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The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, referred to the report from the Constitution Committee that came out today. In paragraph 7, it made it clear that it had some misgivings about the use on this occasion. As I have said, this is limited to changing the functions of the National Crime Agency and does not allow us to change the functions for any organisations unrelated to the NCA or to close down organisations. However, the power provides the ability to modify the functions of other bodies as a consequence of the agency's functions. For example, as a result of changing the NCA's functions, it may be necessary to provide for a statutory relationship between the agency and another body where there was not one previously.
Given the importance of such a decision, before any order can be made the Home Secretary will be required to consult any bodies that she considers will be affected by the order. The order itself will be subject to the super-affirmative procedure. The noble Lord and I have been around for a long time, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, has been in government as well. We all know that quite often when drafting these things one starts by saying, "We will have a negative resolution and then when it goes to the Lords we will offer an affirmative resolution as a concession. Then"-since the invention of these-"a bit later we will offer a super-affirmative procedure just to make sure that we have got it right".
On this occasion, we have considered this matter seriously. As the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, rightly pointed out, having considered the importance of this,
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Perhaps I may also remind the House that, as well as the Constitution Committee looking at this, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, in which I have enormous faith, in its report on the Bill made no recommendation in respect of this power but commented:
I do not think that I need to touch on the Northern Ireland aspects of this because we dealt with that before dinner as regards Amendment 20. Those matters have been covered. Obviously, we will have further opportunities to consider them later.
I believe that it is critical that in creating the National Crime Agency we do not limit its ability to respond to the changing threat in the future. At this stage, we are not purely talking about counterterrorism. For this reason, the statutory remit of the agency is broad, yet it provides a clear mandate for the agency. However, the broad remit and flexibility conferred on the agency by Clause 1 only go so far and would not provide sufficient scope for the agency to take on counterterrorism in the future. This order-making power offers the appropriate flexibility to extend the agency's functions to encompass that.
I believe that we all recognise that counterterrorism policing structures work effectively now and we do not wish to undermine or disrupt those arrangements by creating any uncertainty, particularly in the coming months. It is right and proper that we do not rush decisions on a possible role for the National Crime Agency in relation to counterterrorism for the future, so we do not want to rule out the ability to make those decisions in the future. I hope that those assurances are sufficient for the noble Lord. I appreciate that there are concerns about this matter, but I hope that he will feel able not to press his opposition to Clause 2 standing part.
Baroness Butler-Sloss: My Lords, I am sorry to say that I have been rather slow on the uptake and have only just read the report of the Constitution Committee. Since this is Committee stage, I believe that I am permitted to speak even though it is after the Minister.
I support what the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, has proposed. I can see that there may well be great advantages in the National Crime Agency one day taking over the role of the Metropolitan Police. Nevertheless, as I understand it from what the Minister said, there will be a review as to whether this is the appropriate way to do it. I cannot see why the Government could not deal with this in one of two ways-I speak, of course, as a novice in the procedures of this House compared with the Minister and, indeed, with the
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I share with diffidence, but none the less quite firmly, the concerns of the Constitution Committee set out in the first part of its report. Since the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, is not here, I thought it was important that a Cross-Bencher should express a view so that it is not seen just as a party political manoeuvre of any sort.
I think that there are a number of disadvantages to using the super-affirmative procedure. First, although it is perhaps at the highest ranking of subordinate legislation, it is not primary legislation. Perhaps more importantly, if anything is wrong with the drafting-drafting is not always perfect-we cannot tease it out in debate. It stands or falls in its entirety. We can have amendments to primary legislation that we cannot have when using the super-affirmative procedure, even as I would understand it.
I share the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, but I particularly share the concerns of the Constitution Committee. I just wonder whether the Government are right to try to proceed this way on what seems to be a clear Henry VIII clause. Perhaps it is almost time that Henry VIII was put to bed.
It will be clear to the House from my amendment before the dinner break that I am merely an ordinary lawyer. I am probably what my noble friend Lord Roper calls a "cooking solicitor", the analogy being cooking sherry. I am glad to have understood a little better how these things work.
I did not want to come in before the Minister spoke, because I wanted to hear what he had to say. Like the noble and learned Baroness, I am a little confused about the rationale for postponing this measure when we know that this Bill will still be in Committee in this House-it will not even have reached the other House-after the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Like her, I am not sure why that is the case, unless the Government have some reason to feel that it would undermine the authority of the Metropolitan Police during the Games. I cannot see it, given that somebody who is being dealt with under some terrorism charge is not going to thumb their nose and say, "Yoohoo, you're not going to have this function for much longer". That is not life, is it? So I remain confused about that.
