|Criminal Justice and Police Bill
Mr. Simon Hughes: I beg to move amendment No. 205, in page 35, line 28, at end add
The Chairman: With this we may take the following amendments: No. 206, in clause 47, page 37, line 19, leave out from second ``of'' to end of line 20 and insert ``a circuit judge''.
No. 228, in page 37, line 20, at end insert
(a) that it will be used solely for the purpose of the criminal investigation or criminal proceedings in respect of which it is disclosed; and
(b) that it will be destroyed, or returned to the Commissioners, once the criminal investigation or criminal proceedings in respect of which it is disclosed are complete.''.
No. 229, in page 37, line 20, at end insert
No. 207, in page 37, line 40, at end insert
Mr. Hughes: The amendment is consistent with many themes that we have pursued in this and other Bills and would require that if information covered by the clause relates to a living, identifiable individual, a judge rather than an official must authorise the disclosure. It is an attempt to give the process a judicial oversightwhatever we think of the processrather than putting that in the hands of someone less independent, for example a member of the Executive.
Amendment No. 206 relates to clause 47 and would ensure that information held by the relevant tax authoritiescommissioners of the Inland Revenue and of Customs and Exciseis governed by an independent judicial review rather than by appointed commissioners who, although they have judicial authority, are regarded as particularly close to the two agencies in question because they work with them all the time. We propose that a circuit judge should be the relevant authority.
Amendment No. 207 would provide another test by which a judge would authorise disclosure. It would raise the threshold by requiring that the judge is satisfied that there is a reasonable suspicion that a criminal offence has been committed and, more importantly, that the disclosure is likely to be of substantial value to the investigation of an offence. It is an attempt to ensure that we do not end up granting power to disclose where that would make relatively little difference. A serious benefit to the process has to be involved, to prevent people from being harassed by authorities, with the double checks of a reasonably high threshold and an independent judicial review.
I hope that I have been brief. Our view throughout much of the Home Office legislationwe have also had the debate in the context of the Terrorism Bill and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Billhas been that it is important for public confidence that those who take decisions about disclosure or the exercise of power by authorities are part not of the Executive but of the judiciary. That is an important principle and we must not be seen to cross that line. The decision makers should not be part of the process of judicial oversight normally attached to the area but stand entirely free from it.
I hope that the amendments find favour with the Committee. I am happy to discuss a form of redrafting with the Government if they are minded to accept our proposals in broad terms.
Mr. Charles Clarke: I understand that we are not taking amendments Nos. 228 and 229 at this stage. I would be grateful for clarification on that. If that is correct, we will debate only amendments Nos. 205, 206 and 207.
As the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey said, the relative roles of the judiciary and the Executive in carrying through anti-criminal measures has been a frequent topic of discussion between us over the past two Sessions of Parliament. There is no dispute, at least in principle, about the need to take such action, but there is a dispute about whether it should be authorised by the Executive or the judiciary. It would not be helpful to go through that debate at length. I simply refer hon. Members to previous discussions in the Chamber and elsewhere.
We do not believe that putting the judiciary in the role proposed in the amendments would provide further safeguards. Clauses 45, 46 and 47 provide substantial safeguards. I have already outlined the significant ways in which the safeguards under clause 45 would work. Clause 47 provides that no obligation of secrecy, except in the requirements of the Data Protection Act 1998, shall prevent the voluntary disclosure of information by the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise for the purposes of any criminal investigations or proceedings in the UK or elsewhere, and of initiating, bringing to an end, or determining whether to initiate or bring to an end, any criminal investigations or proceedings in the UK or elsewhere. That is because information held by those bodies is extremely important in such investigations and proceedings.
I will not labour the arguments any further. Onward disclosure of revenue department information will require the authorised consent of that department. There are strict administrative controls on the disclosure of information by the revenue departments and under section 182 of the Finance Act 1989, which makes any unauthorised disclosure of information by the Inland Revenue or Customs and Excise staff a criminal offence, punishable by a fine and/or up to two years' imprisonment.
We believe that such matters are appropriate for the Executive and that there is a range of safeguards in the current legislation. We see no advantage either to the citizen or to the operation of our criminal justice policies in bringing in the judiciary as proposed in the amendments. I hope that, on consideration, the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey will be prepared to withdraw the amendment.
Mr. Heald: I do not intend to speak to amendments Nos. 228 and 229, because there is not sufficient time, although it might be possible to do so on Report.
Mr. Hughes: The Minister's reply was predictable because, as he said, we have had this debate before. I am still unhappy about his response, but given what was said earlier, I will withdraw the amendment, despite being not at all comfortable about the idea of keeping Executive rather than judicial oversight. However, I will vote against the clause, for the reasons set out in this and previous debates, and because, even if it were drafted in a way that satisfied us, it would be better elsewhere in the Bill. I take the Minister's point that it would be difficult to justify voting against the clause for my final reason alone, but we have serious reservations.
I am happy to facilitate the Committee's work, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
The Chairman, being of the opinion that the principle of the clause and any matters arising thereon had been adequately discussed in the course of debate on the amendments proposed thereto, forthwith put the Question, pursuant to Standing Orders Nos. 68 and 89, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill:
The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 2.
Division No. 22]
Clause 45, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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