Proceeds of Crime Bill

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Mr. Ainsworth: It is not my understanding that an interim receiver would, in normal circumstances, be able to justify to the court being given a power that allowed him to break into any premises throughout the length and breadth of the United Kingdom. He would have to justify the extent of the power.

In all probability, the expected circumstances will apply: the receiver will go to the court, inform it about his investigations, and seek to persuade it that he should have the power to search premises A—or premises A, B, C, D, E, F and G. He will have to justify the powers that he is requesting.

Mr. Davidson rose—

Mr. Ainsworth: I had better give way to my hon. Friend this time or he will be angry with me, and I dare not risk that before Christmas.

Mr. Davidson: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I had hoped to speak myself, but on my return after an absence of a week, I found that members of the Committee were merely making a series of interventions on the Minister, so I thought that I had better swiftly make mine.

I was distressed by the mention of Anton Piller. I initially thought that that was a foreign language, but I now remember that Anton Piller was a second-rate centre half for Dundee in the 1980s—although I do not understand how he is relevant to the discussion.

Nothing has changed during my absence. The Conservatives are still behaving as the criminals' friend. They are attempting to make the pursuit of villains as difficult as possible—especially in circumstances such as those that have been mentioned, when speed might well be of the essence, and it might be essential that the prosecution, or the pursuers, should not have to go back to court, because that would cause an undue delay.

What would happen if during their investigation of a particular premises, the receiver and his colleagues discovered that there were other premises of which they had not previously been aware, which were relevant to the case? They should be able to go and pursue their investigations at those premises immediately; they should not have to go back to court. Is this not simply another instance of the Opposition saying that they support the Government's legislation, while seeking to make matters as difficult as possible?

The Chairman: Order. That was supposed to be an intervention, but it turned into a speech. I remind hon. Members that there is a rule about tedious repetition, because we are getting close to breaking it.

Mr. Ainsworth: Indeed, Mr. McWilliam.

I do not know anything about Anton Piller.

Mr. Grieve: It was a ship.

12 noon

Mr. Ainsworth: I was about to suggest that the two Anton Pillers might have been the same person—because perhaps anyone who plays for Dundee United should be subject to civil proceedings. But clearly that cannot be right, because apparently the other Anton Piller was a ship, not a person. We are talking about two different things.

More seriously, the hon. Gentleman suggested that the interim receiver would have the power to move on. As I understand it, the receiver would not have the power to move on. The court would have sought clear justification for the breadth of the powers asked for in the first place. Only in abnormal circumstances would the court give the receiver the massively wide powers needed to do the kind of things suggested by the Opposition and by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok, such as that receivers would be allowed to go to a house up the street and search that, too. That would not be allowed. The breadth of the power would have been limited.

Mr. Carmichael: How nice it is to have the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok back among us. It is good to see that whatever the other difficulties of the residents of Pollok, they seem to be enjoying a spell of good weather at the moment, judging by his appearance.

If the position is as the Minister suggests, could not paragraph 3(1)(a) be re-written to say something like, ''enter any premises in the United Kingdom to be named in the order''?

Mr. Ainsworth: I am in serious danger of seeming to be far too consensual. I have little sympathy with the amendment because of the way in which it was worded and presented, but as an attempt to bridge the gap between us, I will reflect on the points that have been made. If it seems that there is some requirement or predisposition of the court to grant powers wider than those that I envisaged, I will consider whether the drafting needs to be improved. However, I have to say to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland that I do not think that that is a problem. It is clear that the court has the discretion to require a detailed justification of the powers requested, and it will do just that.

Mr. Stinchcombe: Under the scheme that the Minister advocates, will the court have the discretion to specify, if it feels that that would be right, the premises to which the order applies, or will it be obliged to grant the power in the broadest possible terms?

Mr. Ainsworth: There will be no obligation for the court to grant the power. The interim receiver will have to go to court and justify the powers that he requires to carry out his investigations, and the court will listen to his case before it decides on the breadth of the power.