Like the noble and learned Baroness, I feel that although the super-affirmative procedure clearly gives
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Lord Henley: My Lords, first, I take up a point that my noble friend Lady Hamwee took up when commenting on the remarks from the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, when she said that it was time to put Henry VIII to bed. She might find that that remark appears in TheHouse magazine fairly soon as quotation of the week. But I leave it for her and the editors of that magazine. It was a very good remark and we all knew what she meant.
I want to make it very clear, as I hope that I did in my opening response to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, that we do not want to address the issue as to whether counter-terrorism should go in at this stage. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has made that clear the whole way through. No decision has been made.
The noble and learned Baroness suggested two alternatives, because she was unhappy with the use of Henry VIII powers. She suggested that we could put the provision into the Bill with a delaying clause and enact later, but that would imply that we have already made up our minds on this. This is the point that I want to get over-that no decision has been made, and we do not want anyone to assume that a decision has been made. She then said that, if we did not want to do that, there was the route of primary legislation. On that point, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Hamwee, who said that you could always find a slot for primary legislation. I can tell her that in my experience in government and opposition, that is simply not the case. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, nods at me. We all know the difficulty of finding those slots. Very occasionally, if it is an emergency and you have agreement from all sides of the House, you can move very quickly. But finding legislative slots is very difficult. That is why in the end we thought that going down a route where we used the super-affirmative procedure provided the right level of scrutiny by both Houses. I appreciate that it still means that there is not the ability to amend in other ways, but with the super-affirmative procedure there is considerably greater examination of what is in front of both Houses than with an affirmative model or a negative resolution. That is probably why I rather cynically said at the beginning that we could have offered the negative resolution procedure and then in one House offered the affirmative as a concession and then moved on to the super-affirmative. As it was, we considered this very carefully and decided that the super-affirmative was appropriate. We think that we have probably got it right. I hope that we have and that the House will accept that.
I appreciate that the Constitution Committee disagrees with our view. I received its report this morning as I came in and have seen what it had to say at paragraph 7. However, I pray in aid the fact that another equally great committee of this House, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, has looked at the measure and felt that it was not inappropriate. Therefore, there can be differences of view. I go back to the phrase that I have used on many occasions in relation to the Home Office-in the end one has to find the right balance. I hope that we have found the right balance on this and that the House will accept that Clause 2 is necessary so that we can consider this matter in due course. As I said, I leave it to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, to decide how he wishes to proceed.
Baroness Hamwee: I wonder whether we have fallen into the trap of seeing this matter through the lens of parliamentary procedures. However, there is another way of looking at it-namely, looking at how the NCA actually operates. If we are undertaking legislation setting up a new agency, which is not designed from the start to deal with counterterrorism-we must assume that that is the case, and I do not expect the Minister to respond to this as I am putting it rather rhetorically-should we not let it be formed, see how it operates and consider the addition of a very serious function when we know something more about how it is functioning? As I say, we are inevitably looking at this in terms of the way we operate, but we have left out that rather serious consideration.
Lord Rosser: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate and thank the Minister for his response. It is clear that the Government are seriously thinking about making this change although I accept that the Minister has said that no final decision has been made. However, it is clear that the Government are seriously contemplating this change; otherwise, they would not have included this clause in the Bill. If the Government have reached the stage of seriously contemplating the change, although I accept that no final decision has been made, as I said, the odds are probably on the Government making that change; otherwise, they would not have gone so far as to put this clause in the Bill.
However, as I said, this is not just about adding to functions, which is how the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee looked at this matter; it is also about taking those functions away from a body that has had them for some time and has expertise in that field. The Government may be able to make out a strong case for doing so, and I would not want my comments to be taken as meaning that I have decided that they cannot make out a strong case for making the change. Perhaps they can; we will have to wait and see. However, the issue concerns what is the appropriate way in which the matter should be dealt with. Should it be dealt with on the basis of a super-affirmative order, which restricts the amount of debate and discussion which takes place, or should it be dealt with on the basis of primary legislation? If no final decision has been made-and I accept what the Minister
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The Minister addressed that point in part. I may have written down incorrectly what he said and, if I have, I apologise. I wrote that he said that primary legislation is a lengthy process and quite difficult. However, in a parliamentary democracy that does not seem to be a very good argument for not making a change of this magnitude through primary legislation. Saying that primary legislation is a lengthy process and quite difficult sounds like a plea that all Governments of whatever colour have probably made over the years. However, as I said, that is not an argument for dealing in this way with an issue of this magnitude and importance.
