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Sir Peter Lloyd: Good for them.

Sir Ivan Lawrence: Very good for them.

As my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary knows, many Conservative Members were unhappy about the way in which the Bill was originally drafted. One does not have to be an anti-establishment, police-bashing anarchist to care about the principle that

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an Englishman's home is his castle and should be treated as such by the forces of the state as far as is reasonably possible; and one does not have to be a criminal or a troublemaker, or paranoid, to be concerned about the incursion of the Executive into the liberties of the citizen.

In fact, one reason why we are elected to this place is to protect our constituents as citizens from the abuse of power by the Executive, and that includes its agents--the police and other potentially intrusive forces. That is not to say that we do not understand that, in this modern world, there is a proper place for intrusive surveillance or bugging.

Much modern policing depends on good intelligence, and that means information about crime, which must be obtained, if necessary, by the invasion of privacy of suspected offenders. Nearly all thwartings of drug and terrorist crimes in recent years have come about as a result of information and intelligence, often obtained by bugging.

In a letter to Baroness Blatch dated 16 January, the immediate past president of the Association of Chief Police Officers gave an example. He said:

A report in The Times today, although not directly on the same point, emphasises how important bugging now is:

    "The police case against David Howells hung by the vital thread of secret tape-recordings of his conversations with his two boys while they were held in police cells.

    Howells had a cast-iron alibi that he was miles from the murder scene, playing in a darts match. But tapes of conversations with his sons confirmed detectives' suspicions of his complicity in a cover-up, if not in the murder itself."

Obviously, a balance must be struck between the liberties of decent, law-abiding members of society, who have a right to be protected against criminals, and the liberties of suspected offenders who may or may not be innocent. Many of us--not only their Lordships in another place or some Opposition Members, but Conservative Members--were of the view that that balance was not being struck. Prior authorisation of intrusion into private property and the protection of privileged meetings between suspects and their lawyers, their doctors and even journalists, would correct that imbalance. I thank my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary for listening to us and introducing those protections into the Bill.

As a result--I control myself enough not to make party political hay while the sun is out--the Bill has the support of the main Opposition party and will, I hope, move speedily to the statute book. My right hon. and learned Friend's explanation of the need for the chiefs of police, who know best about these things, to have responsibility for authorising such operations, makes good sense to me, as do his proposals for high court judges to be commissioners, for a right to appeal to a chief commissioner and for commissioners to serve for a limited period.

Although the challenges to the legislation before us are now at a much lower level of importance than they were a few days ago--and at a much lower decibel level--it is

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obvious that, as the Bill passes through Committee, very many issues will need to be clarified or reconsidered. I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary for saying earlier that he is already considering amending the code of practice in response to tonight's debate.

I shall briefly mention some of those issues. First, there is anxiety that, although one of the tests for bugging is that the crime should be serious

in clause 91 may not be serious and might be used to stop processions or to stop offences being committed under section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 which are hardly very serious. That has been mentioned by several hon. Members on both sides of the House. Perhaps we should consider the substitution of the word "and" at page 35, line 39, for "or", which might satisfy that concern without weakening the Bill unreasonably.

Secondly, the Bar and Law Society are worried that the privileged communications between lawyers and their clients might still be restricted to some extent, although to a lesser extent, by the new provisions. There must be a balance, but perhaps we could consider that further. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary gave us an assurance about the confessional; we might have a similar assurance, perhaps written into the code of practice, concerning the interference with the complete privacy, which simply must exist, between a lawyer and his client. It will not do for anyone to overhear the client speaking to his lawyer about his defence, because then the information could be used in an unfair way at the criminal trial, and injustice may be done.

Thirdly, there is concern about what is meant by the words "an urgent case" on page 35 of the Bill. That would exempt bugging from the limitation of prior authorisation. Obviously, it would be absurd to lose the tracking of a criminal car as a result of the need for prior authorisation, and I believe that the passage that I have read out from Mr. Jim Sharples is evidence of that. However, there are understandable calls for some clarification, if that should be possible, of the scope of that exemption. I hope that we may consider the possibility of dealing with it in the code as the Bill passes through Committee.

Fourthly, there is some anxiety, which has been expressed during the debate, about the waiving of a fee to applicants who are volunteers in scouting or other activities. My right hon. and learned Friend may have a little difficulty in removing the amendment that was introduced in the House of Lords. I must confess that, in its recommendation No. 6 on access to criminal records, the Home Affairs Committee said that the agency should be self-financing. The point is worthy of further consideration, however it may be resolved.

Fifthly, it is obvious that the provisions are complicated. A code of practice will be necessary. The provision in clause 112 that there may be such a code is insufficient. Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider substituting "shall be" for "may be"? We will all need such guidance.

Sixthly, the Bill does not envisage transcripts obtained from bugging being used evidentially, only for the purpose of preventing and detecting crime. The House of Lords case of R v. Preston, in which I was a party, reaffirmed that the same applies to transcripts of telephone

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intercepts under the Interception of Communications Act 1985. The time may soon come when it will be difficult to justify the fact that conversations that are recorded can be used to prevent and detect crime, but cannot be used as evidence in a case. We should consider changing the law so that intercepts of communications or bugs yield up evidence of the crime, to help towards the conviction of the serious criminal.

There is a problem relating to disclosure of the sources, but we have been over that in recent legislation, so the problem may have been reasonably well resolved.

Other issues arise, but I shall not burden the House further. They will be raised in Committee. The calls to have the matter debated on the Floor of the House are, in the present circumstances, somewhat unrealistic. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen), for whom I have the highest regard, can serve on that Committee and improve the Bill with his contributions. The Committee meets in public and is recorded.

If we bear in mind the load of important business that still has to be taken on the Floor of the House while this Parliament lasts, and the short time that we will have left to deal with it, by any stretch of our imagination, it would be unrealistic to bring the Bill on to the Floor at the Committee stage, particularly as it will be brought back to the Chamber on Report. We do not want to lose the Bill under any circumstances, so I back the Government on that decision.

This is a good Bill, and a highly desirable one. Now that the major objection to it has been removed, I hope that the House will give the Bill its full support tonight and a speedy passage on to the statute book.

7.22 pm

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton): The hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) gave a considered speech. I acknowledge his honourable role as Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee. I agree with some aspects of his speech--for example, the need for lawyers to have privacy in discussions with their clients, and the need to achieve a proper balance between civil liberties and effective policing. However, I do not agree with his conclusion and his final remarks that this is a good Bill. I think that it is a bad Bill; to use kind language, I find it unwise in several parts, and objectionable in other aspects.

Three aspects of the Bill concern me: the arrangements for setting up and enhancing the National Criminal Intelligence Service; the bugging and burglary powers; and the criminal conviction certificates.

First, whatever the Home Secretary says, we are moving ever closer towards a Federal Bureau of Investigation--a national police service. It will have a national intelligence network and, if it is not so already, it will come to be a political force in the land. The Bill helps that process along, and it is going along without a murmur. It should not be allowed to proceed without dissent.

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