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Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield): Clause 2(2)(a) refers to the right of the NCIS

Would that include information gathered as a by-product of bugging for other purposes? Suppose the police had authority to bug someone and then discovered that the

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solicitor involved was gay, had HIV or was engaged in some particular activity that was not criminal, would that go on the police computer?

Mr. Howard: I cannot imagine that any information of the sort that the right hon. Gentleman identifies would be relevant to the investigation, prevention or detection of serious crime. On that basis, it would not be relevant to the activities of the National Criminal Intelligence Service. NCIS is interested in providing intelligence that is relevant to combating serious crime, and that is the basis on which it will proceed.

The Bill puts NCIS on an independent statutory footing. NCIS will continue to provide criminal intelligence to police forces across the United Kingdom and to other law enforcement agencies--principally Customs and Excise and the National Crime Squad--in this country and abroad. Last year, intelligence from NCIS contributed to the arrest of 1,378 major criminals, seizures of drugs worth £294 million and recovery of property worth £18 million. Its new status under the direction and control of a director general with chief constable rank will mean that it is even better placed to collect and develop intelligence for the benefit of all its users.

The National Crime Squad will bring together the existing regional crime squads into a single unit, again under the direction and control of a director-general with chief constable rank. Under current voluntary arrangements, the national co-ordinator of the regional crime squads has no powers of direction or control. The new squad will make it very much easier to deploy resources more flexibly and to tackle major criminals operating in one or more police force areas in England and Wales. The squad will continue to be able to support forces at the request of chief officers and will maintain close links with the Scottish crime squad and Royal Ulster Constabulary.

The Bill proposes that the two new national services should each be maintained by a new service authority. Those service authorities will be closely modelled on police authorities, but with some changes to reflect the national focus of the two services. The authorities will comprise independent members, one of whom will be appointed by the Secretary of State to chair both authorities, as well as police authority and police service representatives. The service authority for the National Crime Squad would have 17 members--comprising independent, police authority and police service members, plus one representative of the Secretary of State. The membership of the NCIS authority would be similar, but because of its United Kingdom-wide and multi-agency remit it would have a total membership of 19, which would also include representatives of police authorities and police forces in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the Secretaries of State for Scotland and for Northern Ireland, and a representative of Customs and Excise.

Although they are separate, it is important that the two services should work closely together to achieve shared national objectives. For that reason, the Bill proposes that 10 members should serve on both authorities. The 10 joint members would include the three independent members to be appointed by the Secretary of State, one of whom would be the chairman of both authorities.

A strong local element has been preserved in those arrangements. Crown servants representing the Secretaries of State will have no voting powers. Representatives of

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police authorities--including those for the Metropolitan police district, Scotland and Northern Ireland--will always make up a clear majority of those eligible to vote on the levy and the appointment of a director general. Conversely, it is right that there should be a strong national role, reflecting the interests of all parties, in those national services. We believe that we have struck the right balance, consistent with our current system of policing.

The majority of the income for the two services will be derived from levies on police authorities in England and Wales. In the case of NCIS, direct contributions will be made by other users. We believe that decisions on the levy should be strongly influenced by locally elected members of the service authorities. That is why we propose that only the police authority members from England and Wales--who will always be in a majority--and the independent members of the service authorities will vote on the proposed levy. Their proposals will be considered by the Secretary of State, who will first consult a tripartite group comprising representatives of police authorities, the police service and central Government. That group will consider the levies in the context of overall spending on the police. In the light of that consultation, the Secretary of State will either approve the levy or instruct the service authority to adjust it. His decision will be final.

In most other ways, the respective roles of the Secretary of State and service authorities reflect current arrangements for local police forces. For example, the role of the Home Secretary--in consultation with the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Northern Ireland in relation to the National Criminal Intelligence Service--will be to set key objectives for each service, to call for reports and to require Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary to conduct inspections.

The service authorities will set detailed objectives and publish service plans and annual reports on performance. They will appoint the director general and other senior police officers. Other officers will be seconded or loaned from their local force or organisations such as Customs and Excise. All staff will be under the direction and control of the relevant director general. The terms and conditions of service of staff will be decided by the service authority after consultation, in the case of police officers, with the police negotiating board. There will be full consultation with the police staff associations and trade unions on terms and conditions and the complaints and discipline system.

I turn now to part III of the Bill. I do not think that there is any dispute about the need of the police and customs to use intrusive surveillance against our most serious criminals. That effective and valuable technique must be available to our law enforcement agencies if they are to get the evidence that they need to bring our most dangerous criminals to court. We are not talking about petty crime, still less people going about their lawful activities. The Bill is aimed at major drug traffickers, kidnappers, terrorists and those involved in serious fraud and money laundering. These are the most dangerous criminals whose activities have a major impact on society--people who are well versed in policing methods and have the resources that they need to protect themselves from detection.

Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim): Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that this is a serious

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constitutional matter? Does he not therefore think that the Committee stage of the Bill should be held on the Floor of the House, so that parties from all over the United Kingdom will not be isolated--some of them not even represented on the Committee? The Bill affects my part of the country. I feel that the Committee stage of such a grave constitutional Bill should be held on the Floor of the House. Will the Home Secretary help us on that? I do not want to hinder him getting his Bill passed, but I must defend the rights of the people and their representatives to be heard, especially in Committee.

Mr. Howard: I am afraid that I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. As I shall remind the House in a moment, the techniques in question have been used for a long time. The Bill introduces new safeguards, as well as putting the use of the techniques on a statutory basis for the first time. I do not follow the hon. Gentleman in his point, but of course he, his hon. Friends and others will have the fullest opportunity to put their points on Report.

Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West): Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, particularly in our constitution, there can never be an absolute guide on what is a constitutional question? When there is uncertainty, it is necessary to examine the political background. The Labour party has abandoned the proper adversarial role of the Opposition. As a result, there has not been adequate discussion about prior authorisation. That point therefore ought to be discussed on the Floor of the House, not in private Upstairs in Committee.

Mr. Howard: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that there is no absolute definition of a constitutional issue. However, I fear that I cannot follow him on the rest of his remarks. The Labour party, to be as fair to it as I can, has attempted to form a view on the right course to take on the Bill. I regret that it has not been constant in the view that it formed, but there it is. We have to do the best that we can with that.

Mr. Benn: Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Howard: I am answering my hon. Friend. I will give way in a moment. The right hon. Gentleman must contain himself. The provisions in the Bill have been extensively considered in another place and will no doubt be extensively considered in this House, including on Report.

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