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Mr. Shepherd: My hon. Friend on the Front Bench has clearly negotiated eight sittings. Hallelujah. Yet this is a 220-page Bill with many contentious schedules and provisions. I imagine that the Liberal Democrats and, I hope, my own side will examine those provisions carefully. However, our experience of Home Office Bills, with all the knives and reductions, suggests that the House will not have the opportunity to debate the detail of the Bill. That is why I am cautious about it. I do not accept the general roll against our liberties and freedoms and I do not accept that everything is merely a technical advance.
It is the aggregation that matters. If we stand back and look at the architecture of new Labour's new police and security state, it looks unattractive. If we take little step by little step, it may not be obvious that we have moved, but I ask those listening to our debates to cast an eye over the sequence of these Bills that make up Labour's defence of our liberty. I suggest that they are not only ineffectual in many ways, but a real step back from the essential liberties that this country worked and fought long and hard to achieve.
Vera Baird (Redcar) (Lab):
It is clear that we need the Serious Organised Crime Agency that is established in the Bill, because we have not seen the reductions in harms caused by organised crime that we have seen in those caused by volume crime. The harms of organised crime that damage people most are those
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associated with people trafficking: charging people to be trafficked to what they think will be a new life, which in fact leads them to be sold into slaveryusually sexual slavery, irrespective of genderto feed the amazing capacity of men to buy women and children and young men, even though they know that those people are ill treated and live in appalling circumstances.
The second huge harm that befalls people from serious organised crime relates to drugs. I do not have to list the huge ramifications such crime has in our constituencies and the huge economic impact that it makes. I note that the aim of setting up SOCA, as explained in the White Paper "One Step Ahead", is rightly threefold. First, it is to disrupt criminal activities, including by adding to their costs and seizing assets. Secondly and rightly, it is to increase the risk for criminalsthe Mr. Bigswho must be more successfully targeted, arrested and prosecuted. That explains the need for procedural and evidential changes. Thirdly, and also rightly, there is the intention to reduce the market, among other ways, by reducing demand.
I can see how drugs education, treatments and initiatives can reduce demand for the massive importation of cocaine and heroin coming into this and pretty much every other western country on a weekly basis. Those initiatives must be supported, but have we not missed a trick when it comes to the question of people trafficking and disrupting the demand for it? Where are the measures to disrupt the desire for trafficked people? Where are the measures to reduce demand for ripe young people, who are sold off like fresh fruit to degenerates to be used for sex? Where are the measures to educate and treat those who behave in that way?
Education and treatment may be the wrong words. Hon. Members might think that I support social engineering, but we must face the fact that a market exists in this country for young people. If the recipients of sexual favours from those young people thought about it, they would realise that those young people have been abused and enslaved and are still being used in a framework of fear and oppression, but they disregard that in the interests of a brief physical sensation. We are missing a trick if we do not start seriously to recognise that disrupting demand for trafficked people is an urgent need. It is time to understand, recognise and think through that urgent need and to work out ways in which we can try to disrupt that unequivocally evil demand.
As the Home Secretary saidI agree with himthis is a practical Bill. I also agree with the White Paper that we should aim to make the UK one of the least attractive places in the world for organised crime. After we have implemented those measures, we must strengthen international co-operation to widen and disperse the measures that prove most effective.
I hope and think that SOCA will work. I never understood why intelligence and investigation were run by two separate bodies, and I am pleased that such incomprehension was not solely my own. Even in their modern incarnations, each body had a separate service authority, administration, internal rules, operational remit and complaints system, and it seemed to me that that was pointless. One authority that unites some skills and that calls by secondment on other skills from related groups such as the police, Customs and forensic
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scientists should be effective on first principles. Its focus on serious and organised crime should make that body more than the sum of its parts.
The concerns are easily and quickly listed, and I imagine that they are not profound. Accountability is still not 100 per cent. clear. Service authorities were attached to the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the National Crime Squad, but the exact status of the board that will replace them is unclear. How will the new board compare and contrast with those service authorities?
On resourcing, little new cash appears to be available for SOCA. I know that the intention is that SOCA should be self-financing quite early in its life, but that may create concerns, which need allaying, for local police forces. For instance, people who are seconded to SOCA will leave a gap, which local police forces must fill. Rather than being properly financed at the top, SOCA will impose a down-line cost on the police, perhaps putting at risk their capacity, especially if their leading staff are seconded. That point has been made before, because it is a real risk. In police terms, SOCA will be a glamorous new body for which people will want to work and to which people will want to be seconded. We must ensure that the built-in protections are there, so that local police forces are not denuded of their high-flying staff.
The complaints route is not entirely clear. I saw the Home Secretary respond on that matter, but I did not follow 100 per cent. of his explanation. It seems that when somebody is designated to SOCA as a constable, a Customs officer or an immigration officer, they will be subject to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
Vera Baird: In a way, that pleases me, because the route is clear and the model is well testedthe IPCC has been good in the short time in which it has existed. However, the system is peculiar, because if somebody is seconded from Customs and Excise, where they were subject to their own complaints procedure, they will be subject to an entirely different procedure whose rules they did not know when they volunteered. The issue is not straightforward, but the Minister can see why I retain a little bit of residual concern about the complaints situation.
The possibility of a two-tier work force is also a concern. In the grass roots in my constituency, I have heard it expressed that people will be seconded at their particular level, seniority and pay from both the police and civilian organisations such as Forensic Science Service, Customs and Excise and the immigration service. It is possible to imagine an operation in which two people from completely different backgrounds do the same job for a year on radically different pay and conditions, which, in due course, might interfere with the cohesion that is essential for that body. That is another concern that must be thrashed out.
I shall quickly discuss two powers in the Bill relating to serious organised crime and two other police powers that concern me. We have heard a bit about disclosure notices, which have been taken from the model in the
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Serious Fraud Office. The model has been around since 1987 and works pretty well. However, it has a small compass of use and is used in few cases. The SFO is small, and it is governed by its lawyers, who are the only people who can use those notices. SOCA is a much bigger affair than the SFO ever has been or is ever likely to be, and it will deal with much higher levels of crime and much bigger gangs.
The power in clause 56(3) worries me. It allows an "appropriate person" to have the power delegated to them to use a disclosure notice. We all know that disclosure notices compel people to give evidence, not against themselves but against others, or to produce documents or other kinds of information. The power is strong, and it needs to be used in a sophisticated way. Although the caveat is that the power can be used only in exceptional circumstances, and following the intervention from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews), who will define those circumstances?
Concerns exist about when such exceptional circumstances will occur, and, taking the SFO model, the power to use disclosure notices might be delegated to low-level people in SOCA. It will not be easy to control the use of those powers, because SOCA is much bigger. What would the remedy be if those powers were wrongly used, particularly granted that is an offence punishable by imprisonment not to obey the application of those powers?
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