Schedule 3 - Relationships between NCA and other agencies

Crime and Courts Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 24th January 2013.

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Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 2:00 pm, 24th January 2013

I beg to move amendment 19,  in schedule 3, page 61, line 15, leave out ‘Secretary of State’ and insert ‘Advisory panel on payments’.

Photo of Martin Caton Martin Caton Labour, Gower

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 18, in schedule 3, page 61, line 16, leave out sub-paragraphs (2), (3) and (4).

Amendment 20, in schedule 3, page 61, line 33, at end insert—

‘Advisory panel on payments

‘( ) The Secretary of State must appoint an independent advisory panel on payments to determine the appropriate amount to be paid under paragraph 32(1)(b).’.

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

You will be hearing a lot from me this afternoon, Mr Caton.

This group of amendments speaks to a debate that we had earlier. Having listened to this morning’s debate, the importance of testing such questions has become even more paramount. It is ironical that it is the Opposition who are trying to make sense of the impact of police and crime commissioners on the new police system in the UK, rather than the Government bringing clarity—[Interruption.] It is suggested that we are obsessed. We merely think that if we have shelled out all this money for this system of governance, it is at least worth making sure that we get good value for money. I know that value for money does not necessarily come forward in some of the discussions about budgets—I digress.

The amendments are about precisely the question that we were talking about earlier today: what happens if a directed request is made, the power is used, resources are used and therefore cost is incurred? How will the question of who is charged for costs be resolved? It is entirely fair to ask, “Who will pay for what?”; I am sure that even the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate would agree. After all, we all know that everybody has to pay at some point. I am sad to see the consequences of having to pay for the increased borrowing that this Government have made on my community in Walthamstow.

I wish to focus particularly on how scrutiny of public funds occurs. I was concerned when the Minister had a bit of a tantrum on Tuesday as a result having to do some maths about financial management. I will welcome watching the Home Office in front of the Public Accounts Committee if its argument is simply, “We are under budget. What’s the problem?” Good public financial management is about accounting for costs where they have occurred.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming—

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

As I was saying before I was so inclemently interrupted by an important vote on something that I hope has gone through the House, the amendments are about good financial management and ensuring that there are no delays in financial management. Many of us are concerned that there could be delays when different Departments and different organisations with different budgets are asked to cross-charge each other. The amendments would allow for the provision of a body to resolve such concerns. An advisory panel would look at any complaints or considerations around payments and the cost of the directed tasking and make a judgment. It would display the wisdom of Solomon for the police forces to resolve such matters.

The Bill already makes provision under schedule 5 for the appointment of advisory panels

“at any other time when the Secretary of State considers that it is appropriate to do so.”

The panels were set up to advise on training, but I think it is an entirely appropriate parallel to draw on financial management. It is clear that the Secretary of State could have a potential conflict of interest in resolving matters, but I know that the Minister would prefer that. The Secretary of State is responsible for the budget for police forces as well as the budget for the National Crime Agency. To ask one to disburse the other when there might be disagreements about who is responsible for costing could lead to confusion and stasis in decision making, which could lead to problems with budgetary processes.

The panel would remove such problems. It would also ensure that there was confidence on both sides of the negotiation about how public money was being managed. It would ensure that police forces and the National Crime Agency could be confident that the resolution would be in the best interests of the British taxpaying public.

It was suggested in the Lords that the framework document would offer clarity on the matter of who would decide who would pay what and when. Unfortunately, although the framework document has a myriad ways to illuminate several issues, this is not one of them. It simply refers to:

NCA power to raise fees and charges; approvals needed from HM Treasury to retain funds; ability of CEOP to retain incomes raised including from donors.”

That does not provide clarity on what would happen if there were a disagreement between forces and the director general about who was responsible for costs incurred, whether in terms of police time, the use of physical buildings or premises, or indeed technology or any future claim that might be brought against a police force as a consequence of an NCA action in their territory. The proposal would allow clarity on budgets, on who was responsible and on how the decisions were made if a voluntary agreement could not be reached.

