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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

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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 l 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

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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

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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?


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