‘(1) The Secretary of State may, by order, make—
(a) provision about NCA counter-terrorism functions (and, in particular, may make provision conferring, removing, or otherwise modifying such functions); and
(b) other provision which the Secretary of State considers necessary in consequence of provision made under paragraph (a) (and, in particular, may make provision about the functions of any person other than the NCA, including provision conferring or otherwise modifying, but not removing, such functions).
(2) If an order under this section confers an NCA counter-terrorism function, an NCA officer may only carry out activities in Northern Ireland for the purpose of the discharge of the function if the NCA officer does so with the agreement of the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
(3) That includes cases where an order under this section confers an NCA counter-terrorism function by the modification of a function.
(4) An order under this section may amend or otherwise modify this Act or any other enactment.
(5) An order under this section is subject to the super-affirmative procedure (see section 43 and Schedule 22).
(6) In this section “NCA counter-terrorism function” means an NCA function relating to terrorism (and for this purpose “terrorism” has the same meaning as in the Terrorism Act 2000 — see section 1 of that Act).’.—(Mr Jeremy Browne.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
‘A review shall be completed within 12 months of Royal Assent of the functions and operations of the National Crime Agency with particular regard to—
(a) the governance structures as set out in section 1, together with resources, training and inspection; and
Government new schedule 1—‘The NCA: Northern Ireland.
Government amendment 4.
Amendment 3, in clause 7, page 6, line 37, at beginning insert
Amendment 95, in page 10, line 15, leave out clause 12.
Amendment 102, page 11, line 1, leave out clause 13.
Government amendments 5 to 9, 76, 72 to 74, 85 and 87.
I am grateful, Mr Speaker, for the opportunity to speak to the amendments and thus begin our deliberations on Report. The Government amendments in this group deal with two substantive issues: first, whether the Bill should include a mechanism to confer counter-terrorism functions on the National Crime Agency; and secondly, the extent to which the NCA should operate in Northern Ireland. I will deal with each issue in turn.
New clause 3 seeks to restore to the Bill the power to confer counter-terrorism functions on the NCA by means of an order, subject to the super-affirmative procedure. The House will be aware that on Report the other place removed from the Bill what was then clause 2. In explaining why we have brought back this clause, it is worth reiterating the comments of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on Second Reading. She said:
“I have been clear that no decision on this issue has been taken and that none will be taken until after the NCA has been established and following a detailed review. However, the creation of a national crime agency with a national remit to combat serious, organised and complex crime invites the question whether it should take on national functions in respect of counter-terrorism policing.”
“ I do not come to this question with any preconceived ideas about what the answer should be, but it was prudent, in my view, for the Bill as originally introduced to have included a future-proofing provision.”—[Hansard, 14 January 2013; Vol. 556, c. 635.]
Since then we have reflected further on concerns raised in the other place that this was not an appropriate matter to be left to secondary legislation. This theme was also a feature of the debates in this House, both on Second Reading and in Committee.
Having reflected carefully on the debates on this issue thus far, and on the reports by the Constitution Committee and the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, the Government remain firmly of the view that this is an appropriate matter for secondary legislation and that the super-affirmative procedure provides a sufficient level of parliamentary scrutiny. Indeed, the conditions that are tied to it provide ample opportunity for this House and the other place to scrutinise any such order.
Let me finish the point first.
There is a duty on the Home Secretary to consult persons affected before laying a draft order. There is then an opportunity for Committees of either House to scrutinise the draft order—I envisage that this task would fall to the Home Affairs Committee—and then the draft order must be approved by both Houses of Parliament. This is not a parliamentary process that we take lightly or which would be taken lightly by either House. For that reason we believe that it would entail the appropriate level of scrutiny to satisfy those who rightly take a close interest in these matters.
My question is a simple one. Why did the Minister not table new clause 3 in Committee and allow the Committee to scrutinise in detail and in depth the proposal that he is now making? He will remember the exchanges that he had with various Members in Committee. It is disingenuous to table the new clause on Report and not to have allowed the Committee to have a detailed debate. He has been doing a lot of reflecting. Why did he not reflect on the detail of the debate that we could have had in Committee?
It seems to me that this is not a very substantive issue; it is a procedural issue. The Government have not taken a view as to whether counter-terrorism should be transferred into the NCA. The NCA is not even up and running yet. It requires the assent of the House before we get to that stage, and we have said that when the NCA is up and running, that is something that the Home Secretary may wish to consider.
If the Government recommend at a future date that counter-terrorism functions should be transferred to the NCA, there is, as I have just explained, a provision for that to be considered in great detail. I will repeat it briefly in case hon. Members did not latch on to the point—that is why I made it before giving way: there is a duty on the Home Secretary to consult persons affected before laying a draft order, then there is an opportunity for Committees of either House to scrutinise the draft order, and I said that I envisage that task falling to the Home Affairs Committee, a cross-party Committee chaired by a distinguished member of the Opposition, and then the draft order must explicitly be approved by both Houses.
When it comes to deliberating on the content of the proposal, as distinct from the parliamentary mechanisms—the merits or otherwise of counter-terrorism being exercised by the National Crime Agency—if that process of deliberation is necessary, because the Government regard that as a wise way to proceed, there will be the opportunity for Members to make their views clearly known. But the question we are considering is whether it is suitable and appropriate for that provision to be made in the Bill, using the super-affirmative procedure. I hope that the House is persuaded by what I have just said about there being ample opportunity to debate the substance of these matters and that it is therefore an appropriate way to proceed.
The Minister describes a substantive and exhaustive process of parliamentary scrutiny. Is he aware that the Home Affairs Committee has already considered the issue and that we recommended—unanimously, I believe—that the transfer of counter-terrorism powers from the Met to the National Crime Agency should take place once that agency is up and running and when the Government believe it is the right time to do it?
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s interest in the matter. I am cautious about getting ahead of ourselves. We envisage the National Crime Agency coming into operation fully on
There is a perfectly legitimate debate to be had about where this extremely important function should be exercised. I listened carefully to my hon. Friend. He puts forward a point of view that many people agree with, but there are people who will take a contrary view. There will be a suitable time to deliberate on the matter. I want to assure the House that we believe that the super-affirmative procedure will allow more than adequate time for that debate and for those issues to be properly aired. Any decision to give the NCA a counter-terrorism role will be an important one; we have no wish to diminish, impede or lose those aspects of the current arrangements that work well.
The Minister will be aware that there are particular arrangements in Northern Ireland for dealing with counter-terrorism, so it is important not only that that is debated, discussed and consulted on in this place, but that there is the opportunity for the Northern Ireland situation specifically to be considered. Can he give us an assurance today that that will be the case?
By the time I get to the end of my speech, the hon. Lady will be in no doubt that all Northern Ireland aspects of the Bill and how we deal with serious crime and terrorism will be given a strong airing. If I can make progress, large parts of my speech deal with issues that relate directly to Northern Ireland.
Currently, counter-terrorism policing is a partnership endeavour among all UK police forces. Chief constables, each of whom retains full authority over policing in their force area, maintain a framework of agreements on how the various national counter-terrorism policing functions are distributed between forces, and how those national functions support forces in both proactive and reactive operations. However, with the creation of the National Crime Agency, it is reasonable, as I hope I explained satisfactorily to my hon. Friend Mark Reckless, that the Government should want to consider afresh how the current counter-terrorism policing arrangements work and review whether the NCA could play a role to enhance our response to the terrorist threat. Those questions can be sensibly considered only after the NCA is up and running, and only then after a full review.
As I said at the outset, and as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has made clear, the position remains that the Government have no preconceived notion—others will—as to the outcome of a review of counter-terrorism policing arrangements and any future role of the NCA in them. However, we continue to believe that it is right to build into the Bill the flexibility to implement the outcome of such a review in a timely fashion through secondary legislation, but subject to a high level of parliamentary scrutiny in the form of the super-affirmative procedure, as I hope I have explained, and that we should be able to proceed on that basis. The Government would rightly be criticised if we could not implement the findings of a review for a year or more for want of the necessary primary legislation. We believe that this is the best way to strike the right balance between being able to move quickly in this extremely important area, but without undue haste.
Let us not confuse the point at issue. It is not about whether or not the NCA should exercise counter-terrorism functions; that debate is for the future. The issue today is the mechanism by which such functions could be bestowed on the agency. The Committee tasked with examining such matters in the other place said that
“the idea of adding to a statutory body’s functions by subordinate legislation subject to a Parliamentary procedure is well established”.
Of course, it is for this House to come to its own view on the matter, but I put it to all Members present that this is a perfectly proper way of proceeding and invite them and the House to support the new clause.
On the NCA and Northern Ireland, and particularly new schedule 1, it is with great regret that I must inform the House that I will have to table amendments limiting the role of the NCA in Northern Ireland. As the House will be aware, we have been unable to secure the agreement of the Northern Ireland Executive to take forward a legislative consent motion for either the NCA or the amendments to the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. To say that that is a disappointing outcome does not do justice to the implications for the effectiveness of the NCA and, more importantly, the protection of the people of Northern Ireland. The Government are being up front about that. It is not the outcome we sought, but we are obviously required to deal with the situation as it is, rather than as we would wish it to be.
I will give way, but I am delivering a substantive passage of my speech, which will be of great interest to Members from Northern Ireland and elsewhere, so if I give way too often there is a danger that I might end up revealing the details of what I wish to say in a less structured way. Having said that, I know that Mr Dodds wishes to speak.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman and pleased that I gave way, because I share his anguish. I want all people in the United Kingdom, regardless of which part they live in, to be as protected as possible by the agencies of the state from the risks they might be exposed to from serious and organised crime. Clearly, the NCA is being brought into being because we regard it as an important institution for protecting the public from serious and organised crime. Many of its functions will apply in Northern Ireland, but they will not apply there as extensively as they will in England, which is a source of regret.
The Minister is quite right that this is a very serious issue in Northern Ireland. We, too, wish to see the protections he has outlined. Given that Ministers hinted in Committee that if provisions in the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill are not given legislative consent motions by the Northern Ireland Assembly, Ministers might well legislate anyway, will he apply the same rule and approach on the NCA?
I do not have a speaking note on that point. I, like most Members, have received a number of representations on the merits or otherwise of same-sex marriage, and I do not wish to expand that debate by speaking from the Dispatch Box on the application of same-sex marriage provisions in Northern Ireland and how they might or might not impact on the National Crime Agency. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, but I think it will probably be most helpful if I do not take interventions for a short while, because there have been many discussions and negotiations on Northern Ireland and it is important to get on the record where we stand and what provisions will apply there, because clearly some will still apply, although they are less extensive than we would have wished them to be. Therefore, I will get to the detail of where we stand, because the amendments are required to put that into practice.
