this Bill asks, as the noble Viscount has said on many previous occasions, is whether we have struck the proper balance between one interest and the other. This seems to me to be what one might call primarily a Committee Bill. I believe the real useful work is going to be done when we get to the Committee stage and when we consider the various things that have been spoken about in this debate, including the interpretation of difficult words and so on. When we get to that stage I believe we shall be doing our most useful work.
There is a small plea which I would make to the noble Viscount, which indeed I think it is scarcely necessary to make because I think I am going to get a satisfactory response. This Bill, as he has rightly said, is only marginally party political. Indeed, I would hope that it was not party political at all, but the Government at any rate did run into some trouble in the other place and got some rather rough treatment.
My own view is that, at any rate as the Bill now stands, although I have reservations about particular wording and particular parts of the Bill, and although I have doubts upon some other matters, I believe that this Bill is presented to the House by the Government in good faith in the sense that they want to try to achieve a satisfactory balance. My plea to the noble Viscount, therefore, is that in the further stages of this Bill the Government will keep an open mind as to the possibility of amendment and improvement.
The Bill incorporates a number of quite new concepts. There is the role of the commission and there is the role, most important of all, of the tribunal. These are all completely new conceptions, and there is much else in the Bill which is new, too. This is the first attempt that has been made in this country to legislate in this field and it would be very surprising, would it not, if we got it all right at the first shot? I hope, therefore, that the noble Viscount will be prepared to consider all the matters that may be put to him when we get to the Committee stage.
There are just one or two points of special interest that I would like to mention and I will do nothing 1291 more than that. The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, made some reference to this, but not quite the reference that I want to make. In the White Paper which preceded the Bill there were set out the conditions on which the Secretary of State should satisfy himself before issuing a warrant; and the noble Viscount will remember very well, I think, what they were: first, that normal methods of investigation are not available. Secondly:that other methods of investigation have been tried and failed or must, from the nature of things, be unlikely to succeed if tried";and the third one was in respect of serious crime that there is,good reason to think that an interception would be likely to lead to an arrest and a conviction".I mention those matters because those words and those reservations do not appear anywhere in the Bill. I can see no possible disadvantage in putting those requirements on the Secretary of State into Clause 2, let us say, of the Bill so that, in addition to the matters which are set out in Clause 2(2), the Secretary of State will have to take those matters into account when he is deciding whether to issue a warrant.
I suggest that that would have this considerable advantage. If that is done, when the tribunal, or the commissioner in the course of his supervisory duties is considering whether there has been any breach of the law in the issue of a warrant, it will be useful—will it not?—if either of them can have regard to those considerations which the authors of the White Paper thought were of such importance.
§ Lord Mishcon
My Lords, I interrupt the noble Lord, I hope, with his full permission. I want to say only this. He has so much more eloquently than I made the very point (which he will see if he has the kindness to read my speech) that I myself was making. I am delighted to know that he supports it.
§ Lord Foot
My Lords, if I suggested that the noble Lord did not develop this point better than I did, I was gravely at fault.
Another matter that I should like to mention is one which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, mentioned just now, and it is on Clause 1(1)(b). I think that I heard the noble Viscount say at the beginning that the Government have undertaken to reconsider those words and will bring forward something which is intended to target upon things like obscene telephone calls.
Another matter that I might perhaps mention is this. One of the curiosities of the regulations about the tribunal is that its powers can be invoked apparently only on the complaint of a member of the public that his communications have been intercepted. I find it odd that there is no obligation on the commissioner to inform the tribunal when he finds that there has been an improper interception. I say that that is odd because of this. In a case of that kind, where it is the commissioner who discovers the breach of the regulations, the person whose communications have been intercepted wrongly may know nothing about it at all. If the commissioner comes across the fact that something has gone wrong and the regulations have not been observed, is it not right that he should be under an obligation to bring that fact to the attention of the tribunal?
1292 The last matter that I wish to bring up is merely one of information. If I heard the noble Viscount rightly, in his opening speech he made some mention of the intention and promise of the Government to make amendments to Clause 4 which I think related to the duration of the warrants. As the Bill now stands, the relevant period is six months. I believe that some undertaking was given in the other place that that period would be reduced to two months, to bring it into accord with what has been proposed in the White Paper.
I apologise for those somewhat miscellaneous observations. I very much hope that the Bill will quickly reach the statute book. We have been waiting for it for a very long time.
