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The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Caroline Flint): The debate has been interesting, with about 14 contributions from Back Benchers.

About 60 per cent. of the Bill deals with the Serious Organised Crime Agency and the powers that go with it. There are also several other powers that will help to develop neighbourhood policing and will help the police on whatever level they operate, whether local, regional or as part of SOCA. They will all help to tackle crime. As my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, West (Mr. Bailey) rightly said, the measure is about ensuring that the law is one step ahead on behalf of those who support the law.

The creation of SOCA is not about setting up a new police organisation, but about bringing together the National Criminal Intelligence Service, the National
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Crime Squad and the immigration crime side of the Home Office, as well as the drug investigations of Customs and Excise, in a new organisation with a new culture. That is why we had to address the powers of that organisation. When people use phrases such as "the brightest and the best", they do a disservice to those who, for whatever reason, want to work in different forms of law enforcement. We should recognise their particular skills in what they do. Some people are more interested in local policing, while others are interested in regional law enforcement or national and international law enforcement. I would not make the assessment that anyone is better than anyone else; they are all helping to fight crime and to tackle those who are involved in it.

In relation to the operation of SOCA at regional and local level, systems are already in place to ensure that different parts of law enforcement do not engage in operations that frustrate or put in jeopardy the work of other agencies. That will continue.

Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Caroline Flint: I am sorry, I cannot give way. There is only a short time for my speech and my hon. Friend was not in the Chamber for the whole debate.

The Bill is also about ensuring that we deal with the operation of middle markets. That is why I was pleased to attend the launch in London just the other week of the middle market drugs unit, which has been established by the Metropolitan Police Service and Customs and Excise to tackle middle market drug organisations.

I shall try, if I can, to get through the contributions made during the debate. The shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), raised a number of issues about the powers that the director general will be able to confer on those who work for SOCA and the powers of constables, Customs officers and immigration officers. It goes without saying that, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, the members of staff will need training in all those powers. That is certainly part of our thinking, and we will ensure that that happens. That also deals with a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Brian White).

We are not persuaded of the need for an annual parliamentary debate on SOCA. Hon. Members have many opportunities to debate policing and wider law enforcement issues in the House.

SOCA will not have a direct role in combating terrorism; but as has been said, terrorism is often funded by organised crime. SOCA will investigate such cases and seek to bring the offenders to justice, but in doing so, it will work very closely with the intelligence agencies and others.

I wish to make it clear that no clause relates to intercept powers. There is ongoing discussion about that complex issue, but we do not intend to introduce any such clause in the Bill.

The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden also talked about borders, as did a number of other hon. Members, including the hon. Members for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) and for Angus (Mr. Weir) and my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. McWalter). Border controls are exercised by the
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three main border control agencies—the immigration service, Customs and port special branches—for a variety of reasons, not only to control immigration, but to facilitate genuine visits, detect contraband, collect revenue, prevent fraud and protect against terrorism. Those functions are distinct from the new agency's remit and will not be subsumed into it. The e-borders programme will help to create a modern, integrated and intelligence-led immigration control system that uses advanced passenger information, passenger name records and emerging technology to best effect.

Andrew Selous: Will the Minister give way?

Caroline Flint: No. I am afraid that I have not got time to give way.

On the comments made about small ports, we will run pilot schemes at sites across the UK during 2005, with a view to rolling out new ways of working across most ports from 2006. We shall consider the points that the hon. Member for Angus made about that issue.

On the suggestion that there has been no evaluation of the effectiveness of CSOs, 27 local evaluations have shown that CSOs have been well received by the public, with significant potential to reduce low-level crime and antisocial behaviour. Initial findings of the national evaluation will be published before the Bill is considered in Committee. The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden said in his speech that the Hampshire force did not want its allocated number of CSOs. If that is the case, I suggest that the force let us know and we will redistribute those CSOs. I do not believe that such a redistribution would be supported by MPs for the area or, for that matter, members of the public.

The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) asked how SOCA will work in relation to other forces. As I have said already, SOCA will enable local forces to focus on level 1 and 2 crimes, while the agency will address national and international criminality. The Bill will allow SOCA to provide mutual support to forces. SOCA will be a UK-wide agency, and it will work closely with Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency in discharging its functions. I can assure the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Angus, who also made this point, that SOCA staff will be expected to have knowledge of the relevant Scottish law when operating in Scotland.

The NCS and NCIS have a service authority—a point made by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome—because they were clearly police-type bodies and therefore established along the lines of the police authority model. SOCA will not be a police force, but the SOCA board will exercise the strategic oversight of SOCA in similar ways to the service authorities.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether the granting of immunity to someone under clause 65 or 66 would be drawn to the attention of the court where that person testified. The answer is, yes, that will happen in the normal way.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar (Vera Baird) asked whether the witness protection provisions would apply to someone subject to a disclosure notice under clause 56. The majority of
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people subject to disclosure notices are covered by the new witness protection provisions, as they are possible witnesses. Our intention is not that disclosure notices will put anyone at risk, and I will consider that issue further to find out how it is covered.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar and the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome asked about complaints. The complaints procedure, including oversight, will be carried out by the IPCC and it will apply to all SOCA staff, not just those designated with police or other powers. We are planning to have direct recruitment into the organisation, but I shall check on how secondees might continue to operate or assist in the future.

Power of arrest was mentioned and we were asked why the change is necessary. The findings of the PACE review were published more than two years ago. Since then, we have published detailed proposals in consultation papers on police powers. The Bill's provisions are fully supported by the Association of Chief Police Officers and others. It is important to bear in mind the fact that under general arrest conditions in PACE, it is already the case that in practice all offences are arrestable.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) was concerned about people who are involved in serious fraud. The White Paper consulted on plea bargaining and we accept that it is desirable for all defendants to seek an indication of the likely sentence should they plead guilty. We will take the detail of that forward with the senior judiciary shortly, but I shall look further at what he said about that in Hansard.

