Here is my speech in yesterday’s debate on whether the National Crime Agency should have a Board or be directly under the personal direction of the Home Secretary:
“ My Lords, I certainly do not want to fall into the trap of automatically accepting the Government’s architecture for these proposals. However, the amendment put forward by my noble friend does not necessarily undermine that architecture. The key point of this part of the proposed legislation is the creation of a new National Crime Agency. That is the key concept, and in this group of amendments we are dealing with some of the accountability mechanisms and the arrangements that will be put around the agency to ensure that its governance is of an appropriate and effective standard.
Let us be clear why this is important. The National Crime Agency, as proposed, will be a tremendously significant organisation. It will be responsible for ensuring that as a country we deal effectively with the most serious types of crime. In due course, it may be responsible for dealing with terrorism. This is not some minor government body; it is an extremely important part of the arrangements that we put in place to ensure that our citizens are properly protected against serious crime.
The other fundamental part of the architecture of the Bill, if you are wedded to that architecture, as no doubt the Minister is-no doubt we will come onto this in due course-are the provisions within the legislation that enable the director-general to require from police services around the country various things to happen. There is a potential power of direction-and certainly the expectation in terms of individual operations-that local police forces will work with the National Crime Agency to ensure that certain operations proceed. The relationship between the director-general and individual chief officers of police will be a fundamental one. That is precisely why, when we look at the governance structures and the arrangements that will be put around the director-general, we need to ensure that there are appropriate mechanisms for chief officers of police and those responsible for their governance, in terms of police and crime commissions, to be adequately represented within them.
The Government have to put forward a clear justification as to why this very lean approach to governance has been included in the Bill. As a number of your Lordships have already indicated in Committee, there is a virtue in having a proper governance structure, a group of non-executives and a group of individuals to whom the director-general must report or explain or expand on his or her proposals on how the agency goes forward. That is not to decry the direct accountability to the Home Secretary because it will be the Home Secretary who will, whatever is written into the Bill, have to answer to Parliament as to whether this new structure works. It supports that function and gives the Home Secretary reassurance that all the processes and procedures that any sensible Home Secretary would expect to be around the director-general are in place.
I am not suggesting that the Home Secretary is incapable of providing adequate supervision of the agency. I am simply saying that it is not necessarily the most effective or efficient way of doing it and that some board structure supporting that process is better and more likely to be successful. I have looked for precedents for this sort of one-to-one relationship between the Home Secretary and significant agencies. For 175 years the Home Secretary was the police authority for London and at the end of those 175 years the Metropolitan Police was so well governed, despite the excellent leadership at that stage provided by the noble Lord, Lord Condon, that it did not have a system in place-it was a £2 billion business at the time-for telling whether it had paid a bill more than once. I rather suspect that had the Home Office-I absolve previous Home Secretaries from day-to-day responsibility for this-been doing its job properly proper accountancy systems would have been installed within the organisation. However, the supervision of the Home Office and the Home Secretary was quite properly on the main policing issues, which would have been advised by the noble Lord, Lord Condon, and his predecessors as Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. This was not about the way in which the organisation was run, administered or governed. That is the natural tendency. Home Secretaries are busy people. They have broad responsibilities. They are not going to be involved in day-to-day issues about the robustness or otherwise of governance structures. The history of the Metropolitan Police is not a sound precedent.
More recently we have the precedent of the border agency. Here, the opposite problem seems to have occurred. You seem to have a Home Secretary-perhaps successive Home Office Ministers would be a fairer way of putting it-who wanted certain things to happen and applied pressure on the border agency to do so. You then end up in arguments about what was said to whom by whom because of that one-to-one relationship. In all the fuss that there was a few months ago about whether certain expectations were being bypassed to let people into the country and remove queues, would it not have been better for there to have been a supervisory board between the Home Secretary and the chief executive of the border agency where there would have been a record, minutes, and perhaps an opportunity for dissent to be expressed? All that would be missing in the arrangements for the National Crime Agency, which raises the question of whether we are not in danger of creating a structure where the Home Secretary has too much of a role in respect of a policing body.