I hope that the Minister will approach the proposal in the spirit in which it is intended. We want to understand precisely how he sees the decisions being resolved. Police forces might fear that the Home Secretary was using the power of the NCA to direct and task, and local forces might have to pay for it. Local police and crime commissioners, when they are eventually allowed into the room to understand what they are being asked to pay for, might have to pick up the tab with the local precept. I hope the Minister will agree that that would not be an appropriate way for public funds to be raised and managed, and that he will act accordingly.

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Labour, Wythenshawe and Sale East

I seek your guidance, Mr Caton. I have a couple of general comments to make in relation to schedule 3. Is now the appropriate time or do you want to take a stand part debate later?

Photo of Martin Caton Martin Caton Labour, Gower

If you would like to make the comments now, Mr Goggins, that will be welcome, but it will mean that we will not have a stand part debate. Is that agreeable to other members of the Committee?

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Labour, Wythenshawe and Sale East

I do not see any disappointed faces, Mr Caton.

My questions to the Minister are gentle and probing. On co-operation in part 1, paragraph 1 lists various organisations, most of which come under the direct control of the Government Department, but of course police forces do not. They are under the command of the chief constable, now with the oversight of and accountability to the police and crime commissioner for a particular area. Are there plans for memorandums of understanding with police and crime commissioners and chief constables that would govern the duty to co-operate that is set out?

The duty to co-operate is an important duty, which will ensure good operational communication and co-operation between the relevant law enforcement agencies. Does the Minister intend to set out the arrangements in a memorandum of understanding, so that there can be no doubt about the circumstances in which co-operation would be sought and the manner in which it would be given?

Also, is there anything in writing—anything that has been drafted—or any memorandum in relation to Northern Ireland and Scotland Justice Ministers? They have their own jurisdictions and the duty to co-operate there could be very important. It is important that we have absolute clarity. So will it be set down in writing where the bodies are not directly under the control of Government Ministers?

My second query is more substantial. It relates to part 3 of schedule 3, and concerns assistance within the United Kingdom. Paragraph 11(1) states very clearly:

The Director General may direct any of the following to provide specified assistance to the NCA—”

Among those then listed is the chief officer of an England and Wales police force. The director general may therefore direct a chief constable to do certain things. Again, I do not quibble with that; I have no difficulty with that.

But when we move on to paragraph 14, we deal with the directed assistance by the National Crime Agency in Northern Ireland. Here we see a rather different framework offered by the legislation. I perfectly well understand the political reasons for that, because there would be some sensitivities around the director general of the National Crime Agency directing the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland to do certain things without any reference whatever to the Minister, the Assembly, the Executive, or indeed to the Northern Ireland Policing Board. So I understand the sensitivities around that. However, paragraph 14(1) states very specifically:

“The Department of Justice in Northern Ireland may direct the Director General to provide specified assistance to the Police Service of Northern Ireland.”

In other words, the director general must relate to the Department of Justice, rather than directly to the Chief Constable. These will clearly be operational matters, and we are used to operational relationships between chief constables and the person who will be the director general of the National Crime Agency. They get on with the job, and Ministers quite rightly do not get involved in operational detail and in taking operational decisions. That would be quite wrong.

But here, in order to get the direction, the director general must first go to the Department, which is under the direction, control and leadership of the Minister, and presumably must share very sensitive, detailed operational information with senior officials who are not operationally responsible. I would appreciate an understanding of precisely how that relationship would work. I think it would be helpful, not least to colleagues in Northern Ireland. It is a somewhat different situation when the director general goes to a Department to seek a direction, rather than going directly to the chief constable as he would in, for example, Greater Manchester, which is the area I represent in Parliament. I would be very grateful for clarification from the Minister.

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

As the hon. Member for Walthamstow explained, these amendments relate to the charging arrangements for both tasking and assistance. Unlike the charging provisions in schedule 1, which you will recall, Mr Caton, were to do with, for example, specific training courses—rather a limited field which we have already debated—the provisions in schedule 3 relate to cross-charging for specific operational support provided under tasking and assistance. That could include, for example, a police force calling on the National Crime Agency teams overseas to investigate the international activity of specific organised criminals who are having an impact in their force area. It is always worth remembering that the assistance could go in both directions.

