Proceeds of Crime Bill

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Mr. Ainsworth: If the director is to be able do his job, he must establish good working relationships with law enforcement authorities and others whose remits overlap with his own. It is vital that all authorities involved in efforts to recover the proceeds of crime co-operate with each other and co-ordinate their activities. The clause achieves that by giving the director and other bodies a duty to co-operate with each other. Persons with investigative functions, prosecution functions or other functions relating to crime would have a duty to co-operate with the director in the exercise of his duties. Such persons would include, for example, police officers, officers of Customs and Excise, and members of the Crown Prosecution Service and the National Criminal Intelligence Service.

4.45 pm

The Financial Services Authority will be obliged to co-operate, but only so far as it is involved in criminal investigations. The intent behind subsection (1)(b) was to make it certain that we encompassed all the people involved. It was never intended, nor should it ever be intended, that the clause encompass lawyers, judges or anyone else connected with crime. I recognise the potential for misunderstanding in the clause, and we must consider the wording to make it certain that it adequately covers all appropriate organisations—the intelligence services, the FSA, the National Criminal Intelligence Service and so on—while not drawing in others for which an obligation to co-operate with the director would be inappropriate.

The point is taken that we need to consider the ramifications of subsection (1)(b), so we shall do so and return to the subject. With that explanation, I ask that the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Grieve: I am grateful to the Minister for his comments. I think that he understands my point of view. The hon. Member for Redcar (Vera Baird) also picked up on the same point. The problem is one of definition, and it should be possible to define subsection (1)(b) more closely so that there is no ambiguity. Therefore I shall not oppose the clause.

Mr. Wilshire: Did the Minister reply to any of the issues that I raised?

Mr. Ainsworth: I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon. I thought that the main issue that he raised was whether it was intended that the intelligence services be involved in the co-operation—the answer to which was yes. When he referred to the motivation behind the provision, I thought that he was merely making a point, but I shall give him an answer. There is always a propensity for organisations not to co-operate unless, from the top, they are obliged to do so. I do not think that the situation is anything like as bad as he makes out. None the less, there is always the possibility that people will not co-operate and form part of a team.

In preparation for the Bill, we secured the agreement of all the appropriate authorities to the asset recovery strategy, which will be introduced before the Bill. All the relevant people—the police, the prosecution services, NCIS, Customs and Excise, the lot—have agreed the strategy in principle in a joint effort to lift our game on the recovery of the proceeds of crime. In preparation for the powers in the Bill, we have made some effort to ensure a good working relationship between all the relevant people. We want to ensure that this aspect of fighting crime is given the priority that it deserves, which it has not been given in the past. The fact that the duty to co-operate with the director, and the director's duty to co-operate with others, is stated in statute will help. There is no preconceived idea about a particular problem in the formulation of the Bill.

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland): Will the Minister assure us that subsection (2) will not involve evidence acquired in the course of the preparation for civil proceedings being passed to the authorities that prosecute for crime? It is arguable that the prosecution authorities would still be exercising their function under the Bill, and as such they could be in a position to impose a duty of co-operation on the recovery agency.

Mr. Ainsworth: Another part of the Bill ring-fences information gained by the director under his taxation functions. For the purposes of taxing the proceeds of crime, the director of the agency may have control of someone's tax records, but we do not want them to be passed to the Inland Revenue, as it would expand the Revenue's investigation powers by default. Contained within the Bill are precautions to make certain that that does not happen. However, with regard to other information that comes within his knowledge, the director will have to co-operate with other organisations; he will be obliged to share the information with them. Notwithstanding that, people have the right in law not to incriminate themselves. The right not to incriminate oneself is protected. I hope that I have covered the point raised by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Carmichael: May I press the Minister on that point? It seems to me that an important distinction should be made. The Bill gives draconian powers of recovery and disclosure to the director, and to the Lord Advocate in Scotland, in relation to the obtaining of information. I am less uncomfortable than I might otherwise be in giving the director and the Lord Advocate those powers because the information obtained under them is to be used in the pursuit of civil proceedings rather than criminal proceedings. In the latter case, defendants have a right to silence and need not incriminate themselves—

The Chairman: Order. We had better establish the principle now that interventions should be interventions, and not speeches.

