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Mr. Robathan: Is my hon. Friend aware that, as I understand it, 170 cases are already being pursued because the DNA register has produced a match?

Mr. Allason: I welcome the way in which modern technology can be harnessed in support of the community to prevent, deter and detect crime. Indeed, I shall go further and say that I would be pleased to see a national paedophile register. There are also many other areas in which crime could be tackled on a national basis.

We all understand the scale of the threat to this country, but the question before us today has nothing to do with that scale. The question is whether a particular very small organisation that has been in existence since 1909, with a fascinating history, is the appropriate organisation to deal with crime on that scale.

First, I ask: what is the catalyst, the incentive, for the Bill? I recall asking in 1989 what the catalyst was for the Security Service Bill, as it then was. The question was shrugged off, and it was suggested to me that it was unpatriotic to inquire why a particular Bill should be presented.

An Opposition Member suggested, cynically I thought, that an attempt was being made to outmanoeuvre the provisions of an anticipated judgment in the European Court of Human Rights. I must admit that that Member turned out to be absolutely correct. The United Kingdom was under an obligation to introduce the accountability and protection introduced by the Security Service Act in November 1989.

We should be worried about the danger of making a virtue of a necessity, and that is where the concern, on which the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) has already touched, lies. What precisely has driven this particular legislation at this particular time?

Certainly the provisionals are not out of business in Northern Ireland. The Irish National Liberation Army remains a potent threat, as do the loyalist paramilitaries. There also certainly remains a threat from eastern Europe. Anybody concerned about the proliferation of chemical, biological, bacteriological and nuclear weapons must be worried.

It is not unreasonable that, as Mrs. Rimington has stated, the Security Service should flex its muscles and analytical skills in that context. If the prospects of Islamic fundamentalism, of terrorism, of nuclear components falling into the wrong hands and of people being able to manufacture viable nuclear devices do not fall into the category of a serious threat to the realm, I do not know what does.

I supported the extension of the Security Service's power into counter-proliferation, but I had considerable reservations when it was proposed to extend its power into counter-terrorism. I shall explain to the House in a moment why I had those reservations.

The fact is that in the current climate the Security Service has, in a sense, run out of things to do. There is, thank God, a ceasefire in Northern Ireland, and there is a

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skill deficit in the eastern bloc countries that posed a threat to this nation in the past. To that extent, the Security Service has to deal with a slight gap.

Over the years, the service has built up extraordinary skills in surveillance and monitoring, and in the collection, collation and distribution of intelligence. Nobody who has studied the service can doubt the tremendous skills available to it. The surveillance skills are remarkable. It should not be forgotten that the terrorist provisionals who went down to Gibraltar were under constant surveillance by the Security Service.

We are talking about dedicated men and women who operate in all sorts of environments and who are literally never noticed. Their operations are not like an episode of "The Bill", with a detective sergeant pushing a camera out of a window at something across the street. The skills that the Security Service can deploy are extraordinarily sophisticated.

Of course it is a tremendous waste for those skills to lie idle for any period; so there is certainly a case for what within the intelligence community is called "taking in washing". That is, in order to retain the surveillance skills and the technology within a closed, classified and controlled environment, the service can be given tasks and then report to a particular police agency or organisation, providing it with an enormous dossier on an individual target. I am well aware of the work that the Security Service could do in the way of taking in washing.

I want to say something about the way in which the Security Service has presented its case in connection with the Bill. I am concerned about the public relations campaign that has been mounted to allow it to extend its role. The speed has been astonishing.

On 13 October the Prime Minister announced that the role of the Security Service would be extended. The Bill was, I believe, published on the day the House rose for the Christmas recess--a slightly odd time for Members of Parliament wanting to complete their Christmas shopping to have to engage with the minutiae of important and serious legislation. To schedule the Second Reading for the day after the House returns from the recess also shows undue haste, especially as the Government response to the Select Committee report was published only yesterday.

In my judgment, we have had a very short time in which to study the Government's response, to look into the detail of the Bill and to try to get advice. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), who has taken evidence on the Bill from an undisclosed number of people, but I am afraid that Back Benchers have not had the same opportunity to talk to those who may have an expert opinion on the subject.

