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The hon. Lady draws attention to the directed tasking arrangements in clause 4. For the avoidance of doubt for any hon. Members who have not considered this matter as fully as I have, there are two types of tasking: voluntary tasking, which is when the police force is asked to undertake a task on behalf of the NCA; and directed tasking, which is when the police force is required by the NCA to undertake a task. Obviously that is a stronger power, and the Committee will rightly wish to consider it.
The amendment would place a duty on the director general of the National Crime Agency to issue a direction to a chief constable only in “exceptional circumstances”. The amendment rightfully concerns itself with circumstances in which the significant power of directed tasking would be used. I emphasise that, in almost all cases, tasking will be voluntary. We want mutual arrangements that are based on strong relationships and co-operation that exploit intelligence and build on existing arrangements. Far from that being a coercive arrangement, I suspect that the voluntary nature of the activity will be welcomed by both sides on a daily basis. It is essential, however, that the director general has the authority to co-ordinate a UK-wide response in the very limited situations when voluntary tasking arrangements cannot be agreed and when they consider it expedient for action to be taken by a police force in the wider national interest of trying to reduce and combat serious and organised crime.
“it is inevitable that the Bill should give powers of tasking to the new director general…Without that ultimate power, there will be an imbalance in the priorities that territorial forces can set.”—[Official Report, 14 January 2013; Vol. 556, c. 658.]
While I do not believe that an imbalance between local and UK-wide priorities for police forces is inevitable, directed arrangements provide a necessary backstop in the event that action needs to be taken.
I invite the Committee to envisage an operation stretching across five or six police forces in a region in which it is essential that all the forces work together with the NCA to make it a success. While it is hard to envisage this happening in practice, if one of the forces was unco-operative and a vital component was missing from the operation as a result, one can see why it would be in the wider interests of the public in that region—and, indeed, the country—for that force to be required by the NCA to play its part in that operation.
Having robust safeguards to prevent the misuse of directed tasking powers is, of course, essential. There are, however, already robust safeguards in the Bill on directed tasking. For the director general to use the directed tasking powers, he must meet a threefold test: that the performance of the task would assist the National Crime Agency to exercise its functions; that it is expedient for the chief constable to be directed to perform that task; and that satisfactory voluntary arrangements cannot be made or cannot be made in time. In other words, that is a power that the director general should use only if it is necessary for that police force to perform the task and it is not possible to have a voluntary arrangement.