Previous SectionIndexHome Page

8.10 pm

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Hillhead): To borrow a phrase from earlier, I was not sure whether, in his hearty felicitation to Stella Rimington, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) was advancing a sort of probing amendment, or whether it represented the Front-Bench team's position. In any event, I am not alone in the parliamentary Labour party's ranks. As the author of an early-day motion calling for Mrs. Rimington to be sacked from her job, which obtained the support of more than 50 of my fellow Labour Members, it would be a little foolish of me to join in the Front-Bench spokesman's congratulations on her retirement.

I am sure that those congratulations were sincere, but they were misguided. My good as well as honourable Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) lived through the same period as me. As an activist, I will never forget the role played by Stella Rimington as head of F branch of MI5 in subverting and sabotaging the National Union of Mineworkers' legal withdrawal of labour, when the enemy within was identified by the security services, almost certainly--contradicting a point made earlier--under the direction of the political leadership of the day, and when all sorts of atrocious abuses of miners' liberty took place. People who toiled in the bowels of the earth to produce wealth for this country had their democratic rights and liberties systematically subverted by MI5 under Stella Rimington's direction. In those circumstances, it is no less than a monstrosity for us to offer her any congratulations.

The Home Secretary was at his most emollient this evening, but frankly, he was no more persuasive in that guise than in his more usual wolfish manner. I have sat through virtually every minute of this debate, and one of the overwhelming things that has struck me is how little wholehearted support exists for this measure in the House.

Apart from the hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen), who seemed more or less wholehearted until the last few minutes of his speech, virtually everyone has stated their support in principle, before laying into the measure with a barrage of anxieties, caveats and even criticisms. That makes me wonder how it can be that this measure is to go through the House this evening without the opposition of a substantial number of people.

I make it clear that, because it is apparently my party's line, I will not vote against the measure, but I cannot be dragged into voting for it. Like others, I think that, when this measure returns for Third Reading, all of us must seriously consider whether the measure has been sufficiently amended to take care of the many anxieties that have been expressed.

An enormous red herring has been dragged through the debate from the beginning. It is that, somehow, if we do not support the measure, we are soft on organised and serious crime. As I listened to hon. Member after hon. Member accurately describe the horrendous growth and proliferation of crime, and the fear and misery that goes with it, I considered two issues.

First, who has presided over that monumental increase in the evil of crime? Who has been in office for the past 17 years, when crime has multiplied in the way that it has,

10 Jan 1996 : Column 276

and who has presided over the country's economic and social conditions, in which crime and drug-taking has bred so prolifically? Does anyone believe that the housing estates of Glasgow and of this country's other great cities, where young people are injecting deadly junk into their veins, can be separated from the despair and hopelessness that those people have experienced in that period? Does anyone think that those two matters are separate?

The second question that occurred to me was: if this problem is so gigantic, and it is, how can we begin to believe that, by transferring a few dozen or even a few hundred G-men from MI5, or a few millions or even a few tens of millions of pounds of their resources, we will make a serious dent in this problem?

I am led to this conclusion: why do not we spend extra money on our police force to tackle problems of criminality? If the people in MI5 are exceptionally skilled--everyone here seems to think they are--why do we not make them into policemen and transfer them into the civilian police, where they can operate under normal policing conditions, including normal standards of accountability?

I do not have sufficient confidence in the accountability of the Security Service willingly to go along with this proposal. I have said so before, in the debate on the Queen's Speech. I am too mindful of the times not in the distant past, when some sections of the Security Service have acted not only outwith, but against, the law, willingly to see them transferred on to our streets as a secret adjunct to the civilian police force.

The hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) made a remarkably powerful and well-informed speech, which some people have foolishly rebuked because of its length, but, frankly, there was little more to be said after that speech. He said that not all MI5 members bugged and burgled their way across London--that is true--but that some of them did; and who were they bugging and burgling? It was the elected Prime Minister, who was titularly in charge of the very Security Service that was subverting him. It was not disproved. On the contrary, it was confirmed by the head of MI5 to the late Harold Wilson that he had been bugged and burgled by a section of the security services.

I talked earlier about MI5's role in the great miners' strike of 1984-85. Only this week, I have been grappling with the scandal--of which, I assure the Minister, we have not heard the last--of a conspiracy involving captains of British industry, acting in concert with Security Service members and the Saudi Arabian Government--a dictatorship at that--to subvert the democratic liberty of a political refugee living in this country, and to plot perhaps his kidnapping and perhaps even his murder while living here, so I am sorry to break with the consensus.

I am sure that there are good men and women in MI5. There must be. One of the ridiculous aspects of this matter is the painting of the Security Service as a brigade of James Bonds. MI5 and MI6 are composed of ordinary flesh-and-blood people, some of them brilliant, some fools, some knaves and some communist spies, so let us not paint that group as a panacea for the terrible ills that we have all been describing and that we all see every day in our constituencies. It is a service of good men and bad men, good women and bad women. This evening, reference enough has been made for that to be demonstrated.

10 Jan 1996 : Column 277

I do not believe that the Government have made a very good case. I do not know why there was no Scottish Office Minister here today. When my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) asked the blindingly brilliant question about which Secretary of State would have the right to sign warrants to set the security services loose on crime issues in our country, the Home Secretary, uncharacteristically--he is a clever man-- floundered and could not answer the question. He had to seek refuge in waffle. The truth is that the Secretary of State for Scotland must be the person to sign such warrants in Scotland, or we will change the entire basis of the governance of Scotland. The Minister of State on the Front Bench is a former Whip attached to the Scottish Office, and he must know that. That question was not dealt with properly, and had not been thought of in advance.