In this country, we have always expressed real concern about politicians having direct operational control of policing. That is part of the reason why there was a little bit of debate about the creation of police and crime commissioners, but that debate has moved on and we are now well into the process with the Labour Party having today announced a selection of candidates for those positions that includes my noble friend Lord Prescott. The Labour Party will clearly have an excellent set of candidates and we wait to see whether the Conservative list will be quite as exciting or interesting. The reason that there was some concern about that and there is even more concern about a national agency directly under the control of a single politician is the danger that that power is abused. I am certainly not accusing the present Home Secretary of having any desire to abuse that power. I am simply saying that we are creating a structure where such an abuse is possible and that it might happen in future.
Imagine occasions when there is a considerable threat from some organised crime group or a terrorist organisation, if that is the direction that the new agency goes in, and it is the responsibility of the Home Secretary to direct what the agency should do. The guarantees in the Bill for operational independence do not amount to very much in those circumstances. There is no place for control freakery here. This has to be about a proper system of governance. In a few years’ time, I would not want people to be making all sorts of sinister connections between policing operations that happen under the auspices of the National Crime Agency and saying that there are sinister implications that they have been personally directed or required by the Home Secretary, but that is the danger of the governance model that the Government have created.
My final point returns to what I mentioned in passing earlier. A critical part of this new agency will be the ability of the National Crime Agency to say that it wants local police forces to carry out or collaborate on particular operations. The danger of having a National Crime Agency that is divorced from the rest of the police structure is very real. I recall the discussions that took place over several years to try to get a system that worked on counterterrorism with primacy for one force and the ability to make operations happen across the country. It was not an easy process. The Government are making it more difficult for the director-general of the National Crime Agency if there are not police and crime commissioners or chief officers of police playing an active part in the governance of this new organisation. If they are there, if they are around the table and able to say, “This is a better way of doing that”, or to encourage the director-general to do things in a way that ensures their collaboration, that is surely going to mean that it is more likely that this new agency will succeed.
My noble friend’s amendments, which address precisely those points, are very welcome. There is a slight drafting error in that they make no reference to London, but I am sure that could be adjusted when we return to this at a later stage. The key issue that the Minister has to explain today is why this particular governance model has been put forward and why it is genuinely an improvement on a supervisory board which involves, for example, chief officers of police and police and crime commissioners.”
Last month I reported on the Tory embarrassment that their flagship policy of elected Police and Crime Commissioners was starting to unravel for them.
Earlier today the Labour Party unveiled its list of selected candidates to fight the 41 elections in November. The list is impressive and includes a number of former senior Ministers, along with the current Chair of the Association of Police Authorities and one of his predecessors. A third of those selected are women and even in those areas where a Labour victory is frankly unlikely the Party has selected some serious and highly experienced individuals.
It remains to be seen whether the Tory list when it eventually emerges will be anything like as impressive. For completeness, it is worth pointing out that the Liberal Democrats are likely only to contest a tiny handful of the available places.
Much as I enjoyed all the “tainted Prime Minister” stuff in Ed Miliband’s speech this morning to the Labour Party National Policy Forum, I was struck by the enthusiasm with which he spoke about local government and the contribution being made by Labour councillors:
“Labour Birmingham. Labour, in whom the people of Birmingham placed their trust in May. A Labour council changing the way we do politics with a manifesto built on 12 months of conversations with the people of this city. A Labour council improving our society with 5,000 new homes a year. And a Labour council changing our economy by paying at least £7.20 to every city council worker. A decent living wage.
And let us recognise the work of every Labour council making a difference in tough times. Liverpool’s new Mayor Joe Anderson and h is council that is building 2,500 homes. Manchester keeping open its Sure Start Centres. And Newham, standing up for tenants against unscrupulous landlords.
Labour councils whose examples will inspire our next manifesto. And let us applaud them for their work.”
Here at last is a recognition that Labour local government can be in the vanguard of delivering effective public services that meet the needs of their communities, that Labour local government is not something to be apologised for but is Labour’s future, and that the platform for winning future General Elections will be found at local level.
Today was the Second Reading debate in the House of Lords on the Crime and Courts Bill, which amongst other things creates the new National Crime Agency.
This was my speech:
“My Lords, I should declare my interests as chair of the Audit Panel for the Metropolitan Police and the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, and as an adviser to KPMG, Airwave Solutions, Lockheed Martin UK and a number of other companies that provide services to police forces around the country. It is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Condon, in the debate. I, too, want to speak primarily about Part 1 and the new National Crime Agency.