We will, of course, do our utmost to minimise the operational impact of the Northern Ireland Executive’s decision—that is what new schedule 1 seeks to do—while respecting the Sewel convention. However, the House should be under no illusion: the decision will have implications for the fight against serious and organised crime in Northern Ireland. Yet it was in full knowledge and recognition of those implications that the Executive came to their decision.
Let me be clear that the NCA will continue to operate on a UK-wide basis, including in Northern Ireland, but the Executive’s decision means that the NCA’s activities in Northern Ireland will be curtailed. For example, NCA officers in Northern Ireland can no longer be designated with the powers of a Northern Ireland constable. However, there is still much the NCA can do to tackle serious, organised and complex crime in Northern Ireland, both through its own investigations and by supporting the Police Service of Northern Ireland and other agencies. Importantly, the strong operational relationship that the Serious Organised Crime Agency has built up with the PSNI, both through the SOCA officers based in Northern Ireland and across SOCA as a whole, will continue with the NCA.
Furthermore, NCA officers will still be able to use customs and immigration powers to take action against serious, organised and complex customs and immigration crimes. Operational partners will continue to be able to access the wider national specialist capabilities that will reside in the NCA, such as the new national cybercrime unit and the NCA’s network of international liaison officers.
However, that is not the best outcome for the people of Northern Ireland. The NCA will be able to continue the fight against serious and organised crime and immigration crime, which I am pleased about. I know that Keith Bristow, who will run the NCA, is committed to ensuring that it will make a significant contribution to the overall law enforcement effort in Northern Ireland, but that is not the same as having a fully operational NCA working to support the efforts and important work of the PSNI.
Before getting into the detail of new schedule 1, I want to pay tribute to the tireless efforts of David Ford, the Northern Ireland Justice Minister, and his officials to drive forward the discussions in Northern Ireland, sometimes in the face of considerable difficulty and
opposition. Indeed, the negotiations are continuing. His support for the NCA has been unswerving, as has his commitment to ensuring that it would work effectively with, and complement, the important post-devolution police accountability arrangements in Northern Ireland. Since the initial proposals for the National Crime Agency were published, the Government have been clear in their commitment to ensure that the need for an effective UK-wide response to serious and organised crime is balanced against the need to respect the devolution settlement.
The Bill as introduced included a number of new safeguards, above and beyond those provided for in respect of the Serious Organised Crime Agency, to ensure that the NCA reflected the devolution arrangements and the real sensitivities relating to accountability for policing in Northern Ireland. For example, in the initial Bill the directed tasking arrangements were limited to England and Wales, the directed assistance provisions included an additional consultative role for the Northern Ireland Policing Board, and we extended the remit of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland to cover complaints in relation to asset recovery. I maintain, therefore, that the Government were alert from the outset to the specific sensibilities in Northern Ireland. We have not sought to railroad through a rigid uniformity that is blind to those sensitivities.
Even with all those safeguards we were prepared to go further to address the Executive’s concerns and agreed in principle to provide further changes to the Bill provided that a legislative consent motion was forthcoming. However, even with that initial good will and those additional changes, the Executive could not agree. Despite the situation in which we find ourselves, we remain committed to the principle of a fully operational NCA in Northern Ireland. The amendments will provide flexibility so that, should the position in Northern Ireland change, we can make provision for the NCA to have a full operational role there beyond what is currently possible.
Our approach in new schedule 1 it to limit the extent of the “relevant NCA provisions” so that we do not legislate on transferred matters without the consent of the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Sewel convention is an important part of the devolution settlement established by the previous Administration and it is one to which this Government are equally committed.
Let me proceed a little and then I will give way.
The table in paragraph 9 sets out the “relevant NCA provisions” that do not extend to Northern Ireland. Notable among those provisions that will not apply are the ability to designate NCA officers with the powers of a Northern Ireland constable in schedule 5, the oversight of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland in schedule 6, and, importantly, the duty of the Police Service of Northern Ireland to co-operate with the NCA and other duties in schedule 3. Importantly, the new schedule also provides a series of order-making powers in paragraphs 1 to 5 so that, should the position of the Northern Ireland Executive change, the NCA provisions can be extended to Northern Ireland, subject, of course, to the agreement of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
As I have said, I regret that it has been necessary to table new schedule 1. This does not, however, mark the end of our negotiations on the role that the National Crime Agency should play in Northern Ireland. I fervently hope that the narrowing of the NCA’s remit in Northern Ireland will be a temporary measure. We will continue to strive for an equitable agreement between the parties in Northern Ireland and, once secured, this new schedule will ensure that we have the necessary order-making powers to give effect to such an arrangement. I hope that that has provided clarity on this important issue.
Will the Minister clarify whether the two strands of his speech interact? If powers were transferred from the Met to the NCA and the NCA was unable to conduct anti-terrorism work in Northern Ireland, would that provide a contrast with the current situation? If the transfer happened without the changes that the Minister hopes for, would the Met be able to pursue anti-terrorism work in Northern Ireland that the NCA could not?
Although the Met takes the lead, each individual police force is responsible for its own activities. An important change is the NCA’s ability to task police forces—in other words, their sovereignty would no longer be absolute, because the NCA could, in extremis, require a police force to undertake certain actions. That is not the case with the Metropolitan police. It is conceivable that some in Northern Ireland will be unwilling to be tasked in that way, but a lot of collaborative work takes place in any case. Activities that fund terrorism, rather than terrorism itself, would come under the category of serious and organised crime, which could be dealt with.
As the Minister outlined the provisions and voiced regret at having to table new schedule 1, the disservice and disadvantage done to the people of Northern Ireland by Sinn Fein and the Social Democratic and Labour party became more apparent. He also mentioned the Government’s commitment to the Sewel convention on the devolution settlement and my hon. Friend Sammy Wilson raised the issue of principle. Will the Minister confirm that, if the Sewel convention is to be respected in this case, it will also be respected in relation to all Government measures?
I think it would be more proper for the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to answer that question on behalf of the Government. I was answering the specific question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood about the function of the NCA. Were the NCA to be given a counter-terrorism function in the future, it would be able to exercise that function in Northern Ireland only with the prior agreement of the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland. I am afraid that the question of how legislation that is not relevant to the Home Office or the NCA applies to Northern Ireland is not in my remit.
The Minister has clarified the situation with regard to those NCA provisions that are precluded for now, but they do not include the criminal intelligence function in clause 1(5). Under that provision, will the NCA run its own informers and direct surveillance or similar in Northern Ireland?
It would probably be better if I avoided talking about operational matters with regard to the prevention of serious and organised crime in the United Kingdom. I will reflect on whether I can assist the hon. Gentleman—without compromising operations, which none of us would want—before I conclude my speech.
I have been speaking for half an hour. This debate is mainly about the possibility of conferring powers on the NCA to deal with counter-terrorism and the changes we have to make with regard to Northern Ireland, but let me touch briefly on the remaining Government amendments in this group. Amendment 4 to clause 2 will convert the existing power on the Home Secretary to set strategic priorities for the NCA into a duty to do so. Mr Hanson tabled a similar amendment in Committee and I undertook to consider it. As I am a collegiate Minister who is always impressed by the power of the right hon. Gentleman’s arguments, even when I do not agree with them, I was keen to accommodate his views. Members of the Committee will be familiar with the arguments for that change.
The Home Secretary’s role in setting the strategic direction of the NCA is obviously of central importance and the Government’s intention has always been that the Home Secretary would set the strategic priorities in accordance with the power granted by clause 2. On that basis, this reasonable amendment reflects what we had envisaged in any case.
The other Government amendments in the group are either consequential on new clause 3 and new schedule 1 or, in the case of amendments 5 to 7 and 9 to schedule 8, are of a technical or drafting nature and make further consequential amendments to other enactments as a result of the establishment of the National Crime Agency.
I have given a decent run-in to our deliberations, so will finish by coming back to the point raised by Mark Durkan. The criminal intelligence function relates to sharing information and is not about informants. The NCA will retain powers and techniques under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, but that is a separate matter and a reserved one.
I hope that I have addressed all the Government proposals to the satisfaction of the House.
New clause 3 and the other amendments before the House concern important issues that are fundamentally to do with protecting our society from terrorist activity. We must get these matters right. We must consider the concerns of another place and those who are involved in these issues on a day-to-day basis. I continue to have key concerns about the new clause.
The Government have tabled new clause 3 on Report following the removal of the original clause 2 in another place earlier this year. The Home Secretary has said:
“I have been clear that no decision on this issue has been taken and that none will be taken until after the NCA has been established and following a detailed review.”—[Hansard, 14 January 2013; Vol. 556, c. 635.]
I welcome that no decision has been taken and that consideration is being given to whether it is best for terrorism functions to remain with the Metropolitan police as the co-ordinating body, whether they should be transferred to the National Crime Agency or whether there is a third model that the Government could consider.
I am concerned that new clause 3 will give the Government an order-making power to implement a major change. As we have heard from hon. Gentlemen from different parties in Northern Ireland, this change would have great import and ramifications in Northern Ireland, with respect not just to terrorism and policing but to confidence in communities. I cannot support the Government’s proposal of an order-making power that would receive limited debate in this place.
I accept that these are serious issues. I remind the Minister of the concerns that were raised in another place, not just by Labour Members such as my noble friend, Baroness Smith of Basildon, but by Cross-Bench Members, about the original clause 2, which was removed from the Bill and is effectively being reintroduced with new clause 3. I fear that if the Minister proceeds to insert new clause 3 into the Bill, there will be further discussion in another place about the merits of that proposal and the concerns that were expressed when the Bill was last considered will be revisited.
Lord Blair of Boughton, who is a former Metropolitan Police Commissioner and now sits as a Cross Bencher in another place, said that
“a number of noble Lords expressed the sentiment that national security is the first duty of government. I agree with that point of view. I put my name to this amendment because I believe that Clause 2 directly affects national security and so, in my view, is more important than any other clause in this section of the Bill.”
He went on to say that
“in my lifetime no change more significant than this in the policing arrangements to protect our nation has ever been contemplated. A change in the NCA's responsibility may be right, but it may not be… Such a decision deserves primary legislation, to allow the suggestion to be scrutinised, debated and amended by both Houses of Parliament.”—[Hansard, House of Lords, 27 November 2012; Vol. 741, c. 114-115.]
