Committee (2nd Day)
Relevant documents: 2nd Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 2nd Report from the Constitution Committee.
Schedule 2 : The Framework Document and Annual Report
28: Schedule 2, page 38, line 16, after “must” insert “by order”
My Lords, this is one of a number of amendments that we have put forward regarding the framework document. Although we do not have a copy of it, a number of questions still need to be addressed.
The Government are getting a bit of a reputation for having a cavalier attitude to the reform of some of the institutions of this country and for bringing forward legislation before the fine details have been worked out, which would enable this House properly to scrutinise the Bill and its implications. The Health and Social Care Bill saw quite an axe being taken to the whole landscape of the NHS before the details were worked out, which started even before parliamentary approval had been obtained. The detail was not ready when the Welfare Reform Bill came before Parliament. With this Bill, not only do we not have the framework document but the Government are still consulting on the plans for community sentencing. We hope that we can recommit the Bill into Committee at the end of the Committee stage and, outside the normal order of amendments and clauses, put another new Clause 23 into the Bill at the end.
The Government announced their intention to create a National Crime Agency around two years ago but we still do not have the document that tells us what the organisation will do and how it will do it. That document will set out the detail of how the agency will be arranged. It is clear that there will be specific operations. One of the most important things in that document will be the relationship with other sections of the police service. Unfortunately, we do not have the strategic policing requirement. The Government say that that will set out a clear framework for how PCCs and chief constables relate to the NCA and, crucially, how they balance local against national priorities.
Looking around your Lordships’ House, I see that I am a relatively new Member of this fine institution—for just under two years—but it has been clear to me from when I first entered your Lordships’ House how seriously the House takes its scrutiny role. Not to have so much information to assist us in discussing the detail of the Bill is pretty shoddy and not the way that we ought to legislate.
Even in this Bill, I am prepared to think the best of the Government and assume that they must have worked out some of the detail of the architecture, even if the document itself is not ready. I do not believe for one moment that the Government came to this House with a Bill not understanding what it will look like at the end when they create a new agency. It would be helpful if, even without the document, the Minister could give the House more detail about what it will contain. Amendments 28 and 29 place a requirement on the Secretary of State to produce the framework document by statutory instrument. That is not ideal, because having that document now would inform the rest of our discussion, as several noble Lords have said. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, at our previous session in Committee, raised issues that should be in the document. Our discussion then was hampered because we did not have it. In the absence of the document being available for scrutiny at this stage, the Home Secretary should place the document before Parliament as an order. That will enable at least some proper scrutiny by both Houses.
My Lords, I did indeed raise questions about the contents of the framework document. Before we started our debate on Monday, when I was going through the amendments and got to this pair of amendments, I put a tick against them. I have deleted the tick for reasons which will not be very welcome to my noble friend. I am not convinced that an order would allow us to debate the framework document in the way that we would like to see. We need a lot of detail about it. As we all know, the drawback with an order is that we cannot amend it. Methods of operation, methods of exercising functions and administration, including—I have already questioned this—governance and finance, are very big issues.
I therefore hope that the Minister will, if not today, soon be able to tell us that his “due course”—not just his, I am not impugning him—arrives soon, so that we can understand a good deal more. Although I well understand the approach that the noble Baroness has taken, I am not entirely sure that it takes us as far as many of us would like to go.
My Lords, I understand what the noble Baroness is getting at and how she wants to provide for the framework document to be subject to some parliamentary procedure —for it to be laid before Parliament. She went on almost to suggest that there was some conspiracy by the Government on this Bill and others in the lack of framework documents and how late they were coming. I think I made it quite clear back on Monday—it seems a long time ago now, having gone through another Bill, as the noble Baroness and I and the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, have done—that we very much hope to get at least an outline of the framework document in front of the House before we come back to the Bill at Report. It is important to point out that that is quite an early stage in the passage of this Bill as, unusually for important Home Office Bills, it is starting in this House. We cannot even claim to be the revising Chamber on this occasion because we are getting it first. We are dealing with it relatively slowly because of the delay we are having over certain items which we want to debate in early October, so that I can miss the Conservative Party conference. After that, it also goes on to another place so there will be considerable time for this House and another place to discuss these things in some detail.
Perhaps I may set out what the framework document is designed to do and what we think ought to be in it. The purpose of the document is to set out clearly and transparently how the Home Secretary and the director-general will work together—it is between those two—and the ways in which the NCA is to be administered. It is expected to include the agency’s corporate governance arrangements, the high-level arrangements for financial accounting and reporting, and how the agency will discharge its duty to publish information and promote transparency, including the classes of information which it will publish. It will obviously be a very important document, dealing with how the NCA is to operate, but it will also build on and be clearly subsidiary to the clear foundations set out in the Bill. As we have already debated, the Bill establishes a clear governance model for the NCA; namely, as a Crown body with an operationally independent director-general at its head, appointed by and accountable to the Home Secretary for delivery against the Home Secretary’s strategic priorities for the agency. The agency will be under the direction and control of the director-general and its functions and powers are, again, clearly set out in the Bill.
We have provided in Schedule 2 for the framework document to be laid before Parliament, the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly, as the NCA will cover all parts of the United Kingdom. We believe that, given the nature of the document, this is the appropriate level of parliamentary procedure. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee made no comment on these provisions so, on that basis, we are on relatively firm ground in assuming that it was content with laying that procedure. Finally, as I think I suggested earlier, the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 did not even provide for a framework document, let alone one subject to an affirmative procedure, so this provision is an important advance on what has gone before in relation to the Serious Organised Crime Agency.
I appreciate that the noble Baroness would like it to be produced by statutory instrument and produced, as I think my noble friend put it, in due course. I came under a suggestion of pressure that I ought to define what “due course” meant. It is always difficult to define that. I am sure that the noble Baroness will probably remember promising things, when she was a Minister, “some time in the future”, “in due course” or whatever. We have all done this—I remember promising something “later in the spring” and being faintly embarrassed that that turned out to be July. I think most noble Lords understand what I am getting at. I am trying to promise her that we will get at least an outline of this by Report but, as I said at the beginning, I stress that that is an early stage in the process that this Bill is going through. It is starting in this House and still has to go through another place, so we have considerable time. Both Houses of Parliament will get a chance to look at that outline document. I hope therefore that the noble Baroness, who has an understanding of what “in due course” or “shortly” might mean, will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I appreciate that the Minister is trying to be helpful, but that was an extremely unsatisfactory answer. I hope I misunderstood him when he said that he hopes to have an outline of the framework document by Report. I think he misunderstands the point that I am trying to make. I am not merely making the point that we want the document to have parliamentary scrutiny, important though that is, but that the framework document will inform our debate on the rest of the Bill. Not having it hampers our debates and our ability to scrutinise. This is not an isolated point about parliamentary scrutiny. Had we had the document here now, as we should have, our discussions on other aspects of the Bill would be easier and better informed because it seems to me that a lot of the information that the framework document contains is relevant to the discussions we are having. I hope the Minister understands the point I am making.
I take on board the comment by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, about an order being inadequate. I entirely agree with her, but I think that anything that we are able to do at this stage is wholly inadequate because we want to have the document with us now. It is not good enough for the Minister to say that we will have an outline for Report. I do not think that we can pray in aid that this is an early stage of the proceedings and that the Bill is going to go to the House of Commons. This House has a duty to do its job, which is to scrutinise legislation. It is being hampered in doing so by not having the documents. The fact that they will be available to the House of Commons is not enough. I appreciate that the Minister has tried to be helpful, but he has not satisfied me on this point. I shall not press this matter to a vote today, but the Minister will recognise that there is unease around the House, not just on our Benches, on this point.
I appreciate that the noble Baroness feels that it is important that there should be an order. Should we accept her amendment and have an order, it would not produce the framework document, or even an outline, any earlier. I am saying that we will get that outline during the passage of the Bill. If the noble Baroness were purely to rely on her amendment, she would not get it until after the Bill. That is my understanding of how her amendment works. I have given her an assurance from the Dispatch Box that we will get an outline by Report that will assist our discussions later on. I hope that is hopeful to the noble Baroness and I appreciate that she is going to withdraw her amendment. It would at least allow her, with luck, to discuss these matters on Report.
Amendment 28 withdrawn.
Amendment 29 not moved.
30: Schedule 2, page 38, line 30, leave out paragraph (b)
We return to the framework document. This paragraph is a puzzle to me. This brief amendment deletes the requirement for the Secretary of State to obtain the consent of the director-general before issuing the framework document, because I am unclear why the Secretary of State would need to depend on the consent of the director-general in order to publish the document. It would seem to show greater courtesy and concern for the views of the director-general than for Parliament. There is no provision for parliamentary oversight at this stage. It is right and appropriate that the Home Secretary should consult the director-general, but if I understand the purpose of the framework document correctly, looking at Schedule 2, it is ultimately about the detail of the architecture of the National Crime Agency. It is not about operational matters, and it does not seem appropriate for the director-general to have a veto. I return to the point I made in earlier discussions about the blurring of the line between what is operational and what is strategic. The framework document is a strategic document. This is a probing amendment to see whether the Minister can explain why the director-general should have a veto over the Secretary of State publishing the framework document. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am glad that the noble Baroness tabled this amendment. It took me back to reading the paragraph and realising that I did not fully understand it. I am sorry that I have not been able to give the Minister notice of my question, which is: can he in some way translate paragraph 4, particularly sub-paragraph (2)? Does it mean that the framework document takes precedence over the annual plan? Paragraph 4(2) says:
“The Director General’s duty to have regard to the annual plan … does not apply in relation to functions under sub-paragraph (1)”.
Those functions are about being consulted on, and giving or withholding consent to, the framework document. It is a little difficult to understand how the two work together. It may be that we are being told that one is more important, or simply that one is more overarching—which the framework document should be, I guess—than the other. The relationship between the two will obviously be important and not only because there are different consents and consultation arrangements for the different items.
My Lords, I will deal first with the various points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and then move on to the rather more complicated question about paragraph 4(2) of Schedule 2 and its relationship to sub-paragraph (1), as raised by my noble friend who, as always, bowls googlies of a sort that are designed to get behind one.
The amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, would remove the requirement for the Home Secretary to obtain the consent of the director-general of the NCA before issuing the framework document. I am faintly unclear as to why she seeks to remove this provision. Does she want that framework document imposed on the director-general? That is what would happen under the amendment—there would no longer be that consultation. As I have indicated, the framework document will set out the relationship between the Home Secretary—
I apologise for intervening. The noble Lord said that my amendment would result in there being no consultation. I am not trying to prevent consultation. Paragraph 4(1)(a) says:
“The Secretary of State must … consult the Director General”.
I am entirely happy with that; it is completely appropriate. It is the reference in paragraph 4(1)(b) to obtaining the consent of the director-general that I am concerned about. I am sorry if I was not clear.
Therefore, there would still be consultation but there would be no need for consent. However, as I said, that would imply that the Home Secretary could impose that on the director-general. We believe that the document is designed to set out the relationship between the Home Secretary and the director-general and, as I said on an earlier amendment, how the NCA will operate, including its governance, management and transparency arrangements. Therefore, the director-general will have a proper interest in making sure that it reflects his or her operational view of the NCA. Since the director-general will ultimately be accountable to the Home Secretary for delivering the NCA’s priorities, it is absolutely right that his consent should be gained to crucial decisions about how the agency is administered. It is right that we should stick to that process. I hope that the noble Baroness will agree that the framework document should be agreed between the two, with both consultation and consent.
I turn now to the trickier question—the googly that I referred to—that my noble friend asked as regards paragraph 4(2) of Schedule 2, which states:
“The Director General’s duty to have regard to the annual plan in exercising functions does not apply in relation to functions under sub-paragraph (1)”.
I think that that is relatively clear, although my noble friend obviously does not. All it does is remove the director-general’s duty to consent from those under paragraph 1(1)(a), which refers to,
“ways in which NCA functions are to be exercised (including arrangements for publishing information about the exercise of NCA functions and other matters relating to the NCA)”.
I could go on with the rest of that paragraph. I am hoping for advice to come through at this stage.
The important idea to get over is that the framework document and the annual plan are different and have to be dealt with in different ways. The framework document sets out the relationship between the Home Secretary and the director-general of the NCA. The annual plan allows the director-general to set out the activity planned for the year ahead and must take account of the arrangements set out in the framework document. Therefore, in his role in respect of agreeing to the framework document, he cannot have regard at that stage to the annual plan, which comes out later. I hope that that makes matters clearer to my noble friend. I see a faint degree of nodding from her as well as a faint smirk on her face. I hope that it is a smirk of agreement. I will sit down and hear whether my noble friend agrees with what I have said.
It was not a smirk but possibly mild hysteria. The Minister has confirmed that, to the extent that the two documents have any relationship to one another, the framework document is the primary document. He is nodding at that. I apologise because my point was not intended to be a googly. Anyone who knows me will know that the high point of my sporting career at school was questions such as, “Sally dear, can you see the ball?”. I really am not trying to be difficult. I am grateful to the Minister. I will read it again several times.
From my noble friend’s confession, I think that her sporting career at school was possibly somewhat similar to mine in terms of its disastrous nature but I shall leave that as another matter. I am grateful for her acceptance. I think I got that right and that I have satisfied the point that she makes. Therefore, I await to see whether the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, wants to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I suspect that I had a slightly more successful sporting career at school than either noble Lord; many an ankle has been bashed with my hockey stick.
I remain puzzled on this matter. The Minister has said several times that the framework document sets out the relationship between the Home Secretary, the Secretary of State and the director-general. But nowhere in the schedule does it say that about the framework document. In part, our discussions are hampered by not having the document, which we look forward to seeing in due course.
