Clause 1 - The Agency and its Director

Part of Proceeds of Crime Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 10:30 am ar 13 Tachwedd 2001.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 10:30, 13 Tachwedd 2001

I can tell the Minister that we intend, in so far as we can, to scrutinise such a massive piece of legislation in a reasonable time, and to be as concise as possible when discussing amendments. As the Bill is so substantial, it will require close scrutiny and we shall focus on the aspects of it that cause us anxiety. Its first five clauses are some of the least controversial and we shall therefore endeavour to get through that part of the Bill as soon as possible, because later clauses are much more controversial.

Amendments Nos. 1 and 6 relate to the position of the agency and its director. Yesterday we received a helpful document from the Home Office that detailed, as had not been done previously, how it was expected that the director would carry out his functions. That has undoubtedly been extremely useful in preparing for this morning's debate, but it raises several questions that need to be answered.

Amendment No. 1 is about the director's role in relation to Northern Ireland. This may seem an obvious place to start, but clearly the director's functions are considerable. He will have considerable discretion and power, and his remit extends to England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The Bill makes provision for the appointment of a deputy director, but no specific reference is made to anyone, apart from an official, having responsibility for Northern Ireland. However, as the Minister knows, Northern Ireland has a separate judicial system, with its own chief justice and judges, which it may even be hoped may become part of the devolved responsibilities of the Northern Ireland Assembly at some point. I am therefore bound to flag up the fact that I am slightly surprised that Northern Ireland is not given the separate status of having a deputy director, especially as the director's powers are so considerable.

This is a matter of accountability. As the director has delegated functions, and as in Northern Ireland those functions will presumably be exercised wholly by the official nominated, failing to give him the status of deputy director seems to us to be a mistake. Doing so would emphasise his distinctive role. As the Minister makes clear in the documents that he sent us yesterday, the official will have to operate in the closest possible liaison with the law enforcement authorities in Northern Ireland, which effectively have a separate structure. A separate deputy directorship should be set up, while allowing a single Assets Recovery Agency to function. That is a simple but important point, and we commend the amendments to the Committee.