HC Deb 18 July 2002 vol 389 cc478-9

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,

That, for the purpose of any Act resulting from the Proceeds of Crime Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of— (a) the remuneration of the Director and staff of the Assets Recovery Agency; (b) any expenses incurred by the Director or any of the staff of the Agency in the exercise of his or their functions. 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 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.