HL Deb 29 March 2004 vol 659 cc1059-73

5.12 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission Mr Speaker, I wish to make a Statement on our strategy to tackle organised crime. Although crime has fallen, there remains a very substantial challenge to turn round those aspects of criminality that threaten the very fabric of our society. The success of the police and other law enforcement agencies should not lead to complacency. We know that there is a great deal that now needs to be done to tackle specific areas of criminality, including organised crime.

"Organised crime is big business. It costs us up to £40 billion a year. Its effects are corrosive. It corrupts society and spreads fear and intimidation. Organised crime operates across frontiers and reaches into every neighbourhood, especially some of the most deprived parts of our country. Lives are destroyed by drugs, smuggling and prostitution. It is a major contributor to low-level crime, abuse and exploitation.

"Organised crime exploits every technique of modern technology, It uses identity theft, Internet and modern security communications. Such criminals employ many of the same methods as those who run terrorist networks. Indeed, the evidence is clear that many terrorists seek to finance their activities through organised crime.

"This means that now more than ever we need to make a step change in our response. So we are setting a clear objective: year on year reduction in the harm organised crime causes the United Kingdom and its citizens. We will make the UK one of the most difficult environments in the world for organised crime. We will work closely with our partners to undermine its international effects. Today's White Paper sets out our strategy to achieve these goals. We will create a powerful new agency—the Serious Organised Crime Agency. We will take new powers to disrupt activity and convict those responsible, and we will enhance our capability to stay one step ahead. Let me deal with each of these in turn.

"I announced to the House our intention to create the agency last month. Since then, we have consulted on how this should operate. The agency will bring together the responsibilities that currently fall to the National Criminal Intelligence Service, the National Crime Squad, parts of the Immigration Service dealing with organised immigration, and Customs and Excise on drug and people trafficking and related financial investigation. I wish to make clear our tribute to the professionalism and dedication of these agencies and the staff working in them.

"The new agency will build on their success. It will bring together resources into a single organisation with a clear focus on drugs, people trafficking and financial crime. It will enable us to make more effective use of intelligence and to work more closely with specialist prosecutors. The new agency will enable us to bring more criminals to justice and reduce the harm that they cause.

"The White Paper sets out how the new agency will operate. It will be a non-departmental public body, with operational independence, overseen by a small, strategic board accountable to Ministers for the delivery of priorities set out by them. The agency will be chaired by a part-time non-executive. It will be led operationally by a full-time director general. We will advertise for both posts shortly.

"We will legislate to bring the new agency into being as soon as parliamentary time allows, but in the mean time, the existing agencies will work increasingly together to share objectives and a common strategy. In this way, we will begin to see the practical benefits of change during the transitional period. The creation of the agency gives us the opportunity to look at how best to improve performance and co-ordination, especially in the security of our borders.

"We will ensure, therefore, that Customs, Special Branch and the Immigration Service work together effectively. My right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and I will be directing the heads of each of these services to develop more closely aligned objectives and priorities through their individual business plans. This will ensure co-ordinated, strategically driven operational activity. These arrangements will not interfere with any existing structures of accountability.

"Nowhere is this co-ordinated approach more important than in the battle against terrorism. At present, each of our 43 police forces maintains a separate Special Branch. Terrorists respect no such boundaries. I believe, therefore, that through greater co-ordination of their activity we can significantly enhance effectiveness. I am therefore creating a new national system to pool intelligence and co-ordinate operations. My announcement on 19 March of an extra £15 million, as well as strengthening the counter-terrorism branch of the Metropolitan Police, will enable us to achieve this goal more readily.

"Defeating organised crime is not just about structures and effective operations. The powers available to our agencies to deter, disrupt and protect, are also critical. We need to make best possible use of our existing powers, whether probation licence conditions, asset recovery, immigration, or tax powers. On the latter, it was, after all, Elliot Ness from the Revenue who was crucial in leading to the conviction of Al Capone.

"The Proceeds of Crime Act is significant in our efforts to deprive criminals of their assets. The new cash seizure powers are netting £1 million a week, and we are on track to meet this year's overall target of recovering £45 million. But there is much more we can do.

