Proceeds of Crime Bill

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Mr. Grieve: I see my hon. Friend's point absolutely. It will cover any such power that comes into operation during the existence of the Bill, when enacted. That is why I am concerned about the subsection. I expect to see spelled out in future legislation that it is amending the Proceeds of Crime Act, whereas such action could be taken without any amendment, which would mean that a future Committee may not be aware of how such an amendment would impact on the director's powers.

Mr. Ainsworth: I am not trying to con the hon. Gentleman or hold back information. It is a standard provision. It is not in the Bill to enhance the director's abilities but to ensure that nothing in the Bill cuts across powers that have already been given to other people. The provision is found in other legislation. It covers future legislation under which Parliament has chosen to give powers to people to disclose information. The power will not be nullified by the Bill when enacted, and we would not have to check that it will have to be amended to give those powers under future legislation.

There is existing legislation under which powers to disclose information have been specifically given to people. It is not our intention under the Bill to nullify such powers. I do not have a list of the powers that have been trawled around. I am sorry if I have offended the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire), but I am told that it is a standard provision. We have added in the necessary safeguards in respect of the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. We have provided a standard provision to ensure that we are not nullifying the powers that we

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have given, or might give, not to the director but to other people.

10 am

Mr. Hawkins: We are not satisfied with what the Minister says. I moved the amendment expecting the Minister to give us a far more thorough answer. We are sceptical, as my hon. Friends have said.

Mr. Stinchcombe: As the hon. Gentleman is not satisfied to leave in the subsection, which powers to disclose does he want the section to cut across?

Mr. Hawkins: With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, he has missed the point. We are criticising the Minister's inability to give us any examples of the existing powers that he says the provision would cut across. It is for the Government to say what the powers are, and the Minister has apologised for not being able to list them.

Mr. Stinchcombe: If those powers exist, they were created by Parliament in accordance with its democratic will. The provision, it is thought, might cut across some of those powers. We do not wish to do that. Which powers created by Parliament does the hon. Gentleman wish to cut across?

Mr. Hawkins: As I have already said, as the Minister cannot give us a list, I do not understand how the hon. Gentleman can expect a list from the Opposition. Whether or not there are any such powers—

Mr. Ainsworth: Or may be in the future.

Mr. Hawkins: Yes, or may be in the future, the subsection may provide a blank cheque. If the subsection has any effect, we are suspicious about it. If it does not, it should not be included.

Mr. Wilshire: I wonder whether my hon. Friend will reflect on the fact that there appears to be a difference of philosophy between the Government and the Opposition. Government Members are saying the exact contrary of what I believe, which is that no power should be granted unless we give it. That view is being challenged by the implication that the authorities should have all the powers that they need unless we take them away. I hope that my hon. Friend agrees that we are arguing that we should give the power, rather than take it away.

Mr. Hawkins: I could not agree more. This is another example of the new authoritarian tendency of the Labour Government. We, as good Conservatives, want to be statutory minimalists.

Mr. Ainsworth: If what the hon. Gentleman for Spelthorne said were correct, that would be true, but we might want to give those powers in future legislation, and the subsection makes us free to do so. We are not giving a blank cheque; we are opening up the potential for Parliament to give those powers in the future and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough says, we are not cutting across those that Parliament has already given.

Mr. Hawkins: There is a danger that the debate will go round in circles. As no Parliament can bind its successors, and as any future Act of Parliament, as my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield said, will

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create its own powers, we are entitled to be concerned that the Government have introduced the provision. For that reason, I shall press the amendment to a Division.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 13.

Division No. 48]

AYES
Carmichael, Mr. Alistair Field, Mr. Mark Grieve, Mr. Dominic
Hawkins, Mr. Nick Johnson, Mr. Boris Wilshire, Mr. David

NOES
Ainsworth, Mr. Bob Baird, Vera David, Mr. Wayne Davidson, Mr. Ian Foulkes, Mr. George Hesford, Stephen Lucas, Ian
McCabe, Mr. Stephen McGuire, Mrs. Anne Robertson, John Stinchcombe, Mr. Paul Stoate, Dr. Howard Watson, Mr. Tom

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. Grieve: I beg to move amendment No. 603, in page 244, line 29, leave out paragraph (e).

