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I am rather puzzled by the inclusion of the words “in particular”. Surely we can be more straightforward than that and specify exactly what purposes may be added, particularly if they are to be added by way of the affirmative resolution procedure. I would be very grateful if the Minister could explain to me, a non-lawyer, in words of one syllable, exactly what we are gaining from this provision.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: When the Minister was speaking about adding to Schedule 6 by way of an order, she defended that by saying that the House was increasingly emboldened to question orders. She suggested that, from time to time, the House might be very happy to kill an order. This afternoon we had a vote on a very important order, but the House did not approve the amendment, despite a considerable vote. In using orders for these very important purposes, are the Government really saying that they are quite happy for the House continually to question orders and to try to amend them? It seems to me that there

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could be a very uneconomical use of public time if the Moses Room was used for extensive discussion of an order and then there was another discussion in the Chamber on whether it lives or dies, with a rather unsatisfactory result. Are the Government really saying that they are quite happy for that to happen increasingly and often? I do not think I have heard a Minister say that before.

I wonder whether the Government realise just how worried people are about the identity register. The Minister has explained that it has a limited part in this Bill. I shall be interested to hear what my noble friend Lady Anelay says about that. Does the Minister realise that people are beginning to rumble what the identity register will mean and how it will operate. They have noticed that opinion is building up about that, which is making more people think about it. Are the Government being careful about this and do they realise that they are on delicate ground when they make it possible for the register to be used, for example, in this Bill?

4.45 pm

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: First, I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, that we are structuring these provisions carefully. She will see that safeguards in the Data Protection Act and other legislation are transferred and mirrored throughout the Bill in many ways.

Secondly, on affirmative resolution, I was certainly not exciting the Committee to become more rebellious; far from it. I know the sagacity and care with which the House of Lords scrutinises orders. I am suggesting that, to date, we have dealt with this consensually. Noble Lords have become accustomed to working in partnership, ensuring that issues can be agreed upon, often exploring them before they come before the House. When there is difficulty, with no consent or assent, it must be appropriate that we return to the affirmative resolution procedure to enable the House, if it is so minded, not only to challenge and explore the orders, but to—and I still invite the Committee to say “in extremis”—defeat them.

The noble Baroness’s experience in the House is far longer than and superior to mine, but she has probably experienced, as have I, occasions when an order has been debated and it has been decided, with great wisdom, that it would perhaps be preferable to withdraw it and bring it back another day in a manner with which noble Lords are content. That is how we do business here, a model increasingly being adopted elsewhere. I am by no means inviting her to construe my words as an opportunity for open rebellion.

The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, asks why we need the flexibility. My examples illustrated the breadth and nature of the issues currently in the list. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, framed her amendments to remove those because she wished to test what would be included or what might be gained by it. I appreciate that the noble Lord did not have the advantage of hearing the noble Baroness elucidate her points in her normal, skilful way, but she made it

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plain that it was to give us an opportunity to explore what those issues encompassed, and see whether the flexibility was or was not merited. I was responding to that invitation, and hope that I have illustrated why these issues would be helpfully dealt with in this way.

I remind the Committee that when we are dealing with situations like my example of the convicted sex offender, the mischief that we seek to address is not that they have a previous conviction, but to locate those with a previous conviction who may have slipped through the net and be working with children or vulnerable people when they should not. I know from the antipathy expressed towards such poor behaviour that noble Lords have always abhorred it, and wish to do everything they can to bring it to an end. That is why I hope that the noble Baroness feels it unnecessary to press her amendments, either today or at another time. I absolutely accept, however, that she will need time for proper reflection, as she has indicated.

Lord Crickhowell: Before we leave this point, I should say that I was specifically questioning “in particular”. If you leave those words out, the clause essentially means exactly the same. I am always suspicious about extra words in Bills in case they mean something that I do not understand. As I understand the new section, it specifies—with reasonably clarity for once—that:

It is clear that there may be other purposes not specified, but why do we have “in particular”?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I hope I made clear that this is not a restricted, closed list, so it will enable us to add things in other areas. I understand that the noble Baroness is expressing concern and testing whether that is appropriate. The reason for “in particular” is to indicate that this is not an exclusive, closed list. The noble Baroness will have to consider what she thinks of that.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: As ever, I am grateful to the Minister for her further elucidation. She will not be surprised that we are still adrift from each other to some extent. I will read and consider carefully what she said.

Amendment No. 115 was very broad and tried to remove the Secretary of State’s power to amend; it was a probing amendment. I am grateful to all noble Lords who spoke and supported the various aspects of the issues raised by my amendments. With regard to Amendment No. 115, the Minister said that there is potential value in leaving open an extension of the Secretary of State’s power, but one has to consider for whom there is value. Just because extending the power may be of value to the Secretary of State does not necessarily mean that it is justified or proportionate. It has to be valuable to the public and proportionate in the way that it is carried out. Otherwise, one could simply say that it might be valuable to the public to ensure that every person has his DNA registered at birth. That could be of value but is not something that we do now or that the Government have yet

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proposed—but I am not holding my breath because it may happen soon. These are the debates that one has to have before the Secretary of State has open-ended powers to extend his authority by way of order.

