Clause 9

Crime and Courts Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:30 am on 29th January 2013.

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Operational powers of other NCA officers

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 9:45 am, 29th January 2013

I have a couple of questions. The clause gives the director general the power to designate officers of the NCA

“As a person having one or more of the following…the powers and privileges of a constable…the powers of an officer of Revenue and Customs”— and—

“the powers of an immigration officer.”

In most cases, those designations will be straightforward. People will receive competences based on their particular role and history. I want to test the Minister on the meaning of subsection (2), which states that the officer must be

“capable of effectively exercising those powers” and

“has received adequate training in respected of the exercise of those powers.”

I am clear what a constable’s powers and training are, but, for clarity, I ask the Minister indicate what the basic requirements for being a constable, a Revenue and Customs officer and an immigration officer are. The phrase “adequate training” is very broad; it is not definitive.

Before I agree to the clause, I want to understand the Minister’s perception of the meaning of the following phrases:

“capable of effectively exercising those powers”,

“adequate training” and

“a suitable person to exercise those powers”.

That would help to clarify the clause.

My second question relates to schedule 5. We may debate this issue separately, but I will touch on it now. Schedule 5 sets out how those roles may be exercised not only in England and Wales, but in the devolved Administrations of Northern Ireland and Scotland. I would welcome the Minister’s comments—I know we have already agreed to schedule 5, but this links to the powers in the clause—on the relationship between Scotland and Northern Ireland, and how the operational powers of constables, Revenue and Customs officers and immigration officers will marry in with the devolved responsibilities.

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

I think the Committee is beginning to understand a little better the importance of schedule 5 as it will apply to the clause, which deals with the operational powers of other NCA officers. Clearly, the Home Secretary needs to assess the level of competence that the director general has in each individual area, because he has the important power to designate other officers with particular powers—the powers of a constable, a Revenue and Customs officer, and an immigration officer. Obviously, the Home Secretary will not want to give the director general powers if they do not have adequate training or competence, because they will have the responsibility of designating particular officers with similar powers and competences, and there would be no consistency.

I turn to subsection (2). What will happen if the director general is deemed by the advisory panel not to have a particular set of competences and not to be adequately trained in a particular area? He will have to judge whether particular NCA officers have received adequate training in respect of the exercise of their powers. I return to the question that the Minister did not answer, although I knew there would be other opportunities for him to do so. If the panel makes an assessment that a director general does not have expertise and adequate training in a particular area, what happens?  Is he required to undertake further training? Does he have to gain that competence himself so that he can exercise his power to designate officers with the powers of a constable, a Customs and Revenue officer and an immigration officer? Or does he have to delegate that task to somebody else—one of his deputies—who has expertise in the area in which his expertise and training is lacking? It is important to know whether he has to be trained further, or whether he has to designate an assistant or a deputy to carry out those functions on his behalf.

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

There are two essential points. One is about the nature of the powers, and the other is about how the decisions will be made, which is the point just raised by the right hon. Gentleman.

Regarding the nature of the powers, I hoped that I had addressed it—perhaps a little bit in passing—when I was speaking to clause 8. I gave the example that SOCA officers can use customs officers’ powers to seize goods, vehicles and vessels used in smuggling, but they are unable to make decisions regarding the subsequent return, sale or destruction of the seized items, because those powers are conferred by statute to the commissioners for revenue and customs, and SOCA officers do not have the powers of customs officers. The operational powers vested in SOCA are incomplete, and we are seeking to address that incompleteness by making it possible for NCA officers to have the full range of constable, custom and immigration powers to fight serious and organised crime across the board.

Regarding the director general’s decision making, I suppose that the parallel is this: as far as I am aware, the Home Secretary does not herself have designated operational powers as a constable, customs officer or immigration officer. However she will make a judgment about whether the director general is fit to exercise those powers based on the wise and expert advice offered to her. Keith Bristow, or whoever his successors may be, will be able to make a judgment, based on the expert advice he receives, on whether an NCA officer is suitable to exercise the powers.

We imagine that the director general would wish to acquire the designated operational powers in each of the three fields. However, were he not to have operational powers in a given field, he would still be able to take an overview of the organisation in a way that allowed it to function perfectly satisfactorily. He would, with advice, be able to make the right judgments about whether someone should be delegated with the powers or authority.

Ultimately, a decision has to be made. We are talking about a broader organisation, the head of which is unlikely to have expertise in every field for which that organisation is responsible. Unless we have a series of niche organisations that are not properly linked to each other, that will inevitably be the case. We expect the director general to offer leadership across the board, while recognising that the person is likely to have greater accumulated expertise in one field than another. We will try to ensure that officers across the NCA have designated powers in each of the three broad fields of activity, so that there can be, as much as possible, a seamless operation to tackle serious and organised crime.  

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

I remain somewhat puzzled. The Minister makes the perfectly valid claim, with which I agree, that we could not expect even the most experienced director general of the NCA to have competence in every area. He has just asserted that point, and I accept it.

The Minister says that if the post holder has experience in one particular field—policing, for example, as the current post holder does—he may not have experience in immigration or Revenue and Customs, but the Minister says that he will be sufficiently experienced and will know how to do it anyway. What is the point of having the panel?

