Proceeds of Crime Bill

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Mr. Ainsworth indicated assent.

Mr. Grieve: As the Minister nods, I believe that we agree about that.

We face a conundrum, and it is difficult to see a middle way out of it.

Mr. Field: A third way.

Mr. Grieve: On the whole, I am not inclined to third ways. They do not seem to have got us very far in the past five years.

I considered whether it might be possible to draft subsection (1)(a) and (b) so as to highlight the nature of the problem and ensure that the only information disclosed was information that could be obtained by the law enforcement agency with its own powers. If the Minister were to consider whether that might be a practical way to proceed, we could have a further discussion on Report, and it might commend itself to me.

I am trying to be helpful. I accept that there is a problem. Considering some examples, it might seem absurd to outsiders that the director will be unable to communicate information. However, although there may be an element of absurdity, as the Bill has been drafted for a specific purpose, my inclination is to delete paragraphs (a) and (b). We have established a director and given him specific powers for that purpose, not for general criminal investigation. The Minister is right to say that my earlier money laundering example was a bad one. Although money laundering is in the Bill, it has nothing to do with the director. Arguably, it should not be in the Bill at all, but it has been put in for the purposes of Government legislative timetabling.

That granted, my inclination is to take out paragraphs (a) and (b) and live with the consequences, because I am not happy about them. The provisions will raise huge problems that might ultimately undermine the director's credibility. His purpose could well be subverted and he could be used--although not deliberately--as an investigative agency for the law enforcement authorities. That worries me for a host of reasons. It could lead to a great many challenges under the Human Rights Act 1998.

We may regret leaving in the paragraphs, but that said, I am not unmindful of the Minister's problem. If I could see a way out of it that did not involve the elimination of the two paragraphs, I would be

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receptive to it. However, at the moment, I am inclined to press the amendment to a vote.

Mr. Ainsworth: Before the hon. Gentleman does that, let me intervene on him. I do not think that there is a problem with evidence. I think that we are correct on that issue. [Interruption.] I am not dead sure that the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland is altogether with me on that.

The subject is worthy of further consideration and I am happy to provide it. I am not absolutely clear that the problem is not covered by the judicial approval that is required in the first place for the director's powers. I give the hon. Member for Beaconsfield an assurance that I will consider his points further and give him the opportunity to return to the subject, if he wishes, on Report. I shall reflect on whether I am satisfied that the point is covered by that judicial oversight. If it is not, I shall consider whether there is a way for us to cover it. I am glad that he spoke as he did, because it would be a real dilemma for us presentationally if we were to prevent information from being passed on to the prosecuting authorities. The issue is worthy of further reflection.

Ian Lucas rose

Mr. Ainsworth: I give way to my hon. Friend. Oh no, I cannot, I am interveningat length.

The Chairman: At excessive length.

Mr. Grieve: I wonder whether, as another hon. Member wishes to contribute, it would be proper for me to sit down. Perhaps I can resume my speech later.

Ian Lucas: I am grateful for the Minister's suggestion. I wonder whether, as a middle way, we could have judicial consideration of whether the information should be transferred; it should not be assumed that it always can be. Instead, there could be judicial consideration of, for example, the gravity of the information. It would be a major step for someone to suppress information relative to a serious crime and not pass it to investigating authorities. I hope that a middle way can be found, because in certain circumstances it would be right and proper for the information to be passed on, although I respect the views propounded by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield.

Mr. Ainsworth: I thank my hon. Friend. I shall not try to respond to his suggestion off the top of my head. I thank the Committee for the way in which it has addressed the point, and I reiterate my commitment to a further consideration of it. In view of that, I hope that the hon. Member for Beaconsfield will withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Grieve: I am faced with a slight dilemma. I am minded to withdraw the amendment. My anxiety is that I do not know how long will be allocated to the issue on Reportor how many points about it the Minister will want to considerand there is always a lurking anxiety that we might end up not voting on it, even if I wished to delete it.

Mr. Carmichael: It will have two days.

Mr. Grieve: That is what I expected the Minister to tell me, but he knows how swiftly two days can pass.

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Mr. Foulkes: Indeed.

Mr. Grieve: That causes me serious concern. I am hesitating because I am unsure whether to press the amendment to a Division.

