§ 3.8 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch)
My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
The Bill which is before the House today is the first part of a comprehensive package of measures for tackling organised crime. The purpose of the Bill is to allow the skills and expertise of the Security Service to be used in support of the police and other law enforcement agencies in the prevention and detection of serious crime.
I am sure that all Members of your Lordships' House will share the Government's concern about the threat posed by serious and organised crime. Seldom does a week go by without some story in the media about the suffering and violence that result from drug trafficking, whether it is the tragic death of some young victim or the recent spate of shootings in the Liverpool area linked to conflicts between rival drug gangs. Another important area of concern is economic crime, and in the past couple of weeks, we have read about Russian organised crime syndicates laundering millions of pounds through the London stock market.
The recent report of the Home Affairs Committee in another place on the subject of organised crime described it as,a cause for serious concern".395 The report acknowledged that the level of such crime is lower in this country than some—for which grateful thanks must go to the existing efforts of our various law enforcement agencies—but concluded that,the Government and the police will need to take effective pre-emptive measures if an irretrievable expansion of organised crime in this country is to be avoided".Part of the problem here is the changing nature of serious crime. Gone are the days when St. George could slay the dragon and solve his serious crime problem with a single, well-aimed blow. Serious crime is now a hydra—a monster with many heads—money laundering, trafficking in drugs, people and indeed anything that will generate profits on a sufficient scale. To combat it, the law enforcement response must involve a variety of agencies with a range of weapons in their armoury.
Increasingly, organised crime is being perpetrated by sophisticated organisations. Their activities cross national boundaries and are diversified into a complicated mixture of illegal and legal enterprises. As a result, the skills of intelligence gathering and analysis are becoming more and more valuable as the law enforcement agencies seek to dismantle entire organisations rather than responding to individual activities. The police and Customs are having considerable success and I should like to pay tribute to their efforts, but we must ensure they have all the necessary support at their disposal.
The Intelligence Services Act 1994 enabled both the Secret Intelligence Service and GCHQ to lend their support to the law enforcement agencies in the prevention and detection of serious crime. This is already proving useful in relation to gathering intelligence about overseas activities. Now the time has come to bring the Security Service's skills—in the collection, analysis and exploitation of intelligence—to bear in this country, not because of any deficiencies in the police service or Customs and Excise but because it makes sense to take full advantage of the Security Service's expertise, honed over many years of protecting the nation's security against a range of threats.
In a recent debate in your Lordships' House, initiated by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy, there was a useful discussion of the evolving roles of the security and intelligence agencies. The debate was marked by a number of authoritative contributions reflecting the wealth of knowledge and experience in your Lordships' House. I am confident that our discussion of this Bill will benefit in similar fashion. Two useful messages that emerged from that debate were the importance, on the one hand, of the agencies proving adaptable to the demands of a changing world; and, on the other hand, of not losing sight of existing threats and priorities. I endorse both messages. This Bill represents a sensible evolution of the role of the Security Service, offering us the option of using the service's skills in a new area where those skills will be beneficial. At the same time, I give your Lordships a categorical assurance that the Security Service will continue to pursue its existing responsibilities with the utmost vigour and vigilance.
396 The functions of the Security Service are set down in the Security Service Act 1989. At present these are limited to the protection of national security and safeguarding the economic well-being of the nation against threats from abroad. This Bill will add a new function relating to serious crime. However, countering terrorism will remain its top priority and, sadly, we have had recent reminders of the importance of that task as the Provisional IRA has resumed its shameful bombing campaign. As a result, the initial allocation of resources to the new function will be small.
In the future, the allocation of resources will depend on the demands facing the service across its other functions. Nevertheless we believe that it is an important principle that the Security Service's statutory remit should not prevent it from lending its support to the police in appropriate circumstances. Such a restriction cannot be right and we now have an opportunity to remedy it. This will enable Parliament to send a powerful signal that we intend to crack down on organised crime with all the means at our disposal; a signal which is to be followed by a comprehensive package of further measures.
My right honourable friend the Prime Minister first announced details of the organised crime package in October of last year. Some of your Lordships will have followed the evolution of those initial proposals which has taken place since then but, with your indulgence, I should like to recap. The package consists of a series of interlinked measures, designed to improve the capability of our law enforcement agencies to deal firmly and effectively with organised crime, both now and in the future. More specifically, the package aims to develop the co-ordination between law enforcement agencies and to improve our capability to gather and exploit intelligence. The Security Service Bill, which is before us today, will support both of those objectives.
As a next step, we will set up a national crime squad, building on the work of the regional crime squads; we will develop further the role of the National Criminal Intelligence Service; and we will put police intrusive surveillance operations on a statutory footing. There have already been organisational changes in the Home Office designed to improve the focus and effectiveness of support to the agencies fighting organised and international crime. The proposed national crime squad will ensure that the policing response to organised crime has an effective national tier. This reflects the changing nature of organised crime as it becomes an increasingly national and international phenomenon. No longer is this type of crime geographically localised, in the way that the gangland crime of East London used to be, but there are criminal groups capable of carrying out their activities across the country. With developments in travel and communications, crime has become more mobile, both within the United Kingdom and internationally. We have all read about the threat posed by the activities in this country of Chinese Triads and Jamaican "Yardies". The reporting is sometimes lurid and exaggerated; but the wide-ranging threat is very real. We must ensure that the police are equipped to deal effectively with threats that go beyond the local and regional level.
397 The regional crime squads have played an important and successful role in combating crime which crosses force boundaries but the present structure imposes a number of constraints. The squads are based on voluntary collaborative agreements and the national co-ordinator has no executive power. The new body will reinforce and develop the existing structure and bring it up to date. In doing this, it will not neglect close links with local police forces. The primary focus for policing in the United Kingdom will remain a local one. Similarly, the new squad will not disturb the tripartite relationship which underpins our policing. We are not proposing a British FBI. What will change is for the first time we will have an operational policing organisation which is able to offer a national response. Discussions with the Association of Chief Police Officers and other interested parties over the detail of the new body are proceeding well. We intend to introduce early legislation to put this into effect.
I should stress at this point that "national" in this context means England and Wales. Scotland already has its Scottish Crime Squad, and of course the Royal Ulster Constabulary is Province-wide. Clearly it will be an important requirement for the new body in England and Wales to develop close contacts with its counterparts in Scotland and Northern Ireland, which underlines the importance of co-ordination.
This brings me to the development of the National Criminal Intelligence Service, or NCIS as it is known. NCIS was set up in 1992 to gather and assimilate intelligence on serious crime from law enforcement agencies in this country and from overseas agencies, for whom it acts as a focal point for contact. It has already made a useful contribution since then, establishing itself as one of the key components in the fight against serious crime. But it can be made more effective. We intend to give it a clearer statutory footing, independent from the Home Office, and greater freedom to manage its own affairs and develop its contribution. Again, we are developing detailed proposals in consultation with interested parties and hope to legislate as soon as possible.
The third area in which the Home Secretary has given a commitment to early legislation is intrusive surveillance operations carried out by the police. This is an issue which, your Lordships may have noted, has been the subject of considerable press comment in recent weeks. At present, such operations are authorised by chief officers in accordance with Home Office guidelines. The circumstances in which such authorisations can he given are tightly controlled and there has been no evidence of abuse. However, there has been concern for some time, from the police and others, that such operations should be governed by statute. The issue has been brought into relief by the present Bill because the exercise of equivalent powers by the intelligence agencies is already subject to statutory authority and safeguards.
I shall come on to the relevant provisions of the Bill shortly but let me emphasise now that the Government accept that intrusive activity of this nature should be governed by statute. This will provide the necessary protection for the public and, importantly, for officers 398 carrying out these functions. But we are still considering what form the statutory basis should take. This is an important and complex area and we do not want to legislate rashly or improvidently. We have no wish to undermine the police's use of surveillance technology which plays a key role in the response to serious and organised crime. We will bring forward legislation when we are ready. It is not something that can be addressed in this Bill, which is a discrete measure relating only to the functions of the Security Service.
I hope that your Lordships will permit me to outline briefly how we have arrived at the Bill, as a preface to explaining its provisions in detail. The Government established an inter-departmental/inter-agency working party last year to consider how the Security Service might contribute to work against organised crime. Its report included a set of five principles that should govern the Security Service's work in this field. Those principles represent the basis of the Bill and will, I believe, usefully inform our discussion. I shall list them. First, primacy of responsibility for countering organised crime lies and should remain with the law enforcement agencies. Secondly, the Security Service should be tasked through NCIS and relevant co-ordinating groups and act in support of NCIS, chief officers of police, regional crime squads and Customs and Excise. Thirdly, the Security Service's contribution should be co-ordinated through NCIS and existing structures. The service should not operate independently. Fourthly, the Security Service should be able to draw on its full range of skills, capabilities and expertise. Fifthly, the costs of the Security Service's involvement should be borne by the Security Service.
There was widespread support for these underlying principles in another place, and I hope that your Lordships' will be just as responsive.
Clause 1 of the Bill introduces the Security Service's new function and provides some qualification of how it will work in practice. It amends the Security Service Act 1989 which, as I said earlier, presently restricts the Security Service's functions to the protection of national security and safeguarding the economic well-being of the United Kingdom against threats from abroad.
The new function is,to act in support of the activities of police forces and other law enforcement agencies in the prevention and detection of serious crime".This makes it absolutely clear that the Security Service's role is to be a supporting one and reflects fully the principle that the police and other law enforcement agencies will retain the primary responsibility.
The only other point I should like to make on the wording of the new function relates to the use of the term "serious crime", when I have already spoken in some detail about the threat from "organised crime" and the Government's strategy for tackling "organised crime". There are simple and practical reasons for this. Firstly, there is no statutory definition of "organised crime". Nor is there even a widely agreed definition in common use. I am sure that we could spend many hours trying to construct a definition but that would, 1 fear, distract us from our task.
399 Secondly, work of the kind undertaken by the Security Service is frequently exploratory in character. In the early stages of an investigation into the links between pockets of criminal activity it will not be possible to be certain that they are all manifestations of organised crime. We must strive to avoid creating loopholes that could be exploited by unscrupulous defence lawyers to challenge the legality of the Security Service's involvement in a case. It is more appropriate, in legal terms, for the function to be expressed in terms of the gravity of the crime rather than its level of organisation.
Nevertheless, it is the Government's firm intention, which I am happy to restate for your Lordships' benefit, that the Security Service should be deployed against organised crime, as it is commonly understood. It is the drug traffickers, the money launderers and the racketeers who are to become the Security Service's new targets.