The haste with which the Bill has been presented to the House gives me some cause for concern. The campaign has certainly been well orchestrated. The Security Service even appointed a director of corporate affairs to liaise with Whitehall and promote the proposition that the service should go beyond taking in washing.

Is the Bill the consequence of a direct threat to the realm from organised crime, or has it appeared because the Security Service is seeking a role in a changing world? That is one of the issues that the House will have to address.

It is suggested that the Security Service has special analytical skills that it can devote to organised crime, so as to "crack it". The analytical skills of the Security Service

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relate first to the collection and collation of intelligence. Ninety per cent. of this work is in the development of individual, personal and subject files, which are very detailed, comprehensive and bureaucratic. They are not always accurate but, by and large, they are pretty good. The files are supported by the work of the special branches across the provinces. The analytical skills which Mrs. Rimington described extend to the other activities in which the Security Service indulges in order to be able to create those files, including the interception of mail and other communications and the running of agents.

Here we reach the first hint of concern, because the Security Service is certainly skilled at running agents. The skills of an agent handler are particularly difficult, and are acquired only after a long period. But the House must not forget that the business of running agents is also conducted by detectives, who run informants, and by special branch officers, who operate to very specific Home Office guidelines. So I would ask the Minister whether the Home Office guidelines that apply to the running of informants will be extended to deal with the way in which the Security Service might run agents to deal with organised crime.

I shall now refer to the Security Service itself, and whether the service is the organisation best suited to take on organised crime. Within the service, there is by no means a unanimous view on this subject. There is certainly a widespread belief that the organisation is in some difficulty because of the lack of a perceived threat from the traditional areas of responsibility of the Security Service.

With the indulgence of the House, I shall briefly describe the background of the Security Service, because it has not changed considerably in all the years it has existed since 1909. There have been two dramatic changes--one in 1989, and the other which is being contemplated today. Back in 1883, the Fenian bomb outrages in London prompted the creation of what was then known as the Irish special branch. Metropolitan police detectives--some with the skill of Gaelic--were collected together to fight the manifestation of Irish nationalism on our streets. Curiously, the newspaper headlines of 1883 were remarkably similar to those of 1993, with bomb outrages in Whitehall, and so on.

The special branch was created for the single purpose of fighting the manifestation of Irish nationalism but, because of a specific case involving the Globe newspaper, it went on to deal with official secrets. Official secrets legislation was passed in 1889 as a consequence of the disclosure of secrets in the Globe. It turned out that, despite the protests of the Foreign Secretary of the time, the details of the Anglo-Russian treaty produced in the newspaper were entirely correct. An attempt was made to investigate the source of the leak to the Globe, and it turned out that a journalist was involved.

Happily, at that time the Foreign Office employed fewer than 100 people, some of them on a part-time basis. One of those employees turned out to be journalist, and he was charged under the terms of the Larceny Act because it was believed that he had stolen a copy of the treaty. I know about this case only because my great-great-great uncle was the prosecuting counsel, and he entirely screwed it up. The Larceny Act depended on the theft of an actual item, and the gentleman who had "stolen" the text of the Anglo-Russian treaty turned out to have a photographic memory--he had stolen nothing.

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The case was dismissed, and my great-great-great uncle, Sir Harry Poland, did not survive as a Treasury counsel for very much longer. As a consequence of that case, legislation on official secrets came before the House. In 1914, defence of the realm legislation was introduced to deal with German espionage and the perceived threat therefrom. After the first world war, two further official secrets measures were introduced to deal with the interception of communications.

Since 1909, when it came into existence under the leadership of Major-General Sir Vernon Kell, the Security Service has had roles in counter-espionage, counter-sabotage and counter-subversion. That continued through the second world war and on to the introduction of positive vetting in 1950, when a Labour Administration realised that there was a serious threat to this country of penetration of the establishment by communists and others who did not subscribe to a parliamentary system of government. That change was not dramatic, because it was covered by the category of counter-subversion.

