|Criminal Justice and Police Bill
Mr. Heald: Yes, of course it will.
Mr. Hughes: My hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Jackie Ballard) and I are happy for the clause to stand part of the Bill: it is not the best possible, but it is not exceptionable. I want, however, to flag up an issue that I presume is being dealt withalthough not, apparently, in public. Is it right to continue with, effectively, two different policing agencies: the police service and Customs and Excise? I realise that that is a big question, but I know from constituency and other experience that the involvement of two different bodies, with different general objectivesin the case of the police, catching criminals and seeing them punished and, in the case of Customs and Excise, catching the goods and seeing them impoundeddoes not always make for consistency.
I speak with some caution because although, like all hon. Members, I represent police officers, I also represent the headquarters of Customs and Excise, just over the river. For reasons that have been explained by the Minister and the Home Secretary, involving the increasingly international nature of the relevant activities, we should think again about which authorities would be the best to detect and deal with offences relating to importation and exportation, and to deal with goods that are evidence of, or related to, offences.
What I am drawing attention to needs to be considered within the realm of the debate about the future of policing. The Government have been holding discussions with police representatives. It would be nonsense for that debate not to include examination of whether in the century ahead the development of one integrated organisation would be more appropriate than maintaining a separate body, called Customs and Excise, to police our shores.
Mr. Clarke: We have discussed the question at length. It is an important issue involving a wide range of agencies that work together: Customs and Excise, the National Crime Squad, police forces and the security services, MI5 and MI6. I am not sure whether the latter is in the hon. Gentleman's constituencyeverything seems to be. The cross-cutting review that was conducted under the comprehensive spending review led us to the conclusion that those organisations should work together closely. Major progress has been made in that respect.
I am not making a party political point when I say that one thing that surprised me when I began my present job was how recently joint work in any of the relevant spheres had begun. For example, the threat assessment produced by the National Criminal Intelligence Service, which is another in the group of agencies working together, is this year at the stage of a third publicationsome of it fully public. We have taken the view that a major reorganisation and restructuring is not the best approach at present. I can see a logic to it, but it is best to focus on the intelligence assessment, and to adopt joint tasking and joint approaches, as happens now. That is producing substantial progress in co-operation and I think that it is the right way to proceed.
If the hon. Gentleman talks to representatives of the National Crime Squad about its relationship with Customs and Excise, or, for that matter, to representatives of Customs and Excise about its relationship with the National Crime Squad, he will hear about a positive, collaborative and supportive relationship, which has been reinforced by senior secondments between the services to build joint working. Of the three optionsdoing nothing, reorganising everything into a global service, and developing better co-operationwe have chosen the third, with the active and enthusiastic support of the services concerned. Co-operation is necessary, but we do not think that expending the bureaucratic energy that would be needed to reorganise the entire process would be the most intelligent course of action.
Mr. Hughes: I am encouraged by the Minister's response. It would be helpful if he could put as much as possible of the conclusions of the review in the public domain. Co-operation, and whether there will be one or more agencies, is a matter of general public interest. It will be a worthwhile subject for consideration in a forum in the Houseperhaps a Select Committee. Important structural matters about the delivery of law and order around our shores and internally are worthy of as much discussion across party lines as possible.
Mr. Clarke: I shall reflect on putting matters in the public arena. We are dealing with significant enemies and how much information is made public is a difficult matter. I am keen to encourage a debate on our strategy for serious organised crime. I should welcome the Home Affairs Committee investigating such matters. I have briefed the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) on the matter, following a visit to his constituency.
I am happy to brief either the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire or the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey on what we are doing. I agree that it would be good to hold a general public debate about such matters. The document CJ 2010 included several references to such matters. In fact, I think that it had a whole chapter on them. If members of the Committee want briefings, I shall be happy to hold them, but I shall think carefully before putting more detailed papers in the public arena, for reasons that I am sure they will understand.
Mr. Heald: I want to flag up my concern about the suggestion. HM Customs and Excise is a specialist organisation with a particularly valuable ethos. Having prosecuted in the past for Customs and Excise, the Crown Prosecution Service and the police, I know that Customs and Excise is expert in the work that it undertakes. It is well served, and I am not sure that I would want to roll it into the police. I urge a note of caution.
Mr. Clarke: That is true, which is one of the major reasons why I decided to follow the course that I have outlined. Not only does Customs and Excise have powerful professionalism and expertise, but the other agencies to which I have referred have similar features. The hon. Gentleman is right. He will know that a review is taking place into how prosecutions are carried out by the Crown Prosecution Service and Customs and Excise, and one issue raised in CJ 2010 was to ensure that the criminal justice system is properly addressed. Given his professional experience, he will know that such matters are extremely technical and complicated. I hope that I have not strayed too much from the clause, but I wanted to respond to the points that have been made.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 71 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
The Chairman: My private conversation with the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman was to ascertain the whereabouts of the Opposition Whip who I had hoped would be here to listen to what I have to say. Happily, he is engaged in other business in the House and I should be grateful if the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire would convey my comments to him. The Committee Clerk has pointed out that something that I said earlier was nonsense. Those were not her words, they are mine.
In an endeavour to be helpful, I said that I was willing to convene the Programming Sub-Committee after this sitting. If we were to do that, however, it would have no effect because I had forgotten that this is not a usual sitting day. The Committee has agreed to end proceedings at 1 o'clock and it will not be sitting between 4.30 pm and 7 pm. To implement any change to our sittings, there would have to be a debate. Further consideration may take place only tomorrow morning and during a guillotined sitting tomorrow afternoon. Were we to go down the route that I had, in an attempt to be helpful, implied that I was willing to go down, there would be no possibility of implementing any decision that was taken.
I am not advocating this, but an hon. Member could seek to convene a further meeting of the Programming Sub-Committee only if I formally suspended this sitting for the duration of the sitting of the Sub-Committee. We could then reconvene, debate any decision that had been taken and proceed. I am happy to note, having checked, that all members of the Sub-Committee are present this morning. I am not advocating that course of action. I wish only to clarify the constraints under which we are working.
Mr. Heald: On a point of order, Mr. Gale. If I were to move a motion that the Committee suspend, would it be subject to a Division?
The Chairman: The hon. Gentleman cannot move a motion to suspend the Committee. As I have tried to suggest, my personal view is that the matter should be properly resolved through courteous discussion between the usual channels. If the usual channels say to me that they wish to seek a suspension with a view to reconvening the Sub-Committee, I will consider that at the appropriate time. I am seeking to clarify the position, so that the usual channels may make their noises to each other.
|©Parliamentary copyright 2001||Prepared 7 March 2001|