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ Viscount Whitelaw
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate and I thank them for the generous things that have been said about me personally. I came to the conclusion that, while I enjoy these very much indeed when they come, if rarely, I am only too well aware when some of them are perhaps rather more generous and kindly than they ought to be. In this case I felt rather like that. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, was, as usual, totally correct. The fact worried me yet again that noble Lords and judges of his distinction can look so plainly into the minds of simple people like me and know exactly what we are thinking.
The noble and learned Lord said that during the Malone case and afterwards I was saying to myself: "Oh dear! Oh dear! This will all be much too difficult to legislate on. I do hope we do not have to do it". Yes, my Lords, that is exactly what I was saying. The noble and learned Lord is perfectly correct. Not only, I suspect, was I saying that but I imagine that nearly all my predecessors as Home Secretary over the years have been saying exactly the same. Perhaps we were right, but I think that I am a convert, as the noble Lord, Lord Foot, said. Having seen what it is possible to do and having seen the Bill, I now feel that it is right to legislate. In any event, I think that we had no option, but even if we had, I still believe that it was right.
Many new developments have occurred in this field. For example—and do not let us argue now about whether the privatisation of British Telecom was right or wrong—that move introduced a somewhat new situation so far as the aspect of telephone interceptions is concerned. I believe that we were right to legislate, but I have to say that I cannot take credit for having done it either speedily or necessarily very willingly. Just before I gave the undertaking in your Lordships' House I had been busily doing my best to make sure that the particular measure did not get through. However, better late than never.
I am very grateful indeed to, I think, all noble Lords for their support for the basis of the Bill and the balance that we have sought to set out. I made the point about balance clear in my opening speech. I do not think that I need to repeat it now. Everyone who has spoken has said that we have to get the balance right; but basically, in principle, the Bill sets about 1293 getting it right in a sensible and proper way. However, I could not agree more that where there may be need for amendment we must look at such questions very carefully.
I now turn to some of the detailed points raised. The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, asked whether an opportunity has been missed, whether the Bill was too narrow and whether we should not have gone into the field of surveillance as well. I believe that in the modern world it is important to address the whole question of surveillance. This is being done and will continue to be done. Equally I believe that to try to deal with it in this Bill would have meant further delay before the Bill could have been introduced, and I think that your Lordships might not have thought that that was satisfactory.
Let me say why I think that it would take longer. We have to recognise the many problems coming forward at the present time with videos and the rest which would have to be addressed when considering surveillance. If we are to do it successfully, we have to make sure that we get it right. However, to be fair to myself and certainly to my right honourable and learned friend the Home Secretary, I think that I should point out that the Government have already directly addressed the question of surveillance. My right honourable and learned friend has announced that the Government intend to introduce legislation based on the Law Commissioners' proposals on breach of confidence. That will of course deal with legislation at the point where it can be handled. Indeed, last year he also published strengthened guidelines on the use of surveillance devices by the police. That demonstrates the Government's commitment to making progress in this field. But I believe that it would have taken longer to introduce the Bill if we had had to go wider than merely interception.
The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, and others raised the question of national security, including subversion and the problem about the definition. As the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, pointed out, we have before us the definition of subversion of the noble Lord, Lord Harris, and indeed the particular words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning. I think that we are perfectly clear that those two definitions come close together, and I believe that they form the basis on which the Government have been acting and should act in the future. That was certainly the way that I acted throughout the time I had the responsibility as Home Secretary. There is no doubt that we can look at these words again in Committee, if that is the wish of noble Lords, but I think these definitions have stood the test of time and on the whole have proved to be right.
The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, then referred to the economic purpose. In this field the Government are certainly not seeking in any way to extend the present scope of interception. I should like to give the noble Lord that undertaking. This applies to interception in the economic field as much as in crime and national security. If we look at these, I should like to emphasise that that will be the basis on which we are looking at it. The Government in no way wish to extend this particular area.
1294 The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, raised the question of the membership of the tribunal and whether it was necessary that they should all be lawyers. I never though I should see the day when I would necessarily be arguing in favour of everyone being lawyers in any particular field. However, I have to point out that in this particular case it is in the main questions of law to which the members of this tribunal will have to address themselves. As to whether it should be that some of them may have knowledge in the field of telecommunications and so on, I see the argument but I suspect that in the end lawyers really will have the sway because they are the people who will be dealing with most of the matters concerned. On the question of the quorum, again it was felt that it was right that the tribunal should be given the chance to operate basically with as much flexibility as possible. However, we certainly can consider the point that the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, made.