The rest of Clause 1 offers a further safeguard on the Security Service's new role. To ensure that the service does not act independently, the Bill creates a new duty for the Director General of the Security Service to agree co-ordination arrangements with a person designated by the Secretary of State. Subsection (3) stipulates that this person must be, or have been, a chief officer of police and the Home Secretary has made it clear in another place that he will be designating the Director General of NCIS for this role. This reflects the pivotal role which NCIS is to play in the co-ordination of the efforts of different agencies and, specifically, the use of intelligence. It also builds on the underlying principles that the tasking and co-ordination of the Security Service's contribution will be through NCIS.
These arrangements should not be administratively burdensome, nor should they hinder operational effectiveness. Our intention is that they should represent an agreement between the principal agencies on how the Security Service's contribution is to be integrated with existing efforts. This will provide a proper focusing of effort and ensure that the Security Service's operations remain visible to NCIS.
Clause 2 of the Bill reflects another of the underlying principles. If the Security Service's support is to be fully effective, we must ensure that the service is able to draw on all of its skills and capabilities. Accordingly, Clause 2 enables the Security Service to apply for warrants authorising entry on, or interference with, property in the United Kingdom in pursuance of its new function.
The capability to conduct intrusive surveillance operations is an essential weapon in the armoury of the Security Service. This power has been available to the service in respect of its existing functions since the passage in 1989 of the Security Service Act. The present Bill merely ensures that the power is available under the new function.
With regard to the Security Service and the other intelligence agencies, the issue of these "property warrants" is surrounded by a series of statutory safeguards. All warrants require the personal authorisation of the Secretary of State. All such warrants are subject to scrutiny from the independent 400 commissioner appointed under the 1989 Act. And any complaints submitted to the Security Service Tribunal which relate to alleged interference with property are referred to the commissioner for investigation.
All these safeguards will continue to apply to warrants issued in respect of the Security Service's new function, and there is a further test. Warrant applications will also have to satisfy a definition of serious crime, which focuses on characteristics such as the involvement of violence or substantial financial gain. The definition is the same as the one which has been used effectively to govern the issue of warrants under the Interception of Communications Act 1985. A definition has been introduced here, when there is not one in Clause 1, because applications for property warrants are only likely to come at a more advanced stage when it is reasonable to expect there to be tangible evidence of serious criminal conduct. I believe that this represents a formidable set of safeguards, and rightly so, given the intrusive nature of the power.
With regard to the police, as I mentioned, we have acknowledged that there ought to be an equivalent statutory basis for the exercise of equivalent powers. In the meantime that is no reason for denying the Security Service the opportunity to use its powers when there are all the accompanying safeguards.
Clause 3 extends the Bill to Northern Ireland. The Security Service operates throughout the United Kingdom in its existing functions and it is only right that the same should be true for its serious crime remit. After all, organised crime is UK-wide.
Of course, there are legislative and organisational differences in Scotland and Northern Ireland. This means that co-operation with the Scottish police and the RUC will be essential for the Security Service to be effective. Although NCIS is to play a central role in relation to tasking and co-ordinating the Security Service's contribution, this will in no way preclude or replace effective bilateral liaison with other agencies, including Customs, the Scottish police and the RUC. As I said at the outset, we must ensure that the differing skills and capabilities of a wide range of agencies are effectively harnessed if we are to tackle organised crime.
I am sure that we will all be united in our condemnation of the drug traffickers and their like who cause so much pain and suffering to the victims of their squalid pursuit of profits. This small but significant Bill reflects the Government's firm resolve to combat the menace of organised crime with all the skills and resources at our disposal.
Allowing the Security Service into the fray in support of the law enforcement agencies will not eliminate organised crime but it is one more piece in the jigsaw of an effective and focused response. The new national crime squad and the development of NCIS will be two more pieces. This Bill promises to bring valuable extra skills to support the sterling efforts of our law enforcement agencies. It does so without compromising the safeguards and systems of accountability which the Government have introduced via the Security Service Act and the Intelligence Services Act. The Bill attracted 401 all-party support in another place and I am confident that your Lordships will approach it in a similarly constructive manner. I commend the Bill to the House.
Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Baroness Hilton of Eggardon
My Lords, I welcome what the Minister said about plans for future legislation on the setting up of a national crime squad which was always envisaged when NCIS was set up in 1979. I remember it well because the service took over a whole floor of Scotland Yard and threw out all our plans for relocation of offices. I also welcome the plans for the use of surveillance technology to be put upon a statutory basis; but, as I understand it, those plans are for next year's legislation and not what we are concerned with today. I have reservations about the Bill before us. My qualifications for speaking about it are not only my 34 years in the Police Service, but also that my father was in another branch of the security services for nearly 30 years—MI6, not MI5.
Any additional resources for the Police Service, particularly in relation to organised crime, drug trafficking and money laundering, when it is on an international scale, are clearly welcome. However, I have reservations about the method of providing the Police Service with additional resources. I also have reservations about the definition of "serious crime". The support of the security services as an intelligence-gathering background to police work is clearly welcome. But the drift into operational support concerns me, as does the unclear nature of the definition of "serious crime". Although I accept what the Minister said and her assurances that it is meant to apply to drug traffickers and serious money laundering cases, that is not what the Bill before us says.
We live theoretically in a democratic society, which protects us against the arbitrary use of powers by the state. Part of that protection should be to protect freedom of speech and the inviolacy of our homes. Those are important rights. To some extent, we voluntarily give them up when we are dealing with such matters as the security of the state, terrorism, acts of treason, and so on. But in relation to other rights that we have to speak freely in our own homes, to use telephones freely, not to have bugs planted in our homes and not to be burgled, it is important that the relinquishing of those important freedoms is hedged about with clear accountability and openness, particularly when things go wrong. The Minister dwelt on the application for warrants. My concern is not so much about the systems that apply to applications for warrants but what happens when things go wrong.
MI5 does not have a system of clear accountability. Of necessity, it is a secret organisation; its budget is secret; its numbers and resources are secret. It is accorded special privileges by the courts: for example, its internal paperwork is protected from disclosure; and its members can be given anonymity as witnesses. So its proceedings are not open. It has no public complaints system, and I shall return to that point in more detail in a moment.
402 Any other organisation that apparently had spare capacity—presumably due to the end of the Cold War and the hoped for reduction in IRA activity—would be subjected to market testing and required to justify its expenditure and current staffing. The fact that that does not happen is due partly to the protective pall of secrecy that is thrown over the organisation, but also, I suspect, to the remaining influence of old school ties in the corridors of power.
The Bill will extend the role of the security services to allow them to actin the prevention and detection of serious crime".The definition of "serious crime" is drawn so widely in the Bill that it includes any offence subject to over three years' imprisonment and so could include street robbery and wounding with intent.
The Police Service is subject to an elaborate open complaints system which is already often widely criticised for being insufficiently independent and accountable. The Police Complaints Authority, however, would have no powers to investigate MI5 officers, even when they are involved in a joint operation with police. The Police Complaints Authority publishes its findings and its investigations have often resulted in many police officers going to court and being dismissed from the Police Service. In contrast, the Security Services Tribunal works in secret and has dismissed all complaints made against MI5 officers since it was set up in 1989.
If there is a joint operation between MI5 and the Police Service which goes wrong, if the wrong house is entered, if an innocent person's telephone is bugged, how will the complaint be investigated? Is it equitable that the police officers will be subjected to a higher level of investigation and that their jobs alone will be at risk? How will the interests of the public be protected in this dual secretive and unsatisfactory system?
There are no special skills or techniques in MI5 which are not available to the Police Service. If there are spare resources in the security services, then they should be transferred to the Police Service. To blur the distinction between the separate arms of the state is, I believe, dangerous and threatens the structure of our democracy which is often more frail than it may appear.
§ 3.36 p.m.
§ Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, made a significant and important speech. I agree with much of it and at least sympathise with her overall tone. On the third day of the debate on the Address on 20th November last, I said (at col. 148 of Hansard) that I was a little uneasy about the Bill then foreshadowed which is before us today. I went on:We are all in favour of more resources for the police and we are all concerned about the growth of organised crime. However, if the Security Service really has spare capacity, surely some contraction and a straight transfer of resources to the police would serve the purpose better. There are dangers in an alliance between two competitive forces with a different culture and accustomed to different tasks".403 There followed in that debate a notable speech by the noble Lord, Lord Cuckney. I am sorry that the noble Lord is not with us today. He spoke from his great experience of the Security Service. I have knowledge of it, and I respect him for the views he expressed. However, although I listened carefully to him, as I did to the Minister today, I confess that I have a residual anxiety about the Bill. The Minister helpfully circulated notes in advance of today's debate for which I thank her, and she largely spoke to them. I still have a nagging feeling that this is not a good Bill and that in time, if we are not careful, we may come to regret it.
There is an obliging symmetry about the thought that we need new resources to help fight organised crime—we all agree with that, as the Minister rightly said—and that the Security Service has some spare capacity, though perhaps less obviously now than in November when we debated the gracious Speech. However, my instinct tells me to be wary, especially about where we may be going, whatever is said today, and the direction we take, as well as the possibility that by barely detected incremental stages we will find that the Security Service has moved into inappropriate areas of our lives.
In her opening remarks, the noble Baroness referred in passing to recent violent crime in Liverpool which we all deplore. I wonder whether that indicates a move towards the use of the Security Service. If so, it goes beyond what I understood to be its limited role, as described in the gracious Speech and set out by Ministers in another place. Certainly if that were to happen and if we found that by incremental stages the Security Service had a bigger role than that now anticipated for it, there could be unacceptable infringements of civil liberties. The Minister did not refer to a joint opinion, in relation to the Bill, dated 10th May, prepared for Liberty by two distinguished barristers. I shall return to that matter; it certainly gives me pause. Whatever has been said, there may be still dangers to civil liberties under the Bill as drafted despite improvements made in another place.
Apart from the issue of civil liberties, there is the possibility, which I believe the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, had in mind, that incompatibility may be revealed between the police force and other law enforcement agencies, whether in style or culture. Those are very important considerations in services with a long tradition. There may even be incompatibility of equipment which, far from strengthening the fight against crime, might undermine the effectiveness of what the police are already doing.
I recognise, as the Minister reminded us, that the Bill enjoyed all-party support in another place. I am sure that the principles she set out as underlying the Bill command the support of all of us. However, I remain an agnostic in relation to the Bill. I do not believe that at this stage the case for it is proven.