I sincerely hope that the Government, through the Minister, will rethink this issue, although at the moment the Government clearly take the view that the super-affirmative procedure is appropriate. At this stage, I conclude my comments by again referring to the Constitution Committee, which said:
"The fact remains that the ordinary legislative processes of amendment and debate, and with it much of the substance of the role of the House of Lords as a revising chamber, would be circumvented. Clause 2 raises the fundamental constitutional issue of the proper relationship between parliamentary and executive lawmaking".
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I think that Amendment 23 can be dealt with quite shortly. Clause 3 provides for the Secretary of State's determination of the NCA's strategic priorities, and our amendment would provide for her to lay a report before Parliament upon such a determination.
Schedule 2 deals with publication of the framework document and annual report but the strategic priorities seem to be of a sufficient importance that reporting them should not wait for the annual report. I cannot immediately see that they would be part of the framework document, although I may have misread that. Perhaps
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Baroness Smith of Basildon: My Lords, I have some sympathy with the noble Baroness's contribution because the strategic priorities seem to be a bit of a puzzle. A key part of what the NCA does must be that the public and everyone else can understand the strategic priorities of this organisation. When you look through the Bill to see what the role of the NCA is, the description is extraordinary broad. It has the function of,
I looked to see whether there was something about the strategic priorities within the framework document. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, I could not see it there. I am not questioning the right of the Secretary of State to determine those priorities: the Secretary of State should have that strategic oversight. But I am not clear what scrutiny there is and what form of publication there will be. Clause 3 states:
including whether he or she wants to have priorities or not, and will consult strategic partners, the director-general and anyone else the Secretary of State thinks appropriate. It is extraordinarily broad.
If we then look at operations, it is clear that the strategic priorities play an enormous role in what the director-general then sets out in the annual plan of what the organisation is to do. I feel that we need more information about this. Will the Minister say something about the relationship between the strategic priorities of the NCA and the framework document? I am not clear how the two work together. If we look at Schedule 2, the framework document seems to describe the,
Lord Henley: My Lords, I hope that I can help and can be relatively brief. The important thing for my noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, to do is to look at Clause 3 and Clause 4 together. If they do that, things become somewhat clearer. The amendment would place a duty on the Home Secretary to lay a report before Parliament following her determination of the strategic priorities. Clause 4 of the Bill already requires that the agency's annual plan be published and include a statement of the strategic priorities determined by the Home Secretary. That is clear in Clause 4(2)(a), which refers to,
This is a new way of drafting that makes these Bills a lot easier to understand. The draftsmen are moving ahead. So there is a mechanism in the Bill for ensuring that the strategic priorities are published.
Moreover, the Bill also provides for the agency's annual report to be laid before Parliament and for such reports to include an assessment of the extent to which the annual plan for the year has been carried out. So this again provides a mechanism for informing Parliament of the strategic priorities and how the agency is delivering against them. It would then obviously be a matter for both Houses to determine in a way that I do not understand but I am sure the noble Baroness does. We were discussing the usual channels much earlier in the Chamber. They will decide how these matters will be debated and discussed and how the Home Secretary will be held to account on these matters in both Houses. That is something that will happen in due course.
Given those provisions, I do not think that it is necessary to have a further procedure for laying the strategic priorities before Parliament as provided for in this amendment since Clause 3 interpreted with Clause 4 and read backwards again seems to do exactly what is sought. I hope that my noble friend will feel that the matters that appear in her amendment are covered by what is already there. I hope that I have also dealt with the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness who articulated my concerns rather better than I did. I will, of course, think about what the Minister has said but I remain a little anxious. Given that the strategic priorities may be determined and modified to a new set of strategic priorities out of synch with the annual plan and will therefore become known through the mechanism of the annual plan possibly many months in arrears, I wonder whether that is appropriate. It seems to me that they are so important as to justify some form of publication in their own right. However, I will think about what the Minister said. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Baroness Smith of Basildon: My Lords, this amendment would remove the requirement on the director-general to gain the consent of the Secretary of State for the annual plan. The amendment suggests that it should be undertaken by the National Crime Agency board. I know that the Minister will say that there is no board and no response to be made. However, I want to explore the broader issue. I am somewhat puzzled as to why the Secretary of State would sign off and have to give consent to the publication of an operational document. There has been no question or disagreement
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I believe that that is the Government's intention but there are several places in the Bill where that is not as clear as it should be and it becomes a little confused. There are lots of documents and we are unclear about what they contain. There is a framework document that we have yet to see; there are strategic priorities that the Secretary of State will publish; there is the annual plan which the director-general will publish; and then there is the annual report which gives an indication of how far the director-general has been able to achieve the annual plan in that year. There will be some overlap and there needs to be clarity as we proceed.
