I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Bill, in common with all the other measures that I have introduced in the past four years, has one simple but important purpose: to protect the public. It will help the police, together with other law enforcement agencies, to target serious and organised crime even more effectively. It will improve access to criminal records to protect the most vulnerable people in our society, particularly by subjecting anyone who wishes to work with children or who seeks other positions of trust, to a thorough check of criminal record information. The Bill will be of real practical benefit to the police, to other law enforcement agencies and to law-abiding citizens.
Organised crime is nothing new, but it is more sophisticated than ever before. Organised criminals are quick to exploit the opportunities provided by the ease of modern travel and modern communications. They operate across police force boundaries and national boundaries. They use the latest technology. They create large and complex businesses, part legal and part illegal, to launder the proceeds of their crimes. The Government are determined to ensure that the law enforcement agencies have the tools that they need to fight such crime effectively. They must be able to conduct effective surveillance, to obtain reliable intelligence and to target major crime in a co-ordinated way. The Bill will help them to achieve that.
Parts I and II provide for the creation of two national services: the NCIS Service Authority and the National Crime Squad. The arrangements for both services will be firmly rooted in our structure of local policing, with its tripartite system of sharing accountability between local representatives, chief officers of police and central Government. We are not proposing the creation of a national police service or the British equivalent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. There will be no "federal crimes" over which the new organisations will have exclusive jurisdiction. The public will continue to report all crimes to their local police forces. Police officers in both bodies will continue to be seconded or recruited from local police forces, and there will be strong local representation on the two new service authorities responsible for maintaining the two services. That approach strikes the right balance between putting in place effective national arrangements to meet the challenge of organised crime and preserving the local policing system that we all value so highly.
Clause 2(2)(a) refers to the right of the NCIS
to gather, store and analyse information.
Would that include information gathered as a by-product of bugging for other purposes? Suppose the police had authority to bug someone and then discovered that the
solicitor involved was gay, had HIV or was engaged in some particular activity that was not criminal, would that go on the police computer?
I cannot imagine that any information of the sort that the right hon. Gentleman identifies would be relevant to the investigation, prevention or detection of serious crime. On that basis, it would not be relevant to the activities of the National Criminal Intelligence Service. NCIS is interested in providing intelligence that is relevant to combating serious crime, and that is the basis on which it will proceed.
The Bill puts NCIS on an independent statutory footing. NCIS will continue to provide criminal intelligence to police forces across the United Kingdom and to other law enforcement agencies—principally Customs and Excise and the National Crime Squad—in this country and abroad. Last year, intelligence from NCIS contributed to the arrest of 1,378 major criminals, seizures of drugs worth £294 million and recovery of property worth £18 million. Its new status under the direction and control of a director general with chief constable rank will mean that it is even better placed to collect and develop intelligence for the benefit of all its users.
The National Crime Squad will bring together the existing regional crime squads into a single unit, again under the direction and control of a director-general with chief constable rank. Under current voluntary arrangements, the national co-ordinator of the regional crime squads has no powers of direction or control. The new squad will make it very much easier to deploy resources more flexibly and to tackle major criminals operating in one or more police force areas in England and Wales. The squad will continue to be able to support forces at the request of chief officers and will maintain close links with the Scottish crime squad and Royal Ulster Constabulary.
The Bill proposes that the two new national services should each be maintained by a new service authority. Those service authorities will be closely modelled on police authorities, but with some changes to reflect the national focus of the two services. The authorities will comprise independent members, one of whom will be appointed by the Secretary of State to chair both authorities, as well as police authority and police service representatives. The service authority for the National Crime Squad would have 17 members—comprising independent, police authority and police service members, plus one representative of the Secretary of State. The membership of the NCIS authority would be similar, but because of its United Kingdom-wide and multi-agency remit it would have a total membership of 19, which would also include representatives of police authorities and police forces in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the Secretaries of State for Scotland and for Northern Ireland, and a representative of Customs and Excise.
Although they are separate, it is important that the two services should work closely together to achieve shared national objectives. For that reason, the Bill proposes that 10 members should serve on both authorities. The 10 joint members would include the three independent members to be appointed by the Secretary of State, one of whom would be the chairman of both authorities.
A strong local element has been preserved in those arrangements. Crown servants representing the Secretaries of State will have no voting powers. Representatives of police authorities—including those for the Metropolitan police district, Scotland and Northern Ireland—will always make up a clear majority of those eligible to vote on the levy and the appointment of a director general. Conversely, it is right that there should be a strong national role, reflecting the interests of all parties, in those national services. We believe that we have struck the right balance, consistent with our current system of policing.
The majority of the income for the two services will be derived from levies on police authorities in England and Wales. In the case of NCIS, direct contributions will be made by other users. We believe that decisions on the levy should be strongly influenced by locally elected members of the service authorities. That is why we propose that only the police authority members from England and Wales—who will always be in a majority—and the independent members of the service authorities will vote on the proposed levy. Their proposals will be considered by the Secretary of State, who will first consult a tripartite group comprising representatives of police authorities, the police service and central Government. That group will consider the levies in the context of overall spending on the police. In the light of that consultation, the Secretary of State will either approve the levy or instruct the service authority to adjust it. His decision will be final.
In most other ways, the respective roles of the Secretary of State and service authorities reflect current arrangements for local police forces. For example, the role of the Home Secretary—in consultation with the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Northern Ireland in relation to the National Criminal Intelligence Service—will be to set key objectives for each service, to call for reports and to require Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary to conduct inspections.
The service authorities will set detailed objectives and publish service plans and annual reports on performance. They will appoint the director general and other senior police officers. Other officers will be seconded or loaned from their local force or organisations such as Customs and Excise. All staff will be under the direction and control of the relevant director general. The terms and conditions of service of staff will be decided by the service authority after consultation, in the case of police officers, with the police negotiating board. There will be full consultation with the police staff associations and trade unions on terms and conditions and the complaints and discipline system.
I turn now to part III of the Bill. I do not think that there is any dispute about the need of the police and customs to use intrusive surveillance against our most serious criminals. That effective and valuable technique must be available to our law enforcement agencies if they are to get the evidence that they need to bring our most dangerous criminals to court. We are not talking about petty crime, still less people going about their lawful activities. The Bill is aimed at major drug traffickers, kidnappers, terrorists and those involved in serious fraud and money laundering. These are the most dangerous criminals whose activities have a major impact on society—people who are well versed in policing methods and have the resources that they need to protect themselves from detection.
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that this is a serious constitutional matter? Does he not therefore think that the Committee stage of the Bill should be held on the Floor of the House, so that parties from all over the United Kingdom will not be isolated—some of them not even represented on the Committee? The Bill affects my part of the country. I feel that the Committee stage of such a grave constitutional Bill should be held on the Floor of the House. Will the Home Secretary help us on that? I do not want to hinder him getting his Bill passed, but I must defend the rights of the people and their representatives to be heard, especially in Committee.
I am afraid that I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. As I shall remind the House in a moment, the techniques in question have been used for a long time. The Bill introduces new safeguards, as well as putting the use of the techniques on a statutory basis for the first time. I do not follow the hon. Gentleman in his point, but of course he, his hon. Friends and others will have the fullest opportunity to put their points on Report.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, particularly in our constitution, there can never be an absolute guide on what is a constitutional question? When there is uncertainty, it is necessary to examine the political background. The Labour party has abandoned the proper adversarial role of the Opposition. As a result, there has not been adequate discussion about prior authorisation. That point therefore ought to be discussed on the Floor of the House, not in private Upstairs in Committee.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that there is no absolute definition of a constitutional issue. However, I fear that I cannot follow him on the rest of his remarks. The Labour party, to be as fair to it as I can, has attempted to form a view on the right course to take on the Bill. I regret that it has not been constant in the view that it formed, but there it is. We have to do the best that we can with that.
The Home Secretary refers to terrorism, kidnapping, drug smuggling, and so on, and one understands that point, but one of the grounds for intrusive surveillance is given as
conduct by a large number of persons in pursuit of a common purpose.
No crime is mentioned. That would apply to road protesters, trade unions and political parties. A Labour Home Secretary who regarded the Conservative party as
having a common purpose—as occasionally it does—would be entitled to bug any Conservative party office. That is the point that has aroused a great deal of concern, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman has not even touched on it.
I have not got very far into my speech, but I will answer the right hon. Gentleman's point now. There are crimes which might warrant the use of the powers that would not come under the second limb of the definition of serious crime in the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman has clearly looked at the matters closely, so he will be aware that the second limb refers to the likelihood of a first offender, 21 years old or over, getting a sentence of three years imprisonment. I hope that I may be able to carry the right hon. Gentleman with me on the point that there are criminal activities that would not fulfil that criterion but might merit the use of the powers by the police.
The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. Let me see if I can give an example which might cause him to reconsider. It is perfectly possible to conceive of a situation in which a large number of neo-Nazi youths concerted to disrupt a major football match. I suggest that that might very well merit the use of such investigative techniques. Nevertheless, if they were over 21 years old and of previous good character, none of the individuals involved might be sentenced for more than three years imprisonment for such an activity. That is what that limb of the definition is designed to cover.
I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to an additional safeguard. The statutory code of practice that we intend to provide in the Bill will enjoin chief officers of police to make a judgment about the proportionality of the use of the powers against the mischief at which they are targeted and which they are designed to prevent. Those safeguards should be sufficient to allay the anxieties to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred.
When trying to assess such matters, I always try to look at such empirical evidence as may be available rather than at what might happen. The Library briefing on the matter states that the Government undertook an exercise, looking at the example of 1995, and found there were approximately 2,100 chief officer authorisations by police and Customs and Excise of intrusive surveillance operations in the United Kingdom. Can my right hon. and learned Friend give the House some idea of the rough breakdown between police and Customs and Excise on the one hand and between one kind of authorisation and another? It would help to inform today's debate.
I am afraid that I cannot do so at the moment. I shall cause inquiries to be made about whether I can answer the first part of my hon. Friend's question about the breakdown between police and Customs and Excise. I know that we cannot give a breakdown on the second part of his question. I can say, however, that the majority of operations that were authorised under the use of the powers do not involve the sensitive categories about which there has been a great deal of debate, particularly in the other place. The majority of the operations consist, for example, of placing a beacon under a motor car so that the motor car's movements can be traced. The vast majority of operations do not involve intrusion into private premises, lawyers' offices, medical surgeries or anything of that kind.
The Home Secretary goes on about safeguards, but in his statement yesterday, which he made with the approval of his Labour shadow—it was almost a joint statement—he said that prior approval would not be necessary even in sensitive cases. That drives a coach and horses through the safeguards. If the security services wish to undertake intrusive surveillance, the Home Secretary is not bypassed. The procedure has to be followed and the Home Secretary gives his approval even if he has to be disturbed in the middle of the night.
Those are different cases. One of the greatest weaknesses in the Liberal Democrats' position, and in their amendment that was carried in another place, is that it makes no provision for urgent cases. Even the latest communication from the chairman of the Bar Council, who has shared many of the right hon. Gentleman's concerns about the Bill, recognises the importance of making provision for urgent cases. I do not accept that such provision drives a coach and horses through the Bill—it is an essential safeguard.
Traditionally, the House has always regarded as constitutional those matters which affect the relationship of the citizen to the state or its agencies. The Bill undoubtedly touches on that issue. I cite the precedent of the Official Secrets Act 1989: there was no question about that being taken on the Floor of the House. The Bill would attack the rights of citizens over their domestic premises and their privacy, which is a major constitutional issue.
So that the list is as comprehensive as possible, my right hon. Friend the Minister of State will cite the precedents when he winds up.
Much has been said about the Bill in another place and in the media. Much of it has been misleading and misinformed. We are not proposing a great constitutional change. Intrusive surveillance has been authorised by chief officers for many years on the basis of Home Office guidelines first issued in 1977, when we had a Labour Government, and updated in 1984. The courts have accepted the evidence obtained from the use of those techniques as part of the prosecution case. The use of the techniques appears to have been authorised by chief constables with responsibility and restraint.
I must make some progress. I have given way generously, as the hon. Lady must accept.
Intrusive surveillance is used only in cases involving serious crimes and when there are no alternative methods available. In our view, the arrangements for authorising the use of intrusive surveillance must satisfy two basic principles. First, authorisations must be made by those with the training and operational experience to judge whether the surveillance is necessary. The person taking the decision must understand all the circumstances, including the investigative methods that have been used and the potential risk to public safety or even human life if surveillance is not attempted. Those matters go to the heart of policing. They should be decided by chief officers, subject to independent review that does not entail second-guessing of their operational judgments.
The second important principle is that those who authorise intrusive surveillance must be accountable for their decisions. Chief officers are accountable and they have in the past been required to justify their decisions in court. These are the principles which have guided my approach to the contradictory amendments tabled in another place.
In the past half hour, the Home Secretary has given an omnibus answer to several questions on the use of mobile phones. He has been asked for the number of occasions on which access to the UK Cellnet system has been sought by each police authority. Most people in Britain have no idea that mobile phones are being used for this purpose. I found his answer—that the information was not held centrally—completely unsatisfactory, as most other people will. Should this matter not come within the scope of the Bill? The Home Secretary must surely address that point.
That matter involves other statutory provisions, as the hon. Lady will appreciate, but it is a matter of satisfaction to me that there is no central record of the number of occasions on which these powers have been used. The powers do not come within the control of any central authority in this country, but are exercised by local police officers who are accountable to local police authorities. I would not wish there to be any step that would attract these powers into a central repository. The hon. Lady should take some satisfaction from the fact that those records are not kept centrally.
I have described the principles that have guided my approach to the matter and the contradictory amendments tabled in another place. The amendment requiring all intrusive surveillance to have the prior authorisation of a circuit judge is unacceptable. As I have explained, I do not accept that judges can properly be expected to take these decisions. Furthermore, the absence of provisions for urgent cases—the very point on which the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed intervened a few moments ago—would seriously inhibit the fight against serious crime. In hostage situations it could even endanger life, and I am not prepared to take that risk. It could also reduce accountability, because judges could not be called to account in the same way as chief officers. The amendment on that subject was moved by the Liberal Democrats in another place.
The amendment tabled by the Labour party in another place does not present quite the same difficulties. That is not altogether surprising, given the tortuous evolution of the Labour party's approach to this issue. When I originally announced my proposals and published the Bill, the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) strongly supported them. He saw the need for them, and rebutted the criticisms which were made of them with vigour. Under a sustained onslaught from The Guardian and others, however, he subsequently retreated. That is perhaps an object lesson in what life would be like under a Labour Government—strong words, vigorous argument, but retreat at the first puff of pressure.
Faced with that reaction—and with the schizophrenic amendments passed in another place—I have considered what would be the best way forward. We had already amended the Bill in another place to provide for all authorisations to be notified to the commissioner as soon as reasonably practicable, and for there to be more than one commissioner to ensure that authorisations could be reviewed quickly. In most cases, that would have meant that a commissioner would be able to scrutinise the authorisation before the operation commenced and put a stop to the intrusive surveillance if he thought it outside the criteria of the Bill.
We intend to bring forward amendments in Committee which will modify clause 91—which was inserted in the other place—to build on the approach embodied in the Government amendments. Our changes will require that the approval of the commissioner is obtained before an operation begins where there are reasonable grounds for thinking that the operation could affect legal, medical or journalistic privilege, or where the operation involves intrusion into residential dwellings, offices or hotel bedrooms.
Prior approval will not be necessary where the police or customs are acting with the consent of the person who is able to give permission in respect of the relevant premises. Nor will prior approval be necessary in urgent cases, but the commissioner would have to be notified as soon as reasonably practicable after the authorisation had been given.
Where prior approval is required, the commissioner will give it if, to borrow words from the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984,
he is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for believing
that the authorisation fulfils the requirements in clause 92. Those requirements are that the action is likely to be of substantial value in the prevention or detection of serious crime and that what the action seeks to achieve cannot reasonably be achieved by other means.
The commissioner will not seek to put himself in the shoes of the chief constable. That is an important difference between our approach and the test favoured by the Labour party in another place, which would have involved second-guessing by the commissioner of the chief constable's decision.
Under our proposals, there will be no second-guessing of operational judgments. It will be for the chief officers to authorise and for the commissioners to scrutinise that authorisation to determine that there were reasonable grounds for the proposed action. I believe that our approach strikes the crucial balance of ensuring that operational decisions are left to those best qualified to take them, but that there is strong and independent scrutiny and oversight.
The measures ensure not only that there will be an effective oversight system that fully recognises the sensitivity of the operations, but that police and customs officers will continue to be able to deploy the most sophisticated methods necessary to achieve effective results.
If surveillance is carried out under the urgency provisions and it is then reported to the commissioner, who takes the view that it was unreasonable and should not have taken place, will the evidence obtained be inadmissible in a court of law?
That will be a matter for the courts to decide. The commissioner will have the power to stop the operations there and then, to quash the authorisation and even to order compensation. Those are considerable safeguards. I am surprised that the hon. and learned Gentleman is not prepared to entrust the decision on admissibility to the discretion of the court.
My right hon. and learned Friend knows that I approach the problem from a wholly different perspective, because I agree with him that there should be a regulatory framework but that the police definitely need the powers. Will he assure us that, under the provisions that he intends to introduce by amendment in Committee, what will matter is what the chief constable knew when he took the decision to authorise intrusive surveillance as an emergency, without the agreement of the commissioner, not second-guessing on information that may subsequently have been discovered suggesting that he ought not to have given the approval? Surely it is what he knew at the time of the decision to give approval that matters.
That is certainly the starting point, but I cannot give my hon. Friend the categorical assurance that he seeks. For example, the Bill rightly contains provisions that enable someone to complain about the authorisation, and part of the complaint may be that the chief constable could and should have made other inquiries at the time of the authorisation that would or should have led him not to make it. That would be a relevant matter to be taken into account. However, the information available to the chief constable at the time that he makes the authorisation will be the starting point for the scrutiny that the commissioner will exercise.
Inevitably, such operations result in the gathering of a lot of material that is subsequently found to be irrelevant and which may affect other people who are not involved in the criminal investigation. What will happen to that material? What assurance can the Home Secretary give that it will be destroyed, and how will it be stored in the meantime?
The commissioner has the power to call for all the information and material, and has specific power to instruct that that material should be destroyed. If it is not withdrawn into the hands of the commissioner, it will be a matter for the police, who will decide whether to retain the material on the basis of whether they think that it will be useful to them in pursuit of the inquiries on which they are engaged. That is a perfectly reasonable and sensible way to deal with the matter.
Will the Home Secretary expand on that point? As I read the Bill, the only reference in clause 97 to the destruction of records is when the commissioner has decided that the person who gave an authorisation was not acting properly. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) pointed out, there may well be cases in which the authorisation was proper and a great deal of information has been collected about people who are not the subject of the authorisation. That situation does not appear to be covered by the clause.
If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that if, in pursuance of a properly authorised operation, the chief constable came across other information relevant to the investigation of a serious crime, he should destroy it, I utterly refute that suggestion. These are matters that can be left to the discretion of the chief constable, as they normally are.
That was not a point of order and it was a point that I comprehensively answered. I will repeat my reply for the benefit of the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard). If in the course of investigating a serious crime, the police come upon other information relevant to another serious crime, I—and most citizens of this country—would expect them to use it in the course of that other investigation.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend concede that it is obvious that the House is deeply concerned about the details of prior authorisation? This is the first time the House has been able to express its views on the details. Since the measure must carry the confidence of the whole country, on reflection would it not be better to have a debate on the Floor of the House rather than to have the suspicion that it is being bashed through in a rather authoritarian way?
I do not make the concession for which my hon. Friend asks, and I ask him to reflect on the fact that if, on every Second Reading of a Bill at which concerns were expressed about the details, the matter were remitted to a Committee of the whole House, our proceedings would be considerably more cumbersome and protracted than they are.
I hope that I can ask this question in the well phrased and courteous way that is characteristic of the Home Secretary. It appears that the House is being asked to approve new methods of police surveillance hitherto not found acceptable and that he is asking us to pass a Bill that will make those methods acceptable in respect of a known crime. My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) inquired what would happen with information obtained during one investigation, which was interesting but had no relevance to it.
How would that information then be used? Would it be in police records? Would it be used as a Member of Parliament democratically investigating one matter and finding information relevant to something else would use such information? Surely that is the nub of the question which concerns the House. In that respect, authorisation is vital. Otherwise the information would not be available.
I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's premise. There is no basis for the suggestion that the use of such powers has been found unacceptable over the years—they have led to remarkably few complaints and criticisms. I accept that it is desirable that those powers should be put on a statutory basis with additional safeguards, and that is what we have done. [Interruption.] Opposition Members suggest from sedentary positions that nobody knew about that, but the guidance published by the Home Office in 1984 was public. I am not sure that the guidance published by the Labour Government in 1977 was public: the Opposition claim to believe in open Government, but I understand that the 1977 guidance was headed "confidential". The guidance published in 1984, however, was a public document available to all. Therefore, there has been no secret or mystery about the availability of the powers.
I have been bugged on at least two occasions, but I am unsure what variety of organisation was bugging me. I have two points. First, there has been a misunderstanding about the intervention of the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard). I thought that he was asking what would happen with information that was incidentally gathered and which was not relevant to any other investigation. Would it be destroyed? Secondly, I wish to reinforce the points already made about the desirability of having a good debate on this issue in the House.
I am sure that we shall have a good debate on the Floor today, on Report and on Third Reading. On the destruction of material that is not relevant to any line of investigation, on the face of it I see no reason why that should be treated differently from any other material that comes into the possession of the police when they are engaged in an investigation. However, it is clearly a matter on which different views may be held and which can be considered in detail at the appropriate stage, both in Committee and on Report.
I am aware of the concerns that have been expressed about the possibility that the police might conduct surveillance of confessionals. The police have told me that this has never been necessary in the past and are happy to give an undertaking not to mount surveillance operations in circumstances covered by the seal of confession. We will finalise the details shortly, and will insert a specific reference to that undertaking in the code of practice.
The seal of confession does not relate exclusively to Roman Catholics; it is held in high regard by the Anglican communion and by many other faiths, which have comparable counselling by religious ministers to their flocks. Will the Home Secretary undertake that such pastoral conversations, which have hitherto been held by democratic states to be of the utmost confidentiality, will be excluded from the surveillance provisions? Will there be privilege both for the sacrament of confession and for the traditional conversations between pastors and their flocks? Will that be in the code of practice?
I can certainly give an undertaking carefully to consider the hon. Gentleman's point and see to what extent we can take it on board in the code of practice. I suspect that there may be problems of definition which could give rise to some difficulty.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend think that Home Office guidelines, of which some of us were unaware, deposited in front of the House, can make lawful that which is unlawful or override common or statute law? That is the nub of the question. He is having to make it lawful because Home Office guidelines were not good enough cover. As upholder of our law and order, he must have regard to that which is lawful. Therefore, his response on guidelines is not good enough. The Home Office is trying to convert that which is currently unlawful under statute and common law into that which is lawful.
My hon. Friend is quite right to say that Home Office guidance cannot do any of the things that he said it could not do—I entirely agree with him about that. The point that I was making in answer to the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) was in response to his assertion that the exercise of these powers over the years has been found to be unacceptable. That is a much more contentious assertion. The truth of the matter is that these powers have been exercised over many decades without giving rise to any widespread concern. I accept that it is preferable that they should be put on a proper statutory basis, with proper safeguards and that is why they are included in the Bill.
The provisions in part IV of the Bill to place the police information technology organisation on an independent tripartite footing have been well received on all sides—perhaps I ought to add, so far. We need to gain the maximum benefit from information technology and these new arrangements will help PITO to achieve its objective of providing the information technology and communications that best meet the needs of the police service
If we are to secure the maximum benefits from IT for the police service, we must make sure that we have the right structures in place to achieve that goal. PITO was set up on a non-statutory basis in April 1996. Much has already been done to create a more customer-focused organisation, but one important further step needs to be taken. By establishing PITO as an executive non-departmental public body, it will be possible to bring the chief officers and police authority associations into the heart of decision making.
Part V of the Bill contains provisions which bring into effect the proposals for access to criminal records for employment and related purposes that were set out in the White Paper "On the Record" which was published in June last year. Those proposals will put in place a coherent, transparent and fair system of access to criminal records for employment and related purposes. It will offer better protection to vulnerable groups and reassure employers that the information they are given about an applicant's criminal record is complete and accurate.
I wanted to give the Home Secretary the chance to answer this question in the body of his speech. First, if I applied for a job, could I require my employer to give me details of any criminal conviction so that I knew I would not be working for a drug dealer or a corrupt employer? Or is it only employers who can get such information about possible employees? Secondly, can the right hon. and learned Gentleman reassure me that all the information gathered by bugging and surveillance will be handed over to the European Union as part of the security arrangements reached with the European Union about the exchange of police information? This measure is not only about the relationship between the citizen and the British Government, but about the relationship between the citizen and the European security arrangements that the Home Secretary is setting up.
On the right hon. Gentleman's first point, I can give him an assurance that if the employer's work brings him into contact with vulnerable people in the way that is covered by the provisions of the Bill the employer himself will be covered by the provisions of the Bill in exactly the same way as anybody else whose employment brings them into contact with vulnerable persons will be covered.
On the second point—and this is a most important point—I can certainly give an assurance that, so long as there is a Conservative Government, the consequences that the right hon. Gentleman fears from the extension of this information to authorities of the European Union will not take place. However, I can give him no assurance that that will not happen if we were to have a Labour Government, since the shadow Foreign Secretary said only last week that he would accept the extension of majority voting into matters now covered by the third pillar arrangements of the European Union. That is the answer to the right hon. Gentleman's question. If he is concerned about these matters, he should address those concerns to his own Front Benchers and not to the Government.
Perhaps I may repeat for the benefit of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) a similar undertaking: in no sense will we allow such information to be passed to the European Union. As the Home Secretary well knows, we are committed to ensuring that all matters which come within the third pillar remain intergovernmental and therefore not subject to majority voting.
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman has not seen the latest press release issued by his right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary. We shall have to help the hon. Gentleman by making that information available to him. I am afraid that the shadow Foreign Secretary has acknowledged beyond peradventure that, if this country is headed by a Labour Government at the intergovernmental conference due to take place at the end of June, concessions will be made that will do away with our veto, not only in areas that have specifically been identified, but in relation to justice and home affairs. It is absolutely clear, and the country should be aware, that that would be the consequence of a Labour Government if we were ever to have one.