Like most agnostics, I should like to believe. It may well be that I shall have faith in the Government's proposals before the Bill leaves this House. I also recognise that it has been substantially improved in another place by the Government proposing their own 404 amendments which were widely accepted. However, I hope the Minister will understand my anxieties, even though she does not share them. I shall do nothing to impede the progress of the Bill. I hope, however, that we shall scrutinise it very carefully in Committee.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, referred to the complaints procedures. I could see no reference to those in the Minister's briefing notes, and the Minister did not refer to them today. I hope that in her concluding remarks she will comment on any possible problems in relation to the Police Complaints Authority dealing with complaints appropriate to the police, and separate, or in-parallel, complaints having to be made to the Security Service tribunal which, if I am not wrong, would be responsible for dealing with any complaints against that service. A person whose complaint may be entirely legitimate could find himself or herself much confused as to which authority to approach.
Many noble Lords will have seen two very interesting feature articles in The Times last week. On 6th May there was an article headed:Spies in quandary over legal niceties".It said:The involvement of M15 in tackling organised crime will lead to legal dilemmas because of the paramount concern of the Security Service to protect its sources and operational methods. Senior M15 officers admit they might have to restrict their inquiries because of the likelihood that intelligence officers will be required to disclose their activities in court as evidence".I should be grateful if the Minister could comment on that point. It is an important one.
The other side of the coin was described in another article in The Times the following day, 7th May. It said:Criminal trials will be at increasing risk of being held in camera or under the cloak of anonymity when the Security Service Bill becomes law".Again, I should like the Minister to comment. These matters were not adequately examined in another place: they should give us pause in considering the Bill in Committee and on Report.
I shall not seek to set out some of the very important issues raised in the joint opinion to which I referred. I shall not press the Minister to deal in detail today with the content of the opinion. However, I hope that before the Committee stage, she will look at the joint opinion and, if she thinks fit, reply in writing to Members who have shown an interest today.
I quote briefly from the opinion:The Bill currently contains no indication, restriction or limitation about how it is proposed that the Security Services should 'act in support of the police forces and other law enforcement agencies in the prevention and detection of … crime'".The opinion continues with a reference to the very important safeguards that apply to our police forces in criminal investigations. It states:These procedural and substantive safeguards will be undermined if the Security Services are empowered to engage in crime prevention and detection without being subject, when engaging on policing support operations, to the same regime as applies to police actions".Those are important comments; they require a reply.
405 I heard what the Minister said in respect of organised crime. If we find it easy to use those words in the course of this Second Reading debate, it is because they are the words used by the Prime Minister in trailing this legislation. I agree that if the legislation is as important as the Minister states, it ought not to be delayed for definitions. At the same time, in referring earlier to the incremental danger I had in mind the possibility that although the Security Service would start by dealing with organised crime as we understand it, it would, in an intangible way, despite the undertakings given today, begin treading in areas which at the present time are not intended.
There are awkward questions of accountability. The Security Service, in pursuit of serious crime (if that is the way we are to describe it) will be responsible to the Home Secretary through the Director General of the Security Service. The police forces will have a different route. Surely this is a formula for conflict and misunderstanding. Again, if the Minister has a reply to that point, I should be very glad to hear it.
We are all deeply concerned about the growth and impact of serious, especially organised, crime. I agree with a remark made by the Home Secretary—with whose remarks I do not always agree—that it could be a threat to the fabric of society. All of us who have served in government cannot doubt the important and necessary role played by the Security Service. Despite my reservations, I hope that the Bill will succeed in its purpose. However, I am not at present satisfied that all legitimate objections to it have been adequately answered.
§ 3.49 p.m.
§ Lord Allen of Abbeydale
My Lords, it is almost three months since this Bill received a First Reading. That suggests that it hardly tops the list of the Government's priorities. I note with interest the suggestion that emerged from the Minister's interesting opening remarks that changing circumstances may mean that M15 does not now have all that much spare capacity left over from its normal pursuits.
Be that as it may, perhaps I may begin on a personal note. In my career I have had a rather special opportunity of experiencing what is involved in the issuing of warrants and certain other activities. I have also had a more general opportunity of observing the work both of the police and of M15. I believe that this country can be proud of both services. I also accept that all possible resources should be used against organised crime when problems of drugs, money laundering, racketeering and the use of violence are on such a scale. Therefore, I approach this short Bill with perhaps a rather stronger bias in its favour than seems to have been managed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton of Eggardon and the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank.
However, there are aspects of the Bill which cause me concern and some puzzlement. Some of them have been explained very clearly already. I need touch on them only quite lightly.
Clause 1, as has been explained, adds to the functions of MI5 under the parent Act. We are given to understand that it is indeed aimed at organised crime. That is what 406 the Minister said in her opening sentence this afternoon. But as others pointed out, the clause does not say so. I suppose that we all know what we mean by organised crime, but it is not a phrase known to the statute book. The Minister explained that it would be difficult to draft a definition and I can well believe that. But I am bound to emphasise the point that "serious crime" is not defined in the clause.
There is indeed a definition of serious crime in another Act of Parliament and that bobs up in Clause 2. But it does not apply to this clause. We are left with the explanation given by Ministers in this Chamber and in another place that serious crime in that context means what they intend it to mean. What did Humpty Dumpty say?When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less".As to how the legislation is intended to work, an amendment to subsection (2) of the clause which was made in another place makes clear that it will be for MI5 to fit in with the police and not to act on its own initiatives. We are told that in practice the Director General of the NCIS (the National Criminal Intelligence Service) will be in the driving seat. But that part of the police organisation, as the Minister pointed out, has no statutory backing. So the Bill has to resort to the formula of:a person designated by the Secretary of State",who must be a chief officer of police. All that is to be put right by later legislation.
When we reach Clause 2, the matter becomes a little more serious. That is the clause which authorises MI5, when covered by a warrant from the Secretary of State, to enter property—in practice, to search, install cameras and plant bugs. We know full well that the police already do that and that there are safeguards against abuse. But, as the Minister pointed out, the police do it without a warrant from the Secretary of State, who has no power to issue one.
In that rather shadowy area, where one day there may be a ruling from the courts, possibly of a rather uncomfortable nature, the police naturally fear that MI5 may simply take over, as under the clause it alone will be able to point to a statutory authority if things go wrong. Again, we are told that that lack of specific police power will be put right in legislation, although, as the Minister explained, just how to provide for it may not be quite so simple as at first sight it may seem.
Clause 2, unlike Clause 1, does spell out the kind of crime for which a warrant may be issued. It avoids the use of the phrase "serious crime", but borrows verbatim the provision in the Interception of Communications Act 1985, stating the conduct that is to be regarded as serious crime for the purposes of that Act. Paragraphs (a) and (b) toward the end of the clause reproduce precisely the wording of the 1985 Act. It leaps to the eye that those paragraphs go a good deal wider than the commonly accepted view of what constitutes organised crime, which, after all, is what the Bill is supposed to be aimed at. For example, in paragraph (a):conduct by a large number of persons in pursuit of a common purpose,407 could cover the protesters against the Newbury bypass. Paragraph (b) could apply to a serious mugger or a burglar.
All that means that property warrants could be lawfully issued under the Bill for purposes falling a good deal short of those at which the Bill is supposed to be aimed. I read with some care the explanation given at Committee stage in another place of how that all comes about, but I am sorry to say that I found it rather beyond me. I feel that the explanation given by the Minister today is a little clearer but I am not sure that I have taken it all in. Certainly, I should like to study it when Hansard is available.
I suppose that MI5's main contribution is likely to be found in analysis, surveillance and infiltration. I note that the Bill does not give it the police powers of arrest. But is there not some likelihood in practice of its getting involved with the rules for gathering evidence for a criminal prosecution, rules which are becoming increasingly complicated and of which it has no direct practical experience? Let me take a point raised earlier. If it comes to giving evidence, is there any reason to suppose that the courts will allow it the same protection of anonymity and secrecy about surveillance methods, which in practice is allowed in cases involving national security? That again was a point taken by the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton.
What happens if, say, during an investigation an accused person alleges that drugs were planted on him? If the complaint lies against a police office, the Police Complaints Authority will, if necessary, bring in officers from another force to conduct an inquiry. But if it turns out that the individual complained of is an MI5 officer, the police inquiry will come to a full stop. Instead, a totally different procedure will apply, which, among other things, is designed to safeguard the anonymity of the individual officer. The complaint has to go to the Security Service Commissioner and his tribunal. It may or may not encourage the complainant to know that the first 187 complaints made over the past five years resulted in a success count of nought. It looks as though there may be some problems in running side-by-side those two separate procedures.
I should like to end with this thought. Those two services have quite different backgrounds and quite different cultures. There will be inherent difficulties in their working together, difficulties which must be overcome. But that is not made any easier by the fact that the MI5 activities, especially the property warrants, will be covered by statute, whereas the police side, particularly the role of the NCIS and the planting of bugs, has to wait for another Bill. The longer the wait, the more awkward it will become. We are told that it is hoped to bring forward a Bill in the autumn. But can we be sure? We have also heard of proposals for a Home Office Bill on national identity cards; for a second Bill on the control of guns; for a third dealing with stalkers, assuming the Bill introduced yesterday does not find its way onto the statute book. There is talk of a fourth, a major Bill on sentencing powers, and legislation filling the gaps in this Bill would make a fifth.
408 I wonder how big a share of the programme in the Queen's Speech for a short Session will be allocated to one department. We know that there are other claimants who speak confidently of having a place in the Queen's Speech. In the past individual Ministers could not do that, but that seems to have gone by the board. Anyway, can we be certain that there will be another Session?
§ 4 p.m.
§ Lord Blaker
My Lords, I speak as the only Member of your Lordships' House on the Intelligence and Security Committee. I took over from my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon, who resigned from the committee in March having given it valuable service with all his experience as a Foreign Secretary. As your Lordships know, the committee's remit is to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the Security Service, the Intelligence Service and GCHQ. It is of course an all-party committee. I do not speak for the committee; I speak only for myself.
What has struck me in the few weeks that I have been a member is the energy and commitment with which the committee carries out its task. It meets often and already three of its reports have been published, all of them relevant to this Bill. An interim report was published in May 1995 concerning the way in which it was tackling and proposed to tackle its task; a report was published on the Security Service and organised crime, which is directly relevant to this Bill; and then its first annual report was published in March 1996, which also contains much which is relevant to the Bill.
