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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I suppose that I should not be surprised that the noble Lord would be anxious about that issue, but the basis for his anxiety is flawed. I reassure him that the reason why SOCA was alighted on as a way forward for Her Majesty's Government and for those of us in Britain is because it addresses a very British need. As I tried to make clear earlier, we have much to be grateful for in terms of the goodalmost wonderfulwork undertaken on our behalf by the police service, the Immigration Service and all those whom we have mentioned this afternoon. But they and we know that the challenge is greater than the current structure enables them to deliverand in order to meet that challenge, they and we have to put in place a better and different system. This is our system, to meet our need, which is quintessentially British.
(1) SOCA shall make arrangement for obtaining the views of
(a) the authorities who between them maintain the police forces in Great Britain and the Police Service of Northern Ireland;
(b) the Commissioners;
(c) the Immigration and Nationality Directorate;
(d) the Security Service;
(e) the Commissioners for Equality and Human Rights;
(f) the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission; and
(g) such other persons or bodies as SOCA considers appropriate,
(2) The Director-General of SOCA shall, after consulting the Board, make arrangement for obtaining the views of
(a) the chief officers of police forces in England and Wales;
(b) the chief constables of police forces in Scotland;
(c) the Chief Constable of the Police Service for Northern Ireland;
(d) the Commissioners;
(e) the Immigration and Nationality Directorate;
(f) the Security Service;
(g) the Commissioner for Equality and Human Rights;
(h) the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission; and
(i) such other persons or bodies as the Director-General considers appropriate,
(3) Arrangements made under subsection (1) or (2) shall be reviewed from time to time.
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(4) If it appears to the Secretary of State that arrangements made for consultation by SOCA or the Director-General under this section are not adequate for the purposes set out in subsection (1) or (2), he may require the Board or Director-General whose duty it is to make arrangements to submit a report to him under section 12.
(5) After considering a report submitted under subsection (4), the Secretary of State may require the Board or Director-General who submitted it to review the arrangements and submit a further report to him concerning them.
(6) SOCA or the Director-General shall be under the same duties to consult when reviewing arrangements as when making them."
The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 15 is grouped with Amendment No. 17. Its purpose is to ensure that consultation with other law enforcement agencies is required to promote transparency, to have independent oversight of SOCA's work and to ensure co-operation and complementarity between SOCA and the other agencies.
At present there is no requirement that other law enforcement agencies are represented on the SOCA board, so we believe that the amendment is particularly important. SOCA should also be required to engage in regular consultation with statutory human rights bodies regarding the impact on fundamental rights of its current and future work. After all, those bodies have collectively considerable expertise regarding the obligations of public authorities under the Human Rights Act and the equality legislation. They will be able to assist SOCA in conforming with those obligations. We believe that that will safeguard fundamental rights and help prevent discrimination.
Amendment No. 17 is proposed because, as this is to be a wholly national service, it is important that consultation with other bodies is written into the Bill. It is simply not good enough to say that SOCA must consult with,
The amendment would promote transparency and independent oversight of SOCA's workbecause there is to be precious little of that unless something is written into the Bill. It would also ensure that SOCA's work complemented that of other agencies, with no unnecessary overlap or gaps in the system. That, after all, is what we all want. There is to be no representation of those agencies on SOCA's board, unless the Secretary of State appoints from within their ranksand we were told in no uncertain manner by the chair of the agency that he does not want anyone from the police authorities. It is also important that SOCA consults the commissioners for equality and human rights, as I said before, because they will be able to offer much help in ensuring that SOCA complies with its obligations under this Act. I beg to move.
I suspect that both these amendments aim to ensure greater accountability and partnership working between SOCA and the specified bodies. It is our view that the Bill makes adequate provision for accountability and partnership working for SOCA as a non-departmental public body and as such I am afraid I cannot commend these amendments to the Committee.
SOCA and the director-general should be free in as far as is possible to pursue their aim of tackling and defeating the harm caused by serious organised crime. Working in partnership with those persons specified in the lists but also others including, for example, the Assets Recovery Agency, all of the security and intelligence agencies and the Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency to name but a few, will be a vital part in achieving that aim.
I have no doubt that to achieve that aim efficiently and effectively, SOCA will consult the appropriate persons relevant to its business matters including before it issues its annual plan. In view of this I feel that prescribing a limited list of persons whom SOCA or the director-general must consult is unnecessary.
Indeed, the fact that SOCA will be working with a whole host of bodies highlights why we have avoided going down this route. A list of consultees for SOCA could not hope to be exhaustive and in the case of general consultations, as in Amendment No. 15, would mean that SOCA would have to consult on matters where it perhaps had little interest. Indeed, both the amendments concede the point that the lists are not exhaustive as there is provision for SOCA or the director-general, as appropriate, to also consult,
I should point out that given that SOCA will have a United Kingdom wide remit and will be involved in matters which are devolved, it is entirely appropriate for there to be express provision to consult Scottish Ministers, with every expectation that SOCA will do likewise for Northern Ireland, when it comes to issuing the annual plan.
Finally, I cannot help but note that rather than limiting the Secretary of State's powers, Amendment No. 15 would add to the Secretary of State's powers to interfere in SOCA by empowering him ultimately to require SOCA to review its consultation arrangements.
I hope that I have shown that in principle we are with the noble Lord as regards the need for and importance of broad consultation, but that these amendments are unnecessary. I invite the noble Lord to withdraw them.
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