Draft Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Disclosure of Information) Order 2003 and Draft Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Exemptions from Civil Recovery) Order 2003 and Draft Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Investigations in England, Wales and Northern Ireland: Code of Practice) Order 2003

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Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): It is a pleasure, as always, to be under your chairmanship, Mr. Pike. I echo the Minister's words by saying that it is entirely appropriate that we are debating the three orders together. That will certainly save time.

I want to make one general point before mentioning some points of detail. I do not know to what extent this is a request to the Minister and those who advise him and to what extent it is matter for you, Mr. Pike, as a member of the Chairmen's Panel. Whoever my remarks should be addressed to, I hope that both parties will take them into account, as appropriate.

As the Minister will recall from other Committees that we have both dealt with from the respective Front Benches, there can be a problem when one tries to get hold of papers for what are understandably somewhat technical and complex matters. The Vote Office does not always have a full set.

I am not making a specific criticism, because I know that the Minister is always courteous and helpful and tries to provide us with the information that he has. The Clerks, and particularly those in the Vote Office, are also enormously helpful. However, for whatever reason, at the end of last week—this is not the first time that this has happened with Home Office papers—the Vote Office had only the very brief draft statutory instruments. No one there could give me, or any other member of the Committee who might ask for it, the helpful draft code of practice, which I have seen today and which makes up the bulk of the written material. It would be helpful if those who are behind the Minister were able to ensure that the full set is sent to the Vote Office in future. I had two statutory instruments, but not the third or any of the background explanatory notes. I certainly did not have the most important document—the lengthy and detailed draft code. I know that the Minister will want to look into that matter, and perhaps you too, Mr. Pike, will take it back to the Chairmen's Panel. Your fellow Chairmen have heard me make these points before.

I hope that in future it will always be the practice that either the Vote Office will have nothing, or it will have everything. There is nothing more dangerous than members of the Committee being given part of the story but not the whole story: if one does not know that there is further material to come, because it is not referred to in the drafts that one has received, one does not know to ask for it. I hope that what I have said will be recorded and acted upon, and that when the Minister responds, he will be able to say some reassuring things.

Now that I have had the opportunity to read the draft code of practice, I agree with what the Minister said. He and I are both veterans of the lengthy debates

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on the Proceeds of Crime Act when it was a Bill—with 460 clauses and 12 schedules, if I remember correctly, it was the biggest Bill in the last Session of Parliament, and the Committee debated it for about 38 sittings. The Minister was right to say that much of our debate was about the opportunities for those under investigation to receive legal advice.

The Minister said that the responses to the consultation on the draft have been placed in the Library. Have both the Law Society of England and Wales and the Law Society of Scotland had the opportunity to have their concerns taken on board? Having read the latest draft, although the Minister helpfully said that that was not necessarily the very final version, and is giving us a further draft today, I am still concerned about the use of the words ''urgent cases'' in paragraph 141, under which questions may be asked and answers given

    ''without the presence of a solicitor and/or qualified account.''

I presume that that is a typographical error, and that the last word should be ''accountant''. If there are still typos in the code, perhaps it is just as well that it is still a draft, and the wording has not been finalised.

Is the Minister prepared to listen to further representations both from me and from my hon. Friends on both the Front and Back Benches? We still have some of the concerns that we expressed in debates on that part of the Proceeds of Crime Bill in Committee. I do not think that the legal and financial advice provisions are right yet. There are too many conditional words such as ''normally'' in the draft, and there are still dangers for the law-abiding person.

I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm that he will listen, especially because he talks about the need for all such provisions to be proportionate. We certainly agree that that should be the aim, but I am not sure that the present version is absolutely right yet. It is, of course, helpful to see the draft, and to have whatever is said this afternoon taken into account.

When the Minister spoke about the order concerning the disclosure of information, he helpfully talked about disclosure both to the new director and by the new director. He will recall that during our debates on the Bill in Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) and I, as the two shadow Ministers, expressed concerns about two matters. One was that parts of the Bill might be thought to be developing a ''Big Brother is watching you'' attitude, and that—albeit in a legitimate cause, because we always wanted the legislation to be effective in stopping significant international criminals, money laundering and so on—too many people would be under surveillance for too many reasons.

There was no dispute between the two Front Benches, or between any of the members of the Standing Committee on the Bill, about the aims, but we were concerned that, as well as the powers being extended so widely that people felt that there was intrusive surveillance, there was also a danger that sometimes a sledgehammer was being used to crack a nut. An example of that has come up more recently in

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my constituency, and I shall speak briefly about that before I finish my speech.

