Clause 347 - Requirements for making of disclosure order

Proceeds of Crime Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 4:45 pm ar 29 Ionawr 2002.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Lewes 4:45, 29 Ionawr 2002

I beg to move amendment No. 552, in page 201, line 30, at end add—

'(4) In deciding whether information which may be provided is of substantial value, the court must be satisfied that the information is directly connected to determining whether someone is in possession

of recoverable property and to any offence through which that property was obtained.'.

You were not here this morning, Mr. Gale, when we had a discussion about the relationship between the Bill and the Human Rights Act 1998. I fear that I may have to refer to that in passing, because I am worried about the clause's compatibility with the terms of that Act.

This morning, the hon. Member for Beaconsfield moved an amendment because he was worried that disclosure orders should not apply in cases of civil recovery investigations. The amendment was not incorporated in the Bill, although I cannot remember whether it was put to a vote. The Minister replied that the provision had to be in the Bill, and that if it were removed, that would leave a big hole. He said that such matters would be best addressed by considering the safeguards—or lack of them—in clause 347.

That brings me to amendment No. 552. I wish to remind the Committee that both the Minister and the explanatory notes concede that disclosure orders are ''intrusive''. It appears that the Government are concerned that the power should be exercised sparingly, and with proper attention to safeguards. The purpose of the amendment is to strengthen those safeguards.

I have mentioned the human rights legislation, and I want the Minister to place on the record his view about the compatibility of the clause, as it is currently drafted, with, in particular, a person's rights under article 8 and article 6.2 of the convention—not least because clause 348 makes failure to provide information to the state into a criminal offence.

I accept that such requirements are not brand new. Disclosure orders can be issued in company and financial investigations, and that is considered acceptable. However, that is a narrow and specific investigative field, in which such orders are justified on the basis of proportionality, particularly in the light of the need to regulate financial services—a subject that will interest the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson).

There is a difference between that narrow application and the much wider application that subsection (3) would permit if the amendment were not accepted. The application of that power might be justifiable with regard to, for example, a requirement in company and financial law to deal with the detection of corporate offences, and to the position of a person who might be involved in that, such as a company director. However, under the clause—especially the requirement under subsection (2)(b)—the power could have a very wide application that would cover an almost limitless number of offences, including potentially trivial matters. Therefore, the potential scope for abuse of the provision is significant. That represents a real danger. It is important to remind the Committee that, as the Government admit, the clause introduces intrusive powers.

I presume that the Minister will refer to subsection (3), which states:

There must be reasonable grounds for believing that information which may be provided in compliance with a requirement imposed under the order is likely to be of substantial value.

Although I welcome that safeguard, it focuses on the order's value to an investigation. A disclosure order should also be shown to have a rationale, or connection, with regard to its aims, so it should focus on the property.

Photo of Mr Paul Stinchcombe Mr Paul Stinchcombe Llafur, Wellingborough

Does the hon. Gentleman not feel that the clause already contains the focus for which he is arguing? It requires that information required under the order

is likely to be of substantial value . . . to the investigation for the purposes of which the order is sought.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Lewes

I agree that the words

for the purposes of which the order is sought

are helpful.

The hon. Gentleman appears to be implying that my amendment is unnecessary. If that is the case, he will have no objection to the words that I have added. As the Minister and the Government accept that the clause introduces an intrusive power, it would be prudent to adopt the belt-and-braces approach that the amendment proposes.

Amendment No. 552 would add a new subsection (4), which would state:

In deciding whether information which may be provided is of substantial value, the court must be satisfied that the information is directly connected to determining whether someone is in possession of recoverable property and to any offence through which that property was obtained.

Under the clause, disclosure orders could be used to obtain general background information about the movements and activities of suspected persons or suspected property, but that is not a sufficient reason to justify an intrusive clause. Other powers are open to the Government if they wish to secure information about suspected persons or suspected property movement. They have powers under the Police Act 1997 and under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, and in some ways those tests are harder. If the Government want to go beyond the narrow issue that links a person with property, the test should be harder. The test is in law already, and the Government can avail themselves of such powers under the two Acts that I have mentioned. That is a more appropriate way forward, and I hope that the Minister will have some sympathy with my argument.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

It is not often, even in this Committee, that a Conservative Member—particularly one on the Front bench—supports a Liberal Democrat amendment. I now find myself in that position—with one slight refinement. I would have been happier if the amendment moved by the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) had said that the court must be ''satisfied, so that it is sure''. In recent years, that has been the usual replacement in English law for ''beyond reasonable doubt''.

Would the hon. Gentleman have been happy if my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield and I had added ''satisfied, so that it is sure''? [Interruption]—I

see that he is helpfully agreeing. I am grateful for that, because it confirms the decision made by my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield and myself. We did not think that it was worth while proposing a further amendment simply to add those words, because we believed that the issues would be sufficiently debated when discussing the amendment that the hon. Member for Lewes and his colleagues had tabled. I strongly believe that those words would add a further safeguard, and I agree with what the hon. Gentleman said.

