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New Clause 2 - Regional organised crime task forces

Part of Crime and Courts Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:45 am on 12th February 2013.

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Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Labour, Wythenshawe and Sale East 10:45 am, 12th February 2013

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The great thing about this Christmas tree Bill is that we fly from one subject to another with great variation and speed; my own comments will be speedy. The intention behind new clause 2 is to press the Minister to share with the Committee his thinking about the framework for tackling organised crime at a level between the national and the very local. Clearly the National Crime Agency will spearhead the national and international effort on organised crime in the United Kingdom, and police forces will focus on organised crime as it shows itself at local level, but there is an argument for taking a more strategic, regional view in relation to organised crime. New clause 2 would provide a framework for doing so.

Ironically, given the Committee’s recent discussion on Northern Ireland and the legislative consent motion, or rather the absence of a legislative consent motion, the model that I am proposing is based firmly on the experience of the Organised Crime Task Force in Northern Ireland, which has operated very effectively for the past decade. It is now chaired by the Justice Minister David Ford and has within it representatives of the police, at the moment of SOCA and in future, one hopes, of the National Crime Agency, the UK Border Agency, various Government Departments, the private sector—in other words, the whole sweep of organisations and agencies that may have an interest in and an angle on organised crime. By bringing them together, the impact is there to be seen.

Every year the Organised Crime Task Force publishes a threat assessment and an annual report of its achievements. It is instructive to look at the priorities that have been set out in the most recent threat assessment. It includes many issues that we would be very familiar with: drugs and money laundering, for example, but it  also includes issues that are specific to Northern Ireland, for example tiger kidnapping, which is a particularly difficult problem which is faced by law enforcement there. It is able to focus on those issues which are common to other areas but specific to Northern Ireland.

The achievements are commendable. Last year more than £30 million-worth of drugs were seized, 33 potential victims of human trafficking were rescued; £4.44 million of criminal assets were seized. The Justice Minister has done a lot to make sure that a substantial amount of those assets is returned to the communities where the greatest harm is done by organised criminal gangs. More than 23 million counterfeit and smuggled cigarettes were seized.

The model as it has operated in Northern Ireland has been able to focus on those issues which are real issues there, but also to achieve some significant results. Reflecting on the absence of a legislative consent motion, I find it deeply ironic that the enthusiasm for asset recovery in Northern Ireland has been greater than any other part of the United Kingdom. When the previous Government decided to close down the Assets Recovery Agency and put it in with SOCA there was a public revolt in Northern Ireland. I am sure the hon. Member for North Antrim will remember it; such was the level of public feeling.

For most of the rest of the United Kingdom, many people did not even realise there was an Assets Recovery Agency, but it was very high-profile there. SOCA has been a very effective partner within the Organised Crime Task Force ever since it came into being in 2006. So, it is working and the decision not to give legislative consent to the new framework would prevent the many successes that are already taking place.

On new clause 2, I am suggesting three things to the Minister. In subsection (2) I list the various agencies and organisations that ought to be members of a regional organised crime taskforce. For the rest of the United Kingdom, obviously the local police forces would need to be involved. The framework may look different in different regions but would clearly go beyond one particular police force area. I would want to see Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs involved. Obviously the National Crime Agency would be represented. The local authorities from that particular region should be there, because it could be that signs of organised crime are picked up by trading standards officers and other officials within local authorities. Of course, the police and crime commissioners for that particular region should also be involved. I would be interested to know whether the Minister thinks that list is deficient. There may be other agencies, organisations and sectors that he would like to include that I have not included. I would be very happy to hear if he has further suggestions.

My proposal is that the regional taskforce be left to its own devices in terms of organising its own administration and deciding who should lead and chair the taskforce. That is best left to them rather than to Ministers to decide. Crucially, subsection (4) sets out the purpose of the regional organised crime taskforce. That is to do two things. One is to encourage joint working, which is very important particularly in getting law enforcement and the private sector to work closely together. If, for example, there is a specific problem of cash in transit robberies within a particular locality, it is vital that the  police, the National Crime Agency and the banks should work together in order to make sure that they can deal with that issue. The idea of the regional structure is to promote that greater sense of partnership and joint working.

The second purpose is to increase public awareness of the causes and impacts of organised crime. Even though successive Ministers have done their best to highlight the causes and impacts, too little is understood by the general public. For example, when someone is tempted to buy, because it is cheaper, a dodgy or cut-price DVD that is clearly counterfeit, they may not realise that they are putting money into the hands of drug and people traffickers, who reinvest in their criminal enterprises in a way that is deeply harmful to many people. It is very important that at regional level, law enforcement, public authorities and the private sector take on the task of raising public awareness about the causes and impact of organised crime.

Three things are proposed in new clause 2: the make-up of the organised crime taskforce for each region; the way it should be organised and chaired; and its purpose in encouraging joint working and a greater understanding among the public.