Skip to main content

National Crime Agency

Volume 582: debated on Wednesday 11 June 2014

Although the National Crime Agency currently operates in Northern Ireland in relation to non-devolved matters, and in support of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, its important work is restricted by the lack of agreement among the Northern Ireland parties on the agency’s remit there. Discussions between them are proceeding and very early resolution is essential.

On 23 April 2013, Royal Assent was given to the Crime and Courts Act, which established the National Crime Agency. We spent many months in Committee discussing the agency. We were given assurances by Ministers that this matter would be resolved by last October or November. Will the Minister tell me, 14 months later, when he intends to ensure that the National Crime Agency operates in Northern Ireland?

If I may digress slightly, I pay tribute to the retiring Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, Matt Baggott, who was previously chief constable of Leicestershire, and wish him well in his retirement. I also wish his successor, George Hamilton, well in his post.

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the matter is complicated. I do not think that we disagree about it at all. There are political parties in Northern Ireland—Sinn Fein and the Social Democratic and Labour party—that refuse to sign up to the National Crime Agency. We want the National Crime Agency to move forward in Northern Ireland and the serious gaps that are emerging in crime prevention and pursuit to be closed, but he will understand from his past that we have devolved policing and justice and that, unless we wish to break the Sewel convention, we will have to work with the parties in Northern Ireland to get some agreement.

The Minister will be aware that there have been numerous incidents in Northern Ireland in the past two or three years involving organised criminal gangs on the border, particularly fuel smuggling, fuel laundering, and money laundering, and that has escalated over the past two years. Will he outline the consequences of a failure to have the National Crime Agency fully operational in Northern Ireland?

It has been said that serious gaps are emerging. As the hon. Gentleman will understand, these are devolved matters, but we are keen that the National Crime Agency should be able to pursue organised and serious crime in Northern Ireland, and there is no difference between us on that at all. Two parties in the Executive are holding things up, however, and I ask why they are doing that and why we do not all want to pursue serious criminality in the Province.