"We will ensure better use of intelligence, management of information and that prosecutors are involved at an early stage.

"Recent changes to the law have provided a more effective framework. But no group of defendants is more adept at manipulating legal safeguards. They make corruption and intimidation part of their system of defence.

"As organised crime becomes more complex and organised criminals more sophisticated, so the need grows for new powers to gather evidence and for effective incentives for defendants to testify against their criminal associates. We will therefore build on the powers in the Criminal Justice and Sentencing Act.

"With my right honourable and learned friend the Attorney-General and other colleagues, I have fundamentally reviewed the powers of our law enforcement agencies. As a result we propose to create Serious Fraud Office powers to compel the production of documents and information and to put Queen's evidence on a statutory footing in order to encourage defendants to plead guilty and to testify against co-defendants. We are taking forward the idea of a national witness protection programme; we will create new licence conditions. These would ensure that the finances of serious criminals are kept under close scrutiny after release.

"Other reviews are also relevant to this work: the use of intercept material in court—we will provide a definitive proposal shortly; the law on conspiracy and secondary participation; and, of course, Sir Michael Bichard's review of data retention and information sharing between police forces.

"With my right honourable and learned friend the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, I am also asking the Sentencing Guidelines Council to review the existing sentencing regime to produce sentences which match more clearly the gravity of the underlying offences and the harm they cause.

"Finally, we will need to ensure a clear focus on our protection of areas of organised crime where most damage is done. This means transforming the quality of our intelligence-driven effort. We must increase the risks and reduce the benefits of operating in this field.

"The United Kingdom has never before produced a comprehensive strategy to tackle organised crime. With a new ministerial committee under my chairmanship and a better understanding of the harm caused, we have the building blocks to adopt a more focused approach.

"The proposals I am publishing today will define a new approach for the 21st century which will match the threat and the sophistication we face. Defeating organised criminals is an objective I know we all share. I commend the White Paper to the House".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

5.23 p.m.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made a short while ago in the other place by her right honourable friend the Home Secretary.

The Home Secretary said this morning during his BBC Radio 4 interview on the White Paper that he does not want any knee-jerk reactions to the proposals. I certainly undertake to reflect very carefully on the White Paper proposals in the coming months. Of course everyone wants those involved in serious organised crime to be brought to book, but the ink is barely dry on the Criminal Justice Act 2003 that took so much time in the House. That Act made substantial changes to the rules of evidence, including hearsay, bad character, prosecution appeals and re-trials for serious offences, and we do not yet know how those changes have affected our capability to do what we all want—that is, to ensure that serious organised crime feels the draught. So we will, of course, consider these proposals against the background of existing legislation.

But let me make it clear that I support entirely the principles of the announcement made by the Home Secretary today to create a serious and organised crime agency. Indeed, how could I not when my own party has advocated the creation of such an agency for quite a long time?

However, we still will need to have a rigorous scrutiny of the proposals. As noble Lords will know, I always hear in mind the Judge Bassingthwaighte principle: the more the Government and the Opposition agree on any matters, the more it is a duty for the Opposition carefully to check that they have got things right, otherwise policy may go astray and we may disproportionately damage our civil liberties.

I read with great interest this morning the March edition of Police—the Police Federation's magazine—and its remarks on the creation of the new agency. I certainly agree with it that there is nothing wrong with the thinking behind the proposed new force. But the question marks concern the extent of the resources that will be allocated for its work and whether these will be entirely additional to the current funding of the police service. Is the £15 million referred to in the Statement intended to cover the creation and running of the new agency, as well as the strengthening of the counter-terrorism branch of the Metropolitan Police? I certainly hope not.

There are also queries from the police about accountability. To what extent will the new body operate independently, regardless of the present statutory responsibilities of chief officers? For example, what impact will the new agency have on the autonomy of Chief Constables, which is so vital to the independence of our police forces? Who will decide what is a matter for the "super force" and what should be left to conventional forces?

I join with the Minister in the proper tribute she has paid to the work of our police forces across the board. They will now find some of their work transferred to the new agency.

