Proceeds of Crime Bill

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Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): The Opposition understand exactly what the Minister is setting out from his brief, but can he tell us whether the Government and those who advise them have turned their minds to the parallel nature of the role of the director of the Assets Recovery Agency and that of the DPP? That is the nub of the issue that concerns my hon. Friend and me.

Mr. Ainsworth: When considering the regulations, we did not try to invent the wheel from scratch. Our proposals are similar to the requirement placed on the director-general of the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the National Crime Squad under the Police Act 1997 to submit reports to the Secretary of State on matters connected with the activities of those organisations.

The clarification in the clause concerning what aspects the advice covers relates to matters connected with the operation of the legislation, and is designed to help the Secretary of State to exercise his functions to reduce crime. That is not to say that the director is under any obligation to disclose operational matters to the Secretary of State.

Mr. Grieve: It is useful to have ascertained the derivation of the provision, because it seems that what we are setting up in the Bill is different from NCIS. NCIS is an intelligence agency that collates material, whereas the Bill sets up an enforcement body with the power to do nasty things to people. NCIS does not have that power. The parliamentary draftsman has failed to appreciate the role of the director and the agency as an enforcement authority with a duty of confidentiality.

Mr. Ainsworth: The director of the agency will not have a duty to disclose to the Secretary of State confidential information gained by him in the course of his investigations. That is clear, and the clause sets out the matters on which the director must advise the Secretary of State. They are matters relating to the operation of the legislation and the exercise of the Secretary of State's function of reducing crime.

Mr. Grieve: Following up the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield, it seems to me that it might help the Minister and his officials to consider an historical parallel. Our concerns might be related to the battles that took place between John F. Kennedy and J. Edgar Hoover. We are talking about a director perhaps being asked by a hypothetical future Home Secretary to disclose matters that we objectively might not consider proper. That is where we make the comparison. As my hon. Friend said, the role of the director will be much closer to that of the DPP than to the directors of NCS or NCIS. I hope that the Minister will reflect further on that and perhaps return to the matter.

5.15 pm

Mr. Ainsworth: I think that there is some sort of a clash between us about how the director of the agency should be viewed. The hon. Gentleman insists on describing the director as a prosecuting authority, but he will not prosecute individuals in criminal law. The functions of the agency will be to recover the proceeds of crime. I shall reflect on the points raised by the hon. Gentleman, but the position is clear: the Secretary of State will be advised on the operation of the legislation and issues affecting his duty and role in the reduction of crime; that will not involve the disclosure of confidential information or operational matters that it would be wholly unreasonable for the director to disclose. The director will be under no obligation whatever to do that.

Mr. Grieve: I am grateful for the Minister's assurance that he will reflect on the matter. It is worth reiterating the problem. The Minister has said that the director and the agency will not have a prosecuting function. I accept that, but it is an exercise in semantics when one considers that the consequence of the agency's operation could be the civil bankruptcy of an individual and the seizure of his entire assets. The publicity attendant upon that--the proceedings will take place in open court--the fact that the proceedings will be instituted on the grounds that he is living on the proceeds of crime or has criminally acquired assets, all tested on the balance of probability, means that that person will be ruined. He may not have a conviction recorded against him, but he will have been hauled through hoops and over hot coals, and left destitute at the end—perhaps justifiably—without assets and having been identified as a malefactor. That is a large burden on the agency, and I reiterate my view and that of my hon. Friends that we should approach the matter on the basis that it is a quasi-criminal jurisdiction, because that is what it is.

That said, I accept the Minister's point and I am grateful that he will reconsider the matter. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

        Further consideration adjourned.--[Mrs. McGuire.]

        Adjourned accordingly at eighteen minutes past Five o'clock till Thursday 15 November at five minutes to Nine o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Gale, Mr. Roger (Chairman)
Ainsworth, Mr. Bob
Baird, Vera
Baker, Norman
Brooke, Mrs.
Carmichael, Mr.
Clark, Mrs. Helen
Field, Mr. Mark
Foulkes, Mr.
Grieve, Mr.
Harris, Mr. Tom
David, Mr.
Davidson, Mr.
Hawkins, Mr.
Hesford, Stephen
Lazarowicz, Mr.
Lucas, Ian
McCabe, Mr.
McGuire, Mrs.
Robertson, John
Stinchcombe, Mr.
Stoate, Dr.
Wilshire, Mr.

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