In its first report the committee identified as one of the major issues on which it proposed to focus, in the post-Cold War age, the agencies' work with the police and other enforcement bodies in the UK and their relationship with the civil community. In its report on the Security Service and organised crime, which was submitted before this Bill was published, the committee agreed that the Security Service can bring a distinct package of skills to the problem of organised crime in the form of intelligence acquisition, processing, assessment and exploitation. It observed that the approach of the Security Service would be characterised by long-term investigation and analysis aimed at gaining a strategic advantage over organised crime targets. The committee endorsed the principles which the Government announced as guiding the Security Service contribution.
In the same report the committee made two points about the proposed legislation—that is, this Bill—both related to the importance of the primacy of the police and other law enforcement agencies in the fight against organised crime and to the relationship between those bodies and the Security Service. I am glad to say that both points were reflected in the amendments to the Bill which, as has already been said, were tabled by the Government in another place and now form part of the Bill.
In the other place there was all-party support for the principle of the Bill. I want to mention three subjects which are important as we consider the Bill and which it will be valuable to keep in mind as we watch how the arrangements work in practice once the Bill becomes law. 409 The first is accountability, which was referred to in a number of speeches this afternoon. With that topic I bracket the importance of the Security Service doing nothing to feed such fears as there are that it may pay inadequate attention to the freedoms of the ordinary citizen. The noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, referred to that, as did the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank.
The openness which now surrounds the Intelligence and Security Services would have seemed astonishing only a few years ago when the very existence of such services was hardly mentioned. It is remarkable how well the services have adapted to the change. The Security Service is of course accountable to the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister, and through them to Parliament. It is overseen by a commissioner and a tribunal which can hear complaints. All warrants for entry on or interference with property or with wireless telegraphy require the approval of the Secretary of State. The expenditure, administration and policy of the service will be overseen by the Intelligence and Security Committee and either House of Parliament can debate the subject of the Intelligence and Security Services at any time—as your Lordships chose to do only a few weeks ago. The question of accountability is one of the topics that the committee will want to keep under review.
The second subject that we should watch is the relationship between the Security Service, the police and other enforcement agencies as the work of the Security Service on serious and organised crime develops. Recently there were some newspaper reports which suggested that there is an unsatisfactory rivalry between the Security Service and the police. I do not take those reports as being well founded, but it remains important that the relations between the different services should be those of practical and close co-operation. The matter is too important to allow "turf wars". I believe that the Bill as it stands, with the two amendments to Clause 1 tabled by the Government, should give the best possible framework for co-operation.
Clause 1(1) makes it clear that the Security Service is,to act in support of the activities of police forces and other law enforcement agencies".That is pretty tight wording. The rest of the clause provides arrangements which should make for effective co-ordination. But even the best drafted Acts of Parliament will not necessarily work unless there is a will to make them work. I have no doubt that this is the second subject on which the Intelligence and Security Committee will be keeping a close and continuing watch.
The third subject concerns resources. It has been suggested that the reason for this Bill was that the Security Service had, in a sense, run out of things to do. That suggestion, which was never convincing, looks wholly unconvincing today when we have recent evidence that Russian espionage against this country has increased and when the Irish terrorist ceasefire has come to an end.
In its report on the Security Service's work against organised crime, the committee of which I am a member said that it had been suggested to it that with the continuing commitments to work against terrorism, 410 espionage, proliferation and subversion, the resources available against organised crime will at first be relatively small. My noble friend the Minister repeated that today. The committee said that it was possible that at some point in the future decisions may have to be taken to move resources back to work against the traditional national security targets. All the tasks of the Security Service are so important that it is likely that some difficult decisions will have to be taken about the allocation of resources of the service. I believe that noble Lords will welcome the assurance from my noble friend the Minister today that countering terrorism will remain a top priority. I support the Bill.
§ 4.9 p.m.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, I agree with what my noble friend Lord Blaker said, with his valuable recent experience. My experience dates back much further. I do not share the doubts expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, nor those expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, for whom I have had a great respect for many years—I happened to be serving in the Home Office when he was first there, though in a different capacity from him.
On the question of what the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, feared was a take-over of one public body from another, experience shows that that does not happen. Indeed, we are accustomed in our country to minding our own business to a much greater extent than we normally recognise. So far as public departments and bodies of various kinds are concerned, there is much more a tendency to pass the buck than to take over. I really do not think that in the scheme which the Bill will provide we have to fear anything like a take over.
I am glad that my noble friend Lord Blaker referred to accountability. That is to a great extent an answer to the question. It is democratic accountability now. But it is combined with a continued obligation of secrecy where secrecy is necessary. I do not fear any prospect of there being trouble between the police and the Security Service. I think they will rely upon each other for mutual help in a sensible way. However, I feel that the Bill must be regarded to a very great extent as experimental because it is breaking new ground in a way where we do not have previous experience.
There is a strong justification for getting the Security Service to co-operate with our police forces and with Customs and Excise in the way envisaged by the Bill. Serious crime, especially on an international scale, is increasing, but the warlike threat to the world has decreased. I am therefore tempted to quote what the Prime Minister said at the Conservative Party Conference in Blackpool last autumn. He said:It is an age when our children are more likely to be killed by a drug dealer than by an enemy missile".That justifies the kind of change which the Bill envisages.
The Security Service is likely to find its overseas obligations diminished somewhat with the end of the Cold War. It has, however, much experience, especially in tracing terrorists, which could be of great advantage to our police forces. That alone justifies the Bill. But 411 I think there is more to it than that. Although one greatly admires the system built by Scotland Yard over the years, with its fingerprinting, the keeping of massive detailed records of crime and increased co-operation between our local democratically controlled police forces, our police forces do not possess enough international experience to enable them to overcome the increase in international crime. Interpol plays a valuable part, but that is not all and it is not enough. The Security Service could help tremendously with its expertise and its international experience.
Drug trafficking internationally has been mentioned as the worst form of organised serious crime with which we have to contend. I wonder whether I may mention another large-scale international crime in respect of which the Security Service could, I am sure, be of great help. Millions of pounds worth of art treasures and antiquities are stolen all over the world, especially in this country. It is a very profitable traffic. I must say in passing that a non-governmental body, the Art Loss Register, is performing a great service in helping the police and the owners of antiquities and art treasures. I would hope that the Security Service, with its international experience, would do a lot to help to fight that type of crime.
As to the Bill itself, it has the merit of being drafted in a short and simple way. It achieves its purpose without going into too much detail. I find that attractive. But having read again the two quite major pieces of legislation to which it refers—the Security Service Act 1989 and the Intelligence Services Act 1994—I think that sooner or later the Government should consider, in view of the ever changing circumstances, the amalgamation of those two pieces of legislation and of the services to which they refer. Then I would eventually hope to see those two previous important Acts of Parliament consolidated with what this Bill will become, the Security Service Act 1996. Having said all that, I congratulate the Government most warmly on putting forward the Bill.
§ 4.16 p.m.
Lord Campbell of Croy
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her very clear presentation of the purposes of the Bill. She was good enough to recall in her opening speech that I initiated a debate on 13th March, having been successful in the ballot, on the Intelligence and Security Services. On that occasion speakers did not extend their comments expansively on the Security Service because this Bill had already arrived from the other place and we knew that today's debate was coming.
As we consider the possibility of additional roles for the Security Service, we should not overlook its present functions or think them unimportant. The Cold War has ended, but counter-espionage in the United Kingdom and the detection and prevention of terrorism are still very necessary. I support the principle in the Bill to enable the experience and techniques of the Security Service to be applied in helping to suppress serious crime, especially trafficking in drugs. My concerns are 412 how this should be done and how the Security Service can work effectively with the police and other enforcement agencies.
The police and those agencies are responsible for providing the evidence needed for bringing prosecutions. They have years of experience in doing that. In my view, the Security Service should not, where possible, be expected to give evidence in court, though this can be done with special arrangements to guard anonymity.
The role of the Security Service, as I see it, is to detect and provide intelligence that can enable the police to pursue and, if it is clear that criminals are at work, to obtain the proof that is needed. The police or the other enforcement agencies should then be the people who provide evidence in court. I am glad that the Government moved an amendment in the other place adding words which clarify the role of the Security Service; that it would be the function of the Security Service,to act in support of the activities of police forces and other law enforcement agencies".Another reason for restricting the new role was mentioned in The Times of 6th May and by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, today, that the Security Service's sources of intelligence need to be protected. There has always been a dilemma about privacy where MI5 is concerned. What sort of balance should be accepted between the safety of the British public, the security of our country and the degree of intrusion into the privacy of private citizens? Under this Bill there will be an increase in the scope for intrusion, and I accept that as justifiable in view of the evils which the Bill is designed to reduce and prevent.
I have some questions for my noble friend. She may not be able to reply to them all today, but no doubt she will write. There is no definition in the Bill of "law enforcement agencies". Besides the police, I assume that Customs and Excise, the National Criminal Intelligence Service and regional crime squads would be included. I understand that there are six of those crime squads. Are any of them in Scotland where the Secretary of State for Scotland is responsible for the police and not the Home Secretary? My noble friend appeared to confirm that the functions of the NCIS (the National Criminal Intelligence Service) are confined to England and Wales and do not extend to Scotland.
I recognise the reasons for the absence of a definition. One of them may be that the Government are proposing to introduce another Bill in the next Session of Parliament, giving statutory status to the NCIS and creating a national crime squad. I believe that my noble friend confirmed that in her opening speech. Again I ask: will the national crime squad extend to Scotland? If it does not, I plead that the word "national" be not used because it only causes confusion in titles. Confusion has been caused in other fields; for example the national curriculum and the National Rivers Authority, which have no functions or writ in Scotland at all. The effect is simply to muddle the public and the media.
413 It seems strange that another Bill is needed as soon as has been indicated. According to the press, the next Bill will define circumstances in which eavesdropping or photographic devices can be used by the police, so that in future that use will not be a monopoly of the Security Service. I shall be grateful for some indication without pre-empting the contents of the Queen's Speech in the autumn.
That brings me to the highly relevant subject of telephone tapping and distant eavesdropping known as "bugging". Of the two, telephone tapping would seem the less intrusive and offensive. However, its use by government has been regulated and accepted by Parliament while the legality of bugging remains obscure. There is a paradox here. No one should regard a telephone conversation as confidential, if only because of the risk of crossed lines. However, the planting of a concealed listening device, continually transmitting private conversations to a distant operator or recorder, must be a greater intrusion into privacy.