Turning to some of the other issues within the Statement, I support the Home Secretary's announcement in regard to plea bargaining. We know that plea bargaining has worked well in countries such as Australia and America. However, I am aware that there have been problems in Northern Ireland, where it can create a situation whereby it is to the advantage of a criminal to, in the jargon, "fit somebody up". There can of course be no greater miscarriage of justice than that an innocent person should be gaoled so that a criminal can go free. How will the Home Secretary ensure that that does not happen?

Does the Minister accept that it will be imperative for the Government to ensure that the victim is given a proper explanation of why an offender may be given a much reduced sentence in recognition of his or her co-operation; or, indeed, as I understand it, may be offered full immunity, not merely a reduced sentence? If the Government fail to get the balance right between giving super-grasses a quid pro quo and putting the victims' interests at the heart of the criminal justice system, then the work that we have done in the House so far this year on the victims Bill would be as nought.

As regards intercepts, again a welcome from these Benches. But, again, an acknowledgement that there are dangers. We must ensure that we do not compromise intelligence sources. We know that intelligence information is, by its very nature, difficult to verify. It is surely imperative that we take steps to ensure that innocent people are not convicted on intelligence which turns out to be wrong. Above all, we need to protect the intelligence sources themselves and the way in which they operate so that we do not undermine their future viability.

I was interested by the reference in the Statement to the fact that a statement will be made shortly in regard to this issue. I heard the Home Secretary say this morning that a review is underway. When she responds, will the Minister confirm that it will be as a result of the ongoing review that the Home Secretary will give further thought as to how intercepts may be dealt with?

As regards sentencing, I am rather intrigued by the reference at the end of the Statement to the request being made by the Government to the Sentencing Guidelines Council to review the existing sentencing regime to produce sentences which match more clearly the gravity of the underlying offences and the harm they cause. What do the Government mean by "underlying offences"? What are those underlying offences exactly? What evidence do the Government have that they are not being properly addressed by the courts at the moment?

In summary, we support the general thrust of the Statement but we are mindful of the fact that, for all of us, the devil is in detail. We look forward to proper scrutiny of it.

5.29 p.m.

Lord McNally

My Lords, on my way here to speak to the Statement, I thought in a rather frivolous moment that I could refer to Elliot Ness. I then thought, "No, this is too serious a subject to bring that in"—but there is good old Elliot on page 3 of the Statement. That confirms my view that, in his more Walter Mitty moments, the Home Secretary does indeed see himself as a kind of Elliot Ness figure, kicking down doors and cutting corners in the battle against crime. That is why I endorse the approach of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. No one on these Benches disputes our determination to combat organised crime. Like the noble Baroness, we give a warm welcome to the general thrust of the Statement. But, in doing so, we will not take one step back from our duty as an opposition to scrutinise very carefully how these objectives are put into place and how they affect the rules of evidence and the balance of guilt in our criminal law practices.

I hope that it goes without saying that we share the objective of making the UK one of the most difficult environments in the world for organised crime to operate in. However, there are worries for Parliament. Throughout history, and in other countries—the FBI under Hoover comes to mind—we have seen that if there is a massive concentration of power in powerful state bodies, whether they be police or security bodies, there is a need for a counterbalancing democratic and parliamentary accountability. I wonder whether this new super-agency will have parliamentary accountability built in.

As the noble Baroness also mentioned, there is some murkiness about how it will relate to existing police authorities. I wonder whether the Home Secretary's thinking goes further. Does he see amalgamations of existing authorities, particularly some of the smaller ones, or even the concept of regional police authorities responsible to the new regional governments? Clearly, he is thinking big at one end, but one of the fundamental parts of our policing has been its local and democratic control.

As someone who sat, sometimes slightly bemused, through the passage of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, I am also slightly bemused about why it has taken so long to use some of the powers under that Act. I wonder whether inter-agency disputes are holding up implementation, as reported in the press, or whether some of the concerns about security, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, referred, have not yet been settled. Ministers must push to make it clear that they will not tolerate turf wars or the squirreling away of information—I have mentioned this in the House before. They must make the system work.

