Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill

[back to previous text]

Mr. Clifton-Brown: The Minister says that the organisation will work with other agencies. Could she put a little more flesh on those bones? She has just said that it will need to have very close links with other bodies. I presume she means links with the intelligence agencies—or will SOCA have its own intelligence function? Will it work with Interpol and Europol; if so, how and how closely? I am talking about international crime-fighting functions. Could the Minister please tell us a little more about how that will work?

Caroline Flint: If the hon. Gentleman will not take offence, I will just say that I do not want to take up time on issues that come under later clauses. All the issues that he raised about intelligence-sharing, the agencies that SOCA will work with, whether those agencies are in the United Kingdom or overseas, and mutual assistance will be dealt with in detail under other clauses. I hope that I can continue and return to those points later.

In short, as the clause makes clear, SOCA will be engaged in preventing, detecting and reducing serious organised crime and limiting the harm that it causes. Crime does not organise itself neatly; lifestyle criminals are often involved in serious complex fraud or revenue fraud causes, and those engaged in organised crime are hardly likely to provide genuine and accurate tax returns about their ill-gotten gains. The investigation of those involved in drug trafficking or people smuggling might naturally lead SOCA into areas of fraud and we want to be able to continue to
Column Number: 67
pursue such matters if SOCA is to live up to its objective of relentlessly pursuing serious organised criminals.

Both the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome and my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme made comments about the Serious Fraud Office. On one of the points that the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome raised, I will look at the drafting of clause 2(3)(b) and consider it, but I do not want to commit myself any further. I know how particular he is about the wording of legislation.

Mr. Heath: That is my job.

Caroline Flint: Yes, it is, and I hope that I will have some rewards for the hon. Gentleman down the line. He is also right about the commissioners. We must make sure that the legislation sits neatly with other measures being dealt with by other Departments.

On the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme, we had a discussion on the matter this morning. As he is aware, serious complex fraud and revenue fraud are primarily the responsibilities of the Serious Fraud Office, as well as the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise, which will be Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs in future. As I said this morning, we do not want to duplicate those bodies' activities, so SOCA will only investigate organised revenue fraud with the agreement of the commissioners.

We thought about the making Serious Fraud Office part of SOCA. We believe that we are being radical and ambitious in creating such a structure with the organisations and parts of organisations that are currently coming together in SOCA, but we will keep under review how it is working, as well as how the nature of criminality changes. I gave some examples this morning of the sort of cases that the SFO looked into in 2003-04, and they do not really sit neatly with the SOCA framework. I hope that my hon. Friend is reassured on that point.

SOCA might wish to undertake activities directed at reducing the harm caused by revenue and serious or complex fraud through non-enforcement routes, for example by disseminating information to financial institutions on combating types of fraud. I am pleased to have visited the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit and seen the work that it does on financial crime. That work is an important part of our endeavours to deal with a much more 21st-century approach to the use of the internet in hacking into and thwarting financial systems. That unit does a good job.

Mr. Djanogly: Is the Minister suggesting that SOCA will take responsibility for the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit? I know that the paedophile online investigation team is important for the Internet Watch Foundation, which deals with child pornography.

4 pm

Caroline Flint: The unit will form part of SOCA. In relation to the paedophile unit, we are reviewing aspects of work that is currently undertaken by some organisations to see how and whether they would fit
Column Number: 68
into the new structure. I cannot be more definite at the moment, but we are considering a number of issues in terms of paedophile activity and wildlife crime, animal extremists and other areas. We are considering the nature of those crimes, how they fit into the concept of serious and organised crime and which organisation is best directed to carry out the work of tackling them, but we have not ruled any of them in or out.

Mr. Heath: I am not asking the Minister to pre-empt the conclusion of those discussions, but it would be helpful if the net were to be extended to the national functions carried out by the Metropolitan police, because as she knows it has several specialist units that provide a national service in a number of areas that might usefully be incorporated into SOCA and available to the rest of the police service, rather than being funded by the London council tax payers.