The Minister’s proposal in new clause 3 will deny the opportunity for primary legislation to be used to deal with this issue.
I have an open mind about where we should end up on this issue. This debate is not about making the final decision about where terrorism functions should lie. We can have a debate about that. However, it is important not only that the review that the Minister has talked about takes place, but that both Houses of Parliament have an opportunity to reflect on it in a measured and considered way.
The Minister said that we are going to have a busy programme. I remind him that we are likely to have a light legislative programme this year and that swathes of time are available because of changes such as what happened to reform of the House of Lords. The Minister knows that at any time he can negotiate and secure time in this House for speedy legislation on matters of great import. He also knows, without giving any secrets away, that there is bound to be a criminal justice Bill of some form in the forthcoming Gracious Speech, to which new clauses could be added. It is therefore disingenuous of him to say that it is not practical or possible to have primary legislation to effect these changes.
New clause 3 would provide for a limited debate in this House on massive changes and significant issues that relate to the safety of citizens across the United Kingdom, including in Northern Ireland. As the Minister has indicated, and as I will come on to when I speak to new schedule 1, he has not yet secured agreement for the National Crime Agency to operate in Northern Ireland. Given that the National Crime Agency will tackle big issues such as fuel smuggling and people trafficking, which are often linked to the funding of terrorism in Northern Ireland and elsewhere, it is not good enough for the Minister to propose an order-making power, super-affirmative though the procedure may be, to deliberate and agree on these proposals.
If the Minister does not accept what Lord Blair says, perhaps he will accept the view of the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Lord Condon, who said:
“This is a hugely important matter that deserves primary legislation rather than an affirmative order… History tells us that more than 80% of terrorist incidents in this country happen in London.”—[Hansard, House of Lords, 27 November 2012; Vol. 741, c. 116.]
Two former Metropolitan Police Commissioners say that this matter should be considered through primary legislation, but the Minister still wants to bring forward a super-affirmative order.
I hope that I am not doing him a disservice if I quote the views of the current Metropolitan Police Commissioner from an article in The Times:
“Bernard Hogan-Howe said he believed that the link between local policing and counter-terrorism police had been essential to the success of the anti-terror strategy in Britain.”
The article goes on:
“‘What is the problem we are trying to remedy here?’ he asked. ‘And if there is to be a change, there will be a cost—at a time of austerity that will have to be considered.’”
I do not believe that that matter can be considered in the time available under the super-affirmative procedure.
We need to support the concerns that were expressed in another place. Unless something miraculous happens, I will not recommend that my right hon. and hon. Friends support new clause 3, because I do not think that it is the appropriate way forward. The other place will consider the matter and we will deliberate on the views expressed there in due course.
As I have said, the Government have an open mind on this matter. We want to achieve the best possible protection for the public. However, the three people whom the right hon. Gentleman has cited as making the case for the Met police to continue to have the lead role on counter-terrorism are the commissioner of the Met police and two ex-commissioners of the Met police. One would expect those people to argue for the central role of the Met police. They are perhaps not such good authorities on the case for one form of parliamentary procedure and scrutiny over another. The Government will make their judgments and recommendations about where counter-terrorism should sit and people will want to contribute to that debate, but those three people have quite partial backgrounds. We will ensure that the House has the adequate opportunity to scrutinise whatever the Government propose.
I am grateful to the Minister. Perhaps between now and the super-affirmative order coming forward he will guarantee that he will make the order amendable. It currently would not be amendable; for another place and this House it would be a question of take it or leave it. Primary legislation would allow either House to examine the proposals and amend, refine or challenge them, but a super-affirmative order would not.
I say gently to the Minister that although three Metropolitan Police Commissioners may have an interest in the Metropolitan police, they have been responsible for co-ordinating counter-terrorism activities. If they raise concerns, he has a duty to allow them to be listened to. The concerns are not about the ultimate position but about whether it can be reached via primary legislation so that either House can make tweaks. The Minister is simply saying that the Government will review the matter and decide on it, and then table a take-it-or-leave-it order for both Houses to decide on. That is not an appropriate way forward.
My right hon. Friend is doing an excellent job of highlighting the Government’s inconsistency on the issue. Does he recall that earlier in this Parliament the Government insisted that provisions for enhanced terrorism prevention and investigation measures or the extension of pre-charge detention beyond 14 days could be made only through fresh primary legislation? Now they want to give the Home Secretary the power to transfer the lead responsibility for counter-terrorism to the National Crime Agency through secondary legislation. It is completely inconsistent.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who knows what he is talking about. He had to take executive decisions on important matters, particularly to do with Northern Ireland and terrorism, at a time when Northern Ireland was not as stable as it is now, even though there are challenges today.
I say gently to the Minister that he should listen to some of the experience that is out there. This is not about the end product, because we can debate that and the review will raise a number of issues about it. It is about how we get consent on that end product, which could be through amendments to legislation. I defy him to say that there is no time for legislation to be brought forward in the next 12 months, either as a new clause to another Bill or as a stand-alone Bill, to make the changes in question. I do not believe that is the case, and I think he is being disingenuous—dare I say that? Perhaps I should say that he is reflecting on the matter in a way that I would not wish him to reflect.
The situation with regard to Northern Ireland is a bit of a shambles. I fully understand why political parties in Northern Ireland have taken the view that they have, and why it is important that the Government do not legislate for Northern Ireland. However, I ask the Minister who is responsible for negotiating with the Northern Ireland Assembly to get some traction on the matter. I have tabled questions to the Northern Ireland Office and the Home Office, and both have said that they are meeting David Ford, the Northern Ireland Justice Minister, on a regular basis. However, who is taking on the challenge of ensuring that the Northern Ireland Policing Board, the four or five political parties represented there and the people who have concerns about the proposal, as well as those from all sides who do not, are heard? What is the process, and how is it being taken forward?
The Bill has been trailed for perhaps 18 months, and it was produced in another place and has been debated in the Commons. The issue has arisen not this week but over many months. The National Crime Agency will not have input into key issues in Northern Ireland, including drug trafficking, fuel laundering, smuggling and a range of serious organised crime. Its relationship with the Police Service of Northern Ireland is still to be defined in a practical way. How has it come to that point?
I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman’s point, but does he accept that although the Government are to be faulted on many things, a lot of the issues that people wanted addressed in negotiations with the Northern Ireland Minister were addressed? However, two parties are still suspicious of any policing arrangements that are UK-wide rather than based purely in Northern Ireland. They will never be convinced, and that is one reason why the Minister’s job is so difficult.
I understand that point. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I did two years in Northern Ireland, and I accept and understand the difficulties of that position. My right hon. Friend Paul Goggins also served in Northern Ireland, and my hon. Friend Mark Durkan will speak on his party’s views shortly. I always regret that Sinn Fein Members do not give their view to Members of Parliament in this House, but that is a separate issue.
I understand where Sammy Wilson is coming from, but the issue is still open to negotiation, because even if we accept new schedule 1 today, the NCA will not operate in Northern Ireland and there will be only an affirmative order to put that arrangement in place at some point in future. There will therefore still have been no resolution of the difference of opinion. The Minister has a duty to tell the House how he intends to bridge that gap strategically.
When the right hon. Gentleman said that he did two years in Northern Ireland, it sounded more like a sentence than a pleasure. I am sure that was not intentional. Does he agree that the problem is much more significant than simply leaving Northern Ireland at an operational disadvantage, which will clearly happen? There is currently a duty on the PSNI to co-operate with the Serious Organised Crime Agency, but that will go once the Bill comes in. Even the basic duty to co-operate will be removed from the NCA if there is not an agreement otherwise.
I reassure the hon. Lady that I loved every minute of my time in Northern Ireland and was sorry to be airlifted out on the day when, fortunately and for good purposes, devolved government was restored and my time there finished.
Assent, there will be nothing in place. I do not want the Minister simply to say, “Well, we’ll have an affirmative order”. He needs to explain to the House what will happen after Royal Assent, when the NCA is not operating in Northern Ireland.
Does the shadow Minister recognise that when the Bill first emerged in draft, some of us pointed out in questions to both Northern Ireland Office and Home Office Ministers that there would be serious implications and sensitivities in Northern Ireland, which would need to be sorted out? However, the Bill was handled in such a way that it was left to privileged negotiations and discussions between Department of Justice officials in Belfast and the Home Office here. The parties in Northern Ireland were only latterly involved. That is why we now have the crazy situation that time has been added on at the end of the discussions on the Bill. There should have been proper discussion and consultation time at the beginning.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because that is the point that I am making. Where is the Northern Ireland Office in this? Are discussions taking place with the political parties in Northern Ireland to resolve the situation? A number of parties and their representatives have different views, such as the hon. Member for East Antrim, representatives of Sinn Fein and my hon. Friend himself.What discussions are taking place with those parties to resolve that situation? The situation is still in play, and when Royal Assent is achieved, the Serious Organised Crime Agency will not operate in Northern Ireland. That is of regret to the Minister and to me. More importantly, the Justice Minister, David Ford, said that blocking the new crime agency is a “mistake” that could have serious implications for the police. He stated:
“There is a real danger if it does not go ahead there will be very significant costs to the police both in terms of time and finances and that we will have an inferior response to the serious organised crime that we face”.
The police are understood to share the Justice Minister’s concerns, and the Minister needs to reflect on them. I will not oppose the new schedule, but I hope that he listens to what has been said and comes back to the House at an early opportunity to say how he will bring forward negotiations to conclude the matter.
New clause 2, which is in my name and that of my right hon. and hon. Friends, seeks a review, 12 months after Royal Assent, of the functions and operation of the National Crime Agency, particularly in relation to its governance structures. We had a full debate on that in Committee and I will not repeat those points today because of the limited time available. The Minister knows, however, that we think there is an alternative model to governance in which the NCA does not just report directly to the Home Secretary. Will the Minister consider whether in 12 months’ time, following Royal Assent, we could review how his model has operated? If it operates well and has been good and effective, fine; but if not, can we review it? A formal review is the purpose of new clause 2, including the
I will not touch on asset recovery now as we will discuss it in a later debate, but there is a big hole in the Bill on that issue and how it fits into a UK structure. A review 12 months after Royal Assent, as demanded by new clause 2, would simply require the matter to be considered in detail.
