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Security Service Bill

3.8 p.m.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.--(Baroness Blatch.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Functions of Security Service]:

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 1:


Page 1, line 9, at end insert--
("( ) In subsection (4) above, conduct is "serious crime" if it constitutes (or, if it took place in the United Kingdom, would constitute) one or more offences, and either--

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(a) it involves the use of violence, results in substantial financial gain or is conduct by a large number of persons in pursuit of a common purpose; or
(b) the offence or one of the offences is an offence for which a person who has attained the age of twenty-one and has no previous convictions could reasonably be expected to be sentenced to imprisonment for a term of three years or more."").

The noble Lord said: With the usual slow start that is necessary to enable noble Lords who have no interest or inadequate interest in this important Bill to leave quietly, I move Amendment No. 1.

Anyone looking at the Bill will appreciate that, although it is only a short Bill, it is a Bill of considerable significance both in terms of its object, which is to assist in the prevention and detection of serious crime, by introducing the power for the Security Service to assist in those functions, and because of the civil liberties implications of the Bill as drafted.

As the Prime Minister recognised, the Bill is only one part of a programme of measures to increase the effectiveness and accountability of law enforcement agencies, which are to include the Security Service. The Prime Minister in his speech last year to the Conservative Party Conference in Blackpool made a number of points with which I have already expressed agreement and which we on these Benches strongly support. We are in favour of the increased accountability and legislative provision for law enforcement agencies.

Perhaps it is paradoxical that the first piece of legislation to be introduced in implementation of the Prime Minister's wishes is the most difficult, because the Bill before us increases the power of the Security Service to act as a law enforcement agency in this country without in any way performing the other necessary functions of increased accountability and responsibility. Therefore, in dealing with the Bill we are always conscious that our criticisms of it are in the context of support for the Government's ultimate objective as regards this legislation.

However, it is our responsibility, which we are performing today, to look in detail at the provisions of the Bill. We face a number of difficulties in doing so because Clause 1 is couched in terms of amendment to the Security Service Act 1989; Clause 2 is couched in terms of amendment to the Intelligence Services Act 1994; and Clauses 3 and 4 refer only to the extent, the short title and commencement. Therefore, it will be seen that when the substantial contents of a Bill are framed entirely in terms of amendment to other legislation it is peculiarly difficult to express general concerns and make general points. I believe that we have succeeded in doing so in our amendments to Clause 1, but as regards our considerable concerns about Clause 2, I as an amateur found it impossible to express them in the form of detailed amendments. I have dealt with that by giving notice of my intention to oppose the Question that Clause 2 stand part of the Bill.

The difficulty is the greater because although the Bill purports to cover the range of issues which arise as a result of giving these new functions to the Security Service, it deals only with a small number of them. Clause 1 deals only with the new functions of the

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Security Service in support of the activities of police forces, and Clause 2 deals only with the issue of warrants. One can imagine a whole series of further controls that will be necessary in order to complete the process which the Prime Minister set out if the Bill were not so unrepresentative an advance guard of the programme of legislation which is required. I am sorry to make such a lengthy introduction to an amendment but it is important to see the context in which we are seeking to debate the Bill today.

Amendment No. 1 relates to the definition of serious crime. The peculiarity of the Bill is that Clause 1 refers to:


    "the function of the Service to act in support of the activities of police forces and other law enforcement agencies in the prevention and detection of serious crime".
However, there is no definition of "serious crime" in Clause 1. The only definition occurs in Clause 2, in which it is confined to the basis on which property warrants or interception warrants are to be granted and pursued.

I do not know what that will mean in terms of interpretation in the courts. However, if I were a judge required to consider whether, under Clause 1, the Security Service was acting properly in pursuing its function in support of the activities of police forces I would be inclined, first, to ask, "What is serious crime for the purposes of this section?", and then to say, "Well, there appears to be a definition of serious crime in Clause 2 and I suppose that the safest thing is to apply that definition to Clause 1". That might be a bit sloppy for lawyers but it is the way in which a layman looks at it.

Therefore, in Amendment No. 1 we propose that the definition of "serious crime" that is used in Clause 2 should apply also to Clause 1 so that the courts and anyone else seeking to implement the legislation should know what they are talking about. At the moment it is unclear what definition, if any, of "serious crime" is to be used for the purposes of Clause 1.

Having said that, and having adopted the exact wording of "serious crime" which occurs in Clause 2, I must say that the definition appears to be extremely wide. It refers not only to the detection of crime, where a crime has already taken place, but also to the prevention of crime. In many investigations that could justify a wide range of law enforcement activities. It is also true that the definition involves either (and I stress the word "either"):


    "the use of violence, results in substantial financial gain or is conduct by a large number of persons in pursuit of a common purpose; or ... the offence or one of the offences ... for which a person who has attained the age of twenty-one and has no previous convictions could reasonably be expected to be sentenced to imprisonment for a term of three years or more".

I accept the point which the Minister made in her winding-up speech on Second Reading: that the definition of


    "a term of three years or more" is tighter than if it were simply an offence for which a term of three years or more could be given. I accept that there are many crimes for which although a possible sentence is three years or more in prison the probable

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    sentence for a first adult offender is much less. There are fewer such crimes and therefore I agree that that point is valid. However, it is the fact that "serious crime" is defined so broadly either in terms of the offence involving the use of violence, substantial financial gain or conduct by a large number of persons in pursuit of a common purpose which causes us great concern. Members of the Committee who read the leading articles in yesterday's Observer and today's Guardian will realise that our concerns are felt more widely than simply in the Labour Party.

Perhaps I may give the particular example relating to the involvement of conduct by a large number of persons in pursuit of a common purpose. There is no suggestion that it should be a common illegal purpose; it is any common purpose. A great deal of legitimate protest could be included within the definition of "serious crime" for this purpose. In the hands of an authoritarian and unscrupulous Home Secretary--and I am not suggesting that our Home Secretary is authoritarian or unscrupulous--it could lead to a serious curtailment of civil liberty. It is not only the powers of the police (whom we can all see) which are now to be brought into the prevention or detection of "serious crime", but here we are concerned with Security Service personnel, whom we cannot see or call to account in the same way.

The necessity for this amendment is, first, a drafting necessity in that there should be prevention of serious crime for the purposes of Clause 1. But it also provides us with an opportunity to express our concern, which we have not yet been able to express in terms of the drafting of a definition, about the wide scope of the definition of "serious crime" which is used for the purpose of this Bill.

I shall not press this or any other amendment because we are in Committee on a Bill the purposes of which we support generally. Nevertheless, we need reassurance from the Government that they intend to have a definition which is sensible, usable and as tight as possible for the purposes of the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Renton: Although the noble Lord is entitled to put forward and move the amendment in the way that he did, I rather feel that his argument falls down when he complains of too wide a definition of "serious crime".

If the Security Service is to be given those new functions in order to assist the police, I do not believe that they should be limited. The police have a very broad responsibility in any event and it is a responsibility which is difficult to discharge in view of what in recent years has been a steady increase in crime. If we were to attempt to limit the scope of the new activities of the Security Service by having, however carefully drafted, a complicated and narrowing definition of "serious crime" we should be making a mistake.

Of course, I shall be interested to hear what the Minister says about this, but, quite frankly, my instinct is not to feel encouraged to accept this amendment.


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