In discussing the operational support, I start by emphasising that the National Crime Agency will build on the policy of the Serious Organised Crime Agency not to charge law enforcement partners for operational activity carried out as a result of tasking or assistance, unless agreed beforehand. Routine cross-charging in these circumstances would create administrative burdens for both the agency and partners when calculating costs, and would undermine the vision of the NCA, police and law enforcement agencies working in collaboration. Where, exceptionally, there is cross-charging between the NCA and other law enforcement agencies, we fully expect that agreement will be reached between the parties as to the level of any charges. However, the provision for the Secretary of State to determine the appropriate amount payable for tasks, assistance or facilities, between the director general of the NCA and partners, is a necessary backstop power in the event that agreement cannot be reached.

In this respect, as in others, the Bill broadly replicates current arrangements for payments for assistance and facilities set out in part 1 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. Agreement has always been reached between the Serious Organised Crime Agency and partners with regard to charging, and so these backstop provisions have never been used in the history of SOCA. It is important to have them none the less, and that is why we have a similar arrangement in place for the NCA.

The hon. Lady seeks to establish an independent advisory panel on payments, to take the place of the Secretary of State in settling any disputes around payments. I put it to her that such an advisory panel would, in our view, bring an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy and cost into cross-charging arrangements, not least because in the history of SOCA it has never been necessary to resort to that level of adjudication. The Home Secretary  is ultimately responsible, however, for the efficiency and effectiveness of policing in England and Wales, and in those circumstances, which I hope do not arise but which could arise, I can see no reason why she should not be responsible for settling any disputes in this area, rather than giving that task to an advisory panel.

In addition, amendment 18 would remove any role for the devolved Administrations in setting appropriate amounts if agreement cannot be reached. As the budgets for these law enforcement bodies in Scotland and Northern Ireland are devolved, it is right that the devolved Administrations have a role to play in ensuring that payments are fair in situations where either a Scottish or a Northern Irish body is involved.

The right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East hoped that there would be a satisfactory arrangement when the NCA was dealing with Scotland or with Northern Ireland. I say to him that it would be a matter for the director general of the NCA if he wished to negotiate a memorandum of understanding with the chief constables across the board, including those in Scotland and Northern Ireland. However, as I say, the provisions I mentioned a moment ago would also apply.

As I have already outlined, I expect that the cross-charging arrangements for tasks, assistance and facilities will be agreed between the NCA and its partners, but it is right that the Bill includes a backstop power for resolving any disputes and respects existing devolution arrangements. Those arrangements have not given rise to any difficulties in relation to the Serious Organised Crime Agency and we do not envisage them giving rise to difficulties with the National Crime Agency either. I therefore ask the hon. Lady to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Labour, Wythenshawe and Sale East

I was trying to catch the Minister’s eye before he sat down. If that is the conclusion of his remarks, he has not dealt at all with the points that I raised. I am more than happy to set them out again if that is helpful to the Minister.

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

Perhaps I might expand on those provisions. We regard it as essential that the NCA has a UK-wide remit, which is why there are two-way voluntary assistance provisions between the NCA and the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Most, if not all, assistance arrangements will be voluntary, as is the case with the NCA and any other part of the United Kingdom.