We intend to set up a criminal records agency, accountable to the Home Office, to undertake the work for England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In Scotland, the work will be undertaken by the Scottish criminal record office. Those bodies will be able to issue three types of certificate.
The first type of certificate will be a criminal conviction certificate. These will be issued to individuals only and will give details of their convictions recorded in central police records that are not spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. It will be for applicants and employers to decide when it is reasonable to require such a certificate to be produced.
The second type of certificate will be a criminal record certificate. These will contain details of spent and unspent convictions and cautions and will be available only for those occupations, such as doctors, nurses, teachers and prison officers, which are exceptions to the 1974 Act. A joint application will be made by the individual and the organisation seeking the check. The individual and the employer will be sent a copy of the certificate.
The third type of certificate will be an enhanced criminal record certificate. Initially, these certificates will be available only for those working on a regular, unsupervised basis with children; for certain licensing purposes; and for judges and magistrates prior to appointment. As well as information on convictions and cautions, enhanced certificates will include non-conviction information from local police records, where that might be relevant to the post being sought. A copy of the certificate will be sent to the individual and the employer. In very exceptional circumstances, where on-going or future police investigations might be prejudiced, the information from the local police check will be provided only to the employer.
The Bill also makes provision for regulations to be made that will enable enhanced checks to be extended to those who work with vulnerable adults.
Would a long-term unemployed person be expected to pay as much as a tenner for the criminal conviction certificate, and how frequently would he be expected to provide an updated certificate?
I shall come to that point in a moment.
We intend the new system to be self-financing and for the costs to be met by individuals when they apply for a certificate. The fees charged will be modest, and are likely to be in the region of £5 or £6 for a criminal or criminal record certificate and £8 to £10 for an enhanced criminal record certificate.
When the Bill was considered in another place, it was amended to exempt volunteers from paying fees for criminal record checks. We opposed that move. The Government fully recognise and appreciate the good work that is done by the millions of volunteers in this country, and we have done much to encourage those who help their communities in that way, but the financial implications of the amendments are potentially enormous—costing possibly as much as £200 million.
We do not believe that it would be fair to redistribute those costs among other users of the agency. Some of them, as the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) said, will be unemployed or otherwise on low incomes, and possibly less able to pay a fee than many volunteers. The only other option would be for the taxpayer to pick up the bill, but no public funds are currently available to meet the costs of providing free checks for volunteers.
We propose, therefore, to amend the Bill to remove the amendments made in another place, but to introduce an order making power to enable free checks to be provided for specific groups, such as volunteers, if and when the money became available to cover the costs of doing so.
This afternoon I spoke to the chief executive of the Scout Association, who says that it will cost the association about £500,000 a year to fund this vetting and that, more importantly, it will be a disincentive to volunteering. The association wants total vetting to protect young people, but the association and many Labour Members feel that it would be grossly unreasonable that such a fee should be picked up by a voluntary organisation which does tremendous work for the community. It is absurd and ridiculous.
With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, his question is absurd and ridiculous. He cannot have it both ways. He cannot at one and the same time point to the cost to the organisation and also suggest that the cost would be a deterrent to the individual volunteer: it must be one or the other.
It is unnecessary for the organisations to pay for the checks. The vast majority of volunteers will not be deterred from their voluntary activity by a one-off payment of £5 or £6. Indeed, the overwhelming majority of volunteers voluntarily incur expenses in the course of their volunteering which far exceed the cost of a check of £5 or £6. I do not believe that the provision will have the consequences to which the hon. Gentleman referred.
I ask the Secretary of State to think again, especially about introducing an order. It is possible that some volunteers will not be deterred, but most volunteers are unemployed people. There are those who volunteer at a different level and could afford the expense, but many could not. Charities, especially, have already suffered as a result of the advent of the national lottery. I recognise that there might be cross-party support to keep the taxpayer clear, but it should not be a case of reversing the role of Robin Hood and taking from the poor to pay for the rich.
I am sorry to have to disagree with the hon. Gentleman. First, I am not sure that his observation about the effect of the lottery on charities is well founded. Secondly, I do not accept that a modest one-off payment will be a significant deterrent to volunteers.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, while a person who gives his time for nothing to work in a charity may find it acceptable, for example, to use his own transport to get to the place where he does the voluntary work, it is another thing entirely to ask that person to put his hand in his pocket and pay £5 or £6 to run a criminal record check on himself when he knows perfectly well that no criminal convictions are recorded against him? Such a person may see that as an insult, and certainly as a deterrent to volunteering his services.
I do not agree with my hon. Friend. The distinctive characteristic of volunteers is that they are generous and public-spirited. They will understand the importance of the checks and they will not be at all insulted at the notion of having a check. They will readily accept the importance of providing more protection for children, which the provisions will allow, and they will be ready to make the modest payment involved.
I entirely agree with my right hon. and learned Friend. Volunteers will be only too happy to know that other volunteers are clean. In the light of some of the dreadful cases that have occurred recently, volunteers will be happy to pay for peace of mind.
I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is aware of the tremendous work done by voluntary bodies in the north of Ireland. He should consider that every voluntary body conducts a massive lobby of the Members of Parliament for Northern Ireland. The largest lobby that I have ever had was on the right hon. and learned Gentleman's proposal, and I have been in the House for 27 years, as have my colleagues. People who are helping daily as volunteers to meet the needs of the community in Northern Ireland know the difficulties of telling an unemployed person that he would be excellent to do a job but that he will have to pay for a certificate to clear his name when in fact his name is clear. Could not the Home Secretary devise a system whereby a volunteer could take an oath in public declaring that his name is clear?
No. The notaries and members of the public would be working for the voluntary sector for nothing. There would then be no onus of payment on a volunteer working in the voluntary sector.
I fear that my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman), in her intervention from a sedentary position, may well be right. The attestation of such an oath before an official may well be more expensive than the very modest cost of the check that we envisage.
The voluntary sector has long been pressing for better access to criminal record information, and it welcomed our proposals when we first put them forward. But wider access costs money, and so cannot be provided unless the cost will be met. Our proposed approach will enable a balance to be struck between wider access funded by those who use the service and the provision of free checks to specific groups if financial resources permit.
The Bill contains a number of important safeguards to ensure that sensitive information is not misused. Employers who register with the agency will be required to abide by a code of practice. Good practice guidance on the application of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 and the need to consider the relevance of any convictions will be issued to registered bodies, and the Bill will also make it a criminal offence for a member, officer or employee of a registered body to disclose information about criminal records other than in the course of his duties.
Does the Minister agree that the code of practice would apply not to the criminal conviction certificate but to the full and enhanced certificates that would be relevant to registered bodies? Would that not leave all sorts of anomalies, with people applying for different jobs within the same organisation sometimes being asked for checks and sometimes not being asked? As my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) pointed out, a person might be repeatedly asked to provide a new certificate. A prospective employer might not be interested in a three-month-old certificate but might want to see an up-to-date certificate, so the person will be faced repeatedly with having to find the money to pay for one.
On the first point, I do not think that the provisions would give rise to the anomalous consequences identified by the hon. Gentleman, but that could be looked at in detail in Committee and on Report. On the second point, we do not envisage it being possible for repeated requests for new certificates to be made. We envisage a time limit so that it is not incumbent on someone in the circumstances identified by the hon. Gentleman repeatedly to have to reapply for fresh certificates.
As my noble friend the Minister of State signalled in another place, we believe that these measures will help to put an end to the practice of enforced subject access when an employer requires an applicant to exercise his access rights under the Data Protection Act 1988 in order to pass on information about his criminal record. That practice is undesirable. It is contrary to the spirit of the Data Protection Act and, because it reveals details of both spent and unspent convictions, it undermines the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. We appreciate that, if enforced subject access were to continue, it might also undermine this Bill, which seeks to protect information about spent convictions. We are considering, therefore, what steps can be taken to outlaw that practice. However, it is not straight-forward and it has implications that go wider than criminal records.
I am grateful for what the Home Secretary has just said about the Data Protection Act. Does he not recognise that, as a result of the Bill, any person applying for any job anywhere in the land, even a job that does not involve sensitive work with young children or security, may be required to produce a criminal conviction certificate, and that any employer, particularly a trustee or a director responsible to shareholders, will feel increasingly obliged to ask for such a certificate? Does he not recognise what a massive change that is to the labour market?
I doubt that the draconian consequences that the right hon. Gentleman has identified will flow from the Bill. We must, however, recognise the legitimate concerns that have been expressed about the need to protect those who need protecting. That is at the heart of these provisions.
I would like to make progress, if I may.
The Bill will significantly strengthen the fight against serious and organised crime. The creation of the NCIS Service Authority and a National Crime Squad will ensure that intelligence is properly harnessed and that operations are carefully targeted to inflict the maximum damage on organised crime. Putting the authorisation of intrusive surveillance onto a statutory footing will ensure that the police and customs will have the tools that they need to prevent and investigate serious, organised crime, and there will be new, additional safeguards against any possible abuse. The provisions for wider access to criminal records will improve the protection of vulnerable members of our community and reduce the opportunities for those determined to abuse positions of trust to commit crime.
This is an important Bill. It will make life very much harder for major criminals. That is what the public want to see. That is what the whole House wants to see. That is, I believe, what the Bill achieves. I commend it to the House.
Over the past decade and a half, recorded crime in this country has more than doubled. As the British crime survey and a number of local crime surveys have shown, the level of crime today is such that, over a three-year period, nearly three quarters of the population will have had a personal experience of crime, either directly as a victim or indirectly through having to share the distress and anxiety of crime committed against the family or a close friend. What turns the screw even more is the fact that the poorer people are, the more likely they are to be a victim of crime.
Much of the crime that affects people in their day-to-day lives appears to be disorganised: a crowd of youths whose behaviour changes from the exuberant to the threatening; the opportunist theft of a car stereo; or the quick break-in of a dwelling when the chance presents itself. But behind much apparently disorganised crime lies something altogether more sinister—organised crime.
Organised crime used to be involved mainly in armed robberies and protection rackets. Now its scope has extended far wider. Every gram of heroin that is sold on a street corner, every Ecstasy tablet that is passed on in a club, has behind its lethal trade some of the most ruthless individuals and gangs ever seen. On top of that danger, there is the continuing threat from terrorism. Staff turning up for work in Canary Wharf, or shoppers hoping to enjoy a Saturday morning shopping in Manchester, have a right to expect that they can go about their business without their lives being wrecked by the mindless, callous acts of the Provisional IRA.
I wish for the world of "Dixon of Dock Green"—but if that world ever existed, it has been and gone for sure. The most important civil liberty that it is our duty to protect is the freedom for citizens to live without fear. If we are to create safer, more orderly communities, we have to tackle crime and disorder as it occurs on the street, and take action to deal with its underlying causes. However, we also have to tackle serious crime more effectively and ensure that, within a clear framework of the law, the police and the other law enforcement agencies are given the tools to do the job that we ask them to undertake on our behalf.
In July 1995, the Home Affairs Select Committee produced an important report on organised crime. It was a unanimous report. It made many recommendations, one of which was that NCIS and the crime squads should be put on a proper statutory footing, and so, too, should the use of intrusive surveillance techniques by the police. The report was widely welcomed. It was also welcomed by Labour Front Benchers.
This time last year, during the proceedings on the Security Service Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) and I referred to the need to bring the report's recommendations to fruition. Parts I, II and III of the Bill seek to do that. Parts I and II provide a proper statutory framework, for the first time, for NCIS and a new National Crime Squad.
Seventeen years ago, in a private Member's Bill that I introduced to improve police accountability, I proposed that there should be a new national police agency to take over the national police functions of the Metropolitan police and other agencies and organisations. Our tradition of locally based policing, with independent chief police officers, is key to the success of the British police and the fact that they are far more sensitive to local communities than many of their counterparts in other countries. However, we undermine rather than strengthen that tradition if we pretend that all policing can be undertaken within the boundaries of a local force. Serious crime and terrorism are national and international. The overall organisation of the police must reflect that.
I deal with those two parts of the Bill briefly because of time. Their provisions will need to be examined with great care in Standing Committee. Given the starting point, however, it was probably inevitable that two separate organisations had to be created. The fact that, in practice, their role will overlap is reflected in the requirement in the Bill for the supervising authorities to have common members. I believe that we have to keep an open mind on whether at some stage, and in the light of experience, a single national body would be the more effective arrangement.
I now deal with part III, on intrusive surveillance, which has aroused great interest outside and inside the House. The use by the police and other agencies of covert, secretive methods to obtain information is rightly one of the most sensitive parts of the criminal justice system. We know from the experience of other countries, including the United States during the McCarthyite period, that there is always the potential for such powers to be abused. Effective controls and checks must therefore be in place to ensure that that does not happen, to ensure that powers that should be used to detect and deter serious crime and terrorism are not more widely used to undermine the freedoms that citizens in a democracy should enjoy.
In securing a proper balance, and in judging what is proposed in the Bill, it is important that we begin from what is and what has been, not from what might have been but was not. When debate about the intrusive surveillance powers of the Bill first began in public, last November, much of the comment was so profoundly misinformed as to be downright ignorant. One newspaper commentator claimed that the Bill changed our constitution because
for the first time in history, the police will exercise these powers without having to get a warrant".
That statement, picked up by many others, was completely untrue.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, in view of the widespread misunderstanding, it would be very much better—to restore public confidence—if these issues, particularly that of prior authorisation, were debated on the Floor of the House rather than tucked away in semi-privacy upstairs?
I do not regard a Standing Committee as operating in semi-privacy—it is open to the press just as much as debates on the Floor of the House. Nor do I wish to subscribe to the hon. Gentleman's proposition that every Bill of importance has to be debated on the Floor of the House. [Interruption.] It is not, in my judgment, the same constitutional matter, for example, as the European Communities (Amendment) Bill, which palpably had to be debated on the Floor of the House because it had enormous constitutional significance. The hon. Gentleman and I may disagree on whether the Police Bill is a constitutional measure. I have made it clear, and will do so again, that I regard this measure as one that improves safeguards in the exercise of these powers rather than introducing these powers in this country in the first place.
I ask my hon. Friends and the hon. Gentleman to bear it in mind that, on all the best estimates, this Session of Parliament cannot last for much more than five weeks. There are other very important measures to which we attach great importance, particularly the Firearms (Amendment) Bill, and I would not wish extensive discussion on the Police Bill on the Floor of the House to lead to a situation where the Firearms (Amendment) Bill could not be enacted.
I do not share my hon. Friend's view about the Police Bill. I also wish to see the Firearms (Amendment) Bill on the statute book as quickly as possible. If we form a Government—as I believe and hope we shall—we could not introduce such a Bill before July, so it probably would not get on the statute book until next December at the earliest. That is not an acceptable timetable for the introduction of a measure that should have been law by now.
The statement made in one of our serious newspapers that, for the first time in history, the police will exercise these powers without having to obtain a warrant was completely untrue. Intrusive surveillance techniques using electronic equipment have been used by the police for at least 30 years without a warrant being required or there being any formal system of judicial supervision.
Since at least 1965, Appeal Courts have accepted that evidence obtained in that way is admissible in the criminal courts. Until 1977, there was no Home Office guidance to police forces on how they should use these powers. In 1977, the Home Office, under my right hon. and learned Friend Lord Rees as Home Secretary, issued a page and a half of guidance in general terms. However, that guidance was not published until 1982. In 1984, more detailed guidance was issued and published, which made it the personal responsibility of chief officers to authorise the use of those techniques. Despite the fact that the guidance was made public, there were few calls at that stage for the system to be put on a statutory footing. No arrangements for systematic judicial supervision or for central record keeping were put in place.
My hon. Friend will recall that I asked the Home Secretary how many applications had been received from the police to access the United Kingdom Cellnet system. He said that that information was not held centrally. In fact, he boasted that it was a good thing that it was not held centrally. The Interception of Communications Act 1985 provides that interception can be carried out only under a warrant issued by the Secretary of State. In that case, either the Secretary of State is breaking the law, or the police are.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point, and for raising it with me previously outside the House. I thought that the Secretary of State's answer was one of the least convincing of all those that he gave in reply to interventions—and there was much competition for that prize. It is nonsense for the Secretary of State to suggest that, because some decisions are rightly made by independent chief officers, there should not be proper and comprehensive record keeping. Records are kept on plenty of other police operations, so they should be kept in that case.
The interception of telephone calls from mobile telephones is covered by the Interception of Communications Act 1985 under the proper statutory system, so there should be information about that. From reading the written answer that my hon. Friend was given, it does not appear that the collection of subscriber data—when the calls were made and from where—is subject to the 1985 Act. The collection of such data by the police may be necessary for the detection of serious crime, but it should be regulated either by the 1985 Act, by this Bill or by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. It must be subject to statutory supervision under one of those provisions, and we shall certainly raise this matter in Committee.
Despite the fact that no central records have been kept, or any systematic arrangement for judicial supervision made, chief police officers have not been unaccountable for their actions in authorising intrusive surveillance. On a number of occasions, they have been called by the defence to give evidence in court to justify their decision to authorise such surveillance. Although a non-statutory system was and is inherently unsatisfactory, it must also be said that, in practice, there have been remarkably few complaints about the way in which chief officers have met their responsibilities.
This time last year, the role of the Security Service was extended, with our backing, so that it could support the police in the detection of serious crime. The same Bill required that the use of intrusive surveillance techniques by the Security Service in that area should require, by statute, the Home Secretary's authorisation. That put into sharp relief the need for the use of those powers by the police to be placed on a similar statutory footing, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth and I—and, it has to be said, the Government Front-Bench team—made clear when we discussed that Bill.
The Police Bill, as originally published, provided that the use of any intrusive surveillance techniques by the police had to be authorised by the relevant chief officer according to strict criteria laid down in the Bill. There was then to be a system of judicial supervision of the use of such powers by a commissioner, who would be a senior High Court judge appointed for that purpose. That system parallelled that used for phone tapping, for which the commissioner is Lord Nolan, who is better known for his work on improving—or trying to improve—standards of conduct in public life.
I said when the Bill was published, and I say again, that, on any basis, the system in the original Bill was a significant advance on the non-statutory arrangements that have applied for the past 30 years. However, we were concerned from the start that the Bill provided insufficient protection for the work of lawyers, doctors and journalists. As the debate has progressed, I have also accepted that the basic arrangements in the Bill for judicial supervision should be significantly strengthened.
In the other place, the Government accepted our proposals that the number of commissioners should be increased from one to at least three, and that for all authorisations the time scale for informing a commissioner of an intrusion had to be shortened, so that, in many non-urgent cases, the commissioner could quash an authorisation before the operation had taken place.
I am trying to follow the hon. Gentleman's argument and his explanation of the way in which his party's policy has evolved. What is his understanding of the words in clause 91(2):
Where it is not reasonably practicable to apply to a Commissioner for advance approval under subsection (1)"?
Can the hon. Gentleman give the House a good example, from his own knowledge or from his thought processes, of where it would not be reasonably practicable to apply to the commissioner?
The purpose of the phrase "not reasonably practicable" was to allow the police, when there was great urgency about placing some intrusive device, to carry out the operation on the chief officer's authorisation, and retrospectively to obtain the consent of the commissioner. If, for example, a kidnapping has taken place, the police may not have time to plan an operation, as they would for a drug dealer. With a kidnapping, they have to act quickly: they may be following a vehicle that is going to the place where the kidnap victim is to be held, but they would not know where that place was until moments before the kidnap victim and the kidnappers arrived. It would be absurd to expect the police to seek approval from a commissioner, and even more absurd to expect them to go to a circuit judge.
I have discussed this matter extensively with chief officers, as I hope the House would have expected me to do. I do not believe that they want to abuse that provision, because if they did, their authorisations would be quashed by a commissioner. Moreover, at the end of the year, the commissioner, in his report to the Prime Minister, which could be published, could name a chief officer who had transgressed the terms of the Bill. It would still be possible, as it has been for the past 30 years, for the chief officer to be taken to court to explain why he gave his authorisation.
A code of practice will be laid down under the provisions of the Bill, which will require the approval of both Houses of Parliament by affirmative resolution following consultation. It is my hope and intention that that code of practice should more specifically lay down the circumstances in which the urgency provisions should apply.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be more appropriate if we at least had the draft code of practice before us on Second Reading? The contents of the code go to the heart of this part of the Bill. We could make a much more intelligent contribution to the debate, and decide how to vote later this evening, if we knew the contents and intentions of the code of practice.
I was able to extract a copy by fax from the Home Secretary's office at lunchtime, but copies have not been available in the Vote Office: as far as I am aware, they are not available now, although I have asked for them repeatedly. I do not know whether I can use your good offices, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to have that checked, but copies of the code are not available. I defy my hon. Friend to obtain a copy in the next few minutes.
I know that the code is available, because I happen to have a copy. If it is not available in the Vote Office, it ought to be. I entirely accept that it should be available to the House, but that is the responsibility of the Home Secretary and his colleagues, not my responsibility. It is a matter of fact that the code of practice is available—I have read it—but I do not believe that it should go into law in its present form. There should be the widest possible consultation on its terms, as indeed there will be.
The hon. Gentleman gave an instance of the bugging of property in an emergency. I do not think that the House has any difficulty with that, in that a helicopter or an unmarked police car may follow a vehicle, and other provisions in criminal law give authority in such circumstances. Will the hon. Gentleman reflect, however, on the question of homes and property? What emergency could arise that would not be covered by the remit of the Security Service Act 1996—which the hon. Gentleman mentioned himself—and the warranting that is necessary in that context? The intelligence services can follow through serious crimes involving, for instance, drugs.
What circumstances are so urgent that the proper provisions of law that now exist—which give police officers the right of access to premises, and so forth—are not sufficient? What could bring about circumstances that are so urgent that action in the tradition of the whole common law world requires prior authorisation?
I do not think that occasions will arise very often when, if the police want to place an intrusive device in someone's home or office, the circumstances will be so urgent as to require them to use the second limb of the amendment that was passed in the House of Lords by a large majority, but there will be some such occasions. I gave the example of kidnapping. I understand that many kidnap victims are taken to hotel rooms, but if they were taken to private houses exactly the circumstances that I have described would arise.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the use of a code of practice is unsatisfactory, particularly when the House does not have access to it? It would be much better if the code were incorporated in the statute, which would require either the House or the Standing Committee to consider it a great deal more carefully.
One of the great benefits of Standing Committee proceedings, in my experience—I do not know how often the hon. Gentleman sits on such Committees—is that the details of such codes, and of other provisions, can be examined at length. Far more forensic scrutiny is possible in Committee than is possible on the Floor of the House. Moreover, the code of practice is not an informal document; it will take the form of a statutory instrument, which must be subject to an affirmative resolution by both Houses of Parliament.
I accept that. If my hon. Friend wants to serve on the Standing Committee and suggest that more time should be allowed, that is fine, but the arrangement seems very sensible to me. Labour as well as Conservative Bills have provided in the past, and will provide in the future, for detailed matters relating to the operational parts of Bills to be the subject of more extensive codes and guidance.
By the largest majority in recent history, the other place approved a Labour amendment requiring the prior approval of a commissioner for any intrusion into premises without the consent of the occupier. As we have heard, the same amendment accepted that, in urgent cases, an operation could go ahead on the authorisation of the chief officer, with scrutiny by a commissioner as soon thereafter as reasonably practicable.
In framing the amendment for their Lordships, I sought to do two things. First, I sought to ensure that people's right to believe that their home was their castle was guaranteed; secondly, I sought to ensure that controls on the police were proportionate, and did not gratuitously undermine the difficult and sometimes dangerous work that we expect them to do on our behalf. It is because of the need to balance those two considerations that we have never supported, and do not support, the Liberal Democrat amendment which was also passed by their Lordships, albeit with a smaller majority.
That amendment substitutes a circuit judge for the chief officer in every case. It has two overwhelming defects. First, it takes no account of the reality of some police operations in which the need for speed is essential. An Englishman's home may be his castle, but an Englishman's stolen car is not. Yet, when the police suddenly, and with notice, had the opportunity to place a tracking device on a stolen vehicle that was about to be used in an armed robbery or for drug running, the Liberal Democrats would expect them in every case to go off to a circuit judge for approval before the operation could take place. The practical effect would be that the operation could not take place at all.
The second objection is this: a transfer of decision for the initial authorisation from a chief officer to a circuit judge would have wholly undermined the responsibility of the chief officer for the actions of the police under his command. The fact that under the present arrangements, and under the Bill, the chief officer may have to answer in court for his or her authorisation is a powerful discipline and control on the use of such powers. It is possible that the Liberal Democrats have not been immune to those arguments. Their reasoned amendment says something remarkably different from the policy that they pursued in the other place. It speaks only of prior judicial authorisation for the bugging of private places, which is a much more limited proposition than the Lords amendment.
Following their Lordships' decisions on our amendment, discussions took place between the Home Secretary and me. The result of those discussions is reflected in a written answer given to me yesterday evening, which will form the basis of amendments that will be tabled in Committee in due course.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) will forgive me. We were told a few minutes ago that the draft code of practice was available, and I said that it was not. My hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) has now been to the Vote Office to check, and has discovered that it is not available. It is clearly available to Privy Councillors, but not to hon. Members. I cannot make the position any plainer: a document that has been referred to in the House is not available to hon. Members. Could we have some protection and intervention on your behalf, Mr. Deputy Speaker? It is fundamentally important for us to have access to the document.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The point about the code is that it will need to be amended—in particular, to deal with many of the points that have been commented on this afternoon. I am, however, making arrangements for it to be deposited in the Table Office as soon as possible.
Let me deal with the other points first. The hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) will have heard what the Home Secretary said. As the document has not been formally laid before the House, it is not up to the Clerks to make it available; it is up to the Government.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will the Home Secretary confirm that he is proposing to lay the code of practice before the House in the form of a statutory instrument, and that the House will have no opportunity to amend it or consider it in detail? Will he confirm that it will be either passed or rejected after a debate in general terms lasting an hour and a half?
I am grateful to hon. Members on both sides of the House who have elevated me to the Privy Council, but that is premature, although some of us may hope.
The Home Secretary spoke of puffs of smoke. I can only say that what was required to make him perform what has been described as a U-turn was not so much a puff of smoke as a single breath from an hereditary peer—or two or three.