Amendment No. 116 limits the definition of serious crime to that in Schedule 1. I listened to what the Minister said, and she has a forceful argument. I do not expect that Amendment No. 116 will see the light of day again.

Amendment No. 117 refers to the list of bodies. I did not get a guarantee from the Minister that the national identity register could not be brought into play. She approached her assurances from a different angle—from what is currently in other legislation, rather than in this legislation. I will look carefully at whether there might be a more appropriate amendment that I could table for Report specifically to exclude the wrongful use of the national identity register.

We come to the issue that raised the most interest—new Section 32G(2)—which was particularly addressed by my noble friends Lord Crickhowell and Lady Carnegy of Lour. It sounds mild and technical, but it lists those areas that may, in particular, be added to the remit of the power of the Secretary of State to extend the purposes. One talks around this in technical language, but it really means that the Government are pre-empting our future ability to act in considering statutory instruments. My noble friend Lord Crickhowell questioned what “in particular” adds, and my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour tested out how receptive the Minister might be to a continuous succession of opposition in this House to the Government’s statutory instruments.

However, my concern is different. New Section 32G(2) states:

Why not do it now? If the Government say that the purposes in new paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) may be added in future, why do they not come clean now and try to justify that? Why are they leaving it to the future? If this House were to accept new subsection (2) worded exactly as it is by Third Reading and the Government later brought forward a statutory instrument that included new paragraphs (a) (b) and (c), could not they turn round to this House and say, “Well, it was in the primary legislation. You saw it then. Why are you complaining about it now?”. Would we not prevent ourselves later objecting to a statutory instrument that included new paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) if we let this part of the Bill go unamended? I ask the question at this stage because it is an unusual circumstance in which we find ourselves, and one I will have to consider very carefully. Why should we not be upfront and do this now? If not, why leave the provision there so that, in effect, the Government are asking us to sign up to new paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) and prevent opposition later?

Substantial issues remain that need to be addressed. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for saying that before Report she will, as is her custom,

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give noble Lords the opportunity to meet her to discuss matters of issue. I shall be grateful to take up that invitation. I notice that she wishes to speak.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I just want to assist if I can. I got the impression—and the noble Baroness will obviously have to think about this—that we are not adrift in relation to those three areas. They seem sensible, and from the indications I am getting she will agree. This is all new. We had hoped to have an opportunity to consult people more generally—stakeholders and others—to make sure we got the list right as to what to include. Although at first blush one could say, “Well, let’s include them now”, it would not allow us to hone those things to ensure that what we think looks sound at the moment is in fact sound after discussion.

I say that because the noble Baroness may need to think about it. We might all go, “Yes, that is a closed list”, and then find after we have spoken a little more that we would like to include things that at first blush we have not sought to include. That is the reason I rose to my feet. We could do a bit more work, which would make us all feel more certain that this is something complete.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: That was helpful. The noble Baroness addressed three issues. First, there may in the end be no difference between us as to the proper inclusion of the illustrations listed in new subsection (2) but, if the Bill goes through and the data matching is extended, with that experience we may change our mind on those three matters. Secondly, the difficulty is that consultation has not taken place. We are not in a position properly to judge whether the three examples, new paragraphs (a), (b) and (c), in the list might be appropriate and valuable in the proper sense of the public good.

That brings me to the third point, and the difficulty I still face. In a sense the Government have made their life more difficult by giving the illustrative list in the schedule. That puts me in the position that, if I advise my noble friends that we do not oppose new subsection (2), I am essentially binding them in the future that they may not oppose a statutory instrument that brings it forward. I need to have that kind of discussion with my noble friends and the Minister, because I certainly have not come across a case where I am being asked to prevent opposition in the future to the contents of a statutory instrument, as was so clearly given as an illustration. In this case, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 116 and 117 not moved.]

Schedule 6 agreed to.

5 pm

Clause 66 [Abolition of Assets Recovery Agency and redistribution of functions etc.]:

Viscount Bridgeman moved Amendment No. 118:



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The noble Viscount said: The amendment is in my name and the names of my noble friend Lord Glentoran and the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond. My noble friend apologises to the Committee, but he is currently engaged on the Northern Ireland Bill that will come to the Chamber later this evening.

Clause 66 marks the start of the Government’s provisions to bring the work on the recovery of assets closer to the intelligence-gathering and investigative functions carried out by the Serious Organised Crime Agency. The Minister stated at Second Reading that that would allow for easier sharing of information and intelligence and would maximise the skill and expertise of both agencies. The Explanatory Notes state:

Meanwhile,

which was established by last year’s Police and Justice Act.

