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5.18 pm

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda): It is a pleasure to come out of the monastic seclusion of the Intelligence and Security Committee in the Cabinet Office and to be able to talk about the issues this afternoon. They are important, although my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) may think that they are trivial. I am a simplistic person who believes that, generally, the framework of law in a free society is there to protect people and not necessarily to restrict their freedom. I judge every measure that comes before the House in terms of how it will affect my constituents--the people who have elected me to Parliament.

At the outset, I endorse and support the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw). I also welcome the Government's positive action in the matter. However, I am disappointed with the undue haste in legislating on that proposal. I do not know whether it is the result of a vacuum in the legislative programme, but it is putting the cart before the horse.

The issue that we considered in the Intelligence and Security Committee was in what way the Security Service might "plug in", if I may use that term, to the law enforcement agencies so that extremely limited resources might be deployed effectively. The general feeling that I get from speaking to people is that the Security Service is a massive organisation, which can deploy thousands of people, with huge resources, to that task.

As I represent a mining constituency, and having been through the miners' strike, I disagree profoundly with the theory that the Security Service has had only a very simple counter-espionage and counter-subversion role in the past few years. It is now fairly clear that it played some part in the miners' strike, but I do not want to go down that lane especially.

What disappoints me about the introduction of the Bill is the fact that, as the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), the Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, said, the setting up of the required working relationship is a complicated problem, which could not be resolved by the simple addition of a phrase to the Security Service Act 1989. It deserved far more than what is in the Bill. It is all very well to say, "We can resolve that problem in Committee", but according to the Home Secretary, we are talking about a short Bill of two or three clauses, which will be substantially amended or added to in Committee. That is not the way to introduce legislation.

There have been cries that that matter should be discussed on the Floor of the House in the way that the Security Service Bill was discussed in 1989. If, however, the matter goes into Committee upstairs, the House should consider what legislation will go up there. It is not good enough to say, "We tagged on a sentence to a previous Act and then let it be amended further in a different way." I know that it will be argued, and has been argued, that the Bill provides only a framework, but on a contentious matter, which may have profound constitutional implications, the devil will be in the detail and that detail must be hammered out. Therefore, I am disappointed that the Government did not take full note of the report that the Intelligence and Security Committee sent to the Prime Minister before the Christmas recess.

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I am worried that the Bill is likely to undo the substantial progress that has been made in bringing the intelligence and security agencies out of the closet in the past few years. As my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn said, it would be churlish not to congratulate the Government on what they have achieved. At the heart of the matter is the issue of using secret services in a free democracy as part of our everyday policing of that democracy. As Sir Paul Condon said in his 1995 Police Foundation lecture, which I referred to in an intervention earlier:

That is the balance that must be achieved in the argument and in the operation of the Bill.

One of the arguments that has been developed during the debate is that surrounding the question of whether there is a need for the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South suggested that the need was being invented. I could not disagree with him more profoundly, and I do not believe that most people, when they consider their constituency, would accept that a need is being created.

Regardless of what we may say in support and praise of the law enforcement agencies, there is no doubt in my mind that the battle against organised and serious crime is being lost on the streets of my constituency. I witness evidence of that in the tragedies that take place among young children--even some of junior school age--whose lives, freedoms, liberties and choices for the future are being circumscribed by the evil men who operate in the milieu that we are discussing.

Mr. Mullin: No one questions that there is a serious problem, especially in relation to drugs. What we question is whether the intelligence services, which do not have a very good record of accountability, are the appropriate way of tackling it. If it is such a big issue, why are we talking, as I understand that we are, about only 20 or 30 personnel being transferred to that work? It is quite a small matter. I therefore feel that that is a put-up job.

Mr. Rogers: That is where I disagree entirely with my hon. Friend. Perhaps we come from different positions and hold different attitudes about that, but I believe that it was Senator Barry Goldwater who said that extremism in defence of liberty is a virtue and moderation can be a vice. I shall return to that matter later.

In paragraph 7 of our report, the Committee said that there were

I resent the idea that those of us who support the Bill are letting loose a monster on society. I do not believe that that is true. My experience of coming into contact with people who work in those services is that, by and

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large, they are extremely dedicated people and very anxious that there should be a legislative framework in which they would operate. As I say, perhaps quite differently from my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South, having spent a year on the picket lines supporting the miners of my constituency, I will give way to no one in wanting the services and the law enforcement agencies made accountable. I am not coming from a position of weakness in that respect or trying to defend my attitude towards civil liberties or citizens' rights. There must be a balance, and we are trying to achieve that. That is what we are trying to argue today and, I hope, in Committee.

Mr. Ashby: I speak as someone who finds himself frequently, in those issues, on the side of the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin).

Did the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) hear the programme on Radio 4 this morning in which the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock) reminded us that the security services possibly had a massive, continually growing file on her in relation to her Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament activities many years ago? That would be inappropriate nowadays, in 1996, when we realise how trivial and how stupid it was, yet one recalls what one thought at the time and the way in which one operated. Things change.

How do the hon. Gentleman, and the Committee on which he serves, regard such matters? We must consider the relationship between the security forces and the police forces. It is a difficult aspect of policy. How does he regard it?

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. This is turning into a small speech, not an intervention.

Mr. Rogers: At the press conference following the first meeting of the Committee, I was asked by journalists whether, during the first couple of weeks, I had been able to gain access to my MI5 file, detailing my membership of certain groups. I therefore quite understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying. He is right to say that society is dynamic and that things change. Our attitudes, too, must change; we must reflect what is going on outside and not become entrenched in dogmatic attitudes to the secret state. We could easily spend all year philosophically discussing the secret state in a democracy.

Our premier policeman, Sir Paul Condon, also said in his lecture of last year that he was not confident that we could enter the 21st century with the status quo in relation to combating organised and international crime. If our top policeman says that something is wrong, we should surely acknowledge his expert advice. I would not claim that Sir Paul is a spy under the bed, working against the interests of society at large. Given his attitude, and other evidence that I have seen, I believe that the status quo must be altered and that we have a duty to bring all our available resources to bear against these evil people.

International crime is soaring, and unless we do something about it now, the game will get ahead of us-- perhaps irretrievably, as the Home Affairs Select Committee said last year in its excellent report. Frontiers are coming down, trade is expanding, financial services and technological developments are all making the profits from crime easier to recycle and launder.

One of the biggest problems for crime syndicates is disposing of their money. That is why I am disappointed by the fact that the Government do not regulate the City

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and our money markets with as much enthusiasm as they watch for social security swindlers, as they call them. Perhaps if they controlled some of the fat cats up the road a little more diligently, we would be more prepared to accept what they say about ordinary people who may cheat the social security system out of a pound or two.

There is no doubt that the evil people who control crime are winning the battle and are seizing every opportunity to do so. They exploit every weakness to expand their empires. As a result, in recent years we have all heard the cries for change.

The Select Committee did an excellent job for the country last year by publishing its comprehensive report. Its conclusion--that the fight against organised crime must involve more than just the usual law enforcement agencies--acted, perhaps, as a trigger for this debate. I am, however, concerned about the reticence expressed in paragraph 55:

We could all agree with that as a general statement, but it concerned arguments about the Government's right to examine tax records and other paperwork relating to people suspected of serious financial crimes.

In answer to an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South, I referred to what Senator Barry Goldwater said in 1964:

That is why I fail to understand the moderation and reticence of the Home Affairs Select Committee on this point.

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