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I should begin by saying that I find myself of two minds in considering these amendments. On the one hand, I can well understand the views expressed by the noble Lords, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank and Lord McIntosh of Haringey, regarding the position where two different organisations are working together. I can well understand their wishes that there should be a clear, open, acceptable system for calling to account the actions of officers, whether working on their own or together. I also recognise the possible difficulties when it comes to their being disciplined and appearing before different tribunals.
On the other hand, I find myself wondering whether the problems are not a little more imagined than real. Have not police officers and security officers worked together before? Have those operations produced problems of this kind? What is different today? Serious crime, organised crime--or whatever other definition one may give to it--is surely no different from terrorism or major international fraud which, together with espionage, have been the remit of the Security Service since 1989 and non-statutorily before that.
Clearly there must be joint working with the police in those fields. What about joint police/Customs operations? They have been going on for a long time. Have any problems relating to accountability surfaced there? It would be helpful if we could know the subject of the 21 complaints levelled against officers of the Security Service last year, and indeed the years before that. Were they the kind of actions which your Lordships had in mind in tabling the amendments?
I suggest that the difficulties we are experiencing in this matter stem from the cloak of anonymity and confidentiality which covers the activities of all the security services. I shall no doubt be accused almost of sacrilege if I inquire whether that is still completely necessary or justified in all the circumstances. It will be interesting to see how the different practices work in joint operations against organised crime.
More to the point, perhaps, until October 1992 it was the police who were responsible for intelligence operations against the IRA in mainland Britain. The officers engaged in those operations were accountable for their actions in exactly the same way as any other police officer. If it were not for the confidentiality and anonymity aspect, we could well see a better way of dealing with complaints against Security Service officers.
The more one thinks about the difficulties, the more one wonders whether they were given any consideration at all before this Bill was presented. Might it not be better to ensure that the police have, in their own organisation, the special skills of the Security Service in the fields of acquiring intelligence, processing and
At Second Reading I said that I was concerned about adding more commitment to an already fully committed and small service. What concerns me now specifically is, for instance, the lack of clarity about the powers of the co-ordinator. Will he have powers to decide that the police should be free to act on information received from a long-term security source asset which the service may need to protect for long-term strategic reasons? Clashes of interest will arise which may be difficult to resolve. For instance, it could easily happen in relation to the IRA or drugs.
Secondly--this relates to what the noble Lord, Lord Knights, said--although I realise that security officers may have to relinquish anonymity in court proceedings if that proves to be necessary and I understand the desire for transparency particularly in the interests of justice, the service is a small one. Eventual disclosure of most of its officers could only be bad for its long-term operations. One must remember that if those officers are publicly identified one by one, life will be extremely dangerous for the agents they run. That is true not only in Northern Ireland, but also in other areas. When there are only a few people in an organisation one cannot afford to have them identified quite so happily as one may with the police force. I entirely accept that in certain areas the dangers are the same. But that is another reason why I feel deeply uneasy about the new tasks the service is being given. I hope that some consideration can be given to those factors which are professional but need to be mentioned.
Lord Harris of Greenwich: Not for the first time I find myself in broad agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Knights. It is difficult to see, though I agree with the general thrust of my noble friend's argument, how one can deal with the complaints situation effectively.
The noble Lord, Lord Knights, said that there is the problem of the climate of secrecy which envelopes the Security Service in this country, unlike the situation in the United States where there is a large sign south of Washington telling one where the offices of the CIA are.
The problem in relation to complaints is an exceptionally difficult one. As the noble Baroness will have been informed, the deputy chief constable is responsible for investigating complaints against a police officer. The complaints can fall into one of two categories. First, it may be a criminal offence, in which case the papers are sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions; secondly, it may reveal evidence of a disciplinary offence in which case the chief constable ultimately, after consultation with the Police Complaints Authority, may bring proceedings against that officer.