I am coming to the Secretary of State's aid, if he would hang on just one moment.
In his defence, and mine, our capacity for reassessing our position in the light of representations is nothing compared with that of The Guardian. It has waxed eloquent about this issue since it discovered towards the end of November that it was a great matter of civil liberties. I speak only in the Secretary of State's defence—I see it as part of my role. It must be said in his favour that, when he made a speech on 2 July to the Association of Chief Police Officers setting out in considerable detail what would be in the Bill and going through the various ways in which surveillance could be achieved—for example, under provisions that were exactly those in the original Bill—The Guardian did not report it as a major breach of civil liberties.
I have The Guardian of Wednesday 3 July 1996. It is a useful historical record, which The Guardian, as we speak, is trying to excise from its database. It says:
Howard sets statutory code for police bugs
and then claims that the Home Secretary's proposal would lead to
Greater accountability in police bugging and electronic surveillance operations".
It has been suggested occasionally that some people have come late to this issue. I say in defence of the Secretary of State defence and myself only that he and I were there a bit before some of the newspapers.
The hon. Gentleman had better look back to what I said more than a year ago on the Security Services Bill, or he could refer to his letter to The Guardian of 30 November, in which he said:
In what has to be a system which operates in secret, we think that, in practice, there will be greater accountability if the onus is placed squarely on the chief officer to ensure compliance with the law, and if his or her decisions are then subject to effective supervision by a senior judge".
There is nothing about prior approval. I welcome his conversion; I simply wish that it had been more complete.
That is exactly my position and I made that clear. One of the reasons why the Liberal Democrat amendments are not just wrong but daft is that, apart from being wholly inoperable and wrecking important surveillance—for example, by proposing tracking devices on vehicles, despite all evidence from the police—they remove the responsibility rather than the power of the chief officer.
The right hon. Gentleman, who has been elevated to that noble position, should talk to middle-ranking police officers who have had to go to their chief officers to gain these authorisations. They have told me—I take the advice of those to whom I have spoken seriously—that, in practice, it is far easier to obtain authorisation for a warrant from a circuit judge or magistrate under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 than to get authorisation for placing intrusive surveillance from the chief constable. Why? It is because, unlike circuit judges, chief constables know that, if they get it wrong—or even if they get it right—they may have to justify their decision in open court. That is why I was determined to stick to the Bill's central provision that the responsibility for authorisation had to be on the chief officer, with judicial supervision.
The hon. Gentleman will know that I have listened to the views of chief officers, middle-ranking officers and serving police officers over a long period, not only in my capacity as a party spokesman but as a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee. The hon. Gentleman's description of the procedure employed by chief constables is correct. As it takes some time for such an application to be properly considered by a chief constable, why cannot the hon. Gentleman envisage the system being used—as it is now in front of a chief constable—to ensure that prior authorisation is given, even in urgent cases? Under the present system, chief constables have to deal with urgent cases in a formalised way, as does the Home Secretary in respect of the Security Service. The system can be made sufficiently efficient to do that.
If the right hon. Gentleman has talked to the police, it is a great shame that he did not pass on what he learned to Lord Rodgers, whose opinions were informed by almost total ignorance about police operations in this sector. I am astonished that the right hon. Gentleman did not learn from chief constables that in urgent cases the chief officer must give authorisation by telephone. Let me give him an example that would have been completely disrupted by his amendment.
There is a difference—the Home Secretary can speak for himself about this—between the sort of operation that may be undertaken by the Security Service and what a local police force may do, but let me take a tangible example that occurs quite often. When the police spot a stolen vehicle that they have reasonable grounds for believing is about to be used in an armed robbery, they will wish to place a tracking device on it. Under the amendment moved by the noble Lord Rodgers, the authorisation for placing the tracking device under the vehicle would have to be subject to approval by a circuit judge. So we would have an extraordinary pantomime whereby the detective constable in charge of tracking the vehicle would have to stop, go to the chief officer and fill in a variety of forms. He would then have to find a circuit judge.
No, he does not. After finding a circuit judge, he would have to gain authorisation. The detective constable might be lucky and the stolen vehicle might still be there 24 or 48 hours later when he returns. However, the evidence that I have suggests that, on the whole, armed robbers do not oblige the police in that way.
I was told—I am sorry to say that I accepted this in terms of the advice from the police—that the proposal would wreck police operations and lead to the committing of many more armed robberies and to the guilty getting away with it. I am not surprised that the right hon. Gentleman is looking perplexed. By now, he should appreciate what his noble Friends in the other place did not appreciate: that their amendment would have undermined the responsibility of the chief constable and wrecked many possible police operations.
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the issue of electronic surveillance, will he clarify two issues? Is it Opposition policy that the Bill should extend warrant powers to include telephone data—not just the interception of telephone conversations, but details of telephone calls from a particular number?
Does the hon. Gentleman propose to include all passive tracking devices? As he has spoken to the police and to other agencies, he will be aware that one method of electronic tracking is passive. It involves painting the top of a suspect vehicle with invisible infrared reflective paint that can be tracked by helicopter. It is a useful device, but it does not involve any electronic intrusion of the vehicle concerned. Under those circumstances, would he consider extending the Bill or does he think that they are covered already?
It is a moot point whether invisible ink on the top of a vehicle amounts to interference with property as defined by the Bill. I do not have a specific answer to the hon. Gentleman's second point. It is no doubt a matter that he will wish to pursue if he gets on to the Standing Committee. On the first point, as I said in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for, which valley is it—
The first point that the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) made involved whether data relating to telephone calls should be subject to the Bill's provisions. As I said in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd), it should be subject to the provisions of one or other of the Acts—the Interception of Communications Act 1985, the Police and Criminal Evidence Act or this Bill—that control the use of such operations by the police. I want to think about it, but the matter should be put on a proper statutory footing.
If the hon. Gentleman will excuse me, I shall not give way; the Secretary of State spoke for more than an hour. I have spoken for 38 minutes and many other hon. Members wish to participate in the debate.
The amendments that will be proposed will significantly strengthen judicial supervision under the Bill. Prior authorisation, subject to an urgency provision, will be required for intrusion into homes, offices and hotel bedrooms. That seems to cover the main "private places" referred to in the Liberal Democrats' reasoned amendment, which represents another U-turn by them.
The absolute confidentiality of discussions between lawyer and client is essential if the legal profession is to operate effectively in any society. That principle is an absolute, and it is the essence of legal professional privilege. When dealing with an amendment tabled by Labour in the other place, Baroness Blatch said:
We accept entirely that the police should not be allowed to set out to listen in or otherwise to interfere with confidential conversations between a lawyer and his client or a doctor and his patient."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 28 January 1997; Vol. 577, c. 1095.]
That is a very important statement by the Minister on behalf of the Government, and it is certainly one to which we entirely subscribe.
Our view, and the essence of what we have argued in the other place, is that intrusion into what would otherwise be legal professional privilege should be allowed only when privilege is used by people who are not lawyers as a cloak for a criminal conspiracy or criminal activities, or when lawyers themselves are involved in similar unlawful activities.
The amendments will also make provision, similar to that contained in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, for doctors and journalists, and, as we have heard, they will preserve the absolute sanctity of the confessional. As a communicating member of the Church of England, I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) for informing us that confession occurs in Protestant churches as well as in the Roman Church. I was not aware of that in my own church, and I note that the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) was not either.
Indeed. One of the parts of the law of England is the Church of England's unrepealed Canon 113 of 1603, which enshrines the secrecy of confession in the established Church. The point, however, is not merely a matter of the secrecy of confession; it is that all ministers of religion should have access to and conversations with members of their flock, ring-fenced and privileged. Although I welcome the undertakings about lawyers and doctors given by the shadow Home Secretary, will he undertake that—if he has stewardship over the code of practice—conversations between ministers of religion and members of their flock will be explicitly exempted from surveillance and bugging provisions?
I will discuss that in more detail with my hon. Friend, and will learn a good deal more about his expertise regarding the 1603 settlement. I have read the Book of Common Prayer from cover to cover many times while sitting in chapel at school, but I do not remember that part—although I remember that the 42 articles were reduced to 39. I certainly accept that, if confession takes place in Protestant churches, we shall have to consider the matter seriously. I have absolutely no intention of undermining the sanctity of the confessional.
Under the original Bill, the commissioner would apply the test of judicial review. In other words, the commissioner would have to examine an authorisation and judge whether it was so unreasonable that no sensible officer could have granted it. I am grateful to the Secretary of State for proposing that there should be a more positive test, which would be similar to, although not exactly the same as, that which applies in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act.
We never intended that the commissioner should second-guess. The issue was always whether the chief officer would base his decision on the criteria in the Bill, and whether the commissioner—either prospectively or retrospectively—would check that decision to satisfy himself that the chief officer of police had based his decision on the Bill's criteria.
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I must make progress; I have already been generous with my time and with that of the House.
The Secretary of State has made provision for appeals and for improvements to the tenure and status of the commissioners by ensuring that they will be appointed by the Prime Minister, after consultation with the Lord Chancellor; that they will serve for a set term; and that they can be removed only by resolution of both Houses of Parliament.
Before moving on to part V of the Bill, I should mention that, in the course of an answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), the Secretary of State attempted to invent Labour party policy on the third pillar. I have made it clear that that was an invention, and my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary has issued this statement:
The Labour party has always been clear that it will retain the veto on issues in the Third Pillar of the European Union such as border controls, immigration, asylum and police co-operation. We have never changed that position and
the Secretary of State's
suggestion to the contrary is just another"—
I will have to translate the phrase as "inexactitude", although I am sure that hon. Members know what that word means outside the House.
The precedent for the matter is, of course, nothing whatever to do with Europe. The United States supplied American warheads to Britain, for nuclear purposes, on the condition that it supervised all the intelligence services in Britain—I know that because I was in charge of them—and that all the Government communication headquarters bugging that goes on be made available to the Central Intelligence Agency. It is not a new point.
My question was whether, under security arrangements already entered into, the information would be available—as I believe it will be—to the European security authority, which is just as keen to deal with crime as the Secretary of State and my hon. Friends. My hon. Friend must not think that it is a precedent, because it has gone on for years. The trouble is that the matter has never been taken seriously, although it has been written about by many people, including me.
As we now know, I am not a member of the Privy Council. My right hon. Friend is, and I do not have anything like his experience or knowledge of the secret parts of Government. Therefore, I am in no position to comment on them.
I have already mentioned the code of practice. If Labour is elected, I believe that there should be wide consultation on the draft before it is laid before the House. I also believe that, after the new statutory regime has been in operation for a year, a full review should be undertaken, with an opportunity for a debate. If we form the next Government, I shall seek to ensure that that is done.
On part V of the Bill, the maintenance of a comprehensive system of criminal records is essential for the prevention and detection of crime, for the wider protection of the public and as part of the sentencing process and the sentence. In many cases, although by no means all, the shame of having a criminal record is as much a punishment as a formal sanction of the court.
However, an important balance should be struck. For less serious offences—which pose no significant risk to the public—there must come a moment when an offender can draw a line in the sand and say that he or she has paid the price to society for his or her crime and that he or she should now be given the opportunity to put the past behind him or her. The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 was and remains an important measure in ensuring that offenders are rehabilitated and go on to lead law-abiding lives.
There are more serious crimes, for which the balance must be struck at a different. point—as the 1974 Act realises, with its distinction between sentences below or above 30 months. In one sense, of course, the need to rehabilitate such offenders is all the greater because of the gravity of their crime, and we should never give up trying to do that, but there is also a much greater risk to the public from such offenders. Therefore, the public must have a greater right, in properly defined circumstances, to know about the offender's record.
There is a third category of offender, encompassing those whose formal criminal record may be very slight or non-existent but whose behaviour poses the greatest risks to communities, and especially to women and to children. The challenge to achieve the right balance between civil liberties and public protection is at its most acute with the third category. So far as I am aware, Thomas Hamilton, in Dunblane, had no serious previous convictions to his name, and he could—and did—claim that he was of good character. However, as we know from the Cullen inquiry, plenty of intelligence showed the terrible side of his character. Had it been possible to take greater account of that intelligence, Hamilton would not have been able to obtain a firearms certificate and he might have been prevented from his wholly undesirable involvement with children.
Part V attempts to reflect what I believe is a natural hierarchy of seriousness in criminal convictions. There will, as we have heard, be ordinary criminal conviction certificates that cover only non-spent convictions, criminal record certificates that cover all convictions and enhanced criminal record certificates that also cover non-conviction information.
I shall deal first with the more comprehensive certificates and then return to the ordinary ones. Clause 104 provides for criminal record certificates in which, for more sensitive areas of employment, full criminal record checks, including spent and unspent convictions, will be made available to employers by the agency. The types of employment covered by the arrangements will include jobs that involve regular contact with children and other vulnerable groups—the elderly, sick or handicapped people—those involved in work related to national security, the administration of the law, sensitive licensing areas or professions in areas such as health, pharmacy and the law, and senior managers in banking and financial services.
Clause 105 provides for enhanced criminal record certificates on which, for particular sensitive areas of work or licensing, additional information will be made available from local police records. That will include some non-conviction information. The posts envisaged are prospective employees, trainees and volunteers having regular, unsupervised contact with children and young people under the age of 18 and those applying for gaming, betting and lottery licences. The Penal Affairs Consortium correctly said that those provisions made sense.
The purpose of criminal conviction certificates is, in one sense, prosaic and straightforward. The certificate is a facility that enables an individual to verify a statement made by him in circumstances in which he should in any event be under an obligation to tell the truth. As someone involved in the employment of staff—as a Member of Parliament and, more frequently, as a school governor—I want and need to know whether an applicant for a position has any unspent previous convictions. I need to know not to blackball an applicant with a record, but to have the fullest information available when reaching a decision.
Applicants for any job certify that the information given is correct. Giving false information is grounds for instant dismissal when an appointment is made. On one level, therefore, the availability of the certificates can be presented as administrative, making it easier to provide firm and accurate information that applicants have to provide anyway.
However, because there will be a formal and straightforward system where none has existed, demand for certificates may grow. That has led responsible organisations that deal with offenders and ex-offenders to express understandable anxieties that the provisions could make it much more difficult to rehabilitate former criminals through gainful employment. Those anxieties must be addressed seriously in Committee.
There is an overwhelming case for making the provisions of the code of practice mandatory for employers in respect of all the certificates. The code will be mandatory for employers in respect of the higher level certificates, so why not in respect of all of them? We must also recognise that, if we want more, rather than fewer, ex-offenders appropriately employed—and therefore going straight—we have to change the attitudes of many job givers as much as we have to change the law.
The White Paper "On the Record" said that there would be a requirement in the code for employers to have a written policy and strategy for the employment of ex-offenders. That commitment was wrongly dropped in the other place. The commitment should apply to all certificates. Some employers, large and small, are enlightened in their employment of ex-offenders. We must draw on that best practice. Along with the widened provisions of a code of practice, we should try to agree a protocol on the employment of ex-offenders with the main employers' organisations and the trade unions. In government, I would certainly aim for that.
In the other place, an amendment was passed by two votes to exempt volunteers from the charges for certificates. Voluntary organisations and their volunteers play a critical role in society, enriching and binding it. We need more volunteers, not fewer. We need to make it easier, not more difficult, for people to volunteer. The likely charge of £5 to £8 for the certificates will appear modest to some volunteers, but may appear gratuitously off-putting for others. There is a strong view throughout the voluntary sector that it would be wrong to make the charge a tax on volunteering. Voluntary organisations would therefore have to pick up the tab. It is also felt that the charge is inconsistent with the Government's declared intention in the "make a difference" initiative.
The whole House—not least Labour Members—must recognise that there would be a cost to the public purse in meeting the so-called Weatherill amendment. I am not certain that the upper limit cost of £200 million bears much serious examination. The figure appears to be based on 20 million volunteers paying £10 a time. Informed estimates given by several organisations are that no more than 4 million people have direct access to children and vulnerable people. The figure at the lower end of the rough estimate of charges, which is all that we have to go on, is only one tenth of that used by the Minister. There is an annual turnover of 20 per cent., so the annual costs might be lower, at about £4 million—a rather different scale of problem from that suggested by the Secretary of State, although it is still a cost to the public purse.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the problem affects not merely voluntary organisations? There are 100,000 registered child minders in this country, many of whom do not earn much more than £2 an hour. A child minder with a partner and several teenage children might have to pay as much as £50 for certification. Would that threaten the registration process and encourage some people not to register as child minders? The National Childminding Association has raised that issue.
I accept the concern that my hon. Friend has expressed, and I hope that the matter can be discussed in more detail in Committee.
I want volunteers and voluntary organisations to be helped as much as possible. I am glad that the Secretary of State has accepted the proposition that there should be a power to exempt categories of volunteers from the charges. I accept that it may be necessary to have a power to exempt other categories, such as the long-term unemployed. The figures and mechanisms for that deserve further scrutiny. We shall scrutinise that in Committee. In government, we would seek to minimise the burden on voluntary organisations as public finances allowed, although I do not think that we could end it altogether.
The Bill proposes the creation of a new agency. The experience of setting up new agencies is not happy. The Crown Prosecution Service and the Child Support Agency are the best and worst examples, but by no means the only ones. Agencies set up from scratch and all at once have a habit of early systemic failure that can last for years. A high error rate has had severe consequences for the CSA. If the new criminal records agency made similar mistakes, it would be catastrophic for public confidence and would undermine the purpose for which it is to be established.
I therefore believe that the agency must be created at a measured pace. There is a strong case for phasing in the arrangements, starting with the certificate regime that is most needed to protect the public—that contained in clauses 104 and 105 for criminal records certificates and enhanced certificates. Once that system had bedded down, the regime in clause 103 could be introduced. That phasing would also allow more time for consultation with employers, trade unions and voluntary organisations about appropriate safeguards for the issue of certificates.
The first three parts of the Bill contain measures that we have sought to put NCIS, the crime squads and intrusive surveillance on a proper statutory basis. We also support the establishment of the criminal records agency, but with the important safeguards and reservations that I have expressed. We shall ensure that the detail of the Bill is properly examined in Committee and on Report. Meanwhile, we shall ensure that the Bill receives its Second Reading.
I am grateful for the opportunity to make a modest contribution to the debate. I shall be brief because I know that many others want to speak. I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to those present in the Chamber, as I shall not be present for the whole debate because of unavoidable commitments outside the House later this evening.
The thrust of the Bill is to protect the public from the activities of criminals. We know from reading newspapers, watching television and listening to the radio how an increasing threat of crime affects the lives of more and more of our citizens. At the same time, there is no doubt that we have to be conscious of the return of a terrorist threat to this country. We must respond to those twin threats in considering the Police Bill. Therefore, I strongly commend my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for bringing it forward. I realise that it had a fairly rough ride in another place. I congratulate my right hon. and noble Friend Baroness Blatch on the way in which she handled the Bill and carried it forward in another place and on her letter of 19 November that set out very clearly the progress that had been made in doing so.
I certainly welcome the Bill. I welcome the new role of the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the introduction of a National Crime Squad, which will pull together the regional crime squads that have operated so effectively. I share the view that I know is held by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State, and I suspect many others on both sides of the House, that we do not want to create a Federal Bureau of Investigation or a national police force. Local policing is one of our great prizes in law and order, and we should hang on to it as much as possible. As we face the threats and increased mobility of criminals and terrorists, however, national co-ordination will be essential. The Bill addresses that, and I shall return to it in a moment. Before doing so, I want to say a word or two about part V, to which the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) referred towards the end of his speech.
I certainly welcome the proposal for a criminal records agency. I am sure that, in time, it will be widely accepted. However, many voluntary organisations still have some concern about the impact of the cost of differing certificates on the volunteers or trainers and the organisations that use their services. It is obviously immensely important that organisations ensure that, where financial matters are particularly sensitive or where people are responsible for children, young people, vulnerable, elderly, disabled or confused people, those who are employed in a paid or voluntary capacity are properly checked out and those organisations are able to establish their credentials before they take on the employment. Such a system is needed and can be of immense value.
We are told that the charges will be of the order of £5 to £6, or perhaps £8 to £10 for more sophisticated certificates. At first, I was hostile altogether to charging for such services. I have recently received a representation from the Central Council of Physical Recreation, which made a good argument against charges and said that it regarded them as a tax on volunteering and training. I am not sure whether I agree with that. I certainly understand that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary would be loth to ask his Treasury colleagues for £200 million to remove any impact of charging on volunteers or the organisations concerned. However, I hope that he will be able to monitor the effects of charges on volunteering and the employment of people in such organisations. I want charging to be regarded not as a tax on volunteering but as a proper opportunity for people to be able to establish their credentials for a modest charge.
I return to the larger issue that is central to the Bill: intrusive surveillance. At first sight, it is not an attractive concept but, sadly, I regard it, as I suspect do most in the House, as extremely necessary. I first became conscious of the issue when I was the parliamentary private secretary to the former Home Secretary, my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Carr. I remember the assiduity with which he dealt with representations from the intelligence services in passing the necessary warrants for surveillance of one sort or another. I also became conscious during my four years as Minister with responsibility for security in the Northern Ireland Office of how important surveillance was and how, frequently, it was important that such surveillance could be instituted immediately and some big, cumbersome procedure did not have to be undergone to bring about the necessary results.
Our task is to make it possible for the security forces—the police and other law enforcement agencies—to take speedy action to frustrate or apprehend those who are involved in crime or terrorism. I know of the immense responsibility resting on those who have duties in that sensitive area. The Bill meets the need for balance. The phrase "an Englishman's home is his castle", which has been used in this debate, remains an important part of our approach to society, but, sadly and all too frequently, there may be no other way in which information necessary to frustrate the aims of criminals and terrorists can be obtained but by surveillance.
The Bill's provisions and the establishment of the new roles for the two agencies will be of real and practical benefit to the police and other law enforcement agencies. At the end of the day, we are seeking to underpin the efforts of the law enforcement agencies on behalf of our citizens. It is right that we should do so, although we must of course put such provisions on a proper statutory basis, which is what we are about in the Bill. We may be able to learn rather more when the elusive code comes before us and perhaps has to be amended, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has mentioned.
Intelligence is clearly vital as we face rising serious crime levels and the return of a terrorist threat. Increasingly, there is interaction between the two. Kidnapping, drugs, fraud, counterfeiting, vehicle and other serious crime often overlap with terrorist activity. If we are to frustrate the aims of such criminal activity, we shall have to get our act together. The Bill is an important step forward in that regard.
I welcome the change in the role of the NCIS. It was interesting to look at some statistics on the apprehension of sophisticated criminals over the past year. It looks as though about 26 arrests of serious criminals have taken place week by week in that time. We must congratulate the law enforcement agencies on that, but recognise that we need to improve in future. The bodies in the Bill will do much to counter increasing criminal and terrorist activity. Although local policing is, as I have said, absolutely vital and part of our heritage, we need a national strategy for such policing, and the Bill provides that foundation.
Obviously, accountability will be important. The chief constables and the commissioners who will consider applications for surveillance must be prepared to operate under codes of practice to ensure that their actions are commensurate with the real threat that is posed to our society. Those codes of practice should be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. The Bill is necessary, and I commend my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary for its introduction.
I beg to move, To leave out from 'That' to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:
'this House believes that the Police Bill [Lords] is not an acceptable and effective measure unless the bugging of private places by the police is made fully subject to prior judicial authorisation; unless the power to require job applicants to produce a criminal conviction certificate is limited to posts for which there is a reasonable justification for such a certificate; and unless the service authorities for the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the National Crime Squad are made up primarily of members of local police authorities.'
Our amendment sets out our concerns about three key areas of the Bill; the bugging provisions, the general criminal conviction certificate provisions—the wide nature of which will lead to a significant change in the rights of our citizens—and the excessive centralisation of the governing bodies of the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the National Crime Squad.
I am on record as supporting the need for a Bill on those issues. During the discussions that preceded the introduction of the Security Service Act 1996, I argued strongly for such a Bill. The Intelligence and Security Committee, of which I am a member, reported on the need for legislation. It would have been logical for the Bill to be introduced at the same time as, or even before, the Security Service Act 1996. It is necessary to put bodies of the significance of NCIS and the National Crime Squad—which the Prime Minister announced nearly two years ago would be created from the regional crime squads—on a statutory footing.
It is also necessary to do something about the unauthorised, and in many respects illegal, bugging activities carried out by the police for many years, in the absence of any statutory power. They carried out the bugging to detect crime, in parallel with the use of powers by the security services, which had a proper authorisation procedure. When the two services began to work together on organised crime, the illogicality became obvious.
The powers on bugging are necessary, because they can be crucial in dealing with certain crimes, but safeguards are equally necessary. In the recent NCIS investigation, carried out by the chief constable of Northumbria, it became clear that nearly 1,000 records of telephone intercepts had gone missing. Their removal had not been recorded and they could not be traced. In that case, powers were not abused, but the carelessness and lack of proper procedures meant that rights were not safeguarded as they should have been. That case should be a warning to us as we consider the provisions on bugging.
The law has a serious gap, because it does not protect citizens against surveillance by others. Intrusive surveillance can be and is carried out by people who have less justification for doing so than the police. We are not adequately protected against that. The Government have promised in the past to take action, but they have not done so. It would be understandable for the police to be concerned that their use of the powers to bug in the detection of serious crime is being scrutinised carefully, while other more dubious people make use of the same technology to eavesdrop on people without justification. Equipment for the purpose is widely available in shops.
When the Bill was introduced, it was a great disappointment to people who thought it should include prior authorisation that paralleled the system that applied to the security services. From the beginning, there appeared to be an agreement between the Home Secretary and his Labour shadow. The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) seemed satisfied that subsequent review would be sufficient. Of course, it is an improvement for bugging to have a legal basis and for applications to bug to be reviewed by commissions, but that is not an adequate substitute for prior authorisation of intrusion into private places. That is the essence of the Bill. The phrase "an Englishman's home is his castle" has been used, and we are talking about intrusion into places that people legitimately regard as private.
