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Session 2001- 02
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Standing Committee Debates
Proceeds of Crime Bill

Proceeds of Crime Bill

Standing Committee B

Tuesday 13 November 2001


[Mr. Roger Gale in the Chair]

Proceeds of Crime Bill

Clause 3

Accreditation and training

4.30 pm

The Chairman: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I am pleased to note that rapid progress has been made under Mr. McWilliam's wise chairmanship, and we are well on target to finish consideration of the Bill—by the early spring of next year. I am sure that we shall see a great deal of each other between now and then.

Those of you who have served under my chairmanship before will know that I tend to take the view that one may have a clause stand part debate before, during or after consideration of a clause, but not all three. On that basis, we come to clause 3 stand part. I understand that the clause has been fully and thoroughly aired during this morning's discussions, so unless any hon. Member has a burning desire to raise an issue that has not already been debated, I propose to put the clause to the Committee.

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

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Pollok): Thank you, Mr. Gale, for that invitation to speak. [Laughter.] I shall endeavour to respond in the same spirit.

As these are clearly important matters, it would help if the Under-Secretary could tell us how much will be spent on accreditation and training in England and Wales. How much funding has been set aside for the Crown Office and the Scottish police service in respect of central training and additional financial investigators? How much has been set aside for training in, and co-ordination between, the relevant English, Welsh and Scottish bodies?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): I cannot tell the Committee in detail what sums have been allocated to training alone. The Government have set aside £45 million for the Assets Recovery Agency, and we would expect an on-going provision of funds through the assets recovery strategy. As my hon. Friend knows, the situation in Scotland, where many of the agency's powers will not apply, is very different. In Scotland, existing customs officers and police will be expected to deal with confiscation by using the powers in part 2 of the Bill relating to the confiscation of criminal assets. A civil recovery unit will be set up in Scotland; it will be in the Crown Office, will it not?

Mr. Davidson indicated assent.

Mr. Ainsworth: However, it is not envisaged that the unit will be very large. It should consist of about 10 people.

As I have said, discussions are taking place on the level of funding necessary north of the border to enable those powers to be used. Such funding will cover not only a civil recovery unit but a potential claim for funds to train, and to increase the skills of, the constables and customs officers who will apply confiscation procedures north of the border.

Mr. Davidson: Will the sums mentioned be separate and additional, or taken from existing budgets? If they are separate and additional, we can haggle about the amount later, once the principle is agreed.

Mr. Ainsworth: The principle is that moneys will be provided to enable the Bill to be used in the same way north of the border as it will be used south of the border. To the south—but not necessarily to the north—moneys will go to the agency. In Scotland, they will go to the Crown Office and other appropriate law enforcement agencies.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 4


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

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) rose—

The Chairman: Order. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman, but I have neglected the Committee's comfort. I understand that this morning Mr. McWilliam gave permission for hon. Members to remove their jackets if they wished, and I shall do the same.

Mr. Grieve: On the face of it, clause 4 is brief and largely innocuous. It is obvious that if the director is to exercise his functions he must have co-operation from other law enforcement agencies. Subsection (1)(a) refers to persons who have functions

    ``relating to the investigation or prosecution of offences''.

That is easily comprehensible; indeed, the explanatory notes specify

    ``police officers, officers of HM Customs and Excise and members of the Crown Prosecution Service and the National Criminal Intelligence Service.''

Clearly, all those people are concerned with the investigation or prosecution of offences. However, I am puzzled by the fact that subsection (1)(b) covers people who have functions ``otherwise relating to crime''. If the people that I have listed all fall within subsection (1)(a), why did those who drafted the Bill think it necessary to insert a further category under subsection (1)(b)? Who is being referred to?

Mr. Davidson: Lawyers.

Mr. Grieve: I heard that sedentary intervention. However, as the Minister will know from several cases involving legal professional privilege, lawyers representing people who have been subject to prosecution cannot be required to co-operate in that way. A celebrated case—I cannot remember its name, but I am sure that the Minister's Department will be familiar with it—concerned the Inland Revenue's attempts to get hold of a tax lawyer's papers. The court held that that was a serious breach of legal professional privilege, and impinged on human rights.

Can the Minister clarify who is supposed to fall into the interesting category of persons with functions ``otherwise relating to crime'' who must co-operate with the director? Is the paragraph otiose—that is, unnecessary? If it is required, to whom does it refer?

Vera Baird (Redcar): I want to raise a similar point with the Minister, in an entirely friendly way. The definition in subsection (1)(b) of persons who have functions ``otherwise related to crime'' appears at first sight to be wide enough to include judges as well as lawyers, solicitors and probation officers, who have a duty of confidentiality to their clients. There cannot be any difficulty in expecting those criminal justice professionals to co-operate in making the procedure work smoothly—that is part and parcel of their work within the courts structure.

However, it would be odd and misplaced to impose a statutory duty of co-operation on a judge, who will have to make findings of fact when the director says that a person has a criminal lifestyle and the person denies it. As the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) said, legal professional privilege cannot be overborne by statute, and I do not imagine that the clause is an attempt to do so. That would oblige a person who had come across information in pursuit of his professional duties to disclose it because there was a conflict between that confidentiality and the statutory duty in subsection (1)(b). Probation officers frequently receive confidential information, and they have a professional duty not to disclose it, yet they may fall within the category of those who are intended to co-operate with the director. I am looking for an assurance that those problems have been considered and the category is not intended to include those people, because a conflict would be the inevitable result if it did.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne): I often find short clauses the most intriguing, because they can raise fundamental issues. Will the Under-Secretary tell us why the clause is necessary? In a sensible world, people would co-operate. I suspect that the penny has just dropped in Government circles that in the past there has not been the necessary co-operation for the conviction of criminals. I have in mind the issues that arose over the tracking down of terrorists or suspected terrorists in Northern Ireland, where a turf war, which required an intervention to knock heads together, broke out between the Metropolitan police and the security services.

Will the Under-Secretary confirm why the clause is included in the Bill? Is it here, like a piece of folklore, because it ought to be? Is it included because things are not what they should be? Is it here because when Ministers discussed their intentions for the Bill, they got wind that we might be heading for a rerun of that lack of co-operation between the various agencies? If that is the case, the Committee must be told, because it would be a serious matter. I do not raise the issue in a party political sense, as I imagine that it would unite members of the Committee. If the provision is concerned with people arguing about who does what, and saying, ``We're not going to talk to you,'' that is something on which we should take a view.

Having said why the clause is necessary, the Under-Secretary can help us by explaining what ``co-operation'' means, because it can mean all things to all people. If we are to avoid a return to the days of the turf war, when Customs and Excise did not want to talk to the Inland Revenue, the Inland Revenue did not want to talk to the police and the police did not want to talk to MI5, we must know what ``co-operation'' means. Will it be sufficient for someone to pick up the phone once in a while and say, ``How are things going?'' In order to avoid the problems of the past, will there be a clearly defined regime that states exactly what is expected?

In drafting the legislation, has anyone in Government or the parliamentary draftsman's office raised the issues involved with the various agencies? Has there been a pre-discussion? Can we be given a steer on how this will be received in the various independent fiefdoms that have not got on too well in the past?

The Under-Secretary may find it difficult to comment on this in detail, but in the list of bodies that must co-operate with the director—the director must also co-operate with them—there is no mention of the security services. I hope that that omission is intended to draw a veil over things, rather than an admission that the Government do not think that the security services will co-operate, or that they do not want them to co-operate. We must spell out that the fact we expect them to co-operate in same way as everyone else.


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