|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
We shall later be discussing executive warrants, which are dangerous in themselves. Only last week we had an interesting debate about the proper relationship between judicial control and executive power. No voice was heard to suggest sensibly or with any prospect of persuasion that judges' intervention in controlling executive power is wrong. This Bill intends to give power to issue executive warrants.
As my noble friend also pointed out, this is simply a skirmishing attempt to achieve a sense of proportion and public safety. If one looks carefully at the definition of "serious crime", one is aware that it cannot be sensibly upheld. It relates to any offence which "involves the use of violence". Does that include common assault? It does not even have the adjective "serious" to qualify the word "violence". It does not specify that it relates to violence which threatens public safety, public security or state security. It simply refers to violence. Is that power intended to cover such minor offences as common assault? What is "substantial financial gain"? What is,
I offer an example which may soon become reality. Let us assume that university students wish to protest against a visit to their campus of, for example, the present Home Secretary. Those students might be rowdy. Of course, they will offer no violence, but they might offer a certain amount of verbal criticism of the Home Secretary, in common with a large section of the rest of the community. They may well be committing an offence--conduct likely to lead to a breach of the peace. Is that the sort of conduct with which we are concerned, where the power is to be unrestrained by judicial control?
I believe that the press, or part of it, has recently performed a useful public service in drawing attention to some of the defects. There is no doubt at all in my mind that in certain appropriate cases, circumscribed by a proper regime of judicial control, the use of agencies other than the police is essential. Such cases are not limited to security matters. There is an increasing number of cross-border frauds, some of which are linked to European moneys, many of which are linked to the passage of arms and many are connected with drugs. It is the last example which I wish to underline.
Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: If there is a skirmish, I should like to join it. Like the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, I have many reservations about the Bill. I expressed them initially in the debate on the gracious Speech and again on the Second Reading of the Bill when I said that I had a nagging feeling that this was not a good Bill. That remains my view. Although I remain, as I was then, an agnostic, and for that reason I wish to participate in any attempt to improve the Bill, I have a feeling that time will show that we have made a mistake and the Bill will be used to intrude into areas of national life which at present are not contemplated.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh: having once agreed to the Second Reading of the Bill, it is extremely difficult to amend it to take account of the anxieties which I believe are felt on all sides of the Committee. The attempt to make this amendment is a measure of the difficulties which may follow thereafter.
I was interested in what the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said about the role of MI5 in combating benefit fraud. I understand--although this is outside the area of my knowledge and competence--that such frauds are sometimes organised on a large scale. Certainly within the provisions of the Bill I have no objection at all to the Security Service playing its part in that. But can we be sure that that role will not be extended from organised crime and benefit fraud on a national scale to casual or occasional frauds which may be committed? Once the door has been opened, it will be very easy for it to be opened much wider.
Lord Gridley: Having listened to some of the arguments that have been made there remains a puzzle in my mind as to how one will reconcile the information the secret services need, or the way they work, with the functions that one wishes the police to carry out. We must consider most seriously other ways of proceeding. The secret service picks up information and passes it on to the police. The police may have an operation in mind which should not be disclosed. It is not desirable to limit in any way the functions of the police.
Baroness Blatch: The effect of the amendment would be to apply a definition of serious crime to all aspects of the Security Service's work in support of the activities of the law enforcement agencies in the prevention and detection of serious crime. I can see why this may appear attractive but I hope that, on reflection, the Committee will appreciate some of the drawbacks. Indeed those were spoken to eloquently by my noble friend Lord Renton with whose words I agree.
Crime does not always come in nice neat packages clearly labelled "serious" or "not serious". That is particularly true of the kind of work the Security Service will be doing. With its particular skills and experience, the service will be most effective gathering intelligence and infiltrating organised crime groups, who may extend tentacles into a wide range of activities. The very nature of the work means that the service will not always know what it is dealing with, particularly in the exploratory stages. Inevitably, some leads will turn out to be blind alleys and criminal organisations may find novel forms of criminal activity which were on the margins of a rigidly defined serious crime. There is a need for a degree of flexibility--as my noble friend Lord Renton said--and common sense in determining what lies within the function, without transgressing on inappropriate areas of inquiry.
We must avoid a situation where the Security Service is prevented from becoming involved in a case until there is certainty that it meets the requirements of a rigid definition of serious crime. That would hamper the service's effectiveness and create endless opportunities for unscrupulous defence lawyers to challenge the legitimacy of the Security Service's involvement on technical grounds. It is much better that the Security Service should initially have a degree of freedom to develop investigations but, at the point when the service wishes to employ intrusive investigative techniques, such as the entry on, or interference with, property or the interception of communications, it should be required to demonstrate that it is involved in combating serious crime as one of the controls over the issue of warrants. That is why the definition of serious crime in Clause 2, is restricted to the issue of property warrants following the precedent of the Interception of Communications Act 1985.
That is not to say that the Security Service will end up dealing with trivial cases. Indeed, Ministers have given repeated assurances that, in practice, the service is to be tasked with the investigation of organised crime, as it is commonly understood. This means that the service's principal targets under its new function will be drug traffickers, money launderers and racketeers.
Furthermore, it is clearly sensible to devote the limited resources which the Security Service will be able to devote to its new function to those areas where it can make the greatest contribution. This means the acquisition of intelligence on complex criminal organisations. The co-ordination arrangements between the law enforcement agencies and the Security Service are designed to ensure that this happens.
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, referred to the definition as large numbers of persons in pursuit of a common purpose. The noble Lord said that the conduct does not have to be illegal. However, I refer him to new subsection (3B) of Clause 2 which states:
This Bill is one component of a package of measures designed to ensure that our law enforcement agencies can benefit from all the support, skills and structures they need to tackle organised crime effectively. The amendment would undermine the effectiveness of the Security Service's contribution to that effort. It would do so unnecessarily as there are alternative safeguards in place to ensure that the Security Service does not get involved in inappropriate areas. I hope, with that explanation, the noble Lord will not press the amendment.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page