Amendments Nos. 118 and 119 would insert a new subsection to ensure that the transfer of the director, staff and everything else of the ARA can occur only subject to the director of SOCA locating within Northern Ireland a unit of SOCA responsible for asset recovery work specifically in Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in another place said in its report Organised Crime in Northern Ireland:

As my noble friend Lady Anelay kindly highlighted at Second Reading, my noble friend Lord Glentoran and I are concerned that the proposed merger will mean a narrower focus. The Police Service of Northern Ireland is particularly worried that that narrowing will effectively result in a reduced focus on Northern Ireland, with the risk, for example, that the intimidation of neighbourhoods and persistence of protection rackets in sectors of the local economy will simply not appear high enough on any scale of the SOCA priorities in London.

The House of Commons committee believed that the Assets Recovery Agency had made a significantly positive start within a short space of operational time. Indeed, it envisages the ARA continuing to play a key role in action against organised crime. Paragraph 40 of the report states:



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I also highlight the attention that the committee drew to the better success record of the Criminal Assets Bureau in the Republic of Ireland and the additional powers that the CAB there enjoys. I would be interested to know how the Minister envisages the proposed ARA-SOCA set-up working with the CAB.

Can the Minister inform the Committee whether the Government took into account that Commons committee report when drafting the Bill? Indeed, have they consulted the Police Service of Northern Ireland or the Government of the Republic of Ireland in considering the provisions in the Bill? I understand that both consider that Northern Ireland’s particular circumstances have been overlooked and are concerned that there will be a cut in the resources available for asset recovery work—resources that the committee considered inadequate in the light of the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland. What assurances can the Minister give us that resources will not be filtered away from Northern Ireland asset recovery work? Will she undertake to consider a review of the adequacy of the resources in the light of the Commons committee’s conclusions? It would seem to be an appropriate time if everything is to be merged.

I understand that Vernon Coaker has suggested in another place that the merged SOCA-ARA body will have a designated officer responsible for Northern Ireland. A designated officer is not good enough, especially if he or she is not even based in Belfast. Will the Minister please clarify the situation and explain why, if there is to be a designated officer, the Government have not considered maintaining a unit that is actually based in Northern Ireland, as the amendment suggests? It would be a great help if, in her reply, the Minister could confirm that the Government will transfer all the Northern Irish ARA responsibilities to SOCA. Alternatively, is there truth in the rumour that tax evasion work may be transferred to Revenue and Customs?

Asset recovery work is best pursued with the necessary dedication and vigour by people on the ground rather than by those based far away in London. It is essential that staff have an in-depth understanding of the history and peculiarities of Northern Ireland. The ARA has successfully built up a significant working relationship with the Garda and with units in the United Kingdom, the USA and beyond. Indeed, I believe that the measure of the ARA’s success is that it is said to be hated by the paramilitaries. It is essential that those who have built up working relationships with the police service and other key agencies there are not lost, thereby setting back work possibly for months, if not longer. The Minister acknowledged that the ARA has contributed to the total amounts recovered in recent years and has made a significant impact in disrupting serious criminal groups and freezing their assets. What commitment can she provide to the Committee that

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the service that the Government have provided for Northern Ireland will not be lost in the newly merged units?

In summary, we would like a dedicated unit, based in situ in a dedicated team with its own management and, most important, its own budget. We do not want a situation in which work cannot be undertaken in Northern Ireland because the budget has been used up in Birmingham. We also wish to make certain that the money recovered in Northern Ireland is reinvested in Northern Ireland. I beg to move.

Baroness Harris of Richmond: I agree with everything that the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, has said. We on these Benches support the amendments, to which I have attached my name. I shall speak in particular to Amendment No. 119. Merging the Assets Recovery Agency in Northern Ireland with the Serious Organised Crime Agency is an eminently sensible proposal. However, as the noble Viscount has said, simply having a designated officer with responsibility for asset recovery work there is woefully inadequate.

We know the magnitude of offences committed in Northern Ireland. Property and land assets worth millions of pounds have been directly acquired from crime and as a consequence of it. We have also heard of many other serious crimes, such as fuel smuggling, excise duty evasion and VAT evasion, to name but some of the criminal activity with which the Assets Recovery Agency has to deal.

The ARA does an absolutely excellent job, as the noble Viscount has said, and it deserves our highest commendation for the work that it has done. I commend it unreservedly. It is therefore vital that this work is built on and at the highest level. I believe, like the noble Viscount, that that means having a specially constructed and dedicated unit in Northern Ireland. Such a unit must be where it is all happening, so that this important work can be continued.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: It gives me considerable pleasure to add my voice to those of the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, and the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, in their praise for the work that the ARA has done on our behalf in Northern Ireland. It has done a superb job; there is no question about it. Therefore, I fully understand the implicit concern in the amendments of the noble Viscount that the current level of commitment to asset recovery in Northern Ireland should be maintained when the Serious Organised Crime Agency takes over the good work of the Assets Recovery Agency. That was the powerful statement coming through in what the noble Viscount and the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, said. I am happy, therefore, to repeat the earlier assurances given by the Government in this regard.


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