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 Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 10:30, 13 Tachwedd 2001

Amendment No. 1 would require the Secretary of State to appoint a deputy director of the agency for Northern Ireland. Amendment No. 6 would require the appointment of a deputy director for Northern Ireland rather than, as is currently proposed, a senior official, but it would not require that appointment to be made by the Secretary of State.

The Government are committed to combating crime in Northern Ireland and to ensuring that the agency operates effectively there. The possibility of a separate agency for Northern Ireland was considered with colleagues from Northern Ireland before the Bill was introduced. It was agreed that there should instead be a single agency with a unified management structure, and that is reflected in the Bill.

It may be helpful if I explain how we envisage the agency being structured in Northern Ireland. We envisage that it will have a presence—an office and operational staff—in Northern Ireland, which can be achieved administratively. A senior official in the agency will have the specific responsibility of exercising the director's functions in Northern Ireland. Schedule 1 states that the director will appoint that official, and will also be required to make specific references to Northern Ireland in his annual plan. The Secretary of State must approve the annual plan as a whole. We envisage that the Home Secretary will take the lead on that, but approval will not be given without consultation with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. We also envisage that the director will keep both the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland informed of the plan's progress. Although the Home Secretary will be accountable to Parliament for the agency, we expect that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will give answers relating to Northern Ireland.

That is the background against which we should consider the amendments, which raise two questions. First, should the agency have an official with the title of deputy director for Northern Ireland? If the answer to that is yes, the second question is whether any such deputy director should be appointed by the Secretary of State rather than by the director.

The Bill requires that the agency's staff must include a senior official with specific responsibility for exercising his functions in Northern Ireland. That is set out in paragraph 4 of schedule 1. The director will make that appointment, just as the director will appoint his deputy. Do we need the official appointed to the Northern Ireland office to be termed a deputy director rather than a senior official?

It is important that the agency's work in Northern Ireland is given the high profile and the priority that are necessary. However, it is not appropriate to specify that there should be two deputy directors of the agency. The deputy to the director, for whom provision is made in paragraph 4(a), will—following the normal use of the term ``deputy''—act as a substitute for the director in his whole range of functions when called upon to do so. The role of the officer with responsibility for Northern Ireland will be far narrower. The term deputy director should not be used, because that could cause confusion.