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Mr. Michael Stephen (Shoreham): I have here an extract from the Prime Minister's speech on 13 October 1995 in Blackpool. He said:

The hon. Gentleman cannot say that the Prime Minister was ahead of himself.

Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman is making heavy weather of my point. For the avoidance of doubt, I, too, have brought along a copy of the Prime Minister's speech.

I have raised the question of whether the proposals will result in one national body or two. There is a strong case for establishing a single national police agency within a framework which would incorporate the work of the NCIS, the work of the regional crime squads and the remaining functions of the Metropolitan police that are primarily national in character.

Most of the crime that so blights people's daily lives is local in character. It involves yobbish behaviour, disorder, vandalism, street violence and burglary. Much of it appears to be highly disorganised and opportunistic, but behind much of the local and apparently disorganised crime lies the scourge of illegal drugs. Their supply is now part of a highly organised, international, multi-billion dollar industry. Totally ruthless individuals are ready to wreck the lives of thousands of young people and to destabilise communities in the pursuit of greed. In some countries, those ruthless individuals are ready to undermine the very foundation of decent society.

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We welcome the use of any additional resources to help the police in their vital fight against organised crime. We have, as I have explained, some reservations about the arrangements for the operation and accountability of the Security Service in its new role. However, we welcome the principle and the purpose of the Bill.

5.2 pm

Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater): The hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), with whom I had an earlier practice round on this matter elsewhere, described the issue of organised crime as a threat that had to be invented. I much preferred the language and the commitment of the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), who left no doubt of his and his right hon. and hon. Friends' recognition of the seriousness of the threat that faces this country from serious organised crime. That threat does not need to be invented. If anybody tried to dismiss it as lightly as that, he would be doing no service to the people of this country.

I know that the members of the all-party Intelligence and Security Committee agree with me about the seriousness of the threat. We have already studied the matter and, as the House knows, for convenience in advance of the debate and the Bill, we produced a report on Security Service work against serious organised crime. We believe that the seriousness of this problem is not to be underestimated.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, when he introduced the debate, described serious organised crime as a menace to society. Certainly, we have to consider the implications of many aspects--I shall talk later about the threat from the drug trade--of organised crime: the fact that it is affecting society from so many different angles; the pervasiveness of the threat; and the capacity and organisation of serious organised crime. There can be no question but that we must ensure that we bring to bear all the resources available to a democracy to try to protect society from that threat.

The establishment of the drug trade must be, arguably, the most impressive feat of organisation in recent times. If it is a free market enterprise, urged on by the enormous profit potential that exists, one has to have some respect for the capacity of manufacture, export, import and distribution that has made those products available on such a scale in every constituency in this country and in every corner of the world. That has been achieved by massive, international organisation, backed up by intimidation, violence and ruthlessness on a scale that is a major threat to our society.

The present law enforcement agencies have had, by any standards, substantial successes. I understand that the street value of the drugs that were seized in the past year is some £500 million. However, even against that achievement, drug prices in real terms have fallen, which means that the product is readily available. Tragically, we know that to be the case. The importance of the challenge of dealing with the drugs trade cannot be underestimated against the background of the recent great personal tragedies that have occurred because of the continuing availability of illegal drugs.

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Mr. Mullin: I do not want to spoil a good story, but some of the massive organisation behind the international drugs trade came from some of the regimes that the United States intelligence agency set up in south-east Asia and central America. That went on for so long because the Central Intelligence Agency was not accountable.

Mr. King: I shall not pursue that line because this is a serious problem. If we are distracted, we will do no service to the people of this country. I know the threat that is faced by my constituents and by the hon. Member's constituents and their children. Chasing after old issues will do no service to them.

The other crimes that are a threat develop from the drug trade, such as money laundering. We face risks from massive financial frauds and extortion, which are major threats to the economies of the world, not least to our own and to the City of London. Those are major international issues. I had never heard of advanced fee fraud until the arrests that took place in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason), as has been mentioned. When those arrests were made, we began to hear some evidence about the scale of the international conspiracy that was involved. That was manifest robbery, being conducted on a massive international scale. Other problems include letter of credit fraud, benefit fraud and immigration fraud. Those are not small-time activities, but are becoming international conspiracies that are a major threat to our country.

I noticed, in connection with my right hon. and learned Friend's visit to India, that the master forgers--he described Madras as possibly the world capital for forgery--are now believed to have cracked every security feature of the British visa. Coupled with financial fraud and rackets on that scale is the extortion and intimidation of those who are involved.

Madras may be the world capital for forgers, but there is some concern that eastern Europe may be the world capital for counterfeiting. The threat to the currencies of the world from counterfeiting--another international fraud that could threaten the currency of our own country--must also be of great concern to us.

We know that there are problems with drugs, other forms of fraud and major criminal activity, accompanied by intimidation, as I said, by extortion and by murders. We have seen that happening on our streets and the threat to our police forces. We know of the fear that now exists in our major cities. We never hoped to see such fear although we knew that it existed in, for example, the United States. We have seen the growth of ethnic gangs, with the Afro-Caribbean influence in the importation of crack and the west African association with benefit fraud and the drug trade.