However, the Bill also provides for directed assistance provisions as a backstop power, subject to appropriate safeguards. The Department of Justice for Northern Ireland may, with the agreement of the Home Secretary, direct the director general of the NCA to provide officers or other assets to operate under the direction and control of the Police Service of Northern Ireland. In addition, the Department of Justice for Northern Ireland may, having consulted the Northern Ireland Policing Board and any other persons the Department wishes to consult, direct the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland to provide assistance to the NCA. That does not undermine the role of the Northern Ireland Policing Board; indeed, it is precisely in recognition of the importance of the board in overseeing policing in Northern Ireland and holding the Police Service of Northern Ireland to account that the board must be consulted before a direction can be issued. This  goes further than the existing provisions for SOCA. We are trying to take into account any sensibilities that would exist in Northern Ireland, in order to ensure that these arrangements can be conducted as seamlessly there as they will be, I hope, elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Labour, Wythenshawe and Sale East

I am grateful to the Minister for his response, which has provided a partial explanation. In relation to the first point I made, about the duty to co-operate, we all know that people can co-operate gladly or begrudgingly. The reason I am suggesting that there is consideration of a memorandum of understanding between the director general and police forces, and between the director general and the police in Northern Ireland and Scotland, is that I am anxious to ensure that we have very smooth working and a common understanding of what co-operation actually means, so that the very best can be given by all parties and with the best outcome, which is of course to tackle organised crime. That is the spirit in which I am making the suggestion.

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne The Minister of State, Home Department 2:45 pm, 24th January 2013

I appreciate the spirit with which the right hon. Gentleman makes his remarks. The Government are keen that the NCA should have a UK-wide remit, because serious and organised crime obviously visits itself on all four component parts of the United Kingdom.

However, there are particular sensibilities to take into account in Scotland and, for reasons that members of the Committee will understand, in Northern Ireland. We hope that memorandums of understanding and other mechanisms will make sure that concerns on all sides are observed. The right hon. Gentleman is right to draw the Committee’s attention both to the desirability of these functions covering Northern Ireland and to the regard that the Government and the NCA will need to have to ensure that these arrangements are to the satisfaction of everybody concerned.

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Labour, Wythenshawe and Sale East

I am grateful. I hope that my suggestion will cause some further thought for the Minister.

The second point, however, is more substantial. The Minister has gone some way to responding to it, but the legislation clearly sets out that the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland can direct the director general to provide assistance to the Police Service of Northern Ireland, and vice versa—the Department of Justice can also direct the Chief Constable in Northern Ireland to provide assistance to the National Crime Agency.

I am still concerned that co-operation at an operational level is something we are used to between different police forces and different agencies, but Ministers do not become involved in operational detail. The Northern Ireland Policing Board—we have a former member of it on our Committee; I am sure that he will back me up on this point—would not be briefed on operational detail.

So saying that the Department of Justice would consult the Northern Ireland Policing Board is fine procedurally, but what is it consulting about? If we are talking about the duty to co-operate, that has to be on operational detail—and that kind of detail is not generally shared with Ministers, senior officials or the Policing Board. It is essentially shared between those who are  responsible for operations: in this case, the director general of the National Crime Agency and the Chief Constable of Northern Ireland.

I understand the political sensitivities and I do not want to unpick what may very well have been neatly stitched together, but we need to know that there is a set procedure in place, in which everybody has confidence, that would allow this co-operation to be sought in a way that will not cause difficulties in future, for the Minister, the Policing Board or the Chief Constable.

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

May I intervene? It may help if I can shed more light on this matter.

As the right hon. Gentleman says, tasking is an operational matter and the independence of crime fighters should be protected, but there are long-standing precedents for ministerial oversight of powers that require the transfer of resources from the command and control of one body to another, as opposed to merely co-operating. For example, under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act, directed assistance was vested in the Secretary of State, not the then police authorities, and the provisions for Northern Ireland mirrored those of England and Wales.

I think I can draw the distinction between the ministerial oversight for resource transfer and operational matters. Although operational matters may require drawing on the resources of other bodies, it is envisaged that there would be some give and take in those areas. That has not proven to be controversial in the past and we hope it will not be in future, whereas a transfer of resources—that is, a secondment of a group of 10 people for six months—is regarded in slightly different terms. In those circumstances, it is seen as reasonable that there is some oversight and that those arrangements would apply in Northern Ireland as they would elsewhere.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I rise in the same spirit as the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East. I want to make it absolutely clear—and I think the Minister has already done so—that operational independence is sacrosanct. That is all the more true in Northern Ireland because of the difficult circumstances that, thankfully, we have emerged from.