Mr. Ainsworth: We do not want to create artificial barriers to the transfer of information that it is right and appropriate to transfer. We are therefore trying to provide gateways to facilitate co-operation between law enforcement agencies and allow the passage of information between them. Equally—I think that this is the point that the hon. Gentleman sought to make—if someone faces criminal proceedings, information that they might have been obliged to disclose, but which would incriminate them in connection with the proceedings being taken against them, cannot be used and should not be used. That right is protected in the Bill.

Mr. Davidson: May I pursue a point with the Minister? I am slightly concerned about the creation of loopholes. Is the Minister telling us that if, during an investigation of financial matters, the investigator—we have just agreed that he should be trained—trips over a body and discovers that Colonel Mustard has been done in with a metal pipe in the drawing room, that information cannot be used by anyone else in any other case? Earlier, in connection with the relationship between Scotland and England, I raised the question of information that had been collected falling down the cracks. We do not want that to happen here. Surely if evidence of crime is discovered, it ought to be available for use by whoever collects it, or passed on to those with whom they co-operate.

When we were speaking about the phrase ``otherwise relating to crime'', a strong point was made about lawyers and professional privilege. I understand that, but will the Minister clarify whether members of that august body the British Bankers Association will similarly be expected to co-operate? Will accountants, too, be expected to co-operate? We have already dealt with the idea of spies. Will Benefits Agency staff be expected to co-operate in matters pertaining to the issues that we are concerned with?

Mr. Ainsworth: Under clause 4 there is no statutory duty for anyone other than such people as I have mentioned to co-operate with the agency. Other provisions in the Bill, as my hon. Friend will see, place duties of disclosure on the appropriate financial institutions so that people can be investigated. That is different from what we are considering now, which is the obligation on the relevant prosecuting and investigating authorities to co-operate with the director, who will also be obliged to co-operate with them. That is essential if we are to implement the Bill as Parliament would want, and secure the precedence of the pursuit of criminal investigation over the pursuit of the proceeds of crime.

If the director wants to commence or recommence a case with respect to civil recovery, he will have to check with the appropriate authorities that that will not cut across criminal proceedings being taken against relevant individuals. If he is not given such a duty, the methodology arrived at to protect the primacy of the pursuit of criminal investigation, and to establish a hierarchy of powers to be used by the agency, will not be effective. Financial institutions and the banking sector are not relevant in the present context, although later provisions deal with duties of disclosure and the power to oblige people to make disclosures to the director.

Norman Baker (Lewes): Material gained from the interception of communications is, of course, covered by statute, and information obtained by MI5 or special branch would normally be reserved for their eyes only. Is it expected that under the clause, that information would be made available to the director?

Mr. Ainsworth: None of the duties to co-operate and to disclose information cut across the Data Protection Act 1998 or the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. Stipulations in those Acts will stand, and there will be no duty on anyone to disclose information outwith the regulations. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson) seemed to be accusing me of being soft on the proceeds of crime, but we do not want to prevent the passage of information. There are legitimate concerns, and there would be grave concern if we allowed information gained by the director to be passed on and used by the Revenue. However, with that exception, we want to allow the free flow of information between the various agencies involved.

We need to protect the right in law against self-incrimination. Therefore, information gained in civil proceedings under the obligation to co-operate with and make disclosures to the director will not be admissible in subsequent prosecutions in connection with which using it would amount, effectively, to obliging someone to incriminate themselves. That is the only protection, and it would kick in at the point when a person went to court. It would not prevent the passage of information between the various agencies, but would protect the defendant and would make certain that existing rights applying in those circumstances were not eroded.

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