The Government’s intention to create a National Crime Agency has been known about for almost two years. However, we have yet to hear a clear explanation of what the problem is with the existing arrangements that these changes are required to fix. I am sure that the Government’s policy is, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, but perhaps it goes a bit further than that by saying, “Even if it doesn’t need fixing, take it to pieces anyway”, because we are not at all clear about which problems will be solved by these reorganisations. Given that the Government’s intentions have been clear for the past two years, we have to ask what has been going on during that period. We still do not have a definitive version of the strategic policing requirement, and we do not see any sign of the NCA framework document, even in draft, although it is pivotal to understanding how the new arrangements will work.
My understanding is that, because of this pending reorganisation, senior people in SOCA and the other agencies have spent the past two years sitting in meetings arguing with officials from the Home Office and other bodies rather than devoting themselves to their main purpose, which is that of fighting serious and organised crime. But all the meetings that have taken place over the past two years seem to have failed to produce anything definitive on how the new arrangements are supposed to work. What we are told about the likely organisational structure suggests that we are going to have a series of silos that are spatchcocked together. If that is all it is, frankly it is not clear why the reorganisation is better than a general injunction on the different organisations that currently exist to work together better. Moreover, there remains a lack of clarity about one of the central issues as to how the agency is going to work—a lack of clarity about the powers of tasking and co-ordination, whether voluntary or mandated.
We spent many happy months in your Lordships’ House discussing the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act. That Act clearly states, as does the policing protocol, that elected police and crime commissioners are responsible for the totality of policing within their jurisdiction and that they alone are publicly accountable for the delivery and performance of policing. That responsibility is placed clearly in their hands on behalf of the electorate.
Under this Bill, directed tasking arrangements allow the Home Secretary to empower the director-general of the NCA and allow the director-general of the NCA to task police forces and other law enforcement agencies to carry out specific activity. While the PCC would have to be notified when such a direction is initiated, this tasking would in practice interfere with the operational independence of the chief officer as set out in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act, and interfere with the police and crime commissioner’s responsibility for the totality of policing. My prediction is that, unless this is handled correctly and there is rather more substance to it than is contained in the Bill, conflict is going to be inevitable.
The whole point of these new accountability arrangements created by the Government is that police and crime commissioners will be elected with a mandate to deliver in respect of local concerns. That is what they are there to do. What is going to happen when the elected police and crime commissioner for Loamshire or some such place decides that his or her number one priority is going to be addressing volume street crime in Loamshire and its larger towns and yet suddenly there is a directive to divert resources from Loamshire to somewhere else to help deal with particular problems of organised crime, when for the public of Loamshire—the electorate that elect the police and crime commissioner—organised crime is not a particular issue facing that local community? How that is going to be managed is not clear from the Bill.
Indeed, the whole Bill poses a series of questions. Who is accountable to the public for activity that is being directed? When things go wrong—as they will—is the Home Secretary or the NCA director-general liable for any repercussions from this activity? How is this going to interfere with the PCC’s setting of local strategic priorities and indeed that accountability of PCCs to the public that the Government tell us is so critical? Will the police and crime commissioner for Loamshire or for any other area be able to veto a direction using his or her powers? Presumably that will be the case if it is a voluntary direction because that is my understanding of what “voluntary” means. What if it is not? What are the implications if the chief officer of police accepts a voluntary direction but his or her police and crime commissioner says, “No, I do not think that is in the interests of our local community, which I am elected to defend”? How is that going to be resolved? Who will be responsible under those circumstances?
Of course, the Government have got a let-out clause, as you would expect. I am sure the Minister is aware of paragraph 30 of Schedule 3, which gives the Home Secretary the power to amend the requirement to get prior consent before issuing directions. So we are actually being told that this is not going to be voluntary but there will be this power to dispense with the requirement to have prior consent. I suggest that this is going to create more conflict and more difficulties. Again, perhaps it is not very helpful that the detail has not yet been worked out.
