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National Crime Agency

Volume 545: debated on Wednesday 16 May 2012

2. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for the Home Department on the implications for Northern Ireland of the replacement of the Serious Organised Crime Agency by the National Crime Agency. (106610)

I am in regular discussion with both my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department and the Minister of Justice in the Northern Ireland Assembly. I believe that the plans for a National Crime Agency should be welcomed in Northern Ireland as a significant step forward in tackling the threat from serious, organised and complex crime in a way that respects the accountability mechanisms in Northern Ireland.

I thank the Secretary of State, but does he agree that notwithstanding the views on the National Crime Agency, there are specific issues to consider in Northern Ireland about the direction and control of police officers? Will he say more about how he intends to address those issues?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving me the chance to clarify that I have worked very closely with the Justice Minister David Ford and the Home Secretary here to ensure that the NCA’s systems and methods of direction are totally compatible with the arrangements in Northern Ireland, which provide strong local accountability. In effect, no direction will go forward without the compliance of the Chief Constable. I am sure the hon. Lady will agree that horrendous crimes such as trafficking need an overarching authority working in close liaison and co-operation with the Police Service of Northern Ireland and, through the PSNI, with the Garda in Dublin.

In a recent report, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee highlighted the importance of the work of the Organised Crime Task Force in the fight against fuel and tobacco smuggling, and laundering and counterfeiting. Will the Secretary of State assure the House that the National Crime Agency will play a similar role in the Organised Crime Task Force to that played by the Serious Organised Crime Agency?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and his Committee for their interesting report, which showed significant progress in bearing down on fuel smuggling. I absolutely reassure him that the intention of the National Crime Agency is to work on the success of SOCA and beef it up, and to bear down on many such crimes, which have an international nature.

Does the Secretary of State accept that role definition and delineation between the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the National Crime Agency is important? Does he envisage a memorandum of understanding in that regard, and if so, would it be published?

I entirely agree that the arrangements between the new agency and the devolved police in Northern Ireland must be absolutely clear. There has been an exchange of letters between me, the Justice Minister in Northern Ireland and the Home Secretary here, with an absolutely clear statement that there can be no direction from the NCA, only co-operation with the approval of the Chief Constable.

Will the National Crime Agency have more resources than its predecessor to tackle cross-border criminal activity?

Will the Secretary of State assure the House that the proposed changes will have no detrimental effect on the fight against terrorism and organised crime?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that it is absolutely the reverse: the proposal is for a stronger agency, with a clear remit to co-operate in a vigorous manner with the PSNI. As I have said, the PSNI works closely with the Garda—I saw Martin Callinan, the Garda Commissioner, in Dublin on Monday. We should never forget the extraordinarily high level of co-operation we have with the Garda. On very serious crime such as terrorism, that co-operation is saving lives as we speak.