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Session 2006 - 07
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General Committee Debates
Serious Crime Bill [Lords]

Serious Crime Bill [Lords]

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen: Mr. Joe Benton, † John Bercow
Blunt, Mr. Crispin (Reigate) (Con)
Brokenshire, James (Hornchurch) (Con)
Browne, Mr. Jeremy (Taunton) (LD)
Campbell, Mr. Alan (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)
Coaker, Mr. Vernon (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department)
Cox, Mr. Geoffrey (Torridge and West Devon) (Con)
Eagle, Maria (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State , Ministry of Justice )
Gwynne, Andrew (Denton and Reddish) (Lab)
Hogg, Mr. Douglas (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con)
Lucas, Ian (Wrexham) (Lab)
Moran, Margaret (Luton, South) (Lab)
Mountford, Kali (Colne Valley) (Lab)
Reed, Mr. Jamie (Copeland) (Lab)
Rogerson, Dan (North Cornwall) (LD)
Ruane, Chris (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab)
Waltho, Lynda (Stourbridge) (Lab)
Wright, Jeremy (Rugby and Kenilworth) (Con)
Emily Commander, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Tuesday 3 July 2007


[John Bercow in the Chair]

Serious Crime Bill [Lords]

10.30 am
The Chairman: I should like to begin this morning’s proceedings by welcoming new members of the Committee, including, and perhaps in particular, the new Minister on the Front Bench, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle), and the hon. Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire) on the Opposition Front Bench. Members of the Committee will see from the amendment paper that several amendments have been tabled in the name of Mr. Nick Herbert. Those amendments can, of course, be moved by another hon. Member and they will be moved by the hon. Member for Hornchurch at the appropriate time.
Clauses 12 and 13 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 14

Restrictions on excluded material and banking information
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
James Brokenshire (Hornchurch) (Con): What an unexpected pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Bercow, on yet another occasion. It has been a great privilege to do so in the past. I shall try my best to ensure that I do not go over any ground that has been referred to before in Committee and I hope that, should I dare stray into that territory, I shall be reminded by the Chair. I shall try to avoid it happening.
The clause relates to the application of serious crime prevention orders in the context of excluded material and banking information. The provision makes it particularly clear that a serious crime prevention order can be used to obtain certain documentation relating to banking business. My questions for the Minister concern the discussions that have taken place with the banking industry or other regulators about the application of the provision. Given this country’s obvious reliance on financial services and balancing the need to ensure that effective measures are in place to control the activities of serious organised criminals, we must have some certainty that industry understands what is going on and what the expectations are.
My reading of the Bill suggests that there could be extraterritorial application and that an international bank could be subject to an order if it were felt that a protective measure was required to prevent someone from committing a serious criminal offence in this country. I understand the intent behind the provision, and the meaning of subsections (3)and (4) under which
“Condition A is that the person to whom the obligation of confidence is owed consents”,
is straightforward if someone has consented to the provision of information required under an order. However, subsection (4) has a wide ambit and says that, if the order requires certain documentation to be provided, in essence the bank or financial institution would have to comply.
It is a matter of clearly understanding the position of the banking industry and commerce. Given the potential sanctions for breach if a bank, company or financial institution were to fall foul of the clause, it would be helpful if the Minister could set out in more detail the application of the clause, and what consultation has taken place with and what representations have been received from financial service institutions as well as from regulators here or internationally that may have been involved in the preparation and consideration of the clause.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Vernon Coaker): Mr. Bercow, in the light of your comments, I wish also to welcome a few members to the Committee and make one or two other comments. I should be grateful if you would allow me to indulge you and the Committee. I congratulate those members of the Committee who have now moved on—[ Laughter.] I hasten to add that they have moved on in a positive sense. I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe) now has the post of the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport; and I am delighted for my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) and the new Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright). The Committee’s debates have been of a good-hearted nature, but they have been challenging and have given the Bill proper scrutiny. In that spirit, I ask the hon. Member for Hornchurch to pass on my congratulations and best wishes to the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert), who has been promoted.
I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston. I also wish to mention the hon. Member for Reigate and the Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty’s Treasury, my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth, who are staying put. If it is not too self-indulgent, may I congratulate myself on staying put?—[ Interruption.] It is very self-indulgent. I also welcome my hon. Friends the Members for Stourbridge and for Vale of Clwyd and, lastly, the hon. Member for Hornchurch to the Committee. I wish him well in navigating his way through the Bill.
I am also pleased to see that you are still chairing the Committee, Mr. Bercow, with Mr. Benton.
I start by saying that the measures in clause 14 have been discussed with the British Bankers Association. It has commented on the clause, and the Government have taken account of what it has said; it is perfectly happy with the clause. I hope that that offers the hon. Member for Hornchurch reassurance on that question.
The clause provides that a person cannot be required to produce excluded material under a serious crime prevention order; and that a person cannot be required to provide information in relation to which
“he owes an obligation of confidence by virtue of carrying on a banking business unless”
one of two conditions is met. The first condition is
“that the person to whom the obligation of confidence is owed consents to the disclosure”,
as the hon. Gentleman pointed out. The second condition is that the order requires the disclosure of specific information, or disclosure of a particular kind of information and that the confidential information is of that type.
That is an important safeguard. A serious crime prevention order should not be capable of requiring the disclosure of excluded material. In addition, an order should not be able to require the disclosure of information
“in respect of obligation of confidence”
is owed
“by virtue of carrying on a banking business”
unless a court has given permission for or has specifically considered its disclosure and concluded that disclosure is appropriate.
The Government have said throughout the passage of the Bill that it is important to recognise that the court must always act fairly and proportionately, and it will have to do so on the disclosure of information under the clause.
James Brokenshire: I welcome the assurance on the preparation of the clause and the consultation with the BBA—it is helpful to have that on the record. Was any consideration given to the international aspects of the provision? The BBA was consulted, but did the Government look at the matter from an international angle? Will the measure have applications to banks outside the UK?
Mr. Coaker: We are not sure that that would be necessary under the clause. We are dealing with the prevention of crime in this country, which is why we negotiated with the BBA.
James Brokenshire: Just to clarify, it is not inconceivable that someone intent on committing a crime in this country might seek to use banking services overseas. Will the Minister tell us whether that has been contemplated, so that we can understand the breadth and ambit of the measure? Will the measure apply only to UK banks and financial institutions or could it have wider application to overseas entities, particularly as we know that, in this age of internet banking and other types of trading of finance, it is not impossible for a financial institution outside the UK to be used for improper purposes?
Mr. Coaker: The hon. Gentleman is making a reasonable point. My understanding is that our particular concern was with respect to British banks and financial institutions, but I will consider that point and, if necessary, come back to the hon. Gentleman.
James Brokenshire: I thank the Minister for his assurance that he will look at the matter in greater detail.
I welcome to the Committee the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston and congratulate the Minister on holding his position and his clear modesty in that respect. I also congratulate the other Committee members who have gone on to greater things. I will certainly pass on the Minister’s kind wishes to my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs, who is now the shadow spokesman for Justice, in the spirit in which they were expressed.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 14 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 15

