|Proceeds of Crime Bill
Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster): I endorse the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve). I also wish to register my concern regarding the qualifications of the person who is appointed as director. The Bill is lengthy, and it will arouse worries about the agency's powers among many people who work in the City of London. The recent events involving Railtrack have revealed that the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions does not fully understand the practices of the City of London. Apparently, it takes seven or eight days to prepare a 71-page documentbut I have spent most of my career in the City of London, and anyone who has worked there knows that a 71-page document can be turned around within a matter of hours, especially when one is dealing with the global financial world.
I do not expect clause 1 to contain a determination of what professional qualifications the director should have, but we must ensure that that person has credibility with regard to the financial markets, and an understanding of current practices in the City of London. Given the real and extensive regulatory burdens on financial institutions, law firms and accountants, we need someone who will have credibility and an understanding of current day-to-day practices in the City of London. My concern mirrors concerns that the Opposition have expressed about other regulators, and it is all the more important to ensure that someone of genuine calibre and weight is appointed to this position. What thoughts does the Minister have about the absolute minimum professional qualifications that would be expected of someone who took on such a role?
Mr. Ainsworth: I appreciate the comments of the hon. Member for Beaconsfield. As we progress through the Bill, we shall consider the issues that he raised in more detail.
I have a dilemma on this subject, because the hon. Member for Beaconsfield is worried that the director will be subject to political control and will not have a free hand, while the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) questions whether the director should have a totally free hand in relation to those whom he appoints. We are trying to achieve total operational freedom for the director in pursuing cases, and it would be wholly wrong if the Home Secretary had the capacity to interfere in that process. The director is not a law enforcement agency but a person who is appointed to pursue the proceeds of crime. Important differences therefore exist between this agency and a law enforcement agency.
Mr. Wilshire rose
The Chairman: Order. Before the hon. Gentleman speaks, I remind the Committee that although hon. Gentlemen may remove their jackets, they should ask permission before doing so. Hon. Ladies do not need to ask.
Mr. Wilshire: On my own behalf, and on behalf of one or two of my colleagues, I grovel, Mr. McWilliam. I consider myself told off; I shall leave my colleagues to say how they consider themselves in due course.
I cannot have been making myself clear, as the Minister appears to think that I was saying that there should be a restriction as to whom the director appoints. I was not saying that. I suspect that some people will be appointed or engaged to provide services who should not have the powers that the independent director will have. I do not want to limit what the director does, only how far down the line such powers extend.
Mr. Ainsworth: I am glad to have that clarification. The hon. Gentleman is making many of the same points made by the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) about the appropriateness of the chosen director and his credibility with various institutions, and about the staff. Clearly, it is important to have an appropriate person who has the capacity to command respect, and the skill and ability to run the agency. The people appointed will be drawn in from many areas. In the early days of the agency, it will be necessary to second people from other agencies to provide those skills. Over a period of time, a core of capacity will be built up within the agency, and, I hope, a high degree of credibility, which will enable it to do exactly what we ask of it.
I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson) that there have been discussions with the Scottish Executive about the moneys that will need to be made available for the functions that will not be carried out directly by the agency in Scotland. There is not too much room for disagreement on that, and as we progress, I shall try to make sure that he is made aware of exactly what those arrangements are. The agency has the power for taxation in relation to its role under part 6 in Scotland, and an appropriate interface is necessary. I hope that my hon. Friend will find that the note that I have passed around will explain how that interface will operate with regard to how and when the director uses his powers under part 6
The Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman should address the Chair.
Mr. Ainsworth: Sorry, Mr. McWilliam.
I hope that that explains how and when the director will use his powers under part 6, and how he will make sure that there is a proper interface with the Scottish authorities before he does so. The Bill also includes provision for enforcements made in England to be enacted in Scotland and vice versa. It will therefore be possible for the many millions of rogues of English extraction to be chased into Scotland and properly pursued if appropriate, and the reverse will also be possible. I am sure that my hon. Friend will be comforted by that thought.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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