Examination of Witnesses (Questions 420
WEDNESDAY 10 APRIL 2002
420. In the devolved institutions in Northern
Ireland the Social Security Agency has its own separate information
pillars, will the same apply to the devolved administration of
(Mr Stadlen) The question of access to social security
information is still under review. The Social Security Agencies
are not currently listed in the Bill either for the mainland or
for Northern Ireland as permitted persons. However, the Bill provides
an Order making power which allows the Secretary of State to add
to the list of permitted persons. The Bill therefore makes it
possible for additional bodies to be added to the list after Royal
421. Would that be possible within the devolved
framework, did you look into that?
(Mr Stadlen) We have worked throughout in close consultation
with the Northern Ireland Office. We believe that the gateway
provisions will enable information to be disclosed as effectively
in Northern Ireland as in England and Wales.
422. I am sure you are aware that the two reasons
the CAB give for their success, one is the mood of public support,
the second thing is the lateral linkage between information pillars
and their access to them. Therefore I do not think it can be under-estimated
how important those are, do you agree?
(Mr Stadlen) Yes.
Mr Pound: Can I just ask another quick question
bearing in mind the clock is ticking. What about anonymity for
your officials, what thoughts have you given to that?
423. Mr Pound, Rev Martin Smyth wants to ask
about anonymity. You will recall my colleague, Mr Bailey, spoke
in the House about it and we thought got a very positive answer
from Mr Ainsworth. Would you like to tell Rev Martin Smyth in
further questions how that has gone?
(Mr Stadlen) If the question is can I inform the Committee
of any developments since the Minister gave his answer during
the debate, the answer is no but the matter is as the Minister
said. The Minister is very well aware of the Committee's concerns
at this point and takes them very seriously. I would expect the
Government's conclusions on this point would be made known during
the Lords proceedings on this Bill.
Chairman: Sorry, you have had your fox shot
by two of us.
The Reverend Martin Smyth: Just to get on the
record. You are aware that when representatives of the Inland
Revenue met us they have approached the whole thing very, very
positively but they did express some concern on the parts of members
of the staff who may have difficulties as a result of investigation.
424. When you say there has been no progress,
do you really mean that? Whatever it was, it was a month ago.
(Mr Stadlen) If I said there was no progress, I do
not think I should have expressed it in that sense. What I meant
425. There is no conclusion.
(Mr Stadlen) I have no news to give you today.
426. Switching to a different subjectthat
of confiscationwe note that in the year 2000 the average
rate of collection for assets ordered to be confiscated stood
at 30 per cent, so historically the enforcement of the compensation
orders has been very poor. Could you tell us, in your planning,
what you have done first of all to ensure that that previous historically
poor record is improved in respect of the operation of the Assets
(Mr Stadlen) I think there are a number of things
to say. First of all, as is indicated in the asset recovery strategy,
the better enforcement of confiscation orders is a point of major
priority. As a first step, a new protocol is being drawn up by
the Home Office and other departments, including in consultation
with the prosecution and law enforcement agencies and the Justices'
Clerks Society. We think that better procedures have the capacity
to make a significant difference to performance in this area.
In addition to that, the Bill itself will support the enforcement
of confiscation orders in a number of ways. One thing that it
will do is that it will make it easier to restrain assets at an
earlier stage in an investigation, and where assets have been
restrained it is easier to enforce confiscation orders. The other
thing to mention is that the Bill gives the Agency a role in the
enforcement of confiscation orders, and the Bill is drafted in
such a way that the Agency can be identified as the enforcing
agency not just in its own cases but in confiscation cases which
other agencies have initiated.
427. Could I ask you to go as far as to tell
me whether or not the Home Office has set targets for improving
on its previously poor record of 30 per cent, not just in the
Assets Recovery Agency but elsewhere, and, if so, what those targets
(Mr Stadlen) The asset recovery strategy identifies
improved performance in this area and is an important issue. There
is not in the current version of the strategy a quantified target,
but we have said, and the strategy makes clear, that there will
be performance setting and target setting for the director of
the Agency when the Agency is set up.
428. How do youthat is, the Governmentintend
to build and maintain public support for the work of the Assets
(Mr Stadlen) As part of the planning for the Agency,
a communications plan will be an element of the planning process,
and Ministers will, I am sure, be wanting to think about what
arrangements they should make for informing the media and the
public about the Agency when it is ready to begin functioning.
I imagine that the director of the Agency will also be very concerned
about public relations. There is every reason to think that the
public are very supportive of the concept of asset recovery.
429. That is certainly the case in the Republic
of Ireland, and that is the experience we have. I think that is
partly because they have never lost a case. This is obviously
going to be a matter for the director when the time comes, but
are you taking steps to ensure that you get at the assets, certainly
to start with, which will give you pretty good results?
(Mr Stadlen) I am sure that the director will be very
well aware of the importance of early results in terms of early
successes, in terms of the public impact of the Agency's work.
430. I would like to ask you a question regarding
the Recovered Assets Fund and how that works at the present time.