If a situation were created where politicians for one moment thought they had power over operations, it would open up a very difficult set of circumstances in a difficult can, which we would never get closed again. Therefore being clear that the operational independence of all these policing and crime-fighting organisations is sacrosanct is critical. There can be no fudging on that—no blurred lines.

When we joined the Policing Board, when it was set up in early 2000, it was very clear that our powers and responsibilities were to hold the Chief Constable and the senior officer team to account after the event. Our responsibilities were not to direct his involvement in any of that or to push him towards a particular action, but they were there ex post facto. It is critical that that careful balance is maintained so that there is no misunderstanding from any party that may wish to aggrandise its role—or, indeed, be mischievous in its role.

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

The different language is quite complicated. We want that operational independence to exist, both in Northern Ireland and elsewhere in the United Kingdom,  which was the point made in the earlier debate about why we should not be seeking the approval of the police and crime commissioners for operational tasks.

On tasking, both voluntary tasking, which we regard as the routine arrangement, or, on rare occasions, directed tasking—by the way, that would apply only in England Wales—would be done at an operational level. As I understand it, there is a difference between that tasking and assistance, whether the assistance is voluntary or directed. Assistance can go in both directions, towards the NCA or from the NCA towards the individual police force. If it is collaborative work on an operational level, under tasking, that would not necessarily be charged for and it would be operational.

However, under assistance, if a number of expert people were seconded from one organisation to another for a period, for example, or some particular equipment was seconded for an operation because it was particularly valuable, that would not be the normal ebb and flow of co-operation. It would require the higher approval in order to have that resource transfer for that period of time—for example, a secondment of people. But it would not be an interference in operational matters per se; it would just be a necessary consent, given the semi-permanent basis of the arrangement as opposed to the day-to-day ebb and flow of typical voluntary or direct tasking.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I want to be helpful on this point. For example, in June this year the G8 is going to meet in Ulster, in Fermanagh. It is very clear to me that 6,900 police officers, as we currently have, will not be sufficient to carry out ongoing policing operations and crime-fighting and also cover the security of the G8. So additional officers will be brought in from the other two services across the United Kingdom to allow that to flow easily. That does not come into the sight of the Policing Board: it happens because it is operationally necessary. Certainly, the board can hold the police to account after it has taken that decision.

In the London riots of 2011, two water cannon trucks made their way from Belfast to Stranraer and down the coast of England, as the Minister will know, and were available to be deployed on the streets of London. They were never used, thankfully; they did not have to be. But no operational decision was brought before the Policing Board to say, “We can allow that to happen or we can prevent that from happening”.

If the police required that equipment, they got it. There was no political interference or hand-wringing or thumb-twisting to prevent it or to slow it down. All these matters take place without political intervention and that is essential. There are people in Northern Ireland who would do their damnedest, even under the current new arrangements, to upset the stability that we have.

The important word used by the Minister and the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East was “co-operation”, and what it actually looks like. There was eye-witness co-operation at a level where MI5 was prepared to send its top person in Northern Ireland, unidentified for years, to brief the board privately. That continued to be a regular occurrence. An MI5 officer was brought in to brief the board probably every six to  eight weeks—not about what he was going to do, but about what had been done and what could be done in future if the board was comfortable.

That was absolutely critical and it continues to happen today, even though there are members of Sinn Fein on that Policing Board. In many regards, that is remarkable progress and co-operation. Perhaps in some instances, the agent is talking to the handler; I do not know of course. But that has happened. We can see that sort of co-operation without necessarily having to write it down; it happens because there is a respect for the operational independence of the crime fighter. That is crucial to making this flow.

Tangentially, will the Minister touch on the issue of legislative consent? That goes to the heart of all this. I know that the devolved regions will have to give legislative consent, but what if a circumstance were to arise in Scotland, say, and the Parliament decided that it was not giving consent and was going to invoke provisions to disagree? Will the Minister assure the Committee that we have made progress and that consent will be achieved—not just in Scotland, but across the UK—so that the NCA will tackle drug crime, people trafficking, child prostitution and child abuse properly, on a national level, and that they will be given the national importance they deserve?

