Proceeds of Crime Bill

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Mr. Wilshire: I listened carefully to what the Minister said, but he did not persuade me, because I have serious concerns. I am glad that reference has been made to human rights, because it would have been possible to mention those during one of our discussions on an earlier amendment. However, none of us did, and subsequently Mr. Gale indicated to me informally that he was not minded to have a clause stand part debate, which would have enabled us to raise the issue. I am therefore grateful to the Minister for referring to it, because it must be debated at some stage today. Whatever may be thought about the contributions that have been made to the debate, this is one of the most substantial issues of the day.

It will not wash to say that the director can place restrictions on the onward transmission of information. Once the information is out of the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom, there is nothing whatever that the director, a British court or anyone else can do about it. It is outside our control. [Interruption.] The Minister shakes his head. Will he tell me how it is possible under the Bill to control a foreign jurisdiction?

Mr. Ainsworth: We do it all the time. We extradite people from foreign jurisdictions on the grounds that they will not be onwardly extradited in certain circumstances.

Mr. Wilshire: Perhaps that does happen, and works on the basis of assurances. The Minister said originally that it was implicit that human rights would be taken into account. Labour Members have made great play of extending human rights legislation, and they will agree that human rights are important. Respect for human rights should not be implicit in the Bill, but explicit. Will the Minister say what safeguards are in the Bill? If human rights were important, would it not be sensible to restrict the foreign authorities to which any information could be passedto signatories to the European convention on human rights, for example?

Mr. Ainsworth: The Data Protection Act 1998 prohibits the disclosure of information outside the European Economic Area unless the discloser is satisfied that the information will be properly protected in the country to which it has been sent.

Mr. Wilshire: I need to think about the implications of that for a moment. If I remember correctly, we were told this morning that nothing we were doing would override the workings of the Data Protection Act. If that is so, why do we need such provisions, because safeguards are in place anyway? We are now duplicating measures. The Minister cannot have it both ways: one minute he says that such measures are

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implicit in the Bill, and the next minute he says that they are explicit. Which is it?

Mr. Ainsworth: Information cannot be disclosed unless we give the director the power to disclose it.

Mr. Wilshire: I have to accept what the Minister says, but I am not persuaded. When he has his wits about him, perhaps he might say in a more general way whether he is entirely satisfied that human rights will be respected in such cases. What measures will he take to ensure that before information is disclosed, inquiries are made into whether the regime seeking the information can be trusted to use it lawfully?

We have all accepted that the measures will set up an investigation and give someone powers that are not usually held. I foresee a possible problem. When a police force in one country seeks information from another police force, the channels of communication, safeguards and restrictions are well known. The track record of the foreign police force in respect of legislation that affects the British law enforcement agencies will have been tried and tested. However, on our own admission, the director will be in possession of information that could not be obtained from a police force. Before I left the Committee to go into the Chamber for a moment, it was very much the issue of debate that the authority had powers greater than those of the police.

The Minister can bob up and say that clause so-and-so says that that will not happen, but when the Bill is enacted, a foreign police force will have a route whereby it could obtain information that it would not be able to obtain through its usual channels. How are we to know for what purpose the foreign police force really wants the information? This is a serious matter. I hope that the hon. Gentleman accepts that I am not in any way trying to waste his time. I seek assurances from him about handing over to foreign authorities matters over which we have no control, implicit or explicit.

Mr. Grieve: There was an interesting point during the dialogue between my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne and the Minister. The Minister mentioned the Data Protection Act 1998, which provides explicit safeguards for data, although such a safeguard is not explicitly spelt out in the Bill. However, I accept the hon. Gentleman's express word that if we asked for an assurance, he would expect it to be met. I wondered why we could not include such a provision. [Interruption.] If I am wrong, maybe the Minister can identify where the provision is in the Bill, because it is clearly not in this part of it.

I see that somebody is passing a note to the Minister, so he will soon be able to tell me where the provision is.

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Pollok): It is a shopping list.

Mr. Grieve: Or perhaps the Minister has been told that the provision is not there.

My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne elicited a good point from the Minister. As the Data Protection Act 1998 contains an explicit statement,

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should not such a statement also be in the Bill? If there is none, will the Minister consider including one?

Mr. Ainsworth: The reference that comes to mind relates to Scotland, and is in clause 425(3). However, that is repeated in other parts of the Bill. Nothing authorises the disclosure of information in contravention of the Data Protection Act or the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. We have discussed that. My note tells me that we do not envisage that outward disclosure would involve information other than that covered by the Data Protection Act.

Mr. Grieve: I think that the Minister has answered my question. I confessI have learned this during the passage of the Billthat I had assumed that there would be categories of material entering the director's hands that might not be covered by the Data Protection Act or part 1 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. I may be wrong about that. If the Minister reassures me that that will not be the case, he has answered part of my question.

Mr. Ainsworth: We do not envisage that there will be information not covered by the Data Protection Act.

Mr. Grieve: I am grateful to the Minister. I had assumed that some material might not be covered, although I thought that most of it would be. I may think further about the issue, but in the light of the Minister's comments, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Grieve: I beg to move amendment No. 612, in page 246, line 5, leave out paragraph (i).

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 636, in page 246, line 27, after 'nature', insert

    'directly relevant to the purposes of this Act'.

Mr. Grieve: There are two amendments, one of which refers to England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the other to Scotland. Amendment No. 612 would delete subsection (1)(i), which provides that information may be disclosed based on

    the exercise of a designated function.

I want clarification from the Minister. I presume that the paragraph relates to the exercise of a function that is yet to be designated. I am not happy about that. We return to the point about statutory instruments giving new powers to the director, which has a series of knock-on consequences on his ability to disclose information subsequently. I have explained to the Minister that I am anxious about that, and I shall not repeat my views about legislation by statutory instrument. Will he confirm that that is what is intended by the paragraph, and tell the Committee how the provision will operate?

Mr. Ainsworth: In the note that I circulated to the Committee, I made it clear that the order-making power in subsection (9) exists because new purposes for which disclosure should be permitted may emerge over time. It is therefore sensible to include the order-making power.

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In the light of the need for such a power, it is clear that the director would need to be able to disclose information for any new functions listed under the order. Amendment No. 612 would not allow that. Amendment No. 636 would ensure that when making an order, the Secretary of State would have to be satisfied that the function for which disclosure was to be permitted was not only of a public nature but also directly relevant to the purposes of the Bill.

4.45 pm

We are not convinced that amendment No. 636 would make a useful addition to subsection (9). We believe that it is proper that any addition to the list should relate to the exercise of public functions, but we do not accept that those functions need necessarily relate directly to the purposes of the Bill. The order-making power under subsection (9) is subject to the affirmative procedure, which will allow both Houses to scrutinise the Secretary of State's use of the power if and when he exercises it.

Mr. Wilshire: Did I hear the Minister correctly? Did he say that any public function should be covered by the provision, and that it does not have to be a function that is relevant to the purpose of the Bill? If so, I am appalled and alarmed. I thought that the purpose of the Bill was to focus on the proceeds of crime. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok has made the point time and again that it is crucial that we focus on that issue, but I thought that I heardI hope that the Minister will tell me I am wrongthat the Secretary of State can involve any public function that takes his fancy by order, rather than by legislation.

We have repeatedly heard the word ''believes'', and now we have the word ''thinks''. I wonder why the word is not ''believes'' on this occasion, because that is what was used in the past.

 
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