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Mr. Ainsworth: In Committee, we discussed whether the title "senior official" was appropriate for the member of the agency who would be responsible for exercising the director's functions in Northern Ireland, and I agreed to reflect further on the issue. Amendment No. 77 is the result.
We were not attracted by the title "deputy director", which was suggested in Committee, as it would leave scope for confusion. The term "deputy" would imply that the person would act as a substitute for the director on the whole range of his functions. However, the title "assistant director" would avoid such confusion, while reflecting the importance of the agency's work in Northern Ireland. As I said in Committee, the director would have to consult the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland before making that appointment. Amendment No. 78 will include that commitment in the Bill.
Amendment No. 174, in the name of Conservative Members, would mean that the director's objectives could include no more than 10 performance targets, and those would have to relate specifically to the agency's functions. The performance targets in the agency's annual plan will be drawn up by the director and must be approved by the Secretary of State. I explained in Committee that the targets will take into account the assets recovery strategy and the wider work of the assets recovery committee.
It is too early to say with certainty what those targets will be, but I shall share with hon. Members, as I did in Committee, our latest thinking on the measures that we ought to apply to the agency's output. They are likely to include the number of confiscation orders obtained by the
We do not want to restrict the director's ability to draw up targets. It is for the director to decide how many targets there should be, according to his priorities and what he thinks he and the agency will be able to deliver. To impose an artificial cap on the number or nature of targets at this point would be inappropriate.
I accept concerns expressed in Committee that the scope of clause 4(1)(b) is too broad. We concluded that everyone whom we would wish to be under a duty to co-operate with the director is already covered by subsection (1)(a), so Government amendment No. 79 proposes to delete subsection (1)(b); I hope that that deals with the points that were usefully made in Committee.
I do not know whether amendment No. 196, which was tabled by the Opposition, is the result of a misunderstanding of the Bill's intentions. The disclosure of information to the director will be governed by the provisions of part 10, so it is clear that clause 4 is not supposed to set out the rules on disclosure of information. The power in part 10 to disclose information to the director will be permissive; nobody will be required to disclose information. Anyone disclosing information can place restrictions on its further disclosure. The amendment would cause confusion about the extent of co-operation required under clause 4. We do not want people to be unsure about whether they can co-operate with the director; we do not want a conflict between the provisions of part 10 and other provisions on disclosure of information.
Government amendment No. 89 deals with clause 320's taxation powers, specifically inheritance tax appeals. All inheritance tax appeals are already reserved to the special commissioners, but the provisions of clause 320(2) and (3) on the assistance of expert assessors are not currently available for inheritance tax appeals. It would be highly desirable for the commissioners to have such assistance. The amendment would apply the same appeal systemspecifically the potential for input from expert assessorsto all the director's tax functions.
I hope that that is sufficient, as I do not wish unnecessarily to prolong consideration of the amendments. I urge the House to accept Government amendments Nos. 77, 78, 79 and 89, and I hope that in the light of what I have said Opposition Members will not press amendments Nos. 174 and 196 to a vote.
Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): Opposition Front Benchers welcome Government amendments Nos. 77, 78 and 79. As the Minister said, and as other Members mentioned in our recent discussions on the programme
We are disappointed, however, that the proposal in our amendment No. 174 was not included in the Government's further improvements to the Bill. As the Minister said, on 13 November last year we had a detailed debate in Committee about performance targets, which is recorded at columns 12 to 19 of the Official Report. Although he said that it may be premature to cap the number of performance targets, he may have forgotten what he said in Committee:
We have specifically suggested a limit of 10 performance targets; under other legislation, the Government have imposed ridiculous numbers of targets in other law and order fields. In Committee, I mentioned police forces as an example and pointed out that the Government were seeking to impose as many as 58 performance targets on my force in Surrey. As the chief constable told me, such a number is ridiculous: no sensible organisation has 58 separate performance targets. All that such a large number of targets will do is create huge amounts of bureaucracy. The Government listened to some of the Opposition's complaints about the number of targets imposed on chief constables and police authorities, but they reduced the number from 58 to only 43, which is still far too many.
Amendment No. 174 seeks to bring some common sense to bear. We cannot conceive of any sensible organisation having more than 10 performance targets. The point of such targets is that they should concentrate on the nitty-gritty of an organisation's work. We have, therefore, sought once again to persuade the Government to limit that number. I have no doubt that this matter will arise again in another place if they continue to argue that organisations should be encouraged to concentrate on the main issues only by something as formal as performance targets. That does not mean that there will not be other things beyond such targets that everybody will want an organisation to do well; none the less, it cannot be sensible for any organisation to have more than 10 formal performance targets. It must also be absolutely clear that, whatever the targets are, they should be central to that which is germane to the work of the organisation. Only then will we have a sensible organisation that is not over-bureaucratic.
I am disappointed that the Minister has not yet been persuaded of the argumentbut I have hope, given the constructive way in which he has responded previously, not only by tabling some of the other amendments in the group but by accepting amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) and I in Committee. As we shall see, that has happened not least by the Government adding their names to Opposition amendments. They have tried to be constructive when they have felt able to do so, and I still hope that
Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Pollok): In his relatively brief speech, the hon. Gentleman has twice suggested that if he does not get his own way he will get the old boys along the Corridor to try to emasculate the Bill. Do the Conservatives intend to adopt that strategy throughout this process? If they do not get their own way here, will they try to block the Bill until they do so in another place?
Mr. Hawkins: I shall give way in a moment, when I have finished my point. The hon. Gentleman's contributions in Committee informed and amused us throughout our proceedings. As tributes have been paid to others for their work in Committee, I pay my own tribute to him for those constructive contributions.
We have no intention of using what the hon. Gentleman describes as the old boys along the Corridor to block the Bill. As he will remember from Committee, we have said throughout discussions on the Bill that we support its broad thrust and are trying merely to improve it. I hope that he will return to what he helpfully said at column 17 on 13 November in expressing his support for the thrust of an Opposition amendment that was similar to amendment No. 174. If he still wants me to give way, I shall do so.