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8.30 pm

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton): The Bill could well carry the title of an early Rolling Stones record--"Not Fade Away". With the end of the cold war and with the Irish ceasefire, MI5 is looking for a role. I understand that Ministers do not want it to go out of existence because other dangers might arise at some future point. It is a case of not fading away--that is what the Bill is about.

The Government want to extend MI5's role to include drug trafficking and organised crime, yet those tasks are already being performed by the police. Although it might be reasonable to consider extending MI5's role in that way, I am concerned that the original intention that it should assist the police has changed to taking the lead. That suggestion was contained in a paper submitted to the Cabinet by Stella Rimington, Director-General of the Security Service. Such a change has wide implications for the police. I am not convinced that MI5 should take the lead, and any such change must be justified by Ministers.

Hon. Members have already referred to Peter Wright and "Spycatcher". Mr. Wright said that, during the 1960s, he and his colleagues in MI5 bugged and burgled their way across London. The Bill widens the scope for bugging and burglary, because it allows the Security Service lawfully to enter or interfere with property. If the Government want that, they should consider compensation for the higher insurance premiums that people will have to pay.

There is a suspicion that the warrants to allow such behaviour are signed far too easily by Ministers. Under the Bill, the warrants will be extended to cover computers, telecommunications and E-mail. That may be acceptable

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where there is reasonable suspicion of drug trafficking or organised crime, but not for a fishing exercise. Ministers cannot be relied upon to draw that distinction before they sign warrants. Quite frankly, it would be better if judges were able to draw that distinction and sign warrants.

Has the Data Protection Registrar been asked about the Bill's implications? After all, the Security Service will have access to Government information technology and the ability to break encryption codes; it has even been suggested that it will have access to census data, something which Governments have always said would not happen. Has the registrar been asked about those aspects? If not, the Government have been negligent.

I am worried about the possible sub-contracting of activities by the Security Service. After all, privatisation is the name of the game. The service may well sub-contract some aspects of burglary and bugging. In what way do the powers in the Bill relate to such sub-contracting? It is my view that sub-contracting should not be allowed. I ask the Minister to respond to that point.

The Government are not in a position to do anything about the protection of MI5's informants. As the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) said, the informants against Matrix Churchill and Ordtech were abandoned when the Government's role was discovered. The Bill does not deal with that issue. That brings me to the issue of public interest immunity certificates. New and proper guidelines should be drawn up for their use, which should be restricted. I am sure that the Scott inquiry will recommend something along those lines. Judges, not Ministers, should have the final say on the issuing of those certificates.

I remain alarmed about the role of the Security Service in industrial disputes, which under current legislation are viewed as subversion. Hon. Members have already referred to the example of the miners' strike. Indeed, the parent Act is used in an anti-trade union way. Often, that subversion is put on the same footing as serious crime-- and it should not be. Clause 2 provides that a warrant should be signed only for crimes that would merit three years' imprisonment. That virtually rules out any action by MI5 in industrial disputes, as very few of them would meet the provisions of clause 2. I am thinking of tabling an amendment to ensure that MI5 is removed from a role that I believe it has been wrongly given.

High finance fraud is organised crime, but MI5 has a poor record on that--for example, BCCI and Maxwell. How many other big businesses have been diddling their customers, pensioners and employees? The Security Service has not done very much about that. I suspect that it does not have the expertise for such a role.

One key problem is the role that the Security Service plays in national interest and national security matters. The scope is very wide. I am convinced that civil servants and Ministers use it for their own and their party's benefit. Therefore, a proper definition of that role must be contained in law if it is to be properly applied, not abused. The interpretation of "national interest" should not lie with civil servants and Ministers; judges should interpret it within the law.

As a number of my hon. Friends have said, the accountability of the Security Service is poor. A tribunal was set up under the 1985 Act to deal with the interception of communications, but no complaints have been upheld to date. A Security Service commissioner and

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tribunal were established under the 1989 Act, but no complaints have been upheld to date. As far as I am aware, the Intelligence and Security Committee of this House has made no significant adverse criticisms. On that record, it seems that we have a perfect organisation--yet we all know that every organisation makes mistakes. Because no complaints have been upheld, it is obvious that they have not been properly acknowledged.

