Proceeds of Crime Bill

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Mr. Foulkes: There is consistency, anyway.

Mr. Grieve: An explanation by the Minister would be helpful. I hope that I am not straying into a clause stand part debate. There are other examples in the explanatory notes of our being given a titbit of information, but the detail being withheld. For instance, the notes say:

    The provision reflects that in existing legislation, except that the range of offences covered has been slightly increased.

When I read that, I smelt a rat. I therefore made complicated inquiries about comparisons between the old legislation and the Bill, to find out how the range has been increased. I shall come to that when we discuss clause stand part if the Minister cannot deal with it now. If the explanatory notes told us how such matters have been changed, time would be saved.

Mr. Carmichael: I am not persuaded that the amendment is appropriate, for the simple reason that the clause does not relate to Scotland. North of the border, criminal proceedings on indictment run in the name of Her Majesty's Advocate. There is no precedent for the commissioners of HM Customs and Excise or any other body to institute criminal proceedings in Scotland. At the risk of straying into the clause stand part debate, I must say that I would be interested to know why a named customs officer will institute some of the proceedings in Scotland. There is no good reason why officers of the procurator fiscal should not do that.

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Mr. Foulkes: The question that the hon. Member for Beaconsfield asked reminds me again of the late Gregor Mackenzie, when he was asked a question at Scottish Question Time that floored him completely. He did not know the answer, so he said, ''The hon. Gentleman has asked a very good question—but not as good as the one that I am going to ask when I get back to Dover house.'' The officials got what they deserved.

However, I do have an answer to the hon. Gentleman's question. The clause deals with Customs and Excise prosecutions. In Scotland, all prosecutions on indictment run in the name of the Lord Advocate, as the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said. That explains the inclusion of subsection (7), which clarifies the fact that in Scotland, in line with the present position, Customs and Excise officials cannot bring a prosecution on indictment.

However, there is a statutory provision for Customs and Excise officers to bring summary prosecutions in Scotland. That is set out in section 34(1) of the Criminal Law (Consolidation)(Scotland) Act 1995, which states:

    Summary proceedings for a specified offence may be instituted by order of the Commissioners and shall, if so instituted, be commenced in the name of an officer.

I understand that that provision is rarely, if ever, used and that most summary prosecutions run in the name of the procurator fiscal. With that explanation, I hope that the hon. Member for Beaconsfield will withdraw his amendment. The position is explicit and beyond any shadow of doubt.

Mr. Grieve: It was never my intention to sabotage the Bill or create a major constitutional crisis by deleting subsection (7). I wanted an explanation, and the Minister has provided it. I was waiting for the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland to tell me that the Minister was wrong about summary proceedings. However, as he did not, I must take it that the Minister is right, even if the provision is not usually used.

Mr. Carmichael: I would merely advise the hon. Gentleman that during my substantial experience of summary criminal proceedings in a number of jurisdictions, I have never known that section to be invoked. I would be interested to know whether it ever has been invoked.

Mr. Grieve: I thank the hon. Gentleman, and beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Grieve: I repeat my previous request to be informed of the way in which the range of offences has been ''slightly increased'' in comparison with the previous legislation. Will the Minister identify the areas in which that has occurred, and tell us what the offences are?

Mr. Wilshire: Questions will be asked at Dover house.

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The Chairman: Order. I heard that sedentary intervention, and I must correct the Minister and the rest of the Committee. I do not wish to take part in proceedings, but I must point out that the right hon. Gregor Mackenzie was the Minister of State for Industry when he made the remark that has been quoted, so he would not have referred to Dover house.

Mr. Foulkes: I stand corrected—if not yet stuffed and mounted.

Mr. Hawkins: Your point of order, Mr. McWilliam, allows me to ask the Minister whether the reason why he made that inadvertent slip could be related to the extraordinary publicity given to Dover house in this morning's edition of The Daily Telegraph. I read with fascination about the amount of free time that the Secretary of State for Scotland has. I do not know whether the Liberal Democrats had anything to do with leaking that information, but Dover house must be in the Minister's mind for some reason.

The Chairman: Order. I cannot see what the free time, or otherwise, of the Secretary of State for Scotland has to do with clause 434.

Mr. Foulkes: But it has given me more time to read my notes, for which I am deeply grateful to you, Mr. McWilliam, and to the hon. Member for Surrey Heath, whom I advise to not believe everything that he reads in the newspapers, especially The Daily Telegraph.

