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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

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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:

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

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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

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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 counter- espionage, 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?

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