Amendment 3, which is in my name, concerns giving political oversight to decisions made by the director general of the NCA in response to international requests for assistance, and for consideration of an international response to emergency situations. Under clause 7, the director general can decide to examine the provision of assistance to a country or territory outside the British Isles. Subsection (3) states:
My amendment would simply mean that that should be with the support and agreement of the Home Secretary, and I tabled it for two reasons.
First, there may be countries that request or are looking for support from the National Crime Agency but about which the Government of the day might have concerns. Let us suppose, for example, that the Syrian Government asked for help and support from the NCA, or the Zimbabwean Government. Those are politically difficult issues that Ministers would want to have oversight of because Ministers are ultimately accountable to the House for the operation of the NCA. A system that allows the director of the NCA to agree that help and support can be given on request or by decision, but that ultimately the Minister, Home Secretary or a delegated Minister has oversight of and understands and agrees, would be helpful. When I was a Minister I agreed on many occasions to police forces sending people overseas to help with a range of activities. It is important that Ministers have such oversight, even if they do not ultimately have a veto.
I also tabled amendment 3 because I am concerned that officers may be in danger in certain countries and, again, Ministers are ultimately accountable to this House. In future, the National Crime Agency director may well have NCA officers in Afghanistan, Mali, Nigeria or Iraq—who knows? It could be any country in which the NCA is providing assistance or has been requested to do so on matters of serious organised crime. When officers go into areas of danger, political oversight is important as a Minister will ultimately be accountable in the Chamber if things go wrong.
I welcome amendment 4. I proposed it in Committee and it has been brought back by the Minister in a slightly amended form: the word “will” has been replaced with the word “must”—such is the Government’s wish to grab hold of the Bill and not let anybody amend it word by word, even though the principle is the same. However, I welcome the fact that I did not entirely waste my time in Committee, and that the measure was accepted by the Government.
I understand where my hon. Friend John McDonnell is coming from with his amendments as we had a full debate in Committee. I will not, however, be able to support the amendments to remove clauses 12 and 13, but if he wishes to make his case I am sure the House will listen. I think we need clauses 12 and 13 to ensure that the police and the National Crime Agency police do not have the rights that the removal of those clauses would give them.
Since the Committee stage, I have heard concerns from police officers about the automatic transfer of officers from forces to the National Crime Agency without consultation. I would welcome the Minister considering those concerns in due course and reflecting on them as part of our deliberations.
I am not convinced that new clause 3 is the best way forward, and I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to reject it. That is not because we do not want the matter resolved; we are not rejecting the review or the idea of examining those issues, but rather the immediate solution given by the Minister for an affirmative order. If the Minister does not withdraw the new clause—I suspect he will not—he may face a vote in the House.
I am in the rather strange position of wanting to support the amendments tabled by John McDonnell, but I will not steal his thunder and will be as brief as possible. In particular, I agree with amendments 95 and 102. As we know, clause 12 would prohibit unions from instigating a strike affecting any officers working for the National Crime Agency who have operational powers. That would include the director general of the NCA, and it would give power to the Home Secretary to take civil action against any person or persons who might call, or incite, such a strike.
The Government seem to regard the serious-minded people who will be working in this field as little less than children who might run off on a whim and call a strike for no reason at all. The quality of those people does not indicate that that is the kind of thing they would do, but I do not think they should be deprived of rights that most workers are accorded. It is only right and proper for the Government to take a respectful approach to those workers and allow them the negotiating rights and further rights that most people have. Clause 12(4) goes as far as allowing the Home Secretary to seek an injunction restraining a threatened strike by National Crime Agency officers holding operational powers. I believe that such provisions are retrograde and hope that hon. Members will support amendment 95 that would delete clause 12 in its entirety.
I am equally opposed to the provisions in clause 13, which would allow the Home Secretary to pass regulations determining the pay, allowances and other terms and conditions of National Crime Agency officers designated with operational powers, including the director general of the NCA. Amendment 102 would delete the clause in its entirety.
Clause 24(2) would allow for the contracting out of all functions of fines officers. The clause also makes provision for the costs of collecting compensation, fines and other financial penalties to be recovered from other offenders. I share the concern of groups such as the Public and Commercial Services Union that the Bill would allow a crucial element of enforcing sentences to be privatised. That would mean private companies being in charge of carrying out quasi-judicial functions, such as making deductions from benefit orders and making attachment of earnings orders. That is a privatisation too far.
Let me return to the question of deleting clauses 12 and 13. When read in conjunction, they look worse than when read by themselves. What they say is: “You will not have rights that other trade unions have. We will appoint a form of board to determine your pay. End of story.” If ever there was an invitation to truss up a turkey and put it in the oven, this is it. Read together, clauses 12 and 13 will stitch up these people in the worst possible sense. This kind of legislation might have been in vogue 10 or 20 years ago, but it has no place in any modern democracy. By proceeding with it, the Government are undermining trust in these people and making them look like people who should not be in the jobs they are in or who will not act responsibly, which clearly they are not. Amendments 95 and 102 are well worthy of support, and I fully support my friend the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington.
Let me say to my hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench that I am extremely shocked by what has been said—that they are not willing to support my amendments. This is the first time in the history of the labour movement—the first time ever in the history of the Labour party—that this party has supported in Parliament the removal of trade union rights from trade unionists. That is a significant step and marks a historic change in attitude. I urge those on the Front Bench to use these moments in this debate to think about what they are doing.
This is the party that campaigned to redress the disgraceful treatment of GCHQ workers—if people remember—all through the ’80s and ’90s, when a Conservative Government removed their trade union rights. This is the party that gave commitments to the Prison Officers Association that we would address its complaint that a Conservative Government had removed the right to take strike action from prison officers. I urge Labour MPs and others—anyone who is in the Chamber and anyone watching this debate outside—to understand what is happening here today, because this is significant. This is not a minor matter; this is about taking away a basic human right from a group of workers. It has never been done before in the history of our party.
I chair the PCS parliamentary group. It is a large group—I think we have 70-odd members on a cross-party basis—that represents the workers we are talking about. The PCS represents members in the Home Office and its agencies. It currently has about 2,700 members in the Serious Organised Crime Agency and will have between 3,350 and 3,500 members in the NCA when it is established. The whole discussion up to now has proceeded on the basis that these are civil servants, who respect the right of Government to govern and will therefore do all they can when there is a restructuring of Departments or Government agencies to ensure that they support the
Government in that restructuring and implement the policies effectively. However, what the PCS seeks to do as a trade union is to protect its members’ basic rights, wages and working conditions.
The process of negotiation on the restructuring and the new agencies has been going on apace for a number of months. That is what trade unions do: they engage in negotiations. We thought that there would be discussions about negotiation structures and thus the opportunity to reach agreement, which is what has been achieved on a number of issues in these sorts of restructurings right across the civil service. However, we now have proposals, almost out of the blue, to introduce a no-strike provision and remove the right of this group of workers to take industrial action, as my friend the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd said, and, in addition, to install a pay review body appointed by the Government, again without a negotiated agreement.
That is not the way to set up a new agency, lift people’s morale or secure their involvement and engagement in the implementation of policy; it is a rebuttal of all the negotiations that have taken place. It will mean that a large number of people will basically lose the right to take industrial action when they have a grievance. What we are talking about is some people who have the powers of a constable—the powers of arrest. I understand some of the concerns about that, but we are also talking about Revenue and Customs officers and immigration officers, who have been treated no differently in the past from any other civil servants. They have had the same rights of representation and the same trade union rights.
It is interesting that back in November the Joint Committee on Human Rights expressed its concerns about the plans for NCA officials with operational powers to be forbidden to take strike action. The Committee said:
“we question whether the Government has yet demonstrated by reference to actual evidence that there is a pressing need to restrict the right of NCA officers to take strike action, bearing in mind that SOCA has so far operated with no restrictions on its officers’ right to strike. In our view, NCA officers are closer to SOCA officers than police officers. Even if there were evidence of such a need, on the evidence currently available to us we do not consider it to be proportionate to apply the no-strike provision to NCA officers who hold some of the operational powers, including officers who only exercise the operational powers of a customs officer or immigration officer and not those of a constable.”
So this is a human rights issue: the Joint Committee on Human Rights has said so. It has expressed its concern while these discussions have been going on. To be frank, the industrial relations atmosphere has been good. There is no evidence of any demand from management for the new power. Quite the reverse: management have been proceeding in the normal way in the negotiations, to see what structures are required to ensure worker engagement.
Given all the points the hon. Gentleman is making and that he started his speech by saying that this was a historic first for the Labour party, I am curious to know why he thinks those on the Labour Front Bench do not agree with his arguments.
I understand where the hon. Gentleman is coming from, but I am not playing party politics with this. I do not have a clue why not: this is the first time I knew of it. If this issue was dealt with in Committee and I missed it, I apologise, but I thought that the attitude was to listen and wait for this debate. I thought we would listen to the members themselves who are on the front line—some of them, just like police officers, risk their lives in the work they do—yet who have never caused a problem in industrial relations.
Management have not come forward with these proposals; they have been brought forward by the Government. This is a Government whim. Someone in Government decided it would be worth trying for a no-strike provision on this group of workers. It is the thin end of the wedge, because there are some Conservative Back Benchers who have been seeking to introduce a no-strike provision across whole sectors of industry. I think this is the start. This group of workers is the experiment, to see whether people will acquiesce, and I am amazed that those on the Labour Front Bench have rolled over. That sends a signal to this Government to come forward with proposals for the transport sector and many others, as some have been planning to do for many years. I am absolutely staggered. How can these measures be brought forward unopposed at this stage, when negotiations are continuing? There could have been a negotiated settlement on the new structures and we could have avoided this kind of imposition. I will not spend too long on this, because there is another debate in Westminster Hall on the privatisation of the probation service that I would like to get to. This just goes on and on, but at least my own side is putting up some opposition to those proposals.
Let us be clear what clauses 12 and 13 will do. They will take away from civil servants a fundamental right that they have at the moment: the right to take industrial action. This is the crossing of the Rubicon. The clauses will bring in a ban on industrial action that extends well beyond the police and prison officers, where it already exists, to civil servants, on whom such a ban has never been imposed before. This is an unnecessary and unwelcome political device that is being used by the Government to test the water around their future policies on trade union and employment rights in this country.
As I have said, I think this is the thin end of the wedge. If the clauses are accepted by the House—and certainly if they are accepted by my party—on this occasion, this will be used as an example in other areas. That is why I am urging people to vote against them, and I will seek to divide the House on the matter. If I have to walk through the Lobby on my own, I will do so, because this is a fundamental matter of principle.