In another place, my noble Friend Lord Rodgers provided firm opposition. We have cause to be grateful to him, because I do not believe that the Labour party would otherwise have adopted its present view. In the end, of course, the Labour Front Benchers were also influenced by the views of many of their own peers. Many Labour Members in the other place voted for our amendment, and others were actively involved in persuading the hon. Member for Blackburn that his original position was not acceptable.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one of the most disagreeable features of modern politics is the way in which new Labour has tried to become more authoritarian than the Tory party? Its policy appears to be that, if the Tories are in favour of kicking a beggar once, new Labour is in favour of kicking a beggar twice. As a result, the official Opposition have not done their job on the Bill. Is that not an additional argument for insisting that the provisions on prior authorisation are considered on the Floor of the House?
Perhaps unusually, I agree with both parts of the hon. Gentleman's intervention. There is a dangerous closeness between the Home Secretary and his shadow, and both are under criticism from within their parties. Speaking as a Liberal Democrat, I welcome the different views that have been vigorously expressed in both the other parties. I also agree with the hon. Gentleman that part III should be taken on the Floor of the House, because it involves major constitutional issues.
In another place, we argued that entry into a private place to carry out intrusive surveillance should require prior authorisation by a judge. In England and Wales, circuit judges would be appropriate and convenient, because they are available in all police areas. We are not persuaded that authorisation should be given by a judge who also serves as a member of the body of commissioners which subsequently reviews the authorisation. That is a fundamental weakness in the approach of the Government and the Labour party. Those who give the permission will subsequently review whether it was given satisfactorily. That does not make sense.
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would not wish to mislead the House, but he was incorrect in what he said about the Lords amendment tabled by the Liberal Democrats, which did not confine prior approval arrangements to premises. It covered any surveillance operation.
The Labour amendment did not restrict the provisions to private residences: it would also apply them to the Arthur Daley warehouse which, as I shall shortly argue, need not be covered by the prior authorisation procedure. It ill behoves those who thought that no prior authorisation was necessary to criticise the details of the prior authorisation that we suggested.
It is a mistake to give the review body the initial power of approval, and that must be reconsidered. Chief police officers believe that a central unit for processing applications is desirable, and I understand that, but that would not require the approving judges to act as commissioners. The central unit could use a different panel of judges.
Nobody has explained so far what will happen in Scotland. Is it assumed that one of the commissioners will be a Scottish judge? Is it assumed that there will be a unit in Edinburgh to process applications, or will all Scottish police forces have to apply to London for an authorisation? Scottish police officers are very concerned about those questions.
The procedures set up by the Bill must be capable of being implemented rapidly in emergencies, to avoid recourse to retrospective approval, which is undesirable and is not thought necessary for the powers under the Interception of Communications Act 1985 or the Security Service Act 1996. The Security Service deals with situations which, in the way that they must be handled, are not dissimilar to those with which the police deal. The Security Service must apply to the Home Secretary for authorisation. If the application is urgent, the Home Secretary has to act urgently. It is a job that he does not delegate to a junior Minister, and if he is out of the country, it is done by another Secretary of State, but it is done urgently, and there is no reason why a judge cannot do that job urgently.
Nobody has so far suggested that it is necessary to bypass the procedure of recourse to the Home Secretary, either for the Security Service or for police use of the interception of communications legislation. They have recourse to the Home Secretary for approval in such cases, and there is not an emergency bypass. The suggestion that this cannot be done in cases where there is an intrusion into a private residence—which must be mounted before the person returns to that residence—does not stand up. Even if it were to prove persuasive to the House, it must be more narrowly defined than "cases of urgency". That is the blandest definition we could have, but it has found approval with both the Home Secretary and the hon. Member for Blackburn.
The provisions of the Bill extend to a far wider range of surveillance activities than have been featured in the public debate. These include measures to locate and track vehicles, the surveillance of lock-up warehouses—which may be used to tranship weapons or drugs—and surveillance in a public place. We accept that some of these activities—although they should be reviewed by commissioners—need not require prior authorisation on the same basis as the bugging of a private residence.
Another interesting case is that of the confessional. The Home Secretary looked as if he were about to be drawn into some theological difficulty over this issue, and the status of the assurance he gave was not clear. It was said that the police would not use the powers in relation to what was described as "the seal of the confessional". In the first place, it is not clear how the Home Secretary can give that assurance for every police force which may make applications. Secondly, it is not clear how that will affect other groups which, theologically, do not accept the concept of the confessional and a priest giving absolution, but have similarly confidential discussions between a member of the congregation and the minister—whether it is a Protestant minister, a rabbi or someone else in a similar position.
It is not clear whether the Home Secretary intends that these powers could never be used, even with prior judicial authorisation, although there might be a case for doing so. My mind goes back to a Catholic priest in Ireland, who was found to be involved in gun-running activities. I regard that as an exceptional case, but one that might justify prior authorisation for use of the powers. There is an area of confusion that will have to be sorted out, and the solution cannot depend on one's willingness to accept only a Catholic doctrine of confession. It would be an odd piece of legislation if it were so based.
I do not believe that the deal between the Home Secretary and his Labour shadow, the hon. Member for Blackburn, will do. We must return to the bugging powers on the Floor of the House.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that, before the Security Services Act 1989 and, indeed, since then, any electronic surveillance conducted by the police was not illegal, as he suggested, and that, provided that it was authorised by a chief police officer, it was entirely legal? Secondly, does he accept that any private enterprise bugging—as he describes it—is completely illegal as it is a breach of the wireless and telegraphy legislation? Finally, does he accept that there is a huge difference between the kind of electronic surveillance undertaken by the Security Service, where those involved are intelligence officers, and that used by the police, whose officers are part of a uniformed and disciplined organisation with a direct structure of accountability and discipline?
I am not sure what the hon. Gentleman is trying to argue with his last point, but he is wrong if he assumes that all surveillance and eavesdropping activities—or even interception activities—are legal. The law is far from complete on this point. The Home Secretary conceded that, in the controversial case of Alison Halford—the former assistant chief constable of Merseyside—the chief constable intercepted communications on a telephone in the assistant chief constable's office, but was not acting illegally and did not require authorisation when he did so.
Does the right hon. Gentleman concede that the bugging done in the past by the police was not illegal? The police have, very honourably, come to the Government and said that they think that what they are doing could be subject to criticism in the future, and that they would like a proper statutory framework for those activities. Is it not most unfortunate that the Government are not giving the police the opportunity to have this matter fully debated on the Floor of the House? There have been doubts about the police's behaviour in the past—in the west midlands, for instance, where the serious crime squad had to be disbanded. Would it not be better to have a more public debate on the details, which have so engaged the interest of the House, on the Floor? Is it not inevitably unfair to everybody concerned to have the debate tucked away in Committee?
The hon. Gentleman believes in the merit of repetition, as I have already answered his last question in the affirmative. However, it must be said that the police were in danger of facing criminal charges, and certainly actions for civil trespass, for some of the actions that they might have had to take in carrying out those duties. It is true that they have been among those seeking a proper statutory basis, and it is right that the Home Secretary has responded to that—although it would have been better to do so when we were dealing with the Security Service legislation.
Another major issue in the Bill that has not received sufficient public attention because of the concentration on the bugging issue is the criminal conviction certificates. We accept the case for special certificates which will be required for special categories of work—especially work with vulnerable people such as children, where the enhanced criminal record certificate will apply. There will have to be safeguards, as situations could arise in which someone who is wrongly listed is blackballed from work because of an error. We have all seen constituency cases of mistakes made by the Child Support Agency, and if that were to be transported to this sector, it would have catastrophic consequences.
We are concerned about the Government's attitude to the Lords amendment relating to charities. It will not do to take the power to remit the costs and do nothing about it, as that would raise entirely false expectations. The Government are imposing a large burden on charities, voluntary organisations and those who work for them. A former Speaker of this House took up that cause in another place, with widespread support, and the Government must give a better response.
We have a particular concern about the general criminal conviction certificates which, potentially, will be required for any job anywhere at any time. It is a fundamental change to the position of our citizens if they are to find in future that they will not be able to pursue an application for any job of any description unless they obtain such a certificate. They may have no reason to worry about it, but may still have to pay for the certificate and may not wish to do so. Others may have had criminal convictions in the past which they have put behind them and which are entirely irrelevant to their attempt to obtain employment now.
It is clear that those in a fiduciary position as trustees of charities or directors of companies will increasingly feel that they had better ask for those certificates in case someone should one day take money out of the till and for it to emerge that the company did not ask for certificates, which would have shown previous convictions. The measure will spread and become more general. It will create particular problems in some areas—for example, where an informer has been relocated, perhaps from Northern Ireland, with a new identity. If he goes to seek another job, he must produce a criminal conviction certificate. How will he do that without disclosing precisely the information that he must conceal if he is to be protected? He will have been given that protection because of the service he rendered, enabling the police to track down, arrest and convict other terrorists or dangerous.
My noble Friend Lord Rodgers made a significant point in another place, when he asked why, if everyone else in the country will be required to produce a criminal conviction certificate, Members of Parliament should not have to do so. Why are we prepared to lay on other people a responsibility that we do not accept ourselves? Why should we not have to lodge with the returning officer when we put in our nomination a criminal conviction certificate that is open to inspection by any member of the public? It seems perfectly reasonable that we should do what we expect everyone else to do. If we are prepared to place that responsibility on everyone else in society, we cannot shy away from it ourselves.
My fear, and that of many organisations working for the rehabilitation of offenders, is that we will set back that rehabilitation, especially for those who commit one or two offences at a young age and then go straight. A third of men under 30 have a criminal conviction—I still find that figure astonishing and hard to believe, but it is constantly produced by the most reputable bodies—and they would have that recorded on the certificate. That is a matter for deep concern.
The composition of the authorities that will be responsible for the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the National Crime Squad is too heavily weighted towards the Home Office, which will appoint the chairmen of those bodies.
There is also concern about the disciplinary arrangements for police officers seconded to NCIS and the regional crime squads. It is unsatisfactory that, at present, the management of NCIS has no disciplinary responsibility; nobody works for the head of NCIS, as the officers are all seconded and subject to somebody else's discipline. They are disciplined only in their home forces.
The Bill provides for a double discipline procedure: while seconded, the officer will be subject to a separate discipline code that will apply also to non-police officers working for NCIS. When the officer goes back to the home force, he or she will be back in the normal police disciplinary code. The Police Federation understandably has concerns about that; those concerns will have to be addressed. Such matters could be considered upstairs in Committee, but I agree that part III, the bugging part, would be better dealt with on the Floor of the House.
We shall vote for our reasoned amendment tonight. Someone had to take a firm stand. The Labour leadership certainly did not do so until goaded by our amendment and by others. If people do not take firm stands about essential civil liberties, those liberties will be eroded.
I am not persuaded to support the amendment, but the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) has once again put very cogently some important points that will have to be considered with the greatest care as the Bill proceeds towards enactment.
I agreed with a great deal of what the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) said. As he in turn agreed with a great deal of what the Home Secretary said, I am glad to find myself agreeing in considerable measure with my right hon. and learned Friend.
The developments proposed in the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the formation of the police information technology organisation and the National Crime Squad are welcome. I am sure that they will increase the effectiveness of the police in dealing with crime, and especially major organised crime, which requires a national and international response.
There is great scope for improving police strategy and tactics for the solving and preventing of crime. There has been a welcome fall in reported crime, in which the Home Secretary rightly takes pride. The success of Operation Bumblebee is well known, and I am sure that the fall in reported crime owes more to the thorough use of police resources in terms of intelligence and information, the cumulative effect of programmes such as the "Safe City" programme, and the judicious use of closed circuit television, than it does to longer prison sentences—but that is probably another debate.
Intelligence is crucial. That is why the police information technology organisation is vital for collecting, matching and processing relevant data and enabling them to be retrieved efficiently when needed. Serious criminals are using every scientific device and refinement of technology. If the police are to keep ahead, they must do so too. They must be able to collect hard-to-get information if they are to track down the drug barons and godfathers and the other criminals who are skilled in not leaving their fingerprints behind.
Bugging and electronic eavesdropping are, alas, essential. Their use by both police and criminals is bound to increase and to become ever more sophisticated and more frequent, so we must take extra care that, in our efforts to catch criminals, the traditional liberties and rights of the public are protected—especially their privacy at home and in their place of work.
The police have always had a policy of respecting those traditional liberties and rights, but we nevertheless require them to apply to a judge or a magistrate for a warrant before entering or searching private property, and to get permission from the Home Secretary before tapping a telephone.
It would clearly have been wrong, when putting bugging on a proper statutory footing, for prior authorisation not to be required as it is for the other two procedures. A bug under the dining room table is as intrusive as the telephone being tapped, if not more so. I am glad that the Home Secretary has been persuaded of that. When I first heard that he intended to table a new amendment, I was told that he wanted to require prior authorisation for the bugging of doctors, lawyers and journalists only. That would have been unacceptable. I do not see why the editors of The Sun should have greater protection than their readers or the people about whom they write.
If I understand the Home Secretary correctly, he will require pre-authorisation before anyone can be bugged at home or at work. The Liberal party, in particular, has asked about other places, and I am sure that we should consider such matters in Committee or, if time permits, on the Floor of the House. If I have understood my right hon. and learned Friend correctly, he is to be congratulated. Nobody believes that the police want to misuse their power to bug, but it is best, when they need to intrude clandestinely—immersed as they are in fighting crime—that they are not the judges in their own case. Pre-authorisation is a useful discipline on the police and a necessary safeguard for the individual citizen.
I apologise, Madam Speaker. Perhaps my right hon. Friend would allow me to draw to his attention the fact—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Now you have stepped over the line."] I am sorry, Madam Speaker, that I have put a foot wrong. It is the first time that I have put a foot wrong in 23 years.
The police suggested to the Select Committee that their bugging powers should be put on a proper statutory basis; the suggestion came from them.
Yes, I am quite sure that it did, although I am not so sure that they pressed hard for pre-authorisation. However, I am certain that thoughtful police officers will agree that there is much benefit in it for themselves: it is a protection for them as well as for the public.
As I was saying to the right hon. Member for Berwickupon-Tweed, I am sure that, as the Bill proceeds, we shall need to consider carefully how the new arrangements will work, and how to make sure that the safeguards are as strong and as comprehensive as they should be.
I am concerned that charities, especially those that serve vulnerable people such as children and the elderly, will be heavily penalised if the amendment made in the House of Lords is overturned as the Home Secretary suggested. At present, such organisations can have the necessary checks carried out at no cost, but if that amendment is deleted they will have to find a large sum out of limited budgets, or charge their volunteers. It would be possible for a number of volunteers to pay. Many may do so, but a lot will be deterred, and quite a number—particularly the unemployed and other people on limited incomes, whom one wants to encourage—will find it difficult, if not impossible.
I hope that that matter will be reconsidered, despite what my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary said. I do not like putting extra costs on the Treasury. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why I am on the Conservative side of the House. A surcharge on certificates provided at the request of businesses or public sector organisations could bridge the gap, perhaps. I am sorry that my right hon. and learned Friend appeared to reject any change here and now. Simply to excise the Lord's amendment is not the right answer.
On crime checks generally, I would register but not develop the concern that the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) so cogently expressed. I hope that we are not developing into a society in which we all as a matter of course have to have a crime check clearance from the police before we can get a job or some other service, or exercise some other right. It is not an attractive prospect, but it might be coming.
As the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) said, perhaps we can turn this Bill into an opportunity to help offenders back into work. As chairman of the only charity I know that runs a job-finding service for ex-prisoners, I wholeheartedly support that hope. A job is the best way to ensure that an ex-prisoner does not become a prisoner again—the best way for him and the best way to protect society. I hope that we can make progress on that suggestion before we return to the Bill on the Floor of the House. It is important that it is looked into. This may be an opportunity to turn what looks like a negative for ex-offenders into a positive.
Recently, 51 Members of Parliament signed an early-day motion that I put down, which stated:
That this House wishes to express its grave anxiety about the Police Bill, which contains provisions that would seriously erode traditional civil liberties in Britain; and invites Her Majesty's Government to re-consider this proposed legislation.
It could not have been put more moderately, and there was support from hon. Members from parties other than my own. I am glad that the Liberal Democrat amendment has been tabled. At least that is a guarantee that we shall have a vote.
I have three objections to the Bill. First, the intelligence gathering will be indiscriminate. People must be naive if they imagine that the police will not put on that computer every bit of information that they can find as a by-product of other investigations and any information that tells them something about solicitors they do not like as they may be working with criminals in other cases—integrating health and medical records and God knows what. If anyone doubts that, they should look at the comprehensive computer system that the Labour party has developed at Millbank, which is known as Excalibur and which has everything ever said by a Conservative Minister in the past 200 years available for immediate recall.
Knowing the police, they will put everything down that they can pick up—much of it inaccurate. Much of the information could easily be inaccurate, particularly if it is kept secret. Also, under clause 2(4)(a), that intelligence service is subject to objectives set down by the Home Secretary, who can tell it what to do. In the world of information gathering anyone must be naive if they think that anything that comes as a by-product of another investigation would immediately be dismissed by the police or that they would say, "Nothing to do with us. We must destroy it at once."
The measure will result in a building up of dossiers. Hon. Members know about the gross inaccuracies in the information held by the Child Support Agency. I know of many cases. Anyone who thinks that one can build up an accurate information service in five minutes without any proper accountability has made a mistake.
My second objection is to the intrusive surveillance—bugging and burgling. The third relates to the criminal certificates, which are cleverly drafted. The Home Secretary did not answer my question. If I want a job, an employer can ask me to produce a certificate, but if an employer offers me a job, I cannot say, "I will not take it unless you give me a criminal conviction certificate." So the measure weighs for capital against Labour, to use the jargon that is now perhaps forgotten but still relevant. Supposing Robert Maxwell had offered me a job and I was unemployed—
He did not offer me one, thank God. Let us suppose that I said, "I'd very much like to work with you, Mr. Maxwell. Could you please persuade me that you have not had any convictions?" He would not have had to reply. If I then went back to the job centre and said that I was offered a job but would not take it because he would not prove that he was not a convicted person, would I continue to get my benefit? Of course I would not. So, the provision is grossly unfair and I will return to its other uses.
We have all heard the background to the Bill a million times. We all read the newspapers and watch television. There is terrorism, drug dealing, the Mafia, triads and all the rest. Crime is high-tech and globally organised, but clause 92(5)(a) includes among the people who can be surveyed
conduct by a large number of persons in pursuit of a common purpose".
That has nothing to do with terrorism, drug dealing or crime.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman does not misunderstand me. I do not know whether he followed the debate in the House of Lords. I do not usually follow those debates, but I found it much better than I had expected on this issue.
When Jim Callaghan was asked, he said that he never knew about all the intrusions, and when he was given the figures, he said, "Those were industrial disputes." That is what the Bill is about. At the heart of the Bill—all covered up to make it look as if we are going to fight terrorism—is a power that the Government can use against anyone they do not like, so long as two or three are gathered together. That has a biblical significance, which is bringing the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) to his feet.
I do not know what Mr. Callaghan said, but he was a party to the telephone bugging of my home, and he asked for the reports from the police. He got reports from them on tapes taken from my home, so he knew what was going on.
We should not reminisce, but I am coming to my experiences, too. The fact of the matter is that companies are also
a number of people engaged in a common purpose".
Any Home Secretary could arrange for the bugging of any company for any reason. Imagine if a left-wing Government were in power. How would the Conservative party react to powers that we took that allowed us to bug and burgle any company that we thought might be engaged in any conduct that could threaten a particular political interest of ours?
The police could bug and burgle and do all this—with advance judicial permission, if there was time. Everyone knows that, if it was a case of kidnapping, one might ring up the commissioner on the way. That is not the problem. It is the fact that it extends to the large number of people engaged in a common purpose. That is the politics at the heart of what is otherwise a police Bill.
I did not know until I heard the question that some people do not realise that confidential relations between Christian ministers and their flock are not confined to the Catholic Church. The Bill does not say that Christian ministers cannot be bugged—or banisters, journalists, solicitors and doctors. The commissioner would be asked, if there were time. Under what circumstances could it be so urgent to bug a barrister that one did not have time to ring the judge, particularly as the police have to ask the barrister for the information first to qualify for the right to intervene? The thing is absurd and all the information collected will be stored on the National Criminal Intelligence Service computer.
The argument was that that has always been done. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn said that, too. I do not need to be told that. I was bugged and burgled as a Cabinet Minister. My son, who was an electronics buff, established that that happened while I was a Cabinet Minister.
My waste sacks were collected every day in a Rover car. I know that Kensington borough council is proud of its services, but I have never heard of someone having his rubbish removed every morning. My son fitted a little bell. We called it the rubbish bell. We used to watch the rubbish go every morning. I wrote to Merlyn Rees, the Home Secretary, asking whether my phone was bugged. I did not get a reply; perhaps he did not get the letter.
I wrote again and, I think, a third time and did not get a reply. Then I went to see Jim Callaghan. He said gruffly, "Why are you asking all these questions?" I said, "I would quite like to know. I am a member of the Cabinet." He said, "I can tell you it is not happening now." He did not say whether it had happened before or might happen again. I have read it all in "Spycatcher". The Government spent millions of pounds trying to stop me reading a book that confirmed what I knew to be true, and then they say that they want more openness.
If things that were done before by administrative action are to be put on a statutory basis, what about a Bill to allow Ministers to lie? That has happened in the House. I can imagine a Ministerial Statements (Amendment) Bill to allow Ministers to lie in the House on the grounds that they have always lied, or at least that some have always lied. It is not a sustainable argument.
In the old days, those who talked about being bugged were described as paranoid; nowadays, people say, "What's new?" Both attitudes are wrong. We should not be regarded as paranoid if we know it is happening, and it should not be regarded as normal because everyone does it. Civil liberties protect our society. Dissent protects our society. We never know which dissenter is going to be right. The Pope put Galileo in prison for heresy because he had the dangerous idea that the universe did not go round the earth. I visited his cell. Until recently, I used to feel worried watching Patrick Moore on television because the Pope had said that that was heresy. Fortunately, the Pope has let Galileo off, although it was a bit late to help him.
Democracy is about the growth of dissent until it can persuade a minority to become a majority. I am not alone. Sometimes when I make such points, I am alone, but feel that I must stick to my guns. However, this time I have Lord Carr, Lord Jenkins, Lord Callaghan and Lord Merlyn-Rees, who are all critics of this Bill. That is four Home Secretaries, none of whom is subject to the electoral temptations of 1 May. That is why they were able to do it. It tells us much about the Front-Bench teams that 1 May looms larger than Sir Edward Coke's famous judgment that
every man's house is his castle".
Those Home Secretaries opposed terrorism, but they did not what know what was going on. Lord Can did not know, nor Merlyn Rees, nor Jim Callaghan; neither does the present Home Secretary; and nor will the future Home Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), know what the police are doing. Read Peter Wright. He said that he had bugged and burgled his way around London while the people at the top turned their backs.
Let us be realistic. The Bill has been attacked by Lord Rees-Mogg, the Financial Times, The Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Observer, The Sunday Times, the New York Times. The Evening Standard called it "disgraceful." It has been attacked by Alison Halford, the former deputy chief constable who was bugged by her chief constable when she brought a sex discrimination case; by Peter Carter-Ruck, the Law Society, Liberty and the former Attorney-General, Lord Rawlinson, whom I knew well.
There is also the criminal convictions certificate, which, as I said, can be required by employers but not from them. If I wanted an enhanced certificate, I would have to be fingerprinted to get one. That is in the Bill. Even if we did have to provide such a certificate to be elected to Parliament, as far as I know, my record is clear. There may be a mistake in the police computer that I cannot explain but if I wanted proof, I would have to be fingerprinted.
If that is not a police state, I should like to know what is. If we really want to deal with all the criminal problems, we should tattoo everyone with a national number and put an electronic device under their skin. Then we will know where everyone is all the time and there will not be any problems. Leaving aside the politics, there is a conflict between fighting crime and maintaining civil liberties.
We will create a new underclass of unemployable people with convictions. One third of men under 35 have convictions. A third of women in prison are there for non-payment of television licences. I have never forgotten a case that I had when I represented Bristol. A woman came to see me in a terrible state. Her husband had died, she was 55 and she had applied for a job in a supermarket. The security officer asked whether she had any convictions. She said no. He was an ex-policeman, and he rang the police, who told him that she had been picked up for something when she was 15. He confronted her with that 40-year-old offence. She had a nervous breakdown. I got a letter of apology from the chief constable in Bristol and from the Home Secretary. If we open such prospects, we will create unemployable people whose only chance of rehabilitation would have been finding other work.
This is not a left-right issue. Interestingly, it divides the Executive, both present and future, from the legislature. I appeal across the Floor to people who might not otherwise agree with my views. This is a Bill that Brezhnev operated. No doubt Milosevic finds it useful in Belgrade. Probably the Albanians will try to copy it in view of their difficulties with pyramid selling. It is not a Bill that a serious democratic Parliament should pass.
Where is the demand for the Bill? Does middle England want it? Has a middle-class focus group made up of banisters, lawyers and priests said, "We must be bugged more often to safeguard us from terrorism." Of course not. The Bill comes from those who want more power over the people of Britain. Libertarians should resist it. It is part of a pattern. I do not want to go back over all the legislation, but, over the years, we have lost many of our liberties.
I went down to Dover to support the animal rights people. There was an argument between a policeman and one demonstrator in an empty street. I went over asked the constable what was wrong. He said, "That man is standing in a part of this town I have not designated for protest." I asked whether a member for Kent constabulary could designate any part of Kent. He said, "Yes, I can." I asked what the problem was. He said that the street could not be blocked. I said that it was a huge street and that no one was there. He went to have a word with an inspector. Do not think that we are not losing our civil liberties. We are transferring the protection of our rights from Parliament to the police.
I mention Europe because, without reopening the difficult question of the single currency, everyone knows that we have a developing relationship on terrorism and crime with European Governments. They will want access and we will give it to them from everything that we have on our computers. It is happening already. If a German comes to Britain to work and the employer asks for a criminal conviction certificate, he will say, "We do not have them in Germany." What will happen then to the level playing field? The whole thing will be handed to European control.
Every society requires a huge amount of consent to survive, and an element of coercion. There are criminal classes and people who have to be coerced. The Bill reflects a deep anxiety in the British establishment about the future. When you were elected, Madam Speaker, I said that I thought that there would be social unrest in the years ahead. I was interrupted for saying it, but I believe it.
