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Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his comprehensive explanation of the three orders—which are designed to give teeth to the Proceeds of Crime Act and which we generally support.

I have some brief questions. The first relates to the reference to further orders. As always, we should like to see these reduced to a minimum—that is, consolidated as far as possible. Secondly—an associated question—can the Minister inform us as to why these were not included on the face of the Bill?

Turning first to the disclosure of information order, the director has very wide powers. Again, the bodies from which he can seek information, as the Minister inferred, will need refinement. I note that the disclosed information is restricted to a criminal investigation, the safeguarding of national security and the carrying out of his functions.

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Turning to the investigations order, will the Minister give an indication as to how the code of practice differs from PACE? I gather that it follows PACE in many respects. What responses did the Home Office receive from the consultation practice? I have a question about the record that the appropriate officer must keep. Will that record be full enough; and should it include more of the information on which the application is being made? Should a record also be made of unsuccessful applications for these warrants and orders?

My final question on this aspect of the order relates to the seize and sift powers. PACE was designed to make the seizing and sifting powers easier for the police. Will the Minister give an idea of what reasonable time is required before the property that has been seized and searched can be returned? The suspicion test is similar to powers under PACE, but not quite the same. We should like elucidation on that point.

I turn finally to the order dealing with exemptions from civil proceedings. This clearly makes sense. Again, I note from the Explanatory Memorandum that there was a trawl of government departments. I repeat my request that these orders are consolidated as much as possible, so that the House is not burdened with several piecemeal orders of that kind. This is a workmanlike provision to give effect to the Act and in that respect we welcome it.

8.44 p.m.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, we welcome the publication of the draft code. The code of practice, under Section 377 of the Act, was brought into being to ensure that the various persons specified complied with the code and that failure to comply with any provision would be commented on in court, presumably in the same way as happens under PACE. The document seems very lengthy but I suppose that if one put all the PACE codes together, one would end up with something of a similar length.

There are certain emphases in the document that we very much welcome, particularly in paragraph 10, where it is recognised that the powers of investigation involve significant interference with the privacy of those whose premises are searched and that the appropriate officers should consider at every stage whether the necessary objectives could be achieved by a less intrusive means. It has been my experience over the years that agencies other than the police tend to be rather more difficult to deal with in areas such as this. It is right that the emphasis should be placed at the beginning of the code.

We also welcome the provisions to which the Minister referred concerning financial and legal advice. Those are set out fully and are absolutely unexceptional. Although we would query one or two matters of detail, with which I will not weary the Minister at the moment, it seems that a considerable amount of work has been done on them and that there has been appropriate consultation. We welcome them.

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One matter arises under the disclosure of information order. The schedule refers to functions exercised by the Secretary of State for the purposes of,

    "the prevention, detection, investigation or prosecution of offences relating to a social security matter"


    "checking the accuracy of any benefit, payment or advantage in a social security matter".

The explanatory memorandum accompanying the document says that the provision is there to provide information on benefit fraud. We would welcome an assurance that these powers will be used only to pursue claims in respect of organised benefit fraud and not to pursue individuals who claim benefit for themselves to which they are not entitled—the mundane, run-of-the-mill sort of case that appears before magistrates courts. We hope that these powers will not be exercised in pursuit of trivial matters.

We welcome the third order, which is in accordance with the Act. I have nothing to ask about it.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount and the noble Lord for their comments and their generous support for what is generally agreed to be a workmanlike piece of legislation and a practical and sensible series of orders that have followed therefrom.

The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, was, I suppose, making a plea that we should not use and abuse the secondary legislation process to put something in place that had not been anticipated at the outset. The answer to that is simple and straightforward: of course we cannot anticipate every set of circumstances. One will always require secondary legislation for additional flexibility. When we are framing legislation, we obviously try to anticipate everything that we can, but we will endeavour to keep to an absolute minimum the number of orders that we have to bring forward to give flesh to the bones.

The noble Viscount asked in what respect the code differed from PACE. The only major difference is that of investigation into the proceeds of crime rather than actual offences. The record of proceeding closely follows that set out in PACE. There are many similarities and they follow the general structure.

We carried out a thorough consultation, the fruits of which have been properly put into the Library of the House. I am sure that the noble Viscount can access

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them if he wants. I hope he finds that exercise helpful. It would be wrong and perhaps not the best use of parliamentary time to go into the detail of that consultation at the Dispatch Box this evening.

The noble Viscount raised points about unsuccessful applications and whether the time for the return of property was reasonable. I cannot advise him on those points this evening. I am happy to ensure that we provide him with the information that he has requested. We intend to ensure that we do not unnecessarily inconvenience those who are affected. We shall endeavour to ensure that any property or proceeds are responded to or produced in reasonable time. I am happy to provide more detail on that.

Finally, we will ensure that further orders are kept to a minimum. Further candidates for designation by orders are likely to come to light as the agency gains experience. There will be full consultation on those and we shall ensure that all necessary parties are informed and advised.

I hope that answers the core points that have been raised. I am grateful for the support that has been expressed.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Disclosure of Information) Order 2003

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Filkin, I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 16th January be approved [8th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Bassam of Brighton.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Exemptions from Civil Recovery) Order 2003

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Filkin, I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 22nd January be approved [8th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Bassam of Brighton.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

        House adjourned at seven minutes before nine o'clock.

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