We need to see that the information is directly connected to determining whether a person is in possession of recoverable property and if he is linked to any offence through which that property was obtained. Even the zealots on the Government Back Benches—led, as always, by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok—will realise that the amendment is not an attempt by the Liberal Democrats to water down the Bill. It is not only a helpful safeguard, but a useful clarification. I hope that the Minister will accept the amendment, even if he does not agree completely with the suggested words. He may even prefer my refinement of them—but perhaps that is too much to hope for.

Ministers have been very helpful today, and have already accepted another Grieve/Hawkins amendment. Perhaps the Government will also say that, on reflection, Opposition members of the Committee—whether Liberal Democrat or Conservative—have a good point. I certainly hope so. I will listen with interest to what the Minister says. The hon. Member for Lewes may be right to predict that the Minister will talk about the other subsections that would appear before suggested new subsection (4), but on this occasion, I strongly support the thrust of the hon. Gentleman's amendment.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 5:00, 29 Ionawr 2002

The amendment would require that the court be satisfied that the order is likely to be of substantive value to the investigation. The thrust of the Opposition amendment is to qualify that, and, in effect, to forge a stronger link between the investigation and the property or the underlying offence. A disclosure order is a significant power, designed to assist the director in his investigations. For example, the subject of a civil recovery investigation may have gone to great lengths to try to put property that is—or represents—the proceeds of unlawful conduct beyond the reach of the director. I have had the impression when we have been discussing the powers under part 8 we seem to have forgotten, or to be prepared to forget, some of our earlier debates on civil recovery, and the extreme ingenuity that is used to hide the proceeds of crime and render them incapable of recovery. I ask Opposition Members to bear that in mind when they constantly try to rein in the ability of the investigatory powers to recover those proceeds.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

The Minister, who is being fair in his approach to the issues, should recognise that without undermining the spirit of the Bill, there is a legitimate reason why we should debate the question of what reins should be attached to any investigatory body. When we are extending powers, it is Parliament's job

to ask how far the new powers should go. Again, I see the hon. Member for Lewes nodding in support of my comments.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I have had that lecture from the hon. Gentleman, his colleagues and the hon. Member for Lewes on more than a few occasions, and each time I have retorted that I accept that completely. However, I hope that there is an equal realisation that we do not sit here to waste our time and pass legislation that only looks good on paper, and simply gives everyone the nice warm feeling that we are doing something about the issues that inflict such damage on our communities.

As we go through the winter spending hours on the Bill, we should be trying to make law enforcement much more effective than it has been to date. I remind the hon. Gentleman that it is perfectly justifiable to say that such enforcement has not been very effective in recovering the proceeds of crime, compared with the powers that other countries have taken and used to make a considerable dent in the profitability of criminal activity there. We should bear both sides in mind when we discuss the issues. No one wants to take powers that are not proportionate to the problem, but we are not here to waste our time.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Opposition Whip (Commons)

I ask this question in genuine innocence. In what way does the Minister suggest that the amendment would weaken the legislation? His reasons are not coming out clearly. I can see some arguments for it, and despite his robust response, the Minister has not told us why the amendment would weaken the Bill.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am happy to do that, and will move on to it, but when I am repeatedly told how draconian, awful and utterly uncalled for the legislation is, Members should expect some retort, and some justification of what lies behind the Bill.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Ceidwadwyr, Spelthorne

We seem to have reverted to earlier attitudes, which I find unfortunate. There is no disagreement between the Minister and the Opposition that we must do something. However, when he tries to say that just because we must do something, what the Government suggest is the only thing that we can do, that is when we part company. Does he accept that we do not deny that we must do something, simply because we disagree with what he is trying to do?

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

No, I do not want to say that at all. If the hon. Gentleman introduced proposals that would make the legislation even more workable and effective, I would be happy to hear about them.

Photo of Ian Davidson Ian Davidson Labour/Co-operative, Glasgow Pollok

Does the Minister agree that if the Opposition parties continually table amendments that would weaken the legislation, we are entitled to assume that they want to weaken the legislation? If they want to make it work better by introducing proposals that would make the Bill tougher, more precise or more exact, we would examine them in that spirit, but the fact that they are always producing weakening amendments leads us to believe that they are yet again on the side of the collaborators rather than the innocents.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I was trying to make part of that point in my response to the hon. Member for Spelthorne, although my hon. Friend makes it in his own way, and perhaps goes a little further than I would; that is in line with the constant allegation that I am a big Mr. Softy.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

The Minister will accept that we are entitled to raise our queries and he is entitled, as he puts it, to retort. Usually the battle is between the Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield and me, and it would be difficult to imagine a more moderate and reasonable way than the one in which the hon. Member for Lewes moved the amendment, as Hansard will show. He did not accuse the Minister of being draconian or anything else, which is an allegation that Opposition Members have sometimes made with regard to other issues. He moved the amendment in a moderate and reasonable way, as I hope I did when I supported him.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

If my hon. Friend will forgive me, let us move on, as we are making no headway on the issue, and I am still trying to answer the question asked by the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Mrs. Brooke).

Information that is obtained through a disclosure order will greatly assist the director to determine whether particular property may be recoverable. It may also help the director to establish the good arguable case that he requires for an interim receivership order, and the stronger case that is needed to achieve success at the substantive civil recovery hearing. The disclosure order will require a person to provide information relevant to the investigation for which the order is sought. The information sought must be of substantive value to the investigation.