The Bill is an instrument for getting greater coercive powers over people. I hope that the House will reject it as do people of all political opinions. I would be a libertarian with those among Conservative Members if they would only drop the economic nonsense. On true libertarianism—protecting people from having their lives controlled by others—I would be with them. I hope that the House will not accept the Bill.
In a moment of unusual ecumenism, I hope that I will be forgiven for not commenting adversely on the unreality of the speech of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). He is my pair and no one could admire him more than I, or be more grateful for all that he has done for the House. Hon. Members should also be grateful for his sparing them from having to listen to more speeches from me than they might otherwise have to hear, and he should be rewarded for that. However, I hope that he will forgive me for taking a little less than seriously his condemnation of the police for surreptitiously recording and disseminating private conversations. Many of us are beginning to develop a long section in our library dedicated to his privately recorded and disseminated conversations, which are immensely amusing—long may they continue.
No one could possibly accuse the right hon. Gentleman of doing anything so uncouth, because he is the epitome of charm and decency.
In another brief moment of ecumenicalism, I should like to say how much I enjoyed the comments of the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) about the absurdity of the Liberal Democrats' proposals for the amendment of the Bill. I shall not add to the embarrassment of another right hon. Member for whom I have the utmost regard, the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), by attacking his attempt to justify the ridiculous. He was probably embarrassed enough by having to put forward the arguments in his speech. The Liberal Democrats will learn what the rest of the House thinks of their proposals when we go through the Lobbies later tonight.
There, I am afraid, my ecumenism must end. The hon. Member for Blackburn began his speech by mentioning that recorded crime had more than doubled, which is true.
He might have added that that has happened practically everywhere in the western world during the same period. He might also have said that recorded crime will inevitably rise in a prosperous society where nearly everyone now has a telephone and can quickly communicate with the police; where most people now possess cars, which never used to be the case; where houses are now empty for so much longer as more and more families go out to work and are therefore more available for easy pickings by burglars; and where one cannot make a claim against an insurance policy unless the matter has first been reported to the police, which is a more recent development. Finally, as a result of the response to victims and the increasing concern for them that the criminal justice system has shown in recent years, more and more women who are the subject of violence in their houses are reporting those incidents to the police. Those factors explain a fair amount of the increase in recorded crime.
In addition, the hon. Gentleman did not say, although he might have been expected to do so, that, notwithstanding all that, the Government have reduced crime by 10 per cent. over the past three years, which is the largest, fastest and longest reduction in crime since records started to be kept in the middle of the 19th century. It would have been fairer of him had he reminded his viewers and listeners of that, but perhaps it would have been too difficult for him to draw attention to the Government's success so close to a general election.
I was also interested in the exchange between my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and the hon. Member for Blackburn on the subject of the surrender of power by a possible—albeit unlikely—Labour Government. The Government have always considered impregnable the third pillar issues of justice and home affairs, which are specifically exempted from Maastricht and over which we have the complete veto—they are not even within the competence of the European Community.
The right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) was reported in the Financial Times of 29 January as saying:
He hints at a concession, however, by suggesting that some justice and home affairs issues, such as police co-operation (but definitely not frontier or domestic criminal law) might be 'unbundled' and 'partially communitised', allowing the European parliament and court of justice to have a say in them.
I shall just finish my point and then it might be easier for the hon. Gentleman to respond.
If an injustice was done earlier by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary—who no doubt wishes to cause no injustice—and if an injustice was done by that newspaper to new Labour, may I ask whether that quotation has ever been denied?
Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman should have listened to the comments of my hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary, the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), in which he made the position absolutely clear. Instead of posing questions, will he respond to this point? He read out certain elements as if they were quotations; will he acknowledge that they are not direct quotations from my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), the shadow Foreign Secretary, but quotations from an article by a Financial Times journalist?
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman also acknowledge that the article makes it absolutely clear—I think that he dropped his voice when he came to this point—that there is definitely no suggestion whatsoever regarding frontier control or domestic criminal law? The words in the article are:
definitely not frontier control or domestic criminal law".
That is clear in the article, which shows on what tenuous grounds the Home Secretary made his inaccurate and insubstantial claims earlier today. Does the hon. and learned Gentleman acknowledge that?
I am not sure how tenuous it is. The words "unbundled" and "partially communitised" are in quotations. The authors are none other than Edward Mortimer and John Kampfner—the first of whom is held in the highest regard, although I cannot claim to know the other gentleman—so one can assume that the reporting is pretty accurate. Whether or not it is accurate, my question is whether there has ever been—until today—a denial. If there has been no denial until today, is not that another example of the wholly disreputable behaviour of the Labour party, whose members tend to say things in private and then deny them when they are made public? As a result, they are all things to all people in the run-up to a general election, which I consider to be an abuse of proper behaviour.
It is for you, Madam Deputy Speaker, to decide whether that is abuse of this House. The hon. and learned Gentleman is twisting words in order to try to justify the Home Secretary's earlier remarks when it is clear that the Home Secretary's remarks cannot be justified. Journalists are responsible for the articles they write. There are inverted commas around individual words and phrases, but the article does not make it clear whether they are quotations from anyone or whether they are simply the use of inverted commas by the journalists in regard to specific terms.
It is outrageous for the hon. and learned Gentleman to take his brief from Tory central office in order to try to twist words and throw around accusations and misrepresentations, which are the only actions left to his discredited party in the run-up to the general election. Even in the article, it is absolutely clear that there is definitely no suggestion of any relaxation on the part of the Labour party in regard to frontier control—
May I say that I have never seen a hole deeper than the one into which the hon. Gentleman has dug himself? However, Madam Deputy Speaker, I shall return to the contents of the Bill.
The bugging issue apart, I should have thought that the Bill's objectives would—and I believe that they do—command the enthusiastic support of all to whom the protection of British citizens from criminals is more important than party political point scoring. The Bill is further evidence of the Government's absolute determination to reduce crime. It achieves that aim by building up our defences against organised serious and international crime through better co-ordination of our crime defence forces and the weaponry that they deploy.
The Bill takes the Security Service Act 1996 a stage further by ensuring that the National Criminal Intelligence Service backs police operations more effectively, and that must be a good thing. It creates a National Crime Squad, which will more effectively co-ordinate a national response to the serious and, unfortunately, growing problem of national and international crime and that is a good thing. It improves the delivery of information technology to police forces through the police information technology organisation and that must be a good thing.
Finally, through the setting up of the criminal records agency, it helps to reduce the likelihood of serious offenders getting jobs in areas where they might be tempted to carry on offending and that, too, must be a good thing. In all those matters, the improvement of the weaponry with which we are able to counter-attack and to defend against serious crime can only be wholeheartedly welcomed by hon. Members on both sides of the House, and I believe by the country.
Perhaps I might be permitted to add a thank you to the Government for responding so positively to at least four, and possibly 10, of the recommendations that the Home Affairs Select Committee made when we reported on organised crime 18 months ago, and to other recommendations in our report on the private security industry, regarding the criminal records provisions of the Bill. It is always good to record that this cross-party Committee and the witnesses who gave evidence to it are listened to by the Government, and that our recommendations are acted on. It makes our efforts worth while and shows how effective some of the newer democratic institutions of this parliamentary system can be.
Then there is the matter of intrusive surveillance or bugging. That this measure, even in its earlier form, was a distinct improvement on what preceded it cannot be denied. Until that time, intrusive surveillance or bugging was unlawful, or at any rate not lawful, and no doubt many actions were brought against police forces for trespass—because it is hardly burglary—when premises were invaded and no criminal prosecution resulted or succeeded. No doubt settlements were made out of court, costing the taxpayer a lot of money. Any reference to authority was to a chief constable, which is not quite the same thing as to an independent person.
I would merely add, in response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Sir P. Lloyd), that not only did the police ask for the practice to be made statutory, they actually suggested to the Home Affairs Select Committee that judges should be brought in to approve.
Very good for them.
As my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary knows, many Conservative Members were unhappy about the way in which the Bill was originally drafted. One does not have to be an anti-establishment, police-bashing anarchist to care about the principle that an Englishman's home is his castle and should be treated as such by the forces of the state as far as is reasonably possible; and one does not have to be a criminal or a troublemaker, or paranoid, to be concerned about the incursion of the Executive into the liberties of the citizen.
In fact, one reason why we are elected to this place is to protect our constituents as citizens from the abuse of power by the Executive, and that includes its agents—the police and other potentially intrusive forces. That is not to say that we do not understand that, in this modern world, there is a proper place for intrusive surveillance or bugging.
Much modern policing depends on good intelligence, and that means information about crime, which must be obtained, if necessary, by the invasion of privacy of suspected offenders. Nearly all thwartings of drug and terrorist crimes in recent years have come about as a result of information and intelligence, often obtained by bugging.
In a letter to Baroness Blatch dated 16 January, the immediate past president of the Association of Chief Police Officers gave an example. He said:
During a complex, life threatening and fast moving operation, against persons suspected of kidnapping and conspiring to murder individuals for political purposes, an entry was effected into premises and technical surveillance deployed. As a consequence police were able to monitor developments resulting in the apprehension of the perpetrators as they made their way to carry out their attack. In this case the time-scale involved in this critical part of the operation did not exceed 12 hours in total.
A report in The Times today, although not directly on the same point, emphasises how important bugging now is:
The police case against David Howells hung by the vital thread of secret tape-recordings of his conversations with his two boys while they were held in police cells.
Howells had a cast-iron alibi that he was miles from the murder scene, playing in a darts match. But tapes of conversations with his sons confirmed detectives' suspicions of his complicity in a cover-up, if not in the murder itself.
Obviously, a balance must be struck between the liberties of decent, law-abiding members of society, who have a right to be protected against criminals, and the liberties of suspected offenders who may or may not be innocent. Many of us—not only their Lordships in another place or some Opposition Members, but Conservative Members—were of the view that that balance was not being struck. Prior authorisation of intrusion into private property and the protection of privileged meetings between suspects and their lawyers, their doctors and even journalists, would correct that imbalance. I thank my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary for listening to us and introducing those protections into the Bill.
As a result—I control myself enough not to make party political hay while the sun is out—the Bill has the support of the main Opposition party and will, I hope, move speedily to the statute book. My right hon. and learned Friend's explanation of the need for the chiefs of police, who know best about these things, to have responsibility for authorising such operations, makes good sense to me, as do his proposals for high court judges to be commissioners, for a right to appeal to a chief commissioner and for commissioners to serve for a limited period.
Although the challenges to the legislation before us are now at a much lower level of importance than they were a few days ago—and at a much lower decibel level—it is obvious that, as the Bill passes through Committee, very many issues will need to be clarified or reconsidered. I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary for saying earlier that he is already considering amending the code of practice in response to tonight's debate.
I shall briefly mention some of those issues. First, there is anxiety that, although one of the tests for bugging is that the crime should be serious
conduct by a large number of persons in pursuit of a common purpose",
in clause 91 may not be serious and might be used to stop processions or to stop offences being committed under section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 which are hardly very serious. That has been mentioned by several hon. Members on both sides of the House. Perhaps we should consider the substitution of the word "and" at page 35, line 39, for "or", which might satisfy that concern without weakening the Bill unreasonably.
Secondly, the Bar and Law Society are worried that the privileged communications between lawyers and their clients might still be restricted to some extent, although to a lesser extent, by the new provisions. There must be a balance, but perhaps we could consider that further. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary gave us an assurance about the confessional; we might have a similar assurance, perhaps written into the code of practice, concerning the interference with the complete privacy, which simply must exist, between a lawyer and his client. It will not do for anyone to overhear the client speaking to his lawyer about his defence, because then the information could be used in an unfair way at the criminal trial, and injustice may be done.
Thirdly, there is concern about what is meant by the words "an urgent case" on page 35 of the Bill. That would exempt bugging from the limitation of prior authorisation. Obviously, it would be absurd to lose the tracking of a criminal car as a result of the need for prior authorisation, and I believe that the passage that I have read out from Mr. Jim Sharples is evidence of that. However, there are understandable calls for some clarification, if that should be possible, of the scope of that exemption. I hope that we may consider the possibility of dealing with it in the code as the Bill passes through Committee.
Fourthly, there is some anxiety, which has been expressed during the debate, about the waiving of a fee to applicants who are volunteers in scouting or other activities. My right hon. and learned Friend may have a little difficulty in removing the amendment that was introduced in the House of Lords. I must confess that, in its recommendation No. 6 on access to criminal records, the Home Affairs Committee said that the agency should be self-financing. The point is worthy of further consideration, however it may be resolved.
Fifthly, it is obvious that the provisions are complicated. A code of practice will be necessary. The provision in clause 112 that there may be such a code is insufficient. Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider substituting "shall be" for "may be"? We will all need such guidance.
Sixthly, the Bill does not envisage transcripts obtained from bugging being used evidentially, only for the purpose of preventing and detecting crime. The House of Lords case of R v. Preston, in which I was a party, reaffirmed that the same applies to transcripts of telephone intercepts under the Interception of Communications Act 1985. The time may soon come when it will be difficult to justify the fact that conversations that are recorded can be used to prevent and detect crime, but cannot be used as evidence in a case. We should consider changing the law so that intercepts of communications or bugs yield up evidence of the crime, to help towards the conviction of the serious criminal.
There is a problem relating to disclosure of the sources, but we have been over that in recent legislation, so the problem may have been reasonably well resolved.
Other issues arise, but I shall not burden the House further. They will be raised in Committee. The calls to have the matter debated on the Floor of the House are, in the present circumstances, somewhat unrealistic. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen), for whom I have the highest regard, can serve on that Committee and improve the Bill with his contributions. The Committee meets in public and is recorded.
If we bear in mind the load of important business that still has to be taken on the Floor of the House while this Parliament lasts, and the short time that we will have left to deal with it, by any stretch of our imagination, it would be unrealistic to bring the Bill on to the Floor at the Committee stage, particularly as it will be brought back to the Chamber on Report. We do not want to lose the Bill under any circumstances, so I back the Government on that decision.
This is a good Bill, and a highly desirable one. Now that the major objection to it has been removed, I hope that the House will give the Bill its full support tonight and a speedy passage on to the statute book.
The hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) gave a considered speech. I acknowledge his honourable role as Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee. I agree with some aspects of his speech—for example, the need for lawyers to have privacy in discussions with their clients, and the need to achieve a proper balance between civil liberties and effective policing. However, I do not agree with his conclusion and his final remarks that this is a good Bill. I think that it is a bad Bill; to use kind language, I find it unwise in several parts, and objectionable in other aspects.
Three aspects of the Bill concern me: the arrangements for setting up and enhancing the National Criminal Intelligence Service; the bugging and burglary powers; and the criminal conviction certificates.
First, whatever the Home Secretary says, we are moving ever closer towards a Federal Bureau of Investigation—a national police service. It will have a national intelligence network and, if it is not so already, it will come to be a political force in the land. The Bill helps that process along, and it is going along without a murmur. It should not be allowed to proceed without dissent.
I understand the fears that my hon. Friend expresses. I point out that a National Criminal Intelligence Service exists. There is no accountability for it, other than nominally to the Home Office. The Bill provides for accountability to representatives of local police authorities and local police forces. There have long been calls for such accountability.
I accept that, but the Bill provides for an enhancement of the powers of NCIS, as I described. That causes me concern, which I want to place on record.
Liberty has sent hon. Members a briefing on that aspect. It refers to the fact that, in 1990, the Home Affairs Committee heard evidence from several agencies that the criminal records provided to the courts and other agencies were inaccurate, incomplete or out of date, or contained extraneous or prejudicial material. Liberty states:
The risks of inaccuracies and errors must only increase where the information concerned amounts to intelligence information, rather than criminal records.
It points out that the powers of the Data Protection Registrar are weak. There are no controls in the Bill on the quality or the content of the information that is to be kept on NCIS computers.
Will my hon. Friend accept, first, that I served on the Home Affairs Committee in 1990, and secondly, that Liberty seems to be slightly mistaken? We decided that, for criminal records, a national standardisation process would be a good thing. The question of enhancing intelligence data in terms of criminal records was never considered, and indeed was opposed.
Intelligence data are going on to the NCIS computer by stealth. I quoted Liberty's point about the inaccuracies and inconsistencies that are increasingly finding their way on to the computer system.
Liberty also points out that there is unauthorised informal disclosure of information by serving police officers to third parties. There have been cases in which the law in that respect has been ineffective, and the cases have subsequently been quashed on appeal by the police officers. There is no effective law to stop the misuse of computer data.
Liberty concludes that without proper controls—safeguards for individuals and accountability
the risk of injustice to innocent people is high, and those risks increase where it is a national body which gathers and retains such information. There is a balance to be maintained between the important duties of the police in preventing and detecting crime and to provide safeguards to ensure that the state does not hold inaccurate information about innocent people, which may have severe consequences for them.
In enhancing the powers of NCIS in the Bill, the Government have not even considered that balance.
The second aspect of the Bill, which has justifiably concerned the House most, relates to the bugging and burglary powers. The case of Entick v. Carrington in 1765 enshrined the constitutional principle that the Englishman's home is his castle and cannot be invaded for reasons of state necessity by any state power without a prior warrant from a judge. Law Lords in another place described that as a constitutional principle, and it has been confirmed that the Bill will violate it.
Hon. Members will have received a booklet called "A law too far" by K. D. Ewing and C. A. Gearty of the civil liberties research unit of King's college, London. They quote the three reasons given in that 1765 judgment by Lord Camden and say:
The intrusion into the individual's property was 'executed against the party, before he was heard or even summoned; and the information as well as the informers were unknown'. Secondly, Lord Camden drew attention to the vagueness of the procedures accompanying the execution of the power, with the search taking place 'in the presence or the absence of the party, as the messengers shall think fit, and without a witness to testify what passes at the time of the transaction'. And thirdly, Lord Camden was concerned that the innocent person was 'as destitute of remedy as the guilty: and the whole transaction … so guarded against discovery that if the officer should be disposed to carry of a bank-bill"'—
which means put down a bank bill—
'he may do it with impunity, since there is no man capable of proving either the taker or the thing taken'.
The language of 1765 might be elaborate, but those two authors say that the reasons given by Lord Camden are as relevant today as they were in 1765.
There should be a principle in relation to Lord Camden's judgment. First, the power to interfere with private property should apply only to serious arrestable offences as defined by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. Secondly, there should be prior approval by a judge, preferably a county court judge, who should be required to be satisfied that the degree of intrusion into the privacy of those affected by the surveillance is commensurate with the seriousness of the offence. A circuit judge should always be required to give approval before burglary or bugging of a private home takes place. Thirdly, the Bill should contain a constraint to safeguard professionals, such as solicitors and banisters to whom the hon. and learned Member for Burton referred, as well as doctors, journalists and priests.
I am concerned about the Bill's provisions relating to commissioners. I note that just one commissioner was envisaged, but that my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) said that he was pleased to have tabled an amendment to increase the number to three. If it is argued that prior approval could not be obtained because a matter is urgent, a rota of judges would clearly be more appropriate than just three commissioners.
I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend again, and I am grateful to him for giving way, but he has not understood the argument. The amendment in the House of Lords, which was accepted by the Government, allowed for a minimum of three judges. Such a mechanism allows for the number required. They would be High Court judges, and therefore a higher level of scrutiny would occur than if circuit judges undertook that scrutiny, as my hon. Friend suggests. That would not be as great a protection of civil liberties as the mechanism that is now proposed.
The commissioners were first established to hear complaints. They have a highly restricted remit to uphold complaints. Surveillance and covert searches are likely to be authorised if a chief constable thinks that they are necessary; they would then be approved by one of the commissioners. However, it would be difficult for the commissioner to uphold a complaint unless it was extraordinarily perverse. It is therefore unlikely that complaints would be upheld.
The commissioners do not have to give a reason for rejecting a complaint. Even more seriously, their decision cannot be appealed against or even questioned in court, so a complainant could not take the matter further. Like the commissioners who oversee the security services legislation, their role in relation to complaints will be tokenist. In the security services, not a single complaint has been upheld to my knowledge and the same would be the case with those commissioners, who will now have a prior consent function. Although it is said that they are likely to be senior judges, that will not necessarily be so, and, over time, that criterion might be diminished and a loophole might arise.
Exceptions would be made for very urgent cases, which is another loophole which might be widened over time. My real objection to the commissioners' role is that they will be the authorisers in the first instance and the appeal system in the second. They may even have given prior approval to bug and burgle in the first place. That is an unacceptable confusion of roles, and is wrong.
The term "serious crime" is extremely broadly defined. That definition gives the authority to bug and burgle. The Law Society, among others, has sent a briefing note to hon. Members saying that the term should be much more narrowly defined. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) said, the provision includes conduct by a large number of persons in pursuit of a common purpose. It will be aimed at demonstrators, those involved in industrial relations and other protesters. It is a catch-all which would take in peaceful protestors as well. It would give the authority to bug and burgle thousands of potential "Swampies" just because a police chief thinks that they are potential criminals. Such protestors should not be automatically regarded as likely criminals, let alone have their home, their parents' home and their friends' homes subjected to bugging and burglary, which could happen under the Bill.
The Home Secretary confirmed that surveillance and bugging have been going on for a long time, and the Bill is needed to legalise it. That casts light on the dubious legality that has been occurring. It amounts to an interesting confession of unlawfulness. For consistency, I suggest that a criminal conviction certificate should be issued on the Home Secretary and the Government before the election, because they have acted unlawfully and have a long criminal record in that respect.
My third point is about criminal conviction certificates, which will be operated by the new quango, the criminal records agency. I oppose imposing a fee of, say, a tenner, particularly on a long-term unemployed person. We do not know how frequently people will have to update their CCC—it will probably be at the mere whim of their employer. A similar cost applies to volunteers who work for worthy organisations, and perhaps to those organisations themselves. Therefore, there is a severe problem with fees.
Hon. Members will have received a brief from the Trades Union Congress about employee criminal records. It says that there are cases
where employers should not only have every right to check a prospective employee's criminal record, but ought to be under a duty to do so"—
for example, those who work with children.
The TUC also says:
a positive case should be made for employee checks on a case by case basis",
otherwise it can amount to an unwarranted intrusion into a person's privacy and lead to higher crime rates.
In a passage about increasing crime, the TUC says that general checks
would be likely to create a class of permanently unemployable people, many of whom have only offended once, and would be unlikely to do so again if they had steady employment.
Particularly for younger offenders these
make it extremely difficult for them to 'go straight' through entry into the world of work … If they cannot get employment as a result of their conviction, they are far more likely to re-offend. Four out of five people supervised by the probation service were unemployed when convicted.
The TUC argues that Parliament should have another look at the section about CCCs. It says:
Drawing the balance between the need to protect the public, the civil liberties of job applicants and the dangers of creating a permanently unemployable criminal underclass is not an easy matter. But we believe that Section V as it is currently drawn does not get that balance right.
Those are very relevant representations by a body that is expert in this field, and its remarks were confirmed by the Home Office's consultation paper "Disclosure of Criminal Records for Employment Vetting Purposes", published in September 1993, which said, as confirmed in a recent parliamentary answer to me:
35 per cent. of men and 8 per cent. of women will have a criminal record of some sort by the age of 35".
It is they who will suffer and become part of the criminal underclass.
Paragraph 48 of the 1993 consultation paper said:
The argument for a closed record is essentially to do with rehabilitation. Those who have a criminal record need to be given a chance to reform and live it down. An open conviction record would make this more difficult, and in particular would reduce ex-offenders' chance of getting work.
Somewhere between the 1993 Home Office paper and the Bill, the Government changed their mind, but the arguments are still very relevant.
The Bill is a bad measure. Just before a general election, we often have ill-thought-out legislation, even if it is well intentioned. The Child Support Agency is an example of that; the Police Bill is another. However, because important civil liberties are at stake, I hope that the Bill fails as a result of an election being called; more sane consideration could then be given to the balance between civil liberties and essential policing work without the election pressures that are felt by Front Benchers, and civil liberties would be more protected.
Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield, I intend to vote for the Liberal Democrat amendment. There are few matters on which I agree with the Liberal Democrats, but on this occasion I will vote with them and against the Bill.
The hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) concentrated, as have other hon. Members, on the civil liberties aspect of the Bill. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) referred to "lost liberty". We really should put the other point of view.
The freedom of our citizens is being undermined not by some conspiracy at the heart of government or the institutions that uphold authority in this country but by terrorists, whose acts of barbarism maim and kill innocent people, close off streets and town centres and cause massive inconvenience to large sections of the population, including the House; by drug traffickers, who prey on our young people and destroy their lives and their future prospects; and by organised criminals who, through theft and fraud on a grand scale that makes the great train robbery look like a minor crime, are ruining and destroying the financial security and prosperity of businesses and individuals alike.
I say that because I believe that the House has to make up its mind. Are we serious about reducing crime and making this country safer for our citizens and unattractive for criminals? The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) made a point that I wanted to make about the policing arrangements that we need in order to achieve that objective. He said that we are not living in the era of "Dixon of Dock Green". Communities throughout the length and breadth of Britain face ruthless, determined and evil men who care nothing for the interests and property of others. That is the background against which we have to consider the measures in the Bill.
It is always rewarding to see recommendations from Select Committee inquiries in which a great deal of time and effort has been invested coming to fruition in Government action and legislative proposals. I am sorry that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) is not in his place, because he referred to the Home Affairs Select Committee report on organised crime. You will know from personal experience, Madam Deputy Speaker, that the Home Affairs Committee has an exemplary record, and many of its recommendations relating to criminal justice, the police and fighting crime have found their way on to the statute book or have been implemented in other ways.
The first three parts of the Bill refer to matters that were considered by the Committee and very closely follow our recommendations. In our report, we concluded that, although the extent of organised crime in the United Kingdom is not so great as in some other western democracies, the threat is nevertheless very real and, increasingly, criminal gangs are international in their organisation and are resourced to an unprecedented extent, very often because of their association with drug trafficking.
The Committee recognised, as does the House generally, that there is a need for greater action at national level to co-ordinate intelligence gathering and the efforts of regional crime squads in dealing with crime, which frequently extends way beyond police boundaries. In my own force area in North Yorkshire, where before coming to the House I was vice-chairman of the police authority, more and more serious crime is committed not by local villains but by gangs from Teesside—I mean no disrespect to the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin)—from the north-east, from West Yorkshire, Humberside, the west midlands, Greater Manchester and occasionally even the south-east of England.