The Minister made the point about the relationship between the framework document and the annual plan and how the framework document came first. However, it might not always come first because, under paragraph 2 of Schedule 2, the Home Secretary can reissue a framework document at any time, in which case the annual plan may already exist when a new framework document is published. It could get even more confusing. I shall take this away and ponder, as I think the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, will equally do.
I still do not accept that it is appropriate for the Secretary of State to seek consent. Consultation, if it is genuine and takes note and not just an exercise for the sake of it, would be the adequate and proportionate way forward. But I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 30 withdrawn.
Amendment 31 not moved.
32: Schedule 2, page 39, line 8, leave out from “published” to end of line 9
In moving Amendment 32, I shall speak also to Amendment 33. The first deals with the framework document and the second with the annual report. In both cases, my amendments would delete the words relating to publication,
“in the manner which the Secretary of State considers appropriate”.
I wondered whether those were intended to be qualifying words. They clearly are qualifying, but they suggest a limitation. I simply look for assurances that the spirit of what we would all understand by “publication” includes something energetic and proactive and that that will be reflected in the practical arrangements that will be made. So this is really only a probing amendment in both cases. I beg to move.
My Lords, I had some interest in the amendment that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has proposed. There is some question mark over why there is discretion in this regard, and it would be helpful to hear from the Minister on that. The Minister will understand my concern that there is a growing acceptance these days that everybody has access to the internet and that everything can be obtained from the internet. A large number of people in our population do not have access to the internet. More than that, as the Minister knows, the Home Office website is extraordinarily difficult to access. So I would have great reluctance in seeing a measure go through that gives discretion to the Home Secretary to publish on a website that most people cannot access most of the time.
My Lords, the Government are committed to publishing the NCA framework document and annual report so that all those with an interest in the work of the agency have ready access to them. That is indeed the spirit intended. The provisions on publication in Schedule 2 are directed to that end. I assure my noble friend that there is nothing sinister in the words,
“in the manner which the Secretary of State considers appropriate”.
They are just a recognition of the fact that it must be for the Home Secretary and the director-general, as the publishers of the framework document and annual report respectively, to determine how best to publish these documents. It is only sensible that the person publishing the document should be empowered to choose the most appropriate means of doing so.
We would expect that, in practice, both documents will most likely be released via the NCA or Home Office website. My noble friend Lord Henley says that he will shortly be writing to the noble Baroness on problems with that website. Whether it is a good use of resources also to print and publish thousands of hard copies of these documents must be left to the judgment of the Home Office or the director-general, as the case may be.
With the assurance that we want these documents to be made freely available, I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw these amendments.
My Lords, I shall certainly do so, but I have two comments. First, I thank the Minister for confirming the point about the spirit, which I am glad to have confirmed from the Dispatch Box. On another more general point, each Bill seems to be thicker than the last. A few years ago, it would have been adequate to say, “The Secretary of State shall publish a document”. Now we have to say, “The Secretary of State shall publish a document in the manner in which she deems to be appropriate”. The officials will understand why we probe some of these words more often than just from time to time.
I was a civil servant in the Met Office and used to visit other agencies. The variability in the publication of annual reports is quite extraordinary. A Minister visited the National Physical Laboratory and asked, “Why do you publish all these annual reports?”. I am glad to say that the Met Office continues to publish annual reports and they are still very valuable and people refer to them. Therefore, I was very surprised by the Minister’s insouciant response to this whole issue of the publication of reports. As the noble Baroness said, the relevant information is very unsatisfactory. Are the Government looking into this more broadly?
My Lords, in days of old there was only one way of publishing a report, which was in hard copy. Today we can publish on the internet. We can also issue a CD and issue hard copy on a limited circulation. The provisions in the Bill take account of the various ways of releasing the information without being too prescriptive.
My Lords, I do not think that I should take the time of the Committee by pursuing the issue but I suspect that the same question will come up more than once during the rest of this Session, as it comes up on almost every Bill. I am grateful to the Minister and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 32 withdrawn.
Amendment 33 not moved.
Schedule 2 agreed.
Clause 5 : Relationships between NCA and other agencies: tasking etc
34: Clause 5, page 4, line 30, at end insert—
“( ) Before making a request under subsection (1) the Director General must consult the Police and Crime Commissioner responsible for the totality of policing in that area.”
My Lords, the two paragraphs of Clause 5 to which these amendments relate provide for a chief officer of a UK police force or a UK law enforcement agency to perform a task if the director-general of the National Crime Agency requests, and for the director-general of the National Crime Agency to perform a task if requested to do so by a chief officer of a UK police force or a UK law enforcement agency. In respect of the references in the two paragraphs in question to,
“the chief officer of a UK police force”,
there is no reference to any requirement at all for the elected police and crime commissioner for that police force to be consulted by the person requesting that a task be performed, whether it be the director-general of the National Crime Agency or the chief officer of the commissioner’s own police force. So far there has been no explanation of or justification for this omission despite the fact that under the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 a police and crime commissioner for a police area has a statutory duty to secure the maintenance of the police force for their area, ensure that the police force is efficient and effective and hold the chief constable to account for a wide range of duties and responsibilities, including the effectiveness and efficiency of the chief constable’s arrangements for co-operating with other persons in the exercise of the chief constable’s functions.
The police and crime commissioner will also be responsible for issuing a police and crime plan, which is a plan that is required by law to set out a number of matters, including the policing of the police area which the chief officer of police is to provide. Yet it would appear as though it is possible under the terms of the Bill for the director-general of the National Crime Agency to come to an agreement with the chief officer of a UK police force for that chief officer to perform a task on behalf of the director-general, and a task of unspecified magnitude, scope or significance in relation to resources or impact; or, alternatively, for the director-general of the National Crime Agency to perform a task on behalf of the chief officer of a UK police force—once again, of unspecified magnitude, scope or significance—without any apparent duty in either case to consult the elected police and crime commissioner despite the significant statutory responsibilities the police and crime commissioner has in relation to their police force. If the director-general of the National Crime Agency was requesting the chief officer of a UK police force to carry out a task which could well have an impact on the efficiency and effectiveness of the police force in question, or on the ability to deliver or adhere to the police and crime plan, one would have thought that it was a matter on which the director-general of the National Crime Agency should be required to consult the police and crime commissioner.
Likewise, if the chief officer of a UK police force found it necessary to request the director-general of the National Crime Agency to perform a task on behalf, or in support, of that police force, there should be a duty on the chief officer to consult the police and crime commissioner, who might want to satisfy himself or herself that this was not a task that their own police force should be competent and capable of performing and that the request to the director-general was not in reality seeking to cover up a weakness in the performance of their police force. In this context, it is worth pointing out, for example, that Part 4 of Schedule 3 to the Bill provides for the director-general of the National Crime Agency to make arrangements with the elected police and crime commissioner for the NCA to use facilities made available by that police and crime commissioner’s police force. In addition, the Secretary of State will also be required to consult PCCs in determining the NCA’s strategic priorities, and a similar requirement is placed on the director-general of the NCA in preparing its annual plan. However, there is apparently no requirement for the director-general to notify or consult PCCs on voluntary agreements with chief constables or before using their powers to direct chief constables.
I will obviously await the Minister’s response to all the points that I have made. I suspect he is not going to say that I have drawn attention to gaps in the Bill that the Government now intend to address. However, I wait to see whether the argument will be that responding to requests referred to in Clause 5 is, for some reason, nothing whatever to do with the elected police and crime commissioner, or whether the Minister is going to say either that there are other provisions in the Bill that would require the police and crime commissioner to be consulted—or his or her consent sought—or that there are provisions in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 that would require the commissioner to be consulted, or his or her consent sought, such as in paragraph 7 of Schedule 2 to that Act, which states:
“A chief constable may do anything which is calculated to facilitate, or is conducive or incidental to, the exercise of the functions of chief constable”,
“That includes … entering into contracts and other agreements (whether legally binding or not), but only with the consent of the relevant police and crime commissioner”.
Alternatively, perhaps the Minister is going to say in response that the points I have raised will be covered in the elusive framework document that he has so far been unable to produce. I await his response. I beg to move.
These amendments concern something I raised at Second Reading—the relationship between the National Crime Agency, the police commissioner and the chief constable of a police force. I still do not understand just how that is to be worked out. We tabled amendments suggesting a protocol, which we dealt with in Committee on Monday, and learnt that a protocol is something to be discussed as an operational matter once the Bill is in force. Does the police commissioner come anywhere within the architecture of the Bill, or is the commissioner in an outhouse? I just do not understand where he is.
My Lords, it is not very often that I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford; in fact, I try to make it a general principle to disagree with him. However, on this occasion he has put his finger on an extraordinary gap in the Bill, and I can only assume that Home Office Ministers do not have the courage of their convictions.
We spent many happy months debating the principle of electing police and crime commissioners and we were told what significant individuals they were going to be. They were going to hold to account the chief constable and police service for all that went on in their area. Now, under the arrangements in this Bill the director-general of the National Crime Agency can say to any chief constable, “I would like the following resource from you dedicated to a particular operation”, but there is no requirement at all to inform the elected police and crime commissioner about that. Surely at the very least there should be a recognition that the police and crime commissioner might consider this matter important.
I am not a candidate to be a police and crime commissioner, but if I were in some remote part of the country outside London and had run on an election campaign saying that I wanted to see the police of my county devoted to the rural villages, the town centres or whatever, and I then discovered that behind my back the director-general of the National Crime Agency had said to my chief constable, “We’ve got to have this chunk of your resources and use them for a particular operation”, I would find it extraordinary that I had not even been told that that was happening and that my position as the directly elected police and crime commissioner, with a remit from the people of my area, was being undermined. I assume that this is an error in the drafting of the Bill.
I thought that my noble friend Lord Rosser was extraordinarily generous to the government Front Bench in offering two or three arguments as to why these amendments might not be necessary. However, unless the Minister is prepared to stand up and say, “Yes, of course, this was a drafting error. We did intend that police and crime commissioners would be informed”, the Government will be undermining what was apparently a flagship policy for this Administration.
Why might such a provision not be included in the Bill? The suggestion that this is a potentially trivial and merely operational matter that should not worry the police and crime commissioner is, frankly, nonsense. These are precisely the sorts of issues that will exercise local communities. Some of your Lordships may remember that at the time of the riots and disturbances last August one chief constable, quite properly, responded to a request to send a substantial number of police officers to London in support of ensuring that the streets were under control only to find that there were then disturbances in his own patch. He was then subject to all sorts of criticisms for having agreed to release those officers. What would the position be in very similar circumstances, although perhaps not a visible riot, in which the director-general of the National Crime Agency requested the movement of police officers for a particular operation and that then left the force concerned short? The police and crime commissioner would have to justify that this had been allowed to happen, even though he had not been informed in advance that such a request had been made. What would happen if the police and crime commissioner took a different view from that of the chief constable about whether this request was reasonable or justifiable? This is not an ordinary operational decision by the chief constable. The chief constable is not deciding within the framework of what is going on in that area how to deploy his or her resources; it is a decision to deploy them and to take them out of that area. That is precisely the area where the police and crime commissioner may say, “I want all the resources of my force kept in this area”.
So what is the justification for not having these provisions in the Bill? I hope that the Minister will tell us that he will adopt the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and incorporate them in the Bill, if not today, on Report. If he is not prepared to say that, I hope that he will give us a real explanation and reaffirm that, as far as the Home Office is concerned, the police and crime commissioners really matter, otherwise we spent three or four months in this Chamber debating the police and crime commissioners for no purpose whatever. They will be elected officials with no significant function.
My Lords, I wish to say how sad I am that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, will not be a candidate for a PCC. We understand that there is already a PCC for London and the noble Lord would have to move out of his own city in order to stand as a candidate. He might want to consider that in due course and I am sure that he would make a very fine PCC, should he wish to do so.
Sadly, I was not involved in what the noble Lord referred to as those happy months debating the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act. I was then involved with another department but I was very grateful to my noble friends for the way in which they took that Bill through and discussed those matters.
The points put forward by the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Harris, and my noble friend Lord Thomas seem to imply a misunderstanding of the role of the PCCs and seem to suggest that PCCs should be involved in operational matters. I hope that I can explain why that will not be the case.
First, I shall speak about the policing protocol which was mentioned and which, I stress, has already been laid before Parliament. It outlines how the new policing governance arrangements established in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act will work and it clarifies the roles and responsibilities of police and crime commissioners, the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime in London, chief constables, police and crime panels and the London Assembly Police and Crime Panel. It outlines what those bodies are expected to do and how they are expected to work together to fight crime and to improve policing. It also underlines the Home Secretary’s role as being ultimately accountable to Parliament and charged with ensuring the maintenance of the Queen’s peace with all force areas, safeguarding the public and protecting our national borders and security.
I do not think that directed tasking by the director-general in anyway undermines the police and crime commissioners in fighting serious and organised crime. It is a shared concern for the NCA and the PCCs. The tasking to the NCA from a police force in England and Wales would be used to fight cross-boundary serious and organised crime which police forces and PCCs must already have regard to in strategic policing requirements.
I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, was right to draw attention to those voluntary tasking arrangements between the NCA, all United Kingdom police forces and other enforcement bodies. Those two-way tasking provisions closely reflect the operational reality of how police forces and law enforcement agencies already work together and are the central, but co-ordinating, efforts against serious and organised crime.
Amendment 34 places a duty on the director-general of the NCA to consult the relevant PCC, prior to requesting its chief constable to perform a task under the voluntary tasking arrangements.
