Lords continued to examine the role of the new National Crime Agency (NCA) with debate in particular focusing on Clause 2, which sets out the government's power to transfer counter terrorism functions to the NCA without a new piece of primary legislation.
Baroness Smith of Basildon (Labour) put forward Amendment 14 which proposed removing Clause 2 entirely from the bill. She argued that the case for transferring the function, which currently lies with the Metropolitan Police, should be subject to serious scrutiny: ‘That case should be properly and fully examined by Parliament. There may even be a role for a select committee to look at the issue again. It should, at least, be a matter for primary legislation.’
Lord Blair of Boughton (Crossbench), a former commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, spoke in favour of the amendment saying: ‘I believe that Clause 2 directly affects national security and so, in my view, is more important than any other clause in this section of the bill.’
He went on to outline the strong feelings against clause 2 among serving police officers: 'I am not here arguing the case for the status quo, nor for change, but merely because I know - having spoken to them - that senior police officers who have current responsibility for these matters believe that the maximum public scrutiny should occur of the reasons for and against such a change. They are owed no less.’
Another former commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Lord Condon (Crossbench) also supported the amendment. He cited the conclusion of a recent report by a Lords committee on the implications of clause 2: ‘The Constitution Committee has isolated why this is so important and why primary legislation is more desirable than the super-affirmative process. I support the amendment passionately.’
Home Office spokesperson Lord Taylor of Holbeach (Conservative) responded on behalf of the government. He defended the clause saying, ‘...there is nothing new in this process that offends the traditions of Parliament’ and stressed that ‘a due process of consultation with all bodies involved’ would precede any decision on the transfer of the counter terrorism function.
‘We expect police and other partners to be fully involved in the review when the time is right. Any decisions should be evidence-based and preserve those features of the current arrangements that work well. No one is going to upset an arrangement that is fully satisfactory unless they can be certain that the alternative arrangement will be an improvement.’
Baroness Smith of Basildon thanked the minister for his response, but put her amendment to a vote saying: ‘This clause will severely restrict the right of Parliament to scrutinise such a transfer of some of the most important responsibilities that the state holds.’
The division resulted in a government defeat with 222 members voting 'for' and 201 'against' the removal of Clause 2.
Further amendments, covering subjects including the relationship between the NCA and other agencies and the operational powers NCA director general were discussed but not put to a vote.
A second day of report stage is scheduled for 4 December.
About the Crime and Courts Bill
The bill was introduced in the House of Lords at its first reading stage (formal introduction) on 10 May. It aims to establish the National Crime Agency and suggests abolishing the Serious Organised Crime Agency and the National Policing Improvement Agency.
It also examines the structure, administration, proceedings and powers of courts and tribunals and addresses issues like border control and drugs and driving.
Find out more about the Crime and Courts Bill
What is report stage?
Report stage gives all members of the Lords further opportunity to examine and make changes, known as amendments, to a bill.
Report stage usually starts 14 days after committee stage. It can be spread over several days (but usually fewer days than at committee stage).
Before report stage starts, all member's amendments are recorded and published. The day before a report stage debate the amendments are placed in order - a marshalled list.
During report stage detailed line by line examination of the bill continues. Any member of the Lords can take part and votes can take place.
After report stage the bill is reprinted to include all the agreed amendments. The bill then moves to third reading for the final chance for the Lords to debate and amend the bill.