The workers involved are dedicated civil servants, but they deserve the right to protection and to basic human and trade union rights if they feel that management or others are imposing something on them that is unacceptable. Most of them never go on strike or take industrial action, but they deserve to have the right to do so if necessary, because that is the only protection they have against oppressive management or employers.
I urge comrades on this side of the House—members of the parliamentary Labour party—to use whatever time we have left in the debate to think again. This is not a trivial matter. It is not a simple “tidying-up exercise” in employee-management relationships in the new body; it will undermine a fundamental human right. This Government have already been criticised for their refusal to give the right to industrial action back to prison officers. They were criticised by the International Labour Organisation for being in contravention of all the international conventions on employment rights, yet there are people here on the Labour Benches today who are rolling over without a whimper of opposition to extending that denial of human rights to this group of workers. That is unacceptable.
With your permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I hope to call a Division on this matter when I have the opportunity to do so, and I urge Members to vote against the measures. This is a significant matter; it is absolutely critical. It is a matter of conscience, not a matter of administrative convenience for management and the Government. It is a basic human rights issue, and I urge Members to vote for our amendments.
It is with regret that I see the references to Northern Ireland and the role of the National Crime Agency in Northern Ireland being removed from the Bill, and I want to put some questions to the Minister on this point. If any part of the United Kingdom needs the effective operation of a national crime agency, it is Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in this House has already identified the fact that hundreds of millions of pounds every year are lost to the Exchequer and go into the hands of criminal gangs, on many occasions to finance terrorist activities, as a result of fuel laundering alone. There are many other areas in which organised crime plays a big role in Northern Ireland. We need the National Crime Agency.
The role that the criminals play is not confined to Northern Ireland. Their tentacles spread well beyond Northern Ireland and dealing with them involves operational decisions that cannot be taken solely by the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Indeed, the fact that they are now laundering their money across Europe and north America demonstrates the international dimension involved, and the PSNI cannot be expected to deal with them alone.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that a false interface is being created between terrorism and criminality, which is an extremely blurred area in Northern Ireland, in that the same people are often involved in both activities? Does he also agree that a false interface exists in the incorrect assumption that there is some kind of border beyond which the tentacles of those criminals cannot reach?
Attempts have been made during the debate to make exactly that distinction, but the hon. Lady is absolutely right to say that there is no such distinction.
It is surprising that the Northern Ireland Executive could not agree on having a legislative consent motion, which would have enabled the Bill to go through complete with its provisions for Northern Ireland. There has been some criticism of the Minister, and questions have been asked about what he has done for Northern Ireland. Extensive discussions have taken place between his Department and the Department of Justice and the Justice Minister in Northern Ireland. I know that Mark Durkan is probably going to say that he wanted a more direct interface with his party and with Sinn Fein, but of course that is difficult, given that Sinn Fein refuses to take part in any of the activities of this House.
It is significant, however, that all the issues that the nationalist parties have raised in the past in relation to SOCA have been dealt with. Indeed, some of the arrangements went beyond that point when SOCA was being set up. As a former member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board, I can remember the discussions that took place at the time and the safeguards that were put in place as a result of concerns being raised by nationalist representatives.
The deliberations on this Bill went even further, and that makes this outcome even more surprising, given the assurances that were given about a role for the ombudsman, about the need to ensure that the activities of the National Crime Agency did not cross with any PSNI investigations, about the restrictions on the ability of the Justice Minister to direct the police service to co-operate with the NCA in investigations, and about the role of the surveillance commissioner. A range of issues have been dealt with and specifically tailored to the situation in Northern Ireland in response to the concerns expressed mostly by Sinn Fein and those in the nationalist community, yet there is still no agreement in the Executive.
I made a point to the Minister earlier about the chances of reaching such an agreement when the mindset is that any police or security activity that is based in the United Kingdom and not solely in Northern Ireland is unacceptable. It is extremely difficult to reach consensus on this matter. Suggestions have been made today as to what could be done. Perhaps we need more time. Would that provide the opportunity to iron out these issues? That is a reasonable suggestion, and it would be much better than pushing this legislation through the House without taking the opportunity to ensure that it covers the whole of the United Kingdom. I say all this with some reluctance, because I want the House to respect the devolution settlement, but I put it to the Minister that we need an explanation on why a different approach is being taken.
I do not want to go into the details of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, but I want to use it to illustrate a principle. In the Committee for that Bill, my hon. Friend Jim Shannon put it to the Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Hugh Robertson, that there were provisions in the Bill relating to Northern Ireland, even though it was accepted that those were devolved issues. The Minister replied:
“I…agree with the hon. Gentleman that marriages and civil partnerships are devolved matters in Scotland and Northern Ireland.”
He then commented, however, about what might happen if the Northern Ireland Assembly did not pass a legislative consent motion. I do not know whether it will—I will not comment on that—but the Minister said:
“The important thing here is that I, as a UK Minister, cannot leave people who undertake a same-sex marriage in this country in legal limbo in the hon. Gentleman’s part of the world.”––[Official Report, Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Public Bill Committee,
The implication is that the Government would legislate regardless of the Assembly’s views.
I do not make this point lightly, because I want the lines of demarcation between the devolved Administrations and the Westminster Government made clear, but if those lines can be crossed on that issue, why should they not be crossed in respect of the far more important matter of criminals siphoning off hundreds of millions of pounds from the Exchequer to fund criminal and terrorist organisations and to launder money across the world? Why does the Minister not regard that as equally important? Why have the Government not even contemplated doing that if they cannot reach an agreement in Northern Ireland? This affects not just a few individuals, but the very fabric of communities in Northern Ireland now controlled by these crime barons, especially in border areas.
That would not be my preferred option. I would rather get agreement before the Bill passes, even if that means delaying it, in order to ensure UK coverage for the NCA. I sat in on the discussions, and I can say that the SDLP is nervous about being outflanked by Sinn Fein, and Sinn Fein is worried about being outflanked by the SDLP. For political reasons, there is an unwillingness to come to an agreement and have the UK Government legislate on policing matters in Northern Ireland. I also suspect that some sympathise with the crime barons and so do not want effective policing. The PSNI cannot replicate the NCA’s role. It does not have the resources—even if it had the financial resources, it would not have the personnel expertise—which leaves a huge gap when it comes to fighting organised crime in Northern Ireland.
For all those reasons, I am disappointed that the Government have meekly walked away, rather than saying what could be done to ensure that Northern Ireland is given the same coverage as other parts of the UK.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making his argument so powerfully. Does he agree that this might be a matter of national security, which of course is not devolved—the Northern Ireland Secretary still has responsibility for it? Given that the Security Service operates in Northern Ireland, would he also agree, in respect of the NCA, that we should have some flexibility regarding the national position, as opposed to considering it purely in terms of the devolved situation?
That is another way of looking at how to get coverage in Northern Ireland. The Minister cannot simply say, “Well, we haven’t got the agreement of the Executive.” I do not know whether we will ever get that agreement. Some reasonable and substantial changes have been made to the Bill as it affects the NCA’s operation in Northern Ireland, as a result of the efforts of Justice Ministers—who, incidentally, acted not in isolation, but as a result of representations from the very parties that have opposed the legislative consent motion.
I accept that, under the Bill, the Home Secretary may, at some future date—presumably after she has got a signal from the parties in Northern Ireland—introduce the necessary changes, but I do not know whether that will ever be possible. That is why the Government should keep open the option of considering whether the demarcation between the devolved authorities and the authority of this House could and should be blurred to take this matter forward. If a Minister can threaten to do such a thing on something like civil partnerships and same-sex marriage, there is an even stronger case for doing it here.
It is a pleasure to follow Sammy Wilson, who spoke with his usual authority and attention to detail. I shall return to some of his points later.
I am deeply unhappy about new clause 3, which would provide the Home Secretary with an order-making power to change the lead responsibility for counter-terrorism by secondary legislation. In an intervention, I said it seemed odd that the Government wanted fresh primary legislation to extend pre-charge detention beyond 14 days—where urgent action would be needed if speed were of the essence—but here, on something that needs to be considered very carefully and at great length, they want to provide for an order-making power. I deeply regret that the Minister has completely ignored the Second Reading debate, when the Home Secretary said that she had not made up her mind. He failed to produce an amendment in Committee. Even though we finished our deliberations in Committee a day early, we had no opportunity to scrutinise this proposal. We can debate whether lead responsibility should be with the Met or the NCA, but it should be decided in fresh primary, not secondary, legislation.
As we heard, an unfortunate side effect of the proposal is that some in Northern Ireland have been able to suggest that it muddies the waters in relation to who is in charge of counter-terrorism operations and investigations. I asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland last week whether she would clarify that, and very helpfully she said:
The Chief Constable has the lead in counter-terrorism, yet some have been able to suggest that that is confused by the Home Secretary’s proposal. That is a regrettable further side effect of the proposal. If the Government prevail today, I hope that those in another place will once again throw the measure out.
Like virtually everyone in the House—I think an exception might be made in a short while—I am deeply unhappy that the Government have had to table new schedule 1 to deal with the lack of a legislative motion in Northern Ireland. I generally accept the argument advanced by the hon. Member for East Antrim that we cannot simply blame the Ministers in this Government, but there has been a clear lack of urgency and clarity from them about who has the lead in these negotiations. Negotiations in the context of Northern Ireland are hard work, but I have not really seen any evidence that they have been taking place. It may be that that has been going on hidden from view, but if it has been going on, it ought to continue apace because it is essential to resolve this issue—the sooner, the better.
There is a balance to be struck between autonomy and collaboration. That is particularly important in the Northern Ireland context. I respect the Patten reforms and all that has come from them, whether it be the Policing Board, the ombudsman, the position of the Minister and the position of the Assembly committee—all those are absolutely essential parts of the architecture of policing in Northern Ireland, which provide the autonomy it should have.
I am siding today with my colleagues from the Democratic Unionist party on the substantial issue—perhaps parting company, who knows, with my hon. Friend Mark Durkan,who is yet to catch your eye, Mr Deputy Speaker. I have also been prepared to do the opposite. I championed 50:50 recruitment, for example, because it was essential to ensure that we delivered as a Government on the Patten reforms in their completeness. Particularly in respect of organised crime, we also must make provision for collaboration. When it comes to human trafficking, smuggling and the laundering of fuel, we have to operate initially on a UK-wide basis, but also, of course, with Ireland and indeed countries across Europe and throughout the world. Organised crime is global business; we must operate on that basis.