The question which my noble friend Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank asked was this: how does one deal with the problems of the individual complainant? He goes to a police station. There he will obtain the existing leaflet--I have not seen any new one--which tells him what his rights are in terms of making a complaint. He makes his complaint. The deputy chief constable then starts an investigation in an operation in which both the police and the Security Service have been involved. Does the deputy chief constable, in the view of the Minister, have locus in this matter? Can he investigate a complaint of allegedly improper behaviour by a member of MI5? What happens if the complaint is made against three or possibly four people, three of whom are police officers and one a member of the Security Service? Does the deputy chief constable have the responsibility of continuing that investigation or does he say, "I will investigate the allegations against the three police officers, but as regards the member of the Security Service, I cannot investigate that"? I would find that a very difficult outcome because one may be faced with a situation where three police officers may well say, "Mr. X has a legitimate complaint, but it was not us who did it, it was our colleague who is a member of the Security Service". That is the first problem; namely, the position of the deputy chief constable and the investigation of a complaint under his personal jurisdiction.
We then come to the disciplinary hearing. The chief constable will preside and possibly, in some cases, with a member of the Police Complaints Authority sitting in. That tribunal would have only the responsibility of considering the allegations against the two or three police officers and not that against the member of the Security Service against whom the policemen may well say, "He is responsible". He will be judged by a different tribunal. One has only to begin rehearsing some of these problems. They are real problems, because the noble Baroness can take it from me that a number of chief officers have raised this problem with me. We all accept that there has to be a complaints system affecting both the police and the Security Service and, in certain circumstances, Customs & Excise who may be involved in drug-related offences. One has to have a complaints system which has the confidence of the public. How will the noble Baroness reply to the particular questions that I have put to her? I shall be very grateful to hear her response.
Baroness Blatch: I have no doubt at all that the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank was an exceptional and outstanding Minister. It is just conceivable that he never had to resort to the words, "as I understand". I admit wholeheartedly to fallibility. From time to time I have used the words, "as I understand", but not, I hope, very often because I have no idea what the information is. I have learnt the hard way that in dealing with technical and legal matters it is better not to stand at the Dispatch Box and sound as though I know everything about everything. "As I understand" does at least give me the opportunity to write subsequently if I am not right on the first occasion. The phrase "as
That is an important issue and it is right that we should debate it. Amendment No. 3 and new Clause 1 both stem from the wish that Security Service officers, when acting in support of the police and other law enforcement agencies, should be subject to an adequate complaints procedure which safeguards the interests of the public.
The Government share that view. That does not, however, mean that the Security Service should be subject, when working against serious crime, to an identical complaints procedure to the police, as would be the effect of Amendment No. 3. Indeed, there could be positive disadvantages in making the changes that this amendment proposes. Similarly, I am not persuaded that the new clause proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, is necessary or would enhance the Bill.
Before moving on to the detail of the proposed amendments I should like, with the Committee's indulgence, to describe the complaints mechanism which covers the Security Service at present and which will apply to the new function as well. As part of a wide-ranging set of safeguards, the Security Service Act 1989 established the independent Security Service tribunal to investigate complaints.
Under the 1989 Act, any person can complain to the tribunal about anything they believe that the Security Service has done to them or to their property. That person can be an individual or an organisation and a complaint about a person's property may include the place where they reside or work. Any complaint that is not trivial or vexatious will be looked into. The members of the tribunal are all senior members of the legal profession. For complaints relating to action against property the tribunal will involve the Security Service Commissioner. The tribunal and commissioner have full powers to call on any official documents or information they may need.
If the tribunal finds in favour of a complainant, it has the power to order the termination of the service's inquiries and the destruction of records; it has the power to quash warrants; and it has the power to order suitable compensation to be paid. This constitutes an important and robust safeguard, which must not be taken lightly. These procedures were approved by Parliament; they have been in force for more than six years and they have worked well. The independent Security Service Commissioner, who reports on all aspects of the work of the Security Service, has not had cause to question the impartiality or effectiveness of the complaints mechanism. The procedures have also been endorsed by the European Commission on Human Rights.