North Yorkshire police have had considerable success in endeavouring to counter this threat, but increasingly they face huge logistical difficulties. I came to the view some time ago that the sharing of intelligence and the co-ordination of activity between crime squads on a national scale is essential to achieve better results. Those are the key objectives of parts I and II of the Bill.
I will now deal with the new national structure for the National Criminal Intelligence Service. In both the gathering of criminal intelligence at the domestic level and as the focal point for effective contact with overseas law enforcement agencies, NCIS has a crucial role to play in the fight against organised crime, but it needs greater freedom of action and freedom to manage its affairs.
The Select Committee was also told that on occasions it was important for NCIS to undertake what might be described as operational activities, which could involve surveillance beyond mere intelligence gathering. Despite misgivings in some quarters about accountability, NCIS must be allowed the opportunity to ensure that its intelligence gathering is not frustrated by an inability to follow up leads and inquiries when gathering important information about criminal activity. Provision for that is one of the Bill's essential features.
I am glad that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton is now present, so that I can pay tribute to his work as Chairman of the Select Committee, which produced a tremendous report on organised crime. The evidence that we received confirmed that regional crime squads were an essential part of the policing system in the fight against crime. They have been reduced from nine to six in recent years. There was and remains an imbalance in their resourcing and effectiveness, because the funding of each squad is set by the police authority, which wants to contribute the least amount of money.
The former national co-ordinator of regional crime squads and the then director general of NCIS strongly recommended the creation of a National Crime Squad under the control of a national director. That would allow a more co-ordinated and effective use of resources, which reflected the fact that criminals do not limit their activity to one region.
Similarly, as regional forces concentrate on their local problems, full advantage has not always been taken of information provided by NCIS, which by its nature is often on a national and international scale. For some time there has been a pressing need for the response to serious and organised crime to be sharpened and made more effective. That requires a more co-ordinated national structure—a National Crime Squad.
The funding arrangements for NCIS and the National Crime Squad are unnecessarily complicated. I am aware of the well rehearsed arguments in favour of levies as opposed to top slicing. However, in my view those two new organisations are so important that they should be funded centrally.
Doubtless my right hon. Friend the Minister will seek to persuade me that neither the levy nor the charging system will be unnecessarily bureaucratic. I rather think, however, that that is precisely how it will turn out. Recommendations were made some time ago—you will recall them, Madam Deputy Speaker—on the Forensic Science Service. We were persuaded to recommend a charging structure. It has taken a long time for that to bed down, and even now some of us are not entirely sure that forensic science is being used as often as it should be, because police forces are charged for the service.
The two new national bodies will be at the forefront of the fight against crime. We should be totally assured that they will have the resources they need to maximise their operational effectiveness. I think that the Home Secretary of the day is best placed to ensure that that happens, although I acknowledge that it will weaken the input on funding decisions from local authorities and police committees, which my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has been at pains to ensure is enshrined in the arrangements that he outlined.
The Police Federation is anxious that officers deployed in NCIS or the National Crime Squad will not be covered by police regulations but by new arrangements outlined in the Bill. The federation has expressed concern that the recently revised discipline procedures for the police service should apply nationally, including to these two national police organisations. Officers should also have the right to representation at complaints and disciplinary hearings.
That is important, especially for officers in the National Crime Squad, who will be serving at the sharp end of the police service. They will have to deal with some of the most ruthless, nasty and dangerous criminals in the country, who are not slow to make malicious and mischievous complaints against officers. It is crucial that those officers have the comfort of knowing that the disciplinary arrangements are the same as in their own domestic forces. If there is any reason to believe—as the Police Federation clearly does—that the proposed arrangements do not provide that comfort, that must be rectified either in Committee or on Report. That is an extremely important matter.
Part III of the Bill has proved to be by far the most controversial. It attempts to provide a regulatory framework for the use of intrusive surveillance. The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) referred to the fact that that was a recommendation of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton said, the police asked for the use of surveillance to be regulated, and I think that it should be.
However, having listened to the arguments made in this debate and elsewhere in the past few weeks, I must say that some of the reaction to the proposals has been rather hysterical. Some media coverage has given the erroneous impression that the Bill provides the police with powers that they have not previously enjoyed. In fact, they have been using these powers for a very long time, but we need to regulate them.
It is clear that the use of intrusive surveillance has become an essential tool in the fight against organised crime and terrorism. In the great majority of cases when the police are in hot pursuit of organised criminals, a requirement for them to seek prior approval would seriously hamper their operational effectiveness.
It was unlawful for the police to trespass on someone's premises. It was not a criminal offence, but it was unlawful and they could be sued.
Although there were guidelines and the courts treated the evidence that was found as admissible, it was necessary for the police, who always want to be on the right side of the law, to take a risk that the legislation to regulate such action would be harsher than that which they had hitherto enjoyed. So the police deserve greater credit than my hon. Friend has given them.
I entirely agree with my hon. and learned Friend. He has provided greater clarification than anyone else—he has even made it clearer than he did in his speech, which I listened to attentively.
To what extent do the new regulatory arrangements hamper the police's operational effectiveness? They have asked for this regulatory framework, but they have also made it abundantly clear that there are dangers in going too far and making life unnecessarily difficult. We should be a little more circumspect. I have listened to the concerns expressed on both sides of the House that this touches on some important and sensitive issues. The idea that the police will want to use bugging devices in solicitors' offices, doctors' surgeries, Catholic confessionals or even in people's homes on a daily basis is preposterous. However, I agree that the use of intrusive surveillance in homes and offices is a sensitive matter, which in normal circumstances should require prior approval. I made that point to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary several weeks ago.
My right hon. and learned Friend has clearly listened carefully to views about where the balance should best be struck. I have felt for some time that the best practical solution is to allow the chief constable authorisation, subject to immediate review by a commissioner, in the great majority of instances in which the police need to use intrusive surveillance techniques. We have already heard about car homing devices today.
When the use of intrusive surveillance in sensitive premises is planned, prior authorisation should be required, but I feel that in cases of extreme urgency chief constables must retain the power to authorise—although, again, that power should be subject to immediate review. I believe that they will use it extremely sparingly. I know that the House is being asked in effect to approve a proposed structure without any amendments having been tabled to the Bill, but I feel that the arrangements that we are discussing had to be aired on Second Reading, although in fact they are not contained in the legislation as it stands.
I also feel that, in reviewing the use of the powers with which we are dealing, the PACE test of reasonableness is probably the most appropriate test. If we do not use that test, there may well be occasions—as my right hon. and learned Friend pointed out—on which the police get it wrong and, with the benefit of hindsight, people want to second-guess and criticise. I touched on this in an intervention, but I may not have explained clearly enough. I think that the key consideration in a retrospective consideration should be based on what the chief constable knew—or should reasonably have known—at the time, rather than on information became available subsequently.
I honestly believe that, if we cannot trust our chief constables with these powers, we are in a sorry state. I have every confidence that our chief constables will use the powers effectively. I think that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary—and, to be fair, the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw)—deserve a great deal of credit for reaching such a sensible compromise, and I hope that the Bill can now progress without further delay.
Arrangements allowing better targeting and co-ordination of police operations to deal with organised crime are long overdue. Our constituents want nothing more than to see the police tackle crime more vigorously, so that more villains are brought before the courts. Our constituents expect us to give the police the support and powers that they need to achieve that worthy aim, and we should do so by allowing the Bill a Second Reading.
I take a slightly more sceptical view than the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) of some of the activities in which the police engage. I am glad, but not surprised, that the Bill is having to be substantially rewritten. Just about all the legislation introduced by the present Home Secretary has had to be rewritten. With the possible exception of the Minister of State, Home Office, the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), I cannot think of a Minister who has been required to eat so much humble pie without its having the slightest effect on his demeanour.
The Home Secretary's change of heart is, I think, based on the belated realisation that the Bill, unamended, will not be passed. Indeed, I believe that he has been told as much by many of his hon. Friends, and all credit to them. The Bill raises serious issues, on which a number of hon. Members—not least my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen)—have touched. I do not take the apocalyptic view of the Bill expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), who read out a long list of people who objected to it; I think that most of those people objected to the Bill as originally drafted, rather than the form that it will take after being amended.
I intend to concentrate on part III, but I want to make a couple of points about the National Crime Squad. It is important for that body to be accountable, but I am not convinced that the provisions in the Bill are adequate for the purpose. The matter needs to be explored in Committee. There is a history of unhappy experience with elite police squads: the West Midlands serious crime squad and the Metropolitan police pornography and drugs squads come to mind, but there are others. They became a law unto themselves, and senior officers lost control. Some members of those elite squads even turned to crime. Police authorities have proved entirely ineffective in bringing them to book, and have been rendered even less effective by the Home Secretary's recent reforms of their composition.
There are signs that some problems that are familiar elsewhere may already be surfacing at NCIS. The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) mentioned some instances. Details of confidential inquiries appear to have been leaked to the subject of those inquiries, and only a few weeks ago it was reported that officers at NCIS were unable to account for records of large amounts of material that had been obtained as a result of surveillance. That is relevant to part III. If we are to have a National Crime Squad that will enjoy public confidence, it must be properly accountable.
I shall now deal with the most controversial part of the Bill. Let me say at the outset that I accept the central premise of part III—that there is sometimes a regrettable necessity for police to eavesdrop on those whom they have good reason to believe may be involved in serious crime. Given the intrusion into personal liberty, however, such action must be properly regulated.
I have no doubt that authorisation should be a matter for High Court rather than circuit judges. I am sure that there are many fine circuit judges who are perfectly capable of rigorously scrutinising applications to bug domestic premises, but they are not necessarily the ones who will be asked—more than once, at least. The judges who will be asked are those—there are many of them—who can be relied on to sign whatever is put before them. Circuit judges are often too much part of the local establishment to be relied on always to exercise the rigorous scrutiny that will be required. I should add that history records that some High Court judges have shown themselves extraordinarily gullible, not to say downright foolish, in accepting at face value the official version of events, especially when it has been delivered by men in police uniform. I recognise, however, that they are probably better placed than anyone to exercise proper scrutiny in this regard.
The police should not be allowed to pick and choose which commissioner to approach. If we allow that, there is a danger that the police will go for the softest touch. The commissioners should themselves draw up a rota to avoid that problem.
Clause 94 provides for authorisation to be given orally in urgent cases. As others have said, that is potentially a large loophole. The commissioners will need to watch the number of urgent cases carefully, and so shall we.
Inevitably—not much has been made of this so far today—much of the material gleaned through surveillance, perhaps all in some cases, will be irrelevant to the investigation. Some will be highly personal, while some will relate to people who are not involved in any way. My question—a question that I asked the Home Secretary in an intervention—is this: what happens to the material once it is no longer required? What assurance have we that it will be kept under lock and key and not used to entertain the troops, as has happened on some occasions? How quickly will it be destroyed?
There is a provision in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 allowing innocent fingerprints to be destroyed. What obligation is there on the investigating officer to report to the commissioner on the destruction of irrelevant material? That matter needs to be examined carefully. I have had a quick look through the draft code of practice that appeared belatedly in the Vote Office and I do not see the destruction of relevant material mentioned anywhere in the code. When I raised the matter in an intervention, I received no satisfactory reply from the Home Secretary. We shall have to consider the matter in Committee.
Incidentally, I note that, once signed, those warrants will last for six months in relation to non-urgent cases and 15 days in relation to urgent cases. In six months, much material can be accumulated and much of it will be irrelevant to the subject of the investigation. We need to find out what is going to happen to such material.
My fourth point arises from clause 92, which defines the circumstances under which bugging is permitted. Similar definitions are contained in the Interception of
Communications Act 1985 and in the Intelligence Services Act 1994, which regulate the activities of the police and security services in respect of telephone tapping. As others have remarked, the definition of serious crimes in subsection (5) is sufficiently wide to include all sorts of innocent or relatively innocent activities. In particular, there is the reference to
conduct by a large number of persons in pursuit of a common purpose".
When pressed on the point, the Home Secretary said that the provision might, for example, refer to groups of neo-Nazis trying to disrupt a football match. It might, but it could include many other people: strikers, members of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament or indeed organisers of any public demonstration.
The solution is simple; the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) suggested it earlier. The "or" at the end of subsection (5)(a) should be changed to "and", which would bring only offences likely to attract a prison sentence of three years or more within the Bill's scope. Similar amendments should be made to the other Acts to which I have referred.
Fifthly, I wonder—I do this hesitantly, as I do not know much about the technology involved—whether I am right in thinking that technology already exists to enable conversations to be monitored simply by pointing a beam at a window. Could it be that, in a few years from now, it will hardly be necessary to break into premises to monitor conversations therein, and that most bugging of domestic premises, or indeed a lawyer's offices, will be exempt from the Bill because, as I say, it is necessary only to point a beam at a window?
I do not know: I just ask. I suspect that that is the way in which things are going. I would hate to discover in a few years' time that most bugging is carried out by some other method entirely than that which we all think is relevant in relation to the Bill. I would appreciate some clarification of that point from the Minister, if he has the opportunity when he sums up.
I hope that we shall get clarification on the matter in due course because it is potentially an important one.
Finally, I have grave difficulty in accepting that there are circumstances when it is necessary to bug a lawyer's office. I would like to hear—perhaps Committee is the appropriate place to have this discussion—some hard examples of cases where it has been necessary to bug a lawyer's offices. I accept that some lawyers misbehave, but I wonder whether the intrusion into liberty involved in bugging a lawyer's office outweighs any possible benefits. I just remark on that for the time being, but we shall have to consider the matter more closely in Committee, quite apart from which, if we do monitor a lawyer's offices, we are bound to pick up information about all sorts of other cases that were not the subject of the authorisation obtained. That is inevitable, and a potential problem too.
As I have said, the Bill is long overdue. I have no objection to the fundamental necessity in some particular and carefully defined and carefully authorised cases for the police to bug criminals or people whom they suspect are criminals. It brings within the law an area of police activity that has far too often been clouded in obscurity. It inevitably involves interference with liberties that we rightly prize. It is brought to us by a Home Secretary who has shown himself careless of personal liberty, so we must consider the Bill carefully. Subject to the amendments that the Government propose, I shall not oppose it tonight, but it must be considered carefully in Committee.
In following the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), I shall start by saying that I am afraid that I have perhaps more confidence in the police than he does. I believe that we should back them. We should back them against the civil liberties lobby in particular. In the Bill, we have a balance that is just about right.
This is an important Bill. It is one of a series that the Home Secretary is introducing. In the past four years, we have had a variety of Bills, some of which have not yet been implemented. I think particularly of the power to lock away young offenders, which Parliament gave, although the places to put them in are not yet ready. It is right that we should have the series of measures coming through to toughen up the law and to give agencies that implement the law the tools and the power that they need. The Bill will help them to reduce serious crime—in the Bill, we are talking particularly of serious crime.
In the other place, the parts of the Bill that cover the National Crime Squad and the National Criminal Intelligence Service have not had as much publicity as other aspects of the Bill, but both bodies are moves in the right direction. It is correct that we should put them on to a statutory footing. The fact that the crime squad will work with police forces to investigate crime not just locally, but at national and at international level is to be welcomed. That will bring great benefits in the fight against major crime.
It is important that we should support those bodies, particularly in relation to the fight against drugs, which is a major problem and which is not getting any better. Much of their work will involve that problem. Some 10 years ago or more, I was taken by a chief superintendent around a housing estate in my old constituency of The Wrekin. He pointed out that he believed that the estate probably had the worst house-breaking problem of any in the West Mercia police authority region. He reckoned that 80 per cent. of the burglaries were drug-oriented. If that was the position then, I am sure that the matter is no better today.
NCIS has worked well under the Home Office and it has had some great successes, which we have heard about from other Members during the debate, but it is right to put it, at this stage, on a statutory footing. The one concern I have, which has been mentioned by other hon. Members, was raised with me by the West Midland Police Federation. It did not seem to have been involved in the Bill. It welcomes it, as does the Association of Chief Police Officers, but it rightly feels that it has not been consulted to the extent that it used to be consulted in the earlier days of the Government.
It would have been better for more consultations to have taken place. Certainly, that is the view of my police federation. It raises three points, which I think are all legitimate. It is concerned about officers having different disciplinary regulations, different police regulations and different complaints procedures when they are with the squad or NCIS than when they are with their own force. Members of the federation think that that is wrong and that it is confusing, and they do not find it very helpful.
Federation members also require clarification—I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will provide it in his reply—on whether it is intended that people working in those squads should be covered by the normal procedure allowing them to bring a colleague or friend to represent them. Conservative Members have already mentioned that matter. I remember that—in the early or mid-1980s, when I served on a Committee examining a Bill—I supported an amendment that had been tabled by the then Member of Parliament for Bury St. Edmunds, who was representing the Police Federation, which tried to give that right to charged officers. We should ensure that the facility is retained for police force members if they are brought under disciplinary procedures. It is very important that we should do so.
As for the issue of placing technology on a statutory footing, I cannot express it better than a letter sent to a newspaper by ACPO representatives. The letter covered the issue very well, and was signed by the president and officers of the organisation. It stated:
The Police Bill does not provide for new tactics. It seeks to put existing activity on a statutory basis—a point which the police (and others, including Law Lords) believe increases accountability.
The letter goes on to describe the way in which announcements, discussions and debates have been reported. It states:
Some editors and others, who really should know better—including some solicitors, barristers, and even some members of the House of Lords—have suggested that the police will seek to listen to conversations between solicitors and clients. It would be quite unlawful for chief constables to authorise such activity on those grounds alone.
The hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) might be interested in the next part of the letter. It states:
If, however, it were to be suspected that solicitors were discussing corrupt acts such as money-laundering and jury-fixing, they would not be protected—nor should they be.
I agree entirely with that view. It continues:
If solicitors or their premises were to be specifically exempted from surveillance, we can readily guess where armed robbers could go to plan their next raid.
I think that we would be causing many problems if we took that route.
I listened carefully to the comments of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary on the compromise he reached with Opposition Front Benchers on the problems resulting from the amendments passed in the other place. Although I would have been quite happy with the original provisions, I am prepared to accept the changes that he has proposed. However, I believe that—in cases of emergency, although it would not be the norm—it is absolutely essential that there should be that discretion to obtain the commissioner's approval after the event.
It was very disappointing that the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) suggested that such a discretion would drive a coach and horses through the legislation, because I do not believe that it would. The shadow Home Secretary covered the point very well, as did the Home Secretary, and he gave examples of when the Bill's provisions would have to be used very quickly. It is essential that the amendment does not eliminate such emergency use.
It is interesting to see the way in which the Labour party has come round on matters of law and order during this Session of Parliament. New Labour now believes that the issue of law and order is important, and we are learning that Labour Members are very concerned by it. I have served on many Committees, and, right back to 1979, any attempt by the Government to toughen up the law has never had Opposition support. However, I also served on the Committee examining the recent Crime (Sentences) Bill, and I was fascinated at how rarely the Opposition forced divisions, even on such important matters as mandatory sentencing. Although the other place seems to be taking a more robust line against the Government, the changes we are witnessing in the Opposition are very important.
It is also important that the Labour party is supporting the Government's attempts to toughen up law and order. I welcome that conversion, and I hope that it is genuine and that it will continue. I hope that Labour is now seeing the error of its ways. I believe that the public are demanding that hon. Members of all political persuasions take a tough line and act very firmly on crime.
The criminal records agency, which I welcome, has caused many comments in this debate. However, I hope that it will be accurate. Within the past week, a constituent of mine, who is a mini-cab driver, needed to attain a certificate. He discovered that, according to police records, he apparently had a conviction 20 years previously for child abuse. There have been great problems in clarifying the matter, because it was claimed that the offence had occurred in what was originally the West Mercia police authority, but which is now the West Midlands authority. By establishing an agency, I hope that we shall gradually have a much more accurate record. I have been having problems in this specific case in clearing my constituent's record, although he has assured me that he has never been charged with or convicted of child abuse. The problem is that he has been refused a job as a cab driver until it is confirmed that his record is clear.
We have heard about various organisations, such as guides and scouts, with problems and fears about having to pay for certificates. I have received a letter from the Worcestershire Federation of Young Farmers Clubs—an organisation which one would not necessarily expect to be concerned and worried about certificates—that states:
As a Voluntary Youth Organisation in Worcestershire we feel that, should this Bill be passed catastrophic implications for our group and many like ours will occur. We are a self funding organisation with NO County Council grant aid, with 450 plus members who's ages range from 11 years to 26 years together with a huge back up support of older, usually past members who give their free time to help up and coming new members.
To pay for a police check of TEN pounds for every person over the age of 18 would cover about half of our current membership, together with every parent and past member who offers to help coach netball or paint scenery for a pantomime. We would NOT be in a position to cover these costs which would mean that rural and city members alike would lose an organisation they love to be part of.
I am very concerned about the idea that we should charge. The description of the Bill's financial effects seems to be so vague, stating that about 8 million to 20 million might be affected. It also mentions
uncertainties about the initial demand.
In his reply, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will tell us a bit more about those matters. I am not quite sure how many people will need certificates, and it would be helpful to know the number, and whether the cost will be as large as the £200 million figure he suggested. The description of the financial effects also states that, in the first year, the cost could be as low as £10 million. That would not be an unacceptable figure—if it would allow the voluntary sector to continue without concern for its future. We must look after those people.
I believe that we are right to support this Bill. I hope that it will receive massive support and a smooth passage, and I particularly hope that it will be on the statute book before the general election. However, I also hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will tell us, either in his reply to this debate or in Committee, how the legislation can be amended to reassure the Police Federation and such organisations as the Young Farmers Clubs.
Order. Before I call the next hon. Member, I should say that I know that several hon. Members still wish to speak. They will be disappointed unless succeeding speeches are kept succinct.
I shall do my best to follow that instruction.
It has been obvious during the debate, particularly from the number of interventions on the Home Secretary, that there is still a great deal of disquiet about the Bill on both sides of the House. The original drafting has been improved, but it is still defective. The Secretary of State said that action should be taken against organised professional criminals. We all accept that that is necessary. The test of the Bill is whether it does that, while maintaining the necessary safeguards for civil liberties.
I shall deal first with the provisions for surveillance and bugging of premises. Everyone who has spoken in the debate has recognised that there are circumstances in which bugging and surveillance are necessary. There is no dispute about that. However, we should also accept that the number of cases and the scope should be limited. There should also be easy redress when the bugging cannot be justified.
I welcome the fact that there will be regulation of an activity that the police have carried out in an unregulated way for many years. However, I still have great concerns about the Bill. Although we are told that there will be amendments, none of us has seen the text of them or the promised codes of practice.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) was the first speaker in the debate to raise two issues that I should like to address. They are worth repeating. First, we should consider what is being regulated. With modern technology, it is obvious that bugging techniques are improving all the time. The Bill refers to entry of or interference with property. I suspect, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South said, that we are close to the point—if we have not already reached it—at which it will be possible to listen to conversations going on inside a property without needing to enter that property to place a bug. It is not clear whether that will be regulated by the Bill. We might end up with a measure dealing only with protection of entry to property rather than the central issue of intrusive surveillance.
The second point is what happens to the material collected. Let us suppose that a solicitor is bugged. I can imagine circumstances in which that might be justified, as the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Hawksley) pointed out. There might be evidence of a solicitor being involved in criminal activity, for example. However, it is impossible to bug a solicitor without also recording conversations with innocent clients who are in no way connected with the crime of which the solicitor is suspected. Those people may never know about that if the information obtained from the bugging is not used in a prosecution. What safeguards do they have? How can we be sure that the information gained in that way does not find its way on to police intelligence computers?
If, for whatever reason, my fingerprints are taken, I know that that has been done. If no charges result, I know that I can see those records destroyed. What happens if information is collected on me without my knowledge because there has been no charge or prosecution? I was far from convinced by the Secretary of State's reply to my intervention during his speech that it will be up to the courts to decide. The issue may never reach a court. It is not good enough to accept that information collected in that way may end up on police intelligence systems. That also relates to the other provision in the Bill that I want to consider—criminal records certificates. The bugging of a solicitor's office is just one example. I suspect that many bugging operations will inevitably involve the collection of large amounts of information irrelevant to the purpose of the bugging. What happens to that is very important.
I do not want to repeat important comments made by other hon. Members about the definition of serious crime and prior authority, because those issues have been adequately covered. My final point about this part of the Bill—the issue crops up again in the provisions relating to criminal records—relates to the complaints mechanisms. The mechanism in the Bill is inadequate. The commissioner's decision is not open to challenge by a court or open to appeal. I understand from the opening speeches that there will be some amendments and we shall not be left in the current position in which all that is at stake in any complaint will be on a judicial review basis. I should be happier if it was clear that the authorisation mechanisms and the complaints mechanisms were completely separate and there was no possibility of the commissioners being involved in both. That would give me more confidence.
On part V, I am less than happy at the growing demands—not just in the Bill—for information about people who have convictions to be made available to the public. We are in danger of losing some principles that we have always had about privacy mattering and people having the opportunity, after having a conviction and serving a sentence, to go back to normal, productive life.
I accept that there must be a balance. It would clearly be wrong for those with certain types of conviction to be able to hide the fact. There are particular problems with organised paedophile activity which have been clearly illustrated recently. If a conviction is relevant to a job, a mechanism is needed for establishing the fact. The current position is clearly not satisfactory. People slip through the net of the current mixture of legislation and practices—Thomas Hamilton in Dunblane was mentioned as an example.
I believe that the Bill is too broad and has too few safeguards. I suspect that the criminal convictions certificate—the lower level of certificate—will become the norm. The Secretary of State suggested that there might be a time limit. I do not know what that limit will be. I suspect that some people will be asked repeatedly. Once criminal convictions certificates come into use, there will be an incentive for someone applying for a job to get one. If I were applying for a job and I knew that I had a clean record, I might well want to get a copy of my certificate and enclose it with my application. I suspect that it will not be long before they become the norm for a range of jobs, for many of which convictions will be irrelevant. It has been pointed out earlier that there is a danger of some people becoming unemployable and inevitably drifting back into crime.
Cautions are to be included in the enhanced checks. Many people accept a caution without realising that they are implicitly admitting that they have done something. I suspect that that will change and more cases in which people would currently accept a caution will go to court. The caution might become a less useful mechanism than at present.