The product of criminal activity in the world, especially in the drugs trade, is now estimated to amount to $500 billion a year. The impact of that on the whole international financial framework simply cannot be dismissed as a new and rather interesting sideline. I believe that it is a major threat to the national fabric and, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary said, a menace to our society. Against that background, we are discussing whether the Bill should receive a Second Reading today and whether the Security Service should be brought into the fight against serious organised crime.

Mr. Richard Shepherd: My right hon. Friend gives voice to major concerns felt by all of us in the House.

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However, he may be aware that the Security Service Act 1989 sets out the remit of the Security Service; that is part of the problem. The Act says:

    "The function of the Service shall be the protection of national security and, in particular, its protection against threats of espionage, terrorism and sabotage . . . It shall also be the function of the Service to safeguard the economic well-being of the United Kingdom against threats posed by the actions or intentions of persons outside the British Islands."

The remit is already widely drawn. Why is it necessary to extend it? The main points are covered in the 1989 Act.

Mr. King: That is precisely the point that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary made. As he realises, there is much that is not covered. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) referred to the threat to national economic well-being. I am discussing some of the things that cannot at the moment be described as such, but which, if we do not pay attention to them, will become so.

I remind my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills--I remembered this today--that John F. Kennedy wrote a book called "While England Slept" in which he talked about the fact that this country nearly lost its independence and freedom because it failed to recognise the imminent threats and because it slept as the threats grew. Against that background, to engage in these issues and to pretend that the threats are well met by the present position is wrong.

I shall return to my normal balanced and calm role, with my responsibility as Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee. We take these matters seriously. We believe that the Security Service can bring a distinct package of skills to bear. However, in our report, which I hope the House found useful, we set out a number of concerns. We believe that the concerns are agreed between the parties, as our report makes clear. We believe that the primacy of responsibility must remain with the law enforcement agencies and that the Security Service should act only in support of them.

I support what the hon. Member for Blackburn said on this point; these are matters that need examination. I understand the arguments used by the Home Secretary who can pray in aid the Home Affairs Select Committee in support of his position. These are matters that the Standing Committee will have to address. I do not think that there is anything between us. The problem is how the role of the Security Service is defined in the Bill. There is no question of a secret Security Service police force being set up as a separate activity. The Security Service must act in support and the legislation must make that clear.

The point was well brought out by the hon. Member for Rochdale (Ms Lynne) when she asked whether information about warrants issued to the Security Service would go to the police authorities. She asked whether there would be self-tasking by the Security Service and whether it would appear to be going for warrants on its own initiative without the police knowing. That is an area of concern that must be clarified and on which my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary sought to reply earlier.

The Home Affairs Select Committee raised the point-- I welcome the Home Secretary's response--about the police issuing their own warrants and about the activities of chief constables. We do not yet have information about how freely chief constables make use of their warrant

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powers; we would be grateful for further information on that. However, we welcome the fact that the Home Secretary is discussing the issue with the Association of Chief Police Officers so that we can get the matter clarified.

We also welcome the references in this debate to the need for a better definition of serious organised crime. As has been said, the present definition has been lifted from the Interception of Communications Act 1985. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Ashby), whom I consulted and who is sitting behind the Home Secretary now. He advised me that the definition of somebody who was likely to receive three years for a first offence could include somebody who was guilty of a series of burglaries, of a mugging or of a wounding with intent. Those offences are clearly not intended to be covered by the Bill. There is no suggestion that a Secretary of State should be entitled to give a warrant for the interception of communications to the Security Service for crimes that, compared with serious organised crime as envisaged in the Bill, are petty although serious in the normal criminal sense. Clearly, that area needs attention.

The House will accept that the matters I have raised are ones for the Standing Committee. We believe that the general concept is widely supported. The issue that still needs attention, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary fairly recognised, is the development of a national crime squad. It could be argued that one should not proceed with the idea of introducing the Security Service into dealing with serious organised crime until one was clear with what body it would be working and what the ultimate arrangement in law enforcement would be. But that proposition has not been advanced by the Intelligence and Security Committee.

We believe that the issue is so important that with good sense and building on the work already being done by National Criminal Intelligence Service, there is every justification for making progress in introducing the Security Service and its distinct package of skills. However, we believe that there is a need for early understanding and for progress towards the arrangements within which the Security Service will ultimately work.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, when he introduced the proposal at the Conservative party conference in Blackpool, used a memorable phrase. He said that young people in this country were far less likely to be killed by an enemy missile than they were to be at risk from a drug dealer on the streets of our towns. That is right. The threats our young people face will be wider than that in the future. Pornography and a range of other matters can corrupt and undermine our society. The most effective action we can organise is justified.

The Security Service can make a significant and useful contribution against that background. I support the Bill on Second Reading and I support the need for sensible and constructive discussion in Committee to ensure that the valid concerns about the Bill are properly met.

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