Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill

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Paul Farrelly: I, too, have some brief questions about SOCA's relationship with other police forces. In preparation for the Committee I have been leafing through an excellent book called ''Untouchables'', by Michael Gillard, who is the son of one my colleagues, who is also called Michael Gillard, of The Observer, and Laurie Flynn, who is a respected former ''World In Action'' producer. The book, which I commend to the Minister, chronicles tales of police corruption, the activities of a Metropolitan police unit called CIB3—otherwise known as the untouchables—and the resurrection of the discredited ''super grass'' system, to which we will turn later.

In the course of investigations, it is quite feasible that SOCA might come across the activities of corrupt police officers who effectively assist, by commission or omission, in the perpetration of serious organised crime. So I ask the Minister, pursuant to the drafting of clause 5(2), will SOCA have the power to investigate corrupt officers of the police force? Under clause 5(2)(b), would it have such a power only if the police force in question commenced an investigation of its own accord? Thirdly, again under clause 5(2)(b), would it have such a power only if the chief police officer of the force in question made a request and therefore, by implication, granted his or her approval for such an investigation?

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Can the Minister comment on how the Bill covers the issue of how SOCA might approach the investigation of corrupt police officers in the course of its activities, and whether she believes any amendments should be considered to address that issue?

Caroline Flint: In relation to the points made by the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), let us not forget that SOCA will predominantly deal with level 3 crime; although, as I have said earlier in the debate, it may still have an involvement and engage with crimes at level 1 and level 2. A level 3 crime is national and international. Therefore, it is important than SOCA has the ability to work with other law enforcement bodies, in Europe and beyond, in pursuit of the aims of the organisation that we discussed earlier: to combat and defeat organised crime. It is absolutely essential that there is an indication within the Bill that SOCA may—and I emphasise ''may''—seek to work with other organisations beyond the UK. The decision is for SOCA. There is no obligation to assist. It is a matter for it to determine. The very nature of the criminal activities, however, would make it a nonsense if we were to try to restrict operational ability to use a network of contacts beyond our own shores in tackling the sort of criminal activity we have talked about, and that my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw emphasised in relation to drugs. That may not be the answer the hon. Member for Cotswold wants, but I hope it makes clear our intention and desire to give SOCA the ability to carry out their work in that way.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme asked some very detailed questions, and I will have to come back to him in writing. All I can say at the moment is that there is no specific requirement as far as I am aware—I wait to stand corrected—to give SOCA the function or ability to investigate police officers, or others involved in law enforcement who may be corrupt. Their involvement is in tackling serious organised crime. Obviously, it would be logical to say that if, in the course of their investigations, they unfortunately come across people who should be on the right side of the law and not the wrong side of the law, that would be part of their investigations. Police corruption is not in itself necessarily about organised crime, and I do not, at this stage, see SOCA having a specific role in that area. Such misconduct by police officers is a matter for the forces themselves and the Independent Police Complaints Commission. We expect and hope that the clauses later in the Bill indicate the high standards of professional behaviour we expect those working in the agency to be mindful of and adhere to, and we have to be on our guard in any law enforcement institution against the temptation of corruption on the part of any of the people working for it.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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