The nub of the issue is that identified by the Intelligence and Security Committee. Who will these people take their orders from? Who will task them-- to use the word that has been used today--who will they relate to, and to whom will they be accountable? The Government have not even begun to advance answers to those critical questions. They had better do so in Committee and on Third Reading if the measure is to command any intelligent and informed support.

8.21 pm

Mr. Charles Hendry (High Peak): The speech of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) will send a chill through hon. Members on both sides of the House and many others who heard it. It shows the innate hostility that exists among too many Opposition Members--although not all of them--and the pathological hatred that still exists of those who seek to prevent the subversion of our democratic processes.

The hon. Gentleman's speech was disappointing, because he trivialised the drug problem. It is not a problem that exists solely in rundown inner-city housing estates in Scotland. It occurs throughout our country, regardless of class, background, sex or region. It is not a response to hopelessness, but an international problem which affects this country as it affects socialist and other countries throughout the world. It needs to be reacted to in that same international and co-ordinated way.

I want to start with the drugs problem. On new year's day, as many of us were celebrating the start of the new year, one young girl was fighting for her life in Peterborough district hospital. Helen Cousins, aged 19, had taken an ecstasy tablet at a new year's eve party and immediately went into a coma, showing some of the symptoms that had so tragically killed Leah Betts only a few weeks previously. Thankfully, on 3 January, she regained consciousness, but she nearly became the first victim of drug misuse in 1996. That is a fear which affects every parent of teenagers in this country. It was perhaps ironic that her regaining consciousness coincided with the receipt by many hon. Members of a video called "Sorted", which was prepared by Granada Television and circulated to every secondary school in the country with the intention of warning children of 11 and over about the danger of drugs. It is hard to imagine a more disturbing and worrying film. In the film, Leah Betts's father asks, "Why Leah?" As one watches the film, the reasons for her death become more evident.

10 Jan 1996 : Column 278

We see one of Leah's friends saying:

That unwittingly vocalises a myth that is shared by so many young people and which is propagated by those involved in the organised crime behind the drugs trade that ecstasy and similar tablets are somehow a cleaner and healthier alternative to some of the temptations facing young people in our society.

Leah Betts's sister said that the drugs were known as "Doves" because of the image of the bird stencilled on the tablets. That is another disturbing motif. In the name of fashion, people are taking a designer drug in the same way as they would buy designer clothes, but it has all the connotations of peace, contentment and well-being. Again, that is an image propagated by the evil people in the drugs trade. What we see is the terrifying portrayal of the way in which organised crime is preying on young people throughout the country. As I have said, we cannot pretend that it affects only one section of our society, because it occurs throughout the country, regardless of education, sex or background.

Of course, a great deal is going on to deal with that. There are many excellent education programmes, and I am privileged to be associated with one called Life Education Centres, which takes the message to primary schools so that children of the youngest ages can be made aware of the problems of all types of addiction and related problems. However, those efforts are being undermined day after day by people who derive an immensely wealthy living from the organised crime of the drugs trade.

Although they are an integral part of the chain in the drugs industry, the problem is not just with the petty criminals or the young people who are passing on the tablets at very little profit to their schoolfriends and mates. We must be most worried about the organisers, those at the very top of the chain, who are the hardest to reach because they are so many steps away from the front line where the drugs are being made available.

The Bill addresses not just the drugs problem but illegal immigration racketeers, illegal arms dealers and those who become involved in multiple vehicle theft. That is why we need to address the issue differently.

Organised crime is changing. It is more organised, more complex, more insidious and more international than ever before. That is why our police need extra support. They need not just extra financial support but extra skills, which are different from those which have been evident in the police force in the past. That is why we are right to make it possible for the Security Service to co-operate in a way that has not been possible in the past.

The Security Service has particular skills in long-term information gathering, surveillance, intercepting com munications and other things which are vital to the police as they try to carry out their work. Although the Bill will provide extra powers for the security services, especially extending the search and entry powers beyond cases of suspected terrorism and subversion, it does not give them the same powers as the police. The police will continue to be in the lead and that is an important safeguard for civil liberties. It is important to retain a balance, so that both organisations are involved in the battle.

I listened with care to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason), but I had a feeling that he was attaching too much importance to the historical

10 Jan 1996 : Column 279

purity of the security services and was not giving enough recognition to the fact that all the resources that we have available in this country should be used to tackle the problems that we have to face now.

It is crucial that we have greater co-ordination among the organisations fighting crime. My constituency shows clearly the need for such co-operation. It is positioned close to the borders of Greater Manchester and South Yorkshire, and it is clear that much of the crime experienced by my constituents is committed not by Derbyshire residents but by those who live outside the area and outside the jurisdiction of our police.

That is why we have needed greater co-ordination through the NCIS and the DNA database and through the mutual exchange of information, so that fingerprints from different parts of the country can be compared more clearly. That is the progress we have been seeing, and that co-ordination is vital. It must continue if we are to make it easier to tackle crime.

We need to take things further to facilitate the co-operation between the police and the Security Service. As other hon. Members have said, there is a need for caution. We need to ensure that the definitions in the Bill are fair and accurate, and that the potential for excess is avoided.

We want to ensure that we do not go too far and that there continue to be proper accountability, reporting lines and control. We need to ensure that the historic roles of the Security Service are not threatened as it continues to do its vital work. The Bill is a welcome step forward, and it is easy for me to support it tonight.

Next Section

IndexHome Page