I want to emphasise to the noble Lord that the NCA will have a key relationship with the PCC in the fight against serious and organised crime. For example, police and crime commissioners will be consulted when the agency determines its strategic priorities and an annual plan respectively.
However, the tasking—I emphasise that word—of police forces by the agency and the tasking of the agency by chief constables are operational matters, where command and control of an operation is transferred to the organisation being tasked. Given the operational nature of tasking, I am certainly not persuaded of the case for the consultation and notification requirements set out in Amendments 34 and 35 tabled by the noble Lord for debate today.
Placing a duty on the director-general of the National Crime Agency to consult the relevant PCC before entering into a voluntary tasking arrangement risks blurring the line between operational independence and political accountability.
Moreover, imposing such a duty could disrupt a time-critical operation. For example, the director-general of the agency may need to task a specific police force to take the lead on a time-sensitive interdiction, such as a stop, arrest or search, in a long-running operation. Although a duty to notify, as provided for in Amendment 35, is less objectionable, again I remain to be persuaded of the case for including this in the Bill for the same reasons. As I have previously outlined, tasking arrangements ought properly to be left to an operational determination rather than imposing a uniform obligation of notification in England and Wales, irrespective of the nature of the tasking request.
Tasking of the National Crime Agency may also need to take place in time-critical situations. For example, a chief constable may request the director-general of the agency urgently to take the lead on activity where a resident in their police area has been kidnapped and their location is unknown in the United Kingdom. Under such circumstances, there may be operational consequences if executive action were to be delayed because the relevant PCC could not be contacted or notified in time—the individual may not have been available, had their mobile turned off, or whatever. A whole host of reasons might have made that difficult.
That is not to say that a PCC would not be notified of a tasking request by their chief constable. I would expect that a chief constable would notify their PCC as soon as it was feasible, practical and sensible to do so, if not beforehand. But formal, statutory notification prior to every tasking request would not be appropriate.
I trust that the party opposite is as committed as are the Government to protecting the operational independence of the director-general of the agency and chief constables, and to ensuring that swift action can be taken during time-critical operations. On that basis, I hope that those explanations deal with the points that the noble Lord raised, and having listened to what I had to say, he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am slightly confused by the response from the noble Lord, Lord Henley. He implied that this group of amendments is designed to undermine the operational independence of the chief constable. But this is not about an operational decision. This is not saying that the police and crime commissioner must approve. It is simply saying that before making a request to use the resources that are properly the responsibility of that police and crime commissioner —the resources for which that police and crime commissioner is answerable to the public and the police and crime panel and so forth—as a minimum, the police and crime commissioner should be informed. This is not saying that the police and crime commissioner will then interfere in the operational judgment of the chief constable as to whether those resources can be released and what the implications of that are. Let us not pretend that this is not potentially hugely significant. As my noble friend Lord Rosser pointed out, there is nothing that prescribes the size or scale of these requests, so they could be enormously significant.
The decision about who is tasked and what the targets of a particular operation are is obviously an operational decision, but if officers are being used for this purpose, there is an expectation that the police force for that area will retain a liability for what they do and the community consequences of what may happen. These are all matters that are properly the province of the police and crime commissioner, because the police and crime commissioner will have to answer publicly for the consequences of what happens, as well as for the opportunity costs that have arisen as a result of that diversion of resources. Those are the proper areas for the police and crime commissioner. This is not about individual operational decisions; it is about the use of resources and the implications of using resources in that way.
If the noble Lord’s argument for rejecting these amendments is simply about urgent requests, I suggest a very simple wording change such as “except in cases of urgency”, in which case the requests should be notified immediately afterwards, but that is not what he said. The whole premise of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act is that the elected police and crime commissioner will be answerable to the public for what happens in policing in their area. That was the principle in the Conservative Party manifesto regarding why these individuals should be elected. By apparently wanting to reject these amendments, the Government are undermining this principle.
I have to say that this feeds my own personal conspiracy theory that the Government have gone soft on the whole question of police and crime commissioners: that having taken us through all this legislative and institutional change, they have now discovered that perhaps the flow of high-profile candidates who wish to stand in the Conservative interest has not been what they expected, with one or two possible exceptions, so they now want to downplay the whole thing. “Let us have these elections in the dark days of November, when no one will notice; let us have these elections without the benefit of any publicity; and, my goodness, let us not give too much responsibility to police and crime commissioners”. That is the implication of what the noble Lord is saying.
The noble Lord protests too much. I will not go back to the various remarks he made about the police and crime commissioners. That is an argument that we had in another place—dare I say it, in another country—a long time ago. It has been dealt with. That is what Parliament has agreed.
No, no, the noble Lord can intervene after I have dealt with the points about his amendment. The noble Lord objects to what is happening, and apparently supports Amendments 34 and 35. Interestingly, he did not put his name down to them, but that is possibly why he made a speech of that sort—because he knows that the amendments go too far. He knows perfectly well that the amendments say “must”, which is why I talked about time-sensitive problems and said that it was not appropriate that the director-general “must” always consult the police and crime commissioner or, in Amendment 35, that,
“a chief officer of a UK police force must notify the Police and Crime Commissioner”,
because these things are not practical in those circumstances. That is what I dealt with in the amendment and in my answer to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, who will respond in due course.
We all welcome the chance to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Harris, yet again making one of the speeches that he no doubt made during the passage of the Bill, which sadly I was not able to take part in but which my noble friend dealt with so well. I hope that my explanation of why the word “must” is not appropriate in Amendments 34 and 35 is satisfactory and that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, will feel able to withdraw his amendment, as I suggested earlier.
My Lords, I hesitate to correct the Minister, but if he checks back on the speeches I made during the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill when it was being considered in your Lordships’ House, he will see that I was not a particular supporter of the concept of police and crime commissioners. What I am doing today is fighting on their behalf for them to be given the information to enable them to do their job. They should be allowed to be the police and crime commissioners that the Conservative Party envisaged when it put this measure before Parliament.
If we are now being told that the only reason for rejecting this amendment is the word “must” because of the implications of urgency, as I said in my previous intervention, that is very easily remedied. If the noble Lord is saying that he is happy to table these amendments on Report with an urgency exclusion, obviously I cannot speak for the opposition Front Bench but I am sure we would think that progress had been made.
My Lords, I am always happy to look at further amendments to amendments. Similarly, I am happy to think that one of the things I could do in the long summer months when the Olympics are on is read some of the noble Lord’s speeches on police and crime commissioners. Those will no doubt provide me with a great deal of pleasure and possibly put me to sleep. They will be great speeches and I will read them just as I will listen to the noble Lord.
What the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, does with his amendments is a matter for him. I was responding to the specific amendments that were put before me. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, can add his name, if he wishes, to the amendments that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, might bring forward in due course.
My Lords, this has certainly been an interesting debate. It seems to have created a certain amount of disagreement and passion. I think I heard the Minister say that my amendments would call into question the operational independence of chief constables. I find that rather odd coming from the government Front Bench since the reason for our opposition to police and crime commissioners in the first place was that that was one of the things that it would cause, so to have it thrown at us that we are putting forward amendments that would put at risk the operational independence of chief constables frankly seems a bit rich.
As my noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey said, it is not clear whether the Government’s principal argument is the use of the word “must” in the amendments. The Minister has said that if there had to be consultation with the police and crime commissioner, that would cause delay, and it might be an emergency. However, am I not right in saying that if the director-general approached a chief constable for a voluntary agreement and could not get it, the director-general would then have to go to the Secretary of State to get a direction authorised? Future amendments will tease out whether that is the case, but if it is, that would certainly cause a delay, which is apparently of concern to the Minister.
If there were provision for consultation with the police and crime commissioner, it might help the situation—although I do not think that this has occurred to the Minister—in that the police and crime commissioner might step in if there was any doubt or difficulty over the chief constable coming to a voluntary arrangement with the director-general.
I mentioned that there could be reasons why the police and crime commissioner might want to know, or why there should at least be a requirement for the police and crime commissioner to be consulted, if the chief constable wanted the director-general of the National Crime Agency to perform a task on their behalf, because there could be a difference of view with the police and crime commissioner about whether it was a matter that their own police force should be competent to deal with or whether it was helping to cover up a failing in their own police force. I notice that the Minister declined to address that point.
My noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey pointed out that if the difficulty is the use of “must”, one could produce wording that made it clear that if there were difficulties over time constraints, that requirement would not be there. I got the impression that when my noble friend put that point directly to him, the Minister rather backed off from the argument that there might not be time to consult a police and crime commissioner.
The whole basis of the Government’s approach appears to be as it was during consideration of the 2011 Bill, now an Act: that is, a belief that there is some clear guideline distinguishing what is operational—which in the Government’s view is the responsibility of the chief constable—and the powers of the police and crime commissioner. I am afraid that we did not think during the passage of the Bill, nor do so now, that this clear guideline, which it is obvious the Minister still believes in, exists. There will be grey areas as to whether a matter is solely operational or whether it impinges on the police and crime commissioner’s responsibilities, which are fairly wide-ranging. They include issuing a police and crime plan, which is required by law, to set out a number of matters relating to the policing of the area which the chief officer of police is to provide, and a duty to ensure the effectiveness and efficiency of the chief constable’s arrangements.
I also made the point, picked up on by my noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey, that the tasks that the director-general might require or ask a chief constable to perform are of unspecified magnitude, scope or significance in relation to resources or impact. I note that the Minister did not seek to assure us in his response that these tasks would be minor and would not have an impact on resources. I therefore assume that the point that I made is valid: that these are tasks of unspecified magnitude, scope or significance in relation to resources or impact. To believe that a chief constable could come to an arrangement with the director-general to perform a task that had a significant impact on resources without any consultation with his or her own police and crime commissioner being required in the Bill seems, as my noble friend said, to denigrate the position and authority of a police and crime commissioner.
I have made the points that I wish to make to the Minister. I hope that, despite his response, he will reflect further on our debate and ask himself whether it is really impossible to write into the Bill a provision that there must be—or if he does not agree to “must”, that there will in normal circumstances be—consultation with the police and crime commissioner. If he was prepared to consider that, the Government would save themselves potential difficulties in the relationships between a police and crime commissioner, the director-general of the National Crime Agency and chief constables.
Finally, it is worth pointing out that the Bill does provide for the director-general of the National Crime Agency to make arrangements with the police and crime commissioner for the NCA to use facilities made available by the police and crime commissioner’s police force, but not apparently, under the terms of this Bill, for the director-general to have even to consult with a police and crime commissioner when they ask for a task to be carried out that could have a considerable impact on the resources of the police force in question.
At this stage I obviously do not intend to pursue this amendment, but clearly, unless there is some indication in the future that the Minister is prepared to have a realistic rethink about this matter, we will have to consider whether to bring it back on Report.
Amendment 34 withdrawn.
Amendment 35 not moved.
36: Clause 5, page 5, line 19, leave out subsection (9)
My Lords, the amendment would delete the requirement on the director-general of the National Crime Agency to seek the consent of the Secretary of State before issuing a direction to the chief constable of the British Transport Police, as set out in Clause 5(9). There does not seem to be, in Clause 5, a similar requirement for the director-general to seek the consent of the Secretary of State to a direction to perform a task that is given to the chief officer of an England and Wales police force, as opposed to the chief constable of the British Transport Police.
Schedule 3(8) provides for the director-general of the National Crime Agency to direct, among others, a chief officer of an England and Wales police force, and the chief constable of the British Transport Police, to provide specified assistance to the National Crime Agency, subject to the appropriate consent being given to the direction—meaning that of the Secretary of State in relation to the chief officer of a police force. However, Schedule 3 appears to remain silent on whether the consent of the Secretary of State is required for the director-general of the National Crime Agency to give a direction to provide specified assistance to the chief constable of the British Transport Police—unless of course the chief constable of the British Transport Police is included within the reference to a “chief officer of” a “police force”.
I accept that we may not have correctly understood the wording in the parts of the Bill to which I have just referred. I am sure that if we have not, the Minister will point that out. However, if we have understood it correctly, can the Minister explain the significance or otherwise of the necessity for the director-general of the NCA to obtain the consent of the Secretary of State to give a direction only to the chief constable of the British Transport Police appearing in Clause 5, when that clause also deals with directions being given to the chief officer of an England and Wales police force; and the significance or otherwise of the necessity for the director-general of the National Crime Agency to obtain the consent of the Secretary of State to give a direction only to a chief officer of an England and Wales police force appearing in Schedule 3, when that schedule also deals with directions being given to the chief constable of the British Transport Police?
Why is the necessity for the director-general of the National Crime Agency to seek the consent of the Secretary of State to the giving of a direction to both a chief officer of an England and Wales police force, and the chief constable of the British Transport Police, not dealt with in the same place in the Bill, whether at Clause 5 or Schedule 3, instead of being split, as appears to be the case at present? I accept that Clause 5 and Schedule 3 may address different circumstances, hence the difference in wording. Such a distinction between Clause 5 and Schedule 3 does seem to be drawn in Part 5 of Schedule 3, addressing the issue of payments. No doubt the Minister will clarify the position in his reply.
Amendment 39 would remove the requirement for the consent of the Secretary of State to be given. The Minister’s response to these amendments may address some of the points we wish to raise under Amendment 39.
Finally, as we are dealing with the issue of directions being given by the director-general, the Minister said at Second Reading that the Bill provides that the director-general should, in exceptional circumstances, be able to direct police forces in England and Wales. Can he tell us where in the Bill it states, “in exceptional circumstances”?
