Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill

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Caroline Flint: We are happy to accept amendment No. 13, although we do not accept that it follows that an annual parliamentary debate on SOCA is needed. There are many opportunities to discuss activities concerned with organised crime, and if the Opposition want to use some of their allocated time to initiate such a debate, it is open to them to do so. I should add at this point that the Scottish Executive have agreed that there should be a parallel duty on Scottish Ministers to lay a copy of SOCA's annual report before the Scottish Parliament, and an appropriate amendment to that end will be tabled on Report.

I am not persuaded that there is a similar case for laying before Parliament reports submitted to the Home Secretary under clause 12. The clause provides for any reports to be published. I should expect them to appear on SOCA's website and they should be freely available to parliamentarians.

I fully accept that the Home Secretary must be accountable to Parliament for the way in which he discharges his functions under the Bill, but I am not sure whether that accountability would be strengthened by requiring every report that SOCA ever produced to be laid before the House. I remind the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome that no such requirement is contained in the equivalent provisions of the Police Act 1997. I believe that the reports published under clause 12 will be open to scrutiny, but I do not believe that amendment No. 87 is necessary, and I invite the hon. Gentleman to withdraw it.

Mr. Heath: I am obviously pleased that the Minister has accepted the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield, but I am extremely disappointed that she has not accepted the parallel provision in my amendment to clause 12. She says that she does not see the need for every report produced by SOCA to be put before the House. Nor do I, because I think that there are ways of identifying what SOCA is producing. However, the amendment is not concerned with just any report, but a report required by the Secretary of State. It would be an exceptional report into a matter on which the Secretary of State required the board of SOCA or the director general to provide him with information.

Parliament is entitled to that information as well, to enable it to form an opinion about the stewardship of SOCA or, indeed, the stewardship of the Home Secretary of the day. For that reason, I hope that there may be an opportunity at the appropriate time to press the amendment to a vote.

Mr. Mitchell: I am delighted that the Minister has accepted the cogency of our arguments for amendment No. 13 and that it is not therefore necessary for us to put it to the vote. I did think that the Liberal
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Democrats' argument in support of amendment No. 87 was extremely powerful and I can, therefore, tell the Committee that if the hon. Gentleman is able to put the amendment to the vote at the appropriate time Her Majesty's principal Opposition will of course support him.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 7, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 8 to 11, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 12

Reports to Secretary of State

Amendment proposed: No. 87, in clause 12, page 7, line 18, at end insert—

    'The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament any report published under this section.'.—[Mr. Heath.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 10.

Division No. 6]

Clappison, Mr. James Clifton-Brown, Mr. Geoffrey Djanogly, Mr. Jonathan
Grieve, Mr. Dominic Heath, Mr. David Mitchell, Mr. Andrew

Baird, Vera Cairns, David Campbell, Mr. Alan Farrelly, Paul Flint, Caroline
Griffiths, Jane Heppell, Mr. John McWalter, Mr. Tony Mann, John Taylor, Ms Dari

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 12 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 13 to 16 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 17


Mr. Heath: I beg to move amendment No. 88, in clause 17, page 9, line 37, leave out 'jointly by HMIC and'.

The amendment deals with the arrangements for Scotland where there is an inspection of SOCA's activities conducted entirely in Scotland. The provisions of subsection (3) require that:

    ''Any inspection under this section must be carried out jointly by HMIC and the Scottish inspectors . . . if it is carried out wholly in Scotland, or . . . in a case where it is carried out partly in Scotland, to the extent that it is carried out there.''

If this is to be a joint affair, I can see no justification for the inspectors in Scotland not to be wholly responsible for what takes place in Scotland. Indeed, it is an extraordinary extension of the powers of HIMC for England and Wales that it should have any responsibility for activities that take place wholly in Scotland. It is therefore much more appropriate that the reference to ''jointly by HMIC'' should be left out of the arrangement. It is quite clear that HMIC and the Scottish inspectors will co-operate to a very great extent in their inspection regimes for SOCA, and it is quite appropriate that both should be involved when an inspection covers both England and Scotland, but it
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is entirely inappropriate that HMIC should expressly be involved in inspection arrangements for matters that take place entirely in Scotland under Scottish law with constables who are trained, as we are told, to Scottish legal requirements. I do not believe that HMIC has a locus in such matters, which is the basis on which I propose the amendment.