This situation is made all the stranger when you observe that this new agency seems to have virtually no governance arrangements. The director-general reports and is accountable to the Home Secretary, who is in turn accountable to Parliament. There is no board; there are no non-executives; there are not even a few token elected police and crime commissioners sitting in that structure perhaps to provide some coherence with the expressed wish of the local electorate about police and crime priorities. There is no mechanism for scrutinising what is happening. Even the elected police and crime commissioners—which some of us were not hugely enamoured of—had these scrutiny arrangements created within the local authority structure. There is no parallel here.
Of course, the legislation contains promises that the director-general will be operationally independent, but what will that amount to in practice? How will it be enforced, and who is going to scrutinise that operational independence in the absence of any of those governance structures? Let us be clear: operational independence is not all that it might appear or be cracked up to be. It certainly does not apply to policing equipment. I suspect that most chief officers of police would think that their choice of equipment is very much part of their operational decision-making. I do not personally always agree with them on that, but paragraph 1 of Schedule 4 allows the Home Secretary to make regulations on the use of specified equipment and the NCA director-general will be required to comply. There is not much operational independence there. This is the Home Secretary, to whom he or she is accountable, saying, “You will or will not use this type of equipment”. That hardly sounds like operational independence to me.
Then there are the very strange provisions under paragraph 4 of Schedule 5. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, will explain to us precisely why these are here. Paragraph 4 creates an advisory panel; a new quango, if you like—from a Government who promised us a “bonfire of the quangos”—and what is this new advisory panel going to do? It is going to give advice to the Home Secretary on whether the director-general has sufficient training to carry out his operational powers. I wonder where they dream up things like this—which cellar in the Home Office is responsible for thinking up new committees to do this sort of thing.
This proposal is certainly not a carry-over from the legislation that created the Serious Organised Crime Agency, because it was not thought necessary to have an advisory panel to decide whether or not the director-general of the Serious Organised Crime Agency had the necessary training to carry out their operational functions. So why is it here? Is it because the Home Secretary is planning to replace the current director-general with an individual whose qualifications are so questionable that a panel is needed to test them? That is as may be, but paragraph 5 explains how the Home Secretary can ignore the advice of that panel under any circumstances.
We have to question what model of organisation was used for devising the governance structures for the National Crime Agency. The best example of that, one with which the Home Office is intimately familiar, is the relationship between the Home Secretary and that paragon of effective service delivery, the UK Border Agency. That relationship has worked so well in recent months, between the Ministers and the people with executive responsibility of the agency concerned—two impossible demands before breakfast and the agency, of course, has to comply.
Finally, I will say a word about Clause 2, which allows the Home Secretary by order—admittedly subject to the super-affirmative procedure—to add counterterrorism to the functions of the National Crime Agency. I have to question whether a decision of that magnitude should properly be done simply by order. Let us also be clear: if counterterrorism becomes part of the functions of the National Crime Agency, it will totally transform the National Crime Agency. This body that has taken two years in gestation merely to talk about a series of organisational silos spatchcocked together will suddenly have spatchcocked onto it an even larger organisation completely distorting and changing the priorities.
As the noble Lord, Lord Condon, said, it may or may not make sense ultimately to have counterterrorism as a function of a national agency of that form. However, having been involved in the convoluted discussions to get the current structure in place, I think you have to be very clear about the case you are making before you embark on those changes and very clear about why you want to go ahead with them. The experience in other countries—according to the FBI, for example—is not always a happy one in terms of relationships with local forces regarding counterterrorism. There is a real danger of divorcing a counterterrorism elite squad from ordinary policing, not only in terms of intelligence but also in managing community relations following operational decisions.
I am sure the intentions of the Bill are fine. The Government had two years to move from intentions to detailed proposals but in those two years we have yet to see the fruits of their labour and to understand exactly how these new arrangements are intended to work.”
Seven and a half years ago, I warned in a debate in the House of Lords about the risk to the nation’s critical national infrastructure of a concerted cyber-attack, saying:
“As a nation, the systems that are essential for our health and well-being rely on computer and communications networks – whether we are talking about the energy utilities, the water and food distribution networks, transportation, the emergency services, telephones, the banking and financial systems, indeed government and public services in general – and all of them are vulnerable to serious disruption by cyber-attack with potentially enormous consequences. …
The threat could come from teenage hackers with no more motivation than proving that it could be done, but even more seriously it could come from cyber-terrorists intent on bringing about the downfall of our society. “
“there are also terrorists who would challenge and seek to undermine democratic society using any methods within their grasp. It is not complacent to say this; but perhaps it should be made plain that at the moment they do not appear to be interested in attacking us electronically.”