As regards telephone tapping, I remind your Lordships that that has been authorised for both the Security Service and the police for many years under stringent conditions, the legislation now applying being the 1985 Act. The Home Secretary has to sign warrants personally before action in individual cases. In Scotland for the police, it is the Secretary of State for Scotland. When I was Secretary of State for Scotland from 1970 to 1974, I granted warrants only when I was convinced that they were essential in serious cases. I also asked to be kept informed. In at least one episode dangerous criminals were later convicted and heavily sentenced. The evidence in court was not the product of the telephone tapping. The tapping had assisted the police in getting on to the criminals' tracks enabling them to discover what they were plotting, obtaining incriminating evidence and making arrests.
Eavesdropping by bug has not been similarly regulated. Apart from any use by authorities, it is thought that there is considerable use made of bugging by private citizens to obtain commercial or other information of a confidential nature. I presume at present, however, that it is difficult to prove such bugging, when discovered and traced, to be a civil offence. I hope that I have said enough on this subject to indicate that the whole area of electronic eavesdropping seems at present to be outside the legal framework governing privacy.
While supporting this Bill, I predict that if press forecasts are correct about another Bill at the end of this year, that Bill will require very careful drafting and examination on legalising further invasion of privacy by the police, with bugs.
§ 4.26 p.m.
§ Baroness Park of Monmouth
My Lords, I speak with some diffidence in this debate because I am a former member of the SIS and, although I am glad to say that I worked closely with the Security Service, both at home and abroad, I do not speak with authority. At this point I should like to say how helpful I found the notes which, like other noble Lords, I received from my noble friend the Minister: they were extremely helpful.
414 There can be no doubt that the country's social fabric is threatened by the powerful increase in serious, organised crime, particularly drug-related crime, which has taken place in the past few years. It is natural and proper that any and every resource of skill and knowledge available to fight it should be brought into play; the more so because of its international nature and the new dangers in terms of the ease of movement for criminals now posed by open frontiers throughout Europe.
However, I share many of the anxieties expressed by the Intelligence and Security Committee. When I began my remarks I did not know that a representative of that committee would be present, so I apologise if I repeat some things. I share the committee's concern about the implications of the Bill for the central tasks of the Security Service; namely, counter-espionage and, now, counter-terrorism. Of course the new task in this Bill is relevant to the service's duty to maintain the economic well-being of the country against threats from abroad. The service has very great skills in the analysis of intelligence; in long-term penetration of subversive organisations; and in the identification of hostile agents. But the Bill represents a dilution of its resources and a dissipation of its professional effort, as well as the dangers inherent in exposing long-term assets, which concerns me very much.
At this stage I do not propose to pursue the committee's anxieties about accountability, clear lines of responsibility, and major differences in experience and procedures between the service and the various agencies—not only the police at different levels, but also Customs and Excise. Some of those seem to have been usefully and successfully addressed through government amendments at Committee stage in the other place, and there will be opportunity to debate them in this House.
What concerns me is that we are proposing to extend yet further the tasks of a very small service. In the other place (Hansard, 10th January 1996; col. 264) we were told that,The Security Service's total resources are only £150 million a year and the number of staff employed in the general intelligence group is just 340".Hitherto, the Security Service, unlike my own former service, has been self-tasking: under this Bill, and rightly, the tasking in this new area will be done by the National Criminal Intelligence Service, itself intended as an intelligence-gathering service, and by relevant co-ordinating groups. I am not clear—no doubt we shall establish it at Committee stage—how far the tasking requires the provision and analysis of intelligence and how far it requires operational support. The NCIS still has no legal entity, and the amendment to the Bill now reads that it will be the function of the service to act in support of the activity of police forces and other law enforcement agencies in the prevention and detection of crime. That, and the provision of property warrants in support of those activities, suggests that we are talking about a degree of operational support as well as analysis. All that will be without any additional provision in terms of money or resources for the Security Service.
415 My concerns are these: the new proposals, to be judged by everything that was said both in another place and to a lesser extent in the ISC's report, rest on the premise that, as one speaker said:With the collapse of the eastern bloc and communism, and the prolonged peace in Northern Ireland, many skilled people in the Security Service must either be made redundant or be redeployed".—[Official Report, Commons, 10/1/96 col. 265.]I am well aware that the decision to redeploy some of the Security Service's great and valuable skills to fight a major threat to our national well-being was taken for positive reasons and not at all for the reasons suggested. Nevertheless, the events of the past fortnight in Russia, the very real possibility of a communist return to power there, and not least the end of the IRA ceasefire in February this year, after a long period of profitable operational preparation and targeting, must surely give us pause. Neither the KGB, the GRU nor the IRA has gone away—and nor will they do so. If the Security Service is, indeed, to play a part in the fight against serious crime—and in these days of the Russian mafia and the IRA's move into drugs as yet another lucrative source of money to finance its operations it is not impossible that there will be a useful cross-fertilisation—it must have more resources. It must not be required to carry out that new task at the expense of its national responsibility, a central responsibility, of protecting the security of the realm. It could, of course, be argued that it would be better in that case—I believe that this has been suggested today—to give more money to the existing law enforcement agencies which are also seriously undermanned. I have the Customs and Excise in mind because the new measures under the Schengen Agreement have opened doors to criminals right across Europe, but I recognise that the Security Service has very special sophisticated analytical techniques and expertise to offer. Even so, I am concerned at the proliferation of liaison groups, co-ordinating bodies, and international links which seems to be envisaged. It seems a very great pity that in the entirely understandable wish to allow flexibility in approaching a new situation, there seems little prospect of a clear statement on responsibilities, on the hierarchy, who gives the orders and where the buck stops.
The service has always been self-tasking. It is now going to be tasked by several other bodies. That seems to me to be a recipe for confusion, despite the prospect of the appointment of a co-ordinator. I fear that there will be large and high expectations of results which, given the tiny resources that are now likely to be available in the light of a very different and far more serious security situation, are bound to be disappointed. There will be confusion too over oversight, given the number of agencies involved and the different select and other oversight committees, including the Intelligence and Security Committee, and probably confusion over the protection of information from other agencies which could have adverse consequences on liaisons, and not only on those of the Security Service itself.
Not least, as has been said, the service and the police respect each other, but they are very different animals. The elephant is a wise animal; the owl is a wise bird; 416 they are not the same. The report of the Intelligence and Security Committee, issued just before the Second Reading of this Bill in another place, concluded that,the reductions in the Agencies' work on the former Soviet Union … have released resources to work on the newer 'functional' targets such as … serious organised crime",but it also said:it is possible that at some point in the future decisions may have to be taken to move resources back on to work against the 'traditional' national security targets".That time has come—and I contend that there was never any doubt that it would come, both as regards renewed Russian penetration of this country and as regards the IRA, and there is no longer any slack available for other tasks. If the new tasks are to be placed upon the Security Service, it would in my view—I fear that I shall not be popular with my noble friend the Minister in saying this—be absolutely essential to give it additional resources to carry them out. Like good civil servants and like the armed services, members of the service will no doubt be ready to try to do more without commensurate resources. In that case, to use a familiar mantra, the customer will not get value for money. Intelligence officers and agents take a long time to train and develop. We should not put strategic assets at risk for any relatively short-term tactical gain.
I support the Bill in principle, with the reservations I have outlined. I have every hope that it will be possible in Committee and in later legislation to solve at least the procedural problems, but I remain concerned about the central tasks of the Security Service.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Viscount Brookeborough
My Lords, I welcome this short Bill and hesitate to rise to speak after so many eminent speakers. I have decided to speak, however, as a result of my limited experience with the security forces within Northern Ireland. For all the reasons that we have heard, it should be beneficial to have the ability to use the security services as a back-up to the law enforcement agencies, and I am pleased that the Bill will extend to Northern Ireland.
Turning to the Bill, I am interested in the appointment of a co-ordinator in subsections (2) and (3) of Clause 1. There is a requirement in Clause 1(3)—in new subsection (3B)—for the Secretary of State to,designate for the purposes of subsection (2)(c) above a person who is or has been a chief officer of police of a police force in England and Wales, the chief officer of a police force in Scotland or the chief constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary".I notice that the ranks of those from England and Wales who can be appointed as co-ordinator are much wider than the single rank available from Scotland and Northern Ireland. A chief officer of police of a police force in England and Wales includes, I believe, three ranks: a chief constable; an assistant deputy chief constable and an assistant chief constable designate. A co-ordinator from Scotland or Northern Ireland can come from only one rank. In the former, he must be a chief officer of a police force and, in the latter, the chief constable of the RUC. Surely that is an anomaly, especially when senior officers sometimes serve in different parts of the country. An assistant chief 417 constable in Scotland or Northern Ireland, for example, would not be eligible for the post of co-ordinator while serving north of the Border or in Ulster, but if he served for a time in England or Wales, which is possible, he would become eligible. I ask my noble friend the Minister to explain that and to give the reasons for the apparent discrimination.
In addition, it interests me that the eligibility for the post should be so rigidly set in law. The Secretary of State would be breaking the law if he wished to appoint anyone from outside those ranks to the post of co-ordinator—or he would have to amend this legislation if he wanted to do so. Can the Minister explain why that is so? If the reason is the maintenance of police primacy, perhaps I may add one further point. As I understand it, the co-ordinating function is just that; it is not operational control. That will still be the responsibility of the chief constable in whose police force area the activity is taking place.
We have much experience of that in Northern Ireland. On occasions, it was deemed right to appoint someone from outside the police force to such a post—for example, Sir Maurice Oldfield. Your Lordships will be aware of the importance of the role of the chief constable of the RUC and the maintenance of police primacy in the Province. Therefore, it would not be a threat if the Secretary of State wished to appoint somebody from outside the police force. I believe that we in Northern Ireland understand more than most people the importance not only of the ability of such a person but of the personalities in different agencies. The Bill, in totality, is vague. It will rely for its success to a great extent upon the personalities of the individuals who will hold that post and not necessarily the service from which they come. I ask my noble friend the Minister to elaborate on the reasons for that.
For a moment I should like to look at some of the practical problems of using the security forces in those ways. There are two sides to an intelligence-gathering operation by the security services—the passive and the active. On the passive side, I am reasonably happy with the control by warrants for the placing of listening devices, the use of phone taps and so forth.
The active side of such intelligence gathering is the human factor at ground level or, to put it another way, at the coalface, within or close to the criminal organisation. I should like to make a couple of points about that aspect, but I shall be brief. An all-important issue is safety. We are talking about dangerous and ruthless criminal groups. To insert agents or turn criminals is a long-term task, and a dangerous one for those involved.