Has my hon. Friend considered the position of someone who committed an act under the Sexual Offences Act 1967 which would no longer be an offence? He would have to submit a document saying that he had had a homosexual relationship at a time when that was an offence, even though it no longer is. The provisions are grossly biased against some people's backgrounds.
That is a very good example of an action having been an offence that led to a conviction but ceasing to be an offence. What is the position then?
I am particularly concerned about the enhanced certificates and the inclusion of acquittal information, information that may be acquired in bugging and speculative information from police intelligence. Anyone who has seen the quality of some police intelligence would be concerned. I do not believe that chief constables should be the sole power in deciding what can and cannot be disclosed. If we are to have such certificates, we must have mechanisms for redress.
The hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge raised a constituency case. I recently dealt with a similar case. A constituent of mine, Mrs. Iqbal, applied for a job with the social services department, which asked her to get evidence from the police of her criminal record. She wrote to me and explained that she had no worries about that because she had never been in trouble with the police and had never been convicted. The police responded to the social services department's inquiry telling it that she had a conviction for shoplifting. What proved to have happened was that the police had confused her with someone else of the same name who had a similar date of birth. Fortunately, the social services department was willing to hold open the job offer for four or five weeks until the matter was cleared up. She had resigned from her previous job and could have lost her new job. As it was, she lost several weeks' wages as a result of that trivial mistake.
How is it possible to correct such mistakes? All we have in the Bill as it stands is clause 107, which states:
Where an applicant … believes that the information contained in the certificate is inaccurate he may make an application in writing to the Secretary of State for a new certificate.
I think that that is a completely inadequate mechanism for redress. We need much better safeguards, allowing people to challenge the accuracy of information on certificates. An amendment moved in another place would have set up an independent tribunal to which applications could have been made, which would have been a much more satisfactory mechanism. It is wrong that information can be sent to a prospective employer in an enhanced certificate that the applicant never sees and therefore does not have the possibility of challenging.
As I said at the outset, this Bill is better than the original draft, but it is still full of problems. There are no mechanisms by which people can seek redress, get compensation or challenge what is said about them. What happens if someone loses a job as a result of inaccurate information given about them—perhaps based on police intelligence? I still have very serious concerns about the Bill. I know that we are promised an amendment and that the Bill will come back to us eventually in a different form. It needs to be significantly different from its present form.
At the beginning of the debate, I raised with the Home Secretary the question whether the Bill was a serious constitutional Bill. Speeches for and against the Bill have underlined over and over again that it is. It touches the very heart of society and the very heart of the life of society. As the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) put so well, it is strange that there is a one-way street when it comes to capital and labour. How can it be that I am not allowed to know the criminal background of my employer but he has the right to demand details of my criminal background if I have one? There is something very seriously wrong about that.
I deplore the attitude of the Home Secretary. I said that I did not want to hinder him in getting the Bill through the House, but that the matter must be thoroughly discussed. Undigested legislation is a curse. We find out later all the mistakes that we could have found out if we had had full discussion. The hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) said that there are other Bills to get through, but that is absolutely no argument. If we push through legislation on this important matter because other Bills are lining up to get through, we shall not have a good Bill.
My record is well known: I am a supporter of the police. I have stood alone in the European Parliament to defend the Royal Ulster Constabulary against everybody who was present. I believe that the police need to be supported. I believe that the hour is grave and that we should listen to what action the police feel should be taken. Legislators have a responsibility to discern what they can support absolutely and what they must question—searching to see whether other provisions can be made. We cannot give policemen a blank cheque. They also must be subject to the law. When the police force or individual members of it are not subject to the law, they bring contempt on the whole power and moral authority of the police.
I regret the attitude of the Home Secretary. I also regret the attitude of the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), who argued that the Bill was not a constitutional Bill. I believe that it is and that this House should not kick it upstairs after tonight's debate. I am convinced about that because those of us who support the principle of supporting the police are being asked to give a blank cheque in return for being shown amendments later. We want to see the thrust of the amendments now so that we can have a proper debate on Second Reading.
The amendment tabled by the Liberal Democrats should not just be dismissed as it was from the Labour Front Bench. By tabling an amendment, the Liberal Democrats are at least putting on a brake and saying that on some things we need to be absolutely sure. Any of us who have been long in the House have learned that, when both Front-Bench teams make an agreement, one's voice is a cry in the wilderness. Everybody knows that it is very hard to make the crooked path straight and the rough places smooth when the two Front-Bench teams have made an agreement. Yet due to the Bill's constitutional nature, both Front-Bench teams have a responsibility not to start rushing on but to listen.
The hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Hawksley), who is for the Bill, made some very trenchant criticisms and raised some questions that needed to be listened to. One of them was that we should dismiss any suggestion that records could be wrong, yet the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) have brought proof that the records have been wrong. I have had experience of it in my constituency. It took me months to get the records set straight, but all the damage was done and the individual suffered from it. It is not easy to repair such damage.
Let us consider the multitude of certificates that will be floating about. I have a criminal record—I am quite proud of it. I was sent to this House because the people of North Antrim said that I did right to go to gaol and make my protest—
A constitutional record, yes, but I do not mind. The Lord Jesus Christ was crucified for having a criminal record and we know that he was the sinless son of God who died for sins of poor sinners like the people who sit in this House, including myself. There is repentance, forgiveness and conversion. If we do not believe in that, there is no hope. Why should a person be held to ransom for ever because of something he has done? Christ taught that there can be no forgiveness without repentance, and if a man repents and shows that he has left his old path, he should be helped, not hindered, by society.
I was amazed by the Home Secretary's attitude to the fee for certificates. He said that everybody can pay £5 or £6. Can they? If people are unemployed for a long time, £5 is very precious to them. I had the biggest lobby that I have ever had on one subject from the voluntary organisations on this issue. People with time on their hands go to voluntary organisations to volunteer. Should the organisations tell people that they must pay £6 or £10 for a certificate before they can work? How many people will volunteer then? My constituency has a large farming community and, like the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge, I was lobbied by young farmers' clubs. I hope that the Home Secretary will listen to their voices. Serious damage could be done to voluntary bodies, which form the cement of society, if we do not heed what they are saying. I plead with the Home Secretary to change his mind on this issue.
The hon. Gentleman has advanced an interesting and relevant argument. Why should we assume that those who are responsible for granting the licences have a better record or pedigree than those to whom they are granting the licences?
We have no assurance of that. We do not know whether those people have produced a certificate to get the job of issuing certificates. If the hon. Gentleman started to make inquiries into their pedigrees, a wall of steel would be erected to stop him finding out who they are.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, because support for this issue crosses party boundaries, we should be able to vote on it and ensure that those iniquitous provisions are removed from the Bill? That would show that hon. Members are listening to their constituents. I hope that the Opposition will strongly support that proposition, because they should stand up for the voluntary organisations and those who have little money but a lot to contribute to society.
My hon. Friend has not been in the House as long as I have. He will learn that those who sit on the two Front Benches cannot be stopped, once they make up their mind. If their minds are made up to go to hell, to hell they will go, and no amount of preaching from me or anybody else will convert them.
My hon. Friend knows what hardened sinners they are, but even the most hardened sinner can repent. There is hope and forgiveness for all.
We are here tonight because alarm bells were sounded in another place. I am not in favour of the House of Lords or the hereditary principle. Nominees are even worse, because we do not know where fellows on the honours list have come from or what they have done. We cannot look at their pedigrees. Those in the other place who sounded the alarm bells the loudest were former Members of this place, who knew what was happening in the constituencies.
It is amazing that, in a country that has an established Church and had the benefit of the reformation—and where the Roman Catholic Church has not formed the doctrine of the state—the Home Secretary and the leader of the Labour party can approve the seal of the confessional. What is the seal of the confessional? If a Roman Catholic goes to his priest for forgiveness and repeats all his sins, the priest must not tell anyone what he says, even if he confesses that he intends to murder his next door neighbour or that he has already committed an atrocious crime.
What will it mean if some places may not be bugged? Anybody who has read Irish republican history will know that republican priests were used in all the rebellions. One active IRA priest was able to use his priestly authority to commit criminal acts that led to people being killed. I do not ask for any special privilege as the pastor of a large congregation. I know the secrets of many of my parishioners, but I believe that only God can forgive sins and I do not want to listen to their confessions.
A parishioner came to me once and confessed that he had committed a terrible crime. I got out my car and took him to the police station. I told the police that the man had committed a terrible crime and that the only way to clear his conscience was to make a clean breast of it. He did, he paid the price and he went to prison. He is out now and he often tells me that that was the best day's work I ever did, because his burden has been lifted and he no longer has to look over his shoulder and wonder what will happen to him.
I do not take it well when certain people say, "You cannot touch this," and, "You cannot touch that." I believe that the most private place of all is not any church building, but is in the recesses of a person's home when he sits with his family. That is a castle which should not be breached by this legislation. I do not think that any society should move lightly—as we seem to be doing in this Bill—to permit acts of burglary to install certain gadgets.
I do not believe that these gadgets will do what the Government expect. My office was, at one time, under surveillance. In reading the Bill, I had to smile when I read that I had been guilty of conducting myself with a large number of persons in pursuit of a "common purpose"—the "common purpose" being to do away with the Anglo-Irish Agreement. I thought that beams were being sent into my office, and I asked a technician—a member of my church—if he could tell me whether this was the case. He came down with a suitcase and produced all these gadgets, which he turned on. He then said he could see where the beams were coming from, and added that he could do something about it by pressing a button which would let the people sending the beam know that I was aware of it. He put the machine on, and the beam was gone. They got the message that I was breaking the beam and that I knew what they were doing. It would be nice to know from the Secretary of State whether he has the power to deal with that type of surveillance, because it could be the worst sort with which we have to deal.
These are the matters that affect me, and I think that the Bill should go to a Committee of the whole House where everybody from all parts of the United Kingdom could have a full say. I hope and trust that that will happen.
Apart from a brief absence, I have been present to listen to all the speeches in this debate. I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley), as I wholeheartedly agreed with between 85 per cent. and 90 per cent. of his speech. The one particular message that was important was his reference to the constitutional importance of the legislation, and I support his view on this matter—that the Bill should be dealt with as a constitutional Bill on the Floor of the House.
One complaint that I have about the speech of the hon. Member for North Antrim is that he was far too charitable and courteous to the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Hawksley), who opened his remarks by saying, "We must support the police"—implying that anyone not in the Lobby with the Home Secretary tonight would be against the police. That is an outrageous slur on hon. Members who wish to scrutinise legislation as well as do justice to the police. We need no lessons from him about supporting the police, and we wish to do a diligent job as hon. Members.
The hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge went on to refer to the civil liberties lobby as if they were loopy, but then complained—no doubt for local consumption—that his local police federation was concerned about some of the employment ramifications of the Bill. He also referred to the Worcestershire young farmers, who will be faced with enormous costs following this legislation. No doubt he will trot that out back home to show how strong and vigilant he has been in the Chamber. He should support the hon. Member for North Antrim and others who believe that there should be proper scrutiny of the legislation, The hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge needs to be put in his place.
I certainly recognise that some aspects of the Bill have merit. For example, we need to protect youngsters who are members of voluntary organisations, and we certainly need to combat organised crime and the appalling growth of terrorism. Earlier, I spoke with the chief executive of the Scouts Association who stated that the Scouts and other charitable organisations had real concerns about the cost implications of the Bill, and about the fact that it will deter people from taking part in important youth work.
It is no good the Home Secretary, or indeed the shadow Home Secretary, saying that this is not a real problem. If there are costs for charitable organisations, we are duty bound to minimise them—if not avoid them. The House must address itself to that matter. For the record, the Scouts Association considers that if the legislation is unamended, vetting will cost the Scouts £500,000 a year.
We have heard the Home Secretary state that he wishes to repeal the so-called Weatherill amendment. There were indications in another place that the Government had argued that there would not necessarily be a duty to vet all volunteers who have access to children and young people. That fills the Scout Association and me with concern. There is demonstrably a need for proper vetting, but it should not impose disproportionate costs.
Equally, the Bill needs scrutiny to ensure that absurd provisions are not included. For example, a piano teacher with a regular group of young pupils will, as the Bill stands, have to apply for vetting. That shows how the Bill is ill conceived, ill thought out and ill prepared; it does no credit to the Home Secretary or to those who are prepared to let it pass without criticism today.
The one subject on which I reserve support for the hon. Member for Antrim, North concerns ministers of religion. I would not dispute his great knowledge of the reformation, but I am told by Anglican ministers that the Act of Uniformity 1662 reinforced the concept of what is described as the sacrament of confession in the Church of England. It is a matter of English law. Indeed, I am told that Anglican ministers are prohibited from treating the seal of the confession as anything other than sacrosanct. The sanctity of confession is therefore not a matter only of Roman Catholicism; it concerns English law in relation to the established Church.
Ministers of religion, when acting in that capacity, must have some privilege, whether they be rabbis, Roman Catholic priests, Anglican ministers, Methodist ministers—my local Methodist minister, the Rev. Bob Pritchard, in particular, is concerned about the matter—along with members of the Presbyterian Church and ministers of many other religions.
The Anglican Bishop of Bradwell reminded me—perhaps this backs up to some extent what the hon. Member for Antrim, North said in the latter part of his speech—that any prudent, self-respecting and dutiful minister of religion who is consulted by someone who is troubled in conscience and may have committed a heinous crime, will counsel that, if there is remorse, one must own up to one's wrongdoing or crime.
There must be many instances—we have no way of measuring—in which ministers of religion have helped the police and minimised the trauma and hurt that come from prolonged investigations, because people have taken their advice, owned up and demonstrated contrition.
Electronic surveillance of the confessional or of discussions with ministers of religion that are not described as confessional is not an absurd notion. There was a serious case of that in the past 12 months in the United States of America, which has the same common law system as we do. That incident has now been challenged in the courts there.
I have some sympathy with law enforcement officers, who come under political, public and professional pressure to try to get an arrest in the shortest possible time; that is their duty. If they have no limitation by statute on how they should conduct their inquiries they would almost be failing in their duties if they did not exploit every means open to them.
That is why there should be a specific exemption in the Bill—not in the code of practice—to ensure that the discussions of ministers of religion and others, including lawyers, counsellors and social workers, who receive confidential information in a professional capacity, are not trespassed on by electronic surveillance.
I know that others want to speak, but I have been here throughout the debate, which is not true of every hon. Member who has spoken or who is present at the moment. I want to express my grave disquiet about the way in which the legislative process of the Bill is being conducted.
The Bill has a big chunk missing, which will be contained in the code of practice. Earlier, I had occasion to complain that, for two or three days, I had been seeking from the Vote Office any supporting material to the Bill. However, nothing was available. Today, I discovered that a senior churchman had for some days had a copy of the code of practice.
I telephoned the Home Secretary's private office, and was told that no code of practice relating to surveillance was available. I expressed concern, and said that someone outside the House had a copy. The good gentleman I spoke to was somewhat embarrassed, and said that he would come back to me. Just before 1 o'clock, a code of practice was faxed to me.
To be candid, between then and the beginning of this debate, I did not have the opportunity to give it the scrutiny, understanding and reading that I would have liked. We then found that the draft code was still not available in the Vote Office. That is an outrage, and it shows what a charade our legislative process is. We pretend to A-level and university students that we give our legislation great scrutiny, but we do not.
The hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence), who is not in his place, told us that we could not deal with the matter on the Floor of the House because the general election is coming up soon. If one railroads legislation merely because of the impending general election, that demonstrates my point—we are not doing things properly, and our processes are being dictated by other considerations.
I am not prepared, therefore, to acquiesce in sloppy law making for anyone. I notice that the Opposition Front Bench is now vacant, which I regret. I was asked from a sedentary position whether I would like to serve on the Standing Committee that will consider the Bill. I do not mind doing so, but I give notice that I will seek to amend it.
I do not want to put the hon. Gentleman in a difficult position, but it is possible that the new Parliament will have a Labour Government—I say not probable, but possible. Would the hon. Gentleman then insist that all constitutional matters were taken on the Floor of the House and not upstairs in Committee, as has been indicated?
"Insist" is the wrong term. I do not have sufficient clout. I have made it abundantly clear, however, both inside and outside the House, that the tradition whereby constitutional issues are dealt with on the Floor of the House should not be abrogated. On previous occasions when both the Home Secretary and the shadow Home Secretary have been pushing through legislation, I have also as a matter of record said that I did not think that the legislation was being given sufficient scrutiny. I do not vary my line. It has probably not done me a great deal of good, but I happen to believe that we in this House must jealously guard the proper scrutiny of legislation. That is not happening at this time.
How can I be satisfied that, by giving a nod and a wink to this legislation tonight, the code of practice will be sufficient? We will debate that code, which is bigger in volume and importance than a whole Act of Parliament, for one and a half hours, and it is wrong that it cannot be amended. For those reasons, I have no alternative but to demonstrate my deep concern about the way the House is behaving, and the only way I can do so is by joining the Liberals in the Lobby tonight.
I am grateful for this opportunity to speak briefly. I understand that a number of my hon. Friends wish to speak.
My frustration is twofold. Many of the things that I would have wished to say in a considered way will inevitably be squeezed because of time constraints. My frustration is also due to the fact that there has been a total lack of comment about part IV of the Bill.
As the chairman of the all-party parliamentary information technology group, I must put this thought to the House. I believe that the battle against crime in the 21st century will be fought over information technology. Anyone who has visited the Metropolitan police, as our group did recently, will realise that crime now encompasses a vast range of factories producing forged credit cards, and also the Internet, which is used in the promotion of pornography and racial discrimination.
Information technology is used not only in objectionable ways but to further intelligence. It is good to note, thank heavens, that Scotland Yard is gearing up. PITO, the Police Information Technology Organisation, allows the co-ordination of forces up and down the country, and it means that there is a chance of success against highly organised technical crime. The recent paedophilia case arrests show how police have developed such skills. PITO is important.
I hope that the Minister will address those issues. The proposed organisation is worthy of serious consideration. It enables us to overcome a problem that has persisted for generations: police forces that could not talk to one another. Their information technology was not compatible, but there has been a sea change, which the Bill reflects.
I shall touch on one or two things that are going on, which PITO is designed to help co-ordinate. In particular, I shall highlight the wider issues that reflect on that organisation's work. There are moral and ethical questions, which the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists brought out in the House of Lords in a symposium earlier this week. Such issues were mentioned by Commissioner Sir Paul Condon in talking to groups in this House. He showed how the way in which his force and others around this country co-ordinate their activities is critical.
When I speak of this country, I refer to pilot schemes in Scotland and London designed to bring service directly to the great British public. It is not commonly recognised that more than a quarter of all calls by individuals on police stations are made to produce documents in connection with motoring offences. When one considers the time and dispersion of effort involved, it is clear that providing kiosks in public places for document recognition, use of the 999 system and to provide a range of emergency services are the sort of wider issues that the organisation can help to co-ordinate and drive on.
We have a national strategy for police information systems, which is the basis on which the organisation and the various forces will operate. However, the police national computer service, which began 20 years ago, is in many ways out of date. It must be brought up to date.
I want to mention briefly my police force in Sussex, which can claim to be at the forefront of the use of IT against crime. Its communications centre in Bognor Regis in my constituency has a state-of-the-art example of what can be done. The way in which it has been able to respond to emergencies, such as terrorist bombings in my constituency, has demonstrated that in practice. More widely, the Sussex police have shown exemplary zeal in pursuing modern technology—for example, in chasing stolen cars by satellite surveillance as they move from Britain to other parts of Europe.
It is on the wider aspect that I shall conclude. One of the major schemes with which the Met is concerned, and in which PITO can help British national interests, is the EU Telematics programme. That goes under the wonderful acronym of ATTACH, Advanced Trans-European Telematics Applications for Community Help. It is another example, like the kiosks, of the sort of work that will allow us to give the public a direct link to our police force. It is notable—I could quote several other cases—that half the funding for that scheme comes from a 4 million ecu scheme in the European Community. It is a positive case that should be taken into account among what I might call the welter of one-sided views of Brussels.
I could also cite the great hopes for GRASP—the global retrieval access and information system for property items. The greatest crime for the majority of our constituents is theft. The fact that there is another international scheme—again, half-funded through the European Community and involving this country, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and Spain—will enable us to trace stolen goods through the greater application of data and imagery.
This subject could be developed far more widely than I have had the opportunity to do tonight. I am particularly concerned that PITO should not only be given a fair wind by the House, but that its operations and activities in the battle against IT crime should be seen for what they are—the real challenge to crime in the 21st century. This House has a role to play in that endeavour.
I wish to declare an outside interest: I am parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation of England and Wales in accordance with the Police Acts.
The federation is the largest police staff association in Britain; it therefore has a keen interest in the contents of the Bill. It represents constables, sergeants, inspectors and chief inspectors—in all, some 127,000 police officers. The Bill—especially the clauses that affect the federation's members—was drafted in consultation with the Association of Chief Police Officers. There has not been any real consultation between the Home Office and the Police Federation, although I was glad to hear my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary say earlier that there would be consultation in future on the terms and conditions of employment of members of the police service.
The Government have given the federation some assurance that things will be all right on the night, so to speak, but the experience of the federation's members is that, unless their concerns are put on the record, these matters can be left to interpretation. With 43 forces and 43 chief constables, there are at least 43 possible interpretations, each different from the next. I urge my right hon. Friend the Minister to reflect and to consult with the federation before there are changes to its members' police regulations and complaints and discipline procedures.
All police officers carry out their duties under the auspices of the Police Regulations 1995. The regulations have been properly negotiated at the police negotiating board. The Bill suggests a change to those regulations for officers who work for the National Crime Squad and the National Criminal Intelligence Service. However, any amendment to existing regulations to enable NCS and NCIS officers can be properly negotiated through the tried and tested police negotiating board machinery. If that is not done, there could be problems when officers from those bodies work alongside non-NCS and NCIS officers and different regulations apply to both groups.
The Government have indicated that all officers serving in those two important organisations will be volunteers. That may well be so, but let us consider the case of an individual who, when asked or recommended to apply for NCS or NCIS posts, indicates that such a move is not in accordance with his wishes. I have to ask, would he in fact be committing career suicide by refusing to take the post? Police regulations apply nationally to 43 different forces and cover officers who perform a variety of tasks, from traffic patrol to drug squad, and from domestic violence units to firearms officers. There is no reason why they should not apply to officers serving in the NCS or the NCIS.
There is also the important question of the discipline regulations, which are referred to in two parts of the Bill, in clauses 37 and 81. Undoubtedly, the general public must have confidence in the police service in this country to ensure that there is an effective rule of law. The general public equally need to feel confident that a proper, structured complaints system is in being if the service or its operators are perceived to be acting wrongfully.
All police forces operate within the same discipline code and discipline regulations. Similarly, the method for making any complaint is universal, and well established. The Bill appears to suggest that officers seconded to the National Crime Squad and the National Criminal Intelligence Service will operate under a different discipline code and regulations. That may, I fear, cause confusion among members of the public. It might also create the impression that there is a lack of confidence in the existing complaints and discipline system.
There are practical problems. If an officer, for example, completes his or her duties at the NCS or the NCIS and is accused of a criminal act, does that officer have access to advice before responding to the allegations, as is the right of all people under the rule of law? Then there is the question, if that officer be found guilty and returned to his or her home force, will that finding of guilt be disclosable? How can fairness and equity for all be guaranteed when an officer is placed in that position? If the same officer is accused of a later disciplinary offence and appears before the chief constable of his own force, does that officer's antecedent contain a declaration of a finding of guilt from a different discipline code?
I therefore ask my right hon. Friend the Minister to reflect on those matters, and to give them careful consideration before the Bill is considered in Committee.
I shall briefly say two more things. The first concerns criminal records certificates. I do not welcome the widespread extension of those certificates throughout society, but I believe that, in today's debate, there has been a general misunderstanding of what is likely to happen when certificates are issued at the lower level.
The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act—introduced, I well remember, as a private Member's Bill in 1974 by Mr. Piers Dixon, who was then the Member for Truro—provided that the period of rehabilitation be related to the length of the sentence passed on the offender, and the rehabilitation periods guarantee that spent convictions are expunged from the records and will not be provided in response to requests for the lower level certificates. The offences that are expunged range from imprisonment to youth custody, detention in a young offenders institution, corrective training and so on.
I therefore believe that there is less need for concern than has been suggested by the comments in tonight's debate that young people, especially, will be adversely affected if the Bill passes in its present form, because of the very important provisions of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.
I support the Bill. I believe that it is right to put the powers of the police into statute. The police welcome the Bill from that point of view, and I hope that it receives a Second Reading tonight.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am grateful for the chance to catch your eye to make a brief speech.
I am sure that the whole House supports, as we have heard, the idea of legislation to give the police extra and more effective powers to fight crime, especially organised crime, by what are described, I understand, as firms of big time criminals. That is obviously in the public interest. In so far as the Bill is designed to achieve such a purpose, it definitely deserves a Second Reading tonight, and one which I hope will attract a good-sized majority.
However, when we legislate to provide extra powers for the police, as the Government have done on very many occasions in the past 18 years, we must always try to ensure that such measures are balanced by proper constitutional safeguards for the citizens of this country against the possibility of abuse of power by the forces of law and order. In that way, we can ensure that the practices of policing in this country remain justifiable in the eyes of our constituents and of the courts, and equally that the practices are effective in achieving the main purposes of preventing and detecting serious crime.
I do not have time to go into detail, but I hope to have a chance to develop my thoughts in Standing Committee. I have three principal concerns about the Bill and the ways in which it could still be improved. First, we need tighter and more justifiable definitions of serious crime than are in the Bill at present.
Secondly, the principle of prior independent authorisation should be followed as widely and as fully as possible in the legislation, and in so far as any exceptions are deemed absolutely necessary, they should be kept to a closely defined minimum.
Thirdly, the House should study and discuss fully the codes of practice to which we have heard reference, before the measure becomes law. We are all too well aware of the precedent of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. It took five years for the codes of practice to appear in all their glory, and a further six years thereafter for the revised edition to appear. That is intolerable, and that pattern must not be repeated in this case.
We in the House should be concerned not only to combat organised crime, but to preserve the civilised quality of policing and law enforcement in our society. We ought to be aware of the extent to which the nature of our society and its cherished freedoms can be degraded by oppressive and unreasonable police practices.
