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Mr. Rogers: It is putting the cart before the horse.

Mr. Beith: As the hon. Gentleman says, it is putting the cart before the horse.

I have not yet been convinced by the evidence that I have been shown that so much can be achieved in the months between the Bill going through the House and the decision on the national squad and Scotland to make its passing absolutely essential before the Government have completed their consultations on wider matters.

Indeed, if the matters are so important, why have the Government not got on with them? After all, the statement was made at the Conservative party conference in the

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autumn. One assumes that, if the Prime Minister makes a statement on a new policy at the party conference, he has already done some of the work on it, or some of it has been done on his behalf. Perhaps that is too generous an assumption. The work had not been done at all. The speech was the beginning of the idea. Surely the Government could put some more expedition into the consultation, so that, by the time the Bill has reported, we know what system we are trying to plug the mechanism into.

If we do not get it right, some rather disturbing possibilities could arise, of which we must take account when considering a constitutional Bill. For example, the Security Service could undertake a task because it had a different order of priorities from the police. It could undertake a task because it believed that the Hampshire police were not according sufficient priority to certain aspects of organised crime in their area, and could therefore carry out investigations. I do not think that that is what the Home Secretary envisages, but the Bill leaves that possibility open.

Indeed, because of the way in which the Bill is drafted, the Home Secretary could decide, because he was under political pressure and was being challenged about something going on in Merseyside, to tell the Security Service that it ought to investigate something to which he thought the Merseyside police were not giving sufficient attention. Again, I do not think that that is what the Home Secretary is telling us he wants to do. Why write a Bill that is open to such interpretation?

The issue of warrants has also been left to be resolved later. The Home Secretary referred to it, and said quite rightly that he was not satisfied with the present arrangements concerning the police and wanted to improve them. It is notable to those of us with civil liberties concerns that the Security Service system for the approval of warrants is better than the police system. The Security Service system requires specific authorisation by Ministers, and is subject to quite a thorough review procedure. We have certainly had the opportunity to ask the judges who undertake it questions about how it is carried out.

In the police forces, the chief constable makes arrangements for the approval of intervention on property--the difference does not apply to communications. The system is not ideal for police officers, because they are open to action for civil trespass; there are all sorts of problems with it.

If the two systems run side by side, it will be extremely confusing and would open up the possibility that, in a joint operation, Security Service personnel could say to the police, "Look, our warrant procedure is terribly cumbersome. Let us do it on one of your warrants. You have only to ask the chief constable. Let us not bother with our rigmarole of going to the Home Secretary." The purpose of the warrant system would be defeated in order to get on with something that the Security Service felt was urgent. Such confusion should not be left in the drafting and passing of new legislation.

If the police are not told about a warrant issued to the Security Service in respect of their area, ridiculous possibilities arise. My hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Ms Lynne) mentioned them to me earlier.

Let us say that a Security Service operative, acting on a Home Office warrant, is seen by a next-door neighbour, who rings the police. The police could come dashing in

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to arrest the Security Service personnel, totally unaware that the operation is supposedly in support of them. It must be co-ordinated. I think that most chief constables would expect to know if an operation was taking place in their area, and it is reasonable that they should know, and be able to make the appropriate arrangements. If they are to do their jobs properly, they should be given that opportunity.

We have not quite resolved the danger of divided accountability, although it is difficult to resolve. The Security Service is directly responsible to the Home Secretary for its actions and the police are responsible to their local police authority, but there are no arrangements in the Bill to resolve that discrepancy.

It is not clear to whom the public would complain. If an operation were carried out in support of the police in the pursuit of organised crime and a member of the public was affected because it went wrong, would they complain to the Police Complaints Authority, or to the Security Commission?

We also have a problem about the definition of organised crime. Some adverse comment was made about the use of "organised" in the definition. I have forgotten which Government Member was complaining about it. [Hon. Members: "The Minister."] I must therefore draw the Minister's attention to the fact that, when the Prime Minister announced the proposal to the Conservative party conference, it was intended to tackle organised crime. That was what the Prime Minister said. He talked about a problem with organised crime with which the security services could help. We cannot now say that "organised crime" are unhelpful words to use in this context. To tackle it was the whole purpose of the exercise.

Organised crime can be committed at any one of a number of levels. A gang of kids raiding several sweetshops is an organised crime, but not what we would consider serious. Some serious crimes are not highly organised, such as murders and sex offences, as hon. Members have said, but are very serious. Such crimes do not have the element of organisation which the Security Service can help tackle. Indeed, that led the Committee to conclude that the Bill should deal with serious organised crime--that is what we are talking about.

I must also mention the problem of giving evidence before the courts. It relates not only to the fact that Security Service officers would, in some cases, have to appear, yet their identity be concealed, because otherwise the rest of their work would be impaired, but to the fact that the Security Service is not geared to the preparation of cases to bring before courts as the police are. That emphasises that the added value that the Security Service can bring into crime detection and prevention is in the analysis, and, to some extent, the gathering, of information from that analysis. It will need the police to ensure that a case is properly prepared to bring before courts and put to the Crown Prosecution Service.

The Intelligence and Security Committee report comments quite strongly on a number of the points that I have mentioned. It is a unanimous report.

