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Mr. Sheerman: I was astounded that the Home Secretary did not give us any assurance of greater accountability, given this fundamental change in the law. If there is not to be any substantial increase in accountability, is not the fear that the tail of the security services will start to wag the dog of the criminal justice system justified?

Mr. Straw: That is an anxiety. I listened carefully to the Secretary of State, who made it clear that the Bill's purpose was that the Security Service should assist law enforcement agencies--that it should not be self-tasking. Given the anxieties that have been raised and the natural anxieties that are bound to exist, and which are shared on both sides of the House, about the work of organisations such as the Security Service, which necessarily have to work in secrecy, it is better for such a qualification to be placed on the face of the Bill, particularly as the Intelligence and Security Committee has recommended that course.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills): I am inclined to agree with that point, but does not the Bill open up the Security Service Act 1989? We can now examine the nature of the remits, which was raised by the hon. Gentleman. National security as a term or reference point has caused considerable anxiety to many of us, as it has throughout the western world. Are we to understand that Labour is likely to re-examine those definitions and tasks in Committee?

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Mr. Straw: Yes. As I have said, we support the principle of the Bill, but have reservations about its wording and the precise arrangements for accountability in its operation. We shall certainly seek to raise those reservations in Standing Committee and on Report, if appropriate.

Mr. Shepherd: Why can that not be done here in the Chamber?

Mr. Straw: I am doing it here now.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes): Order. We cannot have a sub-debate involving seated interventions.

Mr. Straw: The matter raised by the hon. Gentleman will have to be taken up with the usual channels, but I understand that there has been no argument about the intention to deal with the Bill in Standing Committee.

The change in the legislation will have an important impact on the criminal justice system. Because of the importance of its work to national security, Parliament, the public and the judicial system have accepted that the Security Service should be far less publicly accountable for its operations than the police or other law enforcement agencies. That has meant, for example, that officers in the Security Service have routinely given their evidence in court in camera, or without their true identities being disclosed.

As the Director-General of the Security Service said in her Dimbleby lecture,

so any operations leading to the arrest of suspects, even within its existing functions, must be carried out by the police. None the less, national security--although extremely important--is a relatively narrow field. It must be accepted that in ordinary criminal trials, however serious, in which issues of national security are not involved, witnesses from the Security Service should not expect routinely to be treated differently from those from the police or customs. That would not exclude evidence being given in camera, or without the disclosure of true identity, when there were good reasons. Indeed, in certain circumstances, the police and customs already give evidence in that way. I believe, however, that the ground rules should be the same.

The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and its codes lay down clear rules relating to the gathering of evidence by the police, but we need reassurance from the Minister on whether and how the requirements of PACE will work in respect of Security Service staff involved in joint operations in the investigation of serious crime.

The handling of complaints that arise from a joint police-Security Service investigation greatly concerns police officers to whom I have spoken. As complaints against a member of the Security Service are covered not by the Police Complaints Authority, but by quite separate arrangements, some police officers have expressed to me a fear that, if things go wrong, the police might be left to carry the can.

I accept that, when two separate agencies are working on a single investigation, there can be no tailor-made answer to the problem, just as there is no tailor-made answer to the problem of complaints involving a joint operation by police and customs. I believe, however, that

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the matter should be considered further in Committee, that guidance should be published and that Ministers should consider explicit co-operation and access for the Police Complaints Authority to the Security Service commissioner in the event of complaints against both police and Security Service officers arising from a joint operation.

I shall now deal with two wider issues relating to the Bill and the overall policy framework behind it. First, there is the need--raised by the Home Secretary--for a single regime for interception, bugging and property intrusion. As the Home Secretary observed, at present, interception of communications generally is strictly controlled by statute, as is intrusion into property by the Security Service.

As the Home Affairs Committee said, there are significant gaps in those overall arrangements. Police intrusion into property is controlled non-statutorily and senior police officers have made it clear to me, as they did to the Select Committee, that they are anxious that their use of such powers is not properly based in law. In some cases, the police's operations in those areas make them vulnerable to civil actions for trespass at the very least. In addition, with the advance of technology since 1985, some surveillance techniques, including bugging, have become much more widely available, and they, too, are outside the current statutory framework.

I therefore welcome both the Home Affairs Committee's recommendations and the Secretary of State's confirmation that proposals to place the whole of that area on a single statutory footing will be brought before the House at an early opportunity.

The last issue that I wish to raise concerns the future of national policing arrangements. The Labour party strongly believes in locally based, locally accountable police services. Such a system has served the country well and is infinitely better than drifting into a national police force. It is also much better than ending up with competing overlapping law enforcement jurisdictions, as has happened in the United States.

We want the arrangements for locally based, locally accountable police services to be strengthened, not least through the establishment of proper democratic arrangements for local accountability of the Metropolitan police to the people of London in respect of that service's local police functions.

Some police functions, however, must be carried out nationally. The fact that that has always been so is one explanation for the distinctive arrangement of having the Home Secretary as the authority for the Metropolitan police. Over the past few years, that national arrangement has been formalised through the establishment of the National Criminal Intelligence Service.

Like the Secretary of State, I pay tribute to the work achieved at the NCIS, but it is accepted across the House that it is in transition and needs greater clarity about its future structure and organisation. It is absurd that the NCIS is allowed to be involved in static surveillance but prohibited from following its target when it moves. The internal running of the organisation is complicated by the fact that all its staff are on secondment. The discipline of those police officers is, therefore, the ultimate responsibility not of the director of NCIS but of the police officers' parent chief constables. In the long term, that is not satisfactory.

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The Home Affairs Committee also recognised that separate regional crime squads with no central executive direction should be replaced by a more nationally co-ordinated structure. During his speech at the Conservative party conference, the Prime Minister wrote up in lights the idea of establishing a national squad. Yesterday, however, the Minister of State gave a much more qualified response to the Select Committee's report on that proposal. He said that the creation of a national crime squad was not straightforward. I wonder whether he cleared his remark with Downing street, because it was not what the Prime Minister led us to believe. I see much advantage in having a national squad, but we accept that it would not be straightforward.

Mr. Beith: A Scottish Office spokesman made an even more qualified comment shortly before Christmas when asked whether the national squad would apply to Scotland. He told The Herald that his

The Prime Minister has suggested that a national squad is about to be created.

Mr. Straw: The Prime Minister, on this issue as on many others, was slightly ahead of himself when he made that speech.

I should be glad if the Minister would tell us, when he replies, whether we will have one national police operation or two. I inferred from what the Secretary of State said that there will be both a strengthened NCIS and a separate national crime squad to absorb the work of the regional crime squads.

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