I turn to the question asked by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield. The explanatory notes state—[Interruption.] I am finding my brief difficult to read. The Secretary of State might be receiving French lessons, but someone should take some writing lessons. The explanatory notes state that the range of offences for which Customs and Excise can prosecute has been slightly extended: the offence of aiding and abetting the commission of a listed offence is now included.

Clause 434 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 435

Crown servants and regulators

Mr. Grieve: I beg to move amendment No. 645, in page 253, line 4, leave out subsection (3).

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 646, in page 253, line 8, leave out subsection (4).

Mr. Grieve: The clause gives powers to the Secretary of State to provide that provisions apply to people who are in the public service of the Crown. That is an important provision and I support it, because such people could commit a money-laundering offence or prejudice investigations—although it would perhaps be surprising if that were to happen.

However, subsection (3) states:

    The Secretary of State may by regulations provide that section 324 does not need to apply to persons who exercise functions—

    (a) as or on behalf of supervisory authorities;

    (b) as investigators.

Clause 324 addresses failures to disclose in the regulated sector.

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Clarification is needed about the reasons for providing that power for the Secretary of State. What category of person would he seek to exempt, and why? I understand why he might wish to exempt investigators. However, the Committee should be concerned about exemptions for supervisory authorities. It might be suggested that the rules will be laxer in respect of them than in respect of other organisations, because although a supervisory authority might have a good reason for not wishing to make a disclosure, it might also make a disclosure in the usual way.

Mr. Hawkins: I agree with my hon. Friend's points. They are important, and I hope that the Minister will respond to them.

I also wish the Minister to respond to a related point. The Government want to take a power for the Secretary of State to make regulations in the future, but would it not be simpler to declare in the Bill that the provisions will apply to Crown servants from the date that the Bill comes into force? Why wait until another stage? Why introduce subsequent regulations? Given that Opposition Members accept that there might be reasons why the provisions should cover Crown servants, why should they not cover them ab initio?

It makes me uncomfortable when Secretaries of State of any Government are given wide powers to do things at a later date—particularly if those regulations might be introduced by the negative resolution procedure. It would surely be better to specify in the Bill either that the regulations will apply from the beginning, or that they will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, so that the House can debate their exact terms properly.

Mr. Wilshire: The role of Crown servants is really a stand part issue, to which I should like to return to as a separate debate. The points that my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield made are important and should be considered thoroughly. If I understand the explanatory notes correctly, we are being told that we can exclude the supervisory authorities because other legislation covers their conduct and makes it possible to take action against them.

5.15 pm

The Chairman: May I help the hon. Gentleman? I am re-reading the amendments, and between them they cover the clause. Debating the amendments will cover the clause, so any Member who wants to make a stand part point must do so in the context of the amendments.

Mr. Wilshire: Thank you, Mr. McWilliam. In that case I shall almost certainly return to the other point that I mentioned when I have finished this one, which relates directly to subsection (3).

The argument used in the explanatory notes is that we do not need the power because the Money Laundering Regulations 1993 deal with the matter effectively. However, I am not persuaded that that is an effective argument that the Bill should not cover them. We have talked about making absolutely sure that we close every possible loophole, and do

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everything possible to ensure that the intentions behind the Bill are put into effect. A regulator or supervisor might find a reason why the Money Laundering Regulations should not apply, or, if they did, why they did not cover the conduct for which the person is being criticised, or for which someone was contemplating taking action against the supervisor.

I cannot believe that applying the provisions would negate the opportunity to refer to the 1993 regulations if that were the preferred route. However, if that were to fail, and the Bill could cover for the failure of that route, action could be taken against people who had broken the law—yet we have excluded the possibility of using the Bill to deal with such matters.

Unless the Minister can persuade me that under the amendment action could not be taken, or that it would harm the authorities' ability to take action under the regulations, I believe that the amendment is right and that we should have the fail-safe mechanism of using the powers as well as, or instead of, the 1993 regulations. I therefore believe that this is more than a probing amendment. It is sensible, and unless it harms other routes, or the Minister can give me a reason for doing so, I cannot object to it.

My other point, which would have featured in a stand part debate, is that I am amazed to discover that Crown servants are not subject to the definition of criminal offences in exercising their duties as Crown servants. If that is the current state of play, perhaps I should have known that long ago. We are stating in this case that we should ensure that Crown servants can be proceeded against. Earlier, we debated order-making powers to extend legislation and to introduce new legislation. Perhaps this is an opportunity to introduce a provision to ensure that Crown servants are accountable under the law for everything that they do, not merely money laundering. Can we apply the laws that apply to the rest of us to Crown servants, too?

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