In referring to the Intelligence and Security Committee of the House--although it is not really a Committee of the House but is a Committee of the Government, because it reports to the Prime Minister--Liberty said that it could not do its job properly, because there were draconian controls on its access to information. It said:

Greater accountability to Parliament is needed. There will be no accountability to Parliament or the law while there are such vague, wide definitions--or no definition-- of crucial elements of the Security Service's operation that make it impossible for a judge to adjudicate on any relevant issue.

There may be a continuing role for MI5, but that should not be at the expense of fundamental civil liberties. We should improve civil liberties and the accountability of the security services to this House.

8.39 pm

Mr. David Faber (Westbury): I apologise to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and, in their absence, to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) for not being present for the start of the debate. The Social Security Committee, on which I serve, was finalising its report on the Child Support Agency. I have, however, enormously enjoyed the debate since I arrived just after the opening speeches. I especially enjoyed the fascinating history lesson about the Security Service given by my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason).

Much has been said about the end of the cold war, the ceasefires in Northern Ireland and the need to find the Security Service some role to fulfil. It is irrelevant whether the service itself is seeking that role or others are seeking the role for it. We live in an age of localised conflicts around the world, illegal nuclear proliferation and, sadly, a very fragile peace in Northern Ireland. The Security Service has a great deal on its plate without the further tasks that it is being required to undertake. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen); I do not mind whether the Security Service has sought the role or others have imposed it, it is a role for which it is clearly well designed and which it is well able to fulfil.

There is an obvious need for us to use the Security Service's expertise to help tackle the increasingly complex and sophisticated threat of organised and serious crime. It is difficult to quantify that threat. Indeed, until recently, it has been very difficult to establish the extent of the problem. As I understand it, since October, the National Criminal Intelligence Service has been piloting a notification system in 10 police forces around the country. It is to be hoped that that will prove a successful means of gathering nationwide data on the exact extent of the problem.

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As serious crime becomes more sophisticated, crucial and good intelligence becomes more important. The Security Service, whatever we have been told, has a proven record of mounting intelligence investigations into the most secretive organisations. The Bill would enable the Security Service to use that expertise to complement the law enforcement agencies such as the police and Customs and Excise.

It is important to stress that the police and the existing agencies are already doing an excellent job--as many hon. Members have said. They are achieving considerable success in the fight against all aspects of crime, as was highlighted most recently in the welcome and continuing drop in the crime figures, but there is no doubt that we need the broader package of skills that would be brought to the problem by the Security Service, which were listed most recently by my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Hendry). Those assets can only be of value and of support to the police. If anything, the Bill is not only welcome, but somewhat overdue.

What is the nature and the extent of the threat of serious crime and what are we doing at the moment to combat it? There is no single or simple definition of serious crime, and we are still at an early stage in the collection of data via the NCIS on the extent of the problem.

As the Home Affairs Committee recognised last year in its report, there is little point in worrying about the precise definition of serious crime. The Bill does not seek--rightly--to impose any such narrow definition. Key characteristics are widely recognised, although the nature of crime will always change as new opportunities for the criminal to profit arise.

It would surely be wrong to apportion fewer resources to one crime, just because it was not considered organised, when it might be extremely serious. There are certain obvious categories of serious crime--most notably the obscene international trade in drugs, about which we have heard a great deal, most recently and most eloquently from my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak.

One or two hon. Members--my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) and the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick)--have said that Members of Parliament are not always at the sharp end of drug abuse; that we are not on the streets seeing the pushers and the effects of drugs. I like to think that I am one of the Members of Parliament who occasionally sees the sharp end of drug abuse, albeit at the other end-- rehabilitation and the appalling time that drug addicts have trying to come off drugs.

For someone such as me, who sees the pain and misery caused by drug abuse, nothing could be more important than to use every available resource. I was particularly glad that, just a couple of weeks before Christmas, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary came to Downview prison to see the work of the Rehabilitation of Addicted Prisoners Trust, of which I am a trustee, which is trying to break the dreadful spiral of drug abuse in prisons and crime on the outside. Many people who see the dreadful effects of drug abuse understand the problem and will welcome the Bill as a further step to fight the evil trade of drug trafficking.

What else is being done in the battle against organised crime and what are our plans for the future? At present, individual police forces tackle crime in their own areas and there are of course six regional crime squads with

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more than 1,400 officers at their disposal who are able to deal with serious crime at regional, national and international level.

