Clause 8 - Director General: customs powers of Commissioners and operational powers

Part of Crime and Courts Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 8:55 am ar 29 Ionawr 2013.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 8:55, 29 Ionawr 2013

Good morning, Ms Dorries. I hope that you had a pleasant weekend. It is a great pleasure to be here in Committee today. The Opposition have tabled no amendments to clauses 8 to 15, but we intend to discuss all the clauses to explore the issues and the Government’s thinking in what I hope will be a helpful and constructive way. I give notice to the Whip and to the Minister that we do not plan to vote against the clauses, but we want to have at least some discussion. Depending on what the Minister says, we might oppose the clauses, but I doubt that we will.

Clause 8 is about operational powers of the director general and the commissioners. It states that the director general, Keith Bristow, who has already been appointed,

“has…the same powers as the Commissioners for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs would have.”

It continues:

“The Secretary of State may”

—that is the key word—

“designate the Director General as a person having one or more of the following—

(a) the powers and privileges of a constable;

(b) the powers of an officer of Revenue and Customs;

(c) the powers of an immigration officer.”

Interestingly, the clause confers on the Secretary of State another power:

The Secretary of State may modify or withdraw a designation of the Director General by giving notice of the modification or withdrawal to the Director General.”

Schedule 5 gives effect to the clause and will form part of this debate, but I want to ask the Minister about clause 8 as a whole. In what circumstances may the Secretary of State

“designate the Director General as a person having…the powers and privileges of a constable”,

which, self-evidently, Keith Bristow has? The same question applies to:

“the powers of an officer of Revenue and Customs;” and

“the powers of an immigration officer.”

Will the Secretary of State designate the director general as having those powers as a matter of course? It would be helpful to know, because according to the material that we have dealt with to date, the director general, Keith Bristow, will have responsibility for the National Crime Agency as it relates to policing of serious organised crime; Revenue and Customs and the border force; and matters connected with policing and training through the work being amalgamated through the National Policing Improvement Agency. I am genuinely interested in hearing in what circumstances such powers will be vested in the director general and whether it will be a matter of course.

Subsection (3) states:

“The Secretary of State may modify or withdraw a giving notice of the modification or withdrawal to the Director General.”

If the director general is to be vested with the powers as a matter of course, in what circumstances does the Minister envisage the Secretary of State giving a power to the NCA director and then exercising the power to

“modify or withdraw a designation”?

With these questions, I am trying to discover what powers the Minister anticipates the director general of the NCA will have. Serious responsibilities are vested in the agency and the director general will have oversight of those issues. The heart of the clause is the competence of the director general to oversee, direct and have powers in relation to those fields.

This is an important matter, and I have already asked whether and how it has been dealt with in respect of Keith Bristow. Although the Bill has not yet passed through the Commons, it has had Second Reading in the Lords and has completed its Committee stage. Keith Bristow was appointed more than 12 months ago to be national director of the NCA. What powers have already been vested in him? What assessment have the Secretary of State and the Home Office made of Mr Bristow’s powers? This is not a criticism of Keith Bristow. As I said at the first sitting of the Committee, I have a great deal of respect for his work and worked with him during my time fulfilling Government functions. My questions are not about him but about the principle of a future Keith Bristow and the starting point for such a person. Were the tests under clause 8 directed at Keith Bristow on his appointment? What powers does he have as of 29 January regarding these matters? That is an important point and I will welcome the Minister’s comments.

Those points also relate to schedule 5, which I think we might deal with in a separate stand part debate, so I may leave my comments on that schedule until then. That would be helpful, as it deals with an advisory committee, but I will just touch on the issue now and we will discuss it more fully in due course. The advisory panel is put in place under paragraph 4(1), which says,

“The Secretary of State must appoint an advisory panel (to enable recommendations to be made as to the operational powers which the Director General should have)”.

The schedule states that an advisory panel must be appointed to advise on whether the director general has the relevant skills for those powers, but it states also that the Secretary of State has the power not to have an advisory panel. We will test that when debate schedule 5. My question in relation to clause 8 is: was an advisory panel put in place when Keith Bristow was appointed? Clause 8 gives power to schedule 5 and we have Keith Bristow in post, so I question the powers, the “may” and whether the Secretary of State acted with or without an advisory panel, as the Bill directs, when appointing Keith Bristow.