The Home Secretary paid tribute to the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) for his work on that Committee. I happily endorse that tribute. A truly valuable endorsement, however, would be to have the Committee's recommendations properly dealt with in the Standing Committee. It would be an empty tribute if all

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the advice of the Intelligence and Security Committee is ignored. Although the Bill and the report of the Intelligence and Security Committee were published on the same day, the Committee considered the possibility that the Bill would appear in its present form. It was alarmed by that, and set out a number of ways in which the Bill could address those issues which must be considered.

There has been rather too much pressure to go ahead with one part of the jigsaw before the other pieces have been put in place. It is not too late to remedy that oversight. It could be done in the Standing Committee, particularly if the Home Secretary is prepared to ensure that we enact what he told the House today. The timetable, however, has been determined a bit too much by party conferences and imminent elections and things of that kind. As a result, confusion has arisen, which runs the risk of undermining the police rather than assisting them.

When the proposals were announced at the Conservative party conference, I was struck by the idea that, had they been announced in the House, answers would have had to be prepared for questions such as: is the national squad for the whole United Kingdom or is it just for England; and will the squad be linked with the NCIS or will there be two separate bodies? Consideration of the Bill will be difficult, because those questions are still unresolved, which shows that things have been put in the wrong order.

It is not too late to put matters right. We should be quite clear, however, that the legislation could--if we get it right--enable the Security Service to give limited but valuable assistance to the police in analysing criminal gangs in order to track them down, bring some of them to justice and prevent some serious crimes. The legislation will not be the revolution we should love to have--one which drastically reduces serious crime. If we get the legislation wrong, we will do no service to the police or to the Security Service.

6.21 pm

Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay): May I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of the Security Service and its personnel? I should also like to recall the tragic loss of five members of the Security Service who died in the Chinook helicopter crash. That was the largest disaster that has ever befallen the Security Service in the first or second world wars and at any time in the post-war era. It was a reminder of the risk that people who work in the Security Service must face daily. Anybody with any experience of terrorism or the murky world of intelligence and counter-intelligence is aware of the serious pitfalls that exist.

I should also like to pay tribute to the retiring Director-General of the Security Service. She has done more than most people to try to foster a sense of responsibility in the media in their dealings with the work of the Security Service. She has presented herself and her organisation in a rational and coherent fashion. It is because of her and her recently retired legal adviser, David Bickford, that Opposition Members, who for some years expressed serious concerns about the kind of people who work in the Security Service, have had an opportunity to meet those people and to discuss relevant topics and issues with them. They, too, now recognise the important work carried out by the service and the

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dedication of the individuals involved. The people who work for the service are not right-wing fanatics. They are not all bugging and burgling their way across London, as was alleged by Peter Wright and subsequently disproved.

In paying tribute to the Security Service, we should take care not to put it on a pedestal. The service is no panacea to the troubles that have befallen our country-- the scale of the threat to the country cannot be underestimated. All hon. Members have received letters such as that described by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan). People have genuine concerns about their communities, in which they see their neighbourhoods, friends and families crumbling because of the invidious influence of the drug pushers.

The media coverage during the past four or five weeks has demonstrated time and again how perfectly ordinary and reasonable families with good standards and backgrounds can be terribly undermined by the effect of drugs on youngsters. Drug dealers operate in neighbourhoods in Liverpool, Bristol and elsewhere, even in my own constituency of Torbay. The police sometimes feel powerless to enter some properties and consider that they do not have the resources to maintain the kind of sophisticated surveillance they think might enable them to deal with the drug barons. Picking up the dealers on the street is one way to deal with the drug problem, but the key has to be long-term intelligence collection and long-term surveillance in order finally to get to the drug kingpins.

The threat from organised crime is well established, although it can of course be exaggerated. The Home Affairs Select Committee has done a commendable job in studying the true scale of the problem. We are all aware-- particularly those who have been involved in studying the problem in the United States and the work of the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency--that in the United States an entire civilisation is at risk from the drug pedlars. That country is being eaten alive by the people who prey off the dependency and weakness of others.

The United Kingdom has a pretty good record in dealing with drug smugglers. When it comes to money laundering, the British Secret Intelligence Service is regarded as one of the world's experts in the monitoring, identification and prevention of that activity, which is of course directly allied to drug smuggling.

There is widespread acceptance that the British authorities have been outmanoeuvred and outgunned for a long period not only by organised crime but by small gangs of individuals. The police find it difficult to cope with them because there are 43 different police forces with 43 different police computer systems, none of which is compatible with each other. That is why there is talk now of a national police force.

Crime is extremely mobile, and that was part of the incentive for creating regional crime squads. We are talking now about a national crime squad. When the suggestion was made that there should be the equivalent of a national detective service--the equivalent perhaps of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the United States-- there were serious concerns about having a national police structure, particularly from some of the far-flung regional police forces and the police committees. We have got over that hurdle.

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I welcome the proposition for a national DNA register and especially the way in which special branch has been at the forefront of co-ordinating and liaising with separate police forces. That is the way forward. Harnessing that technology will also provide police with an opportunity to fight crime. I believe that the national DNA register may make the crime of rape one of the most easily detectable in the next century, and I welcome that.

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