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

Let me try again to reassure the hon. Gentleman. Perhaps I should go a bit further and clarify it better. Voluntary tasking is an entirely voluntary arrangement at an operational level. Forces will be tasked by the NCA, but they are not required to co-operate, although we envisage that they routinely would, because it would be in everyone’s interest that they would in normal circumstances.

There is then directed tasking, which would happen in extremis. As we said earlier, we would envisage it being used only very rarely. However, it is a useful back-stop to have. The NCA could direct a police force to take a particular action as part of an operation, but that power applies only for England and Wales. I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman takes an interest in matters across the United Kingdom, but in terms of his narrower interest in Northern Ireland, that provision need not concern him on a constituency basis, if I can put it in those terms.

A separate category from tasking is assistance, which is when a police force may ask the NCA for help—I gave the example of people being seconded—or the NCA may ask a police force for help. Unlike with tasking, the assistance can flow in either direction. It is again subdivided between voluntary assistance, which is obviously reciprocal by its very nature, and directed assistance.

Unlike directed tasking, which applies only to England and Wales, directed assistance applies to all the United Kingdom, so the hon. Gentleman is right to draw our attention to Northern Ireland and Scotland in that respect. Voluntary assistance would be operationally independent, but directed assistance would need some form of consent, which would be applied by the Secretary of State but in consultation with the devolved bodies in Scotland and Northern Ireland, because it is right that  the devolved Administrations have a role in ensuring that payments are fair when a Scottish or Northern Ireland body is involved in the transfer of assets for a semi-permanent period.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Does the Secretary of State’s power then trump that of the devolved Parliament or Assembly? In a matter where there is a dispute, a question mark or the need for expedition to get something done, does the Secretary of State trump it—she or he signs it off and that is it?

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne The Minister of State, Home Department 3:00 pm, 24th January 2013

My understanding is that the power is in regard to the payment that is made in receipt of the seconded assistance. The Home Secretary would decide ultimately if agreement had not been arrived at. If the matter were between Norfolk police and the NCA, we would hope and believe that, in usual circumstances, they would agree to a reasonable payment without recourse to her. However, if they could not, she would be the person who would be the arbiter as to what constituted a reasonable transfer.

When such matters apply to Scotland and Northern Ireland, the Home Secretary would again be the ultimate arbiter. She would take such action not only in conjunction with the views of the director general of the NCA and those at chief constable level, but take account of the views of the bodies in Scotland and Northern Ireland. However, as she oversees the NCA, in extremis she would be the ultimate arbiter.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Is the Minister content with the progress that has been made in the devolved regions, and happy that there will not be a problem?

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

We very much hope that such an issue will not be problematic. To put it gently, it might be the case that if people are counting the pennies, taxpayers in England might be more likely to think that the transfers are disproportionately to the benefit of the people in Northern Ireland with the resources being transferred in the other direction. Often, for very regrettable but perfectly understandable reasons, the cost of the policing burden in Northern Ireland is higher per capita than in other parts of the United Kingdom.

We hope that the arrangements will be collaborative and that people realise that there is mutual benefit in areas working together as seamlessly as possible, and that there would not be routine charging for day-to-day acts of co-operation. I would not say, “Excuse me, would you send me an e-mail?” only to receive a bill saying, “Time spent e-mailing you,” and for the matter to be cross-billed. However, when there is an assistance arrangement with a semi-permanent feel, a transfer might be appropriate, and we hope that it will be designed in a reciprocal and consensual way that was sensible on all sides. We only have such powers as an ultimate backstop. For example, such arrangements with SOCA have not been required to be applied in the past six or so years; I hope that reassures Committee members

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The Minister is absolutely right. The SOCA arrangements have worked well, and the backstop provisions have not had to be applied—in Northern Ireland, at least. I fear that we might be talking about  the money a little at cross purposes, as that will be the hurdle. I was trying to push the hon. Gentleman into saying whether he was happy with progress on the general point, and that he will receive consent from Scotland and Northern Ireland on the Bill.

