Proceeds of Crime Bill

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Mr. McCabe: I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument with devastating interest. Has he been instructed to make any progress on any other clauses between now and 11.25?

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Mr. Wilshire: I have not been given any instructions—I am in free fall, which may be apparent to the hon. Gentleman. If we designate people, but in respect of only part of their functions, that is the equivalent of saying that the Commissioners of Customs and Excise can disclose information about VAT, but not about duty. It is a ridiculous distinction to draw. The example used was that the Department of Trade and Industry could disclose information about insolvency, but nothing else. I do not believe that there are people within the Department who are so specialised that they know nothing about anything other than insolvency.

Mr. Field: I ought to point out to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe), that my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne gives the instructions, rather than taking them.

The Minister may have satisfied us that under subsection (5), only senior members of each of those bodies would have authority. However, is there not a danger that under subsection (6), any such safeguards would be ignored? The Secretary of State could designate more junior members of listed organisations whose functions were of a public nature. That would provide an opportunity to ignore the safeguards. Does my hon. Friend have any thoughts on that matter?

Mr. Wilshire: My hon. Friend will go far. It has not taken him long to learn the real role of the Whip, and I commend him for that. He has also raised some valuable points, on which he might care to expand later.

Mr. Davidson: I am particularly grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way to me, as he said that he was in free flow—

Mr. Wilshire: Free fall.

Mr. Davidson: He has also just encouraged one of his colleagues to speak at length on a particular issue. Has he taken into account the number of other clauses that we have to deal with before the Committee rises this afternoon? Does he believe that if the Scottish Parliament, under the Sewel procedure, passes to us the responsibility to debate various motions and elements of legislation, we have an obligation to do so? Does he also agree that the self-indulgent wittering in which he has engaged today, and at our previous sitting, tends to negate the Sewel procedure?

Mr. Wilshire: One person's pearls of wisdom are another person's wittering. That is a subjective judgment, and I cannot be accountable for the hon. Gentleman's judgment in such matters. I am convinced that what is being said is important and needs to be said—and as you have not ruled me out of order, Mr. Gale, my comments were obviously relevant. The fact that the hon. Gentleman does not find them acceptable is entirely his fault. I am sorry about that. As for the other clauses to be considered, he will notice that we have to get to clause 427 by 5 o'clock. If he holds his breath and keeps his patience, he may find that he has every opportunity to contribute to the debate on all the other clauses. It was not the Opposition who decided that we had to reach that point by 5 o'clock, it was his Government.

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Mr. Davidson: Were not the points at which the guillotine was to fall agreed between the Government and the Opposition? Indeed, it was the hon. Gentleman's party that asked for debate to be curtailed by starting the Committee at 9.15 rather than 8.55 on a Thursday morning.

Mr. Wilshire rose—

The Chairman: Order. I must now bring the Committee back to the amendment under discussion, while at the same time pointing out to the hon. Gentleman that I will not allow comments that are out of order to be made, and that two of the amendments under discussion relate to Scotland.

Mr. Wilshire: I am grateful to you, Mr. Gale. I fully appreciate the fact that you will stop anyone who is out of order, and I always do my level best to ensure that I remain in order. Hansard will show that I do not stray too often.

The Chairman: Order. Under this chairmanship, the hon. Gentleman will not stray at all.

Mr. Wilshire: I appear to have just done so.

Amendment No. 605 is part of an attempt to restrict the powers of a person to disclose, if he is added to the list. I am concerned that the Government believe that one can take a body such as the Department of Trade and Industry, authorise the Secretary of State to make disclosures, and then somehow restrict those powers. How is it possible to select little bits and allow a customs officer to disclose on VAT but not on duty? The powers work across the board. I should be grateful if the Minister could address that issue and explain why subsection (7) is necessary, how it will operate and what sort of safeguard it offers.

Mr. Ainsworth: Clause 421(5) lists a number of ''permitted persons'' who will have the power to disclose information to the director for the purpose of the exercise of his functions. Those are listed in the Bill, as we believe that there is a clear need for them to disclose information to the director because of the functions that they perform. The listed persons include all those most likely to have been previously involved in a substantive way with the investigation of a case that the director is now dealing with.

Subsection (6) allows the Secretary of State to designate other permitted persons by order, if they exercise functions that he believes to be of a public nature. The hon. Member for Spelthorne objects to the use of those terms, but the phrase ''of a public nature'' comes from case law and arises from judicial review. Only a public body can be judicially reviewed, so the term has a legal derivation. I mean it as a compliment when I say that I can detect that the hon. Gentleman has been trained by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), because of the way in which he presents himself in Committee. However, he is still the journeyman, not the master.

I shall move on to the more substantive points and the explanation required by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield. Subsection (7) states that in specifying any additional person as a permitted person, the Secretary of State

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    must specify the functions in respect of which the designation is made.

Amendments Nos. 604 and 605 would remove subsections (6) and (7), thus preventing those designations that are mirrored under the Scottish legislation, which the hon. Gentleman also seeks to remove.

I sent out a note yesterday that sets out how we intend to use the order-making power under clauses 421 and 425. It makes it clear that the power will be used to designate persons who have specific functions likely to give rise from time to time to information that would be relevant to the director. It cites examples of when the order-making power might be used, but we expect there to be other examples of public bodies that have regulatory or investigatory functions, which might have information relevant to the exercising of the director's functions.

As the hon. Member for Beaconsfield anticipated, the power is also in place to allow bodies that will be set up in the future to be designated as permitted persons, without the need to return to Parliament for primary legislation to be enacted. The hon. Gentleman rightly said that the affirmative procedure would apply, which would ensure that Parliament scrutinised the measure adequately. That is sufficient.

The hon. Gentleman ruined the often exemplary way in which he presents an argument impartially by suggesting that the growth in statutory instruments was a result of the actions of the present Government. I am sure that he will admit that that procedure has grown under both parties since the time that he mentioned, when there were fewer statutory instruments.

Mr. Grieve: I was not suggesting that the present position was the result of the present Government's actions alone. The number of statutory instruments has risen steadily since the 1960s, when there were approximately 35 per annum. The number of such measures took off far more markedly after we joined the European Economic Community in 1974, and it continued to increase steadily. It reached a plateau in the early to mid-1990s, at about 3,000. There may be an interesting explanation for this, but in the past 12 months there has been an explosion, and the number of statutory instruments has increased even more.

Mr. Ainsworth: The hon. Gentleman has obviously gone into such matters in detail. I am pleased to have provoked him into giving the Committee a more balanced view of the reasons for the increase than he gave originally. I hope that in the light of my explanation, the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Grieve: I am willing to withdraw the amendment, but—this is almost certainly my fault—I have not seen the note that the Minister circulated. That was no doubt because of my absence from the House yesterday for personal reasons. I apologise for the fact that when presenting the amendments, I did not take into account the contents of the note, which I shall read with interest. I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath received a copy.

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Mr. Hawkins indicated dissent.

Mr. Grieve: My hon. Friend does not seem to have had one either. I did not pick up the note when I came into Committee this morning, but I shall read it with interest now. In any event, with or without it, I did not intend to press the amendment to a Division, but tabled it to highlight my concern about the way in which statutory instruments are being used. The Minister has provided considerable reassurance. In the light of his note, and the trouble that he has taken in providing it, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Grieve: I beg to move amendment No. 606, in page 245, line 1, leave out subsection (9).

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