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Sir Ivan Lawrence: The question is whether that is covered by the requirement for wireless telegraphy. Is a beam wireless telegraphy? That is something that the Minister might answer.

Mr. Mullin: I hope that we shall get clarification on the matter in due course because it is potentially an important one.

Finally, I have grave difficulty in accepting that there are circumstances when it is necessary to bug a lawyer's office. I would like to hear--perhaps Committee is the appropriate place to have this discussion--some hard examples of cases where it has been necessary to bug a lawyer's offices. I accept that some lawyers misbehave, but I wonder whether the intrusion into liberty involved in bugging a lawyer's office outweighs any possible benefits. I just remark on that for the time being, but we shall have to consider the matter more closely in Committee, quite apart from which, if we do monitor a lawyer's offices, we are bound to pick up information about all sorts of other cases that were not the subject of the authorisation obtained. That is inevitable, and a potential problem too.

As I have said, the Bill is long overdue. I have no objection to the fundamental necessity in some particular and carefully defined and carefully authorised cases for

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the police to bug criminals or people whom they suspect are criminals. It brings within the law an area of police activity that has far too often been clouded in obscurity. It inevitably involves interference with liberties that we rightly prize. It is brought to us by a Home Secretary who has shown himself careless of personal liberty, so we must consider the Bill carefully. Subject to the amendments that the Government propose, I shall not oppose it tonight, but it must be considered carefully in Committee.

8.15 pm

Mr. Warren Hawksley (Halesowen and Stourbridge): In following the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), I shall start by saying that I am afraid that I have perhaps more confidence in the police than he does. I believe that we should back them. We should back them against the civil liberties lobby in particular. In the Bill, we have a balance that is just about right.

This is an important Bill. It is one of a series that the Home Secretary is introducing. In the past four years, we have had a variety of Bills, some of which have not yet been implemented. I think particularly of the power to lock away young offenders, which Parliament gave, although the places to put them in are not yet ready. It is right that we should have the series of measures coming through to toughen up the law and to give agencies that implement the law the tools and the power that they need. The Bill will help them to reduce serious crime--in the Bill, we are talking particularly of serious crime.

In the other place, the parts of the Bill that cover the National Crime Squad and the National Criminal Intelligence Service have not had as much publicity as other aspects of the Bill, but both bodies are moves in the right direction. It is correct that we should put them on to a statutory footing. The fact that the crime squad will work with police forces to investigate crime not just locally, but at national and at international level is to be welcomed. That will bring great benefits in the fight against major crime.

It is important that we should support those bodies, particularly in relation to the fight against drugs, which is a major problem and which is not getting any better. Much of their work will involve that problem. Some 10 years ago or more, I was taken by a chief superintendent around a housing estate in my old constituency of The Wrekin. He pointed out that he believed that the estate probably had the worst house-breaking problem of any in the West Mercia police authority region. He reckoned that 80 per cent. of the burglaries were drug-oriented. If that was the position then, I am sure that the matter is no better today.

NCIS has worked well under the Home Office and it has had some great successes, which we have heard about from other Members during the debate, but it is right to put it, at this stage, on a statutory footing. The one concern I have, which has been mentioned by other hon. Members, was raised with me by the West Midland Police Federation. It did not seem to have been involved in the Bill. It welcomes it, as does the Association of Chief Police Officers, but it rightly feels that it has not been consulted to the extent that it used to be consulted in the earlier days of the Government.

It would have been better for more consultations to have taken place. Certainly, that is the view of my police federation. It raises three points, which I think are all legitimate. It is concerned about officers having different disciplinary regulations, different police regulations and

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different complaints procedures when they are with the squad or NCIS than when they are with their own force. Members of the federation think that that is wrong and that it is confusing, and they do not find it very helpful.

Federation members also require clarification--I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will provide it in his reply--on whether it is intended that people working in those squads should be covered by the normal procedure allowing them to bring a colleague or friend to represent them. Conservative Members have already mentioned that matter. I remember that--in the early or mid-1980s, when I served on a Committee examining a Bill--I supported an amendment that had been tabled by the then Member of Parliament for Bury St. Edmunds, who was representing the Police Federation, which tried to give that right to charged officers. We should ensure that the facility is retained for police force members if they are brought under disciplinary procedures. It is very important that we should do so.