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 614, in clause 425, page 247, line 16, leave out paragraph (e).

Mr. Grieve: An issue that has arisen in our consideration of the Bill is the interrelationship between the director's powers and the functions of the Inland Revenue. We considered the issue in discussing the director's taxation powers, which clearly have a bearing on his use of information from the Inland Revenue and disclosure of information to the Inland Revenue. As the Minister acknowledged when we considered the matter, it is accepted practice that communication between an individual and the Inland Revenue is in confidence. Only in very limited and restricted circumstances has the Inland Revenue breached that confidence or felt that it should disclose information.

The amendment would delete the reference to the Commissioners of Inland Revenue being a permitted person. It is a probing amendment, designed to stimulate debate about exactly how the provision will work in practice. That applies in several places in the clause. It is probably one of the most important issues to arise in our consideration of this part of the Bill. I should be grateful if the Minister would identify the criteria under which the commissioners of Inland Revenue will act in disclosing information to the director that is likely to have been obtained in confidence through a confidential relationship with a taxpayer. That is an important issue that we cannot simply pass without careful consideration. However, I recognise that the operation of the Bill will be impossible unless the Inland Revenue is a permitted person, so I shall not press to the amendment to a Division.

Mr. Ainsworth: As the hon. Gentleman said, the amendment would prevent the Inland Revenue from disclosing information to the director for the purpose of exercising his functions. That would fundamentally undermine the director's ability to perform his taxation functions under part 6. To perform

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effectively, he will need information from the Revenue about the tax history of the subject of his inquiries. He will need to know what tax the person has paid and in which tax periods, and to have access to much of the case information that the Inland Revenue has. That information will help the director establish the subject's true tax liability and will inform his decisions about raising a tax assessment.

When we considered part 6, I gave assurances about the director collecting only tax that is properly due. He will not raise tax assessments on income or gains already taxed by the Revenue. Without information from the Revenue, that assurance could not be maintained.

Amendment No. 614 would prevent the Inland Revenue from being able to disclose information to the Lord Advocate or Scottish Ministers. Although the Lord Advocate and Scottish Ministers will not carry out taxation functions under part 6, information that the Inland Revenue holds will be of use to the Lord Advocate and Scottish Ministers in performing their functions under parts 3 and 5 respectively. The amendment would prevent them from having access to the information and would hinder their ability to perform accordingly. Because the director has access to taxpayer information when he performs equivalent functions in the rest of the United Kingdom, it would create an inconsistency if the Lord Advocate and Scottish Ministers did not have such access for cases in Scotland.

Mr. Grieve: That is an interesting point. I realise why there is a different system north and south of the border. However, every time I hear the words ''Scottish Ministers' taxation functions'' my hackles rise at the prospect, even though those Ministers may not personally perform the taxation function. It is interesting that Ministers will take ultimate decisions because of the way in which the framework will work, which would not happen south of the border. That raises a political issue that we should consider.

Mr. Ainsworth: As I said, the Lord Advocate and Scottish Ministers cannot carry out taxation functions under part 6, and will not do so. I do not want to get into an argument with the hon. Gentleman, as I am not qualified to say whether the Scottish system is better than the English one, or whether the Scots are entirely satisfied with our system, or we with theirs. That is beyond the scope of the discussion on the amendment.

The position under the amendment would also be at odds with section 19 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, which provides, notwithstanding any secrecy provisions in other legislation, that the Revenue can pass on information to anyone to help the intelligence services, and for the purposes of criminal investigations and proceedings.

We discussed why we structured the Bill as we did. With regard to the director's taxation functions, he will, in effect, stand in the shoes of the Revenue, as I said in a previous debate. He will therefore be entitled to information that the Revenue holds. We thought that that was better structurally than giving the Revenue the additional powers and expecting it to

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do the job of taxation, which we are giving the director. If we do not want to create two separate taxation systems, and a potential leaking of new and additional powers to areas of ordinary taxation where criminal assets are not being pursued, it is self-evident that it would be dangerous to go down that route.

The hon. Gentleman is right that the director will have access to taxation information from the Revenue, but only in cases where he is justified in doing so. We have discussed the hierarchy, and are talking about people against whom criminal investigations, criminal confiscation, civil recovery or recovery of the proceeds of crime are being considered. Access to taxation information is justified in those cases.

 
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