The director-general has a statutory obligation to ensure that the annual plan meets the strategic priorities as determined by the Home Secretary. However, the annual plan itself seems to give operational effectiveness and direction to the strategic priorities. So the strategic priorities are for the Secretary of State and the annual plan will be for the director-general. Yet, the clause states:
"Before issuing any annual plan, the Director General must obtain ... the consent of the Secretary of State ... the consent of the Scottish Ministers ... the consent of the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland as it relates to activities in Northern Ireland".
I do not understand it. If we could remove the consent of the Secretary of State or politicians to the annual plan, that would make it clear that there is no political interference in the operational determinations of the director-general. The Bill is unclear as it stands and allows for the opportunity for political interference in operational matters, which I know the Government are keen to avoid.
We may wish to give more guidance to the director-general over a matter that he thinks is appropriate. From our previous conversations, the Minister will know of my concern that it might end up on the website and not be seen by anybody at all, so we will have come back to that one. This is a clear case of the Secretary of State having to give consent and thereby being involved in operational decisions. That is not what Ministers have said throughout debates and discussions on the Bill or indeed at Second Reading. I beg to move.
Lord Henley: My Lords, I should first make it clear that there is no board, but we discussed that at an earlier stage and will no doubt do so again in due course. The proposed amendment would remove the requirement for the Home Secretary and the devolved Administrations to consent to the annual plan. I shall briefly address why the plan should be subject to their consent. The noble Baroness said that she wanted to get rid of what I think she referred to as "political
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The annual plan will be important to ensure that the agency is open and transparent. Together with the annual report, it will provide the key mechanism by which Parliament and the public can hold the agency to account. Foremost, however, it is the place where the director-general will set out how he intends to deliver the NCA's objectives for the coming year. It will be against those plans that the NCA's performance is assessed, not least in the annual report at the end of the year.
As such, the annual plan must accurately reflect the strategic priorities which the Home Secretary has set for the NCA, as well as the wider national picture on organised crime and policing. The Home Secretary will ultimately remain accountable to Parliament for the national response to serious and organised crime and, indeed, for the performance of the agency.
It is therefore important that the NCA's success is measured against the objectives that the Home Secretary has set for it. The requirement for the Home Secretary's consent provides the most appropriate means of ensuring consistency between the annual plan and her strategic priorities. It also gives reassurance to Parliament and the public that she is content with the director-general's approach to delivering those priorities.
The devolved Administrations in Scotland and Northern Ireland will also play an important role in shaping the fight against organised crime, and will therefore be consulted by the Home Secretary when she is setting the NCA's strategic priorities. Given their accountability to their own electorates for the fight against organised crime, they will rightly have a role in agreeing those aspects of the annual plan which affect Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The annual plan will be an important document in measuring the effectiveness of the NCA. It is important that its contents are agreed-not, as the noble Baroness put it, interfered with politically-by those who will ultimately be accountable for that fight against organised crime at the national level. I appreciate that the noble Baroness put down the amendment to probe, but I hope that she will feel happy to withdraw it.
Baroness Smith of Basildon: My Lords, I hope-and thought-that I said that the amendment would remove the potential for political interference or any suggestion of it. I still think that that is a danger in the way that the clause is drafted. I fully accept the Minister's explanation that there is no intention for there to be operational control or involvement by the Home Secretary; but by having to consent to the annual plan, she would have an oversight role in operational matters.
I do not intend to press the matter at this point. Lots of consultation and reports will occur as a result of the Bill-I wonder how bureaucratic one Bill can get. I will listen to what the Minister says on this and other clauses but, for now, I am happy to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
In Part V of Schedule 1 to the Freedom of Information Act 2000, at the appropriate place insert-
"The National Crime Agency established under the Crime and Courts Act 2012.""
