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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

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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

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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

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,

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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.

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