I see the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, readying himself to answer on this amendment. Perhaps he can answer my simple question. We listened to the protestations of the noble Lord, Lord Henley, that the amendments that we just considered were completely unworkable because of the use of the word “must”, and that there would be circumstances in which urgent matters and urgent operational needs had to be dealt with. Why do we now find a clause in the schedule which says that before you can get the British Transport Police to do anything, the prior approval of the Secretary of State has to be obtained?
When the noble Earl reads his note, perhaps he could also say whether a fine distinction is being drawn between a direction and a request? If so, perhaps he could also tell us what is the status of the British Transport Police Authority. Does it have no say in the matter? Is it simply for the Secretary of State? I assume that we are here talking about the Secretary of State for Transport, although I understand that there is always a fiction in our legislative process whereby Secretaries of State are indivisible. I assume that, before a direction can be given, the Secretary of State for Transport must be found, diverted from whatever consideration she or he might be giving to high-speed rail, airports or whatever, and told that there is an urgent operational direction needed by the British Transport Police. How is that really meant to work?
My Lords, in responding to the amendment, I start by emphasising that in almost all cases, tasking will be voluntary, based on strong relationships and mutual co-operation, exploiting intelligence and building on existing arrangements. If not, surely something is going badly wrong, so of course such circumstances will be exceptional. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, about “exceptional”, there are already strict legal tests in the Bill to prevent misuse of the directed tasking powers.
In order for the director-general of the agency to use those powers, a threefold test must be met. The performance of the task would be to assist the NCA to carry out its functions; it would need to be expedient for the directed body to perform the task; and satisfactory arrangements could not have been made, or made in time. A further safeguard is that the director-general must personally exercise the power and may delegate it in his absence only to a senior NCA officer, who would be nominated for the purpose. Directed assistance powers would also be subject to a threefold test. There would have to be a special need for that assistance; it would need to be expedient for the directed body to provide assistance; and voluntary assistance could not have been made, or made in time. In addition to that threefold test, any directed assistance to the NCA would require consent from the relevant Secretary of State. Separate arrangements are in place for Northern Ireland.
The noble Lord, Lord Harris, asked about the term “Secretary of State”. He will know very well that it is a legal term.
I was asked about the difference between tasking and assistance. “Tasking” means that the responsibility for the direction and control of the operation goes to the agency being tasked. Examples are that the NCA may task a specific police force to take the lead to disrupt a human-trafficking gang that is predominantly based in that force area but impacting across the UK, or that a police force could task the NCA, subject to the NCA’s agreement, to take the direction and control in an operation to disrupt that organised crime group’s overseas financial infrastructure by using its specialist cybercapabilities and overseas liaison officers. Under assistance, resources transfer from the operational command of one organisation to another. One example is that if a specific police force is faced with a local kidnapping case, the chief officer could maintain direction and control but request some assistance from the NCA’s specialist kidnapping unit. In the case of a co-ordinated day of national action against the smuggling of rhino horns, the NCA could request assistance from UKBA specialists on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora to assist with identifying seized ivory.
The powers in respect of directed tasking are a necessary and sensible backstop to enable the National Crime Agency to fulfil its role of ensuring that there is a co-ordinated national response to serious, organised and complex crime. In particular, directed powers could be vital in time-critical situations where arrangements need to be made quickly and there is not time to establish satisfactory voluntary arrangements. The question that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, has quite reasonably posed is: why is it necessary for the Secretary of State to consent before the director-general can direct the British Transport Police to perform a task yet there is no equivalent consent requirement when one of the 43 territorial forces in England and Wales is subject to such a direction?
The British Transport Police is different from police forces in England and Wales for three reasons. First, it is not a Home Office police force but a special police force, ultimately accountable to the Secretary of State for Transport under the Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003. Secondly—
My Lords, I will go on to say that but what is particularly important is how the British Transport Police is funded. Secondly, unlike police forces in England and Wales, the British Transport Police has a national remit which includes jurisdiction across the railway network in England and Wales—and in Scotland, where policing in the latter is otherwise devolved to the Scottish Government. Thirdly, the British Transport Police is primarily contracted and funded by providers of railway services—the train operators and Network Rail—applying the “user pays” principle. Railway service providers are required to enter into a police services agreement with the British Transport Police as a condition of their licence to operate. Home Office forces have no such contractual or financial relationship with industry of day-to-day significance.
Taking into consideration these difficulties, a direction to the British Transport Police is so significant in regards to the potential impact on accountability, devolved policing arrangements with Scotland and arrangements with industry that it requires a Secretary of State to affirm that the issue is of sufficient national interest. I would also be very surprised if my right honourable friend the Secretary of State did not want to be aware that agreement could not be reached. It would be a very serious matter. On that basis, I hope that the noble Lord will be prepared to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, in all these arrangements assistance is quite often provided under the old pals Act and they do not worry about the expenditure. However, if specialist resources were required—perhaps a mobile crane or a digging machine—that extra expense would have to be recovered. It is inevitable that agreement would be reached. However, the British Transport Police would not have that sort of equipment available. It would normally be used to intercept someone on the transport network.
Perhaps the noble Earl could also address this point. I understand the point about the different funding arrangements for the British Transport Police, which is extremely significant, but the funding is therefore coming not from the Government but from the transport operating companies. Those companies are engaged through the British Transport Police Authority so why does this clause not therefore relate to that authority, to which the chief constable is accountable, where the funders, who may feel that they have an issue at stake, would be represented? Would that not be a better arrangement?
Perhaps the noble Earl will respond to the question about the terrifying cases of urgency that the noble Lord, Lord Henley, worried us with on the previous group of amendments. How are they going to be dealt with with this requirement for the prior approval of the Secretary of State?
My Lords, in a terrifying case of urgency, it is in my opinion inconceivable that the British Transport Police would not agree to assist.
In answer to the noble Lord’s question about the British Transport Police Authority, he is right to point out that the chief constable of the British Transport Police is accountable to the British Transport Police Authority in the same way that chief constables of police forces in England and Wales are accountable to their respective police and crime commissioners. However, in the case of a directed tasking to the British Transport Police, the Secretary of State for Transport is ultimately responsible for the security of passengers and staff on the national rail network and on underground and light-rail systems. It is therefore right that she should have the ability to consent to direct tasking of the British Transport Police at the national level aimed at tackling serious and organised crime.
Moreover, tasking by the National Crime Agency may need to take place in time-critical situations. Members of the British Transport Police Authority meet six times a year to set British Transport Police targets and to allocate funds for its budget. It may not be possible to clear consent with the British Transport Police Authority in time for the necessary executive action to take place. This is not to say that the British Transport Police Authority would not be notified by its chief constable of a direct tasking request. I have no doubt that the chief constable of the British Transport Police would notify the British Transport Police Authority of direct tasking as soon as it was feasible to do so. Noble Lords have not convinced me that a situation would arise where the British Transport Police would refuse to provide assistance voluntarily.
If the Minister believes that there are no circumstances in which the British Transport Police would fail to provide the assistance required, why does he need directions in the Bill at all on the basis that, presumably, any police force would provide the assistance required?
I think the Minister has answered the point that I made. If he is arguing that about the British Transport Police, he does not need the provision in the Bill for any police force.
I want to clarify that I have understood correctly what has been said. What I have inferred—and I would be grateful if the Minister would confirm that I have understood it correctly—is that if the director-general makes a direction under Clause 5 that would require a chief officer of an England and Wales police force to perform a task, that direction does not require the consent of the Secretary of State, albeit that it would if it was in relation to the British Transport Police. Likewise, Schedule 3 provides that the director-general may,
“direct any of the following”,
including the chief officer of an England and Wales police force and the chief constable of the British Transport Police,
“to provide specified assistance to the NCA”.
While the approval of the Secretary of State would be required for a direction to a chief officer of an England and Wales police force, it would not be required for a direction to the chief constable of the British Transport Police. I simply want the Minister to clarify that I have understood what he said and that that is the distinction between Clause 5 and Schedule 3. I see the noble Lord, Lord Henley, nodding so I take it that what I have just said is a correct understanding of the position that the Minister explained.
I listened—frankly, I will wish to read it in Hansard—to the distinction between performing a task, which is referred to in Clause 5, and the director-general directing,
“any of the following to provide specified assistance to the NCA”.
Bear in mind that from the director-general’s point of view, if he can satisfy himself—or herself—that he requires a task to be performed by the chief officer of an England and Wales police force, he does not need the consent of the Secretary of State. Therefore, it might be quite tempting for a director-general to try to make sure that any direction that he gives comes under the heading of “performing a task”, rather than “providing specified assistance”. That is also what I have inferred from the Minister’s answer.
I am sure it would not be based on bureaucratic convenience. If he could satisfy himself that he was asking for a task to be performed, there would be less bureaucracy as he would not have to get the consent of the Secretary of State. Once again, I fear that there may be a view that there is a very clear divide between what could be defined as performing a task and what might be deemed to be providing specified assistance. I suspect that there will be grey areas over that in at least some cases.
I pointed out to the Minister that it was said at Second Reading that,
“the Bill provides that the director-general should, in exceptional circumstances, be able to direct police forces in England and Wales”.—[Official Report, 28/5/12; col. 974.]
I asked where in the Bill it says “exceptional circumstances”. I take it from the noble Earl’s answer that he agrees with me that the statement that the Bill provides for the director-general to be able to direct police forces in England and Wales in exceptional circumstances is not correct. Such wording does not appear in the Bill, although this was implied at Second Reading. In the light of that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 36 withdrawn.
Clause 5 agreed.
Schedule 3 : Relationships between NCA and other agencies
37: Schedule 3, page 41, line 1, leave out from “force” to end of line 2
My Lords, these are purely drafting amendments to the provisions in Schedule 3 relating to the exchange of information between police forces and the National Crime Agency. Paragraphs 3 and 4 of the schedule apply these provisions to each UK police force and the British Transport Police. However, the British Transport Police is already covered by the definition of a UK police force in Clause 16. Consequently, it does not need to be separately listed. The amendments therefore remove the superfluous paragraphs 3(1)(b) and 4(1)(b). I beg to move.
My Lords, we can see that this is a drafting amendment. I must admit that when I first saw the clause I wondered what had happened to the Civil Nuclear Constabulary and the Ministry of Defence Police, which also should have been covered if it was necessary to include the British Transport Police. I think that the Minister has been able to give me an assurance for each of those special police forces, which, as the definitions on page 12 indicate, are UK police forces. They would have the same relationship as regards having to be notified and the disclosure of information as all other police forces in the UK. It is a helpful amendment that clarifies the existing position.
Amendment 37 agreed.
38: Schedule 3, page 41, line 14, leave out from “force” to end of line 15
Amendment 38 agreed.
39: Schedule 3, page 43, leave out lines 5 to 14
In relation to a previous amendment, I mentioned that we had put down Amendment 39 and that the discussion on Amendment 36 might clarify the issue that I wanted to raise on Amendment 39; namely, the distinction between the wording in Clause 5 to “perform a task” specified in the direction and the wording in paragraph 8 of Schedule 3 about providing,
“specified assistance to the NCA”.
I asked the Minister if my interpretation of what he had said was correct and he indicated that it was.
Amendment 39 not moved.
40: Schedule 3, page 48, line 10, after “Schedule” insert “or Part 1 of Schedule 1”
I shall speak also to Amendment 41. There are three further amendments in the group in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and others, all of which deal with payments. My two amendments concern the paragraph in Schedule 3 which deals with what is the “appropriate amount”. Paragraph 29 of Schedule 3 deals with what is to be paid under paragraphs 26 and 27 by the director-general and the police in the different circumstances. My amendment would extend that to payments under Part 1 of Schedule 1, including paragraph 4, which states:
“The NCA may charge a person for any service provided at the person’s request”.
I am not necessarily suggesting that this is the right way to go about it but I am probing how that charging should be dealt with.
Amendment 41 suggests that there is a way other than an amount agreed or an amount determined by the Secretary of State; that is, to provide for a scale or a formula in advance to be applied generally. As I understand the arrangements for mutual aid between police forces, there are governing scales and arrangements. It seems to me that it would be much better to have these things sorted out in advance rather than to have any sort of haggling being applied at the time. I certainly do not imagine that it would leave people with anything other than a rather sour taste if the Secretary of State had to step in and determine the amounts. I beg to move.
My Lords, our amendments on this issue perhaps come from a different direction but they still try to address a similar concern that we have. We are looking at different ways to resolve this. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, is right that if an agreement on payment cannot be reached between two parties, to seek resolution or determination by the Secretary of State does not seem the correct way to behave. Throughout this Bill, we have sought to remove the Secretary of State from day-to-day operational issues and this proposal would bring the Secretary of State back into those kinds of issues.
There is also a conflict of interest or at least a divided responsibility. There is a concern that one thing that will happen with the NCA and the charges and costs involved is that, given that funding may not be adequate to the task, particularly with additional responsibilities coming in, some extra funding or support may be sought from police authorities, particularly in cases such as this. The Home Secretary has a direct responsibility for the funding of police forces across the country. It seems somewhat difficult, therefore, if there is a disagreement between a local police force and the NCA, that it should be the individual who has responsibility for funding local police forces who should seek a determination on that. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said something about that creating a bad feeling or some difficulties, and I certainly think that it would in this case.
The noble Baroness and I may not have found exactly the right format here. We are suggesting an advisory body, but I am not wedded to any particular way of doing this. It seems inappropriate for the Secretary of State to be making those decisions. To labour a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, about a protocol in the framework document, that may be what the Minister is considering—but we do not know, because we do not have the framework document. It is clearly inappropriate for the Secretary of State to be the arbiter. We would like to see some other way to resolve difficulties or disputes and we are suggesting an advisory board.
