Proceeds of Crime Bill

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Mr. Ainsworth: Is the hon. Gentleman's concern the wider issue of disclosure of information, or is it about the assurances that I am giving in relation to legal privilege?

Mr. Grieve: It is the wider issue. The Minister has assured me that legal professional privilege would not be affected. I am sure that that is what his advisers have told him, and I accept it, albeit with the caveat that—although this may be due to ignorance, because I have not been a great student of statutes—I have not seen a provision as starkly worded as paragraph 2(2).

4.30 pm

The Minister's assurance surprises me, given that the stark wording of the schedule appears to give a completely unfettered power; the words ''however imposed'' are extraordinary. If those words were removed I would be happier, but their inclusion suggests that whatever the source of the imposition of the restriction, it is null and void. Otherwise, why are those words included?

I also worry about the wider issues. There are several areas other than legal professional privilege that might provide compelling arguments. However, I am mindful of what the Minister says about the power of application to the court. As I said previously, words matter, despite what people intend. The wording of the Bill will be the subject matter of interpretation; it is not likely that people will run and look at Hansard to see what was said in Committee—although they might. It seems to me that the schedule provides a completely unfettered power, which would appear to override everything else, however imposed. That power should be more strictly defined.

Mr. Ainsworth: There are three effective fetters. One is linked with legal privilege. Another is associated with the ability to go back to the court to prevent the information from being disclosed if someone thinks that such a case can be made. The third is contained in subparagraph (3), which is about how and where the information can be used. It cannot be used to incriminate an individual. The hon. Gentleman may find the wording offensive, but he has not yet provided information that exposes the area of his concern, which would allow me to see whether there is an issue that we should address.

Column Number: 712

Mr. Hawkins: I share the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield that the wording is stark. It is not for us to give an example to the Minister. He is trying to persuade us to withdraw our amendment, and he has not persuaded us that the wording is not stark.

I shall offer one thought to the Minister. He says that one of the safeguards is that people can go back to the court. When someone goes back to the court, the court will be directed to look at the wording of schedule 3, which, if it remains in its current form, will say that the receiver can get any kind of information, regardless of any restriction, however imposed. I appreciate that that sounds a little circular, but that is why we are concerned that the wording is so stark.

Mr. Ainsworth: I thought that the hon. Gentleman was trying to become reasonable, and seeking to emulate his hon. Friend—but now he says, ''It's got nothing to do with me. I've got no obligation to show where there is a necessity. It's entirely up to the Minister.'' Other than legal privilege, the ability to go back to the court, and the fetters on inappropriate use of information so gained, I have yet to hear of a category of information—

Mr. Stinchcombe: The clause is phrased in an absolute sense. There is no doubt about that whatever. The Minister has already mentioned one category of case—involving legal privilege—that he says would not bite on it, despite the absolute wording of the clause. Is he aware of any other categories under which the absolute phraseology would not bite?

Mr. Ainsworth: In the spirit that we have tried to engender, at least since we moved on to consider part 5, I suggest that rather than entering into an unreasonable dispute, I should consider the matter and clarify how the provision will operate in Northern Ireland. As soon as I can, I shall expand in writing on what information will be gained and how it will be obtained. I do not know whether that satisfies the hon. Member for Surrey Heath. I see that the hon. Member for Beaconsfield is shaking his head. He is determined on confrontation on the issue, even though I have offered him an explanation, so there is no hope for us. Clearly, we will have to wait until next week for the Christmas season to kick in.

Mr. Grieve: The Minister should not assume that a decision to press an amendment to a Division is always intended to be confrontational—it is a way of highlighting concern and no more. If I were a draftsman, I would not draft such a measure in such a way, but I accept that I am not a draftsman. I shall press the amendment to a Division.

Column Number: 713

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 11.

Division No. 18]

Brooke, Annette
Carmichael, Mr. Alistair
Field, Mr. Mark
Grieve, Mr. Dominic
Hawkins, Mr. Nick

Column Number: 714

Ainsworth, Mr. Bob
Baird, Vera
Clark, Mrs. Helen
David, Mr. Wayne
Foulkes, Mr. George
Harris, Mr. Tom
Lazarowicz, Mr. Mark
McGuire, Mrs. Anne
Robertson, John
Stinchcombe, Mr. Paul
Stoate, Dr. Howard

Question accordingly negatived.

Further consideration adjourned.—[Mrs. McGuire.]

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-two minutes to Five o'clock till Tuesday 18 December at half-past Ten o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
O'Brien, Mr. Bill (Chairman)
Ainsworth, Mr. Bob
Baird, Vera
Brooke, Mrs.
Carmichael, Mr.
Clark, Mrs. Helen
David, Mr.
Field, Mr. Mark
Foulkes, Mr.
Grieve, Mr.
Harris, Mr. Tom
Hawkins, Mr.
Lazarowicz, Mr.
Lucas, Ian
McCabe, Mr.
McGuire, Mrs.
Robertson, John
Stinchcombe, Mr.
Stoate, Dr.
Wilshire, Mr.

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