Previous SectionIndexHome Page


9.41 pm

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean): This has been a useful and constructive debate marked by a number of informed contributions. This is one of the rare opportunities I have had of reading those words, which begin every ministerial winding-up speech, with a straight face. It actually has been an informed and well-tempered debate. I shall spare the blushes of the Opposition by not concentrating at length on the contributions by one or two Opposition Members, except to say that I suspect that Conservative central office will study the contributions by the hon. Members for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) and for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) and will find some useful nuggets for Conservative Party News for the next few months or, indeed, the next few years. There was sufficient material in there.

Apart from those rare contributions, there has been gratifying support from both sides of the House for the principle that the Security Service should be able to assist the law enforcement agencies in their work against serious crime. Almost everyone was agreed on the principles. The only area of disagreement was whether the wording in the Bill met the principles on which we all agree. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary made a powerful case in dealing with that point and I shall now deal with it likewise. In Committee, we shall explore some of the complex legal arguments that we are not able to explore on the Floor of the House tonight so that we can, I hope, satisfy all shades of opinion on both sides of the House that the Bill will do what we believe it ought to do.

Dr. Godman: As someone who is not likely to be invited to join the Committee, may I remind the Minister that, some five hours ago, I asked the Home Secretary a question about the role of the Secretary of State for Scotland in relation to clause 2? Can the Minister, five hours later, confirm that an application for a warrant submitted by Security Service personnel operating in Scotland will be determined by the Secretary of State for Scotland and not by the Home Secretary?

Mr. Maclean: I have nothing to add to what my right hon. and learned Friend said. He made the point that the law states that a Secretary of State may sign such a warrant. In many cases, that could be the Home Secretary who has primary responsibility throughout the United Kingdom. However, it could be the Secretary of State for Scotland and it could be other Secretaries of State as appropriate. The House has sensibly phrased the legislation to permit warrants to be determined by a Secretary of State.

Many colleagues mentioned the threat from organised crime.

Mr. Rogers: I believe that the right hon. Gentleman is inadvertently misleading the House. The Security Service Act 1989 does not give any Secretary of State the power

10 Jan 1996 : Column 299

to sign a warrant. It refers specifically to "the Secretary of State" and, under the terms of the Bill, that is the Home Secretary.

Mr. Maclean: I believe that, if the hon. Gentleman reads Hansard, he will say that I was not inadvertently misleading the House. I said that the Home Secretary in many cases would be the lead authority to deal with those warrants, but it could be that the legislation does speak about the Secretary of State and there may be occasions-- one may wish to explore some in Committee--when the Scottish Secretary may be the appropriate authority.

Mr. Galloway: Will the Minister give way briefly on that point?

Mr. Maclean: No; we have gone through that point. It is a small, technical point.

Dr. Godman: No, it is not.

Mr. Maclean: Having served on many Committees and Scottish Committees with the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman), I am very sensitive to the argument that he makes about the Scottish legal system and some of the wonderful and unique institutions in Scotland, including the police service, but I believe that matter is more deserving of Committee than of the 15 minutes that I have left tonight.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) for confirming from the Opposition Benches his strongly held and, I believe, knowledgeable opinion, now that he serves on the Intelligence and Security Committee, that there is a genuine threat from serious and organised crime. That was described eloquently by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King). It was confirmed by the hon. Member for Rhondda, in a very telling speech. The Home Affairs Select Committee described it as a cause for serious concern, and we are taking measures on an international front to tackle that threat.

The United Kingdom has not suffered as much damage at the hands of organised crime as have many countries. No one has said that that is a cause for complacency-- it is not the Government's opinion--but it is a reason for me to echo the tributes that were paid to the sterling efforts of all our law enforcement agencies. Credit is also due to our financial institutions and public bodies.

To tackle the threat of organised crime from former communist countries in eastern Europe, we continue to develop closer co-operation with Governments and law enforcement agencies in central and eastern Europe and countries of the former Soviet Union. We do so both bilaterally and in conjunction with our European Union partners.

Under the Home Office overseas drugs-related assistance programme, the countries of eastern Europe are priority targets for law enforcement equipment and training. We have given £4.6 million in aid to the region in the past three years, including support for the United Nations international drug control programme, reflecting its increasing importance as a transit route for heroin bound for the UK.

The police are also working with their counterparts and Her Majesty's Customs and Excise is providing drug law enforcement training and technical assistance in those countries and others--drug sources and transit countries.

10 Jan 1996 : Column 300

Key aims for all that work are improved intelligence and improved co-ordination of efforts among a variety of agencies. Those aims are central to the Bill before us and central to our efforts to tackle the menace of organised crime.

I believe that the hon. Member for Hillhead said that everyone who has spoken so far has claimed that the Bill is a panacea. No one claimed that; the Opposition did not and my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary did not. No hon. Member who spoke has claimed that the Bill is a marvellous panacea for all the problems of organised crime and drug trafficking in towns and cities. We have said--it was wrong of the hon. Gentleman to exaggerate those comments--that the Bill makes a sensible and important contribution to the battle against organised crime.

My hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason), in an important speech, asked, as did other hon. Members--including my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd)--what the catalyst was for the legislation and why it was being introduced. The answer is that we have identified that in the Security Service there are some skills, especially analytical skills, and it has some resources and, God willing, if Northern Ireland continues in its present course, it may have some capacity to contribute to the battle. I simply say to the House, if there are those skills, if there is that capacity, we should all be pretty daft to look that gift horse in the mouth.

My hon. Friend the Member for Torbay asked what applications had been received by the Security Service tribunal. I can tell him that, in the past five years, 187 applications have been received and have been determined. No determination has been made in favour of a complainant, which does not imply that everything is perfect, as the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) suggested. It simply means that the independent investigators on the Security Service tribunal have concluded that the service behaved properly in respect of the 187 people who complained.

Mr. Allason: Does my right hon. Friend recognise that one of our concerns about the performance of the tribunal stems from the fact that it is not empowered to investigate anything relating to any file initiated before November 1989? Under the current legislation, therefore, if an investigation is initiated which relates to a person who was on file before then, the tribunal will say that the case cannot be investigated. Does my right hon. Friend recognise that that is the central flaw in the current arrangements?

Mr. Maclean: I recognise the facts that my hon. Friend has stated, but not that they constitute a central flaw in the arrangements. I repeat that the tribunal did not find in favour of any of the 187 complainants. The House set up the arrangements and has, I believe, generally been satisfied with them. They are a form of redress that did not exist before.

I come next to an extremely important point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay, by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) and by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) in his excellent speech. I set out the following facts in order to satisfy some of the demands made by my hon. Friends and by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth

10 Jan 1996 : Column 301

(Mr. Michael). I refer to the principles agreed and signed up to by the police and the Security Service. They are referred to in the ISC report as the principles that will govern the service's work against organised crime. I am happy to put them in the public domain tonight and to confirm them.

First, the law enforcement agencies and the Security Service have agreed that primacy of responsibility for countering organised crime lies, and should remain with, the law enforcement agencies. Secondly, the Security Service will be tasked through the NCIS and the relevant co-ordinating groups and will act in support of the NCIS, the chief officers of police, the regional crime squads and Her Majesty's Customs and Excise. Thirdly, the Security Service's contributions will be co-ordinated through the NCIS and existing structures; it will not operate independently. Fourthly, the Security Service will be able to draw on its full range of skills, capabilities and expertise. Finally, the costs of the Security Service's involvement will be borne by the Security Service. I hope that these facts provide the reassurance that many hon. Members on both sides have asked for.


Next Section

IndexHome Page