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

Crime and Courts Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee on 24th January 2013.

Alert me about debates like this

Amendment proposed this day: 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.’. —(Stella Creasy.)

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

It is a pleasure to have you here this afternoon, Mr Caton. I am sure that you have missed some extraordinary, well-informed debates in some parts of the building, but unfortunately here we were trying to find out quite what the Government’s intentions are for the directed powers of the new director general of the National Crime Agency, and, in particular, his new power of tasking. The amendment was tabled to try to make sure Parliament can access the information it requires to scrutinise properly how that new power is used.

It is always with a sense of irony that I watch coalition Government Members, who perhaps in a previous party lifetime were strong defenders of freedom of information, being so cavalier about how those laws are applied. Before I withdraw the amendment, I ask the Minister to clarify to the Committee where information, were it to be shared with police and crime commissioners, would be made public. He raised some serious concerns about tasking and what information would be required to understand the number of times the power would be used.

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne The Minister of State, Home Department

I took the opportunity during our luncheon interval to look further into the points the hon. Lady raised as part of my ongoing attempts to assist the Committee. I can inform the Committee that the National Crime Agency, like the Serious Organised Crime Agency, will not be subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Like SOCA, it will be designated under section 23 of the Freedom of Information Act, “Information supplied by, or relating to, bodies dealing with security matters”. As a result, information supplied to anybody by the NCA will be exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. I hope that helps.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I thank the Minister for that clarification. Essentially, he is saying that we will not know how many times the directed power has been used, or to what purpose. Police and crime panels and commissioners who may be asked to pay for the consequences of the directed power being used will have little understanding  of what impact it has had. That is concerning. I urge the Minister to reflect on how such information might be able to be released.

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne The Minister of State, Home Department

The hon. Lady could just as well argue that they will have less understanding than she would like of the benefits that they derive from NCA assistance, which may indeed be directed. It may well have a tangible benefit, not just for people within their police force area, but for the wider national interest, which the Committee must also have regard to.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

The Minister makes a very good point for disclosure, although I am not sure that was his intention. Let me give an example, which I know Government Members will recognise, of where this might be apposite. During the London riots, there was confusion and concern about resources being requested from forces outside London for public order in the capital as and when events then unfolded in those cities themselves. Clearly, questions would be asked about the direction, were it dealt with under the new arrangements, about how the resources were applied and what the consequences were for local cities, people and police forces.

I do not intend to press the amendment, but I ask the Minister to reflect more widely on how to make sure this new power is properly scrutinised to ensure that the public can be confident that there is no mission creep in its use, and the costs and the consequences to the public purse, at local and national level, are well understood. That was the intention of the amendment. I am sorry that the Minister does not quite see the importance of being clear about the new directed power and how it will impact on police resources. I will just say that if he thinks that has made me excited, he has got some things to come later. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I beg to move amendment 30, in clause 4, page 4, line 38, leave out subsection (9).

Photo of Martin Caton Martin Caton Labour, Gower

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 17, in schedule 3, page 56, line 8, leave out sub-paragraph (3).

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Again, we tabled the amendment to try better to understand the day-to-day operational arrangements behind the Bill and what they will mean for the range of police forces in this country. Will the Minister, in responding to the amendment, set out more clearly why the Government have singled out the British Transport police for such special treatment. In the other place, the Minister responding to similar concerns set out that because the British Transport police operated over a wider jurisdiction, it was appropriate for the Transport Secretary to be consulted were this directive power to be used. There is an entirely justified case for that. But it does not make sense to Opposition Members that only the British Transport police would receive this courtesy. A number of UK special police forces could be considered to be in the same vein. It would be helpful if the Minister could set out why he has not applied the same protocol to dealing with the Civil Nuclear  Constabulary, or, indeed, the Ministry of Defence police. With 750 police officers, the Civil Nuclear Constabulary is perhaps small compared with some of the other forces we are dealing with. Yet there is no power in the Bill for the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change to be consulted, were a directed task to be enacted. It is the same with the Ministry of Defence—we are talking about a force much larger than the British Transport police. There is no requirement in the Bill for the Ministry of Defence to be consulted in the same way that there is for the Department for Transport.

