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3.41 pm

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham): I oppose the Bill because it is the most appalling piece of rubbish that has been put before the House for many years.

The hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Davies) has not been here for two minutes and he wants to saddle our constituents with yet another level of government and of taxation. I do not know about his area, but my constituents would be saddled with a parish council, a district council, a county council, a regional council, this Westminster Parliament, which is the fount of authority, and also with the European Parliament, the Commission and all the rest. The Liberal Democrats would land us with six levels of government, all with tax-raising powers.

The practical questions that should have been answered by the proposal were not even put forward. It is Liberal party policy to have a regional council for Cornwall, but we have not heard what county councillors--perhaps Liberal ones--from Cornwall say about that. Who would be responsible there? Where would the regional council be sited in my area? Perhaps it would be in Reading, tucked around the other side of London.

Does the hon. Gentleman have such a lack of faith in his Liberal colleagues on Kent county council that he proposes a regional council, which would take legal action against his Liberal colleagues on Kent county council? I would have a little sympathy for that idea, because their management of Kent county council is so incompetent that

10 Jan 1996 : Column 213

they should be taken to court. The solution to our ills is for people to elect decent councils, not be saddled with yet another level of government as the hon. Gentleman proposes.

The hon. Gentleman referred to an interregional finance commission, but did not make it clear what that would do, other than contain yet more politicians who would squander public money. I have never heard such absurd nonsense as this proposal to saddle my constituents with more taxation, more politicians and more restrictions. I hope that the House will chuck out this ridiculous Bill.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 19 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business):--

The House divided: Ayes 29, Noes 61.

Division No. 20
[3.45 pm


Alton, David
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)
Beith, Rt Hon A J
Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Corbyn, Jeremy
Davies, Chris (L'Boro & S'worth)
Flynn, Paul
Foster, Don (Bath)
Godman, Dr Norman A
Gordon, Mildred
Harvey, Nick
Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Mon)
Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)
Kirkwood, Archy
Llwyd, Elfyn
Loyden, Eddie
Lynne, Ms Liz
Mackinlay, Andrew
Maclennan, Robert
Maddock, Diana
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Tyler, Paul
Wallace, James
Wareing, Robert N
Wigley, Dafydd

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Simon Hughes and
Mr. Nigel Jones.


Alexander, Richard
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)
Allason, Rupert (Torbay)
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E)
Austin-Walker, John
Banks, Matthew (Southport)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)
Batiste, Spencer
Beggs, Roy
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes
Budgen, Nicholas
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Carlisle, John (Luton North)
Carrington, Matthew
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John
Day, Stephen
Dover, Den
Dunn, Bob
Forsythe, Clifford (S Antrim)
Fox, Rt Hon Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Gallie, Phil
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Hargreaves, Andrew
Harris, David
Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W)
Jessel, Toby
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Key, Robert
Maitland, Lady Olga
Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Mills, Iain
Mitchell, Sir David (NW Hants)
Moate, Sir Roger
Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Porter, David (Waveney)
Riddick, Graham
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Shaw, David (Dover)
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Smyth, The Reverend Martin
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Spink, Dr Robert
Stephen, Michael
Stewart, Allan
Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strgfd)
Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Thomason, Roy
Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Tredinnick, David
Twinn, Dr Ian
Whitney, Ray
Wilkinson, John
Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Yeo, Tim

Tellers for the Noes:

Sir Cranley Onslow and
Mr. Jacques Arnold.

Question accordingly negatived.

10 Jan 1996 : Column 214

Orders of the Day

Security Service Bill

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:

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

10 Jan 1996 : Column 216

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.

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