Having no legislative consent motion means that, when it comes to customs and immigration, for example, certain activities will still go on and we will not see the full-blown co-operation that we need. In Committee, I proposed the organised crime task force system in Northern Ireland as a model for the rest of the country, bringing together all the partners in the fight against organised crime: the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Serious Organised Crime Agency in its present form, private business, Government Departments and a whole array of people, including the Policing Board, all working together to combat organised crime. Just a glance at last year’s annual report will show the benefits of that approach.
I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman would agree that there is another important issue here, to which the Government might be able to respond. Where the NCA is operating in the reserved field in Northern Ireland, we will still have an input into the organised crime effort. The Home Secretary, however, has removed the statutory requirement to consult the Department of Justice and the Justice Minister in Northern Ireland on strategic priorities and in respect of the annual plan by the director-general. That leaves another deficit that could be filled if the Government acted now.
I compliment my hon. Friend on her ingenuity in seeing two pages ahead in my speaking notes; I will come on to her very important point in a few moments.
I was reflecting on the effectiveness of the Organised Crime Task Force and how SOCA has been able to work with all the other law-enforcement agencies. Last year alone—this is in the annual report—£13 million-worth of drugs were seized, 33 potential victims of human trafficking were rescued, £4.44 million-worth of criminal assets were seized, and the list goes on. That is the result of working together to combat organised crime. That is now being put at risk because of the breakdown in negotiations and the failure to get a legislative consent motion. As reported by the BBC today, a recent massive operation against the illegal fuel trade involved law enforcement north and south of the border, with 300 officers deployed. If we do not get that sort of co-operation continuing at the highest possible level and to the fullest extent, the impact of such operations will be greatly diminished.
(Naomi Long). I think it is a mistake to take the Northern Ireland Justice Minister out of the loop of consultation, as suggested by the Minister in new schedule 1. That Northern Ireland Minister will no longer be consulted on strategic priorities, on the annual plan or indeed in respect of the appointment of a director-general. We have an impasse here: taking the Northern Ireland Justice Minister out of the loop of consultation is, I think, the result of a failure to co-operate or to show the right spirit. We want to get this issue dealt with across the line, not to retreat from the line. My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast East made an important point in her intervention. David Ford chairs the Organised Crime Task Force and is in a leading position in the fight against organised crime, so not to consult him on these key issues is a big mistake.
In that context, the Minister has described himself as a “collegiate” Minister—and who am I to argue with that description? I was rather hoping, in that spirit, that he would have come back with an amendment to schedule 6, paragraph 1(2), which deals with inspection. Provision is made there for inspections relating to the NCA in Scotland, but no mention is made—there is still no mention of it anywhere in the Bill—of Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland. It inspects the police there. It should be involved in any inspection of the NCA. In the spirit of trying to move this forward to get a meeting of minds, the Minister could, even at this late stage, make a commitment to involve Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland in the same way that he is involving the Scottish inspectors in Scotland.
Secondly, the Minister has to tell us more about how the negotiations will continue. Who is in the lead? Is he in the lead? Is it the Home Secretary or the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland? Is there a meeting this week? Is there a meeting next week? Are Ministers planning to meet the parties? How is it being done? Is there any real urgency in the negotiations that should be happening? Are Ministers just sitting back and waiting for Northern Ireland politicians to come forward? We really need to know whether something is happening. As I said, negotiation is hard work, but it is important for Ministers to get on with it.
Thirdly, let me deal with operational co-operation. I particularly want the Minister to address the issue of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre. Frankly, many of our constituents think that CEOP, an excellent organisation, operates independently, but it is in fact part of SOCA and will be part of the National Crime Agency. The huge irony is that Jim Gamble, an excellent first chief executive, is from Northern Ireland and was a former officer with the Royal Ulster Constabulary. He did so much to put CEOP in the place it is as a world leader in this field.
What is going to happen in Northern Ireland? Will the Chief Constable have to establish a new team to deal with these issues? What happens if CEOP has intelligence and important information about paedophiles in Northern Ireland? What is going to be done? What are the practical arrangements that Ministers are overseeing and how will they ensure that they are in place to deal with such problems? It is important not just to have reassurance about the operational responsibilities but to ensure that the message goes out to people that, if they know of abuse or if they have been abused, they must come forward to report it. Goodness me, after all we are supposed to have learned from Savile, any message that says “Frankly, CEOP is closed in Northern Ireland” would be a dreadful message to send. It is essential that the Minister provides some reassurance about that.
I hope I can reassure my right hon. Friend slightly. The Justice Minister is aware of that particular risk and is working to try to put in place mechanisms to ensure that such a gap does not exist and that alternative arrangements are available for co-operation and the trading of information, if we fail to get to the desirable point where the whole of the NCA is operating properly in Northern Ireland.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that assurance. It is timely to pay tribute to David Ford, the Justice Minister in Northern Ireland, who has done a superb job since devolution and who is, even now, looking at and trying to deal with the risks that may occur if consent is not given to these provisions. It does not come as a surprise to me at all to know that he is trying to plug the gaps in these provisions. The Minister, however, is the Minister responsible for the NCA and for CEOP, so that Minister has to offer us some reassurances.
My last point is about the relationship between the NCA and the Northern Ireland Policing Board. The hon. Member for East Antrim made the point that when he was a member of the Policing Board it was important to establish what the relationship was between a UK-wide body and the Northern Ireland Policing Board. I remember going, as the Minister responsible for policing in Northern Ireland, to the Policing Board—I did that once a year—for a formal session on organised crime. I would take with me senior SOCA officers, so that the Policing Board could ask them questions and get to the bottom of certain issues. We were as open as we possibly could be, even though there was no formal requirement for accountability. That was the spirit in which we operated. What will happen now? If the NCA is to have no formal relationship in Northern Ireland, the danger is that such discussions, formal and informal, will cease to happen. Yet the NCA will still have responsibilities for customs and immigration in Northern Ireland. There will be a loss of communication and dialogue about those and other important issues.
There is a huge agenda here. I hope that the Minister will be able to offer us some reassurance about the urgency with which he is dealing with these matters and the negotiations that need to take place, and that he will respond in detail to the points that I, and others, have raised. There are continuing and serious differences of opinion in Northern Ireland, which must be respected and worked through in a democratic way, but surely there should be absolute unanimity when it comes to the need to combat organised crime and the awful evil that it brings. That, at least, should be a matter of absolute consensus between the politicians of Northern Ireland.
I fully understand and support what Mr Hanson said about new clause 3. I have a particular and positive regard for the principle contained in subsection (2), which relates to the Chief Constable of the PSNI, but the wider issues raised by the new clause are also important, and I share the concern that was expressed about them by Paul Goggins and others.
Like others, I find it regrettable that, in new schedule 1, we have a clumsy legislative provision that precludes functions for the time being, but provides for them to be introduced later by order, subject to other agreements. That proves that time was not used properly to secure those agreements. I do not believe that agreement on such matters is impossible. The discussions have been positive and practical rather than intractable. It is not a question of people trying to play politics, which some people unworthily accused us of doing some time ago. The character of the discussions with the Minister and his officials, and indeed the constructive role of the Minister’s special adviser, has been entirely positive. No one is saying, “Because this is coming from England, we want nothing to do with it.” There is no “green against green” competition. That is certainly not the SDLP’s position.
As I said in an intervention, some of us raised issues in relation to this Bill, and similar but different issues in relation to the Justice and Security Bill. We pointed out that there would be implications and complications when it came to the interface with, and the impact on, Northern Ireland and the Patten architecture. We cannot throw in new fixtures and fittings that are UK-wide, or even Northern Ireland-specific, and say that some of them do not affect the Patten architecture, if their character does affect it, or possibly affects it. When it comes to such matters as legislative consent motions, members of my party—as conscientious legislators both here and in the Assembly—must ask ourselves whether we have fully understood the implications, and assured ourselves that the results of these legislative changes will be positive. Are we persuaded that they will add to the fighting and the reducing of crime, but will not cause any difficulties in relation to the policing ethos, the upholding of the Patten principles and the new start to policing?
That is something we have consistently done. The right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East and I have had many discussions about the whole issue of national security—about the re-routing of certain responsibilities and balances of interest, and about the changes that were made in the context of the St Andrews agreement, which took some of the Patten accountability and the Patten complaints process out of some of the purview of national security.
We opposed that. We had worked hard to ensure that the issue of policing would be addressed in the negotiations for the Good Friday agreement when no other party would address it, and we had ensured that an international commission was set up. Having done that, and having helped to drive the Patten reform programme, we were not going to say, “That does not matter. We never really cared about those principles. It was purely ephemeral.” When we saw measures relating to national security that we thought might provide a way of getting around or undermining Patten, we registered our concern about them, and we must ensure that that does not happen in the case of the National Crime Agency.
The SDLP worked hard to secure accountability. We were dealing with Unionist parties which told us that no change was needed, and we were being attacked by Sinn Fein, which told us that no change was happening. Of course we are going to be precious and pedantic about the need to ensure that the integrity of the change that we worked so hard to secure, with very little help from anyone else, is respected and protected, and that is what we are trying to do. We should all have been afforded more time earlier in the process, and a fuller, more open discussion when we had a draft Bill. That is not a criticism of David Ford as the devolved Minister of Justice. It is possible that we need to be less precious as a Parliament about which other parties can be in on discussions about the drafting and preparation of a Bill when a significant devolved interest is involved. If more had been done earlier in that regard, we would not have been left with the present unseemly situation.
The hon. Gentleman’s view on policing and the safeguards that are required obviously differs from mine, but all the discussion to which he has referred happened a long time ago, when SOCA was set up. The relationships between the Policing Board and SOCA and between the ombudsman and SOCA, and the safeguards that were to be provided, are still in place, and indeed have been added to. I cannot understand—I am sure it would be useful to the Minister to know this as well—where the gaps which, according to Mark Durkan, still exist can be found. The safeguards that his party agreed were necessary in the past were adequate and have been added to, but there seems still to be a reluctance to accept that the National Crime Agency will be able to operate in the context of the Bill.
The reluctance is not a reluctance to see the National Crime Agency operate or make a due contribution to the fighting and the reducing of crime in Northern Ireland, and crime that reaches into or out of Northern Ireland and affects other territories. The hon. Gentleman mentioned SOCA. When SOCA was first proposed, his party and mine had reservations about it, but many of those reservations were concerned with whether it would mean the loss of the valuable work done by the Criminal Assets Bureau. We wondered whether level 1 crime would be dealt with by the PSNI and level 3 would be dealt with by SOCA, and whether criminals knew that if they kept their criminal activity within level 2, there would be no one to deal with it.
