Proceeds of Crime Bill

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Norman Baker: Information obtained from a telephone tap might influence the activities of the security services without being admissible in a court action, because of the way in which it was obtained. Would that information be available to the director for civil cases?

Mr. Ainsworth: Organisations will be obliged to co-operate with the director. They will not be allowed to cut across the regulations imposed under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. In passing information to the director, they will be able to include stipulations about how that information can be used, and about its further disclosure. That is necessary in such situations. I hope that satisfies the hon. Gentleman but he is looking rather puzzled, as if it does not.

5 pm

Mr. Davidson: Is that not an argument for people getting their confessions in first, on civil proceedings matters, and then arguing that they cannot then be used against them for criminal prosecutions?

Mr. Ainsworth: That situation is most unlikely to arise because, as we have already established, the main priority will be the prosecution of criminals under the law. Where a prosecution is being conducted, confiscation attached to that prosecution will be the main means by which we pursue the proceeds of crime. In the overwhelming majority of cases civil recovery or the taxation powers will be used only when, for whatever reason, prosecution is not available and is not likely to become available. If we get the co-operation right and the director is fully aware of the intentions of the prosecuting authorities, it is not likely that he will pursue anybody for civil recovery who is likely to be put in front of a court of law and pursued for some criminal activity. We want to operate a hierarchy so that we bear down on crime and are as effective as possible in reducing it.

As for the point made by the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), intercept material gained under part I of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 will not be disclosable. I do not know whether that information satisfies him.

Norman Baker: Although I am grateful for the Minister's clear answer on that piece of legislation, it does not cover the wider issue, which we need to understand. For example, there is the question of communications data that is available to the police service without a warrant having been issued or being necessary, such as telephone numbers dialled, and the frequency and length of phone calls. Will such data be available to the director or not? I am trying to establish how far the co-operation can go, and what the legislative limits are that will prevent information from being disclosed across the boundaries.

Mr. Ainsworth: I am not sure that I can satisfy the hon. Gentleman, apart from repeating what I have already said. The protections built in to Acts such as the Data Protection Act and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act continue to apply, and will prevent the disclosure of information to the agency. Where those protections do not apply, organisations such as the National Crime Squad and the National Criminal Intelligence Service will be expected to co-operate with the agency and vice versa. I do not see a big problem with that, and I do not know how I can further satisfy the hon. Gentleman that there is no problem.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

The Chairman: Before we proceed, it was probably discourteous of me not to have realised before that some members of the Committee may not have served on a Committee on a major Bill before—or even on any Standing Committee at all. We should therefore lay down a few ground rules about what is permitted and what is not, as we are likely to be considering the Bill for a considerable period.

Messages passed between Ministers and civil servants must go through the Parliamentary Private Secretary. The issues are complex, and I appreciate that all hon. Members may from time to time require information or assistance from outside bodies. I would like therefore to say to those on the Back Benches that Members receiving information from people beyond the Bar of the Committee Room should do so outside the Room. It is not permissible to hand messages across the Bar to Members in the Room.

If Members wish to have private conversations, other than the occasional necessary word, I should be grateful if they would use the Green Benches outside the Room so to do. I will always permit reasonable interventions, but interventions must not take the form of speeches. The opportunity is almost always there to catch the Chairman's eye and make a full speech if that is required. Ordinarily—this does not apply to stand part debates, but certainly applies to debates on amendments—once the mover of the amendment has wound up the debate on that amendment, the Chairman is unlikely to accept any further interventions.

Clause 5

Advice and assistance

Mr. Grieve: I beg to move amendment No. 5, in page 3, line 7, leave out `must' and insert `may'.

The amendment is a probing one, and follows along the lines of the discussion that we have already had, but that does not make it any less important. The clause provides that

    ``The Director must give the Secretary of State advice and assistance which he reasonably requires and which —

    (a) relate to matters connected with the operation of this Act, and

    (b) are designed to help the Secretary of State to exercise his functions so as to reduce crime.''

What is the purpose of this? I suppose it will be said that it puts on a statutory footing the duty of the director to report to the Secretary of State and tell him about the way in which his Department or agency is working and how the Act is operating, and, if necessary, to make suggestions about how the Act might be amended or improved if the Secretary of State were minded to do that. If that is the case, I will be the first to accept that the clause is innocuous, although its mandatory nature is perhaps surprising. After discussing the matter with my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins), who took the debate on the previous mandatory requirement under clause 3, I am surprised at the need for the mandatory footing. It appears to emphasise the subservience of the director to the will of the Home Secretary, which is odd in view of the director's functions, which we discussed under clause 1. The director has to exercise a function akin to that of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

On this clause, however, things go further. Read as it stands, it appears to give the Secretary of State power to require the director to give him the sort of information that the DPP would never be minded to give the Home Secretary—detailed information that the director has obtained in confidence relating to the investigation of offences. That is why we seek to substitute ``may'' for ``must'', although I am the first to accept that it may be possible to approach the issue in other ways.

I seek reassurance from the Minister about what is intended, because when the intention is clear, it often becomes much clearer what alternative wording might achieve the same effect. We might word the clause without introducing the potential mischief of effectively requiring the director, if he were so bidden by the Home Secretary, to provide him with every piece of information to which he has access. I accept that the clause includes the word ``reasonably''—but on the whole, when Home Secretaries say that something is reasonable their underlings, including directors of independent agencies, tend to jump to it. I am not convinced that the word ``reasonably'' is sufficient protection in those circumstances.

Will the Minister explain exactly what is intended? With that, we may pause for a moment and consider, as the Minister helpfully did under clause 3, whether the wording is much wider than is necessary to achieve its object.

Mr. Ainsworth: The amendment would mean that the director would not be required to give the Secretary of State

    ``advice and assistance which he reasonably requires''

relating to the operation of the legislation and the reduction of crime. As drafted, the clause enables the Secretary of State to take advantage of the director's expertise and seek his advice and assistance when it is reasonable for him to do so. The clause sets out the circumstances in which such advice and assistance may be required and makes it clear that advice and assistance must be on matters connected with the operation of the Act. It also makes it clear that, within that limitation, advice and assistance should be designed to help the Secretary of State in the exercise of his function of reducing crime. The director will not be the only source of advice on the legislation, but he will be a key source on certain aspects that are solely within the remit of the director. The operation of civil recovery in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is an obvious area in which the director will have the expertise to advise the Home Secretary.

In addition, the director might, at the request of the Secretary of State, want to propose amendments to the Government's asset recovery strategy and the targets for recovering the proceeds of crime. Those would be considered by the assets recovery committee and submitted to the Home Secretary for approval. We want the director to discuss any proposed amendments covering his function and that of other members of the assets recovery committee with members of the committee. The director may also wish to give advice and assistance concerning money laundering, although he has no specific function in that area. The clause will enable him to do that if requested by the Secretary of State.

The clause will contribute to the overall goal of reducing crime by improving the recovery of assets that derive from unlawful activity. It will ensure that the director is able to play a full role in contributing to the Government's overall crime reduction targets by providing valuable assistance and advice to the Secretary of State.

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