The noble Lord came to the question of the commissioner and his responsibility for reporting to Parliament. I pointed out in my speech, and perhaps I should remind the noble Lord, that the commissioner would report to the Prime Minister. She would submit the report to Parliament, subject to any necessary deletions that there might have to be on the subject of national security. That is clearly stated and would clearly be the case. Of course my right honourable friend the Prime Minister is responsible to Parliament, and once it was reported to Parliament it could then be discussed in Parliament. That would be the purpose of it. I noted that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, thought that it was right that the commissioner should report to the Prime Minister. I must say that, from my own experience in these matters, I think I would basically accept that decision.
The noble Lord, Lord Harris, raised various questions concerning the working of the security services. These were the main points that he raised. One has to admit immediately and at once to the noble Lord, who has experience in these matters, that there have been some very unfortunate and worrying lapses, which we have to accept.
The noble Lord then raised the question of accountability. He raised the question of the independent complaints commissioner and also the possibility of having a committee of Privy Councillors. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister made clear when she made the Statement after the Bettaney case (which, as your Lordships will remember, I repeated in this House), the new head of the security service had been asked immediately to look into both aspects of the service and to report urgently to my right honourable friend. That is being done at once. It was felt and is felt by the Government that this is the right first step. It certainly would not rule out some of the questions that the noble Lord put forward but it might make it somewhat difficult to put some of the points into this Bill in view of the timescale, particularly if the director general is to have a chance to make a full report. However, if he were to report that he wished something like that, obviously that would raise a new and very important situation.
I was extremely grateful for the support of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning. He has considerable knowledge of all these matters. To hear that he felt that 1295 we were on the right lines was indeed extremely encouraging. Again, he raised the question about the consent exemption, which the noble Lord, Lord Foot, also raised. Perhaps I should remind him that the Government accept his point of view, accept that it is too wide and, as I think I said in my opening speech, will introduce amendments to improve that particular situation. As I made clear, the commissioner reports direct to the Prime Minister.
The noble Countess, Lady Mar, raised this question. I appreciate that she is not here but if noble Lords do not mind I should just like to put a quick point into Hansard for her so that she can read it. I think it is only courteous to her since she was very courteous to me. I appreciate what she says about the Telecom engineers. During my time as Home Secretary, obviously I met and talked to some of the people who were carrying out some of this work. I realised at once how dedicated they are and the difficult position in which they are frequently placed. I fully appreciate that. They would have access to the commissioner. That would be real. They would not have to feel that proper matters could not be brought to his attention.
The Government amended the Bill in the Commons to ensure that people such as the engineers need not feel unwilling in any way to go to the tribunal. I hope we have shown very plainly how keen we are to respond to the feelings and the difficulties of these people who work in this very difficult field, particularly (if I may come back to this point) as they work in different circumstances from those in which they worked before the privatisation of British telecommunications.
The noble Lord, Lord Foot, was very generous in what he said about the Bill. As all the other noble Lords have done, he accepted the twin pillars on which the Bill is founded. He again raised the question of the wideness of the consent amendment. I think I have been able to assure him that the Government accept that and will deal with it.
The noble Lord raised the question of the duration of warrants under Clause 4. Again, I have made it clear that the Government intend to put that right, to make amendments there. He raised the question of whether we should be able to seek to amend this Bill during the Committee stage. I should like to give him the absolute assurance that I am most anxious that we should have every opportunity to consider the Bill very carefully and to see in what ways we can improve it. I shall seek all the time to play my full part in that.
Perhaps I may just add this point for the noble Lord and indeed for all your Lordships. There may be occasions when, for obvious, good reasons, it may necessarily be very difficult for me to be as forthcoming as sometimes I would naturally wish to be. If that is the case I shall make that position very clear. I may have to do it. I hope I shall have to do it only on very rare occasions. However, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, said it is a problem, in the nature of this particular operation, that sometimes secrecy is extremely important.
I come back to one last point of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon; that is on the question of Clause 9. There is a very great problem here. Of course we can look at it and should look at in Committee. However, 1296 there is a terrible problem about the need to preserve the secrecy. If we were to take action in this field, whereby some very clever criminals could piece together a lot of information which would be greatly to their advantage in prosecuting their crimes, we would not have done good to the security of the nation and we would not have done good to the means of trying to deal with crime and with drugs.
I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken. I hope that I have answered most of the points that have been raised in the debate. I look forward to the Committee stage. I hope that it will in no sense be felt that the Government are sticking rigidly, without any reason, to some of the points that I have put forward. We shall do our best to meet and discuss with the House the problems that are involved. I hope that we shall be able to make sure that a Bill which has received such a welcome at the start will prove to be something which will be in the best interests of the nation as a whole.
On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.