My Lords, this group of amendments all relate to the provisions in Schedule 3 regarding payments for tasks, assistance and facilities. Amendment 40, in the name of noble friend Lady Hamwee, seeks in effect to bring the provisions relating to charging in Schedule 1 into line with those in Schedule 3; namely, that they must be agreed by both sides.
I put it to my noble friend that this amendment would conflate two quite separate charging regimes. The charging provisions in paragraph 4 of Schedule 1 enable the National Crime Agency to provide particular services, whether to another law enforcement agency or to any other person. They are not about the provision of assistance or facilities under Schedule 3 or the tasking arrangements in Clause 5. Such services might include, for example, the provision of training, crime operational support or the services provided by the Specialist Operations Centre. Charging for these services, which are provided on request, will normally have to be on a cost-recovery basis in line with the Treasury’s guidance on managing public money. In other words, these services cannot be made under the old pals act; they have to be properly accounted for.
Amendment 41 seeks to provide for a protocol which sets out the appropriate amounts to be paid for tasks, assistance or facilities performed or provided under the provisions of Clause 5 and Schedule 3. I can certainly support the spirit of this amendment. The National Crime Agency will need to agree policies for cross-charging with the police service and other law enforcement partners that are equitable, practical and help to support the co-ordinated effort to tackle serious and organised crime. However, I do not think the amendment is necessary as the existing schedule already allows for the appropriate amount to be agreed through a broader policy or protocol. The key point in Schedule 3 is that payments for tasks, assistance or facilities, if any, must be agreed between both sides. It does not specify how that agreement must be reached or that it must be done on a case-by-case basis.
Finally, Amendments 42 to 44, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, seek to replace the Home Secretary’s role as final arbiter with an independent advisory panel on payments. I would argue that creating another quango is not a good way to provide value for money or to secure the simple and speedy resolution of disputes over charging arrangements. Indeed, I hope that there will be few disputes, and I imagine that both parties would be reluctant to involve the Secretary of State.
In addition, the approach to cross-charging in Schedule 3, including the role of the Secretary of State, broadly mirrors the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. The previous Administration did not see the need for creating a separate body to decide on appropriate amounts for payments in the absence of agreement, and neither do this Government.
Amendment 43 would remove any role for the devolved Administrations in setting appropriate amounts if agreement cannot be reached. As the budgets for these law enforcement bodies in Scotland and Northern Ireland are devolved, it is right that the devolved Administrations have a role to play in ensuring that payments are fair in situations where either a Scottish or Northern Irish body is involved.
I would hope and expect that the cross-charging arrangements for tasks, assistance and facilities will be agreed amicably between the NCA and its partners. It is right that the Bill includes backstop arrangements for resolving any disputes. The arrangements provided for in the Bill broadly mirror those for SOCA, and there is no good reason why we need to adopt a different approach for the NCA. Accordingly, I would invite my noble friend Lady Hamwee to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I wonder sometimes whether the noble Earl lives in a slightly different and more benign world than I do. Several times during the course of today’s debate, whether it has been on the power of direction and payments, he has said, “We hope that it will be okay, we can’t see ourselves using this power, things should work out okay”. Real life is not like that; disputes occur. This idea of having a backstop and saying that it does not matter if it is not perfect and not okay because it will hardly ever be used is not really good enough. We need to have some kind of process. I do not know whether the noble Earl took on board what I said. I am not wedded necessarily to an advisory board, but I think that we need a process that is not the Secretary of State or, as the noble Earl calls it, a backstop.
There will from time to time be disputes on payments and the power of direction, and we need to have a process that this House is confident can deal with any of those problems that occur—and not just think that it will be okay because it will not happen very often. I think that we will pursue this at a later stage. There may be further discussions in Committee, but at this stage I am happy not to press my amendment.
My Lords, I share the noble Baroness’s concerns about this. I wrote down “amicable?”. The noble Earl referred to a backstop, but the point of providing a very clear framework—although I do not want to use that term—and making clear provisions is that they are clear and, if things are not amicable, one knows where to go. It had never occurred to me until an earlier group of amendments that the old pals arrangement might apply to anything under this Bill—but perhaps I am just too cynical.
On Amendment 40, as I understood the noble Earl’s remarks, the NCA will be subject to certain formal Treasury guidelines. He is nodding at that, but I wonder whether he might share those with Members of the Committee after the debate. It may not be appropriate to go into all the detail now, but it would be very helpful to be clearer about this before we return to the matter, as I suspect we will.
Let us see how the Treasury website operates and whether we can get into it.
On Amendment 41, the noble Earl argued that what is provided in paragraph 29 is not on a case-by-case basis but is an overall principle. I do not read it like that, because paragraph 29 refers to a provision requiring,
“one person (“R”) to pay the appropriate amount to another person (“P”)”.
The only way in which I can construe that paragraph is that we are talking about the particular “R” and the particular “P”, not anyone who might come under “R” or “P” in a range of different situations. Perhaps that is something that we can seek to understand rather better after the Committee stage. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 40.
Amendment 40 withdrawn.
Amendments 41 to 44 not moved.
Schedule 3, as amended, agreed.
Clause 6 agreed.
Clause 7 : Information gateways
45: Clause 7, page 6, line 11, at end insert—
“(4A) Subsection (4) authorises an NCA officer to disclose information for the purpose of the exercise of—
(a) the functions of the Lord Advocate under Part 3 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (“PCA 2002”), or(b) the functions of the Scottish Ministers under, or in relation to, Part 5 of PCA 2002,only where the information has been obtained by the NCA in connection with the exercise of a function under PCA 2002 (other than a function under Part 6 of that Act).(4B) Where information has been obtained by the NCA in connection with the exercise of a function under Part 6 of PCA 2002 (revenue functions), subsection (4) does not authorise an NCA officer to disclose the information.
(4C) But an NCA officer may disclose the information if the disclosure is—
(a) to the Commissioners for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs,(b) to the Lord Advocate for the purposes of the exercise by the Lord Advocate of the Lord Advocate’s functions under Part 3 of PCA 2002 (confiscation: Scotland),(c) to any person for purposes relating to civil proceedings (whether or not in the United Kingdom) which relate to a matter in respect of which the NCA has functions, or(d) to any person for the purposes of compliance with an order of a court or tribunal (whether or not in the United Kingdom).”
In moving Amendment 45, I wish to speak also to Amendments 59 to 63. I offer a brief apology to the Committee if it appears that I have been moonlighting and leaving too much work for my noble friend to do. However, I can give an assurance that I will be responding to the next half-dozen amendments. I congratulate the Committee on the extraordinary speed with which we are dealing with the Bill. That is refreshing and encouraging.
These amendments make a number of technical changes to the provisions in Clauses 7 and 12 and Schedule 7 which deal with the disclosure of information. I imagine that we will deal with that in greater detail when we get on to the clause stand part debate relating to Clause 7.
Amendments 45 and 61 relate to the disclosure of information obtained under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. The amendments address a lacuna in the drafting of paragraph 6 of Schedule 7, which inadvertently prevents the onward disclosure by an NCA officer of information obtained under the Proceeds of Crime Act other than information obtained under Part 6 of that Act, which relates to sensitive personal tax information and is therefore subject to specific restrictions. The default position is that information obtained by an NCA officer should be capable of being further disclosed for a permitted purpose; for example, the prevention and detection of crime.
In the case of information obtained under Part 6 of the Proceeds of Crime Act, Amendment 45 also creates a separate gateway for the onward disclosure of such information, but only to specified persons such as the Commissioners for Revenue and Customs. In substance, the new provision is designed to achieve the same end as paragraph 6 of Schedule 7 which it replaces.
As these provisions in respect of information obtained under the Proceeds of Crime Act primarily seek to authorise the disclosure of information rather than apply restrictions to such disclosure, we have taken the opportunity to move the provisions to Clause 7, as we believe they sit better there.
Amendment 59 to Clause 12 clarifies the relationship between the powers as to the disclosure of information and the restrictions on disclosure set out in Schedule 7. Clause 12 specifically provides that a duty to disclose information has effect subject to Schedule 7. This amendment simply applies the same principle to any power to disclose information.
Amendment 60 is a drafting amendment in respect of the definition of a relevant authority in paragraph 2(3) of Schedule 7. Amendments 62 and 63 clarify the rules governing the onward disclosure of information provided by an NCA officer where such information is in a public document. Our intention, for obvious reasons, is that there should be no restrictions on the onward disclosure of information contained in a public document issued by the NCA: for example, information contained in the annual plan or report, or in the framework document, or which has otherwise been made available under the duty to publish information provided for in Clause 6. The new paragraph 9A of Schedule 7, as inserted by Amendment 63, sets this out in clearer terms than is the case with paragraph 7(2)(a) which it replaces.
I hope that that brief explanation is sufficient and that the letter which I think I sent detailing these matters assisted noble Lords opposite. I beg to move.
Amendment 45 agreed.
Debate on whether Clause 7, as amended, should stand part of the Bill.
My Lords, I seek clarity from the Minister. This is a genuine attempt to secure information. Clause 7(1) states:
“A person may disclose information to the NCA if the disclosure is made for the purposes of the exercise of any NCA function”.
I seek to clarify whether this is as broad a statement as I think it may be. Does it mean that any person may choose out of sheer devilment to ignore any other requirements to which they may be subject under the Data Protection Act or anything else to disclose information to the NCA because they think that it may be useful for the purposes of the exercise of its work? I am trying to get at who determines whether the disclosure is for the exercise of the NCA’s functions. Could I as a private individual who holds some privileged information decide that I think the NCA ought to be interested in the information because I think it relates to serious crime, and therefore I may decide to ignore the legal obligations on me not to disclose that information and pass it to the NCA? I could understand it if the wording was, “The NCA may require me to disclose the information because it is investigating something and gets the necessary permissions to override it”. I may be completely misinterpreting Clause 7(1) but I would be grateful for clarity on that point.
I am sorry but I am slightly confused by the procedure that we are adopting. My understanding was that the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, was going to oppose the Question that Clause 7 stand part of the Bill. The noble Lord has intervened at this stage to ask a question about Clause 7. Does he want to wait for the general debate that we are going to have? However, the noble Baroness seems to be implying that there will not be a—
I am distraught. There I was expecting a major debate and the noble Lord asked me only about Clause 7(1), who the relevant person may be and whether it was any person. I would have thought the simplest way of dealing with this matter is the way that I was taught many years ago—the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, will remember this from when he first trained as a lawyer—namely, that you look at what the words on the face of the Bill say. We hope that the Bill will become an Act when we have finished dealing with it and it has gone through all its stages. The Bill states:
“A person may disclose information to the NCA if the disclosure is made for the purposes of the exercise of any NCA function”.
I would have thought that that is fairly straightforward. That is what the Bill says. My advice suggests that one need not go beyond that. The words “A person” imply that any person can disclose information to the NCA,
“if the disclosure is made for the purposes of the exercise of any NCA function”.
The noble Lord will now come back to me, because he always does, and I enjoy our debates. This statute is relatively simple to interpret. We know that that is not always the case and that great complications can arise in the interpretation of statutes. However, I should have thought that the words we are discussing are as simple as you can get.
My Lords, perhaps I did not make myself as clear as I should have done. If I am a data controller in an organisation and I have certain obligations placed on me not to disclose information, does Clause 7(1) override my normal duties as a data controller under the Data Protection Act and allow me to decide whether certain information looks as though it ought to fall within the remit of the NCA, and therefore enable me to disclose it to that body? That is my simple question and, even though I am trying to behave as though the words on the paper mean what they seem to mean, I am simply trying to understand whether this is as broad a “may” for the persons concerned as I think it is.
I was probably not as clear as I ought to have been. Obviously, the persons would be subject to any other enactment, which would include, as the noble Lord said, the Data Protection Act. One could also mention the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. They would be covered by the provisions of those Acts. The situation is as it states on the package, but subject to other statutory provisions.
I really do not wish to prolong this, unless the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, is about to explain what the words mean. What is the purpose of having this provision at all? If all that it is saying is that I, as an individual person, may do something that I am not prohibited from doing, what is the point of even putting it in the legislation in the first place? If the subsection is merely saying, “I have a bit of information that I am not prohibited from passing on, and I may decide to pass it to the NCA”, it seems to be completely unnecessary. It clearly means something, and I think that it means rather more than, “I can provide information without being constrained by, say, the Data Protection Act”. Unless the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, is going to provide some insight on this point, it may be something that the noble Lord can write to us about.
I am not sure that it is insight, but the noble Lord is right to raise the point. I hope that he will at least feel that I can intervene on that basis, even if we are without insight. Schedule 7 states that this part of the Bill does not authorise disclosure in contravention of the Data Protection Act or the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. If there are other general statutory provisions that would override the situation that the noble Lord is talking about and would always apply, it needs to be made clear that someone may disclose, subject to other statutory provisions. I do not know whether what I have said takes the matter any further but I, for one, am now convinced that there is an issue.
I am sure that there is no issue here and that the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, is not suggesting some conspiracy theory that these words mean something different from what I suggested they mean. That is why I said that one should look at what is there on the packet. However, I suspect that the best thing to do would be for me to write to the noble Lord and make sure that that is copied to his colleagues on the Front Bench and my noble friend Lady Hamwee; and if there is any problem, we can deal with that in due course. I am sure that there is no problem, and that the matter is straightforward and can be quickly resolved. Does the noble and learned Lord agree? Perhaps I can call him the noble and learned Lord, because he is so good at these drafting matters that I will elevate him on this occasion. If he is happy with that, I will leave it to the Committee to accept Clause 7.