At the Conservative party conference last year, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced a commitment to discuss the creation of a so-called national squad to tackle organised crime, and in its report published in the summer, the Home Affairs Committee recommended that the present structure of the regional crime squads should be replaced by a more nationally co-ordinated structure.

That could, perhaps, be done by giving the national co-ordinator of the regional crime squads the executive role which he lacks. No doubt discussions between the Home Office and the police on the best way in which to put my right hon. Friend's commitment into practice are under way. We all look forward to hearing more about that.

During the debate on the Loyal Address in November, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary announced a commitment to strengthen the role of the NCIS, giving it greater freedom from the Home Office, which is surely to be welcomed.

As has been said frequently in the debate, organised crime poses a diverse threat, and it is right that a range of agencies with diverse skills and abilities should be made available to tackle it. No single agency can do it on its own and it is important that individual contributions are properly co-ordinated. Regional crime squads and Customs and Excise are already doing an excellent job. Various hon. Members have cited figures that illustrate the squads' success but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs) said, it is likely that they are only the tip of the iceberg. The package of measures in the Bill will further strengthen our response to organised crime.

How will the Security Service become involved in the day-to-day operations as soon, I hope, as the Bill receives Royal Assent and becomes law? Clause 1 extends the functions of the Security Service to uphold our national security and maintain our economic well-being. A new, third, function will be to act in support of law enforcement agencies to detect and combat organised crime.

It is crucial to note that the Security Service will be supporting the police and Customs and Excise in accordance with the arrangements for co-ordination, which can surely best be made between the director-general and the agencies. It is obviously important that members of the Security Service should familiarise themselves as soon as possible with the workings of and the personnel in the police forces and Customs and Excise departments with which they will be dealing.

A number of key principles should be established to govern that co-ordination. Law enforcement agencies must retain the principal responsibility for countering serious crime. Work against organised crime will be co-ordinated by the NCIS and other co-ordinating groups. The Security Service will not set its own tasks, but will rely on groups such as the NCIS and Customs and Excise to set them for it. The Security Service has, over many years, established excellent working links with law enforcement agencies throughout the country, and it is crucial that they should be built on as soon as possible.

A successful and harmonious working relationship between the Security Service and the police is at the very heart of the Bill's success. Those of us who recognise the

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outstanding work done by our individual local police forces and who speak up on their behalf regularly would not want anything that might harm or weaken their ability to combat crime locally to be done.

It is understandable that the police should have expressed anxieties during the preparation of the Bill. I am delighted that its final version has been reached in agreement with them. The police work under extremely strict legal guidelines. They greatly value the reputation for accountability and transparency that they have built up with the public over many years. They are naturally concerned that any work undertaken by the Security Service should adhere to existing arrangements under which they already work.

I very much hope that the police will be reassured by certain key principles, first, that the prime responsibility for countering organised crime should remain with the law enforcement agencies, most notably the police themselves. Secondly, as I have already described, the Security Service will be set its tasks by the NCIS and other, existing, co-ordinating groups. Thirdly, the Security Service will at all times act in support of the NCIS, local police forces, regional crime squads, Customs and Excise and whoever tackles a particular crime. The police will also be reassured by the fact that the Security Service will at all times draw on its full range of skills, capabilities and expertise. It is vital that it devotes the full range of its resources to the new part of its job just as it would to any existing interest.

As my right hon. Friend the Minister knows only too well, it is vital to those of us who have devoted considerable energy during the past two years to safeguarding, and we hope increasing, the funding available for our local police forces that the cost of Security Service involvement should be borne by the service itself. It should not affect adversely in any way existing police funding settlements. The resources that the Security Service chooses to devote to its new function are for it to decide and will depend on existing commitments.

Initially, the service might find the additional resources from within its existing budget. Given the uncertainty of the world in which we live, however, it should always be ready to respond to unforeseen circumstances to protect our national security. I strongly hope, therefore, that given the Security Service's important new role, Ministers will consider carefully at all times the resources that are available to the service via the single intelligence vote.

We live in an ever-changing world, but one that is still dangerous. The old threats might not seem quite the same, but the Security Service still has a crucial role to play at home and abroad in safeguarding the national security of the country. The menace of organised crime, especially the evil of drug trafficking about which we have heard so much today, is ever more with us and poses every bit as great a threat as did the issues of old to the well-being of future generations. The Bill will greatly strengthen the hand of the police in the battle against such crime. I hope that it will be supported by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

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