Who will provide the operational back-up for such a person in trouble, and someone who may have been exposed? That is not a normal policing task, as we have found in Northern Ireland, and is extremely hazardous. We have the police and the Army in the Province, and there are dedicated units for those tasks.
Over here on the mainland, who will supply that resource? Will it be the regional crime squads, later perhaps to become the national crime squad, or chief constables from their own manpower? On some 418 occasions it may have to be available for 24 hours a day. I ask my noble friend whether additional finance will be made available for specialist training and the establishment of such units.
Police primacy is to be maintained, but I am confused as to whether that is the tasking agency primacy on a particular operation—that of the NCIS—or primacy of operational control through a chief constable. On Second Reading in another place, the Secretary of State said:The way in which the co-ordination will usually operate is that the Security Service will be tasked in particular areas or operations by the National Criminal Intelligence Service, which will in turn liaise closely with local police forces and regional crime squads".However, in answer to a question he said:I do not know that it would necessarily be appropriate for the police to be informed of every operational detail of the work that the Security Service was carrying out".—[Official Report, Commons, 10/1/96/; cols. 221-224.]That is a serious aspect of co-ordination. It could be a matter of life and death. Experience in the Province shows that detailed work must be done on that aspect of the matter. The responsibilities must be made clear before any such operation is mounted.
I wish to mention just one other point about agents or turned criminals. In violent criminal organisations there is little or no bureaucracy; therefore an agent or turned criminal will almost certainly be drawn into criminal activity if he or she is to remain in place. How will we protect those people if such a case comes before the courts? A serious example of that in Northern Ireland was the well-known Nelson case. Two things went wrong. Due to a failure of immediate action on information supplied by him, he became involved in terrorist incidents. Also, due to lack of co-ordination, an agent of one branch (him) of our security forces, was arrested by another branch which was unaware of his activities.
There will be problems to be solved, but I have said enough to show that I support the Bill. The requirement for caution, planning and attention to detail is an understatement, and I look forward to success in this new role for our security services.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
My Lords, at the beginning of her speech the Minister referred to the earlier debate we had on the security services initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, and to the authoritative speeches made on that occasion. I am sure that she will be the first to agree that we have had a significant number of authoritative speeches today: the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, with his recent experience; the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth; the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, with a lifetime of experience in the Metropolitan Police; and the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, a former Permanent Under-Secretary at the Home Office, with substantial and direct knowledge of the workings of the security services. The Minister will have noted that three of those four speakers expressed significant disquiet about some aspects of the Bill.
419 I share that disquiet. However, it is right for me to say that despite any doubts I may have about the Bill, I welcome the discussions which took place in the other place between the Government and the Opposition, as a result of which some improvements were undoubtedly made to the drafting of the Bill. Those were made in a number of important respects, it has to be said.
I should like to begin, as did my noble friend Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, by thanking the Minister for making available the Notes on Clauses and an explanatory memorandum on the Bill. I found them extremely helpful. In her covering letter, she said, when referring to the debate in the other place:Such debate and disagreement as there was revolved around the detail of the Bill".That is of course entirely true, but, as I am sure she will agree, it is the detail of the Bill that continues to cause some of us concern. We must be certain that police primacy is retained, and that the most unambiguous language is used and placed in the Bill to avoid any disputes arising in the future.
We do not want to slide into the position that we have witnessed in the USA and elsewhere, where bitter inter-agency disputes have done serious damage to the fight against organised crime. I have been told by a number of leading figures in the law enforcement community in the USA about the fierce rows that have occurred between agencies funded by the federal government such as the FBI, the US Customs and the secret service on the one hand and local police and state police departments on the other. There is always the risk of such disputes between organisations which are locally accountable and those which rely exclusively upon the financial support of the federal government and committees of Congress.
Although our constitutional arrangements are different from those of the USA, there is one obvious similarity; that is, the Security Service, like the FBI, works entirely outside the form of accountability under which the police operate. MI5 is a great deal less politically accountable compared to federal agencies in the USA. One has only, to take one obvious example, to recall the various episodes involved in the drama of Watergate, to realise the direct accountability of the FBI to Congress. More than that, the Security Service has operated in a climate of secrecy—something entirely unknown in the USA.
Until the appointment of Mrs. Rimington no one, except of course foreign espionage organisations, even knew the name of the head of MI5. Despite differences between the roles of MI5 and the federal law enforcement agencies of the USA, there remains one clear similarity. They are all dependent upon the support of the national government for their resources. That of course is one of the reasons why we have the Bill. For although it is said that we require the Security Service to help in the struggle against serious organised crime, the reality is, as we all know, that there is at the moment a small team of MI5 officers working on precisely that agenda. As a result of the passage of the Bill, that team which, according to the Intelligence and Security 420 Committee, consists of nine officers may, I understand, be increased to about 16 to 20. That is my information but no doubt the Minister will correct me if I am wrong.
If that is the position the questions, "What is there to be worried about?", and, "How can there be any threat to the primacy of the police from such a small group of people?", may well be asked. There are a number of answers to those questions but they can be dealt with only if one asks why the Security Service has struggled so hard to acquire the powers set out in the Bill. The Minister is well aware that it has so struggled and, as we know, struggled successfully.
The collapse of the Soviet Union and the Iron Curtain led to immediate consequences for MI5. As the Intelligence and Security Committee pointed out in its latest annual report, the significant reduction in the overall intelligence threat led to a cut of more than half in the operational resources which were required five years ago. Whether, as the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, said, that that was a wise judgment is a different question. In other words, MI5 faced the loss of substantial numbers of staff unless it acquired new responsibilities.
That triggered the first Whitehall struggle; the battle led by MI5 to become the lead agency in countering republican terrorism on the British mainland. There was fierce opposition from a number of senior police officers, but MI5 won. Then came the Northern Ireland peace process. Once again, it looked as though there could be significant and negative manpower implications for MI5. So we began to read in the press that the Security Service could play a most valuable role in countering serious organised crime.
Facing the likelihood of serious damage to morale among many of the dedicated men and women who work for the Security Service—and of a kind which in recent months has been experienced in many government departments—Mrs. Rimington did what many of us might have done in her position—endeavour to extend the responsibilities of her department. As we know, she has succeeded. As a result, she may have avoided some of the "compulsory redundancies", referred to in paragraph 22 of the report of the Intelligence and Security Committee.
At first the contribution of the staff of the Security Service is likely to be small but in future it could grow substantially, particularly if, as we all hope, the Northern Ireland peace process leads to a successful outcome. Therefore, what we are discussing today is not the employment of a score or so of MI5 officers working in support of the police but in future years a great many more.
That is why I believe five things are essential. First, we must ensure that police primacy is spelt out in the most direct language. Secondly, we must ensure that the requirement that the responsibility of the Director-General of the Security Service for co-ordinating his service's activity with the head of the National Criminal Intelligence Service is adequately explained and we are given an adequate explanation of why the position of the head of the NCIS is not placed on a statutory footing. That could have been done in this Bill and we would like to know why it has not.
421 Thirdly, what arrangements are to be made about case records? Where are they to be kept? Will MI5 make all its information available to the NCIS? Surely we must insist that where possibly three organisations are working together—that is MI5, the police and Customs and Excise—they do not have two or three separate databases holding information relating to precisely the same investigation. A real risk is involved because some years ago there were problems in that respect between the police and Customs and Excise. I hope that the Minister will be able to deal with that specific point in reply.
The fourth factor is of considerable importance. What is the position in relation to informants? The police have very tight guidelines about their recruitment. That became essential because of the unacceptable conduct of a number of officers. But for entirely understandable reasons, MI5 has far more relaxed rules. For instance, it might want to recruit a foreign agent and in those circumstances the relaxation is perfectly understandable. But who decides what will be the regime relating to the recruitment of informants in the areas we are now discussing? Can the Director General of the National Criminal Intelligence Service lay down precise rules and require MI5 to follow them or will the Security Service be allowed to continue as at present? I believe that we deserve a reply to that question too.
Fifthly, there is the issue identified in paragraph 28 of the report of the Intelligence and Security Committee; namely, that when planting listening and other devices during the investigation of serious crime the police and MI5 operate under entirely different rules. The Minister referred to that in her speech. MI5 requires a warrant signed by the Secretary of State; the police operate under non-statutory Home Office guidelines.
I am sure that the Minister and other noble Lords will be aware of the case of Mr. Kahn, a convicted heroin dealer. The case is now before the Appellate Committee of this House. I say only that surveillance techniques to which I have referred are of crucial importance in the investigation of serious crime. I would be seriously concerned were the different procedures involved—namely, those between the police and MI5—to be perpetuated.
I understand from what the Minister said that this may remain the case until at best the autumn of this year when new legislation may be introduced. I am afraid that I do not find that a very persuasive answer. Promising the introduction of legislation in the dying months of a Parliament does not measure up to the seriousness of the issue. The noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, referred specifically to this matter. There is not the slightest evidence that legislation of this kind could go through Parliament before the next general election. That is one of the reasons why we remain seriously concerned about that particular issue.
I have set out our anxieties about the Bill and I am sure that many of them will be discussed in Committee. I do not for one moment question either the ability or the degree of dedication of the men and women who make up the Security Service; indeed, quite the reverse. I have always been impressed by their professional 422 abilities and, I take only one example, the quality of their analytical skills about which Sir Paul Condon and others have spoken. However, what we are debating is a measure which could, if mishandled, create severe disharmony in the day-to-day working relationships between the police and the Security Service.
The Minister may tell us that the problem does not exist. However, some of us who are aware of former battles between some local police forces and Customs and Excise take a different view. The Minister must accept that struggles in this House and elsewhere during the passage of what became the Police and Magistrates' Courts Act have hardly led to the creation of a mood of uninhibited trust between Ministers and the police service. Then we did our best to preserve the operational independence of chief officers. We certainly did not wholly succeed in our objective. The noble Baroness will have to take it from us that we shall be determined to do everything possible to ensure that the position of democratically accountable chief officers is not undermined by this Bill.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, in her clear and helpful introductory speech, the Minister placed considerable emphasis on the cross-party support for the Bill. She was right to do so: first, because, as I can confirm, my colleagues in another place expressed their support for the principle and purpose of the Bill; but secondly—and perhaps for a more long-lasting reason—because it is essential in matters which affect the security of our country there should he cross-party agreement on legislative measures which are presented to Parliament. Unless there is such cross-party agreement, the changes that we make in our security arrangements and plans for policing could suffer very damaging effects as other political changes take place. That would be most undesirable.