Clause 7, as amended, agreed.
Clause 8 : Other functions etc
46: Clause 8, page 6, line 37, at end insert—
“( ) The command of the NCA with main responsibility for discharging functions listed under subsections (1) and (2) shall be the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP).
( ) CEOP shall be accountable to the NCA Board but shall operate independently of the direction of the Board.
( ) Any funds delegated by the NCA to CEOP shall be reserved for that purpose.”
My Lords, I hesitate slightly because I know that as soon as there is an amendment that mentions an NCA board, as the amendment does, the Minister will say, “If we haven’t agreed to a board, I don’t have to answer the question”. As he said earlier, I have been on that side of the Chamber—albeit another Chamber—with the same kind of file as the one he possesses now, but I ask him to put that to one side. Although he might not agree with some parts of the amendment or its architecture, he will understand the substance of what I am proposing and the reasons why this matter has been put forward. I hope that he can address my points.
In our proceedings on Monday, the noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich, raised the issue of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre. It was generally felt around the House that it is an enormously successful body that is held in high regard. If we look at some of the figures, we see that between 2006 and 2011 more than 1,000 children were protected or safeguarded as a direct result of CEOP. There were 1,644 suspects arrested and members of 394 high-risk sex offender networks were arrested. CEOP is one of those organisations that we know is making a difference and wants to continue to do so.
CEOP has pioneered a model of multiagency partnership work that has brought together child protection and law enforcement in a way that has led to the organisation being recognised internationally as a centre of excellence for protecting children from sexual abuse, both physical and mental. Many noble Lords will have an idea of what we are talking about when referring to sexual abuse of children; however, I shall expand our thoughts on that slightly. I do not know if noble Lords had the opportunity to see an article—I cannot remember whether it was in this weekend’s Sunday Mirror or Monday’s Daily Mirror—telling a shocking story about access to internet porn by young people. It referred to quite shocking internet porn that would turn the stomachs of most people. It is not physical abuse, but one had only to read what those young people said to know that that was mental abuse, and it was certainly sexual abuse that had an impact on them. Some of the things that they themselves went on to undertake perpetuated that abuse. Sexual abuse of young people comes in many forms and can often lead to further sexual abuse of other young people.
CEOP deals with an area in which the more successful you become, the less possible it is to pull back, because you have to continue with your activity. You cannot reduce it at all. There are two crucial issues—the expertise and specialist knowledge that have been built up, and the partnerships that CEOP has managed to build with other agencies. The range of organisations and individuals that CEOP works with are interesting, and include children and young people. It has worked successfully with law-enforcement agencies. The public have also played a role—certainly in providing information and intelligence. Charities and voluntary and community groups have come on board, as have industry and international partners.
Since it was first mentioned that CEOP could be absorbed into the NCA, concerns have been mentioned at very senior levels. I said at Second Reading that the head of CEOP, Jim Gamble, resigned as a result. I can see possible great advantages in CEOP having a close relationship with the other commands in the NCA, because there are often links between organised crime, and intelligence can help bring together a picture or put in place the missing part of a jigsaw puzzle that helps lead to a prosecution or arrest. However, I am not convinced, and neither are many others, of the necessity to absorb CEOP into the NCA. That is where the concern arises.
I and the various organisations involved, including the NSPCC, as well as individuals, have welcomed the Government’s strong support for CEOP and its work, and the assurances that they have given—and I thank them for those assurances. However, they must clarify and put on the record—and in statute—the commitments that have been made. That would provide the reassurances that are sought. I appreciate that the noble Lord has sought to do that and has written to noble Lords, and the Home Office has produced another factsheet on the kind of things that CEOP would do within the NCA and how the Government are determined not to see a dilution of its work.
However, perhaps I may raise a couple of points. CEOP must retain its operational independence. On that matter, we seek an assurance that specialist staff will not be pulled off child protection work due to staff shortages or emergencies in other areas. CEOP staff do highly specialised work using the knowledge they build up. If that were to be lost, even for a short time, the gaps in the operation of CEOP within the NCA could be quite damaging.
Another aspect of the amendment is the wish to see authority for its budget clearly delegated—in effect, for its budget to be ring-fenced. One thing at which CEOP has been very successful is raising money from outside sources. I think that it would be very difficult for it to continue doing that if its funding were not ring-fenced, as people contribute money for that particular area of work. If they felt that the money was being diluted across an organisation, they might be less likely to contribute. Therefore, I seek an assurance that the budget will be ring-fenced, together with any money raised by a CEOP organisation within the NCA.
I also ask the noble Lord to address the issue of trafficked children—a matter which has been raised by the NSPCC and which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord McColl, on Monday. The NSPCC is concerned that under the arrangements within the NCA there might be a split of responsibility between the internal trafficking of children within the UK for sexual exploitation—or indeed for forms of slavery and servitude—and those trafficked into the UK. If there is a difference in the operation of those two areas, that will make CEOP’s work more difficult. It would be helpful if there were one area of responsibility for those separate but very similar issues. The liaison between the different parts of the NCA which deal with that needs to be seamless, but I find it difficult to understand how that could be if the two parts came under different commands.
The only reason that these issues are being raised at all is that there is concern that the effectiveness of this highly successful and highly regarded organisation could be diluted by being absorbed into the NCA. When something is working so well, there will obviously be concerns about any changes. I am convinced that the Government have no intention of diluting CEOP’s work but I think that that needs to be set out clearly in the Bill. If the Minister can give such a reassurance and be very clear about those areas, that will be extremely helpful. I beg to move.
My Lords, I fully endorse what has been said about the work of CEOP. We have referred to this organisation many times over the past year or so in your Lordships’ House. It is a highly successful organisation but it is only really beginning to identify the tip of an iceberg. We are just beginning to understand exactly how much crime in that area is committed. It has already been said today that there is a crossover with people trafficking, and in fact child trafficking comes very much within CEOP’s remit. People trafficking in general is a highly organised crime.
It seems to me that the question is: should CEOP come within the remit of the NCA at all? Personally, I think that it should, given the seriousness of what it deals with, the revulsion that all right-minded people feel about this crime and the way in which CEOP’s work interfaces with highly organised crime. The one thing that I am concerned about is the suggestion in the amendment that CEOP should be accountable to the NCA board, accepting that it is part of its remit, but should operate independently of the direction of the board. If that were to appear in the Bill, there would be considerable confusion. It seems to go against logic and against all tenets of management. “One man, one boss” is often used as shorthand for that. If CEOP is one of the four pillars of the NCA—as I believe it should be—not only should the board oversee the operation but it should be responsible for it, and CEOP should not be allowed to operate independently.
I take the point that, in a strange sort of way, CEOP is outside the normal remit of much of mainstream policing because it has a multiagency dimension. I understand that. In fact, I remember back in the 1970s piloting the first multiagency approach that attacked what was then called “baby battering”, then shorthanded as “child abuse”. That approach was highly successful and was rolled out right across the country from Nottinghamshire, where I was then serving. At that time it became the model of how best to approach this sort of problem. Therefore, I understand the particular sensitivities of multiagency approaches. Notwithstanding that, I would be unhappy to see CEOP operate independently of the direction of the board because I think that it would lead to confusion.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Dear, has expressed very well my concerns about the second paragraph of the amendment. He has also said very clearly exactly what I would want to be said right around the Committee and to be on the record concerning the value of CEOP’s work. Like those of the noble Lord, my comments are in no way directed at criticising CEOP, not valuing its work or not wanting to see it continue as successfully as it has done.
Perhaps I may add a query about the third paragraph of the amendment. First, I am a little unclear about what is meant by the delegation of funds within an organisation, as would be the case if CEOP were part of the NCA. What exactly is meant by delegation? Secondly, for what purpose are the funds reserved? If funds are identified as being needed for CEOP’s operation, are they not for the whole of its operation, or is there something specific that the funds are intended to be reserved for?
I am sorry to appear to be taking apart an amendment on this matter. Like others, I feel that what has been said about the importance of CEOP’s work is absolutely undoubted, and my questions about the amendment are genuinely probing.
My Lords, can my noble friend deal with the point about funding? At the moment, to what extent does CEOP get outside funding to help it with its work? What safeguard is there? Will CEOP continue to get that money for its work as a result of the Government’s proposals?
My Lords, when my noble friend Lady Smith introduced the amendment, she made it clear that there was not necessarily a desire to stick to the wording before us: rather, that what we are having at this stage is very much a probing discussion. All your Lordships in this Committee support the work done by CEOP and we all want to see it succeed. Given that the Government intend to put CEOP within the National Crime Agency—for which there are some very strong arguments in favour but also some arguments against—the question is how one preserves the integrity of CEOP’s work and makes sure that the work continues and is seen to continue.
The amendment is partly about safeguarding the funding streams, as well as the external funding, and it is partly about ensuring that the existing partnership structures with CEOP, which are reflected in the current board structure of CEOP, are continued. Although the wording of my noble friend’s amendment does not necessarily resolve all these issues, it gives us an opportunity to highlight the concerns.
The principles are clear: we want to see CEOP’s work continue; we want to see it protected; and we want to see the retention of the partnership structure, which involves not only bringing in resources from outside but ensuring that those who provide the resources have confidence that the public contribution is retained and remains transparent. We want to ensure that in the operation of the agency there is a genuine partnership that involves different parties working together to achieve a common end.
We look to the Minister for some account of how the benefits of that separate entity, which is currently CEOP, can be preserved within a new structure. This is not a new concept. The presence on the government Bench reminds me that we had a very similar debate about the creation of Healthwatch within the Care Quality Commission; and there, completely erroneously of course, the Government’s objective was to create something that was independent and that had its own income flow and governance structure that was different from the rest of the Care Quality Commission. Although I do not think that the solution that the Government adopted in that particular model was perfect, it demonstrates that a number of models are available that try to achieve the objective of preserving this continuing area of activity, preserving the partnership structure and preserving the funding and independence of that funding for the future. I hope that the Minister can respond in those terms.
My Lords, again, I regret that I missed the debates on the Care Quality Commission. I shall spend the summer reading those as well as the other ones. In response to the speech from the noble Lord, Lord Harris, I make it clear that I fully understand that his noble friend’s amendment is probing and seeks reassurances about what CEOP does and how it works. I shall not dismiss it purely on the grounds of its wording, nor shall I say that it is merely a fantasy amendment because we do not yet have the NCA board that she was looking for, as that was dealt with at an earlier stage. I accept that this as a probing amendment and that there is a need for reassurances from me and the Government about the future of CEOP and what will happen under the new arrangements.
I pay tribute to the work of CEOP, which I saw when I visited it, as I am sure other noble Lords have done. We should all be very grateful that that child protection work will continue through the work of the agency. Since its creation, it has been a significant success story. It is important that I remind noble Lords that it has not previously had a statutory basis that is distinct from that of SOCA, and that has had no detrimental impact on its operational independence. It has worked perfectly well, and the six principles, to which I shall turn later, that underpin CEOP will continue to underpin it on the transition to the NCA.
Before I go through what I want to get on the record as an assurance, perhaps I may respond to my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay on the funding of CEOP and the fact that it can receive funds from outside sources. At the moment its existing funding model allows it to charge, for example, for training services that are provided mainly to the police, teachers and child protection workers and to raise income or support in kind through sponsorship and corporate arrangements. We certainly want those arrangements to continue with the NCA; there will be no change to that.
I assure the Committee that child protection will run throughout the National Crime Agency. CEOP will still exist as a part of that as a separate command within it, but we would not want to see it silo-ised—an inelegant word—within the department. It is important that its work runs throughout the agency. As well as building on CEOP’s existing role as the national centre dedicated to working with others to protect children from sexual exploitation and sexual abuse, the NCA will also be subject to a new statutory duty, which in essence is to safeguard and to promote the welfare of children. That means that the agency will give appropriate priority to children when it comes into contact with them and that it will share early concerns about the safety and welfare of children, ensuring preventive action before a crisis develops.
Those requirements will be part of the training that each and every NCA officer will receive. I emphasise the point that CEOP will be a separate command within the NCA; we do not want to see these matters silo-ised. Contrary to the noble Baroness’s amendment, it is imperative that the responsibility to discharge that duty remains with the whole of the National Crime Agency and not just with CEOP.
As set out in the National Crime Agency plan, which was published in June last year, the NCA will have four commands, one of which will be the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre. As I have made clear, we believe that that has been a significant success and we want it to continue. We also believe that the NCA’s design, including its command structure, should not be a matter for primary legislation. That is to ensure that the agency is able to flex and adapt its structure, operations and priorities to the changing threat of organised crime. I think we dealt with that last Monday when I made the point that obviously there are matters that we would not have thought of as a serious and organised crime risk many years before but that we do now because things have changed. Consequently, I do not think it is appropriate to legislate for the proposed level of operational detail that the amendment suggests.
I have made it clear that we are publicly and clearly committed to six principles for the transition of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre to the NCA. Those were included in the NCA and published last year, and they will certainly be included—I make this clear to the noble Baroness, who is keen to see the framework document—in the draft framework document when it appears. Perhaps I can repeat those six commitments now because I think it would be worth getting them on the record, even though they are already there.
We want CEOP to retain its operational independence in the context of the NCA; we want it to have clear delegated authority for its budget; we want it to continue to include external partners in its governance; we want it to retain its well-known brand and its mixed economy of staff from a variety of disciplines; we want it to continue its innovative partnerships with the public, private and third sectors; and we want it to have the ability, as I have made clear to my noble and learned friend, to raise and to hold funds from donors or from others who are being charged for the services that it provides.