I have decided to do that, so that opinions can be fully recorded. I hope that the Minister will forgive me: my decision does not detract from my wish to be conciliatory, because I acknowledge that he faces a genuine problem. However, as he has not yet solved it, the appropriate course of action is to cut the Gordian knot--rather than to try to unravel it.

I wish to press the amendment to a Division--if only for symbolic purposes.

Question put, That the amendment be made:--

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 13.

Division No. 50]

Brooke, Annette Carmichael, Mr. Alistair Field, Mr. Mark
Grieve, Mr. Dominic Johnson, Mr. Boris Wilshire, Mr. David

Ainsworth, Mr. Bob Baird, Vera Clark, Mrs. Helen David, Mr. Wayne Davidson, Mr. Ian Foulkes, Mr. George Harris, Mr. Tom
Hesford, Stephen Lazarowicz, Mr. Mark Lucas, Ian McGuire, Mrs. Anne Robertson, John Stinchcombe, Mr. Paul

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. Grieve: I beg to move amendment No. 611, in page 246, line 2, leave out paragraph (h).

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to consider amendment No. 623, in clause 427, page 248, line 33, leave out paragraph (g).

Mr. Grieve: Paragraph (h) refers to

    investigations or proceedings outside the United Kingdom which have led or may lead to the making of an external order within the meaning of section 432.

Subsection (2), which refers to interpretation, states:

    An external order is an order which--

    (a) is made by an overseas court where property is found or believed to have been obtained as a result of or in connection with criminal conduct, and

    (b) is for the recovery of specified property or a specified sum of money.

That statement is of relevance to the Committee's debate on the penultimate amendment. The key issue is whether the director--or anyone else--can maintain control of information once it has been passed outside this country's jurisdiction. It raises important points, about which the Minister might be able to provide reassurance.

I appreciate that, if there is to be an international regime for seizing the proceeds of crime, information will have to be exchanged between police authorities, directors and others to achieve that. However, as has been discussed, the Bill deals with information that, by its nature--particularly in relation to the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise--will have been obtained from individuals in confidence and is subsequently passed to the director. What control

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could be maintained of such information if it were subsequently passed to an overseas organisation?

The answer might ultimately depend on how the guidelines are drawn up. Therefore, it would be helpful if the Minister were to comment on what is envisaged with regard to international co-operation. With which countries is that co-operation likely to take place, and what safeguards will be present to ensure that information is not misused or used in a way that is contrary to the aims of the Bill?

4.30 pm

Mr. Ainsworth: An external order is defined in clause 432 as an order that is made by an overseas court where property is found, or believed to have been obtained, as a result of, or in connection with, criminal conduct. The order would be for specified property or a specified sum of money. The provisions that allow for co-operation in respect of such orders are in part 11.

Allowing disclosure for the purpose of investigations or proceedings outside the United Kingdom that have led, or may lead, to the making of an external order will enable the United Kingdom to co-operate with overseas authorities. If we expect other authorities to co-operate with us in the fight against crime, we must be prepared to co-operate in their investigations into whether property has been obtained as a result of, or in connection with, criminal conduct.

For example, the director may obtain information about a person's property or finances that indicates that they were obtained through criminal conduct. That information may not be relevant to the director's investigation because it may relate to property that is held overseas, which he does not wish to pursue. However, the information could be relevant to an overseas investigation with a view to obtaining a court order to recover the property, or for proceedings already in train. In those circumstances, we should be capable of disclosing information because, as I said, it is important that we may co-operate with our international partners to recover the proceeds of crime.

It would be odd if the United Kingdom were able to assist an overseas authority or court to give effect to an external order, but could not assist by providing information about investigations or proceedings that were relevant to the order. That might affect the willingness of the overseas authorities to pass on information to our own law enforcement authorities.

Restrictions on the disclosure of information by the director will apply before he may disclose information, and we discussed some of those during the debate on clause 422. Any information that is disclosed by the director or a permitted person may be made subject to restrictions on onward disclosure.

Under clause 423(8), a disclosure may not be made that contravenes the Data Protection Act 1998 or that is prohibited by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. It is implicit that the provisions of the Human Rights Act 1998 must be taken into account before the director makes any disclosure.

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We are playing an active role in trying to encourage international co-operation in the investigation of crime, and that is a proper role for the British Government. The provisions are in line with that. We must take the growing international dimension of criminality all too seriously, and for those reasons I ask the hon. Member for Beaconsfield to withdraw the amendment.

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