Baroness Hamwee: I have also tabled Amendment 65 in this group, which is essentially consequential on Amendment 26. Amendment 26 would make the NCA subject to the Freedom of Information Act. I know that this is a matter that Ministers have considered very carefully, and they have taken the view that so much information would be exempt under the Act that it is more straightforward not to bring the NCA within the scope of the Act.
I do not intend to say a great deal at this stage, because it is really for the Minister to justify the exclusion of the NCA rather than for me to justify its inclusion. I appreciate that there are important provisions in the Bill requiring the director-general to publish information and material, including the annual report and the Secretary of State's laying of the annual report before Parliament, but we will not know what the director-general and the Secretary of State have chosen to omit. If one makes a freedom of information request, the very fact of the recipient relying on an exemption sometimes gives some sort of clue, and the override regime provides for the application for a decision by the Information Commissioner and an appeal to the tribunal.
However many reports the director-general and the Secretary of State are required to publish, the public can only react to them. They cannot ask questions. Members of Parliament can ask questions and instigate debate, but in some cases that may be unnecessarily cumbersome and a bit less incisive. The freedom of information regime gives a proactive tool to the citizen. I remain to be convinced-I look forward to being convinced-that it is appropriate that that tool should not be available to the citizen in the case of the National Crime Agency. I beg to move.
Lord Rosser: Our Amendment 66 qualifies the National Crime Agency exemption to cover only those functions subject to exemption prior to 1 April 2012, which I believe was the date on which the NPIA functions were transferred to SOCA. Schedule 8 provides that the NCA will be exempt from freedom of information legislation. However, the functions of the NPIA and the UK Border Agency, which the Bill proposes to be covered by the NCA, were not previously exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. As yet, we have had no real explanation or justification for that exemption, especially as an extensive exemption regime already exists under the Freedom of Information Act.
SOCA, of course, is exempt from the operation of the Freedom of Information Act, but, as I said, as the National Crime Agency's functions extend beyond those undertaken by SOCA, so the extended exemption provided for in the Bill is significant and needs justification.
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During the Second Reading debate, varying degrees of concern about the complete exemption of the NCA from the Freedom of Information Act were raised, and in replying the Minister questioned whether the NCA ought to be subject to the Act and said it was a matter of whether it was cleaner simply to make the larger body exempt, which does seem to suggest that the main reason for seeking that all activities of the NCA should be exempt is really a matter of administrative convenience as much as anything-at least, that is certainly one interpretation that can be put upon his words.
Our position, as I say, is that those activities being taken on by the NCA that are not currently exempt should not be excluded and therefore we should not be in a position, as Schedule 8 appears to provide, where the whole of the activities of the NCA are not covered by the Act.
If the Government's line is going to be that, like SOCA, the NCA will be exempt in totality, I hope the Minister will be able to give a satisfactory explanation as to why that should be the case, bearing in mind that the NCA is taking on functions from the NPIA and the UKBA, and that he will not be taking the line that, as I recollect, he took on Second Reading when he simply said that it was a matter of wanting to make sure that we have a clean system.
Lord Henley: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friends and to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for explaining what was behind their amendments-Amendments 26 and 65 from my noble friends and Amendment 66 form the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. Obviously, each is approaching this in a slightly different manner. The noble Lord's party exempted SOCA when they were in government and brought it in. They want to continue that exemption but do not want exemption for the other bodies that are coming in. I will deal with that in due course but-as always, using that word "balance"-it is a situation where we have to get these things right, and we have considered it very carefully.
I also want to make it quite clear to the noble Lord that we have a commitment-and the commitment is clear on the face of the Bill-that, like SOCA, the NCA's strategic priorities, annual plan and annual report will be published and will even go beyond that. We provide in Clause 6 that the director-general must,
We considered very carefully whether the agency should also be subject to the Freedom of Information Act. As I have just made clear, we are all aware that SOCA is exempt from that and was exempt from when it was created back in 2005. We concluded that it was
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First, the National Crime Agency will depend on the absolute confidence of its partners so that they share all the information they can with the agency. That is what will give the agency its superior natural intelligence picture, which in turn will enable it to pursue and catch the criminals who are the threat. If those partners believe that sensitive information held by the agency could be subject to public release, they are likely to be more reluctant to share that information with the NCA in the first place.
Secondly, intelligence shows that organised criminals are increasingly sophisticated in their methods and seek to exploit any avenues possible to further their criminal activity. There is the danger that they would be likely to use the Freedom of Information Act to acquire information about the NCA's operational tactics, disrupt its operations and evade detection. While the exemptions might again apply to some of this information, that might not always be the case. This is obviously also a concern for the private sector. Organised criminal gangs could identify and then target vulnerabilities in private sector companies working with the NCA.
