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7.49 pm

Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South-East): I shall not take long, because I know that many hon. Members want to speak and it is not pleasant to sit for a long time and not be called to speak.

I agree with those who urge caution in relation to the Bill. It is easy to be carried away regarding actions that we might want to take to fight crime. I should prefer to wait until about the time of Third Reading, when we shall be in a better position to judge, having read what emerges from Committee--which amendments are accepted and which rejected--before deciding irrevocably whether to accept the Bill. That leaves the question open, but I am one of those who would prefer to err on the side of caution than go over the top and live to regret it, as many people have done.

We cannot tackle crime in isolation. We must be tough on crime in the measures that we take, but other additional measures need to be taken, especially regarding inner cities. There is the issue of unemployment. I shall not digress, but one cannot fight crime with the Bill in isolation from the other problems that exist in the inner cities, where people are driven into crime, for a variety of reasons, to make money because they cannot make money legitimately. We must tackle those issues in addition to fighting organised crime.

Like the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Ashby) and several others, I am a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee. We visited three countries and considered the various facets of organised crime. During those visits, we met some very senior police officers and Ministry officials and discussed a range of issues from wide-ranging matters such as organised crime to more specific matters, such as identity cards, and sought out opinions.

The Home Affairs Committee's recommendation should not be seized on by the Home Secretary as a way to legitimise the use of intelligence services to fight crime. That report stands on its own. We have not had much time to discuss and consider the Home Secretary's response to the report. Many hon. Members may believe that, because they have heard other hon. Members say that they have read the Home Affairs Select Committee's report and the Home Secretary's response, that is a good recommendation to support the Bill. I prefer to read what the Home Secretary said about the Home Affairs Committee's report before I make a final decision.

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One must use several measures, not only the Bill, to fight organised crime. The funny thing about some of the information that we have about organised crime is that there does not appear at any stage to be a Mr. Big who may be targeted in this country. We know that there are organisations such as the Mafia and the Russian mafia abroad, which can be very elusive. People should bear that in mind. If the Home Secretary and his colleagues feel that the Bill will tackle organised crime with major success, I would urge caution, based on evidence from abroad. The organisers of organised crime are very elusive indeed. The Mafia certainly are. We know about other organisations such as the tongs and triads. One finds oneself in a very difficult maze when one tries to tackle those organisations.

The Home Secretary is taking considerable powers on himself, because at the moment the Asylum and Immigration Bill is passing through the House of Commons. About two years ago, the Home Secretary took some additional powers on himself when he produced the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill. One wonders whether, with those two Bills, the Home Secretary has taken into consideration the issue of the safeguarding of civil rights in the fight against crime.

We should seriously question why one person, the Home Secretary, under the Police and Magistrates' Courts Act 1994, can totally change the police policy of a given area, for example the west midlands. Powers are being given to the Home Secretary, which we must scrutinise carefully. He can, in certain ways, direct the intelligence services. We must ensure that the Home Secretary's powers are limited and that it is the police who control, for the purposes of fighting crime, the operations of the intelligence services, not the other way round.

We should think very deeply about those measures because they might, if not handled properly, have profound constitutional implications for the country. I am not one of those who would like a British Federal Bureau of Investigation, because the FBI's overall record is questionable. We must be extremely worried about civil rights and citizens' rights. We must also think very deeply about the way in which the police and the intelligence services work together and have control.

I was interested in the Home Secretary's opening statement, in which he referred to the fight against bullets and knives. If he was so worried about fighting the possession of knives and the issue of people being able to acquire knives, why has he taken about 18 months to act? Now he is using knives as a justification for using the intelligence services when he might pass an Act to deal with knives, instead of leaving that to a private Member's Bill some time this month.

Some of the knives that one sees, which can be sold to 12 and 14-year-old children without any control, are horrendous, to say the least. Many people experience that in the inner cities. We want to fight, not only against the bullet, but against knives and against other causes of crime.

I shall not repeat what honourable colleagues have said, much of which I agree with. I urge the House to approach the Bill very cautiously indeed.

7.56 pm

Mr. Michael Stephen (Shoreham): For the past 30 years, the attitude of the British criminal justice system towards criminals has been one of resigned toleration.

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Fortunately, we now have a Government, and especially a Home Secretary, who realise the terrible danger that criminals pose to our society and are determined to take the necessary measures to combat them.

The Home Secretary's Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 has given the police much wider powers to combat criminals than they had previously. My Bail (Amendment) Act 1993 has helped in dealing with bail bandits. However, organised crime today is reaching horrendous proportions and if we do not deal with it very firmly and quickly, we shall find ourselves in the dreadful position that pertains in some north and south American cities.

Of organised criminals, perhaps drug dealers are the worst. They are ruthless, they will stop at nothing, they use firearms and they present a very dangerous threat, even here in our own capital city. Organised crime includes counterfeiting. An especially dangerous form of organised crime is immigration racketeering, whereby unsuspecting people are brought to the United Kingdom from other countries by racketeers and end up in virtual slavery to those racketeers. I am very glad that the Home Secretary is taking measures under the Asylum and Immigration Bill to tackle them.

The Prime Minister is right to say that today, after the end of the cold war, the children of Britain are in greater danger from drug dealers than they are from a nuclear missile.

In the war against organised crime, intelligence is vital. My hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) took a very long time trying to persuade us that perhaps the intelligence services have no role to play in that, but I was not persuaded. I do not mind whether the security services are seeking a role. The fact is that they have skills, expertise and information that are vital in the fight against crime, and we should be very foolish indeed not to use them.