Putting those principles into the framework document will place them on a firmer footing because the director and the Home Secretary will be required to have regard to that document. I believe that that highlights our ongoing commitment to child protection and to ensuring that CEOP’s unique contribution continues within the NCA. With those principles there is an explicit commitment that CEOP will retain its operational independence, which has been presaged in the context of the NCA and will be reflected in the internal governance arrangements that will be put in place for the agency and which are currently being developed.
I note that my noble friend Lady Hamwee put some specific questions to the noble Baroness about the detailed drafting of her amendment. As I believe the noble Baroness’s amendment is probing, and that she is seeking assurances from us, it may not be necessary at this stage to give precise responses to those questions. I hope that she will be happy with the assurances that I had given her. I shall make a commitment as a Minister and a personal commitment that having seen what CEOP can do and how effective it can be, as many other noble Lords may have done on visits of one sort or another, we are committed to CEOP and to it continuing to work as it does and as it has done in the past.
I am grateful to the noble Lord. That is a very helpful and constructive answer. I think I have now convinced him that it would have been better to have the framework document before the House began to consider the Bill, as I may not have had to raise this issue at all.
On the issue of retaining operational independence, I ask the Minister to look further, because what he has said so far about putting this in the framework document largely addresses the issues. However, operational independence is about maintaining the specialist staff of CEOP within the CEOP command. Could the Minister explore whether that is the case when he looks at the framework document? Operational independence can mean different things to different people, but I am broadly content with what he had to say. I look forward to the framework document and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 46 withdrawn.
Clause 8 agreed.
Schedule 4 : NCA: general
Amendment 46A not moved.
46B: Schedule 4, page 50, line 28, leave out “In any of” and insert “Including in”
My Lords, in moving this amendment, I will also speak to Amendment 46C. I hope that I can be brief.
These are both probing amendments. The first relates to the paragraph in Schedule 4 headed: “Liability of NCA for unlawful acts”. It states:
“In any of the following cases, the NCA is liable in respect of unlawful conduct of a person”.
I suggest changing,
“In any of the following cases”,
to “including in the following cases” in order to understand whether paragraph 2(1) is exclusive of all other cases and in particular how it relates to paragraph 2(7), which states that,
“the liability of the NCA for the conduct of NCA officers”,
is not affected by this paragraph. The first amendment is about the inter-relationship of those words with paragraph 2(7).
Amendment 46C is an amendment to paragraph 4, which is headed: “Application of discrimination legislation to secondees: Northern Ireland”. It is a rather similar amendment to add “including” before the list of the provisions in respect of which an NCA secondee is to be treated as being employed by the NCA. Again, the amendment seeks to understand whether what is listed is exclusive of other provisions. It occurred to me only after tabling the amendment that there might be something specific about Northern Ireland legislation that is required to be set out. I beg to move.
My Lords, first, I apologise to my noble friend. I think I have the gist of what she was saying about Amendment 46B, but I have to confess that there was a brief conversation between me and my noble friend the Chief Whip, which meant that I might have missed some of the points she made. I hope that I still grasped what she was saying and that the response I am able to give her will be sufficient. If not, I will have to write to her.
On Amendment 46B, as an employer, the National Crime Agency can be held to account for any unlawful conduct by its employees during the course of their employment. That does not therefore need to be set out in the Bill. The NCA will be liable for its specials actions in the same way that it would be liable for the actions of any other NCA officer. Given that the NCA will not operate in isolation and will be tasking and co-ordinating wider law enforcement, having clear lines of accountability for the NCA and its partners is important.
Paragraph 2 of Schedule 4 provides important clarity as to exactly when the NCA will be held to account for the unlawful conduct of a person who is not employed by the agency but is carrying out NCA-related activities. Unless my noble friend wants to come back to me after I sit down, I hope that that deals with her particular points.
I will say a word about Amendment 46C because we want to take that away and have another look at it. National Crime Agency officers will benefit from protection against discrimination in the UK. It is intended that secondees to the NCA will benefit from the same protections. Having looked at that and having looked at my noble friend’s amendment, further consideration is required to ensure that particularly secondees, including police constables, are properly covered by the relevant legislation. I want to come back to my noble friend on that in due course. If there are any other queries, I will write to her in due course.
My Lords, I think that the penny has just dropped on paragraph 2, so I thank the Minister for that. On Amendment 46C, I am beginning to feel that I am beginning to do myself out of a job. This is the third time the Government have said that they will look at something again. I spoke on one for less than two minutes, on another for less than one minute, and on this one the Minister did not quite hear what I had to say.
Amendment 46B withdrawn.
Amendment 46C not moved.
Schedule 4 agreed.
Clause 9 : Director General: customs powers of Commissioners & operational powers
47: Clause 9, page 7, line 9, leave out “Secretary of State” and insert “NCA Board”
My Lords, in moving this amendment, I will also speak to Amendments 48, 49, 50 and 51.
This is another set of probing amendments, as I am sure the noble Lord has understood. It follows on from earlier amendments when we talked about a National Crime Agency board. It is about making sure that the Secretary of State has a strategic rather than an operational role. I hope that noble Lords will bear with me as I switch pages.
I am slightly puzzled by this group of clauses. It seems convoluted for the advisory panel to make recommendations to the Secretary of State about the operational powers that the director-general shall have and then the Secretary of State must give effect to those recommendations. It would make more sense for the board responsible for the director-general to make such proposals. But I find myself completely puzzled because the Secretary of State is responsible for operational powers designation, which is in Part 2 of Schedule 5 and in Clause 9.
Part 2 of Schedule 5, says:
“The Secretary of State must appoint an advisory panel (to enable recommendations to be made as to the operational powers which the Director General should have),
but that contradicts the original clause relating to operational powers.
Paragraph 4 of Schedule 5 says:
“The Secretary of State must appoint an advisory panel”,
but that is then qualified by,
“whenever there is an appointment of a Director General”,
“when the Secretary of State considers that it is appropriate to do so”.
So it seems that they can appoint an advisory panel at any time. That also implies that it is not a permanent body. Surely such a panel, set up to advise a Secretary of State on the operational powers of a director-general, would want to gain expertise and knowledge, but according to how the schedule is worded, a new panel would be appointed each time a director-general was going to be appointed. That means it would be an ad hoc panel, which seems rather strange.
Paragraph 5 of Schedule 5, which is headed “No advisory panel”, says that a Secretary of State can designate operational powers without any recommendation from an advisory panel. So there is a lack of clarity about Schedule 5 and the role of an advisory panel, and what operational powers the director-general should have. Sub-paragraph (5) of paragraph 4 of Schedule 5 says that the panel is responsible for what operational powers the director-general should have. It says that the panel’s chair must,
“consider the information given by the expert members … decide the question of the adequacy of the Director General’s training, and … produce a report containing recommendations as to the operational powers which the Director General should have”.
I am confused. I appreciate that any director-general brings different experience and expertise, but surely in setting up the position of director-general of the National Crime Agency, the Government know what operational powers that director-general should have. I would have thought that that would be in the framework document, because surely the operational powers of a director-general are not going to change from one director-general to another. I do not understand why there would be a report from the advisory panel’s chair containing recommendations as to the operational powers the director-general should have, or why the Secretary of State must appoint an advisory panel to advise on those operational powers while another paragraph says that the Secretary of State can give the operational powers to the director-general without an advisory panel. That seems rather confusing and contradictory.
This confusion is not helped by not having a framework document, which might have clarified it. There are a number of issues that require clarification. What is the role of the advisory body? If it is only to advise the Secretary of State on the operational powers of the director-general, why is it not a permanent body and why is there a paragraph saying that the Secretary of State can appoint operational powers without an advisory body? Is it a standing body or an ad hoc body? If it is an ad hoc body, how do the members of that body build up expertise that enables them to know what recommendations they should make as to the operational powers? Why would an ad hoc or a permanent body report on operational powers for the director-general? Surely there should be a job description for such a position.
Even with the inadequacies of this Bill—with so little information and clauses not ready, for example—I would have thought that the Government would have a very clear idea about the job description. They have appointed the director-general, for heaven’s sake, they must know what operational powers they expect that person to have. The advisory panel has not been appointed yet in order to recommend to the Secretary of State what those operational powers should be, so how has somebody been appointed in the first place? Surely there should be a job description in the framework document.
Under what circumstances would the Secretary of State not take advice from the advisory panel, or not appoint an advisory panel to give her advice on what the operational powers should be? I find this whole issue of flexible operational powers for a job as important as a director-general of the National Crime Agency completely bemusing. That should be set in stone; the Government should have a clear idea of what they expect them to do, and I had thought that the only reason we did not have the framework document was because the Government had not crossed the t’s and dotted the i’s. If, as it appears, the Government do not yet know what the operational responsibilities of the director-general should be, then I think we are in a bit of a pickle. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to give me some assurance, but this is something that we may have to return to, because I just do not understand the reasons for that part of Schedule 5.
My Lords, Part 2 of Schedule 5 relates to the director-general and designation under Section 9. The first four amendments in this group relate to the NCA board, which I think we dealt with earlier. What I really want to address on this occasion is the principal amendment, Amendment 51, which proposes leaving out paragraph 5 of Schedule 5 on page 54, on the question of there being no advisory panel.
As I think I made clear earlier, the director-general is an operational crime-fighter appointed by and directly accountable to the Home Secretary. A bespoke designation process is required to ensure that he holds the operational police, customs and immigration powers that he needs. The designation process for the director-general provides a clear and independent mechanism for providing him with operational powers. The advisory panel will be a small, focused body of experts established for a specific purpose and then dissolved.
I appreciate that the noble Baroness’s amendment is probing and that she might want to come back to it in due course. The amendment would remove paragraph 5 from Schedule 5. In other words, it would remove the ability of the Home Secretary to set out in regulations the circumstances in which the advisory panel would not need to be convened for the purpose of designating the director-general with operational powers.
The ability to make regulations does not contradict or undermine the important role of the advisory panel. It is simply a recognition that a newly appointed director-general may already have the necessary training to enable him or her to exercise those operational powers. In the absence of that regulation-making power, it would still be necessary to go through the process of appointing an advisory panel—to no good end, if he or she had all the necessary training. That does not sound like an efficient or effective process to me. I would even go so far as to suggest that the removal of the regulation-making power risks turning a clear, independent and streamlined process into a cumbersome and rather bureaucratic one that is not fitting of the type of responsive crime-fighting agency that we are trying to create.
I recognise that this is a significant regulation-making power to the extent that it would disapply the advisory panel process, and that is why we have made the regulations subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. It is right that the circumstances under which the advisory panel would not be required are subject to an appropriate level of scrutiny by both Houses, and we have already provided for that. I hope that that explains matters. Obviously, I want to get this right and, if necessary, I will write to the noble Baroness if she has any further questions on it, but I hope that that deals with Amendment 51.
As I said, I do not think that I particularly need to address Amendments 47 to 50, which relate to the noble Baroness’s board. We discussed that earlier. I think it is a matter that she wishes to come back to, but I do not think it is appropriate to discuss it now.
I wonder if my noble friend can help me. I am trying to follow what he is saying about this. Is this advisory panel to be charged with advising in connection with the first arrangements for the new principal officer? And once that is done, has the panel finished, leaving the Secretary of State to do it himself? Is that the idea, or is the advisory panel to continue and be consulted only when the Secretary of State feels that he requires some extra independent and expert advice since he does not feel able to completely decide for himself?
My Lords, if I can assist my noble and learned friend, the point we were trying to get over is that the actual designation of the director-general is a matter for my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. She will make an assessment of the director-general’s suitability and capability to exercise the operational powers in any given case. It might be that the advisory panel, through its chair, could then assess whether the director-general was adequately trained to exercise those operational powers and if, as experts—as we hope they would be—they were satisfied that the director-general met the requirements for exercising his designated duties. But it might be that the Home Secretary was satisfied about the director-general’s suitability and capability to exercise those powers, in which case there would be no need for the board.
I appreciate that the noble Lord was trying to be helpful but I am now more puzzled than ever. He has spoken to the confines of my final Amendment 51 and yet the reason for putting forward all these amendments is a broader issue. If it helps the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, the advisory panel would be set up whenever there was to be an appointment of a director-general. That is where this clause is so confusing. The panel’s chair decides the question of the adequacy of the director-general’s training. I can fully appreciate that a new director-general might not have the expertise in all the areas dealt with by the National Crime Agency. I do not have an issue with that part. It then says:
“produce a report containing recommendations as to the operational powers which the Director General should have”.
That implies that the operational powers change depending on who the director-general is. Surely what we expect the director-general of the National Crime Agency to do should be set in stone. You cannot keep changing the operational powers of somebody in this kind of role depending on who applies for the job. There have to be certain criteria for key operational powers that have to be undertaken. I do not understand that part of the clause at all.
On the issue of there being an advisory panel, the reason for taking out paragraph 5 in Part 2 of Schedule 5 is that if paragraph 4 says that the Secretary of State must appoint an advisory panel, clearly there is good reason for doing so. Given that the panel reports on the adequacy of training and the operational powers, why would we then have a paragraph which says that the Secretary of State does not need that? I cannot understand under what circumstances a Secretary of State or an advisory panel would say that a particular director-general would not have full operational powers or that this one will not have the operational powers undertaken by a previous director-general. If we are saying that the operational powers of a director-general are flexible, we are talking about a very different kind of organisation. My understanding was that the framework document would set out exactly what the National Crime Agency would do, what was expected of it and how it would be run. Now we find we have a degree of flexibility in what the agency does because of a panel of experts advising the Secretary of State on what the director-general does.
