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Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): As the Minister will be aware, we appreciate his response to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, but may I press him again on the numbers? In our judgment, unless this goes off with a real bangI do not mean the bangs that we have been used to for far too longwe will be in difficulties. We are looking forward to the recruitment increase not all being around London: we hope that there will be more than 15 extra staff in Northern Ireland. There is a less difficult problem in the Republic, where over 100 staff are involved. We must have the number of people in post to deal with the problem now, rather than hoping that the number will grow and thereby losing the momentum.
Mr. Ainsworth: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is important that we try to get the agency off to a flying start and that there is a step change in this area of law enforcement. Obviously, that has particular resonance in the environment of Northern Ireland, but it applies across the country. I ask him to accept that we are not wholly relying on the agency to achieve that step change: we need to step up our activity and capability with regard to confiscation across the piece. We have been able to do many things without the legislation. For example, we have substantially increased the number of financial investigators to police forces. Our asset recovery strategy is already starting to show some results. The amount of assets recovered from criminal activity has increased over time.
We are looking to the agency to provide the sort of expertise that will be necessary to use some of the powers, to take over the complicated confiscation cases that will be too much for individual crown prosecution services
The hon. Gentleman is right. If the staff of the agency are the only people involved in the step changethe culture change that is needed on confiscation of criminal assets and the proceeds of crimewe will not get to where we badly need to be. A lot more people from all kinds of agencies must be involved. We are working on getting the assets recovery strategy up and running ahead of the agency's establishment, to ensure that we have a substantial start and are not seen to be ineffective for any period.
I hope that I have been able to satisfy hon. Members. I am extremely grateful for the support for what we have been able to do in Northern Ireland. I am sure that the debate on the number of officers in the Northern Ireland Office will continue and remain under scrutiny by everyone who is involved in work in the Province. Obviously, we will listen to that continuing debate.
Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): As the Minister has said, this group of amendments covers a fair number of issues but many are not major issues. I have a couple of specific questions, but Conservative Members greatly welcome the constructive way in which the Minister and his former Front-Bench colleague, the right hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), approached the matter through many weeks in Committee. We welcome the Under-Secretary of State, Scotland Office, who has taken over from the right hon. Gentleman.
Can the Minister indicate whether there is any specific significance in the addition of amendment No. 320 relating to the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, and whether the fact that, under a couple of amendments in this group, everything will be referred to the Minister for the civil service has any particular significance? I wondered whether that was as a result of any disagreement among Ministers and whether the Minister for the civil service felt frozen out. No doubt the Minister will say that it is all part of joined-up government.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates) has already referred to the work of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. I am glad that, in line with the spirit that has characterised our debates in Committee, the Minister paid tribute to the work of the Committee. I hope that he will also pay tribute to Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, a distinguished former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, formerly the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster. As the Minister will be aware, the Government amendments dealing with pseudonyms were based on amendments originally tabled by Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, as it were on behalf of the Select Committee. I hope that the Minister will try to reflect the tenor of the debates between my noble Friend Lord Brooke and his noble Friend Lord Rooker in another place.
The debate on this group of amendments will be relatively short. Some substantial questions will arise on later groups, and I do not want to delay the House now, but may I ask the Minister, in line with the constructive spirit in which we have approached the Bill, to confirm that the Prime Minister must have been misinformed when he
Mr. Ainsworth: On the substance of the amendments, the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) will know that the Bill is very complex and has many strands, so many Departments are involved in different ways. He should not be surprised or look for little arguments that do not exist. The blunt answer to him is yes, he is right: this is about joined-up government. That is what we believe in, and that is what we try to carry out, although we do not always do so successfully; I should have thought that his party, too, had tried to do so when it was in power.
The Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 has to be amended to assure the funding for accredited financial investigators working for the Financial Services Authority. The role for the Minister for the civil service flows directly from the change of status, because the director comes under a non-ministerial department rather than receiving his funding directly from the Home Secretary. There is no issue here that the hon. Gentleman should not be able to understand, and he should not surmise that someone's nose has been put out of joint or that that has subsequently had to be put right. He is far too suspicious.
As for the hon. Gentleman's concerns about what the Prime Minister said yesterday, let me read the Hansard report to him so that he can hear exactly what was said[Interruption.] I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has it with him, but for the sake of the record I shall read it out:
We shall see in the course of this afternoon what the Conservatives will do. Three substantive groups of amendments will come before the House today, and we shall see whether the Leader of the Opposition and his right hon. and hon. Friends do what the Prime Minister asked. We shall see what happens between now and 7 o'clockand I hope that we will be pleasantly surprised.
Mr. Ainsworth: Throughout the passage of the Bill I have paid tribute to the hon. Gentleman for some of the helpful and constructive comments that he has made about itbut not all his comments fell into that category. Between now and 7 o'clock we have to consider three sets of wrecking amendments, which would do substantial damage to the Bill, and which were moved and supported by the hon. Gentleman's colleagues in another place. Within the next couple of hours we shall see whether the Conservative party will respond to the Prime Minister's request, support the Bill, and give the forces of law and order an effective tool to use.