Amendment No. 3, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, seeks to superimpose the police complaints mechanism on to these tried and trusted procedures, in relation to the Security Service's new function. The mechanism for dealing with complaints against the police, set out in Part 1X of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, was created with the police in mind. It takes account of the duties and responsibilities
By contrast, the Security Service tribunal was established to investigate complaints against the Security Service and in its procedures and operations is mindful of the special needs of the service. So, for example, it is careful to preserve the confidentiality of the names of Security Service officers. That was a point mentioned by my noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth.
These bodies are separate and independent and I suggest to the Committee that it would be unwise to confuse their respective responsibilities. A consequence of passing this amendment would be that officers of the Security Service would be subject to two different complaints mechanisms--the police complaints mechanism when they were working in the serious crime field and the Security Service tribunal at all other times. It would also mean that it could become possible for a suspect to make a complaint simply as a way of determining under which of its functions the Security Service had an interest in him.
The Security Service already works closely with law enforcement agencies in relation to its existing functions, in particular in the counter-terrorism and counter-proliferation fields. The fact that more than one complaints procedure applies to those working in joint operations has not caused problems. Similarly, the police and Her Majesty's Customs & Excise frequently work together on joint operations yet their officers are subject to a separate complaints mechanism and this has not presented problems, either. Those were points which were very well made by the noble Lord, Lord Knights.
There is another aspect to this, also related to Customs & Excise. Though the Security Service's serious crime work will normally be conducted in support of the police, on occasion the service will support other law enforcement agencies such as Customs but also possibly the Serious Fraud Office or the Immigration Service. It would be a very strange state of affairs indeed for a Security Service officer, acting in support of Customs, to find himself subject to police disciplinary procedures. Are we suggesting that every time two agencies co-operate over an operation their complaints procedures should be aligned in some way? I do not think that that is necessary or desirable.
Let me deal first with subsection (1) of the proposed clause, which seeks to restate the role of the Police Complaints Authority even though there is nothing in this Bill which would preclude or limit investigations by the Police Complaints Authority. More specifically, the amendment seeks to reinforce the Police Complaints Authority's role in respect of investigations into
The amendment is also concerned with actions undertaken "on behalf of police officers" but the statutory remit of the Police Complaints Authority, as set out in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, restricts it to investigating complaints against police officers. It does not permit the investigation of complaints against actions "on behalf of" police officers, and, as I have already suggested, it would not be appropriate to apply a complaints mechanism, drawn up with the powers and procedures of the police in mind, to the Security Service when its officers operate in different contexts and without any executive powers. I would therefore suggest that this subsection is unnecessary.
The second subsection proposes to create a link between the Police Complaints Authority and the Security Service Tribunal so that if a complaint is submitted to the police and they decide it is worthy of investigation but find that it actually relates to a member of the Security Service, the complaint can be sub-contracted to the Security Service Tribunal for investigation. Again, I can see why this may appear attractive, but I think the existing procedures work very well.
At present we rely on procedures which have been tailored to suit the powers available to those officers and the contexts within which those powers are applied. In the unlikely scenario that a person submits a complaint against the police which actually relates to a member of the Security Service, the police will decide whether the complaint merits recording and, if it does, they will investigate it. If they then conclude that it does not relate to the conduct of a police officer, they will explain to the complainant what other avenues of complaint are available. This will include the Security Service Tribunal. All police forces have been issued with leaflets explaining the work of the tribunal and I understand that these leaflets will be revised and reissued in the light of the present Bill.
I have already pointed out that the Security Service co-operates with the police and other agencies under its existing responsibilities. Precisely the same hypothetical situation could arise in respect of complaints from members of the public but there is no evidence that this has caused any problems.
