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Mr. Stephen: Has the hon. Gentleman not heard of the sophisticated eavesdropping devices that exist nowadays?

Mr. Winnick: That would have to be dealt with by the House of Commons authorities. But given that the Committee sits in the Cabinet Office, how do we know that such modern techniques do not operate there? How do we know that they do not operate in the Cabinet? In fact, we are not particularly worried about that, as we receive pretty full reports of what happens in Cabinet meetings in any event.

Moreover, the Committee is not serviced by any of the Clerks of the House. I understand that, before a clerk is appointed, the application is scrutinised by the security services. That may be justified. The fact remains, however, that this Committee is serviced by the Cabinet Office, and that in itself constitutes an insult to the House of Commons.

I shall continue to press the case for parliamentary accountability and scrutiny of the security services. I am sure that I shall not be alone in the parliamentary Labour party in so doing. Furthermore, I find it difficult to believe that, when we are allowed the scrutiny that I have long

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advocated, many hon. Members--even Conservative Members--will suggest that it should be abandoned. We must try to function in this respect as a mature democracy, as other countries have. I feel that the Bill is deficient in that important respect, among others.

7.13 pm

Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest): I am no expert on the security services, and I suspect that the same applies to most other hon. Members; but I recognise an expert when I see one. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason), whose speech-- although somewhat overlong--displayed rare balance and expertise. If parliamentary scrutiny is to mean anything, there is every reason for my hon. Friend to play a prominent and vociferous part as a member of the Standing Committee.

Despite my lack of expertise, I can say two things. First, the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) spoke of the greater openness that now prevails. That is illustrated by the fact that, 10 years ago, we probably would not have been debating the security services in the Chamber. Indeed, I understand that the Government did not even publicly recognise their existence. The hon. Member for Walsall, North may have reservations about whether the Select Committee should report to the Prime Minister rather than the House, but I feel that the advances made in 1989, when the security services were put on a statutory footing, and in 1994, when parliamentary oversight was improved, represent real developments in the accountability of the services--as is appropriate in a healthy democratic system. Along with others, I pay tribute to the work of Stella Rimington, the present director-general.

Secondly, I welcome any legislative or, indeed, other action to combat the curse of serious crime. I profoundly agreed with my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary when he spoke of the large and growing menace of organised crime. While I may not be an expert on the security services, I believe that we are probably all near-experts on the appalling damage that such crime can do to our constituents. There is the carnage caused by drugs; there are immigration rackets, which are bad not only for race relations but for those who are duped by such organised crime when they come to this country. Currency scams undermine our economic structure. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) described Madras as the counterfeit currency capital of the world, and I am sure that what can be done with British visas can also be done with British currency. Organised crime can have appalling effects, especially in an increasingly technological age.

Like other hon. Members, I recognise that intelligence is crucial to the combating of organised crime. Along with Stella Rimington, whose 1994 Dimbleby lecture has already been mentioned, I appreciate that the reduction in resources devoted by the security services to espionage-- and, happily and, we hope, permanently, the reduction in resources to combat terrorism following the ceasefires in Northern Ireland over the past year and a half--mean that more resources and expertise can be diverted to support law and order. That is why I consider it sensible to amend the 1989 Act to widen the remit of the security services beyond the combating of espionage, terrorism and sabotage and the safeguarding of economic well-being--

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although, as I have said, it could be argued that the services now have a legitimate interest in the prevention and detection of organised crime, as that endangers our economic well-being.

I also support clause 2, which would amend the Intelligence Services Act 1994, giving the Security Service an opportunity to apply for warrants to investigate crime in a domestic context. It seems curious that other services are allowed to apply for warrants but not on a domestic scale. If we want to operate effectively against organised and other crime, our security services must be able to operate in the country of origin.

I recognise the importance of co-ordinating our activities against the monster of organised crime. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater said that there were £500 million worth of drugs seizures last year, £176 million of which were made by regional crime squads. That is a drop in the ocean given the total trade in drugs, so it is important to co-ordinate organisations such as the National Criminal Intelligence Service and encourage further co-ordination through the national crime squad, once it is up and running, and the Home Office directorate of organised and international crime. My only reservation is that we should not think that a vast army will go into battle against organised crime. I understand from the Library's briefing that the Security Service's total resources are only £150 million a year and the number of staff employed in the general intelligence group is just 340. As those are not all operatives and only a proportion of them will be able to take up their new responsibilities, we should not expect miracles from them in a short time, even on a laundering or, as my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay said, "washing" basis.

Although I agree with the principles of the Bill, I understand the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Walsall, North and those hon. Members who have tabled an amendment tonight about civil freedoms. It would be ironic if a democracy set up a service to protect itself but put in place a system that oppressed its people. As vice-chairman of the parliamentary human rights group, I do not want some of the abuses that exist in other countries, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater documented, mistakenly imported into the United Kingdom.

The two important issues are, first, accountability of the security services and, secondly, their relationship with the law enforcement agencies. I, too, am concerned about the relatively loose definition of "serious crime". Clause 2(3B) mentions "violence" and "substantial financial gain", but "substantial" is not an exact word. It also says:


which can be interpreted as widely or narrowly as one would want. Although we want to give the intelligence services the maximum range possible to help them fight organised crime, we must tighten up that definition in Standing Committee.

The present system of accountability, with two tribunals for the security services and two commissioners, works well. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay, I am slightly worried that definitive figures--somebody mentioned 54--for the number of complaints made against the security services are not released. The Home Office should see whether a more open regime could be introduced.

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Like other hon. Members, I should like the protections which the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 at present provides to the public to apply to intelligence officers who are called on to give evidence in Crown courts in cases of organised crime. That matter has not been carefully thought through. I understand that this is a framework document that does not deal with detail, but unless the detail is adequately scrutinised and assurances are given in Standing Committee, the potential for abuse will remain.

The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) mentioned the relationship between the secret services and the law and order forces. It is inevitable that their paths will cross. The same trends that drive international terrorism in terms of technology and speedier travel drive international crime. We heard how the two intermingle in many parts of the world, including Britain. The security services used to have primacy over the police, but where crime and terrorism are virtually synonymous, it may be difficult to establish lines of accountability between the police and the security services, especially, as the Intelligence and Security Committee said, given that the security services are "self-tasking" and set their own priorities. The Committee took up that matter in its latest report and said:


I happen to agree with what Lord Cuckney said in the House of Lords on Second Reading of the Bill. He said that, although those problems look mountainous and sinister now, they will pale into proportion once the police and security services can work together to combat organised crime. He said that their different functions will prove complementary in their approach to common problems. Although I agree that that will happen, we cannot take it for granted; hence the reservations that I have expressed.

I welcome the Bill, which will help us to advance in our fight against the menace of organised crime.


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