Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Mr. Davidson: How can I resist? The hon. Gentleman's compliments on my behaviour in Committee would have been much better received if I had not had to drag them out of him by intervening on him. As he has already twice mentioned the fact that he is going to take these matters to another place, and as the Conservatives raised this point consistently in Committee, may I take it that he is speaking on behalf of the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) and himself when he says that it is not his intention to sabotage this measure in the Lords? Or is there a division on the Conservative Benches, as there was so often in Committee?

Mr. Hawkins: The hon. Gentleman's memory must be playing him false. There were no divisions between me and my hon. Friend, and we have no divisions on this point. As my hon. Friend has rightly said, we are concerned that the Government might have overloaded the programme for today, and I do not want to detain the House further on this matter. We hope, however, that the Government will continue to consider it in the responsible and constructive way in which they have considered many other issues.

John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland): I pay tribute to the Opposition parties, and to how well they conducted

26 Feb 2002 : Column 590

themselves in Committee. I also welcome the three members of the Scottish National party to our discussions; I hope that they might contribute something for a change.

Annabelle Ewing (Perth): I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman has extended a special welcome to us today. The fact is, we have been involved in this matter. We were not on the Standing Committee because we were not awarded a place. We had no place on the Committee of Selection, and we had to rely on the good will or otherwise of the Liberals to secure a place on the Standing Committee. Of course, they preferred to have two places for themselves, although, from looking at their attendance record, I see that they both managed to miss 15 or 16 sittings apiece. Perhaps there was a wasted place, and if the Liberals had not sought to have two places for themselves, they could have allocated one to the SNP—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I think that we have a sufficiency of that matter on the record. May we please return to the amendment?

John Robertson: I am sure that my colleagues on the Liberal Benches will respond to the point made by the hon. Lady.

On amendment No. 174, the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) talked a great deal about targets. Although I have some sympathy with the Conservatives on targets—on many occasions, various bodies have to adhere to too many targets—limiting the number to 10 would cause different problems. Which 10 targets should we choose if there happened to be 12, or 20—who knows? Then again, there might only be five. If we talk about a specific number, such as 10, we might have to try to invent targets to get the total up to that number. I accept that the proposal was for a maximum of 10, but sometimes maximums have a habit of becoming actuals. That could be a problem.

Having read the Bill, I would have thought that the matter would be covered by schedule 1(8)(1), which requires the director to set an agenda for the year. That would involve targets. I would be inclined to consider a reduction in targets, rather than an increase, in circumstances in which the director would examine what was required for the year. The objectives themselves would become targets.

On amendment No. 196, tabled by the Liberals, I agree entirely with the Minister. I thought that the Liberals misunderstood the matter, and I found the issue very complicated. Then again, I found the whole Bill a bit complicated, not being a lawyer. That is the first time that that has been said in the debate, but it will be said many more times over the next two days.

I ask the Minister to look at the targets. I know that the situation is fluid and that it will change, but we should consider it in a better light, perhaps strengthen the director's objectives and make them part of the targets.

5.15 pm

Norman Baker (Lewes): First, may I briefly put it on record that we received no request from the SNP for a place on the Committee?

26 Feb 2002 : Column 591

Annabelle Ewing: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Norman Baker: I have not even started.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I appeal to the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker). We do not want to go back down that track. Let us stick to the amendment, as there is an awful lot to cover today.

Norman Baker: I am sure that we would have given them a seat if they had wanted one.

I thank the Minister for listening to what was said in Committee and for the Government amendments, all of which we welcome, especially amendment No. 79. As he knows, it addresses a point of concern raised not just by Opposition Members, but by the hon. Member for Redcar (Vera Baird).

I want briefly to address our amendment No. 196. We shall not press it to a Division, but we want to tease out from the Minister, even at this stage, more information on how the co-operation will occur. Our motivation is the uncertainty that persists following the discussion in Committee, and I refer the Minister to columns 49 and 50 and the rest of that debate.

We want to ensure, first, that nothing a director does could jeopardise criminal proceedings by cutting across prosecution authorities and, secondly, that the director does not receive material that is passed to him unlawfully. Nor do we want him to be artificially hampered in respect of information that would help his work that has been collected and could be used by him. The amendment represents an attempt to clarify the legal position.

In Committee, I raised with the Minister the position regarding telephone taps and whether information from such sources could be passed to the director. In return, he referred me to the specific exemptions in part 10—the Data Protection Act 1998 and part 1 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. We are clear on those, but, of course, other legislation is involved. For example, a collection of material relates to telephone communications—not taps, but records of numbers that have been dialled, which are not covered by the two Acts.

It is possible for information to be collected by a prosecution authority or, indeed, by the security services, which are not among the bodies set out in part 10. Therefore, there is doubt in my mind about whether they are included and what their role is. It is also possible for information to be collected by the security services that is intended for a prosecution. The judgment may be made that a prosecution would not be sustainable. In such circumstances, would it be permissible to pass information that had been collected to the director? If not, would the information be lost in respect of any subsequent action that may be taken by the Assets Recovery Agency?

We are uncertain about those issues. I repeat that I do not want information that should be used for confiscation procedures to be collected but not passed on, but nor do I want anyone to be in a position where they are deemed to be passing information unlawfully. I think that our amendment helps to clarify the legal position, but the Minister clearly takes a different view. He must provide more clarification and, in particular, refer to the position

26 Feb 2002 : Column 592

of the security services, which are not mentioned in clause 427(5), as other prosecution and law enforcement agencies are.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham): I shall confine my remarks to amendment No. 174 and the question of the performance targets, which has already been raised. The hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) may be labouring under a misapprehension. My reading of the Bill suggests that the performance targets will be set not by the Government, but by the director in the confines of the plan. Will the Minister confirm that? The Government are not imposing targets on the director, as the hon. Gentleman suggests; rather, the director, in managing his organisation, will decide to present performance targets in the confines of his own plan.

Mr. Paul Stinchcombe (Wellingborough): Does it not strike my hon. Friend that the purpose of the Opposition's amendment is effectively to allow the Government to impose limitations on the director's discretion to set whatever targets he thinks appropriate?

Ian Lucas: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As so often over the past few months, he has pinched my point and made it better than I could ever have done.

Mr. Hawkins: Is the hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting that any director running a sensible organisation in the private sector would have more than 10 performance targets?

Ian Lucas: As one who ran a business in the private sector before coming here, I would certainly have more than 10—and my business was much smaller than the agency will be.

I think the Minister's point that Government should not fetter the director's management goals is the salient point, the one that carries real force. If the Minister can confirm that the director rather than the Government will impose the performance targets, the Opposition's argument must surely fall.

Mr. Stinchcombe: If the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) is right in saying that no sensible director would impose more than 10 targets, he has nothing to fear from the employment of—presumably—such a sensible person. We merely suggest that, rather than our dictating to him how he should exercise his powers and discretions, he should decide for himself.


Next Section

IndexHome Page