Restrictions relating to other enactments
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): I beg to move amendment No. 109, in clause 15, page 9, line 29, at end insert
‘or non-disclosure is authorised under any other enactment’.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch, may I congratulate the Minister on surviving the reshuffle? It is always a relief. I remember those days when I had to await the summons.
May I also congratulate the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston on taking up her post and my hon. Friend on leading the Opposition in Committee? I look forward to working both for and with him. Let us hope that he votes for my amendments in the way that his predecessor did not always do.
Amendment No. 109 is fairly uncontroversial. It is made to avoid the problems of unintended consequences. It relates to serious crime prevention orders not requiring people to disclose protected documents. At the moment, that protection is limited to disclosure where disclosure is prohibited under any other enactment. It occurred to me that there might be a range of documents where non-disclosure is authorised by any other enactment. I think that there is a slight difference. In order to guard against the law of unintended consequences, we should build in that protection. If the Minister assures me that there is no difference from the present wording in the Bill, I will be reasonably satisfied. However, I personally think that there is a difference.
James Brokenshire: I support the amendment. As always, it is a question of carefully analysing the context and consequences of these provisions. If the Minister can give some assurance or comfort in relation to the detailed and technical point that my right hon. and learned Friend has highlighted, it would benefit the considerations of this Committee and the understanding of the Bill.
Mr. Coaker: I hope that my brief comments on amendment No. 109 will reassure Opposition Members.
Clause 15 provides an important safeguard. We do not intend such orders to cut across any prohibitions on disclosing information that might be contained in other legislation. However, the amendment goes further. It means that in cases in which there is a discretion or restriction on disclosure in another piece of legislation, such disclosure could not be provided for by an order. Discretions or restrictions are specifically drafted as such because disclosure might be appropriate in some instances. I do not think it necessary to extend the provision into such areas; the High Court will be able to decide whether the circumstances of a case make disclosure appropriate.
10.45 am
In addition, clause 37 includes a protection for anyone making such a disclosure. That ensures that actions for breach of a restriction on disclosure cannot be brought against the subject of an order. I hope that, with that reassurance, the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
Mr. Hogg: I remain uneasy. I shall not press the amendment to a Division but it would be helpful to have examples of the instances of discretionary power to withhold that the Minister says exist in legislation. That would put the Committee in a better position to determine whether it wants to insist on the provision, either on Report or in another place. If the Minister can give us an example now, so much the better, but I shall understand if he cannot; the matter is complicated and I would not blame him for not being able to do so. I would, however, expect to have some examples later. If he would be good enough to write to me, we could reflect on the way forward. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 15 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 16 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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