Caroline Flint: I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but another argument might be that those units are doing well in the Met, therefore it does not necessarily follow that they should be put in SOCA. However, we are considering all the functions and how they will relate to SOCA in future. I should not like any hon. Member to leave the Committee thinking that we do not think that those areas are not important in their own right. We are mindful of that.

Other Government Departments and agencies may be responsible for areas that are targeted by serious and organised crime, including counterfeit medicine and DVD piracy, which provide opportunities for criminal enterprises operating internationally. Work carried out to frustrate such activities will still need to involve the responsible bodies, but the extent to which SOCA becomes involved will have to reflect the seriousness of the harm that is caused at any particular time.

Wherever the boundaries of SOCA's activities are drawn, it will need to have a close, effective working relationship with agencies on the other side. In creating SOCA we intend to reduce the number of organisational boundaries and set up arrangements that ensure that the UK endeavours to provide the most hostile environment possible for serious and organised crime.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3

Functions of SOCA as to information relating to crime

Mr. Mitchell: I beg to move amendment No. 5, in clause 3, page 2, line 42, after 'agencies', insert—

    '(ca) intelligence agencies,'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 6, in clause 3, page 3, line 19, at end add—

    '(6) In this section ''intelligence agency'' means—

    (a) the Security Services,

    (b) the Secret Intelligence Service,

Column Number: 69

    (c) Government Communications Headquarters, or

    (d) any other United Kingdom intelligence-gathering agency.'.

Mr. Mitchell: This is the first of the six small points that we wish to probe and, following the intervention of the Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), we might call it the Cotswolds amendment. Amendment No. 5 would add the words ''intelligence agencies'', which deals with the point that he sought to elucidate, and amendment No. 6 is rather more explicit about which intelligence agencies we are talking about.

The purpose of the amendment is to add an express requirement to SOCA to disseminate information with the United Kingdom intelligence agencies and places SOCA and the intelligence agencies on a statutory footing. There are similar provisions in the Bill relating to police forces, special forces and the law enforcement agencies. Since a measure introduced by the Conservative Government was passed, both the Security Service and the Secret Intelligence Service are on a statutory footing. The key point is that the relationship between SOCA and the UK intelligence agencies should be formalised. As drafted, the Bill creates no statutory requirement for SOCA to disseminate information to the UK intelligence agencies. Information and intelligence must flow freely between SOCA and the agencies to remove the risk of duplication—what I believe is known as a blue on blue event—and they must work to ensure joined-up policing.

We want to amend the Bill to add an express requirement for SOCA to disseminate information with the Security Service and the Secret Intelligence Service. Our amendment puts the relationship between SOCA and those intelligence agencies on a statutory footing to assist information sharing and collaboration. The Bill provides for relationships with other bodies. The clause does not expressly state that SOCA must disseminate information relevant to the prevention, detection, investigation or prosecution of offences to the security services or the secret intelligence services. As SOCA's remit is focused on serious organised crime, which by its nature crosses international boundaries, highly valuable information will be accumulated.

The British police and law enforcement system has been praised for the high degree of communication between the different agencies involved. We must ensure that the situation that occurred in the United States, where the FBI and CIA were not exchanging compatible information before the tragic attacks on the World Trade Centre, does not occur in this country. For one agency to know that individuals were learning to fly planes but not to land them and for it not to disseminate that information was a grave error. We must do all that we can to avoid any danger of that in the United Kingdom. When I first became a shadow Home Affairs Minister, I went to see the senior people who run the Metropolitan police at Scotland Yard. They made the point that in Britain, because of the
Column Number: 70
joined-up nature of policing, such an event as tragically took place in the United States could not happen in the UK. The purpose of the two amendments is to ensure that that point is underlined in the Bill. I hope that the Minister will be able to agree to the amendment or to explain to us why it is unnecessary.

Previous Contents Continue
House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2005
Prepared 11 January 2005