Many issues arose in relation to SOCA, not just the issue of whether UK policing would affect Northern Ireland. We were seriously worried, for instance, about SOCA’s role in relation to the role of MI5. The notion of what is classified as national security, and of what a Government treat as national security, seems to be something of a movable feast in terms of the level of crime operations that are deemed to be within MI5’s sphere of influence. We were trying to clarify all those matters, and the same applies here. We need to know about any additional policing element.
The Bill with which we were originally presented provided for constabulary powers to be given to National Crime Agency officers in Northern Ireland, and we needed to know how they would be aligned with the constabulary powers of the PSNI. The Bill also provided for NCA special constables in Northern Ireland. I think that the hon. Gentleman would have been very surprised if, four and a half decades on from all the working and striving to get rid of the B-specials, nationalist parties did not question legislation providing for new special constables. Those are exactly the sort of provisions that people want to address in a sensible way.
I do not doubt for a minute that the hon. Gentleman’s concerns about wanting the NCA to operate in a way that respects the devolved settlement and secures the progress that has been made in policing are genuine, but he has referred on a number of occasions to the original draft Bill, and considerable changes have been made to it to get to where we are today—leaving aside the fact that we are not going to delete all references to Northern Ireland. Huge progress has been made on constables and their status, answering to the ombudsman and other issues. Therefore, will he outline the remaining concerns that need to be addressed, so we can get over the line?
The hon. Lady’s point about the discussions and modifications that have already been made proves that many of us have raised valid concerns. When they are validly accommodated, we accept that, and we will want to raise any further outstanding concerns.
What would have happened if we had not raised our misgivings? For a long time people were saying, “That’s just an SDLP hobby-horse.” For instance, it was certainly said that I was still hung up on all the stuff about MI5 and so forth. It was said that we had too much emotional and intellectual capital invested in the Patten reforms, and that we had a hang-up. Latterly, Sinn Fein seemed to realise some of the issues as well, but it is not a matter of them trying to outflank us, or us trying outflank them. We, as parties, have a duty.
We have made our own contributions and decisions about the new policing dispensation. If we are saying that assurances are in place and policing in Northern Ireland both now and in the future is different from the historical policing dispensation, we have to show that that will continue to be the case, and that it is not being got around by the lateral legislation and policing arrangements being produced by the Government here.
We have the NCA taking over from SOCA. As Sammy Wilson said, we agreed with, and came to terms with, some of the SOCA arrangements and the safeguards in relation to it. Then the NCA came along, and it cannot be the case that parties will just say, “Whatever other changes you at Westminster want, and whatever you’re having yourself, we’ll just take it and we won’t look at what difference it makes to us.” We need to be reassured.
Time should have been taken to address this matter. This is not a criticism of the Minister or anyone else; it might be to do with how legislative consent motions are handled, and how we get better joined-up scrutiny between a devolved Assembly in Northern Ireland and Westminster so we are not left in the current clumsy situation, which is not just the case in relation to this Bill. Sometimes, legislative consent motions come before the Assembly long after a Bill has passed through this place. Introducing such motions earlier might give the Assembly more influence on the form of the legislation or the sensitivities that need to be taken into account. There are lessons to be learned at the procedural level for all of us, therefore.
I am not trying to point a finger at the devolved Minister or anybody else. As others have said, however, these issues were raised with Northern Ireland Office Ministers early last year, and they were asked, “What are you doing through conversations with the Home Office and devolved interests to make sure these issues are being well accommodated?” They did not seem to know, or to want to know, what we were talking about.
I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman and his party for all the risks they have taken down the years in relation to policing. They have often been willing to become members of the Policing Board and other bodies, which have put policing at the heart of the community for everybody. The longer I listen to his speech, the more I hear that there is an issue of principle that has to be respected, and I agree with that, but there is also an issue about time, and there has been insufficient time to have the detailed discussions needed. I am amazed the Minister has not leapt to his feet to intervene to offer the hon. Gentleman discussions very soon to resolve this whole matter as quickly as possible.
I welcome what the right hon. Gentleman says. We have mentioned some of the discussions that have taken place involving different parties and the Minister and his officials. Some of them have also involved the director of the NCA, and I understand that he came away with a new appreciation about how the Policing Board accountability arrangements worked. He said no police agency at any level could be expected to be involved in accountability in such a way, only to find that senior Police Service of Northern Ireland officers said, “Well, we are, and it works.” A fuller conversation would have been better, therefore, and the relevant Westminster Ministers should have been involved in those discussions earlier, rather than leaving it to everybody else.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that his arguments about this particular matter also relate to the next set of amendments on asset recovery? It is important that we have an opportunity to test the Government on what they are doing to close the loophole in that regard, and I am conscious that we have limited time to do that. I hope he will either reflect on those concerns now or ensure that we can debate them, as the asset recovery issue is particularly important because there is no asset recovery in Northern Ireland, and I know he is concerned about that.
I fully accept what the right hon. Gentleman says. Our concern is not to make sure that the NCA has no remit or writ in relation to Northern Ireland. Our concern is to ensure not only that Northern
Ireland does not lose out under the new dispensation by injury to the Patten architecture, but that we do not lose out on any equipment we might need to combat serious crime and to be part of combating it on a wider territorial basis. The asset recovery issues he raises point to important issues. It is imperative that we have full and proper discussions on all such matters.
On the criminal intelligence function, I hope we can put great store by what the Minister said in reply to my intervention about some of the functions not being precluded by the measures. He said the criminal intelligence function will still be discharged by the NCA in Northern Ireland, and that it will not be involved in running its own informers and so forth. The House should not have to be reminded that it is only a few months since we all sat here shocked at the revelations in the de Silva report about what happens when people are running agents and informers and some police know about it and others do not. We end up with scandalous situations, which are central to people’s concerns about confidence in policing in Northern Ireland. We have to make sure people know that we can never go back to that situation again, by default, by design or by any other means.
There is no point in us saying “Yes, we’ve sorted out full accountable policing and none of the old things can happen,” only for people to find all sorts of other things going on, and we then say, “Yes, but that was nothing to do with the accountable devolved policing. That was to do with these other policing arrangements we helped to legislate for.” We are then like Clouseau in one of the “Pink Panther” movies where he sees a man with a dog and asks, “Does your dog bite?” The man says, “No.” Clouseau pets the dog and the dog nearly takes his arm off. Clouseau then says, “I thought you told me your dog doesn’t bite,” and the man says, “That’s not my dog.” We cannot say, “We’ve sorted out policing, and we have full accountability and a full and open complaints process, but meanwhile anything goes in relation to how this Parliament here at Westminster legislates for other aspects of policing.” We have to get this right for now and for the future.
The hon. Member for East Antrim raised an issue that was close to being a red herring: what is or might be provided for in relation to Northern Ireland in the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. As I read it, that legislation basically says that a same-sex marriage conducted in England or Wales will have the status only of a civil partnership in Northern Ireland or in Scotland. In one respect, Ministers could argue that they are respecting the legal position in Scotland and in Northern Ireland, and are saying, “We won’t do anything that does injury to that, interferes with that or introduces any other new language or different standing.” I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s point about a comparison with that Bill’s provisions, as they stand. The comparison is that there was a danger that the way in which this Bill was providing for Northern Ireland was going to damage carefully developed and agreed procedures in place in Northern Ireland.
I wish to deal with one other point. When we raised concerns about constabulary powers, we were accused of wanting all the paedophiles and child exploiters to be free to do what they want. That was what was said about the National Crime Agency not having constabulary powers, but of course the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre does not have constabulary powers, and it does not particularly need or want them. Some of the issues we raised are shared by Jim Gamble; he has shared in some of our concerns and highlighted others of his own. Those of us who have issues are not purely playing politics; we are trying to make sure that policing, at all its levels, and in all its natures and its full character, is right and stays right.
Time is short and so, although I will try to give a thorough response, I may be sparing in the number of interventions I take, for reasons that hon. Members will understand.
A lot of points were made about new clause 3 and the changes with regard to Northern Ireland. I will deal with those and then briefly with the amendments. I will not address the Government amendments, even though I have not yet spoken about those. The right hon. Members for Delyn (Mr Hanson) and for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins) made particular points about new clause 3, with the former making the point that a super-affirmative order could not be amended.
It is worth drawing the House’s attention to the fact that the procedure in the Bill requires the Home Secretary to
“have regard to
(a) any representations,
(b) any resolution of either House of Parliament, and
(c) any recommendations of a committee of either House”.
As I said earlier, we envisage that in those circumstances the cross-party Select Committee on Home Affairs would consider proposals brought forward. After the Home Secretary has considered those matters, she may revise the order before inviting each House to agree the amended order. The point I am making is that, although there may not be a provision for the House to amend such an order at the end of the deliberations, there will be multiple opportunities for different bodies of Parliament to inform any recommendations that the Home Secretary may wish to bring to our attention. That detailed scrutiny process may be more comprehensive and may contain more provision for amendment and scrutiny than attaching an item of primary legislation into an overarching so-called Christmas tree Bill at another stage. There is a danger of the House underestimating the degree of scrutiny that will be available to Members, and the Government would certainly wish such a serious measure to be scrutinised effectively.
We had a lot of debate about Northern Ireland, and it is worth stressing that I agree with the central thrust of the points that have been made by nearly every Member who has spoken; the United Kingdom Government wish the NCA’s provisions to reach right across the UK, and in so much as they do not that is a source of regret to us. I therefore think that there is no difference between the Government’s position and that of most Members who have spoken on that point. Obviously, a number of meetings have taken place between officials, Ministers here in London and Ministers in Northern Ireland, but David Ford, the Northern Ireland Justice Minister, has led the main body of discussions. As legislative consent is a devolved process, it was for him to take forward the discussions with his Executive colleagues and the political parties. That is the proper way to proceed.
There is a lot of desire to discuss proceeds of crime in Northern Ireland, so, ironically, the longer I speak, the less chance Members will have to speak about Northern Ireland matters. I will give way once, but I will not give way again, unless I have said something that offends people’s sensibilities.
The Minister certainly has not offended my sensibilities. He accepts that the Bill is deficient and will be deficient in its operation—he accepted that in Committee—and as he cannot obtain consent for the legislation in Northern Ireland, he is left with a choice. He can either ignore that and plough on without that consent or implement the legislation from this place. I think that it will boil down to that choice. The House will have to determine whether it will face down the unjustified opposition to the implementation of the Bill in Northern Ireland.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, if only because it allows me to clarify that it is our intention to abide by the Sewel convention. We are not in the business of facing down, as he puts it, elected representatives in Northern Ireland, as we want to proceed with their approval and consent.