“British intelligence picked up “talk” from terrorists planning an Internet-based attack against the U.K.’s national infrastructure, a British official said, as the government released a long-awaited report on cyber security.
Terrorists have for some time used the Internet to recruit, spread propaganda and raise funds. Now, this official said, U.K. intelligence has seen evidence that terrorists are talking about using the Internet to actually attack a country, which could include sending viruses to disrupt the country’s infrastructure, much of which is now connected online. The official spoke on condition of anonymity and didn’t say when the infrastructure threat was detected and how it was dealt with.
Terrorists, however, are still more focused on physical attacks that lead to high casualties and grab attention. “For the moment they prefer to cover the streets in blood,” he said.”
My question on the disappearance of Ilias Ali and other opposition politicians in Bangladesh was taken in the House of Lords earlier today.
These were the exchanges, demonstrating that the UK Government is taking it seriously and has made representations to the Government of Bangladesh:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what diplomatic representations they have made to the Government of Bangladesh about the disappearance and alleged kidnapping of Mr Ilias Ali and other opposition politicians.
We are concerned about the disappearance of Mr Ilias Ali. On 9 May, our High Commissioner to Bangladesh and ambassadors of eight other European countries called on the Bangladesh authorities to conduct thorough investigations into disappearances, including that of Mr Ali. In meetings with the Prime Minister’s Office and senior officials in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we have urged the Government to do all that they can to locate Mr Ali and investigate the circumstances of his disappearance.
David Cameron’s flagship policy of having elected Police and Crime Commissioners is in danger of unravelling. Despite the Tory claims that the elections would deliver high profile “serious” figures to hold local police chiefs to account, this now looks as though this is not going to happen – at least as far as the Conservatives themselves are concerned.
The latest news is that Colonel Tim Collins has dropped out of the selection process to be the Conservative candidate to be the Kent PCC – apparently he was too busy to attend the selection meetings (which does raise the question as to whether he would ever have been able to fulfil the role even on the part-time basis on which he was offering himself).
And, if you look at the latest lists of runners and riders compiled by the Police Foundation, the Tory Party now has no significant high-profile candidates publicly in the running for selection.
By contrast, the Labour Party has already selected a number of impressive candidates and there are a number of well-known names in the frame for the remaining selections, particularly those which the Party is likely to win. (The LibDems, of course, have run away from the whole process and may not run candidates at all.)
So where does this leave the elections in November? The turnout will undoubtedly be low. The date chosen has only half the daylight hours of a more traditional May polling day and the weather may be unpleasant. The Government has vetoed a free postal distribution to candidates, so the elections will not be well-publicised. And with the rejection of the other Conservative flagship policy of elected Mayors in all but one of the major cities that held referenda there will only be the Bristol Mayoral election on the same day to boost the turnout.
We can now expect the Tories to downplay the whole process and I suspect there will be a number of those in the Parliamentary Conservative Party scratching their heads to remember why they wanted to make these changes in the first place.
As the Government potentially dilutes police accountability with the abolition of police authorities, new technology will increasingly create a new way of ensuring that the police act responsibly.
I have commented before on the impact of citizens with video-enabled mobile phones being able to post on the internet videos of interactions between the police and the public within seconds of the interaction happening. This means that some incidents that might not previously have received wide coverage now do so. This places a great pressure on the police to act responsibly at all times, even though what may be an entirely reasonable response to, for example, violent behaviour may not look so reasonable when a 10-second clip is viewed without the context of the preceding incident.
Today, however, I heard of another development that will also potentially have far-reaching consequences. Wired reports that three developers from Tulse Hill in south London have build an app that aims to give the public a way to hold the police more accountable:
“Users can upload information when they’re stopped by the police to the Stop and Search UK site, including the location of the stop, the badge numbers of the officers involved, and any feedback they’d like included. There’s also a guide to the law regarding being stopped and searched, to help educate people about their rights.
