Proceeds of Crime Bill

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The Chairman: Order. I have never laundered money in my life. The word ''you'' refers to the Chair.

Mr. Wilshire: Yes, I was getting carried away. The enthusiasm of my argument led me not to think too carefully about how I phrased it. I shall slow down and measure my words with more care.

My point was not that you, Mr. McWilliam, would launder money, but that it would be possible for someone to spot a possible loophole and say, ''I want to launder money''--I have not laundered money, but ''I'' is easier, and will not fall foul of your strictures--''and if I can involve a sensitive security matter in the process, I might get away with it, because the person who wants to release information will have to attach conditions that specify that it cannot be used.'' Is that really what the Minister wants? Is he suggesting that if we can find an embarrassing, awkward, secretive way of doing it, it will be impossible to pass on the information? What does he have in mind?

The provision might provide a loophole for the prosecuting authorities, and I am sure that that was not intended. What would happen if the person released the information but the attached condition was a ban on releasing it to a court or to the defendant's lawyers? Under the provision, such a condition could be attached. Nothing excludes it.

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We return to the issues with which we dealt this morning. I shall not repeat them, but people cannot unknow what they know.

Under the provisions, it is perfectly possible, if the information is sensitive or embarrassing, to allow the release of information to the director on condition that he not release it to the defendant's lawyers. What would happen? The prosecution would proceed, and the defendant would not know what the information was. People would not necessarily rely on it in giving evidence, but it would underpin the arguments developed, and great strength would be drawn from being able to use that information but being under an obligation not to pass it on. If it were to crop up in the future, the prosecuting authorities, the director--or whoever else--could say, ''Yes, I realise that it probably could have been passed to the defence, and that it probably should have been, but this Act prevented me from doing that.'' Would we not then have handed to the prosecuting authorities and the director a good way of ensuring that justice is not done?

With regard to many of the Committee's discussions, there has been an underlying sense that we are stacking the odds so much in favour of the state, the prosecuting authorities or the director that we are undermining the principles of justice. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson) is not present, because he would have wished to have intervened on that point, and I would have been happy to tell him, yet again, that he is wrong--that he does not need to try to create a Gestapo state to look after those of his constituents who get done over by drug barons.

Will the Minister provide examples of the conditions that might be attached? I want him to reassure us that we are not creating a loophole, by allowing the security services to withhold information, whereby criminals could avoid prosecution by doing things in such a way that the authorities would not act, because they would not be prepared to release certain kinds of information. Above all, I want him to explain why I should not be worried about information being withheld from the court and from defendants.

Mr. Ainsworth: I struggle to see the relevance to the clause of many of the hon. Gentleman's commentsalthough they might be relevant to other clauses.

This clause sets out provisions that restrict the further disclosure of information that has been disclosed to the director. It does nothing else.

Mr. Wilshire: The Minister has answered his own question. He said that he does not see the relevance of my remarks, and that is my point. The clause allows someone to pass information to another person, on the understanding that it is not to be passed to anyone else. For instance, I might pass information to the Minister and say, ''You can know it, but you cannot pass it on to a third party.'' That is what I am concerned about.

Mr. Ainsworth: We are not talking about him and me, we are talking about the Revenue and the director. They represent public bodies that are accountable in different ways.

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The point of the provision is straightforward: if a person or an organisation hands information to the director, that person or organisation is entitled to say to whom, and in what circumstances, he can pass it on. In other words, certain proprieties would be attached to such information. I thought that the hon. Gentleman would support that. If the Revenue gives information to the director, it will want to know that he has a good reason for asking for it, and how he will use it, and what led him to make the request. If he wishes to pass that information to someone else, the Revenue will want to be satisfied that it has some control as to the circumstances in which he will do that, so that it can impose conditions, if that is thought to be necessary. The provision enables the Revenue to do that.

On the extent to which the passing on of information will be controlled, the hon. Member for Beaconsfield raised a point about foreign powers. The restrictions will be imposed on the director, rather than on the foreign Government--or tax authority, or prosecuting authorities. Those restrictions address how, in what way, and with what limitations, the director can further disclose. We have effective control of the way in which he will conduct his business, and he will be obliged to comply with the restrictions that are placed on him.

Mr. Grieve: Of course, I understand that. Let us supposed that a restriction on further disclosure has been imposed on the director. If he intends to make a disclosure to a foreign Government, he will be in a position where he cannot make that disclosure.

Mr. Ainsworth: Possibly.

Mr. Grieve: Or, if he makes the disclosure, there must be a risk that the information will be used subsequently by a foreign Government in a way other than that which the director had undertaken. In such a case, there will be criticism of the way in which the system works.

I accept that part of the argument may be more sensibly discussed under clause 423, because such issues are closely linked. Restrictions may be imposed, but by their very nature it is difficult to see how the director can exercise any control over that further disclosure and how it might be used.

Mr. Ainsworth: In any disclosure made by the director when he has obtained information from elsewhere, it is not only he who should be aware of how it could be used. The person who gave him the information in the first place will also bear in mind how it should be used and is entitled to put restrictions on his disclosure. The point made by the hon. Gentleman about potential abuse is outwith that issue.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 422 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 423

Disclosure of information by Director

Mr. Grieve: I beg to move amendment No. 609, in page 245, line 37, leave out paragraph (a).

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The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 617, in page 245, line 37, leave out 'or may be'.

No. 610, in page 245, line 39, leave out paragraph (b).

No. 621, in clause 427, page 248, line 24, leave out paragraph (a).

No. 622, in clause 427, page 248, line 26, leave out paragraph (b).

Mr. Grieve: We now come a series of amendments that deal with the further disclosure by the director. Subsection (1) states:

    Information obtained by or on behalf of the director in connection with the exercise of any of his functions may be disclosed by him if the disclosure is for the purposes of any of the following--

    (a) any criminal investigation which is being or may be carried out, whether in the United Kingdom or elsewhere.

Amendment No. 609 would delete paragraph (a). Amendment No. 617 would retain that paragraph, but remove the words ''or may be''. A further amendment is consequential and deals with Scotland.

However, what I am asking the Committee to think about is the criminal investigations that may be carried out in the United Kingdom or elsewhere. Paragraph (b) deals with proceedings that have already been started in the United Kingdom or elsewhere.

Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth): Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not the purpose of the Bill to deal with prosecutions for crime generally? Subsection (1)(a) appears to widen the scope of the Bill.

Mr. Grieve: I agree. The intention of the Bill is to deal with the proceeds of crime. That raises the issue of the confiscation of assets from those who have been convicted and have a criminal lifestyle. There are also issues of civil recovery and the taxation of people against whom nothing can be allegedand no civil recovery or confiscation can be madebut who may fall within the taxation powers. Although it features in the Bill, money laundering is a separate matter, with which the director may not be directly connected. I see that the Minister is nodding.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Bill is not directly concerned with criminal investigation. As I said to the Minister earlier, I am worried that the director is being given a series of powers to obtain information that are, on the face of it, greater than those of standard law enforcement agencies. That is, however, difficult to know unless we examine the matter in great detail, and the Minister may be able to help us to do that. I would be grateful for his contribution and the expertise of his officials. However, subsection 1(a) and (b) say that the director's information may be used for purposes of bog-standard law enforcement, rather than for his extraordinary functions.

3.45 pm

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