5.30 pm

Caroline Flint: I hope that my comments will reassure the hon. Gentleman about why we consider joint arrangements practical and in the interests of inspection. SOCA will be a UK-wide body and we have sought to put in place UK-wide arrangements, wherever possible. As we have said before, criminals have no respect for internal borders, let alone international borders. It would be artificial and counter-productive to have separate inspection arrangements in England, Wales and Northern Ireland on the one hand and in Scotland on the other. However, I fully accept that, as they will have the appropriate knowledge of Scottish police forces and of the Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency. Scottish inspectors have a role to play relevant to an inspection of SOCA's activities in Scotland. The Bill therefore provides for joint inspections by Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary and its Scottish counterpart. That is a sensible and workable arrangement that we have agreed with the Scottish Executive.

We want to encourage close collaboration between the various criminal justice inspectorates rather than reinforce the existing division of responsibilities. As such, the amendment would be detrimental to the arrangements for monitoring the efficiency and effectiveness of SOCA, so I invite the hon. Gentleman withdraw it.

Mr. Heath: Devolution obviously goes only so far. HMIC inspectors from London, England, will go out to make sure that the Scottish inspectors know what they are doing. I do not find that entirely satisfactory, and were I a Scottish MP, I would find it repugnant. However, the silence from those quarters suggests the Scottish members of the Committee have been whipped into line and are not willing to express an opinion on behalf of their constituents. In the circumstances, it seems appropriate that I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 17 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 18 to 21 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 22

Operational responsibility of

Director General

Mr. Heath: I beg to move amendment No. 89, in clause 22, page 12, line 21, at end add—

    '(3) Any duty or responsibility of SOCA specified in sections 2 to 21 shall be a duty or responsibility of the Director General.'.

The amendment would identify the director general as having the duties and responsibilities conferred by the Bill on SOCA as a whole. When considering schedule 1 we mentioned the vagueness of the
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definition of SOCA. At one point, it is interpreted as being the board of SOCA; at others, it comprises the whole force of SOCA officers. Various duties fall on SOCA as a corporate entity, so there is at least the capacity for confusion in operational terms.

If there were a failure to engage in the responsibilities and duties that pertain to SOCA, it might be more difficult to identify where responsibility lies if there were not a person on whom such duties were placed. In a police force, it is often the chief constable who has personal responsibility for what happens within his or her force. In SOCA, that responsibility is by no means clear. That amorphous body, SOCA, has responsibilities and duties corporately, which may or may not fall on the members of the board or those who are identified in the Bill. I believe that would be is more appropriate for the director general separately to have the responsibilities that fall on the body as a corporate structure. That would resolve any potential ambiguities in the wording of the Bill. I look forward to the Minister's response.

Caroline Flint: I confess to being slightly perplexed by the amendment. No duties or responsibilities of SOCA are mentioned in clause 22(1) and (2). The clause sets out on the face of the Bill the operational independence of the director general.

Mr. Heath: Amendment No. 89 clearly refers to

    ''Any duty or responsibility of SOCA specified in sections 2 to 21''.

That is a very large part of the Bill. It has nothing to do with the clause.

Caroline Flint: What shall be a duty is specified in preceding provisions. As for the operational independence of the director general, I have no disagreement with the hon. Gentleman's detailed point, but I think that clause 22 does set out that independence on the face of the Bill. The SOCA board will collectively determine the strategies to be pursued by the agency in discharging its functions and it will hold the director general and his executive team to account. However, it will be for the director general to decide which particular operations to mount and how they are to be conducted. The clause as it stands makes that point and needs no further embellishment. I invite the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.

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Prepared 11 January 2005