Proceeds of Crime Bill

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Mr. Hawkins: I should like to reinforce what my hon. Friends the Members for Beaconsfield and for Spelthorne have said, but I also add a further point. We will listen carefully to what the Minister says, particularly in response to the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne about the Government's intentions. As we know, the Minister's response can be relied on in court because of Pepper v. Hart. However, I believe that we should have more than the reassuring words that he may utter about the intentions. We should include the safeguards in the Bill.

I share the scepticism of my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne about the intentions of Governments. I am not making a party political point: whenever a Government give themselves sweeping powers under legislation, we must be cautious about how those powers could be misused by a present or future Government.

Mr. Tredinnick: Is my hon. Friend satisfied that the phrase ''external investigations'' has been defined sufficiently? It seems a wide term.

Mr. Hawkins: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The words ''external investigations'' in subsection (1)(b) are probably deliberately drafted as

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an extremely wide catch-all. I think that the term is too wide, and it would be helpful to have a much clearer definition of what is contemplated, as my hon. Friends have rightly said.

The Chairman: Order. The definition that the hon. Gentleman is looking for is included in clause 432, although it is not certain that we shall get that far this morning, or that the matter will be debated.

Mr. Hawkins: Thank you, Mr. Gale.

Mr. Tredinnick: You have come to the rescue, as is often the way with Chairmen, Mr. Gale. I was going to suggest to my hon. Friend that a list might be appropriate, and that we should debate that.

Mr. Hawkins: As my hon. Friend points out, that may be a subject for debate when, or if, we have a stand part debate on clause 432. I shall not trespass on your good will or the Committee's time, Mr. Gale, but this is a serious matter, and I look forward to hearing whether the Minister offers any reassurance. I am far from satisfied with the drafting.

Mr. Ainsworth: I am not certain, but it seems that we are accused not of making unnecessary, draconian, wide powers, but of poor draftsmanship. We shall see as the debate goes on.

The clause provides for investigative powers to be made for overseas investigation. We intend to provide a scheme broadly similar to that provided for domestic investigation in part 8. In mirroring that part, we intend to replicate the offences of non-compliance with disclosure orders and of prejudicing an investigation. I hope that I have explained the Government's intention, and have fully clarified the need for creating offences as permitted by subsection (1)(b).

It was considered necessary that disclosure orders and customer information orders should oblige people or institutions to comply with certain requirements, and therefore it is appropriate to create sanctions to compel such compliance.

Mr. Wilshire: That is helpful, if the Minister is telling us that the provision could be used in cases of non-compliance or hindering an investigation. However, if that is what he has in mind, why does it not say so in the Bill?

Mr. Ainsworth: It does say so—as you pointed out, Mr. Gale—if the Bill is read in its entirety, and if we do not follow the hon. Member for Beaconsfield, as the hon. Member for Spelthorne did. Perhaps the former has wider vision than the latter.

We should not look at subsection (1)(b) in isolation. Under clause 430(1), we can make Orders in Council. Subsection (2) covers areas that may be included and subsection (3) deals with the specific exclusion of disclosure orders. For the definition of ''external investigation'', we will need to turn to clause 432(3). We have no intention of taking the wide remit of which the hon. Gentleman is fearful.

Mr. Grieve: I always understood that subsection (1)(b) was governed by the other provisions of the clause, although not necessarily by

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only those under subsection (1)(a). One way of looking at the matter is to say that that relates only to offences under part 8, but another approach is to say that it refers to all the provisions about the functions and evidence under part 8. I am not sure that they create criminal offences, but one way of dealing with my objection would be to refer to provisions that create equivalent offences in relation to external investigations. The Minister can see that, worded as it is, the provision could be capable of being widely interpreted.

Mr. Ainsworth: I think that the hon. Gentleman is arguing about drafting. I wish to reassure him about the substantive issues. We expect the same to be applied to external requests as is available under internal investigation powers. It is expected that the offence of prejudicing an investigation as set out under clause 331 will be applied to external requests. We cannot see why there should be a substantive diversion between domestic and external investigations. The same outcome should be achieved. The offence framework that facilitates that should apply equally to domestic and external investigations.

