Proceeds of Crime Bill

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Mr. Ainsworth: That is not quite the case. We are merely making it clear that the Bill does not override the assurances that are given in, for instance, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, and those that Parliament wanted with regard to how intercept material can—and cannot—be used. It is important to make it clear that we are not seeking to undermine the safeguards that other legislation provides.

Mr. Grieve: I am grateful to the Minister for his remarks. The amendment was merely intended to stimulate discussion. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Hawkins: I beg to move amendment No. 602, in page 244, line 22, leave out subsection (4).

My comments on the amendment need only be brief. As my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) has said, we merely wish to probe the Government on several matters relating to part 10. If I suggest that subsection (4) does not need to be in the Bill, I may provoke further responses from Government Back Benchers. However, I was puzzled about whether it was necessary for the Bill to contain a subsection that states:

    This section does not affect a power to disclose which exists apart from this section.

If the subsection were not present, why would the powers to disclose that exist apart from those in the clause be affected? The subsection is otiose, and could be deleted to shorten the Bill.

9.45 am

Mr. Grieve: I am always a tiny bit suspicious when I see a provision of this kind in a Bill, because my first reaction is to wonder what we are considering. What are the powers to disclose that exist, apart from those in the clause, that will not be affected? Until one knows what those are, one gets the slight impression—perhaps the wrong impression—that something that the Committee should take into account is being slipped in through the back door.

Will the Minister identify what was in the draftsman's mind when subsection (4) was formulated? What are the current circumstances in which the Minister can cite powers to disclose that would not be affected by the clause, or does he envisage that such powers might be created? In that case, I do not see the need for it, because if such powers were created, that would override the provision. It would be helpful for the Committee to know what is going on.

Mr. Wilshire: I echo what my hon. Friends have said. I, too, am always suspicious of a provision that

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suggests that notwithstanding powers in a clause, anything can be done.

I looked at the explanatory notes, and they contain no reference to what the powers may be. If the Minister does not have a list of the powers that exist at present, I hope that he will send one to us so that we may consider it. If we know what the powers are, we may wish to say on Report that several of them should not be used in these circumstances. During a previous debate, he defended the right to exclude certain measures, so we have established that some things are excluded from disclosure. We must find out what else he has in mind.

Mr. Johnson: It seems to me that the powers to disclose that may be adumbrated by the clause might be rather wide. All journalists have a power to disclose. Would that be excluded? Exactly what are we talking about?

Mr. Wilshire: I assume that my hon. Friend hoped that I might be able to give him an answer, because he intervened on me rather than on the Minister. However, I am speaking because I want an answer. I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me if I do not attempt to answer him, although I am sure that the Minister noted what he said and will reply to him.

The Government have listed at least two things that are excluded from the process without any pressure from us. However, they now say that anything else can be used. Somebody must have researched the other powers that could be used, and we ought to know them. We must be satisfied that we are not letting through all sorts of powers to which we would object.

I am worried—I appreciate that this is not immediately to the point, but it may be a matter for the stand part debate—by the impact of the restrictions placed on disclosure by the Human Rights Act 1998. That is not mentioned in the clause, but we must consider those restrictions. I am sure, Mr. Gale, that you will rule on whether that is a matter for a further amendment or for a stand part debate.

Mr. Ainsworth: The clause allows the director to receive information from any number of permitted persons, who are listed in subsection (5), for the purpose of exercising his functions. However, other information disclosure gateways may exist that allow persons to disclose information to the director. Subsection (4) clarifies that the clause does not affect such gateways. The amendment would remove subsection (4). That might imply that the clause meant that information could be given to the director only for the purposes listed, regardless of any other statutory provision.

We did not have specifics in mind. The subsection is a standard measure, and it is the reverse of what we have just discussed. When we pass legislation, there is a requirement to ensure that it does not cut across safeguards in other legislation. It was necessary to provide that the clause does not cut across any safeguards in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, or provisions in other legislation that allow other bodies to disclose information. If that is allowed, it will continue to be allowed. If safeguards have been

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built into other legislation, such as the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, they are not done away with by the clause.

Mr. Grieve: I understand the Minister's point, but in light of our discussion on clause 420, it is surprising. The hon. Member for Wellingborough said that we are defining carefully the powers that are provided to the director by statute. However, when exercising those powers, he may receive any information that does not contravene the Data Protection Act 1998 or the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. However, subsection (4) says:

    This section does not affect a power to disclose which exists apart from this section.

The Minister said that he does not know of such a power that would cause a problem, so I do not know why the subsection is present. If subsequent legislation introduces a power, that should be done explicitly. I do not like introducing a measure that is an opening for future disclosure without giving it proper consideration, especially because the Bill defines the director's powers so closely.

Mr. Ainsworth: As I told the hon. Gentleman, the provision is standard. It could apply to subsequent legislation or to abilities that are in past legislation. It is included to ensure that we are not removing the right to disclose information that is granted to other people. I do not understand why the subsection is attracting such controversy.

Mr. Wilshire: I rise only because the Minister sat down without offering a list of the powers or telling us what they are. We are asked to sign a blank cheque, and I do not like that. I press him to tell us what the powers are now, or inform us later.

Mr. Stinchcombe: The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. However, if the powers exist, they exist anyway, and the blank cheque will already have been written.

Mr. Wilshire: That may be so. However, I am not a lawyer and perhaps I do not pay as much attention to these matters as I should. Perhaps I should have spotted that and tabled a different amendment. [Interruption.] There seems to be a glorious conference going on. We may get further free advice from another quarter.

The hon. Member for Wellingborough has alerted us that we should have asked these questions. The Minister told us that the powers exist, but if he had said nothing, we might not even have seen the blank cheque. He has drawn it to our attention, and as the Opposition we are entitled to ask him to explain it now, or in writing. I make no apologies for raising the point. We have information to show that there are other powers. If I were a lawyer, I might know the answer to my question. I am not a lawyer, but I am a Member of Parliament, and as such I am entitled to ask the question and to receive an answer.

Mr. Grieve: It slightly troubles me that the whole tenor of our discussions is based on the fact that the director will receive information from the permitted persons for the discharge of his functions. We have thoroughly debated where the information will be

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coming from and for what purpose. I appreciate that draftsmen want failsafe clauses: it is a belt-and-braces job, so in goes subsection (4). The Minister said that, in view of the novel powers of the director, they will be kept under strict control. However, given the restrictive nature of what the director is supposed to be doing, either there is nothing that requires the application of subsection (4) or I would have expected someone to know what subsection (4) is intended to facilitate.

In fairness to the Minister, if there were something else that the subsection was intended to facilitate, I am sure that he would have told us. That is a good argument for the removal of the subsection: it is otiose and will facilitate nothing. If, in future, something is to be facilitated, I expect it to be spelled out. I am worried that subsection (4) will enable a measure to come into operation that provides a channel of information to disclose to the Minister, without Parliament knowing about it. That is my concern in a nutshell.

Mr. Johnson: The devil may lie in ''exists''. That the word is used in its present tense worries me. When this thing becomes statute, I wonder whether ''exists'' will be taken to mean as matters exist now when we are agreeing to the terms of the Bill or whether it will cover all time and future legislation on the powers of disclosure. I hope that my hon. Friend sees my point.

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