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Mr. Beith: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw: And certainly before the Liberal Democrats.

Mr. Beith: The hon. Gentleman had better look back to what I said more than a year ago on the Security Services Bill, or he could refer to his letter to The Guardian of 30 November, in which he said:

There is nothing about prior approval. I welcome his conversion; I simply wish that it had been more complete.

Mr. Straw: That is exactly my position and I made that clear. One of the reasons why the Liberal Democrat amendments are not just wrong but daft is that, apart from being wholly inoperable and wrecking important surveillance--for example, by proposing tracking devices on vehicles, despite all evidence from the police--they remove the responsibility rather than the power of the chief officer.

The right hon. Gentleman, who has been elevated to that noble position, should talk to middle-ranking police officers who have had to go to their chief officers to gain these authorisations. They have told me--I take the advice of those to whom I have spoken seriously--that, in practice, it is far easier to obtain authorisation for a warrant from a circuit judge or magistrate under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 than to get authorisation for placing intrusive surveillance from the chief constable. Why? It is because, unlike circuit judges, chief constables know that, if they get it wrong--or even if they get it right--they may have to justify their decision in open

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court. That is why I was determined to stick to the Bill's central provision that the responsibility for authorisation had to be on the chief officer, with judicial supervision.

Mr. Beith: The hon. Gentleman will know that I have listened to the views of chief officers, middle-ranking officers and serving police officers over a long period, not only in my capacity as a party spokesman but as a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee. The hon. Gentleman's description of the procedure employed by chief constables is correct. As it takes some time for such an application to be properly considered by a chief constable, why cannot the hon. Gentleman envisage the system being used--as it is now in front of a chief constable--to ensure that prior authorisation is given, even in urgent cases? Under the present system, chief constables have to deal with urgent cases in a formalised way, as does the Home Secretary in respect of the Security Service. The system can be made sufficiently efficient to do that.

Mr. Straw: If the right hon. Gentleman has talked to the police, it is a great shame that he did not pass on what he learned to Lord Rodgers, whose opinions were informed by almost total ignorance about police operations in this sector. I am astonished that the right hon. Gentleman did not learn from chief constables that in urgent cases the chief officer must give authorisation by telephone. Let me give him an example that would have been completely disrupted by his amendment.

There is a difference--the Home Secretary can speak for himself about this--between the sort of operation that may be undertaken by the Security Service and what a local police force may do, but let me take a tangible example that occurs quite often. When the police spot a stolen vehicle that they have reasonable grounds for believing is about to be used in an armed robbery, they will wish to place a tracking device on it. Under the amendment moved by the noble Lord Rodgers, the authorisation for placing the tracking device under the vehicle would have to be subject to approval by a circuit judge. So we would have an extraordinary pantomime whereby the detective constable in charge of tracking the vehicle would have to stop, go to the chief officer and fill in a variety of forms. He would then have to find a circuit judge.

Mr. Beith: He does that now.

Mr. Straw: No, he does not. After finding a circuit judge, he would have to gain authorisation. The detective constable might be lucky and the stolen vehicle might still be there 24 or 48 hours later when he returns. However, the evidence that I have suggests that, on the whole, armed robbers do not oblige the police in that way.

I was told--I am sorry to say that I accepted this in terms of the advice from the police--that the proposal would wreck police operations and lead to the committing of many more armed robberies and to the guilty getting away with it. I am not surprised that the right hon. Gentleman is looking perplexed. By now, he should appreciate what his noble Friends in the other place did

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not appreciate: that their amendment would have undermined the responsibility of the chief constable and wrecked many possible police operations.

Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw: I shall do so for the last time.

Mr. Allason: Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the issue of electronic surveillance, will he clarify two issues? Is it Opposition policy that the Bill should extend warrant powers to include telephone data--not just the interception of telephone conversations, but details of telephone calls from a particular number?

Does the hon. Gentleman propose to include all passive tracking devices? As he has spoken to the police and to other agencies, he will be aware that one method of electronic tracking is passive. It involves painting the top of a suspect vehicle with invisible infrared reflective paint that can be tracked by helicopter. It is a useful device, but it does not involve any electronic intrusion of the vehicle concerned. Under those circumstances, would he consider extending the Bill or does he think that they are covered already?

Mr. Straw: It is a moot point whether invisible ink on the top of a vehicle amounts to interference with property as defined by the Bill. I do not have a specific answer to the hon. Gentleman's second point. It is no doubt a matter that he will wish to pursue if he gets on to the Standing Committee. On the first point, as I said in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for, which valley is it--

Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth): Cynon Valley.

Mr. Straw: Cynon Valley. [Interruption.] I am sorry. I was brought up in Essex, not in Llanelli like the Home Secretary, and I have never been able to pronounce Welsh names--or indeed to remember them.

The first point that the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) made involved whether data relating to telephone calls should be subject to the Bill's provisions. As I said in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd), it should be subject to the provisions of one or other of the Acts--the Interception of Communications Act 1985, the Police and Criminal Evidence Act or this Bill--that control the use of such operations by the police. I want to think about it, but the matter should be put on a proper statutory footing.

Mr. Allason rose--

Mr. Straw: If the hon. Gentleman will excuse me, I shall not give way; the Secretary of State spoke for more than an hour. I have spoken for 38 minutes and many other hon. Members wish to participate in the debate.

The amendments that will be proposed will significantly strengthen judicial supervision under the Bill. Prior authorisation, subject to an urgency provision, will be required for intrusion into homes, offices and hotel

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bedrooms. That seems to cover the main "private places" referred to in the Liberal Democrats' reasoned amendment, which represents another U-turn by them.

The absolute confidentiality of discussions between lawyer and client is essential if the legal profession is to operate effectively in any society. That principle is an absolute, and it is the essence of legal professional privilege. When dealing with an amendment tabled by Labour in the other place, Baroness Blatch said:

That is a very important statement by the Minister on behalf of the Government, and it is certainly one to which we entirely subscribe.

Our view, and the essence of what we have argued in the other place, is that intrusion into what would otherwise be legal professional privilege should be allowed only when privilege is used by people who are not lawyers as a cloak for a criminal conspiracy or criminal activities, or when lawyers themselves are involved in similar unlawful activities.

The amendments will also make provision, similar to that contained in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, for doctors and journalists, and, as we have heard, they will preserve the absolute sanctity of the confessional. As a communicating member of the Church of England, I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) for informing us that confession occurs in Protestant churches as well as in the Roman Church. I was not aware of that in my own church, and I note that the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) was not either.

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