Mr. Stinchcombe: I wonder whether the Minister can clarify statutory interpretation? I may have made a mistake, but is he saying that subsection (1)(b) is qualified by the remaining parts of the clause? An alternative interpretation could be that it is not qualified by subsection (1)(a), because that is discrete, nor by subsection (2),m because that is inclusive and says what may be included within subsections (1)(a) or (b). However, the clause does not state what may be included under subsection (1), but not under subsection (2). How is subsection (1)(b) limited by the remaining parts of the clause?

Mr. Ainsworth: My hon. Friend is making the same point that the hon. Member for Beaconsfield made. I want first to satisfy members of the Committee that it is not our intention to create a power for external investigations that is substantially different from that for domestic investigations. Having said that, I wilt under the lawyerly gaze of my hon. Friends and Opposition Members, so I agree to reconsider the drafting to ensure that the hon. Gentleman's fears, reinforced by my hon. Friend, are misplaced. However, if they are founded, I agree to table the necessary amendment.

12.45 pm

Mr. Grieve: I am grateful for the debate and for the contributions of the hon. Member for Wellingborough. I do not believe that there is a difference in the Committee about what is intended. Reading the provision, even I appreciated that the Government intended that the Order in Council would enable them to create in relation to an external investigation offences that are identical to those created in relation to internal investigations, such as obstruction. I would therefore expect the offences to be identical in scope, wording and penalties. I assume that the intention is not to inflict life imprisonment for a breach of an external investigation, although the fine may be on level 5 on the standard scale in the case of a domestic one.

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Mr. Ainsworth: I assure the hon. Gentleman that the intention was not that the penalties should be different from those for the domestic provision.

Mr. Grieve: We are on the same lines. I accept the issue of principle. Although it might be argued that Parliament is foolish to give powers to the Executive to create criminal offences—a blanket statement—an argument of convenience might suggest that, as we have already discussed penalties for internal offences, we should not object to the same penalties and offences being created for external offences. However, we have had no opportunity to reassure ourselves about whether some elements of external investigations might be different from internal ones, which would affect the criminalisation of certain activities. I hope that the Minister understands my point. We have had no chance to focus on that.

That said, if that is the intention, the wording is defective. First, subsection (1)(b) does not restrict external investigation offences and penalties to the same as apply in an internal investigation. Secondly, as the hon. Member for Wellingborough cogently argued, both he and I have a similar doubt about the extent to which subsection (1)(b) is restricted by subsection (1)(a) or any other provision in the clause.

Mr. Stinchcombe: In fact, I have very little doubt. The provision seems completely unqualified by the other provisions.

Mr. Grieve: The hon. Gentleman has an area of expertise that I have been trying to acquire during our proceedings on the Bill and that I would not pretend to have had before. I was satisfied in my mind that paragraph (b) was not restricted by paragraph (a), but I had open in my mind whether it might be restricted by the totality of the clause. The fact that he thinks that it is not is a compelling argument that that is a further area of defect that needs to be examined.

I am left in a bit of a quandary. The Minister has, I think, undertaken to reconsider the matter. In a conciliatory spirit, that should be a good argument for withdrawing the amendment. Equally, however, I sometimes have slight anxieties that I may be conceding too much and failing to highlight criticism of what is defective.

Mr. Wilshire rose—

Mr. Ainsworth: You'll get your instructions now.

Mr. Wilshire: I have come this far without giving instructions to anyone, and I have not the slightest intention of doing so now. I was merely going to suggest to my hon. Friend that, although I had been persuaded by him that it was absolutely right to let the Minister get on with it, if the hon. Member for Wellingborough is saying that the provision is even worse that we thought, I wonder what might happen on Report if we do not put down a marker now. If the Minister were to come back and say that it is not sloppy or draconian, and that he is not going to do anything about it, will we have missed the opportunity to make it clear that we do not accept it?

 
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