In short, the National Crime Agency's operational effectiveness could, we believe, be materially weakened by application of the Freedom of Information Act, and it would be quite wrong to apply such a handicap to the new agency. I have to make that quite clear-and I suspect that the Opposition, in their attitude to SOCA and the Act that created it back in 2005, are in agreement on a large part of it. As I said, it would be wrong to place such a handicap on it. We are committed to ensuring that there is no loss of public transparency as a result of this decision, but we expect the agency to publish more information than its predecessors because of the open, proactive publication that it aims to adopt.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, seeks in his Amendment 66 to preserve the status quo by applying this exemption only to the functions of the agency that are being transferred from SOCA. There will clearly be precursor units joining the National Crime Agency, as I think he made clear, from the National Policing Improvement Agency and the Metropolitan Police, which are currently subject to the Freedom of Information Act. This amendment would provide that, in respect of those functions, FOI continued to apply.
I recognise the motivation behind the noble Lord's amendment, and I am sure that he is sincere in it-I hope that he is just probing on these matters-but I am afraid that applying the Freedom of Information
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The NCA is being designed as an integrated whole to ensure a free flow of information and intelligence between the central intelligence hub and all parts of the agency. This is essential so that it can effectively map, analyse and task action against serious, organised and complex crime. It would defeat the purpose of this integrated approach and seriously weaken the agency's effectiveness-
Lord Henley: Can I just complete the sentence before I give way to the noble Lord? It would weaken the agency's effectiveness if we had to cordon off individual parts of the agency that were subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
Lord Rosser: In the light of what the Minister has said, is it the Government's case that all other agencies or bodies are either completely covered by or completely exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, and that one does not find in any other organisation or agency that some of the activities are covered by the Act and some are exempt?
Lord Henley: Without notice, I do not think that I can answer that question, but I will certainly look at it. The point that I was trying to make is that the noble Lord is trying to make something rather peculiar here: SOCA is completely exempt and is coming into the NCA, but other bodies that are not exempt are also coming in and they are then all one whole. In effect, he has created something that, when I mentioned the curate's egg, I probably got exactly right. You cannot do it in a curate's egg way because the whole egg will be bad once one part of it is bad. That is why we want to do it our way.
Obviously some bodies could be exempt, but on this occasion we think that it is right to create the new agency, as I am sure noble Lords opposite would have done if they were creating a new national crime agency to build on SOCA, just as they did with SOCA itself. It is for those reasons that we would like to preserve the exemption for SOCA for the new agency, and we think that what the noble Lord is suggesting is illogical or worse, and certainly not the right way to go about it. I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw her amendment and that the noble Lord will consider carefully what I have said, particularly in the light of, as my noble friend and others might remember, the debates on the Bill that created SOCA back in 2005.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, the Minister started his reply by talking about balance. I have always thought that that was what the Freedom of Information Act exemplified within itself; it does not provide that everything can be subject to a FOI request but provides the exemptions.
I do not believe that the general reporting requirement to which the Minister has referred will cover the same sort of functions as FOI would do. I am not arguing against the exemptions, but there are different ways of dealing with issues of transparency and they produce different results. We have heard that the NCA depends on the confidence of its partners and that organised criminals could exploit FOI. Well, this would not be the first organisation that had to be very careful about what it disclosed. If there is an issue of that sort, maybe after this evening, and possibly in private, the Minister could give us some examples of where police forces, which are subject to FOI, have been caught out in the way that he suggests would be a danger if the NCA were subject to the provisions.
SOCA is exempt because of its particular functions. I am afraid that I remain unconvinced that the NCA-extending, as the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, has said clearly, to other functions-should be exempt in its totality. What I draw from this is the anxiety of the intelligence agencies not to let anyone else be in a position where they might take decisions that the intelligence agencies would not like. I shall withdraw the amendment today, but this issue justifies further examination. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
(a) a protocol regarding the conduct of relationships between the NCA and each of the persons referred to in section 5;
(b) a protocol regarding the conduct of relationships between the NCA and each of the persons referred to in Schedule 3; and
(c) a protocol regarding the co-ordination of training of members of the NCA and of the forces and agencies referred to in section 5 and the inter-operability of the equipment used by the NCA and those forces and agencies."