It was only the desire of the Security Service to extend its role into counter-terrorism in very recent years that made a difference. This was really the first time that the Security Service had started to get involved in the criminal justice system. I opposed that change, because I believe that a terrorist who commits homicide is guilty of murder. It is not a political crime, and I believe such cases should be dealt with by the criminal justice system. The moment one makes a special case for those people, one is in danger of undermining the validity of their convictions.

I have always wanted the police to continue their principal role in counter-terrorism. Even when the Security Service was introduced into Northern Ireland, the police always had the prime responsibility for investigating terrorism and conducting counter-terrorism operations. The reason for that was that the Security Service has always been reluctant to be accused of acting like the Gestapo. People who lived through the second world war remember the tactics adopted by the Gestapo and the secret police in totalitarian countries. They will also recall the way in which the tribunals operated in this country against suspected enemy aliens who were due for internment under the provisions of section 18(b) of the defence of the realm legislation. That was an unhappy period in our history, and there is still concern--as there was then--that the Security Service should never be tarred with the accusation that it had become secret police.

I recall being told that one of the ambitions of intelligence officers was to avoid being engaged in work that would bring to them that kind of opprobrium, as it is often forgotten that the Security Service can operate only with the support of the community. Running a surveillance operation means going to private householders, asking for their support and for facilities and explaining a part of what the objective of the operation is. Therefore, Security Service officers have been very careful in the past to avoid getting involved in the spectacle of giving evidence behind screens or of producing witnesses who cannot be properly cross-examined and whose antecedents are unknown.

Security Service officers have been perfectly prepared to acquire and supply intelligence to the police, who have found it extremely useful, but they have always tried to

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avoid giving evidence in court. The reason for that is simply that, like special branch officers, they are not very good at it. They have not been trained in the terms of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. Every detective in this country has served as a police officer and carries the same warrant card as the ordinary bobby on the beat. He is subject to the same accountability. A complaint against a police officer is dealt with in precisely the same way whether he is a member of CID or the uniformed branch. That is an enormous and important protection to the community.

In terms of efficiency and getting convictions in court, I have severe reservations about deploying officers of the Security Service. They start from a very low base. They will be on a high learning curve in taking in the rules of evidence, the rules of taking statements under judges' rules cautions and the rest. If they do not do so, defence counsel will have a field day.

Although I recognise that the Security Service may have a role in "taking in washing"--it certainly has a role in counter-proliferation--I am concerned about the balance that is being struck between civil liberties and the correct demands of the community to protection from drug dealers and organised crime.

The Security Service is a unique organisation within the British constitution. It is self-tasking. The director-general makes up his or her mind about what investigations the service should conduct. It has never in its history taken guidance from politicians about whom it should monitor and watch, whose bank account it should investigate. I believe that that is entirely right and proper. The tradition has always been that, for example, if a Member of Parliament's telephone is to be the subject of a surveillance warrant, the warrant should certainly be approved by the Prime Minister. The Security Service certainly must have the accountability that justifies its extraordinary degree of independence which is unique within the British government system.

I now turn briefly to the criminal justice system. There is a case for the Security Service to "take in washing", but an awful lot of organisations already in existence deal with the drugs problem and organised crime--Customs and Excise, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Secret Intelligence Service and GCHQ, to name but a few. They have skill in surveillance and have developed technology of clandestine monitoring. If one intends to add money to the activity, why not give it directly to those organisations instead of to the Security Service?

The Security Service may have a role to play, but I submit that we must be very careful when we balance these issues. In recent months, we have seen some worrying cases. Brian Nelson in Northern Ireland, who was an intelligence source, is now serving a long prison sentence even though his handler described him as the bravest man he had ever met and said that he was responsible for saving many lives.

Let us consider, as Lord Justice Scott is doing, the case of Paul Henderson and Paul Grecian, suppliers of intelligence to both the SIS and MI5. When they attempted to protest their innocence, they were the subject of public interest immunity certificates which looked likely at one stage to deny them their principal defence that they had been working in league with the security agencies.

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