Members of the Security Service have no executive powers. Where executive action such as an arrest is required as a result of an investigation--whether it is a counter-terrorism investigation or a serious crime-related investigation--this will be for the police. Members of the Security Service are not going to be patrolling the streets and coming into regular contact with members of the
At Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, whose name has been mentioned in this debate, raised the hypothetical scenario of a defendant claiming that drugs had been planted on him by an officer, who was actually from the service. Let me assure the Committee that if a complaint relates to alleged criminal conduct by a member of the Security Service, the police will be the appropriate agency to carry out the investigation. Members of the Security Service are fully subject to the law of the land.
The amendment does not make clear whether the complainant would be informed of the involvement of the Security Service Tribunal. If the complaint is passed in secret to the tribunal for investigation, this would compromise the integrity and independence of both bodies, without offering any gains in terms of transparency. We believe that complainants have a right to know which body is to investigate their complaint.
If, however, the complainant is informed that the complaint has been passed from the Police Complaints Authority to the Security Service Tribunal, this would confirm that the Security Service has been involved in the case. Clearly this could be exploited by potential targets to secure information about the activities of the service. I refer back to the points made by my noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth who I know is concerned about exposing people who are working in this sensitive area. It would be unfortunate if it was confirmed unnecessarily that an officer was a member of the Security Service as a result of an administrative procedure, thereby potentially compromising its future effectiveness in other capacities. This would also undermine the present procedures, which have been carefully constructed to protect sensitive information.
For those reasons I would suggest that this Bill is not going to generate the kind of difficulties which a number of noble Lords appear to anticipate. There is no evidence that the kind of problems that some of your Lordships foresee arise in connection with the Security Service's existing functions. Perhaps I may borrow a phrase from the noble Lord, Lord Knights, and say that I believe that much of this is more imagined than real.
The Security Service and the police have a long history of co-operation in the counter-terrorism field. Although they work together, their officers are subject to different but parallel complaints procedures. That has not caused problems either for the agencies involved or for the public, and we see no reason to depart from it in regard to the service's new function.
The noble Lord, Lord Knights, referred to the nature of complaints against the security services. Again, as I understand it, the substance of complaints submitted to the Security Service Tribunal is entirely a matter for the tribunal which does not disclose details of individual cases.
I have been asked about the length of time the procedure will take if a complaint is lodged with the police. It will, of course, take as long as is needed. In the first instance, we hope that the procedure for determining whether it is a proper complaint that needs to be investigated will take no more than a few days. If it is determined to proceed with the investigation, the investigation will then take as long as is needed.
The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, also referred to the tribunal leaflet. I shall, of course, send the noble Lord a copy of the leaflet. It is specific to the Security Service. My right honourable friend in another place said that the police would supply complainants with copies of all the relevant leaflets--they will all have their own leaflets--with respect to each of the services, such as those covering complaints against the Security Service and Customs and Excise.
Again, I shall have to preface these remarks with "as I understand it" because the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, referred to what will happen if a complaint relates to, say, three members of a police force and one member of the Security Service. I think that I am right in saying that if it is a single complaint, either naming or not naming those four theoretical members who are the subject of the complaint, and if that single complaint is substantiated and if any of the police officers is involved, the complaint will be addressed by the Police Complaints Authority. If it is discovered that the three police officers--or however many were involved--were not party to the maladministration or wrong conduct that is the subject of the complaint, the other procedure will apply and the complainants will be given all the information about the other "complaining" authorities and will be able to resubmit the claim, if they want to, to whichever other agency is deemed to be the most relevant.
My noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth referred to the Security Service giving evidence in court. The decision on who needs to give evidence in any particular case is for the prosecuting authorities and prosecuting counsel. In recent years, members of the service have given evidence on a range of issues in many trials, including counter-terrorist cases, where that is necessary to ensure that all relevant evidence is before the court. We have no reason to believe that that should not continue to be the case. It will not affect operational effectiveness. It must be remembered that members of the Security Service have no executive powers. Where intelligence work by the service leads to executive action this will require co-operation with the appropriate law enforcement agency, who will give evidence as normal. This is likely to limit the need for members of the Security Service to give evidence. Officers of the police and security services are subject to the complaints procedures appropriate to their respective organisations.
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