We also welcome the recognition of the overlap between terrorism and organised crime. The application of the Data Protection Act and clearance for sharing information are mentioned in this document. They are clearly still obscure—if that is not too Irish. This White Paper repeats the worry, which we raised with the Minister during proceedings on the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill, that information is still not being exchanged between agencies because of fears of, or misinterpretations of, the Data Protection Act. During debates on the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill the Minister referred to an inter-ministerial committee and the Statement refers to Sir Michael Bichard's work. We should like to know when this matter will be resolved in a way that will allow exchanges to take place.

I have two other brief points. There is still concern about whether our action on money laundering is biting. It is the oil that lubricates organised crime. We need the City of London, professionals, such as accountants and lawyers, and Crown dependencies, which are often seen as black holes in this matter, to co-operate fully to make a reality of cutting into money laundering.

I should like a quiet report on how the Home Secretary is doing in his battle in Cabinet on ID cards. Is he winning or losing? We read so many leaks these days.

Finally, the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, made a point about sentencing. If there is a review that works out how the bad guys will get longer sentences, what will that do to our already over-crowded prisons? Will the Government show real determination to find alternatives to prison for less serious crimes, for young people or for women, as Cherie Booth was arguing over the weekend?

Defeating organised crime is a shared objective. That is a given. So too are the defence of civil liberties, parliamentary accountability and the rule of law.

5.36 p.m.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and the noble Lord, Lord McNally, for the warmth of their welcomes. We too wish these issues to be scrutinised with the greatest care. That is why we ask in the White Paper for comments and constructive criticism. I make no bones about it: the Government want to get the balance right. Noble Lords have rightly identified the need to tackle organised crime. Criminals are becoming more sophisticated and adept at using the system. They see no local or national boundaries. We must become more skilled at co-operating internally in order to meet the challenge that they pose.

The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, asked about the additional £15 million. It was for Metropolitan Police counter-terrorism. The resources for SOCA have yet to be determined. We shall listen very carefully to what is said by the new director-general, who will be responsible for operational activities, and to the non-executive chairperson.

We want to build on the existing constitutional path. The details of the interaction between SOCA and the chief constables are to be determined. We listened very carefully to what the chief constables said and will take their views into account. I reassure noble Lords that the national policing plan makes organised crime one of the four key priorities for all forces. HMIC is already reviewing force performance in this area. SOCA will work closely in support of local forces through advice, intelligence and operational support. Local forces will have to deal with the criminals in their area. SOCA will focus on the higher level national and international players. Noble Lords will immediately notice that the interaction between those two levels is likely to be very significant. It is absolutely clear that co-ordination will be necessary to get it right.

We too wish to balance the protection of the accused and society's interest in seeing the guilty convicted. We think that the powers that we are suggesting in the White Paper get it right. But we are very anxious to listen to noble Lords, and to those who reply to the White Paper, before we come to any definitive view.

I note that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, referred to Elliot Ness. I assure noble Lords that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary does not see himself in that light. Perhaps a degree of mild levity is sometimes necessary to hone people's senses. I am delighted that my honourable friend the Home Secretary and the noble Lord, Lord McNally, were, at one stage in their ruminations, thinking along the same lines. There are difficulties about the application of sharing information. This is an issue which has been given very anxious consideration and we await the outcome.

In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, we await the outcome of the review on intercept information. We made it clear in paragraph 6.2.2 of the White Paper that the Home Office-led review is expected to conclude by June this year. If the Government are satisfied that adequate safeguards can be designed to prevent the disclosure of sensitive capabilities, and if the review concludes that the benefits of this move would clearly outweigh the costs, then we will bring forward legislation to allow the evidential use of intercept material.

Your Lordships will note the caveats. We have not seen the report; we do not yet know what is in it; but we are being clear and open about what that report may contain. We do not know what is in it and we shall have to reflect on it more carefully.

We also accept that the interests of the victims are of absolutely critical importance. The noble Baroness asks about the need for explanation. That goes very much to the way in which we are seeking to deal and to engage with victims in the system: first, to gain their confidence so that they will be prepared to be witnesses; secondly, to keep them informed right the way through the process, so that they better understand the decisions we are making and have an opportunity to have input into the information before an informed decision is taken. I can certainly reassure the noble Baroness, therefore, that that is also very much in line with our thinking.