The noble Lord is looking through his folder, as I have done on occasion. If he is fully honest with me, I suspect he is thinking, “Give me a note quickly. I seek inspiration”. It may be that inspiration on this one does not come to him quite quickly enough this evening, but I think this is a matter we want to pursue. It is a bit odd because the Government have already appointed the first director-general without the advisory panel so presumably they know what operational powers that director-general will have. However, I find this situation completely unsatisfactory as it stands.
The noble Baroness is an old hand, as I am. She is a very young old hand but she is long in experience. She need not blush. She has stood at the Dispatch Box in Government on many occasions and she knows the process. This is a wonderful process that we go through with these Bills, as a result of which we hope to make them better. She is quite right to point out in paragraph 4 of Schedule 5 what she thinks is an odd process. This is obviously something that I must reflect on. That is why we go through this process. I will be more than happy to do so and I will write to her. Again, it is one of the joys of the process that we are going through that there is a considerable amount of time between now and Report. We want to get this right. I am not going to try and bluff my way through as I have done on many occasions in the past, and as I am sure the noble Baroness has done. She has caused me some problems with paragraphs 4 and 5 of Schedule 5. All I can say is, I want to get this right and I will try to make sure that she gets a proper answer or that we make the appropriate changes.
I am grateful to the noble Lord. This is not the first time he has been this helpful. He was similarly helpful just last week. The fact that he is going to reflect on this and come back to me and to the House is very useful. On that basis I am happy to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 47 withdrawn.
Amendments 48 to 50 not moved.
Clause 9 agreed.
Schedule 5 : Police, customs and immigration powers
Amendment 51 not moved.
Amendments 52 and 53
52: Schedule 5, page 55, line 23, at end insert “or a member of the Police Service of Northern Ireland Reserve”
53: Schedule 5, page 55, line 26, at end insert “or as a member of the Police Service of Northern Ireland Reserve”
Amendments 52 and 53 agreed.
Schedule 5, as amended, agreed.
Clause 10 agreed.
Clause 11 : Inspections and complaints
Amendments 54 and 55 not moved.
56: Clause 11, page 8, line 32, at end insert—
“( ) In the Police Reform Act 2002, leave out section 10(1)(g) and insert—
“( ) to carry out functions in relation to the National Crime Agency which correspond to those conferred on the Commission in relation to police forces by paragraph (2) of this subsection”.”
My Lords, these amendments deal with the inspections and inspection scrutiny arrangements for the National Crime Agency. Currently the Bill requires the inspection of the National Crime Agency by HMIC but gives the Secretary of State the discretion to decide whether it should also be subject to scrutiny by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Amendments 57 and 58 change the word “may” to “must” so as to ensure that the actions of the director-general and all other National Crime Agency officers may be subject to the scrutiny of the IPCC. Amendment 56 adds the National Crime Agency oversight into the general functions of the IPCC.
It is not at the moment clear why the Government have chosen not to give the IPCC automatic scrutiny functions over the actions of National Crime Agency officers, especially considering the fact that the National Crime Agency will be performing many more functions than its predecessor and also because both SOCA and the MPA officers were subject to IPCC scrutiny. Presumably by leaving the decision up to the Secretary of State’s discretion, the Government envisage circumstances in which they do not believe it would be either appropriate or alternatively necessary for the behaviour of NCA officers to be subject to independent scrutiny by the IPCC. If that is the situation, it would be helpful when the Minister responds if he could give an indication as to what those circumstances are and what change the Government believe would be required for the Secretary of State to accept that regulations should be made conferring functions on the IPCC in relation to the exercise of functions by the director-general and other National Crime Agency officers. Alternatively, if the Secretary of State is to decide that the IPCC should not have responsibility for the scrutiny of National Crime Agency officers, then who will? I beg to move.
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Doocey and I have Amendment 58A in this group. I shall leave it to her to speak to the substance of the regulations referred to. The amendment would simply make the regulations to be introduced under new Section 26C of the Police Reform Act 2002 subject to affirmative resolution.
My Lords, my concern is about the type of investigation that the Independent Police Complaints Commission might carry out in relation to the National Crime Agency. The Government want the NCA to be,
“a transparent and accountable organization open to the public it protects”.
To satisfy those criteria, formal scrutiny and investigations must be thorough and above suspicion. I am concerned that the provisions for scrutiny and transparency in the Bill are inadequate.
I am concerned particularly about how the IPCC might carry out its functions. The Bill gives the IPCC the power to undertake investigations into complaints about misconduct, serious injury, death or other matters at the discretion of the Secretary of State, the object being to give the IPCC oversight of the NCA in broadly the same way as it oversees the police. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, said, the NCA will have considerable powers—far greater than any police force—so it requires much more rigorous scrutiny on the part of the IPCC.
The situation now is that, if a complaint or allegation is made to the IPCC, it makes a decision as to what it will do to investigate it. It has four choices. The highest level of investigation is an independent investigation, carried out by IPCC investigators and overseen by an IPCC commissioner. The second level is a managed investigation, carried out by a police force’s professional standards department but under the direction of the IPCC. The third level is a supervised investigation, also carried out by a police professional standards department but under its own direction and control. The IPCC merely sets the terms of reference and receives the investigation report when it is complete. The lowest level is a local investigation which is carried out entirely by police.
Despite there being four different options open to the IPCC, the evidence shows that in the vast majority of cases it opts for a supervised investigation, which in practice means that it leaves the police to investigate themselves. This policy is at best questionable when applied to police forces, but is completely unacceptable when applied to the NCA, given the enormous powers that that body will have. It is essential that all investigations into the NCA are independent, carried out by the IPCC and overseen by an IPCC commissioner.
Everyone accepts that the NCA will be handling sensitive and confidential information, but that just increases the need for independent scrutiny. I would welcome an assurance from the Minister that serious complaints and allegations of misconduct in the NCA will be independently investigated so that the public can have full confidence in the processes and procedures.
My Lords, as always when dealing with a group of four amendments—in this case, three from noble Lords opposite and one from my noble friends behind me—I start with the good news. Amendment 57 would alter what is currently a power to make the relevant regulations to a duty to do so. We have every intention of exercising this power for the simple reason that it is only through that mechanism that we can confer the necessary functions on the IPCC. That being the case, the Government would be very happy to accept the noble Lord’s Amendment 57. That is the good news; the Government have agreed to change “may” to “must”. In the past when I have sat where the noble Lord is, I have frequently put forward amendments changing “may” to “must”, because it always provides the Government with an opportunity to explain what they are doing, and sometimes, just occasionally, one gets concessions. The same goes for those amendments that we have all put down demanding that negative resolution be shifted to affirmative. I have given the noble Lord his Amendment 57.
I cannot be quite so accommodating with Amendment 58, which appears to be similar. It states that the regulations made under new Section 26C of the Police Reform Act 2002 “must” apply the provisions of Part 2 of that Act, subject to any necessary modifications, and make provision for the agency to contribute to the costs of the IPCC. On this occasion, it is important to retain flexibility as to the content of the regulations, including, for example, the funding arrangements for meeting the costs of the IPCC’s work in relation to the NCA.
Amendment 56 is unnecessary. Paragraph 9 of Schedule 6 makes the necessary amendment to Section 10(1)(g) of the Police Reform Act 2002—of blessed memory. That amendment, together with the regulations to be made under new Section 26C, will ensure that the IPCC has the same functions in relation to the NCA, with appropriate modifications, as in relation to police forces. For that reason, Amendment 56 is unnecessary.
Amendment 58A was spoken to by my noble friends Lady Hamwee and Lady Doocey. My noble friend Lady Hamwee indicated that her intention was for the power to make the regulations to be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. In fact, the effect of the amendment would be that regulations could be made without being subject to any parliamentary procedure. That is a drafting point and I shall not dwell on it, but if my noble friend wanted to move to an affirmative procedure, it would have to be addressed in due course. We decided on the negative procedure. My understanding is that that was deemed appropriate by the Delegated Powers Committee.
My noble friend Lady Doocey wanted to ensure that all complaints against NCA officers could be independently investigated, which is the substantive part of her amendment. The form of investigation conducted by the IPCC will be a matter for regulations. Our starting point will be that the arrangements for the agency should be consistent with the arrangements for dealing with complaints against police forces; that is, the regulations will set out which complaints should be referred to the IPCC for a mode of investigation. Where complaints are serious but do not have to be referred, complainants will still have a right of appeal to the IPCC. Where the complaint is less serious, we think that it is appropriate that the appeal is handled within the National Crime Agency. This is the more proportionate response and will ensure that the IPCC’s resources are used to deal with more serious complaints.
There were four amendments in this group, including three from the noble Lords opposite. I hope they will feel at least reasonably content that they have got one out of their three. Perhaps the noble Lord does not, but I can assure him from my experience that one out of three is pretty good. With that, he might want to withdraw his first amendment, accept the second and in due course not move the third.
My Lords, it is in something of a state of shock that I stand here. I thank the Minister for his response and for accepting Amendment 57. He has set out his reasons for not thinking that Amendment 58 is appropriate and, as I understand it, has effectively said that Amendment 56 is actually addressed to other parts of the Bill and the 2002 Act. In the light of the Minister’s response, I take it that I am meant to agree the withdrawal of Amendments 56 and 58 and that Amendment 57 has been accepted.
Amendment 56 withdrawn.
57: Clause 11, page 8, line 35, leave out “may” and insert “must”
Amendment 57 agreed.
Amendments 58 and 58A not moved.
Clause 11, as amended, agreed.
Schedule 6 : Inspections and Complaints
58B: Schedule 6, page 65, line 12, after “Schedule 7” insert “other than paragraph 1”
My Lords, I beg to move Amendment 58B. Paragraph 5 of Schedule 6 deals with the disclosure of information, and regulations that may cover disclosure. We are told at sub-paragraph (6) that:
“Such regulations may, in particular … modify any provision of Schedule 7 in its application to such a disclosure, or … disapply any such provision”.
My amendment would exclude from that modification or disapplication paragraph 1 of Schedule 7, which provides that,
“any disclosure, in contravention of any provisions of the Data Protection Act”,
“prohibited by Part 1 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act”,
is not authorised. I hope, and expect to be told by the Minister, that that is what Schedule 6 provides because of the way that it is drafted. However, that was not obvious to me when I read it, and therefore it seemed quite important to clarify the point.
My Lords, although I recognise the absolute importance of safeguarding the disclosure of sensitive personal information, I believe that Amendment 58B is unnecessary. The kinds of information that will be required for the purpose of an inspection will be limited in nature to those required for exercising an inspection function. The disclosure of information to a policing inspectorate, and any onward disclosure, will be subject to the safeguards in Schedule 7.
Schedule 6 contains a back-stop power that enables the Home Secretary, by regulations, to make further provision about the disclosure of information by the NCA to policing inspectorates. Although this includes a power to modify Schedule 7, should this be necessary to enable the proper, independent inspection of the NCA, it is not intended to use this power to override important existing statutory safeguards relating to sensitive personal data.
Furthermore, let me reassure my noble friend, it is not paragraph 1 of Schedule 7 that applies the extensive safeguards set out in the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, but those Acts themselves. This paragraph simply puts that beyond doubt. I will be clear that should any regulations be made governing the disclosure of information from the NCA to policing inspectorates and their onward disclosure of such information, those regulations cannot override these safeguards by modifying paragraph 1 of Schedule 7.
I hope that in the light of this explanation, my noble friend is satisfied that there will be adequate arrangements in place to independently inspect the agency that respect important data protection safeguards. I accordingly invite her to withdraw her amendments.
My Lords, I think I had better read that following today’s debate, because the noble Earl seemed to be saying that those two Acts could be not be overridden; but he started his explanation by saying that it was not intended to use the provision in Schedule 6 to override them. I do not quite understand how those two statements fit together. If they cannot be overridden, the Secretary of State could not intend to override them. However, that was not, as I heard it, the implication of the introduction when he said that it was not intended to use them in that way. Of course, I withdraw the amendment, but will also read what has been said and make sure that I am entirely comfortable with it.
Amendment 58B withdrawn.
Schedule 6 agreed.
Clause 12 : Information: restrictions on disclosure etc
59: Clause 12, page 10, line 15, after “officer” insert “, and any power of an NCA officer to disclose information,”
Amendment 59 agreed.
Clause 12, as amended, agreed.
Schedule 7 : Information: restrictions on disclosure
Amendments 60 to 63
60: Schedule 7, page 69, line 16, leave out “Commissioners” and insert “Secretary of State”
61: Schedule 7, page 70, line 37, leave out paragraph 6
62: Schedule 7, page 71, line 34, leave out paragraph (a)
63: Schedule 7, page 72, line 26, at end insert—
“Part 4APublished information: no restrictions on further disclosure9A (1) This paragraph applies where an NCA officer discloses information, in accordance with this Part of this Act, by—
(a) the inclusion of the information in an annual plan, framework document or annual report, or(b) the publication of the information in accordance with arrangements made under section 6.(2) None of the relevant restrictions applies to the further disclosure of that information by any person.
(3) In this paragraph “relevant restriction” means any provision of this Part of this Act (however expressed) which prohibits or otherwise restricts the further disclosure of information disclosed by an NCA officer (including a provision which limits the purposes for which such information may be further disclosed or which requires a person’s consent to be obtained before the further disclosure).”
Amendments 60 to 63 agreed.
Schedule 7, as amended, agreed.