Our support for the Bill goes wider than the measure itself, as I shall make clear. It goes so far as to support the package of measures to which the Prime Minister referred in his Blackpool speech, of which the Minister will acknowledge this Bill is only part. The Prime Minister talked about co-ordination among the law enforcement agencies, an issue which is only marginally addressed by this Bill. He talked about the need for a statutory national crime squad and for a statutory basis for the National Criminal Intelligence Service. Again, the Minister will acknowledge that that is not yet covered by the Bill and must be covered by future legislation. He talked also, as the Minister reminded us, about the need for statutory control and a definition in relation to the use of intrusive surveillance. Those are all issues on which cross-party agreement is essential. Cross-party agreement will have to be achieved not only for this Bill but also for a more comprehensive package of measures.
I believe that there is agreement among all of us about the need for change. We all agree on the increasing threat of what is called variously serious crime, organised crime or—I use the Minister's ingenious phrase—serious and organised crime. I do not care very much whether we call it serious crime or organised 423 crime. It is clear that some very serious crime is not organised and any increase in the legitimate powers of the police to pursue serious but not organised crime should not be excluded because we are concerned too much about words. Therefore, we shall not make a great deal of the difference between serious and organised crime in the wording of the Bill.
Secondly, I believe there is agreement on the need for a common statutory framework for our law enforcement agencies and especially for the security and intelligence services. In that context, we welcome the series of Acts of Parliament which have been passed since 1985: in particular, the Interception of Communications Act 1985, the Security Service Act 1989 and the Intelligence Services Act 1994. I am not saying that we welcome every detail of those measures by any means, but the principle that there should be a statutory basis for all those is something for which there is, I believe, cross-party support.
There is also cross-party support for the changes which were made to the Bill in Committee in another place. There was clarification of the Government's intention, which is now statutory, that the use of the Security Service is to be in support of the activities of the police rather than in support of the prevention and detection of serious crime as such. It is essential that police activities should be the trigger for support from the Security Service; that it should be the police—the noble Lord, Lord Harris, used the words "police primacy"—who ask for help from the Security Service; and it should be the police who determine whether there shall be an intervention from the Security Service. That was a good amendment.
There were other minor amendments which I need not go into which improved the nature of the Bill.
As in all those cases, our support for the principle and purpose of the Bill does not mean that we shall merely sit back and not take any part as a revising Chamber in Committee. There are concerns which have been expressed by virtually all noble Lords who have taken part in this Second Reading debate about the Bill and the whole legislative project of which the measure forms a part, referred to first by the Prime Minister in his Blackpool speech.
The first of those concerns, which was echoed by a number of noble Lords in debate, is the whole issue of internal and operational accountability and the arrangements between the Security Service and the police force. The Government have made it clear that the designated person will be the Director General of NCIS. The Bill is opaque on that matter only because there is, as yet, no statutory basis for NCIS. We do not like Bills to be opaque but we accept reluctantly that that must be the case.
As the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, said, there is still a risk of there being a formula for conflict and misunderstanding. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, also referred to the potential for misunderstanding which can exist when the ultimate responsibility is not clear. I do not believe that the Bill does make clear who has that ultimate responsibility.
424 Secondly, there is the question of the definition of "serious crime". As I said, I shall not pursue the issue as between serious and organised crime. However, there is no doubt that the definition of "serious crime" in Clause 2 is extremely wide because it refers either to the risk of violence or serious financial loss or to the possible penalty if somebody is convicted of the crime. That is a very wide definition, even though it has statutory origins. Much more seriously, there is no definition of serious crime in Clause 1. The definition in Clause 2 refers only to Clause 2, which is concerned only with warrants.
A number of noble Lords have referred to the problem of the consequences on criminal procedure and criminal investigations. We have had several pieces of legislation on that subject in recent years and noble Lords who have been following those matters will be familiar with them. There are many problems in relation to the quality and admissibility of evidence. There are problems in relation to public hearings of criminal trials and in relation to adherence to PACE rules. All of those matters could become more difficult if the Security Service is to be involved in criminal investigations unless it is made clear that it is involved in such investigations under the existing conditions which apply to the police. If weaker conditions are applied to the Security Service than are applied to the police, there is a risk that prosecutions which are brought with the assistance of evidence from the Security Service will be challenged and could fail. It is essential to see to it that in operational terms the Security Service, in support of the police, adheres to the same rules and is accountable in the same way, and that its evidence can be relied upon in court, although whether given openly by a witness in court is another matter, if prosecutions are to succeed as a result.
A subsidiary issue is perhaps the whole question of the role of the Police Complaints Authority. That authority applies to the police in its criminal investigations and of course in other matters. Will it apply to the Security Service when it is working in support of the police? That is something which will have to be made clear before we can be sure that the role of the Security Service in support of the police will be effective.
Then there is the whole question of Clause 2 and of warrants—that is, property and intelligence warrants. There is another name for them, but I am afraid that I cannot recall it. However, the very fact that one of the two substantive clauses in the Bill is entirely about warrants shows the complexity of the issues that we face when considering the Bill. Frankly, I do not believe that the Government have thought through the issue of warrants which is the only one they choose to submit to the gaze of Parliament at this stage.
Who is responsible for warrants? From the background of the Intelligence Services Act 1994, which is being amended, and from paragraph 4 of the helpful briefing that the Minister supplied to us, we understand that authority for those property warrants will come from the Secretary of State. But that is different from the situation of the police. Their property warrants must have a judicial trigger. We must at least ask whether the 425 rules should be different for the Security Service when its members are acting in support of the police. Should there not be a judicial intervention in warrants? If that is the case, should there not be some statutory basis upon which those warrants are to be justified?
In any case, we must be sure that the Bill is not a back door either for giving the Security Service powers in relation to warrants which are not available to the police in this country—I believe that the phrase used in the Bill is "British Islands"—or that the powers of the police in relation to warrants are not being increased by the back door as a result of the legislation. Nothing appears in the explanation of the Bill's intentions; nor was there any reference to the matter in the Minister's opening speech. However, if we are to be satisfied about warrants—and, indeed, if the European Court of Human Rights is to be satisfied—the Minister will have to confirm that no extension of powers is proposed in that way and that there are no inconsistent powers as between the Security Service and the police. At present, it appears that there could be.
Then there is the whole question of the rest of the legislation—that is, the statutory basis for NCIS, the national crime squad, and so on. We are promised that in the next Session, although I suppose that the words cannot be quite so firm. However, I want to be able to say that the Opposition will give the utmost support to such legislation because we support the whole package. But in order to do so we must be involved in discussions and we must be taken into the confidence of the Government as to precisely what they mean by it.
Looking at the whole package, the problem with the Bill is that there are two elements: one is the extension of powers; and the other is the extension of accountability and scrutiny. What we have in the Bill before us is only the extension of powers, not the extension of accountability and scrutiny both by Parliament and by judicial means. Therefore, we have the most difficult part to play in the process of the Bill. As I said, we want to support the whole package but, in order to do so, we must be consulted on the matter.
That leads me to the next and final point on our concerns about the Bill; namely, the whole question of external accountability of the law enforcement agencies in the broader sense in which we are now talking about them—in other words, the police service, the other law enforcement agencies and the Security Service in support of them. Our concern is that the accountability proposed seems to be only to the Secretary of State only to the Executive branch. We cannot believe that that is right. We cannot believe that there should be no accountability to Parliament, perhaps in the form of accountability to the Intelligence and Security Committee. Indeed, perhaps there would have to be changes in the composition and reporting of the Intelligence and Security Committee and perhaps there would have to be new bodies to which the new designated person—the Director General of NCIS—will have to be responsible.
After all, it is only a very short time since, under the Police and Magistrates' Courts Act, we supported the continuation of the tripartite responsibility system for 426 our police forces. We supported the continued involvement of local authorities and magistrates in the control of the police and in the membership of police authorities. Something will have to be done in the form of accountability other than simply to the Secretary of State as regards NCIS and the national crime squad. That does not mean that it should be the same body and that it should be the same organisation because they have different functions. But they should be responsible to the same body in some way.
Therefore, what we have before us is incomplete legislation. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Renton, recognised that fact when he said that he would like to see consolidation of the Bill when it is enacted with previous legislation. I should like to see consolidation not only as suggested by the noble Lord but also with the rest of the programme which the Prime Minister announced in his Blackpool speech. While reserving our right, as I made clear, to seek particular changes to the Bill—the purpose of which we support—we pledge our support for the whole programme. We hope to see a coherent and effective programme which encompasses increased effectiveness for our police and law enforcement agencies with continued democratic accountability.
§ 5.16 p.m.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, we have had a relatively short but useful and constructive introduction to the Bill. As is so often the case in your Lordships' House, the debate has been enhanced by a number of contributions informed by relevant personal experience. I have no doubt whatever that our considerations on the Bill during its remaining stages will also benefit from that expertise.
When anyone says that he accepts a Bill in principle, I have learned the hard way at the Dispatch Box that I am in for a pretty lively, busy and probably lengthy session on the Bill. Another aspect that has characterised today's debate has been the support that has come from all sides of the House for the principles that underlie the legislation. However, as I said, that does not preclude the fact that we will have interesting debates hereafter. There has been widespread agreement that it is sensible to bring the particular skills and expertise that the Security Service possesses into the battle against organised crime in support of the efforts of the law enforcement agencies.
The Government are grateful for that endorsement of the measure. When dealing with an issue as serious as organised crime, it is important that there should be unity among us at least and that the message should go forward strongly from this House and, indeed, from another place that we are united in our efforts to do all that we can to tackle organised crime.
A number of specific points were raised during the course of the debate. Some of them will no doubt be raised again in Committee and, indeed, would be more appropriately dealt with at that stage. However, I should like to refer to some of those points and leave the debate on those that I do not mention today to the next stage of the Bill.
427 I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hams of Greenwich, that the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, brought an enormous amount of expertise to our debate. As she informed the House today, it was not only personal expertise but also that inherited from her father, who also had very close involvement with the Security Services. The noble Baroness referred particularly to complaints. I can tell her that there are appropriate mechanisms in place for dealing with complaints against the police and indeed against the Security Service. They take account of the different powers available to police officers and to members of the Security Service.
As I believe the noble Baroness realises, members of the service have no executive powers. Accountability arrangements for the Security Service inevitably need to take account of the organisation's need for secrecy as well as protecting members of the public. If the complaint against a member of the Security Service relates to an alleged criminal offence, then that will be investigated by the police. Members of the Security Service are, of course, subject to the law.