Mr. Davidson rose—

Mr. Ainsworth: I give way to my suntanned hon. Friend.

Mr. Davidson: I shall respond to those points in a moment.

Will the Minister clarify what will happen if, after premises have been investigated, new information is discovered about other premises? Will the powers cover a subsequent investigation, and if not, is it not right that they should? In a recent case involving money laundering, the police raided premises and found a mobile phone line connected to other premises of which they were unaware. It had been used to warn people in those other premises. The police immediately went round there, but just missed catching the people. We do not want to make the provision unduly cumbersome. If when premises are being investigated, it is found that other premises are directly connected, they should be investigated, too.

Mr. Ainsworth: My hon. Friend seems to be endorsing something that I thought that he was protesting about a few moments ago. If new evidence becomes available to the interim receiver and he seeks further powers than he was granted by the court in the first place, he will have to go back to the court to obtain them. He will not be allowed to move up the road and follow his nose. The court hearing will be ex parte—goodness me, I am slipping into the language of lawyers. The interim receiver will receive such power without the prior knowledge of the person whose premises he intends to search, but he will not be able to take such action without going back to the court if it is outwith the powers that he first received.

Mr. Davidson: Why not? Let us suppose that clear evidence is discovered, which will lead the interim receiver to other premises. I appreciate that it will sometimes be entirely reasonable to ask the court for additional powers. However, in other circumstances it may not be, because there will be a real danger that in the meantime, the property will be removed. Could it not then be justified under the Bill for action to be taken and justified subsequently? That subsequent justification would be the guarantee that the power would not be abused. I am not suggesting that the interim receiver wander up a street on a whim, but that he should do so when, and only when, there is clear evidence that the property for which he is searching has been moved elsewhere, and that the matter is urgent. Could not it be justifiable for the interim receiver to take action first and explain himself later?

Mr. Ainsworth: Such issues may have been covered under the original power when it was granted. The interim receiver could seek a broadening of that power. An individual who considered that the interim receiver was using his power unreasonably could seek power from the court to narrow or restrict what was being asked for. The position is clear—but you were right, Mr. McWilliam: we are in danger of being tediously repetitious. I shall be happy to examine the matter raised by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland and check whether we are justifying the provision adequately. However, I am not enamoured of the amendment, and I will resist it. I do not want to give the Opposition the impression that we shall repeat our reaffirmation of the court order that will be given.

Mr. Hawkins: We shall press the amendment to a Division. I am disappointed by the Minister's response—but I shall not repeat our arguments, except to say that I had already welcomed back the bronzed hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok, but he was out of the Room at the time.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok wants to go even further than the Bill. Will he consider seriously what his reaction would be if an entirely innocent constituent was affected by such draconian powers? In his entirely laudable attempt to hit the Mr. Bigs, he works on the assumption that the only people affected by the Bill will be the guilty. If we could be certain about that, there would be no problem. We are not trying to water down the Bill as he suggested, but to ensure that it does not adversely affect the innocent. The problem with the powers given under paragraph 3 to search any premises is that they are far too wide. We are trying to ensure that entirely innocent people are not at risk of having their doors suddenly kicked down by an interim administrator who has simply made an honest mistake about the wrong person in the wrong place. As the Minister is aware, human nature being what it is, mistakes are made.

Mr. Davidson: The hon. Gentleman asked what would happen if entirely innocent people in my constituency had their doors kicked down. I would invite them to go with me into their drawing room and I would say to them, ''A mistake has been made. We are very sorry. Human nature being what it is, inevitably mistakes are made.'' I would be quite prepared to justify the existence of mistakes, and I believe that my constituents in general would accept them, because of the greater good being pursued. What worries me about my constituency is that doors are being kicked in on a regular basis, by dealers and by people with baseball bats and knives pursuing debts, and for robberies and the like. I mentioned earlier how some families in my constituency—

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