I know it was established in October 2001. How is that working
at the present time?
(Mr Stadlen) The Fund inherited about £2 million
from the Confiscated Assets Fund which it replaced. The first
round of bidding was opened, and bids were invited by the middle
of January for the first round. We had 130 applications, which
is a very large interest. The total amount of money that people
were bidding for was very much larger than the sum available.
That was very encouraging, because it showed that the Fund was
attracting interest and fulfilling a need. Ministers will be taking
decisions about this, selecting bids for the first round, within
the next month or so. We had a second round of bidding which closed
at the end of March. That will be for money available in the current
financial year to the Fund. We have had over 300 applications,
and again the amount of money that people would be able to use
for the projects that they have drawn up is much greater than
the money that is likely to be available. So the Fund is over-subscribed,
but that is good because it should mean that we will be able to
select good projects to use the money.
431. So what type of initiatives are being funded
at the present time, or are you still in the process of looking
at those initiatives and the applications and deciding which ones
(Mr Stadlen) Two asset recovery initiatives are already
under way. One of them is a project to identify a sort of harmonised
approach; it is a project to make it easier for prosecutors who
are handling confiscation cases, and there are suggestions for
template procedures. The project is being used to research and
develop template procedures which would facilitate the process
of handling confiscation cases. There is also a project to assess
the value of having the services of accountants available to police
financial intelligence units. The project will test that in three
different police forces. So these two projects are currently under
way and, as I say, we have had 130 applications which are now
432. Obviously a public perception of the success
would depend on how they see a link between the Fund and the asset
itself. How do you see that taking place?
(Mr Stadlen) I think it was partly with that in mind
that the Recovered Assets Fund serves a number of different purposes.
It is partly available to pump-prime innovative law enforcement
projects and asset recovery projects, so it is there partly to
help law enforcement agencies and encourage law enforcement agencies
to do more asset recovery work. In addition to that, though, the
Fund is available to support community regeneration projects,
local crime reduction partnership projects. These are things which
will be immediately beneficial to, and known to, people in the
433. So if the local communities make an applicationand
obviously there could be some within the 130it would depend
on the funding and the decision that would be taken on what initiatives
were going to be awarded the money in order to benefit the communities.
On that basis, do you expect to see an increase with regard to
opportunities for communities to make money from that Fund in
the future, depending on how much money is taken and recovered?
(Mr Stadlen) Certainly the more money is successfully
recovered from crime through the various powers and through the
Bill, the bigger will be the base line for the Recovered Assets
Fund and the more money will be available for that purpose.
434. Good afternoon, gentlemen. It may be a
relief to you, or not, but I want to move away from the Assets
Recovery Agency and ask you some questions about sentencing. Do
you happen to know what the average sentence handed down in this
country is for those offences that we most commonly associate
with paramilitary activities? I am thinking about things like
distortion, armed robbery, counterfeiting, those kinds of things.
(Mr Dawson) I am afraid I am not aware of what the
average sentence is for those offences. Certainly in England and
Wales we would, I think, be made aware of what the average sentence
is, but if your question is in the context of Northern Ireland,
I am not aware of that.
435. In that case could I put it to you that
if I put the question now, could we seek some written response?
What I am interested to know is what is the average sentence for
offences like extortion, counterfeiting and robbery in Great Britain,
and what is the average sentence for the same crimes in Northern
Ireland? Also I would like to know how those sentences, in both
Great Britain and Northern Ireland, compare with the maximum sentences
provided by law? I think that for the Committee's time it would
be as well to leave that bit there. The other thing I wanted to
ask was, I am sure you are aware that under the Powers of the
Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000 there are provisions in this country
where crimes which have a racial motive or racially aggravated
component to them can lead to either a sentence higher than the
tariff in the case of a racial motive or a sentence beyond the
maximum in a case where it is proven that there is a racially
aggravated component. Is there any similar provision where the
offence has a paramilitary motive as an aggravated factor?
(Mr Dawson) Do you mean specifically in Northern Ireland?
436. No, I mean in Northern Ireland and Great
(Mr Dawson) No, in Great Britain the sentencing in
such cases is a matter for the independent part of the judiciary,
and the court can take into account aggravating and mitigating
factors. It has discretion to impose, for example in respect of
a terrorist finance conviction, a sentence up to the maximum,
taking into account various factors, and it is likely to do so
in respect of an offence which perhaps does not appear in the
Terrorism Act, such as the ones you have already identified.
437. The courts have power to sentence up to
the maximum in any case, have they not?
(Mr Dawson) Yes, they do.
438. You said in a terrorism case they have
a power to sentence up to the maximum, but they do in a non-terrorism
case, do they not?
(Mr Dawson) Yes. The point is, it is an aggravating
factor, because terrorism is identified as being a factor in a
non-specific terrorism offence.
439. The point of Mr McCabe's question, to put
it very briefly again, is that when something is racially aggravated
they can go over that which can be initiated when it is a paramilitary
activity. There is no provision, is there?
(Mr Dawson) No, not at the moment.