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Mr. Deputy Speaker: It was the promoter of the Bill who decided to withdraw it, and the Chair has no control over that. As the hon. Gentleman says, another Bill of a similar nature then appeared. That Bill, I am afraid, must take its appointed place, and neither the Chair nor anyone else has power to change the order. We must wait and see what happens tomorrow.

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Proceeds of Crime Bill [Money]

Queen's recommendation having been signified—

3.35 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): I beg to move,

The motion arises from technical amendments made to the Bill in another place to ensure the status of the Assets Recovery Agency as a non-ministerial department. The money motion passed by the House on 30 October enabled any expenditure incurred by any Minister of the Crown under the legislation to be met from money provided by Parliament. The amendments made in the other place, however, provide for the director's expenses to be met directly from money provided by Parliament, rather than through the Secretary of State. This motion is intended to ensure that that will be possible.

3.36 pm

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): I am still a little perplexed about what event in the other place triggered the motion, but I think the Minister can help us on a number of points. First, what is the anticipated full-year cost of the agency? Secondly, when does the Minister expect all the necessary staff to have been recruited? Thirdly, how many will there be? Fourthly, can the Minister give an undertaking that there will be no order triggering commencement of implementation of the relevant parts of the Bill until all staff are in place and fully trained?

3.37 pm

Mr. Ainsworth: The right hon. and learned Gentleman has asked for details of when we will be able to implement the various powers, and when we will be able to recruit staff. We have not even secured Royal Assent—which is, in fact, being delayed by some substantive issues with which the right hon. and learned Gentleman's own party appears to disagree. I therefore consider his questions a little out of order.

We have some estimates of the number of staff envisaged for the agency. It is estimated that eventually there will be about 100. We expect the agency to be able, effectively, to recover more than its costs by recovering the proceeds of crime.

Mr. Michael Mates (East Hampshire): It is interesting that the Minister still sticks to the line that he will recruit about 100 people. Two or three days ago, an advertisement appeared in the press seeking applications for the post of director of the agency. According to the advertisement, he would be responsible for a staff of between 150 and 200.

I had intended to congratulate the Minister on noting what was said in the report of the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs. We said that we feared that the

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agency might be understaffed. Surely the Minister's officials are not advertising for more people than the Minister is prepared to approve? Which figure is correct, 100 or 200?

Mr. Ainsworth: The figure is expected to be something in excess of 100. We have not settled on an exact figure. We have advertised for a director, and there has been considerable discussion—as the hon. Gentleman knows, for he has been party to it; I hope he is happy with the conduct of that discussion—about the number of staff who might be needed to deal with Northern Ireland matters. It is indeed an important matter, which has not been finally settled. I hope we will be able to satisfy the hon. Gentleman that not just the staff covering the rest of the United Kingdom but the staff in Northern Ireland will be equal to their task. I do not think there will be any real point of controversy between us.

As I have said, we hope eventually substantially to increase the moneys recovered from the proceeds of crime, and thus more than recover any costs of the agency. If we secure all-party support and obtain Royal Assent before the summer recess, we shall be able to do that much sooner than we could have otherwise.

Question put and agreed to.

Proceeds of Crime Bill (Programme) (No. 3)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Order [28 June 2001],

Question agreed to.

18 Jul 2002 : Column 480

Orders of the Day

Proceeds of Crime Bill

[Relevant documents: Second Report from the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Session 2001–02, on the financing of terrorism in Northern Ireland: interim report on the Proceeds of Crime Bill, HC 628, and Fourth Report, Session 2001–02, on the financing of terrorism in Northern Ireland, HC 978-I.]

Lords amendments considered.

3.40 pm

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I must draw the attention of the House to the fact that privilege is involved in Lords amendments Nos. 9, 47, 78, 166 and 276, which are to be considered today. If the House agrees to those Lords amendments, I shall ensure that the appropriate entry be made in the Journal.

Clause 1

The Agency and its Director

Lords amendment: No. 1.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to consider Lords amendments Nos. 2, 3, 34 to 37, 101 to 104, 178, 259, 260, 273 to 277, 317, 318 and 320.

Mr. Ainsworth: These amendments make detailed technical changes to the provisions that establish the Assets Recovery Agency. They also respond to concerns expressed by the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs about the personal safety of staff working in this area.

Lords amendments Nos. 1 and 273 to 277 make some minor amendments to clause 1 and schedule 1. Those confirm the agency's status as a non-ministerial department and the director of the agency as a civil servant of the state.

Lords amendments Nos. 2, 3, 34 to 37, 101 to 104 and 320 clarify the provisions on the accreditation of financial investigators who will have access to the restraint powers under parts 2 and 4 and the investigative powers under part 8. The amendments put it beyond doubt that the director can provide different classes of accreditation for different purposes, rather than a single all-encompassing award.

Lords amendments Nos. 178, 317 and 318 will ensure that police officers can be seconded to the new agency on normal central service terms. Such officers will, however, be prohibited from exercising the functions of the director in relation to part 5.

Lords amendments Nos. 259 and 260 respond to the helpful comments of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee about the importance of protecting those working for the new agency and those undertaking similar work in Scotland. The amendments will enable relevant staff to use pseudonyms to protect their identities.

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Mr. Michael Mates (East Hampshire): At the risk of this becoming a bit of a love-in, I thank the Minister for listening to what the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee said. We examined the matter carefully. It is one of the all too rare examples of Government listening to Parliament, for which the whole of my Committee is grateful.

Mr. Ainsworth: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his thanks. He came to the House, put his point of view and argued his case well. I said at that time that we would take on board the points that had been made and try to respond to them. He had a concern. I am pleased that we have been able to do exactly that and that he is satisfied with the outcome.

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Pollok): Can the Minister give me an assurance that these are all genuine improvements and that he has not gone all soft and soggy on us?

Mr. Ainsworth: As I have said, the overwhelming majority of the amendments are technical. I hope my hon. Friend would accept that there is a specific issue—the safety of people working in the environment of Northern Ireland. The ability of people to maintain some anonymity by the use of pseudonyms will help both to recruit people to the agency and to make it more effective. I would have thought that there was no way that could be interpreted as being soft and soggy.

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