The noble Baroness will know that almost the raison d'étre of the Sentencing Guidelines Council is to give us continuity and parity of treatment across the country. We know that, historically, different approaches have been taken in different areas in relation to a number of different crimes. It will be very important that, particularly when we are dealing with serious organised crimes, the guidance given to all our sentencers reflects the proper benchmark, so that they take into consideration that which the Sentencing Guidelines Council believes to be appropriate. We are absolutely confident that, under the chairmanship of the Lord Chief Justice, together with the other very able members of that council, they will be able to give the guidance to the sentencers which is needed to achieve parity of treatment and continuity across the board.

5.45 pm
Lord Morris of Aberavon

My Lords, I very much welcome the broad thrust of the Government's proposals. The Minister is absolutely right to say that there should be a period of reflection in order to get the matter absolutely right, or as right as can be.

May I ask a specific question, however? Is the Minister aware that there has been considerable concern over some years regarding the combination of the investigating and prosecuting responsibilities of HM Customs? The matter has been judicially investigated and reported upon. Is the situation now satisfactory?

Lastly, what will be the practical effect of putting Queen's evidence on a statutory basis?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I am aware that Her Majesty's Customs and Excise have in the past been subject to a certain amount of inquiry. I can assure my noble and learned friend that we are being very rigorous in the way in which we are approaching these matters, to make sure that the rules put in place are appropriate and robust enough to do that which we would wish them to do, in a way that is fair. Fairness, as my noble and learned friend will know, has to be the benchmark in relation to the content of those rules.

My noble and learned friend also asked whether we thought it satisfactory. I have nothing to indicate that it is not satisfactory. As for why we are putting the Queen's evidence on a statutory basis, your Lordships will know that, even though the Queen's evidence is allowed under case law, we lag behind in this. For example, 1 per cent of Customs defendants gave evidence in exchange for leniency last year. We hope that placing this on a statutory footing will make clearer what are the incentives for those who cooperate, and will make it available where it is appropriate.

The current proposal is that a defendant who wanted to co-operate would come to an agreement with the prosecutor. The defendant would offer full cooperation in the investigation, testify if necessary, and plead guilty of the offences he or she had committed. The prosecution would make an application to the judge, setting out the level of co-operation, and the judge would be able to impose a split sentence, setting out what the defendant would have received but for the co-operation and what he will actually receive. In the event that the testimony turned out to be false or misleading, it would be open to the prosecution to go back to court and to seek to have the original, higher sentence imposed. We aim to give clarity and transparency on how the matter will be dealt with, in a way that will be accessible, open and, we hope, clearly demonstrable as being fair and just.

Lord Goodhart

My Lords, to continue with the question of the Queen's evidence, is it not the case that courts and juries look with considerable suspicion on evidence which is given by a witness who has a clear personal incentive for giving that evidence? As is well known, there are witnesses who disclose in court that they have been paid by a newspaper, on terms which mean that they will get more money if the defendant is convicted than if he or she is not.

Is that not doubly a problem when there is somebody who, for the co-operation and for giving evidence, has been offered a reduction in sentence, particularly where—as is not now the case—either the sentence is deferred until after the evidence has been given or the prosecution has a right to appeal against the sentence if the evidence turns out to be useless or misleading? In those circumstances are the Government satisfied that the Queen's evidence provisions will be effective in the battle against serious crime?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, we have looked at the situation not just here, but in Australia, the United States and elsewhere where these provisions have been applied. Other national responses will not necessarily equate with us.

I can understand the noble Lord's anxiety about the way in which jurors may view this evidence. We very much take that on board, but, particularly when there is other supporting evidence confirming the evidence given on a Queen's evidence basis, this evidence can potentially be very useful and important.

In order to make what is being done clear and open, we think it better that it should be on a statutory basis. Everyone is then able to understand its precise nature and there can be clarity—when the evidence is given and when the jury comes to determine whether to believe the evidence—about precisely what has happened to that particular individual.

Viscount Bridgeman

My Lords, in the absence of my noble friend Lord Glentoran who is in Committee at the moment, may I briefly refer to the position of organised crime in Northern Ireland?