On the ''Big Brother is watching you'' point, when I read about the various new groups of people to whom the director was going to be able to disclose information, I was concerned to see that those included people such as officers authorised under section 9 of the Employment Agencies Act 1973—just to pick out one example. I am sure that there are all kinds of good reasons why the director might need to pass information to the Gaming Board, because that clearly covers an area of possible money laundering, or to financial investigators in Northern Ireland, and so on.

However, although I am not an expert on what section 9 of the Employment Agencies Act says, passing information to employment agencies seems to take the legislation into a rather wider field than the purely criminal investigations that we were talking about in Committee. I am sure that the Minister will have a good answer to that, and that the relevant provisions of the Employment Agencies Act will bear some relationship to organised crime. However, I ask the Minister and those who advise him to bear it in mind that we shall watch the future progress of the measure carefully to try to ensure that it will remain proportionate, and that the Government do not try to extend the categories too widely.

The Minister will recall—he recognised this as a serious point when we were considering the Proceeds of Crime Bill in Committee—that we do not want too much information flowing about in the corridors of power, so that people feel that all their private information is being passed around too widely. That is particularly the case for information that, although it was inquired into legitimately, may turn out to concern perfectly law-abiding people. On occasion, something raises a suspicion, leading to an investigation into a person, but it turns out that the person concerned is innocent. We have always been concerned about the protection of the innocent, and that is what I am concerned about with respect to the relevant portion of the draft code on legal and financial advice.

I want to mention a constituency matter that relates to the provisions that we are considering. The clearing banks, in particular, now respond to their customers in ways that in many cases are driven by the new legislation. It is understandable; all the banks have been told that there is a new law, that there will be codes of practice and a tougher regime, and that they must be tough with their customers. However, I think that I now have an example of what worried my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield and me, as well as some other members of the Committee that considered the Proceeds of Crime Bill, including Labour Back Benchers. We were worried about a sledgehammer being used to crack a nut.

I was contacted recently by a lady with a record of distinguished voluntary service in my constituency. She has been honoured for her service to the elderly, in particular. One of the many valuable organisations in which she has been involved for many years is one my local charities—the Windlesham United Charities and

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Poors' Allotments. I should explain that ''Poors' Allotments'' is land held by the charity that raises an income to be used for charitable purposes.

The charity dates back several hundred years. Mrs. Christie is the clerk to the trustees of the charity, and has been for many years. She contacted me in some alarm because, she said, she had received a letter and what is called a personal details form from one of the major clearing banks. I understand that all the clearing banks are sending out similar forms. It required completion by new trustees. She said that she understands that that bank will accept new trustees' signatures on cheques only if the form is completed. It is mandatory. She asked me:

    ''Could you please investigate the origin and reason for such a detailed series of questions some of which are an invasion into one's privacy and the Trustees are refusing to complete this form. I am sure you will agree that this is not the way to encourage volunteers to offer their services as Trustees!''

I have spoken to Mrs. Christie and explained that, because I was the shadow spokesman on the Bill, I am well aware of concerns that the legislation might have an unwanted effect. The banks, in a legitimate attempt to stop money laundering, might ask absolutely everyone questions, because it would be easier to operate a blanket policy for everyone. There might not be any de minimis provision in their policies.

I appreciate that the Minister has no responsibility for what individual banks do. They are private companies listed on the stock exchange and they will decide for themselves. However, a way in which he could help, if he were minded to, would be by using his office to advise the banks that the way in which they are complying with the law is counterproductive in social terms. There are equivalents in all constituencies of such worthwhile charities as the one I have mentioned. We know how difficult it is to get people to volunteer for good works. The last thing that I want to do is deter people. What is happening is rather like what I have noticed about parish councils—I do not know whether other members of the Committee have noticed the same. Because of similarly intrusive questionnaires from the Standards Board for England, people are not prepared to stand for the parish council.

The banks' questionnaires originate from the 2002 Act. They have all changed their policies in the light of the legislation. I realise that he does not have it totally in his power, but I hope that the Minister will say something that we can use to try to persuade the banks to say that a de minimis provision should exist to stop such intrusive questions being asked.

I hope that it is appropriate to investigate those concerns. We are talking about codes of practice and the way in which this massive new piece of legislation, which is perfectly valid in its aim, will operate. The Minister will recall that we never opposed the principle of the legislation; we were always concerned about the detail. I have given one little local example from my constituency, and I expect many other MPs of all parties to find similar examples in theirs. Representatives of charities will write to them with the same concerns.

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I am sure the Minister will agree that we do not want the legislation to operate in that way. I hope that he will do what he can to ensure that the same kind of problem does not arise in future. That is all that I wish to say, Mr. Pike. We do not oppose the orders, but we do wish to keep an eye on them. We have had some concerns, which I have expressed. I look forward to hearing the Minister's response to those concerns.

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