The hope is that, over time, a wider picture of stop and search powers will emerge across the country, which will in turn increase accountability over a police power which has drawn controversy in the past.”
This effectively creates a crowd-sourced monitoring system and, whilst the data will not be entirely systematic or representative, the information it produces will be a powerful tool for those who want to argue whether or not the stop-and-search tactic is being used fairly, appropriiately and proportionately.
No doubt this app will prove controversial with police officers who will feel that this is yet another impediment to them being able to do their job effectively. However, conscientious officers will have little to fear and a greater confidence in the police that may stem from better accountability can only be a good thing.
If nothing else, it should act as a spur to the Home Office and local police services to ensure that their adoption of mobile technology to properly record and document interactions with the police is speeded up.
As I have previously commented, recording such encounters is an important safeguard against the over-use or inappropriate use of the power against particular individuals or groups. It is also incidentally a safeguard for officers who might otherwise be accused of abusing the power who will now be able to point to statistical evidence of how they have used the power properly and proportionately.
I spent some time earlier today in Brick Lane meeting representatives of Britain’s Bangladeshi community to discuss the disappearance of Ilias Ali, a leading opposition figure in Bangladesh.
The apparent kidnapping was reported a few days ago by the Guardian who said:
“Ali was the latest in a series of political activists who have apparently been abducted, raising fears of a concerted campaign of intimidation aimed at opposition politicians. At least 22 people have gone missing so far this year, the local human rights organisation Ain o Salish Kendra said. In 2011, the number was 51. Estimates of the exact number vary though all indicate a rising overall total.
Many local and international campaigners have blamed security forces, accusing the paramilitary Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) and local police of eliminating opposition figures to benefit the administration of Sheikh Hasina, the prime minister.”
I have written a short piece for the Labour Lords website.
You can read it here, but the text is as follows:
London elects its Mayor in one week’s time. The choice is a simple one. Do Londoners want someone who cares about (and will do something about) the issues that affect them, such as rocketing transport fares, falling police numbers and poor prospects for young people? Or do they want a Mayor who is more pre-occupied with costly vanity projects and using the Mayoralty as a platform to gain the Leadership of the Conservative Party?
The brilliant Labour election broadcast was attacked by the Tories for being “scripted” (since when was an election broadcast not scripted?) and (wrongly) of having used actors. The attacks were typical of a Conservative campaign that has sought to keep away from any proper policy debate or focus on what directly affects Londoners.
Indeed, what is interesting about the Tory campaign is what they do NOT talk about. Their candidate’s manifesto barely mentions the word “Conservative” – relegating it to the published and promoted by small print at the end of the page. But more significant is the failure to mention childcare or child poverty, the different faith communities that make up London, or LGBT Londoners. And black Londoners are only mentioned in the context of crime. The manifesto itself is light on policy and says little about what Boris Johnson would do in a second term in office.
By contrast, Ken Livingstone’s manifesto makes a series of striking pledges that match the concerns of Londoners. Ken has committed to cut fares – saving the average fare-payer £1,000 over four years; crack down on crime by reversing the Tory Mayor’s police cuts; and help reduce rents with non-profit lettings agency for London. The Labour Mayoral campaign promises to provide free home insulation for those in fuel poverty and campaign to force the utility companies to cut heating bills; establish a London-wide Educational Maintenance Allowance of up to £30 per week to help young people stay in education; and support childcare with grants and interest-free loans.
Ken Livingstone has also promised to freeze both the Mayor’s share of Council Tax and the congestion charge for four years and to invest in improving transport services, build new homes and cut pollution.
On 3rd May, Londoners will also be electing twenty-five members of the London Assembly whose role is to hold the Mayor to account and to speak up for the interests of Londoners. At present only eight of the seats on the Assembly are held by Labour (the Tories hold eleven with three LibDems, two Greens and one ex-BNP “other”). With the Assembly being a mix of fourteen constituency seats and eleven more “additional members” elected to achieve proportionality, there is a real prospect of the balance shifting significantly. Labour is hoping to gain Barnet and Camden where the incumbent Tory has made his name by making controversial statements and there are several other constituency seats being targeted.
With just one week to go and the public increasingly focusing on what sort of policies they want from London’s government, there is all to play for.