Your Lordships will be well aware that, just as progress was being made with community relations both before and after the Belfast agreement, the problem of drugs escalated and with it the impact of organised crime, feeding on the fertile ground of polarised communities. In Northern Ireland these are to a considerable extent openly controlled from within the prisons. I hope that that experience will be noted when it comes to legislation and practice on the mainland.

May I also briefly refer to the treatment of supergrasses in Northern Ireland? I hope that both the Minister and the Lord President will pay careful attention to the Northern Ireland experience in the use and treatment of supergrasses. The proposed legislation to place Queen's evidence on a statutory basis for the protection of witnesses is likely to have a considerable effect on the use of supergrasses. I should hope that any proposed legislation as it affects Northern Ireland will pay attention to the totally ruthless treatment of these key witnesses and informants if their cover is blown; and, in addition, that any retrospective inquiries will protect them and prevent their being made more vulnerable.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I reassure the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, that the experiences in Northern Ireland will be taken into account. Your Lordships will have seen in the White Paper that we are considering what steps need to be taken for a national witness programme. One of the most distressing elements of the change in how organised crime is operating is the level of witness and victim intimidation in certain spheres, particularly in relation to the higher level of organised crime, with which we are dealing. I can therefore reassure the noble Viscount that the Government will carefully scrutinise these issues.

I should add that the number of cases in which such provision is used in our country, at 1 per cent, compares unfavourably with places such as the United States of America, where it is 26 per cent. Our conviction rate in such cases is similarly not as advantageous as that for America, Australia and some of the other countries which have made better use of both Queen's evidence and the opportunity to plea bargain openly and frankly. We will take those issues very much into account.

Lord Lloyd of Berwick

My Lords, the noble Baroness will not be surprised to hear that I welcome very greatly any progress on the use of intercept evidence in court. I hope that she will do all in her power to ensure, so far as she can, that the review is complete by the end of June.

On the other issue that has been mentioned, I welcome very much the suggestion that plea bargaining should be put on to a statutory basis for the purpose of eradicating organised crime and, in particular, terrorism. There are dangers, of course, but such a procedure has been found very successful—if my memory is correct—in Italy in dealing with the Mafia. It was for that reason that I recommended very strongly in the report that I wrote many years ago that something of this kind should be done.

One question occurs to me. We are told that £1 million a week is being recovered under the Proceeds of Crime Act. Can the Minister say to what extent that relates to crimes committed before the Act came into force, or whether it relates solely to crimes committed since the Act came into force?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

On the last issue, my Lords, I am not absolutely clear whether it is post or prior to the Act coming into force, but I shall certainly check. However, I can tell noble Lords that, as a result of the Act coming into force, we have been able to recover a huge amount of money that we would never have been able to recover before. We hope to reach the £45 million target. As your Lordships will anticipate through the mathematics, at the rate of £1 million per week, we are hopeful of far exceeding that figure. If we have that information, I certainly undertake to make it available.

I very much welcome everything that the noble and learned Lord said in welcoming the Queen's evidence and about putting it on to a statutory basis as regards plea bargaining. He is absolutely right that very significant advances were made against the Mafia in Italy using exactly these sorts of strategies. We have to take that into account when we decide how to respond to a very similar scourge.

Lord Harris of Haringey

My Lords, I should declare an interest as chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority. In welcoming my noble friend's Statement, I seek further clarity on the issue of additional resources that may be made available to the new agency. In particular, there is concern both that these are financial resources that might be diverted from other policing activities and that expertise might be diverted from local police forces. I should be grateful for an explanation of whether it is envisaged that the resources will be additional, and, if so, how the protection of expertise can be maintained.

I should also welcome some reassurance from my noble friend on the extent to which there will be close working between the new agency and local police services. There is a danger, I am sure, that the new agency might be seen as being parachuted into local areas to carry out particular operations, while it is the local police who will have to deal with any community consequences after such an operation. Local police may also have much more community intelligence which could inform the actions of the agency. So I would very much welcome some clarity about the relationship with local police services.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I can add little to what I have already said. The noble Lord will know from the Statement that my right honourable friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Home Secretary will be looking very closely at these issues. When those two look closely, one can anticipate that the issue of resources will be close to their hearts and their deliberations.