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

Yes. There are some provisions under the Bill, one of which is the ability of the NCA to direct individual police forces when the application is from England and Wales only. However, it is very much the vision of the Government, and the Home Secretary specifically, that the NCA should not limit its ambitions to England and Wales, but that it should be a UK-wide body. Obviously, serious and organised crime is taking place across the border between England and Scotland, and the only land border that the United Kingdom has with another country is Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland. It would make sense to the Home Secretary and the Government as a whole for the NCA, in general terms, to have a UK-wide remit.

However, we are mindful of the different constitutional arrangements in Scotland and Northern Ireland and some of the different sensibilities in both countries, so we want to make sure that the arrangements are to the satisfaction of all four component parts of the United Kingdom. It is obviously easiest in England and Wales, because the Home Secretary’s writ runs directly. Where arrangements are needed to ensure that the NCA works effectively in Northern Ireland for the benefit of its people as well as the wider United Kingdom, we are keen to see them being put in place by the Northern Ireland Justice Secretary and the representatives in Northern Ireland more generally. That is an ongoing process, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the ambition for the NCA to be a UK-wide organisation remains.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

It is utterly essential that the NCA is exactly what it says: a national crime agency that does not stop at Stranraer, with a writ running across the whole United Kingdom. Otherwise it is a misnomer; we could not call it the National Crime Agency because it would not cover the whole nation. It is utterly essential that the Government put everything into ensuring that there is no hiccup in delivering that.

As we know, most of the billions of pounds that the Government lose every year because of the criminal activities of tobacco smugglers emanates from Northern Ireland. Most of the billions of pounds that the Government lose through smuggled fuel is from a lack of revenue in Northern Ireland, because of the land border with the Republic of Ireland. Those multibillion pound crime empires have to be broken up at a national level, so it is essential that the Minister ensures that that is achieved. I wish him well in doing that, and I hope there are no hiccups. I want him to ensure, in the days ahead, that the NCA has full and total consent across the entire kingdom.

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

We the Government entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman’s analysis. Obviously, it would be much easier to make the organisation just England and Wales-wide, but we felt that would leave the potential of the organisation falling short. Considerable effort has been put by many people into trying to ensure that the arrangements can work satisfactorily throughout the United Kingdom, for exactly the reasons that he has just given.

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

We have had an interesting debate about the nitty-gritty of how the NCA will manage its relationships with a number of bodies. The amendments were tabled to address some of the concerns that have emerged on one of those arrangements and on what would happen in negotiating these tasked powers. The Minister needs to reflect. He said he hoped that things would not be problematic, but in an era of austerity any discussion of budgets and charges will always be problematic. Referring to the powers of SOCA does not make sense, because it always had to work in a collaborative fashion with police forces, because it did not have the stick that the Bill will give the NCA to force action through the tasking powers. No one is suggesting that the tasking powers are not necessary, but they do create a different environment for these conversations and negotiations. Using the Home Secretary as a backstop or an ultimate arbiter does not necessarily deal with the change that the perceived imbalance of authority with these decisions will create.

We have no desire to press the amendment to a vote, but I ask the Minister to clarify in writing where the framework comes in. He talked about a memorandum of understanding between the director general and police forces about these sorts of charges, but the framework is supposed to provide that clarity. The people looking to set up the NCA and those looking to work with it need better in terms of the governance structures and the practical questions on the day-to-day operation. How will this new policing landscape affect those day-to-day operations? We have sought to test that with the amendments. I hope that the Minister will reflect on that.

Perhaps the final framework will offer a lot more detail and clarity, so that people can have confidence in why the Home Secretary, who has a conflict of interest between the different budgets, will be the backstop, rather than there being an independent element of scrutiny and challenge. Perhaps the framework will also give clarity on how good financial management will take place. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 3 agreed to.