My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East raised issues to do with SOCA and how it would engage with the private sector. He may be interested to know that an article on high-tech crime and the use of the internet in a trade magazine for those working in that industry resulted in a number of people e-mailing the Home Office seeking to become special constables to assist in that area because of their expertise in the internet. In some respects, SOCA is all about looking at the particular skills that we need to tackle high-tech crime.

I also welcome my hon. Friend's work on the all-party group on the internet. I have told him that we will table amendments to strengthen the Computer Misuse Act 1990, including the penalties that he mentioned. As others said, the Bill contains a number of provisions, and we take the view that adding to it at this stage is difficult and we shall not pursue it. However, we are looking for a suitable vehicle for that legislation.

My hon. Friend also mentioned powers. There was a bit of a misunderstanding. SOCA staff will not be restricted to the powers that they held in a previous organisation. All powers of customs and immigration officers can be made available to designated SOCA staff, subject to the necessary training and accreditation. We are still ensuring that forces are aware of RIPA. A dedicated team in the Home Office provides support to practitioners on how to use the powers appropriately. We are considering whether there is a need to address problems further.

A number of hon. Members referred to uninsured vehicles. I welcome the comments by my hon. Friends the Members for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and for West
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Bromwich, West on uninsured vehicles and fireworks. We have the opportunity to tighten legislation and tweak it in some respects. I make no apology for that. It is one thing to pass laws in this place, but as we know, we only see how they work on the ground when they are implemented. That is why we sometimes have to return to the issues.

The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) was worried about the implications for human rights. As he said, the face of the Bill states that it is our view that

We have been careful to ensure that we seek advice on those issues throughout the process.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar also mentioned the two-tier work force. There will be no two-tier work force. Following consultation with unions, it is our aim to establish a unified set of terms and conditions for all SOCA staff. We will not have police officers on police terms or customs officers on customs terms. She also asked about disclosure notices issued against those who have information rather than those who are suspected of having information. Clause 56(2) provides that notice can be issued against a suspect, and that will be the exception rather than the rule. In either circumstance, it is authorised by a senior prosecutor.

My hon. and learned Friend also raised a number of issues on Queen's evidence. We have not made it a requirement that a person entering into a co-operation agreement has legal advice before doing so, but they usually will. As she said, they will be well advised to do so. However, it is not appropriate to legislate to force every individual to get legal advice in those circumstances.

My hon. and learned Friend also mentioned human trafficking. She will know that, in addition to my other duties, I am engaged in a review of prostitution. Human trafficking was also raised by the hon. Member for Canterbury. I am very concerned about it. We will see how we can use the prostitution review to tackle that. We should also not forget what is already on the statute book in respect of labour and sexual exploitation. SOCA will, of course, have a role to play in these matters, too.

Questions were raised about custody officers and I have to say that the Northumbria pilot scheme found that custody sergeants were champing at the bit to get out of the stations and be with the public. It has been greatly welcomed, and I see no reason why properly trained police staff cannot undertake the role to the same standard as police officers—a view shared by ACPO.

The hon. Member for Canterbury raised a number of issues about people smuggling and trafficking in women and children. We are very concerned about that. He also made a point about paedophiles. He will know that the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the National Crime Squad have, in their different ways, assisted operations to tackle paedophile rings. There is no reason not to do so and we ensure in our international contacts with practitioners and Ministers in the EU, for example, that matters of cross-border crime are understood and dealt with by many different countries, not just ourselves. It is a global issue that we must look into.
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The hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) raised a number of issues, including the effect of SOCA on the funding of Essex policing and local policing generally. A 3.75 per cent. increase in funding for Essex police was announced last week for 2005–06, up to £176 million, and police numbers have increased by 145 since 1997, with an additional 75 community support officers. It is all about added value for policing in this country. The hon. Gentleman referred to protests outside Parliament. We must ensure that we can safeguard the workings of Parliament in its unique surroundings. To that end, we believe it right and proper for the police to attach proportionate conditions on any protest.

Several speeches were made on the subject of incitement to religious hatred. For example, the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway, the hon. Members for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley), for Aldridge-Brownhills, for Fareham (Mr. Hoban), for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) and for Canterbury, my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice), the hon. Member for Castle Point, my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead, and of course the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden, all spoke about it. They all had concerns about it or were against the provisions, though my hon. Friends the Members for Rhondda and for West Bromwich, West also made good speeches in support.

There are many issues and I would draw hon. Members' attention to a statement published this morning by the Home Secretary and the Attorney-General, which clearly outlines the basis of the offence and why it is necessary. It said that the proposals

I believe that it will close an unacceptable loophole whereby mono-ethnic faith groups are protected, but multi-ethnic faith groups are not. It will ensure that there is still a clear difference between criticism of a religion and the act of stirring up hatred against members of religious groups. This provision was supported by ACPO, which said that it sometimes wanted to prosecute but could not, and it provided evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on Religious Offences. It is right to move forward on this issue. It is not about stopping jokes, and it is not about stopping Rowan Atkinson or anyone else from expressing a point of view either to raise a laugh or engage in serious debate on these issues.

I was interested to hear from the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome that the Liberal Democrats would vote against this measure. I remind him that the Liberal Democrat shadow Home Secretary said on 7 July this year:

Perhaps it will be the same as with antisocial behaviour orders: the Liberal Democrats were against it and now they are for it; on this occasion, they were for it and now they are against it. We will wait with bated breath to see what will happen.
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Finally, the Bill is about tackling crime on a local, regional or national level. It comes from a Government who have put in more money than ever before, more police officers and more support on the ground for the people we represent.

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