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

I do not think that the provision is as novel as the right hon. Gentleman says it is. Lots of big organisations have a person who has particular expertise in one field of that organisation’s activities but who draws on insights and expert advice to better inform them about areas of the organisation’s activities with which they themselves have not personally been associated for the past 30 years. Therefore, the advisory panel informs the Home Secretary, and the director general will be informed internally about the appropriate powers to confer because he or she runs the organisation. I hesitate to use commercial parallels, but a chief executive of a supermarket chain would not be expected to have accumulated expertise in each field of the operation. However, obviously that person would want to run the organisation as a whole and would draw on the expert advice and insights of those who had particular accumulated expertise in areas that he did not.

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

I do not disagree with a word that the Minister has just said. Good leaders will lead. They will use the experience that they have in their particular field and apply that across the board even into areas for which they do not have specific personal responsibilities. I understand that. I expect the director general who has experience of policing to be able to apply his knowledge and expertise to those other areas operationally as well as strategically.

What is the point of the panel? It will not advise the Home Secretary before the appointment. It will advise the right hon. Lady after the appointment about the competences, expertise and training of the post holder, but the Minister said that, in any event, the post holder will be sufficiently experienced and will know from his own experience how to apply himself and his expertise to those areas where he does not have particular skills and expertise. I ask the hon. Gentleman for the third time: what will happen if there were a particular area, perhaps immigration, in which the director general did not have expertise? Will he make the decisions? Will he designate NCA officers to such areas or will he designate one of his deputies?

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

The parallel I was making was that, as far as I am aware, the Home Secretary does not have the expertise of a designated operational immigration officer, but she will decide whether it is appropriate for the director general to be designated with those powers, and she will make that decision based on expert advice. The director general will also be able to make decisions based on expert advice about whether people are fit to exercise operational powers, but just as the Home Secretary does not necessarily have designated operational powers  in respect of every matter for which the Home Office is responsible but can still offer leadership and direction to the organisation, the director general will do the same. I do not envisage such issues being as problematic as members of the Committee fear. If the expert group does not think that the director general has the necessary level of aptitude or skills to be given the designated powers, it is able to recommend that he or she seeks some additional training, insight or experience to meet such criteria.

I want to make the distinction clear. The director general is responsible for achieving the operational objectives of the NCA, following the strategy laid out by the Home Secretary. That does not necessarily require the director general to be given the formal powers at the point when someone’s door is broken down and the arrest is made. In fact, I imagine—unless the director general is a particularly hands-on leader—that he or she would not routinely be in those situations, but perhaps a step or two back from the front line of seizing drugs on the other side of the world or stopping illegal immigrants coming through a United Kingdom port.

The director general can take a view about how we can try to make sure that proper controls are in place in respect of illegal immigration without exercising the formal operational powers of an immigration officer, as we might see being exercised in Dover, for example, or at Heathrow airport. If the director general wishes, perhaps feeling that it enriches him as a person and a leader, to acquire those formal operational powers, in the way that Keith Bristow does in the field of a constable, he could be a constable out on the beat in my constituency with the same operational powers as any other police officer. If he wants to acquire those additional front-line powers in respect of immigration and customs, the advisory panel could judge his training and accumulated knowledge in that area and advise the Home Secretary on whether it is appropriate for him to have those powers. However, he would still be offering the leadership that we require, even if he is not literally there to make an arrest when the front door is broken down.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak 10:00 am, 29th January 2013

I think the Minister is being slightly dismissive on this issue. Surely the reason why we are discussing this today is because it is his position and the Home Secretary’s position that currently organised crime is not being adequately addressed. That is why he is creating this new agency, and why it is perfectly reasonable to accept that the director general will not necessarily be hands-on in an operational sense. We have to be assured that the new powers and the new arrangements will actually lead to a better, more organised series of activities against organised crime. If we cannot be assured that the people doing the job will have the required competences—and will have been properly assessed by their superiors to have those competences—the Minister has set up an agency that will fail, and we will all pay a price for that.

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

I do not know what further to add. I do not accept that we, the Government, have dismissed this issue out of hand. We have been discussing it for the last hour in Committee.

I want to reassure everybody who is concerned that we want the NCA to be a seamless organisation. We want to make sure that it can fight serious and organised crime in different fields—police areas and customs areas and immigration areas—and obviously we will draw on people with particular backgrounds and expertise in each of those different fields. It is hard to think of any broadly-structured organisation with a head who has exactly equivalent expertise in every area for which that organisation is responsible. The director general will inevitably be drawn from one particular field; he or she will have a high degree of expertise in that field, but will also have a strong and growing working knowledge of the other fields for which he or she is responsible. We want the director general to give the operational leadership, and we are confident that Keith Bristow will do that across all of these different fields.

We want the Home Secretary to have the ultimate power to make a judgment about the narrow operational powers of the director general, as members of the Committee might be concerned that the director general ought not to make that judgment about himself. Obviously, if the director general stays in post for an extended period—as we hope they will—this advisory panel will hardly need to meet at all. It may meet once on the appointment of a new director general, and deem the director general suitable to exercise operational powers in the one field in which he or she does not currently have those powers. The Home Secretary will then endorse that recommendation, and the director general will stay in post for another decade. The advisory panel will therefore have no need to meet again for another 10 years. An entirely different set of people may be constituted the next time a director general is appointed, who may have a different range of skills and experience from that of his or her predecessor.

I hope therefore that the Committee is not unduly alarmed. All we are trying to do is formalise the arrangements that would exist in any large organisation, to recognise which levels of skill and attainment exist and ensure that a suitable person is able to make those judgments, while recognising that the overall head of the organisation is fit to lead it as a whole.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 9accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.