Proceeds of Crime Bill

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John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland): He believes he thinks.

Mr. Wilshire: Yes, we could have both. We could have a belt-and-braces job, with ''believes'' and ''thinks''. It does not really matter.

Mr. Foulkes: I know that it is in order for the hon. Gentleman to reveal his ignorance to the Committee, but is it really wise? This morning he spent half an hour suddenly discovering that the director had powers of taxation, which we spent a whole day discussing only a month or so ago.

Mr. Wilshire: There are two answers to that. First, I have long since stopped worrying about my ignorance; I would not have got very far if that had occupied my mind too much. Secondly, better the sinner that repentethand discovers such things at the last minute, rather than not at all. [Interruption.] I would have hoped that the Minister, who is saying that I am taking up his time, had spent a productive day. He will have done if he has managed to educate a poor demented Conservative Member of Parliament who does not understand such things. That would be time well spent.

Mr. Foulkes: I have spent my day quite well, because I have been doing some statistical analysis. We had a little legal debate earlier, as the hon. Gentleman

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may recalland we have found that Labour members of the Committee have 71 years' experience practising at the Bar or as solicitors, whereas Opposition Members have only 29 years.

Mr. Wilshire: I hope that the Minister has taken into account the many years that I have spent practising at the baralthough mine was the Pig and Whistle rather than the Old Bailey; I am not sure which he is counting. [Interruption.] It was not me who went down this route; I was raising what I consider to be a particularly serious matter.

Mr. Davidson: I am quite enjoying the badinage between the Minister and the Opposition Whip, but is it significant that the hon. Gentleman has looked at the Annunciator several times to check how long he must go on speaking? Is that part of a deliberate delaying tactic to ensure that we do not debate all the clauses that are up for discussion before the guillotine falls? Will he clarify whether that is a strategy or self-indulgence?

Mr. Wilshire: I hope that you will allow me to answer that, Mr. McWilliam, although it is not necessarily relevant. I have indeed looked at the monitor more than once, for the simple reason that while I was away I was in the Chamber, and there were difficulties and issues about the progress that was being made. I was anxious to see whether the arrangements that I had put in place had succeeded. The hon. Gentleman is right: I was looking at the monitor, but not for the reasons that he thought.

I am anxious that the Minister should explain why he believes it right to go beyond the functions that are strictly relevant to the Bill. A subjective test is applied: if the Secretary of State believes something to be true, lo and behold, it is. As I have said before, I do not like that. The Minister can have another go at persuading me that I am wrong.

Mr. Ainsworth: The Minister has no desire to try to persuade the hon. Gentleman, who keeps popping in and out of the Committee, and does not know what we are talking about.

Mr. Grieve: That comment was rather uncalled for.

Mr. Foulkes: It was true.

Mr. Grieve: The participation of hon. Members on both sides of the Committee throughout our deliberations seems to me to have enhanced our discussions. Although I am the first to accept that at times hon. Members may have got the wrong end of the stick, I prefer that to having no discussion at all.

The comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne were perfectly reasonable and valid. Opposition Members' dislike of government by statutory instrument, with possible knock-on consequences in the case of subsection (1)(i), is perfectly reasonable and is a legitimate subject for debate. We discussed the matter extensively today when we debated an earlier issue, and it was proper to raise it in relation to subsection (1)(i), but I shall not press the amendment to a Division. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Grieve: I beg to move amendment No. 613, in page 246, line 6, leave out subsection (2).

We now turn to a further issue that relates to subsection (2). I should like the Minister to make clear the relationship between information obtained by the director in connection with his functions under part 6, and information that he obtains in connection with his other functions. My intention was not to delete the provision but to highlight it by proposing its deletion so as to enable us to discuss it.

An assumption is made about the compartmentalisation of the director's activities, which, on the basis of what the Minister said earlier, will not happen. The brief will be transferred to the director and he will be told, ''We can't prosecute this chap--can you see what you can do about it?'' He will start collating information in order to find out whether he can bring confiscation proceedings, if previous convictions are involved, or civil recovery proceedings, or--the Minister said that this is likely to be the ultimate fallback position--in the event of his failure to do either of those, tax. Part 6 deals with taxation.