Ministers are to be commended for having rightly decided at last to put on a statutory basis police practices which hitherto have been unregulated by statute. We should do the job properly and completely while we are at it. Otherwise, we may all live to regret an important and timely opportunity to legislate in a truly responsible and balanced way.
With the news tonight that a British soldier has been killed in Northern Ireland, we should remind ourselves that the protection of the public from terrorism and crime is a serious and difficult business.
The public expect the police to have the powers to protect them and their families, and they expect us to protect their civil liberties. In other words, the public expect Parliament to resolve conflict between the principles of public safety and civil liberty. Both are important. The public do not expect Parliament as a whole or individual Members of Parliament to be for one and against the other. They expect us to deal with such tensions. That is the essence of political responsibility.
I am looking forward to the Committee stage of the Bill, because it is a substantial piece of legislation that addresses a number of long-standing concerns on which the Labour party has sought action. The issues raised in the House are important and varied, which is why this has been an excellent debate. In his thoughtful contribution, short though it was, the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman) demonstrated that some of the important remaining concerns are shared by Conservative and Opposition Members.
My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) made it clear that we will ensure that the Bill receives a Second Reading. We look forward to a constructive Committee stage. The Minister of State, Home Office, the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), can be combative in debate, but he can also engage in constructive debate.
That is not as cosy as those who rarely visit the Committee Corridor seem to think. It is harder work for the Opposition and for Ministers to engage in reconciling issues and trying to find a way through some of the difficult problems that face this Parliament. Opposition is easy; constructive opposition, in which the Labour party is engaged, is hard work for both sides, but it represents the House of Commons at its best and it shows real democracy at work.
Incidentally, I was one of those who voted for the television cameras, radio and the press to be admitted to the proceedings of the House. That resolution covered the Committee Corridor—not just the attractive cross-examination that goes on in Select Committees but the work of Standing Committees. That important work deserves greater scrutiny by the press and the media.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) asked where the pressure for the Bill comes from. It comes from the Labour party, among others, because in our view it is unacceptable in a civilised society and democracy for intrusive surveillance to be undertaken by the loose conventions that have applied for the past 30 years, and applied under the Labour Government of which my right hon. Friend was a Cabinet Member. Nor is it acceptable for an organisation like the National Criminal Intelligence Service to lack corporate entity and be unaccountable, as it is now. It has loose accountability to the Home Secretary, but that is not practical day-to-day accountability; although the need for a national dimension to deal with crime is evident, it would not be right to set up a national crime squad without tying its activity back into the British tradition of local police accountability.
Those measures are contained in the Bill. We called for them and welcomed them when the Bill was published. There remain issues to be dealt with. It is right for hon. Members on both sides of the House to want to get the Bill right in respect of surveillance, and I am not surprised that that has been the most contentious issue under discussion.
That, however, is not helped by what my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) described as an apocalyptic view, which was illustrated by some hon. Members who spoke in the debate. On the other hand, several hon. Members, including the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) were right to say that we need to be careful to protect the confidentiality of client and lawyer or doctor and patient. As we go into Committee, we welcome the fact that Government and Opposition agree on the objective and are joined in the search for the right words.
The hon. and learned Member for Burton was right to reflect on the protection of volunteers and voluntary organisations, and to say that he had changed his views somewhat from the conclusion reached by his Committee. It is good that we should listen and learn, and I hope that that is how we shall continue on the Bill. It could be argued that the debate on the Bill is a good example of democracy in practice. Greater accuracy from the press and the media when they first started to look at the issues would have been helpful, but the debate in the House tonight has shown Members raising important issues on an informed basis.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) made some important points in a thoughtful speech about surveillance. He said that the subject of surveillance may know nothing about it, whereas one would know if one were having one's fingerprints taken. It is an important point and it is why a nominal oversight as proposed by the Liberal Democrats would not be adequate to meet the need to have a tight and specific oversight of the use of the powers proposed in the Bill.
In two interventions, my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) raised points that have not had great attention. She spoke about the regulation of data via mobile phones. As the reply of the Home Secretary, on whom she intervened, appeared to miss the point that she was making, I hope that the Minister of State will undertake to review the whole matter in preparation for the Committee stage. If the use of mobile phones is covered by the Interception of Communications Act 1985, will he ensure that the collection of information is undertaken in the same way as for telephones attached to land lines? If it is not so covered, will he deal with the problem and ensure that we understand the position? Will he also tell us the current legal position with regard to subscriber data? That information can identify the location of a mobile phone user to within some 50 yd, and a great deal more. I should have thought that it comes under the existing Act. Is that the case? I should be grateful if the Minister would clarify those points.
What is the position with regard to user data on land lines? As we all know from perusal of our own bills, a mass of information is available on our calls. Is that information protected from intrusion without some due process? If the Minister cannot answer tonight, will he undertake to give that information to the House or at least write to me, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn and my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley, to clear the matter up properly?
The Home Secretary had to take several interventions about where the Bill's consideration in Committee should take place, including a number of rather lengthy and convoluted contributions from his hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen). The hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) made a similar point.
I am not sure that in all cases more is got out of a debate on the Floor of the House than in Standing Committee. The Committee stage is frequently the time when the most difficult issues are debated. Sometimes the Government are intransigent, as when we were debating the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill or the Police and Magistrates Courts Bill.
On other legislation, such as the Sexual Offences (Protected Material) Bill last week and, indeed, the Security Service Act 1996, there have been positive and constructive debates in Committee that improved and changed the legislation, precisely because the details could be teased out in the slightly different atmosphere of Committee sittings. Indeed, it was during the passage of the Security Service Bill last year that we called for independent police authorities to oversee the work of NCIS and the National Crime Squad.
It is interesting how the option of dealing with one bit of a Bill excites a number of hon. Members who rarely, if ever, participate in the detailed work of Standing Committees. The hon. and learned Member for Burton makes regular contributions in Committee, but he does not seem to expect to be on the Committee that will consider this Bill, which I assume is why he was so quick to offer a place on it to the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West. I have to include the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) in that, because there are occasions when the Liberal Democrats get bored very easily when they make appearances in Committee.
I stress the importance of careful examination in Committee. I hope that we will not reach the point where Standing Committees are regarded as unimportant. They are an important part of scrutiny to ensure that we get legislation right, and they should not be minimised, as some hon. Members have sought to do tonight.
The hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) referred to concern expressed by the Police Federation that the same terms and conditions and the same discipline should apply to officers seconded to NCIS and the NCS. I am not clear—perhaps the Minister will help on this—whether there is an omission or intention in the Bill, but we need to get to the bottom of that matter in Committee, and consider amendments to tease out the situation or to clarify exactly whether change is being made. As a matter of principle, there should surely be only one police service in this country.
The hon. Member for Ryedale referred also to evidence given to the Home Affairs Select Committee, but I must point out the need to take care with that evidence. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn and I were puzzled by the evidence of the Association of Chief Police Officers and the regional crime squads, in which they appeared to be tell the Committee that they favoured the process of application to a circuit judge.
A careful reading of the evidence showed that that was the view expressed by the regional crime squads, not the Association of Chief Police Officers, which subsequently made it very clear to us that it did not share such a view. The problem that seems to have arisen is that the regional crime squads thought that it would be much easier to get the go-ahead from circuit judges than to get permission from chief constables, who turned out to be quite stringent about their applications. We need to be careful when we look at evidence to be sure that we have understood the reality behind it.
The hon. Member for Arundel (Sir M. Marshall) referred to part IV. I am glad that he did, because until that point I thought that I would be the only person to refer to it. Police information technology has indeed been a mess over the years. Some forces are better than others. I pay particular tribute to the Dyfed-Powys police—a small rural police force that is trying to make use of new technology, precisely to overcome the problems of distance and sparsity with which it has to deal. Co-ordination has been bad in the past. Chief constables have often been scathing about the lack of support for new technology development. That part of the Bill requires scrutiny in Committee, and we will seek to be satisfied that the structure will work, and will not be an arm's-length location for a different set of excuses.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) made a series of points. I always listen to him with care, because he is a man of great principle and expresses genuine concerns. However, I think that he misunderstood a great deal of the Bill, and I offer him a private seminar, which would have been available to him before, had he expressed an interest.
The hon. Member for North Antrim referred to the confessional, and seemed to interpret that part of the Bill as referring to only the formal process of confession to a Roman Catholic priest. My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) referred to it in much wider terms, and I think that he is right. I am not sure whether we have thought this matter through. The Home Secretary has clearly accepted the point in general terms, as with legal and medical confidentiality. It is a genuine matter for consideration in Committee to ensure that we get it right, so that the public can have confidence when they discuss personal issues with their minister of religion.
The code of conduct is very important. I appreciate the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock. In 1987, in the Committee considering the first major Bill in which I played some part as a Whip, I argued strongly that we could not deal properly with that legislation without the draft immigration rules. As Christmas approached, I asked for the draft and I presented the then Minister, the right hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton), with a gift-wrapped copy of the previous immigration rules. We knew that the draft existed—it was on his desk—but it was not published until the day after Third Reading.
I commend the Minister for publishing the draft statutory instrument last year at the start of consideration of the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Bill, because it enabled us to deal coherently with that measure. It greatly improved debate in Committee, and the legislation that came back to the Floor of the House as a result.
If the Bill is moving, it is a moving target. I understand the criticism, given that the original draft was not available in the Vote Office today; but that is a lesser evil than not seeing the statutory instrument. I ask the Minister to keep us up to date. A moving target is harder to work with, but it is better to have the Bill, even if we do not have the detail.
There has been limited opportunities in the debate to cover a wide range of issues. I look forward to discussing these matters further in Committee, and then returning to the Floor of the House with an improved Bill.
We have had a full debate on this important Bill. The threat from serious and organised crime is real and growing. We are not defenceless: the police and Customs and Excise have had many successes in tackling organised crime. I pay tribute to their work, but we must never become complacent.
We have heard much about the use of intrusive surveillance. The impression is sometimes created that the police will be able to conduct surveillance whenever and wherever they like. That is not true, and it will not be true under the Bill. Intrusive surveillance is used to investigate only serious crime, and only as a last resort.
Major criminals make use of every modern technique to cover their tracks. They have no hesitation in using modern equipment to render police surveillance ineffective. They change premises and lines of communication quickly and frequently to escape detection. They will literally be laughing all the way to the bank if the police are hampered in their use of effective surveillance techniques against them. The House must not allow that to happen.
Of course there is a balance to be struck between civil liberty and the fight against crime. The proposed arrangements will strike that balance. The use of intrusive surveillance will continue to be strictly controlled. There will be additional safeguards against possible misuse. I stress that law-abiding citizens will have nothing to fear, but those engaged in serious crime must have nowhere to hide.
A number of hon. Members were worried about the definition of serious crime. It is a wide-ranging definition, but it has to be, to ensure that police can mount operations at an early stage, before there is any certainty about the precise criminal charges that may result some or many months later.
It is important to remember that, in addition to the criteria in the Bill, the draft code of practice specifically provides that authorising officers should satisfy themselves that the degree of intrusion into the privacy of those affected by the surveillance is commensurate with the seriousness of the offence. Even if the police were minded to pursue some lesser criminals, under the provisions of the Bill the requirement for proportionality would bite on the type of operation that they could mount. The commissioners would, I am sure, respond to any failure to observe that requirement.
The definition has been around for many years. It has been used successfully under the Interception of Communications Act 1985 and, more recently, the Security Service Act 1996. It is clearly sensible to use the same test in regard to similar activities carried out by different bodies investigating the same type of crime.
The amendment expresses concern about criminal records. No provision in the Bill requires job applicants to produce a criminal conviction certificate. Such certificates are intended to be multi-purpose documents, issued only to individuals. They are likely to be used for purposes other than employment when individuals are required to produce a certificate of good conduct—for example, when applying for visas or permits to reside in foreign countries.
Unlike other certificates for which provision is made in the Bill, those certificates will disclose only information about convictions that are unspent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. It is open to any employer or organisation to seek that information, and the certificates will serve to confirm the accuracy of an individual's statement about his past. It will be for applicants and employers to decide when it is reasonable to produce a criminal conviction certificate.
I was astonished by the Liberal Democrats' concerns about NCIS and the National Crime Squad. I consider those concerns—articulated in their amendment—to be entirely without foundation. One of the Government's main aims was to ensure that the service authorities relating to NCIS and the National Crime Squad were fully consistent with the excellent tripartite arrangements that we have for policing, which provide proper local accountability.
The Bill already provides for police authority members of the National Crime Squad to be in the majority. Of the 17 members, nine will be representatives of local police authorities: nine out of 17 will be local authority members. NCIS is clearly a different kettle of fish from the National Crime Squad, because of its national responsibilities; even so, the Bill will provide for seven police authority representatives out of 19 members. That, I think, takes care of the Liberal Democrats' anxieties.
Hon. Members have raised a number of other concerns, relating to, for instance, police terms and conditions of employment. I paid particular attention to what was said by my hon. Friends the Members for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), for Uxbridge (Sir M. Shersby) and for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Hawksley). I intend to have another discussion with the Police Federation shortly—before the Committee stage, with luck—and I hope that I can assure the federation that its fears are groundless. I hope that I can assure my hon. Friends that theirs are as well.
Many hon. Members commented on volunteering and the cost of certificates—my right hon. Friends the Members for Chelsea (Sir N. Scott) and for Fareham (Sir P. Lloyd), my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence), the hon. Members for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) and for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) and, again, my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge. Let me tell my hon. Friend that I, too, was a young farmer many years ago, and I do not share the concern expressed by the Worcestershire young farmers and others about the deleterious effect that the criminal conviction certificates or the criminal records agency provisions will have on those who volunteer to assist with young farmers' clubs. Nevertheless, we shall look forward to addressing those points in Committee, where I hope that we shall be able to reassure many more hon. Members.
Hon. Members also raised the question of security and destruction of unwanted material. Again, I look forward to giving reassurances in Committee about how that will be properly dealt with.
The hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) asked about the technology for bugging. Once I discover how to work my own mobile telephone, I may become an expert on the technology to which he referred, but I understand that the reference in the Bill to interference with wireless telegraphy has nothing to do with remote surveillance. It is intended to cover the jamming of radio waves, for example, to prevent a criminal in a siege from hearing outside media broadcasts that could assist him. Others, however, may wish to deal with the hon. Gentleman's point about electronic surveillance in Committee.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) for his points on the codes of practice. My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman) also raised those points. To assist the House, we intend to have valid codes of practice available for Bills going through the Committee, if we can possibly do so. The code of practice has to be rewritten substantially because of the changes in the other place and we shall try to bring a fresh code before the House as soon as we can.
The hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) made an interesting speech. I always enjoy listening to his speeches; one day I may have a chance to listen to one of his sermons. He rightly pointed out that, even when the hardened sinner repenteth, he should be forgiven, but, before I could point it out, he went on to say that it was only for God to forgive sins. I think that the Home Secretary and I had better go no further than criminal conviction certificates on this earth at the moment.
The hon. Member for North Antrim also suggested that the Bill was a constitutional measure that should be considered on the Floor of the House, but I remind the House that two other important Bills of this nature, the Intelligence Services Act 1994 and the Security Service Act 1996, were also taken in Standing Committee. They were not given that unique treatment.
I want to set the Bill in context. It is a key part of the Government's programme of law and order reforms, the results of which are making this country a safer place. Recorded crime in the 12 months to June 1996 was 10 per cent. lower than three years before. That is a fall of more than 500,000 offences, the largest three-year drop since records began in 1857. We are determined to fight crime effectively with full backing for the police, the support of the community, proper emphasis on crime prevention and severe punishment for serious, persistent and dangerous offenders. We have demonstrated that progress can be made.
Since 1978–79, total spending on the police has more than doubled in real terms. Next year, total expenditure on policing in England and Wales will be around £7.3 billion. Police authorities' spending power will be increased by £247 million, or 3.7 per cent. That includes extra funding for 2,000 more officers. There are now some 98,000 constables in England and Wales—more than ever before—and 16,000 more officers overall than when the Government came to power in 1979, but—this is of relevance to the debate—our commitment to law and order goes beyond ensuring that the police are properly resourced.
The Police and Magistrates' Courts Act 1994 set out a new framework for the organisation and management of the police in England and Wales. That Act successfully introduced a new style of police authority, policing plans, objectives and key performance indicators. It is that model, which has worked so well, that forms the basis for the Bill's proposals for the National Crime Squad and NCIS.
We have also continued to ensure that the police have the right tools to do their job, exploiting new technology to the full. We have established the world's first DNA database and we have more than 3,300 matches. The police national network has drastically improved communications between police forces, and the new national automated fingerprint identification system will lead to a 430 per cent. efficiency increase in the number of identifications of fingerprint marks recovered from crime scenes. The creation in the Bill of the police information technology organisation will build on those achievements.
Strengthening the police is not enough on its own. Only 16 months ago, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced our intention to bring the Security Service into the fight against organised crime. The Security Service Act achieved that, and this Bill will complete the package of measures that he announced.
We have also taken steps to ensure that the police can properly investigate crime. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 modified the right of silence for someone being questioned by the police. Initial research suggests that there is a 50 per cent. drop in suspects staying silent at the police station.
Therefore, our commitment to the fight for law and order continues. We have brought a comprehensive package of measures before this Parliament, intended to make this country a safer place in which to live and work. The Crime (Sentences) Bill, which goes before another place tomorrow, is designed to provide real protection for the public against some of the most serious, dangerous and persistent offenders in our society. We are also taking action, through the Sex Offenders Bill, against those who perpetrate vile crimes against children and commit other sex offences.
Today we are considering the Police Bill, which is part of the Government's overall package. It will strengthen the fight against organised crime and protect the most vulnerable members of our society. The creation of NCIS and the National Crime Squad will establish nationally focused organisations to combat organised crime. We will put intrusive surveillance on a clear statutory basis, but one which protects the civil liberties of our people. We will ensure that the police have access to 21st-century technology in the fight against crime.
The Police Bill will have real practical benefits in the fight against crime. I urge the House to vote against the wrecking amendment tabled by the Liberal Democrats, and to give the Bill a Second Reading. I commend it to the House.
|Division No. 75]||[10 pm|
|Alton, David||Kennedy, Charles (Ross C & S)|
|Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy||Llwyd, Elfyn|
|Barnes, Harry||Loyden, Eddie|
|Beith, Rt Hon A J||McCrea, Rev William|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Mackinlay, Andrew|
|Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)||Maclennan, Robert|
|Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)||Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute)|
|Carlile, Alex (Montgomery)||Nicholson, Miss Emma (W Devon)|
|Chidgey, David||Paisley, Rev Ian|
|Cohen, Harry||Rendel, David|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)|
|Cunningham, Ms Roseanna (Perth Kinross)||Salmond, Alex|
|Steel, Rt Hon Sir David|
|Davies, Chris (Littleborough)||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|Etherington, Bill||Tyler, Paul|
|Foster, Don (Bath)||Wallace, James|
|Gerard, Neil||Welsh, Andrew|
|Gordon, Ms Mildred||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Harvey, Nick||Winnick, David|
|Johnston, Sir Russell|
|Jones, Dr Lynne (B'ham Selly Oak)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Ms Liz Lynne and|
|Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)||Mr. Simon Hughes.|
|Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)||Carrington, Matthew|
|Aitken, Rt Hon Jonathan||Carttiss, Michael|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)||Cash, William|
|Allason, Rupert (Torbay)||Channon, Rt Hon Paul|
|Amess, David||Chapman, Sir Sydney|
|Ancram, Rt Hon Michael||Clappison, James|
|Arbuthnot, James||Clark, Dr Michael (Rochf'd)|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey|
|Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)||Coe, Sebastian|
|Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)||Colvin, Michael|
|Baker, Rt Hon Kenneth (Mole V)||Conway, Derek|
|Banks, Matthew (Southport)||Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F)|
|Batiste, Spencer||Coombs, Simon (Swindon)|
|Beggs, Roy||Cope, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Bellingham, Henry||Couchman, James|
|Beresford, Sir Paul||Currie, Mrs Edwina|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Curry, Rt Hon David|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Davies, Quentin (Stamf'd)|
|Booth, Hartley||Davis, David (Boothferry)|
|Boswell, Tim||Day, Stephen|
|Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)||Deva, Nirj Joseph|
|Bowden, Sir Andrew||Devlin, Tim|
|Bowis, John||Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen|
|Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes||Douglas-Hamilton, Rt Hon Lord James|
|Brazier, Julian||Dover, Den|
|Bright, Sir Graham||Duncan, Alan|
|Brooke, Rt Hon Peter||Duncan Smith, Iain|
|Browning, Mrs Angela||Dunn, Bob|
|Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)||Durant, Sir Anthony|
|Burns, Simon||Dykes, Hugh|
|Butcher, John||Eggar, Rt Hon Tim|
|Butler, Peter||Elletson, Harold|
|Carlisle, John (Luton N)||Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'ld)|
|Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Linc'n)||Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)|
|Evans, Nigel (Ribble V)||Lilley, Rt Hon Peter|
|Evans, Roger (Monmouth)||Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)|
|Faber, David||Lord, Michael|
|Fabricant, Michael||Luff, Peter|
|Fenner, Dame Peggy||Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas|
|Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)||MacGregor, Rt Hon John|
|Fishburn, Dudley||MacKay, Andrew|
|Forman, Nigel||Maclean, Rt Hon David|
|Forsyth, Rt Hon Michael (Stilling)||McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick|
|Forth, Eric||Maitland, Lady Olga|
|Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman||Malone, Gerald|
|Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)||Mans, Keith|
|Fox, Rt Hon Sir Marcus (Shipley)||Marland, Paul|
|Freeman, Rt Hon Roger||Marlow, Tony|
|French, Douglas||Marshall, John (Hendon S)|
|Fry, Sir Peter||Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)|
|Gale, Roger||Martin, David (Portsmouth S)|
|Gallie, Phil||Mates, Michael|
|Gardiner, Sir George||Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick|
|Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan||Merchant, Piers|
|Garnier, Edward||Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)|
|Gillan, Mrs Cheryl||Mitchell, Sir David (NW Hants)|
|Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair||Moate, Sir Roger|
|Gorst, Sir John||Molyneaux, Rt Hon Sir James|
|Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)||Monro, Rt Hon Sir Hector|
|Greenway, John (Ryedale)||Montgomery, Sir Fergus|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)||Needham, Rt Hon Richard|
|Grylls, Sir Michael||Nelson, Anthony|
|Gummer, Rt Hon John||Neubert, Sir Michael|
|Hague, Rt Hon William||Newton, Rt Hon Tony|
|Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archibald||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||Nicholson, David (Taunton)|
|Hanley, Rt Hon Jeremy||Norris, Steve|
|Hannam, Sir John||Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley|
|Hargreaves, Andrew||Ottaway, Richard|
|Harris, David||Page, Richard|
|Hawkins, Nick||Paice, James|
|Hawksley, Warren||Patten, Rt Hon John|
|Heald, Oliver||Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey|
|Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David||Pawsey, James|
|Hendry, Charles||Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth|
|Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence||Pickles, Eric|
|Hill, Sir James (Southampton Test)||Porter, David|
|Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (Grantham)||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Horam, John||Rathbone, Tim|
|Howard, Rt Hon Michael||Redwood, Rt Hon John|
|Howell, Rt Hon David (Guildf'd)||Renton, Rt Hon Tim|
|Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk)||Richards, Rod|
|Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W)||Riddick, Graham|
|Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)||Robathan, Andrew|
|Hunt, Sir John (Ravensb'ne)||Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn|
|Hunter, Andrew||Robertson, Raymond S (Ab'd'n S)|
|Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas||Robinson, Mark (Somerton)|
|Jack, Michael||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|Jackson, Robert (Wantage)||Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela|
|Jenkin, Bernard (Colchester N)||Sackville, Tom|
|Jessel, Toby||Sainsbury, Rt Hon Sir Timothy|
|Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Shaw, David (Dover)|
|Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian|
|Jones, Robert B (W Herts)||Shepherd, Sir Colin (Heref'd)|
|King, Rt Hon Tom||Shersby, Sir Michael|
|Kirkhope, Timothy||Sims, Sir Roger|
|Knapman, Roger||Skeet, Sir Trevor|
|Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)||Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)|
|Knight, Rt Hon Greg (Derby N)||Smith, Tim (Beaconsf'ld)|
|Knox, Sir David||Soames, Nicholas|
|Kynoch, George||Speed, Sir Keith|
|Lait, Mrs Jacqui||Spencer, Sir Derek|
|Lamont, Rt Hon Norman||Spicer, Sir Jim (W Dorset)|
|Lang, Rt Hon Ian||Spicer, Sir Michael (S Worcs)|
|Lawrence, Sir Ivan||Spink, Dr Robert|
|Legg, Barry||Spring, Richard|
|Leigh, Edward||Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)|
|Lester, Sir Jim (Broxtowe)||Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Lidington, David||Steen, Anthony|
|Stephen, Michael||Walden, George|
|Stern, Michael||Walker, Bill (N Tayside)|
|Stewart, Allan||Waller, Gary|
|Streeter, Gary||Ward, John|
|Sweeney, Walter||Wardle, Chartes (Bexhill)|
|Sykes, John||Waterson, Nigel|
|Tapsell, Sir Peter||Watts, John|
|Taylor, Ian (Esher)||Wells, Bowen|
|Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strangf'd)||Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Taylor, John M (Solihull)||Whitney, Sir Raymond|
|Taylor, Sir Teddy||Whittingdale, John|
|Temple-Morris, Peter||Widdecombe, Miss Ann|
|Thomason, Roy||Wilkinson, John|
|Thompson, Sir Donald (Calder V)||Willetts, David|
|Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)||Wilshire, David|
|Townend, John (Bridlington)||Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)|
|Townsend, Sir Cyril (Bexl'yh'th)||Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesf'ld)|
|Tracey, Richard||Wolfson, Mark|
|Tredinnick, David||Yeo, Tim|
|Trend, Michael||Young, Rt Hon Sir George|
|Twinn, Dr Ian||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Vaughan, Sir Gerard||Mr. Timothy Wood and|
|Viggers, Peter||Mr. Patrick McLoughlin.|
Question accordingly negatived.
Main Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 60 (Amendment on Second or Third Reading), and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills),
That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the whole House. —[Rev. Ian Paisley.]Question negatived.
Bill committed to a Standing Committee.