It is worth making it clear to the House that the NCA will still have a role in Northern Ireland, as there is a danger that a casual observer of our deliberations might think otherwise. I can confirm that some types of cross-border crime will fall within the remit of the NCA in Northern Ireland, even in its constrained form. For example, the NCA in Northern Ireland will be able to tackle immigration or customs offences. The NCA and CEOP will continue to be able to co-operate with partners in Northern Ireland and we are seeking to mitigate the operational impact of the situation we find ourselves in.
The NCA and CEOP will continue to operate in Northern Ireland, but it is worth saying that that operation will be curtailed as a result of the absence of legislative consent. In a way, that illustrates the wider point. There will be an NCA function in Northern Ireland and obviously we hope and believe that it will benefit the people of Northern Ireland. It will not be as comprehensive as we would have wished, but there is provision for it to be made more comprehensive in the future, as and when the political will and consensus in Northern Ireland provides for that.
Let me deal briefly with the non-Government amendments. New clause 2, tabled by the right hon. Member for Delyn, seeks to provide for a review of the NCA within 12 months of Royal Assent. I think I said earlier that the NCA would come into effect in October 2013, but for the avoidance of doubt let me clarify the Government’s position. We wish the NCA to come into effect by the end of 2013. Our target date is October, but that will obviously depend on matters that are not necessarily directly within our control, including potential issues to do with Parliament.
The new clause asks for a review during the 12 months after Royal Assent. Obviously, we want to keep a close eye on the effectiveness and accountability of the NCA when it is up and running and that is a core job of Government and Parliament, but the Government do not believe that an additional formal review mechanism is necessary. There are plenty of other means by which Ministers and Parliament can examine the progress made by the NCA and by which Parliament can examine the actions and decisions of Ministers.
Amendment 3 would make the director general’s power to provide assistance to any overseas Government or body subject to the prior approval of the Secretary of State. It is worth noting that there is no equivalent requirement for the Secretary of State to seek consent in statute for SOCA, HMRC or the security and intelligence services. We see no reason why we should create unnecessary statutory barriers to continuing the good work that already happens. Day-to-day assistance between the NCA and its overseas partners will be so routine that it would be completely impractical to require the Secretary of State to give consent in every instance.
On amendments 95 and 102, I must say that it was refreshing to hear the principal argument being made by John McDonnell, who made the case for trade unionism. Those points were not given more than a passing and cursory airing in Committee and were not raised by the Labour Front Bench, so we are not minded to agree to the amendments given that, as I understand it, there is consensus among the political parties that the Government are right and the Labour party enthusiastically supports the Government’s position on the trade unions.
It is important that we hear a response to the question asked by my right hon. Friend Mr Hanson, because the people who are covered in the legislation are not just police officers; they are immigration officers, they are customs officers. What has also happened is that, as of three weeks ago, the staff have been notified. Some of those officers from SOCA who will be moving across had no powers; their powers had lapsed. They have been told that by October, investiture day, their powers will be returned to them and they will be included in the cache of people to whom the no-strike provisions apply. That means that, already, 1,500 people—possibly—will be included, as well as potentially another 900 staff. The provision goes beyond police officers to immigration officers and customs officers.
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s intervention. Let me explain the Government’s position and see whether I can persuade him to take the same view as those on the Labour Front Bench. [Hon. Members: “Answer the question.”] I will; I am coming to it. Calm down. Those on the Labour Front Bench have supported us on this all along, and they have good reason for doing so. I want to try to persuade the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington that Labour is right to support the Government’s position, so let me explain our position.
Amendments 95 and 102 seek to remove the restriction on the right to strike for NCA officers with operational powers. This is an important measure to ensure that the NCA can protect the public from the threat of serious and organised crime and be operationally effective around the clock, every day of the year. Criminals do not stop when there is strike action. The threat to the British public from serious and organised crime is a constant threat and we do not want NCA operations disrupted or jeopardised by striking NCA officers. In the interests of public safety, it is therefore necessary that we restrict the right to strike of certain NCA officers. That will apply to NCA officers with operational powers. This is not about banning NCA officers from being members of a trade union, should they wish; it is about ensuring that the public remain protected at all times.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has been clear that our strong preference is to put in place a voluntary no-strike agreement with those unions that will be recognised by the NCA. That would, in practice, impose strike restrictions on the vast majority of NCA officers and establish an alternative method for resolving disputes with the organisation. If that is achieved, the Bill gives the Home Secretary a power to suspend the operation of the provisions restricting the right to strike. In essence, therefore, the no-strike provision is designed as a reserve provision.
I return to the central point: I think the public will not be able to understand why, if they are at threat from serious and organised crime, the agencies of the state, which are paid for from our taxes to protect the public from that serious and organised crime, should not be available 24 hours a day to do so. The threat to the public exists 24 hours a day. I would ask the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington to reflect on that central point, because as I understand it, unless those on the Labour Front Bench have changed their position, it has been accepted by the Labour party that we should be seeking to protect the public around the clock. I invite the hon. Gentleman to accept that point too.
Of course that is the case; we all accept the need to protect the public. Until now, customs and revenue officers—the immigration officers—have been able to do that without having the right to strike withdrawn. That is what the Labour party thought was happening. The Labour Front-Bench team thought that the provision related to policing powers, but it has gone well beyond that. A briefing was circulated to all MPs on Friday to explain that. Some people are saying that they did not receive it. I have a list of the e-mail addresses that it went to, so I know who got it. That briefing showed, in the explanation from management to staff, that the provision has gone well beyond what Ministers originally proposed, which was just for police officers. It has been extended to immigration officers—customs officers—who have always had the right to strike and yet have always protected our country. This is a massive step beyond anything that was proposed initially in the Bill.
Let me finish the point. [Interruption.] I will give way; I have already done so, and I will do so again, but there is a serious point to be made. NCA officers with operational powers should, as they are paid to do from our taxes, protect the public 24 hours a day from the threat of serious and organised crime. We want that arrangement to be secured through negotiation, as I have outlined, but the bottom line is that we want the public to be protected by the NCA around the clock, because the threat from serious and organised crime exists around the clock. If Opposition Members do not want NCA officers with operational powers to be available around the clock, they should say so explicitly.
It may come as a surprise to the Minister, but part of the purpose of Report is to discuss matters of implementation. My hon. Friend John McDonnell has raised concerns that were circulated late on Friday. I just want clarification from the Minister as to what he means by “some officers”. Will he confirm whether customs officers and immigration officers will be included in the provision under clause 12, as opposed to just police officers, whom we understand to be those who have constable roles, as the Opposition understood in Committee?
Let me say two things. Nothing in the Government’s position has changed since Committee. There is an idea that this is something that has been circulated at the last moment and which Labour has suddenly discovered, but the Bill is the Bill. If there are agonies in the Labour party about where—[Interruption.] Hon. Members should wait a second; I am trying to answer the right hon. Gentleman’s point. If the Labour party cannot decide where it stands on the matter, that is for it to resolve internally.
I have been given a note that confirms what I have said. For the avoidance of doubt, I said that the measure applies to people with operational powers, and the Bill has always provided that those NCA officers designated with operational powers— police, customs or immigration powers—will be prevented from striking. That is what the measure said from the outset. I feel bad, because the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington is being told by Labour Whips that they are all on his side and so on. He should have served on the Committee, because Labour Members did not object to the measure there. They have to resolve that between themselves, but our view—the bottom-line view, which is the same as when the matter first came up; nothing changed in Committee or elsewhere—is that the provisions on the NCA should be there to protect the public around the clock from a threat that they face around the clock.
This is about exactly what my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn said. This is what we call legislating; this is what we call debate. We discover during the passage of legislation the implications of that legislation. I did not serve on the Bill Committee, so this is my opportunity to discover and debate. We have all discovered that the intention of the Bill is to remove the right to strike, not from police officers but from immigration and customs officers, who are civil servants—they are not police officers. That was never the intention behind any of the debates until now, and on that basis, I urge hon. Members on both sides of the House to vote for the amendment. If the Government need to return with clarification at a later stage in another place, that is fair enough, but we must ensure that we do not introduce legislation in the House that is a fundamental attack on a fundamental human right.
I will clarify the fact that the intention of this part of the Bill is very straightforward. There is a serious threat to the public of the United Kingdom 24 hours a day from serious and organised crime, and we want the new National Crime Agency to meet and counter that threat from the people who perpetrate it 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. So we want a consensus to be arrived at about the best way that these affairs can be structured, but we do not want people to be threatened by serious and organised crime and for operational officers at the National Crime Agency to be unavailable to counter that threat.
Labour Members appear to have changed their position and we will have a Division in the House of Commons on that. I hope that enough Members of the two parties in coalition will share my view and the view of the Government that it is not appropriate for the public to be left exposed to the threat from serious and organised crime in the way that is envisaged by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington, which appears, in this ever shifting situation, now to be endorsed by the right hon. Member for Delyn as well.
I am grateful to the Minister. He should know that one of our concerns is that police officers should not have the right to strike, and we have supported that. I wanted clarification from him, which perhaps we should have sought in Committee when we discussed the detail of the matter, but he appears to be getting notes from his officials about that. Information has come to light with regard to customs officers and immigration officers, and we wanted clarification on that. I cannot support the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington calling for the removal of the whole clause, but clarification is certainly needed on the matter.
I received a note because I said to Parliament that the provision applied to NCA employees with operational powers, and Labour MPs who have hitherto been entirely happy to endorse the Government’s position suddenly changed their mind. That gave me cause for concern that I may inadvertently have made a mistake when I said that the provision applied to NCA officers with any operational powers, so I sought clarification from officials that I had been right all along and that Labour had been happy to endorse that position, and they reassured me that I had been right and Labour had been happy to endorse that position.
I commend the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington on the power that he wields within the Labour party. Labour had been entirely happy to endorse the Government’s position, which is that we believe that people who are potentially victims of serious and organised crime should not have the National Crime Agency unavailable to protect them from that serious and organised crime. Labour now takes a different position so, as I say, when there is a Division on the matter, we will have to see which vision of public protection commands the support of the House. With respect to all the other new clauses and amendments in this group, I hope the House will see fit to support those of the Government and reject those tabled by other Members.