In such circumstances, how will subsection (2) work? Although it properly excludes material that the director has acquired for the purposes of carrying out his Revenue functions, at least some of that information may have been obtained in exercising his powers in connection with the other functions.

What will subsection (2) mean in practice? It is unclear. I suppose that it might be argued that if all that the director ultimately does is impose tax, no information can be disclosed. However, as his examination will be on-going, and as he may want to exchange information with other authorities as he proceeds, I am at a loss to see how it will be possible to extrapolate which information he has obtained for his Revenue functions and which for his other functions. In that case, how is the clause to be interpreted?

Mr. Ainsworth: The amendment would remove subsection (2). That subsection, together with subsection (3), prohibits the disclosure of any information obtained by the director using his Revenue functions under part 6, except to the Commissioners of Inland Revenue or to the Lord Advocate for the exercise of his functions under part 3. Amendment No. 613 would allow the disclosure of tax information for the purposes set out in clause 423(1).

The Inland Revenue holds particularly sensitive information about people in connection with its tax functions. The director will obtain the same sensitive information when exercising his functions under part 6. Subsections (2) and (3) recognise the delicate nature of that personal information. The Inland Revenue rightly has particular restrictions on the disclosure of the personal information that it holds. It is therefore important that if Revenue information is passed to the director--or obtained by him in his Revenue functions under part 6--restrictions on its disclosure should apply to him, equivalent to those that apply to the Inland Revenue.

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The disclosure of tax information obtained by the director when exercising his part 6 powers should be a matter for the Inland Revenue. That is what subsections (2) and (3) achieve. The director can pass information back to the Revenue, which will then decide whether it is within its powers to disclose it. I hope that, if read together, subsections (2) and (3) make that clear. For those reasons, I invite the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.

Mr. Grieve: I hope that the Minister will forgive me. I understand exactly what is intended, and I do not have any dispute with him. I echo every word that he has said about that matter. However, I have a worry that I do not think has been fully addressed. When the Revenue's function is transferred to the director and he starts an investigation, he may be able to obtain material that, although intended for tax purposes, could arguably be of direct relevance to the various paragraphs of clause 423(1). It may not be that easy to ascertain what information falls into which category. Has any thought has been given to that issue?

Revenue investigators sometimes go out and ask questions. They may ask neighbours or employers for tip-offs, or ask other people for information. The Revenue has an intelligence network. Let us suppose that an investigator acquires information in the course of his questioning, and that the director, in exercising his Revenue functions, obtains information, intending

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to use it for the purposes of tax, but the information is such that it could be used for other purposes. Must the director disclose that information only back to the Revenue, or is it information that he can use in another context?

I urge the Minister to think about the issue, because the distinction is not as clear cut as he thinks. Subject to his doing that, I will not press the amendment to a Division. I am trying to be helpful to the director, who might have to resolve a potentially difficult issue. The only possible answer that I can see is that if he believed that he was about to exercise a Revenue function, it would be impossible for him to disclose any information that he might obtain. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

It being Five o'clock, The Chairman proceeded, pursuant to Sessional Order D [30 October 2001] and the Orders of the Committee [13 November 2001, 22 January 2002 and 29 January 2002], to put forthwith the Questions necessary to dispose of the business to be concluded at that time.

Clauses 423 to 427 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Further consideration adjourned.--[Mrs. McGuire.]

Adjourned accordingly till Tuesday 5 February at half-past Ten o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
McWilliam, Mr. John (Chairman)
Ainsworth, Mr. Bob
Baird, Vera Brooke, Mrs.
Carmichael, Mr.
Clark, Mrs. Helen
David, Mr.
Davidson, Mr.
Field, Mr. Mark
Foulkes, Mr.
Grieve, Mr.
Harris, Mr. Tom
Hesford, Stephen
Johnson, Mr. Boris
Lazarowicz, Mr.
Lucas, Ian
McCabe, Mr.
McGuire, Mrs.
Robertson, John
Stinchcombe, Mr.
Stoate, Dr. Tredinnick, Mr.
Watson, Mr.
Wilshire, Mr.

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