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Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): The Home Secretary makes an important point. I was at the UN last week with a cross-party group. The head of drug enforcement told us that the amount of land under opium cultivation in Afghanistan will rise by 64 per cent. this year. Given that NATO is in control there, why should we believe that things will get better next year when the situation has patently got a lot worse in the past 12 months?
The steps that are put in place take time to work. The installation of a democratic presidency and government in Afghanistan makes an enormous
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difference. I am sure that the meetings that the hon. Gentleman attended at the UN would have reinforced the long-term nature of what needs to be done. We are not going to solve this problem next year. We can start to tackle it, but it will be a decade before we see substantial changenot because we want it to take that long, but because enormous forces are against us.
I was about to move on to pay tribute to the work that has been done since the creation of the National Crime Squad and the National Criminal Intelligence Service, which are themselves quite new. Good work has also been done with the immigration service and part of Customs and Excise. Together, those organisations will form the new Serious Organised Crime Agency. We are grateful for the work that people have done in pulling together towards that goal.
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): The Secretary of State mentioned work with the immigration services. The Bill contains some welcome provisions on witness protection in hideous people trafficking cases, but does he share my concern that there are very few safe houses for women who have been trafficked? According to a presentation in the House last week by Amnesty International, there are no safe houses for children who have been trafficked; the last two such places recently closed.
Mr. Blunkett: I am happy to look further into that as a matter of urgency, particularly in respect of the point about children. There are 6,000 young people under the age of 18 in this country who have been trafficked or, in some cases, sent dangerously by their families across the world in circumstances that none of us would wish to see. Safe accommodation here for those who are prepared to bear witness and help us follow the line in tracking organised criminals should also be matched by safe accommodation in the countries of origin so that people can be returned to their families. The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration and I are both looking into that as a matter of urgency.
In paying tribute to the organisations, I want to say how difficult it has been, even with good will, to exchange the necessary intelligence information and to link investigation, intelligence and prosecution. The added value of the Serious Organised Crime Agency will be measured by its ability to do just that and put together the different activities of the agency in order to produce materially improved results. The new chairman, Sir Stephen Lander, spelled out on the radio this morning the critical importance of getting that right. With his intelligence background, I believe that he will be able to provide a substantive guiding hand for the organisation.
In paying tribute to recent action, I want to mention two or three events over the past 18 months that have demonstrated how, before the agency comes into being on 1 April 2006 after the Bill's passage through both Houses of Parliament, we can and must step up the work to avoid any interregnum or pause in activity.
David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con):
The Home Secretary is right to say that there will not be much between us on many aspects of the Bill. One important thing that he must do is bring together the powers, as well as the intelligence, of the three different
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agencies comprising the Serious Organised Crime Agency. Those powers are different and sometimes intrusive. The excise powers, for example, are very intrusive: they have been designed that way over the course of a long time. The Bill will, however, amalgamate all the powerspolice, immigration and exciseeffectively under one man. Sir Stephen Lander is used to parliamentary scrutiny of his activities, but is the Home Secretary considering how best to keep an eye on the use of the powers in the first few years of the new agency?
Mr. Blunkett: Yes. That was a helpful intervention. Unlike the Intelligence and Security Committee, the Home Affairs Committee will have open access and scrutiny. The Cabinet Committee on Organised Crime will be responsible for determining overall priorities.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): I want to be absolutely sure of what the Home Secretary has just said, because it is critical to our understanding. Will all the new agency's activities fall within the remit of the Home Affairs Committee, and will it examine the various aspects of the agency's work?
Mr. Blunkett: Substantially, yes. The Intelligence and Security Committee may ask to examine aspects of the intelligence work, but we do not intend that to be the norm. The agency is a non-departmental public body, so scrutiny will be conducted through the House in the normal way. I know that Sir Stephen Lander and Bill Hughes, the director general, will want to facilitate such scrutiny as readily as possible.
Briefly, 500 officers from the National Crime Squad raided drug dealers in London, Huddersfield and Jamaica a few months ago, which resulted in a large number of arrests and 10 convictions, including one individual who got 25 years. Under Project Reflex, work has taken place to deal with a Midlands-based gang that smuggled people in from India using routes through Ethiopia. Development and support, which involves my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for International Development, who is on the Front Bench, are crucial. That gang charged individuals £8,000 per person to facilitate their being smuggled into the country, which destroys the lives and well-being of those who are left behind. In deprived and growing countries, £8,000 is a massive investment that can transform the life chances of a family as a whole. Instead, it is being used to facilitate the well-being and profits of organised criminals. The current agency is doing a good job until the new agency takes over.
Linkage is so important. When we discuss cross-border agencies, we are talking about linking with colleagues in Scotland on drug administration and working with agencies in Northern Ireland, as well as working across Europe. A lot of work is now taking place in south-east Europe to disrupt organised crime in Bosnia, Kosovo and other south European countries.
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Mr. Blunkett: I shall try harder this week. Clauses 1 to 4 are about the functions of the Serious Organised Crime Agency, and clause 5 concerns the general powers that underpin SOCA. Clauses 6 and 7 are about the annual report, which relates to the intervention by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) on accountabilityas an NDPB, the new agency will be responsible to both the Home Secretary and parliamentary scrutiny in the normal way. I mentioned the Home Affairs Committee, but other mechanisms will also be used.
The co-ordination of the tasking, prioritisation and resourcing will take place through the Cabinet Committee, which will draw together a number of Departments. That will ensure that a balance is struck and that work is done with the Revenue, because none of us wants to undermine the Treasury's resources and income, not least in the lead-up to the Budget in March.
Clauses 8 to 17 set out the relationships involved in different forms of accountability between agencies. I stress the critical importance of keeping the link with activity by police authorities across the country on level 2 crime. If we lose that link, and confidence and focus are undermined at a local and regional level, that will in turn undermine the activities of the agency in operating primarily nationally and internationally but supporting and working with and behind the 43 forces in England and Wales and, where appropriate, the eight Scottish forces.
Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries) (Lab): I have to tell my right hon. Friend that there appears to be a blurring around the edges. As he well knows, immigration is undoubtedly a reserved matter, yet crime in Scotland is a devolved issue. On issues such as serious organised immigration and Customs crime, the Bill seems to suggest that the lead agency will be the Serious Organised Crime Agency. Does that take away the devolved element of dealing with crime in Scotland?
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