Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
I beg to move amendment 44, page 51, line 28, schedule 2, leave out ‘As soon as possible after’ and insert ‘Within three months of’.
I want to test the Minister on whether a time scale is needed in respect of the annual report, because otherwise the report could be published at any time; it could be 11 months after the end of the financial year, or even more than a year after the end of the financial year. There is no time limit under the clause. I am happy for the Minister to indicate whether he would agree to a time limit; three months was a random period, plucked from the air as a debating point. Will he agree to tightening up the measure slightly so that there is a firmer time scale?
The amendment is completely understandable, but I want to explain briefly why the Government prefer the Committee not to accept it. As is the case for all Departments, the National Crime Agency will publish an annual report and accounts prepared in accordance with the Government Resources and Accounts Act 2000. The annual report and accounts, once audited by the National Audit Office, will be laid before Parliament following the end of each financial year. As a non-ministerial Department, the National Crime Agency will be under the same obligation as all other Departments.
Clearly, it is good practice for annual reports to be published as quickly as possible after the end of the financial year and the Bill, as drafted, reflects that by requiring the director general to issue the annual report “as soon as possible” after the end of each financial year. We expect, in most cases, that the NCA’s annual report would be laid before Parliament certainly before the summer recess, which typically begins in July of each year. That has been the case with the Serious Organised Crime Agency, and is approximately within the three to four-month time frame that the right hon. Gentleman set out in the amendment.
It would be inappropriate for the Bill to be completely prescriptive as there might be cases, for whatever reason, when it was simply not possible to publish the annual report within that timetable. To tie the NCA to a statutory legal requirement of a three-month window would be unhelpful but, that said, I do not disagree with the broad principle underlining the amendment, and our intention is to act within that time scale.
I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005—this may be a familiar refrain for him—used a similar formula to that used under the Bill; SOCA is similarly required to issue its annual report as soon as possible after the end of the financial year. That being the case, that formula, put forward by the previous Government, has much to recommend it. Our view is to be helpful and as speedy as possible, but not to be tied to the time scale under the proposal. On that basis, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman agrees to withdraw the amendment.
As an aside, so that the Minister does not keep throwing previous Acts at me, if Governments always kept to everything that previous Governments said, there would be no progress and no changes would ever be made to legislation. It is possible to amend legislation that the Labour Government or, even dare I say it, previous Tory Governments brought in without it being a cardinal, criminal offence. Perhaps the Minister would like to table a new clause to that effect later. I was in Northern Ireland at the time, so I was not even responsible for that particular Bill.
The point has been made. We simply wanted clarity. The Minister said that the annual report would usually be produced by the summer recess, which is about a three-month period. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.