The partnership working between the new agency and the local police forces will be critical because local intelligence and international intelligence merge when we are considering issues of serious crime. Organised crime is just that, because the organisers have to be both international and local. So I can certainly reassure the noble Lord that it is not being contemplated that the new agency will simply parachute in without fully engaging local forces. It just would not work in that way. Partnership is going to be key to ensuring that this new agency takes off.

Your Lordships will know that the agency will include staff from Customs, NCIS and NCS—approaching, I think, about 5,000 members of staff. The agencies planning to move to the new agency currently have a budget of about £375 million. New legislation will set out the constitutional and governance arrangements of the new agency; provide it and its staff with necessary powers; ensure that it remains accountable to Ministers, Parliament and the public; and make provision for a range of legacy issues. All those issues will have to be resolved before the agency is finally up and running and comes into being. I hope that that is of some help to my noble friend.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I, too, welcome the Statement made by the noble Baroness. Will she bear in mind that in the past 40 years organised crime has varied from time to time in different parts of the United Kingdom? Can she assure us that the proposals that the Government have in mind will enable greater concentration on prevention and dealing with crime in places where it appears to be worst?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Renton, that this service is being created to give us a more comprehensive understanding of organised crime across the country and to collate intelligence across the board. It is not just about drugs; it feeds into people trafficking, money laundering and all the other aspects of the most serious end of crime. We will have to use much more creatively and in a much more targeted way the intelligence about what is happening on the ground. We are by no means saying that what we do now is not of excellent quality. However, if we can organise that in a more structured way, we will get even greater benefits from the reorganisation.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, the Statement points out that, each of our 43 police forces maintains a separate Special Branch. Terrorists respect no such boundaries". Does that mean that there will be a national Special Branch? If not, why not? And would not "the National Special Branch" be a better name than the rather woolly name already coined for the agency? Perhaps in the consultation the Government will be open to considering better names.

Secondly, do the Government recognise that an essential prerequisite for achieving the objectives in the Statement is to have a central record of individuals, with biometric means of linking those individuals to their activities? Finally, on Al Capone: I know it was probably intended as a joke, but it refers to something 60 years ago that represented a major failure of the American justice system, which is why Al Capone was the only person convicted of tax evasion who ended up in Alcatraz.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, we want a number of his kind to go in the same direction and we hope that our British agency will be more effective than any others. I know that the House will be confident about that.

I cannot give any indication as to whether the name SOCA will change. I should share with noble Lords that many people of Afro-Caribbean extraction might like the name SOCA because it describes rhythmic and successful Caribbean dancing, so it may have a nice connotation for some. But I am sure that these are issues which we will look at in due course.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, biometrics?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, as regards biometrics, I cannot tell your Lordships exactly what the central records will contain. Your Lordships will know that biometric data are the most useful data for us to have in relation to tracking; the intelligence services have been able to—but I should not say that, should I? I shall simply say that biometric data are an issue that has certainly excited a lot of proper attention in the detection of crime.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie

My Lords, could the noble Baroness clear up whether what she described extends over the United Kingdom or is merely a plan for England and Wales? I ask that because I live in Scotland.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, the agency will cover England and Wales. I will write to noble Lords about how the agency may co-operate with agencies in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, the Statement did not say a word either about the trafficking of arms or about those people who hold illegal weapons in this country. Can the noble Baroness throw light on that subject, which is pretty urgent?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, did I understand the noble Lord to talk about arms in terms of guns and how that would be dealt with? Any form of trafficking will be covered by the new agency. However, I should address and correct what I just said when answering the noble Earl in relation to UK-wide. The new agency will have a UK-wide remit. However, in Scotland and Northern Ireland the Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency and the Police Service of Northern Ireland will continue to exercise those functions they currently undertake in partnership with the existing UK agencies. I was wrong to say that it would not be UK-wide; it is UK-wide, but it preserves two different distinctions and that is what confused me.

I believe that arms are covered. I will write to noble Lords. It depends whether arms fall into the organised crime bracket.