Clause 7 - Other functions etc

Crime and Courts Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 4:15 pm ar 24 Ionawr 2013.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 4:15, 24 Ionawr 2013

I beg to move amendment 34, in clause 7, page 7, line 1, at end insert—

‘(7) The Director General must ensure any funds delegated by the NCA to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) are reserved for that purpose and this be confirmed through the annual report of the NCA to Parliament set out in section 5(2)(b).’.

As I have already indicated, the amendment is to do with our concerns about the child protection unit and what will happen to its ability to fulfil its function. The amendment seeks to ensure that as the unit is transferred to the NCA, it retains the budget required to do the job. We are also concerned about how CEOP manages its budget, because it is one of the few organisations within the police that is successful in raising money from outside sources. The amendment seeks to ring-fence that money, to give confidence to any of the organisations that give money to CEOP that it will not be siphoned off into other elements of the NCA.

There are many things about the proposal that I am sure other Committee members, in particular those with expertise in child protection, want to comment on, but CEOP generated an additional £1.8 million in partnership towards its work last year. The amendment seeks to ensure that there is accountability for where that money, if maintained, is spent. In the Lords, Lord Henley stated that he hoped the CEOP funding model would remain and, in particular, that the training services  provided for police, teaching and child protection, which allow it to generate resources, are not curtailed because partners are not confident about where the money might go.

CEOP has a budget of about £6.8 million, which is already to be reduced by 10% over the next three years, under the comprehensive spending review. The amendment would ensure that no further reduction is suffered by CEOP as it is moved into the NCA. I am mindful of our debate on Tuesday, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn expressed serious concerns about the budget for the NCA as a whole. Therefore, an organisation that is able to generate its own funding but is subsumed into the NCA might be extremely susceptible to being asked to pick up the slack in any further reduction of the budget. The amendment seeks to protect it against that so that it can get on with doing its good job of tackling child protection. I hope that the Minister responds positively.

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne The Minister of State, Home Department

As we have heard from the hon. Lady, the amendment seeks to ring-fence the funding for CEOP within the NCA.

As I have done throughout our discussion in Committee, I can certainly assure the hon. Lady that the National Crime Agency will play a vital role in tackling child sexual exploitation and abuse. The hon. Lady is, I hope, well aware of the Government’s strong and continuing commitment to CEOP. We want to build on its successes to date and to ensure that children are even better protected in future. Reflecting that commitment, the six principles that underpin the transition of CEOP into the NCA will, as I have said, be set out in the framework document, to which the Home Secretary and the NCA director general will have a statutory duty to have regard. On how CEOP’s important work load is funded, the document will cement the Government commitment that CEOP will continue to have

“clear, delegated authority for its budget”,

as well as being able to

“continue its innovative partnerships with the public, private and third sector and have the ability to raise and hold funds from donors”.

Going to the nub of the point made, however, we do not believe that proceeding further, by providing for the statutory ring-fencing of one element of the NCA budget, would support the efficient and effective management of the organisation, including its ability to respond to changing circumstances in-year. Indeed, across government, budgets are not in practice ring-fenced by statute. A commitment might be given by a Secretary of State or a Prime Minister to ring-fence a particular budget, but not in statute, because that does not allow for the necessary flexibility to respond to changing priorities within the financial year. As to how the director general reports on the work of CEOP in the NCA annual report, I suggest that we can also leave that to the director general’s good judgment, rather than introducing additional statutory duties.

I wholeheartedly share all hon. Members’ desire to ensure that CEOP is properly resourced. Incorporating it in the NCA will enable it to draw on the wider resources of the organisation that are not allocated to one of the four commands. CEOP’s work will not be diluted in the NCA. Rather, CEOP will be able to do  even more to protect children—the point I was making a few moments ago—with border police and others bringing extra resource and expertise to bear.

On Tuesday, we touched on the issue of CEOP staff transferring to the NCA. With your permission, Mr Caton, I want to take this opportunity to provide a fuller answer to the hon. Member for Walsall South on that point. She asked whether all the staff from CEOP would go over to the NCA. I said at the time that that was my understanding, and I confirm that all staff currently employed by CEOP will transfer to the NCA. It is envisaged that secondees in CEOP will similarly transfer to the NCA; the Bill therefore provides that their secondment will have effect as if it were a secondment to the NCA. Secondees who do not want to transfer will, of course, be able to return to their parent organisation. The transfer process to the NCA from precursor organisations is currently being discussed with staff, but no staff will be lost in the process. As we build the agency, the objective is to ensure that CEOP can do more to protect children as a fully integrated command within the NCA, drawing on the agency’s enhanced intelligence, its operational crime-fighting capabilities and its strong relationships with partners. CEOP within the NCA will mean no lessening of the focus on tackling child sexual exploitation and abuse.

Returning to amendment 34, I hope to persuade the Committee that enshrining the six principles in the framework document is the appropriate way to safeguard the position of CEOP, not by imposing statutory straitjackets, which are not typical elsewhere in legislation, whether under this Government or previous ones. I therefore ask the hon. Member for Walthamstow to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Again, it would have been helpful to hear from the Minister what he is doing to ensure that there is no loss of support for partners working with CEOP, given their contribution to the CEOP budget. I was also rather worried about his reference to flexibility to respond to changes within years, in terms of budgets. That sounds rather as if we cannot guarantee that CEOP will get the funding that it has been getting, which is of concern to all of us who are worried about the implications of CEOP being moved into the NCA and so having its budget reduced.

I have no desire to press the amendment to a vote, but I am putting on record our concern, to ensure that the Government continue to resource CEOP properly to do its job, and that it can continue to work as it does at the moment, with partners, and having the necessary people. Already, in north Wales, we see the consequences that may be coming to CEOP. I hope that the Minister will reflect on that and reassure us that it will not happen. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 4 agreed to.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Mr Syms.)

Adjourned till Tuesday 29 January at five minutes to Nine o’clock.