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Clause 18

Part of Counter-Terrorism Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:15 pm on 29th April 2008.

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Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Minister of State (Security, Counter-terrorism, Crime and Policing), Home Office 5:15 pm, 29th April 2008

I accept that. If the only thrust of the clause was to get security service data into shape to make it presentable in court—that might happen, but I shall come to that in a moment—I would share many of the hon. Gentleman’s concerns. In actuality, however, it is t’other way around. This is more about affording the security services the opportunity to utilise the national DNA database and other databases alongside their own, for investigative, disruptive and other purposes. For reasons to which I alluded earlier, I would find it very surprising—although this would not be impossible—if security service data and information were to be used in court. That would do nothing to change the evidential trail, or to challenge or change disclosure rules or the investigation or provenance of evidence before the court; both hon. Members quite properly talked about the latter. I am almost arguing the point from the other way around. The clause is about permitting the security services to do far more with police and other data for their purposes—principally intelligence and disruption—rather than the other way round, as the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome mentioned. None the less, that is important. As I suggested, it would present the security services with huge possibilities—I gave examples earlier—that currently the law does not afford them.

I have been in my ministerial role for nearly two years, so I understand that, increasingly, operationally the security services and the police are working closer together. From talking to those concerned, it is evident that there is an interesting cultural clash. Happily, for the country, that is changing rapidly. However, up until very recently, the police’s role has been to secure the evidence and evidential trail, with a view to presenting it in court, to be clear about what can be disclosed to the other side in court, to prepare their case, secure a prosecution by the prosecuting authorities and allow and afford the accused their day in court. The role of the security services, which is blurred by life-and-death considerations, is to watch individuals, to get networks together, to see what people are up to and to disrupt  them—job done, bomb or explosion avoided. Of old, on that side of the equation, there was less concern about the evidential trial and what a judge might say. Equally, for the police there was less concern about what the arrest and subsequent activities would do to the intelligence and information gathering activities carried out by the service. They are going very much in that direction.

With the advance of counter-terrorism units and collocation of service and police round the country, the police are learning very sharply and quickly about the needs and desires of the intelligence services in doing their job and the intelligence services are learning more about what the police need in terms of an evidential chain to do their part of the job. This measure simply draws those two elements closer together so that the service can utilise DNA databases and other things to do its job far more readily. Were any of the information and intelligence that it receives to end up as part of an evidential chain in court, all the rules of evidence, including disclosure and provenance, would come into play. This measure will not change that in any way, shape or form.

I understand the concerns of hon. Members, but do not think that they are germane or relevant to the clause. Under clause 18, I think it is more likely that the service will utilise police databases, than that service information will be used in the courts. If it is, the normal safeguards and frameworks set down in law to protect the individual before the judge will remain. The clause will change not a jot of that side of the equation.