Mr. Rogers: I disagree with the hon. Gentleman about the security services looking for a role. They have been co-operating with all the law enforcement agencies for a number of years. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) asked about the police view of all this. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that prominent policemen have suggested using the intelligence gathering expertise of the security services.

Mr. Stephen: I entirely agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman says. I was expressing my disagreement with other hon. Members who have said that the reason for this Bill may be that the security services are seeking a role. I do not think that they are; and whether they are or not is immaterial.

Let us not suppose that the conventional threats from which the security services have protected us over the past 40 years have gone away entirely--they are more likely to be in suspended animation. We would be foolish indeed to dismantle a system that has protected us well from those threats for many years.

I must take issue with my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay on his point about public interest immunity certificates. It matters not whether the Minister who signs a certificate does so willingly or reluctantly. The important factor is that he signs it. That action puts before the judge the sensitive evidence that is the subject of the

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certificate. It is therefore not a gagging certificate in any sense of the word. It enables the judge to see the evidence and decide for himself whether it should be admitted.

Many of our constituents may wonder why the Bill is necessary. They may always have thought that the security services help the police combat organised crime, and they may be surprised to learn that they have been legally prohibited from doing so. The Bill is necessary to remove that restriction, which is why I fully support it.

Of course, when gathering the information that they will need, the security services will need warrants to enter properties in the United Kingdom; but that right is limited by clause 2. The security services commissioner is already in place, and it is his duty to review the use of warrants by the security services.

The role of the police is vital, and the Government do not suggest that the security services should supplant that role in any way. Clause 1(1) states that the function of the service is to act

One might have expected to read "in support of the police", but it is clear in any case that the role is a supportive, not a principal one.

The evidence collected by the security services may have to be put before a court, but the chief role of the security services will be to assist the police to discover evidence, not to give evidence in court themselves. It is more likely to be a police officer who has been put on to the evidence by the security services who will give it in court--not an employee of the security services. If it should become necessary for such an employee to give evidence, however, then arrangements can be made in suitable cases, just as they have been made in the past for serving SAS personnel, so as to ensure that security is not compromised. There is also a security services tribunal in which complaints against the service can be heard and determined.

The gathering and use of information is already restricted by section 2(2) of the Security Service Act 1989, which makes it clear that the director-general is under a duty to ensure that

or for the purpose of criminal proceedings. The director-general is also required to ensure that the service

    "does not take any action to further the interests of any political party."

All hon. Members are concerned about civil rights, but we are also concerned about the protection of the public. I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Ashby) that there can be any absolutes in these matters. It is always a question of balancing the civil rights of the individual against the protection of the public. In a free and democratic society, we must all surrender some of our rights for the common good. I am quite confident that the Government have got the balance right in the Bill.

An additional safeguard comes in the form of the external staff counsellor, to whom any member of the security services can turn if he or she has doubts about

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the work that they are instructed to do. Moreover, we have the parliamentary Committee which oversees the expenditure, administration and policy of the Security Service. Its members are senior parliamentarians whose judgment and integrity we can all trust. I do not think it desirable that the sensitive information which comes to their attention should be available to Parliament generally--I am sure that they can be relied on.

The Bill does not propose to give the Security Service any additional powers; it merely allows it to operate in a new area. Like many other hon. Members, I have my doubts about the definition to be found in lines nine to 12 of the Bill. It is too vague. Although we do not want to restrict the Security Service in its fight against organised crime, we do not want it to have the power to deal with wholly inappropriate cases either. As a matter of practice, I think it unlikely that it would, and, if it did, the Home Secretary would face considerable criticism at the Dispatch Box. I ask the Minister to think again and, if he can, to come up with a tighter definition in Committee, and one that will satisfy the concerns expressed by hon. Members on both sides today.

It is important to note that the Security Service has no executive powers. It is not a police force, so I imagine that it will be up to the service to ask the police to execute any warrant that it may wish to use.

Local police forces are an important part of our constitution--the system whereby power has been dispersed around the country. I would not want that reversed, but crime is not local; organised crime can be national or even international. The regional crime squads have certainly been effective. In 1994-95 they recovered £176 million-worth of drugs and £36 million-worth of counterfeit money. I am also glad that the national crime squad that the Prime Minister has proposed is taking shape, and I hope it will come into operation soon. We cannot fight organised criminals without a proper national crime squad. Whether such a squad is desirable is a matter for this House. We can take the advice of police officers and other experts, but it is for us and no one else to decide whether this country should have a national crime squad.

The investigation of crime should be co-ordinated, but it is also important to co-ordinate the prosecution of crime. There are many prosecuting agencies, including the Crown Prosecution Service, the Inland Revenue, Customs and Excise and the Department of Trade and Industry. In recent cases, it has been found that the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing has caused enormous trouble for individuals and for the Government. I hope in future that the Attorney-General's office will have a much more effective liaison and co-ordinating role in the prosecution of crime.

It is no good catching criminals unless one is prepared to deal firmly with them. I welcome the recent introduction of much longer, extended sentences for persons who have been convicted of serious or persistent crime. Once the persons have been convicted and sentenced, it is necessary that they are dealt with much more firmly in prison.

I do not subscribe to the view that people go to prison just as punishment. They go to prison for punishment as well. The House must send out a message loud and clear to drug barons who will use even murder for their purposes that anyone who deliberately takes another

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person's life should know, before he pulls the knife or the trigger, that he will go to prison for the rest of his natural life.

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