I need to credit Amendment 27A to my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford who, I think at Second Reading, asked the Minister-I am not sure that the idea did not come to him during Second Reading-whether there should be some sort of protocol to govern the relationships between the various agencies-I use that term in the widest sense-that will be affected by the NCA. We had a similar notion that was pursued during the passage of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act.
Clause 5 deals with relationships between the NCA and other agencies. The NCA can request or require them to undertake a task or indeed can itself be tasked and there are those with which it has a duty to co-operate, to exchange information and to give or be given voluntary or directed assistance. All of that is easy to say and probably less easy always to implement. These relationships can be tricky. The different organisations will have different, inevitably competing, priorities. They will all have different governance structures. You cannot require people to co-operate with one another. Having said that, I think that the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act did require that and I never quite understood how you could insist on co-operation. There will be different views, not just as to what is to be done but also how it is to be done. All of this suggests that there will need to be protocols-I have referred in the amendment to matters which I know my noble friend will take up, in particular training and the interoperability of equipment-and a mechanism to bring the different agencies together.
Amendment 31 deals with consultation in the preparation of a framework document including the protocol. I thought it was appropriate to bring it in at that point as well. I am not wedded to the arrangements being as I have spelled them out but we need to understand how the Government envisage that these things will be put into practice rather than just being, as I say, fairly easy words on paper. I beg to move.
Baroness Doocey: My Lords, I would like to say a few words about three issues. The first is training. Most of the training that is currently done with police forces tends to be computer-based training. There is a place for computer-based training but mainly to deliver knowledge or awareness. The NCA is going to be a very major body with huge responsibility and most of the training the officers are going to require will impact on attitudes and behaviour. Therefore, I believe it needs to be done on a one-to-one basis. I urge the Government to consider putting some money into this aspect of the training. I know one-to-one training is much more expensive than computer-based training but I believe, first, that it is absolutely essential and, secondly, that it will pay dividends because just doing computer-based training will not provide the sort of officers that will be needed for this role.
The second issue is IT. There is no doubt about the IT requirements of the NCA. The intelligence hub that will be at its centre will require major IT and the functioning of the hub will be vital to the functioning of the NCA. There have been many interoperability problems, not just within local police forces but between national police forces. I remember the fiasco when the Metropolitan Police tried to upgrade its mobile data terminal with in-car automatic number plate recognition, which resulted in huge problems. Systems collapsed and had to be rebooted every time the police got into a car. The problem was eventually resolved, but there were basically no systems for several months and there were great costs. I believe that the lessons learnt from that ought to be required reading for anyone who is going to have anything to do with IT for the NCA.
Airwave, the system whereby police radios should speak to each other, is another issue. After many
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Multiple keying bothers me particularly. Most police systems are antiquated and require the input and reinput of data time and time again. I am not convinced by anything that I have read so far that the Government have looked at this in sufficient detail and given it the priority that it really deserves and needs to resolve these problems. I urge the Government to set up a small specialist group to look specifically at IT interoperability systems before they go much further and certainly before the passage of the Bill through both Houses.
Finally, I turn to Schedule 4 and the regulations about equipment. I would be very interested to understand what this means because it seems to suggest that the Secretary of State is going to determine what equipment the NCA should use. It seems at odds with the idea of setting up a very large organisation under a director-general then to prescribe and insist that it uses particular equipment. That seems to be totally against the spirit of everything else in the Bill. I would welcome some additional information on that.
Baroness Smith of Basildon: My Lords, again, I have some sympathy with these amendments. I have resisted the temptation of putting forward amendments on different issues that should be included in the framework document, but the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Doocey, are right that not having the framework document and having only very limited information about what will be in it means that, at this stage, the Committee has to seek assurances about things that we consider it important should be in the document. So far I have resisted the temptation, but if we got to Report and did not have the document, that temptation may be given free rein.
The issues that have been raised are extremely important and perhaps these amendments do not go as far as we would have gone. They talk about protocol relationships, which is slightly weaker than some of the things that we would have suggested, in terms of how the relationships would work and what should be in the framework document. However, I say to noble Lords that if they do not want to accept these amendments, they have only themselves to blame. We really need to see this framework document as a matter of urgency. Debating this Bill without it means that we will be having some debates not once but two or three times, because not only will we have to debate the issues now, but when we get the document we will want to debate them again. It is in the interests of good governance and good progress of business in this House that we have the framework document as soon as possible.