The noble Baroness also referred to the definition of serious crime, which has been referred to by many speakers during the course of the debate. The definition does not cover any offence attracting a penalty of three years. It covers offences for which a person aged 21 or over with no previous convictions could reasonably be expected to receive a prison sentence of three years or more. That is a much tougher test. It is rare for a first-time offender to be given a custodial sentence of three years or more. Indeed, to be given a custodial sentence at all is unusual for offenders with no previous convictions. Therefore a test based on an offence for which a person who has attained the age of 21 and who has no previous convictions could reasonably be expected to be sentenced to imprisonment for a term of three years or more is a tough test. It is only that which is likely to bite on the most serious of offenders.
Reference was also made to the threshold of the definition being too low. The definition used to cover the issue of property warrants is the same definition which is being used effectively to govern the issue of warrants under the Interception of Communications Act 1985. All parts of the definition focus on criminal offences which constitute different forms of serious crime. They are differentiated according to the likely sentencing outcome or key features: the use of violence, or substantial financial gain. This is not the only safeguard. In general the requirement for co-ordination arrangements to be agreed with the Director General of NCIS is a means of ensuring that the Security Service's contribution is only directed into appropriate areas. More specifically, applications for property warrants require the authorisation of the Secretary of State and are subject to scrutiny from the commissioner. This will ensure that warrants are not granted in inappropriate circumstances.
Continuing on the theme of accountability, with reference to the safeguard mechanisms, the powers of the Security Service tribunal to examine complaints about alleged activities of the Security Service will extend to investigation of complaints arising from the 428 proposed new function of the service. The Intelligence and Security Committee set up under the Intelligence Services Act 1994 will be able to examine the role of the service in countering organised crime. I recognise the contribution made by my noble friend Lord Blaker to that committee. Under the Security Service Act and the Interception of Communications Act commissioners will be able to review the issue of warrants by the Secretary of State which allow the service to intercept telephones or to carry out operations which involve interference with property.
Continuing with the theme of accountability, I was asked how members of the Security Service would give evidence and whether they would give evidence anonymously. Witnesses can give evidence anonymously or from behind screens only if the trial judge is satisfied that it is in the public interest for them to do so. The Security Service will be no different from the police. Members of other agencies including the police and the Army give evidence behind screens or under pseudonyms or anonymously where the judge rules that it is in the public interest for them to do so. Any application to the court for screening of and anonymity for Security Service witnesses will be made by prosecuting counsel only after full consideration of the issues involved and the closest consultation with the prosecuting authorities, and only where it is absolutely necessary.
The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, referred to giving evidence in court. I believe I have covered some of his points. I, too, had read the articles in The Times to which he referred. As I have said, the Security Service is aware of the consequences of becoming more involved in serious crime work and of the possibility that it will be called on to give evidence in an increasing number of cases. I have given examples of how that is carried out in practice.
The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, also mentioned different access to Ministers as regards the police and the Security Service. It is an important pillar in the accountability arrangements of the Security Service that the director general is answerable to the Home Secretary. Clearly this is different from the accountability arrangements for the police. The different systems reflect the differences between the two organisations and no one wishes to compromise the operational independence of chief officers of police. However, the requirement for the activities of the Security Service in support of the police—that is the important point—to be subject to co-ordination arrangements agreed with the director general will prove an important control in this respect. It was described by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, as the thin end of the wedge.
When I opened this debate I made clear that the resources devoted to the Security Service's new function will be small and that the protection of national security will remain the service's main priority. Indeed it will be a matter for the service itself to determine whether it has the resources to offer assistance to the police. I hope that that will offer some comfort to my noble friend 429 Lady Park as I know that she is worried about pre-empting precious resources of the Security Service which could detract from its main priority.
I also made clear that there are elaborate arrangements to ensure the accountability of the Security Service. They will apply to the service's new function in the same way as they do to the service's existing functions. I was asked why, if there were spare resources, we did not simply hand them over to the police, in which case we would not need this Bill at all. The Security Service needs to retain the flexibility to be able to respond to sudden demands in any of the areas for which it is responsible. That would not be helped by a permanent transfer of resources from the Security Service to the police. As regards the flexibility to which I referred a moment ago, it is for the Security Service to determine whether it wants to help in this area. If it does not, it will need those resources itself.
The noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, referred, I believe, to the Security Service having no experience of gathering evidence in such a way that it can be used in court. I think that I have partly covered that point. Since 1992 the Security Service has had the lead responsibility for combating Irish terrorism on the mainland and, in carrying out that function, the service has had to gear its activities to securing the conviction of terrorists. There have been a number of notable successes. The service has, and indeed will have to have regard in its new function to those aspects of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act that are applicable.
The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, referred to the joint opinion which I believe was secured by the organisation, Liberty. I can give him an absolute assurance that I shall make sure that we give a proper response to that joint opinion. My noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy referred to the definition of law enforcement agencies and asked for some elaboration on that. The national crime squad will cover England and Wales, as I have said. As I mentioned in my opening remarks, there is already in existence a Scottish crime squad. Similarly, the RUC is Province-wide in Northern Ireland and naturally there will be a need to have close operational links between the national crime squad in England and Wales, the Scottish crime squad and the RUC. I cannot comment on whether we shall remove the word "national", but no doubt I shall reflect on what my noble friend has said.
The Security Service will normally act in support of the police and Customs and Excise. However, there are other bodies that the service might assist in the pursuit of serious crime. They could include the Serious Fraud Office, the Immigration Service and the Benefits Agency. In regard to the latter two organisations, it is important to realise that the service would only help to combat large-scale racketeering and fraud rather than dealing with individual cases. My noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth asked about arrangements for the service's involvement in this area. She believed that they were too complicated. The Director General of the Security Service will retain operational control of the service. It is right that there should be arrangements in place to ensure that the service's serious crime work is co-ordinated with that of law enforcement agencies. We 430 do not believe that the arrangements will be over-elaborate or burdensome. However, my noble friend is right in that this is an area that we shall have to watch carefully.
My noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy referred to the regulation of electronic eavesdropping. As I said earlier, the Home Secretary has given a commitment to legislate on intrusive surveillance by the police. We are not planning to go beyond that. The Government gave consideration recently to the wider issues of privacy and decided not to proceed with legislation. Of course, as my noble friend said, the practice of telephone tapping is comprehensively regulated under the Interception of Communications Act 1985.
My noble friend Lord Brookeborough raised, I believe, the point about whether chief constables will automatically know if the Security Service is operating in their areas. Normally a chief constable will know. However, there could be circumstances where the service was tailing a suspect along a motorway which passed through several force areas where particular chief constables were not alerted. The important factor is that the activities of the service will be known to and visible to NCIS which will have responsibility for tasking the service on behalf of the police.
The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, referred to the head of NCIS. Again, as I made clear, we intend to introduce legislation to put NCIS on a statutory footing in the near future. Legislation on the head of NCIS would be outside the scope of the Bill.
The noble Lord also referred to the handling of agents. The police are subject to clear guidelines on the handling of informants. Those guidelines address the issue of joint operations with other agencies such as Customs. The emphasis is on co-operation and discussion both at a strategic level to resolve issues of policy and at operational level to resolve practical issues. This is a useful model for involvement of the Security Service. The service has clear guidelines governing agent-handling procedures. Those guidelines have been formulated in response to the requirements of the service's existing functions. The work involves co-operation with the police. In preparing for the new function, the service is discussing with the police and others how to develop existing co-operation.
That is the right way to proceed. The emphasis throughout the Bill is on developing co-ordination between the contributions of different agencies, not on rigidly standardising those contributions. I look to my noble friend Lord Renton. He welcomed the framework of the Bill. I believe that my noble friend had some confidence that sensible negotiations would be achieved and that arrangements would be arrived at by the varying agencies. But that is no reason for not making the point; it is an important one. I have confidence that arrangements will be secured at the end of the day.
My noble friend Lord Brookeborough and my noble friend Lady Park referred to extra finance. The Security Service has made it clear that it believes that it can take on this new function within its existing budget. Like the rest of government, it is striving to be as efficient as possible and to provide as good value for money as 431 possible. However, I repeat the point. It is for the Security Service to determine how it can support things without compromising its primary duty of looking after national security and the economic well-being of the country.
My noble friend Lord Brookeborough was rather concerned about the range of chief officers who could be called upon for appointment from English and Welsh forces and not from Northern Ireland. I believe that there is a misunderstanding. My understanding is that it is only chief constables in all situations, whether it is Ireland or England. The only variation to that is that it is a commissioner of police in London rather than a chief constable.
The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, asked about the sharing of information and the recording of information between agencies. For co-operation between the agencies to be a success in practice, there will be a requirement for appropriate sharing of operational information. The recent improvement in co-operation between the police and Customs—it was referred to by the noble Lord—acts as a useful model and no doubt will be drawn upon when arrangements are drawn up for this very purpose.
The noble Lord also referred to the democratic accountability of chief constables. We value that local democratic accountability of chief constables and will do nothing in this Bill to undermine it. That is one of the reasons why the Bill makes clear that the Security Service will have a supporting role and will not be able to act independently in this serious crime field.
My noble friend Lord Brookeborough asked whether operational primacy will lie with NCIS or with chief constables. All operations by the Security Service will have to be visible to NCIS. NCIS will ensure that chief constables are kept informed although circumstances may well require a greater level of co-operation with the local force. This will vary from case to case.
Many noble Lords have referred to the extension of powers in the Bill. Perhaps I may make it absolutely clear that the powers already exist for the Security Service. The intention is simply to extend existing powers to the new functions described in the Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, asked how the effectiveness of the new Security Service role will be assessed. He asked whether there is a role for the Intelligence and Security Committee. The Government keep matters of this nature under review. There are also existing mechanisms for overseeing the work of the Security Service. I have mentioned some. It is the wish of all parties for our response to organised crime to be as effective as possible. It will be open to the Intelligence and Security Committee to look into appropriate aspects of the Security Service's new role in due course. However, its future work programme is a matter for the committee to determine. My noble friend Lord Blaker is listening to the debate and will no doubt take that message to heart.
Organised crime is a menace which should have no place in a civilised society. That is why the Government are bringing forward the package of measures to which 432 I referred in opening the debate to ensure that our response to it is as effective as possible. This Bill represents the first part of the package. The package was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, who preferred to talk about the whole package rather than the Bill.
The Bill is a discrete piece of legislation which is part of the package. That is why we have been able to bring it forward in advance of the rest of the package. By enacting it now we will be demonstrating that we are not prepared to delay bringing forward all available resources against those responsible for serious, organised crime. I commend the Bill to the House.
On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.