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Baroness Noakes: My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing the order, which we support. We support the elimination of the doubling up of audits; we support the Health Bill in introducing changes to avoid the necessity to deal with these orders in future; and we also support the greater accountability that comes from the direct laying of accounts of Special Health Authorities before Parliament. I think that that applies, in particular, to the NHS Business Services Authority, which is a somewhat ambitious project to put together a number of disparate elements of the NHS. The scope for failure there is probably quite large and it is probably right that Parliament can keep a close eye on it.

I have just a couple of questions for the Minister on the financial impact of the order. The regulatory impact assessment refers to a cost saving for the Department of Health of £1,800. Is that a cost saving for all the bodies covered by the order or for each of them? Either way, it is not a lot of money and it has probably been eaten up already by the costs of preparing this order and carrying out all the consultation to which the Minister referred when he introduced the order.

The Treasury carried out a survey in 2005 on Special Health Authorities having shifted to the new regime. It reported that they now have to resource more lengthy audit inquiries and the publication and laying of accounts before Parliament. Curiously, the regulatory impact assessment concludes that there has been no overall increase in the costs for Special Health Authorities. That cannot be true because it has been identified that they have additional costs for lengthy audit inquiries and for preparing and laying accounts.

Furthermore, when the first of these orders appeared, the then Financial Secretary told another place that there was a cost saving in the region of a few
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thousand pounds per body. Did the Financial Secretary get it wrong? Will the Minister clarify the position on costs?

Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay: My Lords, from these Benches I make it clear that we support the order. As we have given the noble Lord a rather hard time on previous orders and he has had to defend policies for which he has not been responsible, I take this opportunity to wish him a pleasant and restful weekend.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness and the noble Lord for their support for the order. In the circumstances, that is very welcome. I was asked two questions relating to costs and burdens. The regulatory impact assessment has confirmed that there has been no increase in the audit burden on the Special Health Authorities affected since the policy was changed in 2003. However, there has been a saving of £1,800 per annum to the Department of Health through not needing to prepare summarised accounts for those bodies. I understand that is a total saving per annum. The transfer of audit responsibility to the C&AG has not adversely affected the aggregate level of audit fees charged to those bodies.

There was a further question about what had happened as a result of the 2003 transfers.

Baroness Noakes: My Lords, the Secretary of State told the other place that in 2003 there would be a saving per body in the order of several thousands of pounds. I was asking what happened to that.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I can only reiterate what is before me as regards the impact assessment. That is the basis on which these savings should be judged. If there are no further points, perhaps I may put the order into context. In 2003, the Government made orders in support of their objective of reducing the audit burden while maintaining parliamentary accountability for Special Health Authorities and the Department of Health. As has been acknowledged, the Comptroller and Auditor General was appointed auditor of some 19 Special Health Authorities ensuring that the audited accounts of each body would be laid before Parliament annually, together with the C&AG report on those accounts. There would no longer be a requirement for the Department of Health to prepare summarised accounts for Special Health Authorities, except in a few cases.

The Department of Health's review of its arm's-length bodies now means that there will be 17 Special Health Authorities preparing accounts. Of these, 13 will be included in the Department of Health's resource accounts and four will not. Therefore, the department will need to prepare only summarised accounts for four Special Health Authorities. The Health Bill presently making its way through
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Parliament will regularise the position so that there will be no need to take such orders through Parliament every time a new Special Health Authority is created.

In conclusion, the order debated today will result in clear and continuing net benefits in terms of simplifying the auditing framework, reduced audit burdens and the maintenance of accountability to Parliament for the Special Health Authorities themselves and the Department of Health. I commend the order to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (Application and Modification of Certain Enactments to Designated Staff of SOCA) Order 2006

1.57 pm

Lord Bassam of Brighton rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 28 February be approved [20th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, organised crime is one of the biggest challenges faced by law enforcement in this country or, more precisely, by everyone in the country, because everyone pays the cost. Some pay directly, with their health and livelihoods harmed, and others pay indirectly, through increased costs for goods and services to cover the costs of fraud, or through their tax bills.

As noble Lords will know, in the White Paper One Step Ahead, the Government made a commitment to create a new agency, the Serious Organised Crime Agency, to counter these threats. The new agency brings together staff from the former Customs and Excise, the National Crime Squad, the National Criminal Intelligence Service, and the UK Immigration Service. The Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 established SOCA, which will assume its functions on 1 April.

That Act specifies in Section 43 that the director-general may designate SOCA staff with powers, so long as they are capable, adequately trained and suitable to apply them. He may designate staff as people having one or more of the powers of a constable, the customs power of an officer of Revenue and Customs, and the powers of an immigration officer. Initially, SOCA will designate officers only with the powers that they have been operating in their precursor agency. So a SOCA officer who was a police officer with the National Crime Squad will be designated only with the powers of a constable. Over time, as people are trained in other powers, they will be designated with other powers.

When using their designated powers, SOCA staff members rely on other pieces of legislation, such as the Police and Criminal Evidence Act. In many cases, those other pieces of legislation are framed in a way that means that they can be used by a SOCA staff member with the necessary designation, but, in some cases, there are features of those other pieces of
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legislation that need technical amendment before they can be applied by a SOCA officer, as set out in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act. Section 52 of the Act provides that such amendments may be made through secondary legislation.

The statutory instrument being considered today does exactly that; it uses the power in Section 52 to amend a small number of enactments so that the powers that they confer can be operated by SOCA officers. The Acts that it amends are the Immigration Act 1971, the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 and the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003. No amendments are needed to the Customs and Excise Management Act, because the powers that it provides can be operated by a designated SOCA officer without any amendment.

In accordance with Section 52(6), the Secretary of State has consulted Scottish Ministers, who have indicated that they are content. I commend the draft order to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 28 February be approved [20th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Bassam of Brighton.)

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for setting out briefly what the order does. Of course we support the making of the order. Naturally, it is of great importance that we should tackle effectively serious organised crime in the United Kingdom. That is why we supported the creation of the agency in the first place and agreed to the Bill, now an Act, having an expedited process in the wash-up period before the last general election.

We agree with the Minister that serious organised crime is a blight on the lives of so many people in our society, both economically and socially. The direct economic damage attributed to serious organised crime is estimated to be at least £20 billion per year. It makes up a significant proportion—probably more than half—of the total amount of crime committed in this country.

The agency should be in a unique position, as its officers will not be police officers, Revenue and Customs officers or immigration officers, apart from a small number of secondees, but they will be able to exercise the same powers. On Second Reading of the Bill that created the agency, we expressed concern that civilians would be given police, customs and immigration powers. We then sought clarification on the checks that would exist in the legislation to ensure that civilians empowered in that way are given adequate training. All checks to ensure that they receive appropriate training and are capable and suitable to exercise the powers are important. The order enshrines the principle that civilian staff may be given those powers. That has been agreed and we do not question it.

We raised some matters about the detail of the impact of the order in another place, and I would be grateful for the Government's response to those. For example, how many employees are likely to be affected by the order? I understand that, potentially, there will
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be 4,000 employees in the agency. So how many are we talking about? Which duties would they not be able to do were it not for this order? It would be helpful to the House to be given a flavour of the powers that will be exercised.

Can the Minister give me further assurance about the measures, which I hope are already under way, to ensure that the checks and balances, to which I referred with regard to training and other matters, will be applied to civilians who are designated with powers under the order? Of course we must know that the powers that we usually entrust to professionals, such as customs officers, are exercised with due care and discretion. I support the making of the order.

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