As for the issue of placing technology on a statutory footing, I cannot express it better than a letter sent to a newspaper by ACPO representatives. The letter covered the issue very well, and was signed by the president and officers of the organisation. It stated:

The letter goes on to describe the way in which announcements, discussions and debates have been reported. It states:

    "Some editors and others, who really should know better--including some solicitors, barristers, and even some members of the House of Lords--have suggested that the police will seek to listen to conversations between solicitors and clients. It would be quite unlawful for chief constables to authorise such activity on those grounds alone."

The hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) might be interested in the next part of the letter. It states:

    "If, however, it were to be suspected that solicitors were discussing corrupt acts such as money-laundering and jury-fixing, they would not be protected--nor should they be."

I agree entirely with that view. It continues:

    "If solicitors or their premises were to be specifically exempted from surveillance, we can readily guess where armed robbers could go to plan their next raid."

I think that we would be causing many problems if we took that route.

I listened carefully to the comments of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary on the compromise he reached with Opposition Front Benchers on the problems resulting from the amendments passed in the other place. Although I would have been quite happy with the original provisions, I am prepared to accept the changes that he has proposed. However, I believe that--in cases of emergency, although it would not be the norm--it is absolutely essential that there should be that discretion to obtain the commissioner's approval after the event.

It was very disappointing that the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) suggested that such a discretion would drive a coach and horses through the legislation, because I do not believe that it would. The shadow Home Secretary covered the point very well, as did the Home Secretary, and he gave examples of when

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the Bill's provisions would have to be used very quickly. It is essential that the amendment does not eliminate such emergency use.

It is interesting to see the way in which the Labour party has come round on matters of law and order during this Session of Parliament. New Labour now believes that the issue of law and order is important, and we are learning that Labour Members are very concerned by it. I have served on many Committees, and, right back to 1979, any attempt by the Government to toughen up the law has never had Opposition support. However, I also served on the Committee examining the recent Crime (Sentences) Bill, and I was fascinated at how rarely the Opposition forced divisions, even on such important matters as mandatory sentencing. Although the other place seems to be taking a more robust line against the Government, the changes we are witnessing in the Opposition are very important.

It is also important that the Labour party is supporting the Government's attempts to toughen up law and order. I welcome that conversion, and I hope that it is genuine and that it will continue. I hope that Labour is now seeing the error of its ways. I believe that the public are demanding that hon. Members of all political persuasions take a tough line and act very firmly on crime.

The criminal records agency, which I welcome, has caused many comments in this debate. However, I hope that it will be accurate. Within the past week, a constituent of mine, who is a mini-cab driver, needed to attain a certificate. He discovered that, according to police records, he apparently had a conviction 20 years previously for child abuse. There have been great problems in clarifying the matter, because it was claimed that the offence had occurred in what was originally the West Mercia police authority, but which is now the West Midlands authority. By establishing an agency, I hope that we shall gradually have a much more accurate record. I have been having problems in this specific case in clearing my constituent's record, although he has assured me that he has never been charged with or convicted of child abuse. The problem is that he has been refused a job as a cab driver until it is confirmed that his record is clear.

We have heard about various organisations, such as guides and scouts, with problems and fears about having to pay for certificates. I have received a letter from the Worcestershire Federation of Young Farmers Clubs--an organisation which one would not necessarily expect to be concerned and worried about certificates--that states:

I am very concerned about the idea that we should charge. The description of the Bill's financial effects seems to be so vague, stating that about 8 million to 20 million might be affected. It also mentions

    "uncertainties about the initial demand."

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    In his reply, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will tell us a bit more about those matters. I am not quite sure how many people will need certificates, and it would be helpful to know the number, and whether the cost will be as large as the £200 million figure he suggested. The description of the financial effects also states that, in the first year, the cost could be as low as £10 million. That would not be an unacceptable figure--if it would allow the voluntary sector to continue without concern for its future. We must look after those people.

I believe that we are right to support this Bill. I hope that it will receive massive support and a smooth passage, and I particularly hope that it will be on the statute book before the general election. However, I also hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will tell us, either in his reply to this debate or in Committee, how the legislation can be amended to reassure the Police Federation and such organisations as the Young Farmers Clubs.

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