I am also interested in what the Minister has to say about Amendment 46A. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, I inferred that the fact that the Secretary
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Lord Henley: My Lords, I am grateful to both my noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, for all that they have said on this group of amendments. My noble friend is right to draw attention to the need for the agency to work closely with its law enforcement partners. Obviously such co-operation will be essential. The conduct of the agency's relationships with other law enforcement agencies, however, is already underpinned by the clear provisions of Section 5 and Schedule 3 to the Bill. This includes the two-way duty to co-operate in paragraph 1 of Schedule 3. By contrast, the purpose of the framework document-I appreciate that the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and others are still waiting to see it-is to set out clearly and transparently how the Home Secretary and the director-general will work together and the ways in which the NCA is to be administered.
The document 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 cost of information that will be published by the NCA. That framework document, when it appears, will set out the relationship between two people: the director-general and the Home Secretary. They are the only people required to have regard to the framework document. This duty will not apply to others and, given the nature and purpose of the document, we do not consider it to be the appropriate place to go into the minutiae of the operational relationship between the NCA and other agencies. I recognise that there may be a need for detailed operational protocols between the agency and its law enforcement partners, but we would expect these to be agreed separately between the director-general and the agency or agencies concerned. I accept the principle behind Amendment 27A, but I respectfully suggest that the framework document is not necessarily the right place for such detailed operational protocols.
I also note the particular reference to including a protocol regarding integrating training and interoperability between the NCA and its partners. Obviously these are something that the director-general should consider when looking more broadly at how they can deliver the NCA efficiently and effectively and how they can work well with partners. I also agree that the agency will need to ensure that its IT and communications systems are interoperable with others. I should also note that the NCA is taking on many of the assets of its precursor agencies and, as such, is not starting from a clean sheet. Also, it is expected that the director-general will focus the training and equipment requirements
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That leads me directly to Amendment 46A in the name of my noble friend Lady Doocey. She talked first about computer-based training and, secondly, about the IT requirements of the NCA. Again, she stressed the importance of interoperability. I should like to write to her about her first question, on computer-based training. It is a very important matter and we want to make sure that the detailed training requirements for NCA officers are properly addressed. The NCA will obviously have to develop a comprehensive programme but I would prefer to put greater detail in writing.
Interoperability is very important. There is a reserve power, should it be needed, to support the effective operation of the National Crime Agency. It mirrors a similar power that is in place for police equipment. The intention is that these regulations could, if necessary, mandate the use of certain equipment to ensure interoperability between law enforcement agencies. It is important to have that for the future.
Amendment 31 would place a duty on the Home Secretary to consult other law enforcement agencies in preparing the framework document. As I have indicated, since the purpose of the framework document is to help manage the relationship between the Home Secretary and the director-general, that is not necessarily appropriate. The NCA's UK-wide remit and the fact that policing is devolved in Scotland and Northern Ireland means that it is necessary to consult the devolved Administrations. However, I am not persuaded that it would be appropriate to expand the list of statutory consultees. It may well be appropriate to consult other organisations in drawing up the document but formal, statutory consultation with parties that are not bound by the framework document is not appropriate. Moreover, taking the two amendments together, I hope my noble friend will accept that the framework document is not to include the type of protocol proposed in Amendment 27A and that the case for the duty in Amendment 31 would fall away.
With the assurance that the director-general will, where appropriate, seek to agree detailed operational
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Baroness Hamwee: My noble friend mistook my mouthing "Do you want to say anything?" to her for my requesting her to withdraw the amendment. Perhaps I may respond to some of the comments that we have heard. I am perfectly prepared to accept that the framework document is not the appropriate vehicle for minutiae. It will be easier to assess that when we have seen a draft. The same goes for the consultation, which is the subject of Amendment 31. The Minister is saying that, under the amendment, the people I have suggested should be consulted will not be subject to the framework document.
I am afraid that this response is a little circular. I am not convinced that there is not scope for a protocol elsewhere. As I have said, the framework document may not be the right place for it. We tabled these amendments partly in order to get points about issues of equipment training and IT on the record, because they are important. Again this may not be the best way to do it, but it is important that the issues are raised.
Like my noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, I was puzzled by the reference to equipment and the Secretary of State's role, which seems to be an involvement which should be, as it were, below her pay grade. A protocol may not be the best way in which to deal with these issues, but however much good will there is around all this, it must be better to have ways of resolving differences rather than simply relying on good will or a duty to co-operate. To me, that begs the question of how that duty will be enforced. However, for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 27A.
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