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National Crime Agency

Volume 576: debated on Wednesday 26 February 2014

1. What steps she is taking to engage with local political leaders on reaching agreement to enable the National Crime Agency to operate in Northern Ireland. (902698)

4. What steps she is taking to engage with local political leaders on reaching agreement to enable the National Crime Agency to operate in Northern Ireland. (902701)

It is important for the security of people in Northern Ireland that the NCA should be fully operational there. I continue to raise this issue with the Northern Ireland parties, the Justice Minister and the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

I thank the Secretary of State for her reply, but she will be aware of the concerns about the issue of human trafficking, which is a problem across the United Kingdom, including trafficking from Northern Ireland into Scotland. Can she confirm that despite the fact that the National Crime Agency is not yet operating in Northern Ireland, the PSNI does have the full resources to enable it to tackle this heinous crime?

I fully share the hon. Lady’s sentiments about the horrific nature of the crime of human trafficking. Because it raises immigration questions, the NCA does have power to act in this area within Northern Ireland, so I can give her the assurance that it is providing the PSNI with all the support that is required on those matters. It is on crimes within the devolved sphere that the NCA’s capacity is currently restricted.

At the moment, the NCA cannot carry out police operations in Northern Ireland, and last year the Police Service of Northern Ireland had to draft in officers from around the UK. Will the Secretary of State confirm her intention to see a fully staffed Police Service of Northern Ireland above the minimum number identified by the Chief Constable, before the marching season and before other commemoration parades take place?

The Government have provided significant extra funding for the PSNI—£200 million in the current spending review and £30 million in 2015-16. I continue to support and encourage the discussions between the Department of Finance and Personnel, the Department of Justice and the PSNI on the Executive’s contribution to police funding. It is also important that the NCA provide as much support as it can to the PSNI, within the constraints it is under because of the lack of a legislative consent motion.

Will the Secretary of State assure the House that she will not entertain any ideas of amnesties for terrorists, unlike the last Labour Government?

This Government do not support amnesties for terrorists, and we oppose the legislation put forward by the previous Government which would have amounted to an effective amnesty.

On the prevention and detection of crime, does my right hon. Friend share the shock of many of us that the Executive seem to have interfered in the Downey case and others and in the actions of the police and the prosecution? Will she assure me that it will not be the policy of this Government to blur the lines between the Executive and the judicial process in an unacceptable way?

Quite an ingenious effort, but I would remind the Secretary of State that the question is about the National Crime Agency.

I can assure my hon. Friend that the Government recognise fully the importance of ensuring that prosecution decisions are made independently of the Executive.

Clearly, the failure to operate the National Crime Agency as a result of republican blocking of that is a disgrace and it is undermining policing and justice. But equally, the Downey decision has undermined confidence in policing and justice. Will the Secretary of State now publish the numbers of letters that have been sent to these people—the names, the contents of these letters; and would she now rescind this disgraceful and shameful back-door scheme?

I fully understand the right hon. Gentleman’s concerns, and it was clearly a very difficult day for the families yesterday. As I published in my written ministerial statement, we believe that around 200 cases were processed through this scheme. The individuals were sent factual letters indicating whether or not they were wanted for terrorism offences. It was not an amnesty and it was never intended to be such. There was always the recognition that if further evidence of further offences was produced, a prosecution was then a possibility. The reason for the outcome of the Downey case was that unfortunately a grave mistake was made, when Mr Downey was sent a letter saying he was not wanted for offences when in fact he was.

The grief, the words of devastation from the families of the soldiers concerned in the Hyde park bombing are an indictment of what is going on. There is outrage, not just in Northern Ireland but right across the country, about this—how an official’s letter can trump due process of law in this country. Will the Secretary of State realise how serious this is, not just for the process of law and order, but for the very stability and continued existence of devolution in Northern Ireland, where the Assembly has full responsibility for policing and justice, but these facts were withheld from the Justice Minister and the First Minister? This has very, very serious implications for devolution.

I am very much aware of the very serious implications this case has, and they have also been conveyed to me by the First Minister, whom I look forward to meeting this evening to discuss this matter with.

As I announced yesterday, the Northern Ireland Office, along with the PSNI, is undertaking an urgent check of all letters that were issued under the scheme to establish whether any further mistakes were made that could lead to the same outcome that was witnessed in relation to the Downey case. It is also vital that we get to the bottom of why such a very serious mistake was made within the PSNI and why the PSNI did not draw it to the attention of the Northern Ireland Office, and of course I will be discussing this matter with David Ford and the First Minister.