I fully admit that I am a fan of both transport and defence issues and therefore I am perplexed as to why one receives such special treatment and the other does not. These amendments remove that distinction and make it very plain that all forces should be treated equally—we on this side being big fans of equality. I look forward to the Minister’s comments on this matter.

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne The Minister of State, Home Department

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Caton, and to have an opportunity to reply to an amendment brought before the Committee by a fan of transport issues. I will do my best to ensure that the hon. Lady’s enthusiasm for these issues is sated by the comprehensiveness of my response. There are two amendments grouped together on slightly different issues. The hon. Lady spoke to amendment 30, and I believe the lead name for amendment 17 is that of the right hon. Member for Delyn. I will speak to them both.

Amendments 30 and 17 concern the consent requirements around directed tasking and directed assistance respectively. As has just been said, amendment 30 seeks to remove the requirement that the Transport Secretary gives his consent before the director general can direct the British Transport police to perform a task. Amendment 17 similarly seeks to remove the requirement for the Secretary of State, Treasury or Attorney General, as appropriate, to give their consent before the director general can direct assistance from the police and UK law enforcement agencies.

In making the case for amendment 30, the hon. Member has questioned why the consent of the Transport Secretary is required before the director general can direct the Chief Constable of the British Transport police to perform a task, but there is no similar requirement for the Home Secretary to consent to a similar direction given to the chief constable of a Home Office police force. This difference of treatment simply reflects the differences between the British Transport police and Home Office forces of the type that we represent in geographic terms as Members of Parliament. The British Transport police authority is constituted under quite separate legislation as compared with Home Office forces, with its own specialist remit and its own accountability mechanisms through the British Transport police authority to the Secretary of State for Transport, who is the relevant Secretary of State in terms of that police force but not of others.

Moreover, the funding mechanisms are quite distinct. The British Transport police are primarily funded by the Association of Train Operating Companies. Home Office forces have no such relationship with industry. Given these unique facets, we consider it appropriate that the Transport Secretary should consent to any direction by the director general requiring the BTP Chief Constable to perform a task.

In responding to amendment 17 in the same group, it is important to bear in mind the critical distinction between tasking and assistance. Tasking arrangements between the NCA and UK law enforcement bodies is an operational matter, where command and control of an operation is transferred to the organisation being tasked. We dwelt on that in our previous deliberations. Assistance primarily concerns the transfer of resources, with officers or assets from one agency being loaned to operate under the temporary direction and control of another agency. Because assistance involves such a transfer of resources from the command and control of one organisation to another, it is appropriate that there should be an additional check on the director general's power to direct another law enforcement agency to provide such assistance. That additional check is in the form of a requirement to secure ministerial consent.

There are long-standing precedents in place for ministerial oversight of powers which require the transfer of resources, even temporarily, from one body to another. For example, the Police Act 1996 gives the Secretary of State the power to direct forces to provide assistance to each other in specific circumstances. The hon. Lady, when speaking to the other amendment, gave an example of the type of circumstances where she envisaged such assistance might be provided. In addition, the directed assistance powers under section 24 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 are also vested in the Secretary of State.

I hope that I have been able to persuade Opposition Members of the case for the provisions and that, as a result, they will feel that it is appropriate to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Perhaps I was not clear enough in the examples I gave about the other police forces to which the provisions might also apply. Will the Minister say a little bit more about why the civil nuclear constabulary and the Ministry of Defence police will not be given the same dispensations? The civil nuclear constabulary reports to the Department of Energy and Climate Change, and the MOD police to the Ministry of Justice. It would be helpful to understand why they have not been given the same level of protocol. The case that the Minister makes—perfectly reasonably—about how the law operates with respect to the British Transport police surely applies to the others. Will he clarify that point?

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne The Minister of State, Home Department

The hon. Lady makes a reasonable point. The clarification is this: the other special police forces will not be subject to directed tasking, so there is no need for a consent requirement.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I thank the Minister for that clarification. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.