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Clause 4 - Relationships between NCA and other agencies: tasking etc

Part of Crime and Courts Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:30 pm on 24th January 2013.

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Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 12:30 pm, 24th January 2013

I beg to move amendment 31, in clause 4, page 4, line 34, at end insert—

‘(7A) The Government will report annually to Parliament on the number of times a direction has been issued and to whom.’.

There is a recurring theme here, as I am trying to test the Government and the Home Office on how the day-to-day operational capacity of the National Crime Agency will be used and what that will mean for police forces and all those concerned with the management of public resources.

Amendment 31 would test how the directed powers are used. We have just debated exceptional circumstances, but the Minister did not want to set out what he feels an exceptional circumstance would be. Perhaps by reporting through Parliament, as the amendment would require the Government to do, we could get clarity on that exceptionality and how police forces use these powers. The amendment would address the way in which not only the National Crime Agency act, but local police forces, in terms of the number of times directions are sought and acted on. It would require the National Crime Agency to report such occasions to Parliament annually so that we could see how the power had been used.

The hon. Member for Croydon Central was rather surprised to learn that this power of direction was new and had not previously been available to the Serious Organised Crime Agency. Many of us recognise the importance of being able to offer that strategic lead. The amendment puts forward an important principle of accountability and transparency on how that power would be used.

I am sure that we will debate subsequently the merits of annual reports and what information they contain. The Minister will understand my scepticism because  although this is a new power that needs scrutinising, we cannot guarantee that it will be in the annual report that the NCA is required to produce. It is important to set out now that such information will be available for public scrutiny, and the amendment is designed to do exactly that. If the Minister gave the commitment that the annual report would always include clarity on when direction was given and by whom, and which forces were tasked, that would be helpful.