Proceeds of Crime Bill

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Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster): I appreciate the difficulties that are inevitable when setting up an institution. Such rules cannot, at this juncture, be set in stone. However, it would be interesting to have some guidance as to how frequently the Minister expects to make a revising order to specify which grades are entitled. We do not want the matter left in limbo for long. We also worry that there would be a significant number of investigators, and that bureaucracy would build up. How frequently does the Minister envisage coming back to Parliament to get a new order, or being asked at Home Office questions about how the provisions are working in practice, to ensure that bureaucracy is kept to an acceptable minimum?

The Chairman: Order. That was a Tennyson's brook of an intervention. It was far too long.

Mr. Ainsworth: I recall that we talked about the kind of organisations that would be given access to the powers, and about the levels of people who might be designated to use them, in an earlier sitting, but I do not recall at what length or depth. It is difficult for me to go back to that substantive argument. The provision merely gives the order-making power that allows us to make that designation. I can only ask the hon. Gentleman to accept that we do not intend to allow access to the powers to be inappropriate or too widely drawn. That would be a cause for concern.

The hon. Member for Surrey Heath says that the clause does not make easy reading, which I accept. Complicated legislation rarely does. However, the clause is necessary and has a purpose, no matter how circular, elliptical, rectangular or anything else it

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appears to be, or how offensive it may be to the Plain English campaign.

Mr. Hawkins: I understand that the clause is significant. The Minister considered the previous clause in his helpful response to my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield. Would he be prepared also to consider this clause to see whether there is a clearer way of expressing it? I entirely accept his comment that it can have a purpose. While he considers the preceding clause, he might as well consider this one.

Mr. Ainsworth: I cannot do that, as I told the hon. Gentleman—who briefly left the Room at the start of my reply to him. He is always the same: give him an inch and he tries to take a mile.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 436 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 437 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 438


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

Mr. Wilshire: I have seen one or two clauses like this one, and I wonder why it is necessary. It is a statement of the obvious. I thought that the purpose of clauses was to provide legislation that the courts could use for recovering the proceeds of crime.

The Chairman: Order. Did not the hon. Gentleman listen to the explanation of clause 433, which appears to have been exactly the same? He is out of order.

Mr. Wilshire: With the greatest respect, Mr. McWilliam, I was trying to ensure that hon. Members next door were behaving themselves at that moment. I am sorry if that point was raised then. None the less, I would be grateful for an explanation.

The Chairman: Order. The Committee has already had that explanation. Explanations cannot be repeated simply because people are out of the Room at the time.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 438 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 8


Mr. Foulkes: I beg to move amendment No. 657, in page 270, line 15, after '88' insert ', 154'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take Government amendments Nos. 658, 659, 661, 662, and 664 to 667.

Mr. Foulkes: All the amendments make consequential amendments to existing legislation, principally to reflect the new provisions that are being introduced in part 3 as they affect Scotland. Parallel amendments have already been included in the schedule for England and Wales. With a little trepidation, I say that if hon. Members want a more detailed explanation of any of the amendments, I would be happy—I think that I shall say willing—to oblige.

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Mr. Hawkins: I did not manage to get the Minister to give way before he sat down so rapidly, but I suspect that he missed out the words ''If pressed'' that we know from past experience so often appear in ministerial briefs. He referred in an earlier debate to the fact that the brief was headed ''If pressed''. I am sure that this is such a case, and I therefore press him for an explanation.

Mr. Wilshire: The issue requires some attention for the simple reason that my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield put his finger on earlier. It is sometimes adequate for us to have notes on clauses, and the notes on schedule 8 are quite lengthy. As my hon. Friend pointed out, once we come to such amendments, there are no notes on them. I am prepared to admit that I have not been able to identify exactly what the detailed changes are—there are so many. It is a substantial rewrite. Why was the rewriting of so much of the schedule necessary? What are the amendments designed to achieve, and what presumable error in the original drafting do they put right?

The Minister cannot be allowed to get away with moving so great a change to the Bill. Where it says, ''If pressed'', I too am pressing him.

5.45 pm

Mr. Foulkes: It does not say ''If pressed'', or I would have said it. I can understand that the hon. Member for Spelthorne does not hear things when he is outside the Room, but I said when he was here that all the amendments make consequential amendment to existing legislation to reflect the new provisions as they affect Scotland—principally the new provisions in part 3, which we have discussed at length.

Parallel amendments have already been included in schedule 8 in respect of England and Wales. We have discussed the issue and agreed the principle. These are consequential amendments. We have passed them for England and Wales and now we are doing that for Scotland.

Mr. Wilshire: I do not find that an adequate response. If the amendments are consequential, fine, but what has happened since the original drafting to make such amendments necessary? The need to change other legislation was known when the original Bill was written. At the first drafting, the consequential changes to the legislation were attempted. Something has happened subsequently to make these amendments to the original drafting necessary. All I am saying is, will the Minister tell us what has happened since the original drafting? The fact that we have had debates about other parts of the United Kingdom is fascinating, but it does not answer my question.

Mr. Foulkes: I did explain. Nothing has happened other than that we have considered the Bill. The amendments are consequential amendments to existing legislation to reflect the Bill's new provisions in relation to Scotland. We have debated them in relation to England and Wales. If the hon. Gentleman has a specific question about any amendment, I am prepared to deal with that question on that particular amendment, or to deal with any specific amendment that may be puzzling him.

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Mr. Wilshire: It is the principle, not the detail, on which I cannot obtain an answer. The Minister said that the schedule, as originally drafted, was made necessary by the provisions requiring legislation to be changed. I accept that that is what the schedule does. I am trying to get to the bottom of what happened to the drafting of the original schedule, which does exactly what he said it would do, which is to make consequential changes to legislation. What has happened to render the schedule as originally drafted inadequate, so that it requires Government amendments?

The Minister shakes his head as though nothing has happened. If nothing has happened to make the amendments necessary, why are they there? There has to be a reason for amendments to change the schedule, which was doing what he claimed it was. He has not addressed that question.

Mr. Carmichael: The hon. Member for Spelthorne has twice asked what has happened. The short answer to his question is that there have been 38 sittings of the Committee which have led to significant changes. As I understand it, these have now been reflected in the Bill in relation to Scotland. I am grateful, as we should all be, that they have been introduced in this way.

Given that this is our last sitting, this might be an appropriate point in the proceedings to place on the record the gratitude that Committee members feel to the staff who have supported us throughout the past 39 sittings, particularly to the Clerks and the Ministers' officials. My experience is that they have been courteous and helpful.

Mr. Hawkins: I entirely echo the hon. Gentleman's tribute to the support staff. We should also add the thanks of all members of the Committee to our three Chairmen who, without fail, have been good-humoured, relaxed and skilful in their chairmanship.

The Chairman: I have a problem relating this to schedule 8.

Mr. Carmichael: There is no connection, but I thought that it was important to place those comments on the record.

Mr. Foulkes: I agree, but there will be plenty of time later for such comments. However, I wish to say that officials from the Home Office, the Scottish Executive and the Crown Office have been very helpful.

Far be it from me to advise the hon. Member for Spelthorne on which questions to ask. However, if he had asked why there are additional changes to the legislation at this stage, the answer would have been that the exercise is highly technical and complex, it necessitated a thorough trawl through relevant legislation, and it was not possible to complete that before introduction of the Bill. During the time that the Committee has been sitting, we have been able to complete the trawl and table additional amendments. They are all consequential amendments concerning how the provisions of the Bill affect Scotland, in particular, in relation to part 3.

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