Some information may not be directly connected to determining whether the property concerned is recoverable, but it is still relevant and of substantive value. For example, an order may be requested in relation to a person's financial affairs, which may have a bearing on the provenance of recoverable property. Such information would not necessarily be directly connected with the property itself, but could still be of substantive value to the investigation. It is self-evident that the order is intrusive. There is no need for any great confession; we do not deny that in any way. Anyone who considers the power accepts that it is intrusive. For that reason, the Bill contains several conditions that relate to the application of the disclosure order, which will ensure that it is used appropriately and proportionately.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Lewes

I am glad that the Minister accepts that the order is intrusive, which is the word used in the explanatory notes. However, does he accept that under clause 347(2)(b), many people of many different types, who may be completely unconnected with any criminal activities, may be caught and required to provide information?

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Yes, but let us consider how the powers will be used and the justification that will be needed in the first place. Under subsection (2), which relates to confiscation investigations,

There must be reasonable grounds for suspecting that . . . the person specified in the application for the order has benefited from his criminal conduct.

For the civil recovery investigation,

There must be reasonable grounds for suspecting that . . . the property specified in the application for the order is recoverable property or associated property.

Those provisos are already included in part 2 and part 5.

Under subsection (3), there is a requirement that

There must be reasonable grounds for believing that information . . . is likely to be of substantial value . . . to the investigation.

The further safeguard is that the Human Rights Act 1998 requires a judge not to act in a way that is incompatible with convention rights. For example, the director will have to satisfy the judge that an infringement of a person's right to privacy under article 8 of the convention is proportionate to the benefit to be gained from making the order.

In civil recovery investigations, the information sought by the director through a disclosure order is likely to be connected to determining whether the property held by someone is recoverable. That is the basic purpose of the civil recovery investigation. It may also relate to information about unlawful conduct through which the property was obtained. However, the information may not relate to both issues, as the amendment would require.

When the recoverable property represents the original property, it may be several stages removed from the unlawful conduct through which the property was originally obtained. Intricate measures may have been taken to conceal the origins of the property. In such cases, it is unlikely that the order would reveal information connected to the unlawful conduct itself. None the less, it may provide information of substantial value that related to whether the property was recoverable, or, indeed, whether it was associated property. The amendment would mean that the director would not be able to apply for a disclosure order in such cases.

The amendment refers to information directly connected to an offence through which recoverable property was obtained. That could be taken to imply that there must be a link between the recoverable property and a specific offence. As we said when discussing part 5, that will not often be the case. Disclosure orders used by the director will not be used in run-of-the-mill confiscation cases. They will be used in complex cases that are taken on by the director and involve confiscation or civil recovery.

As I said earlier, I am talking not about thousands of such cases, but an agency that is targeting particular areas where it feels that it can bring a difficult-to-mount civil recovery case. We shall not be dealing with simple cases in which it would be dead easy to tie back the property to the original offence. The property obtained through unlawful conduct should not have to be linked to a specific offence. It is not necessary to

show that the property was obtained through a particular kind of unlawful conduct, so long as it can be shown to have been obtained through unlawful conduct of one kind or another.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

I accept that the Minister's explanation is helpful. He said that the measure would be used only in the most complex cases. Even though Ministers give certain assurances and say that that is how matters will normally proceed and that guidance will be available to ensure that that is so, we must be careful that the wording in the Bill that could apply more widely is absolutely right and goes only so far as is proportionate. That is my argument, and that of the hon. Member for Lewes. It is easy to say that the provision will be used only in such cases, but there would be no restriction under the Bill unless the amendment were accepted.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The restriction under the Bill is the fact that the disclosure orders must be first approved by the judicial authority. As the hon. Gentleman probably knows better than me, the argument about the European convention on human rights concerns proportionality. The justification for the issuing of the order meets his point. That is not missing from the Bill.

The amendment as drafted would apply to both civil recovery and confiscation investigations. It would mean that a disclosure order could not be made in a confiscation investigation, since the concept of ''recoverable property'' applies only to part 5. We believe that the provisions ensure that the disclosure order will be made only when appropriate and proportionate. The amendment would reduce the effectiveness of the order and the director's ability to obtain the information that he needs. I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Ceidwadwyr, Cities of London and Westminster 5:15, 29 Ionawr 2002

I shall be brief, as we have discussed the clause in some detail. There is no doubt that disclosure orders are intrusive, and Opposition Members have reiterated their strong concerns on the subject. I instinctively feel great concern about the idea of the large-scale use of disclosure orders on innocent people. People may subsequently prove to be guilty of all sorts of crimes, but it is only with strong safeguards that the court should be able to impose on the accused the duty to disclose their financial affairs and details of their property.

The three subsections of clause 347 offer the scope, at least, for a fishing expedition. I appreciate that, as the Minister says, in general there is little doubt that a British court would take an appropriate and proportionate approach, but that is why the hon. Member for Lewes wanted to insert a new subsection. It is easy to trust the courts, and in the great majority of cases there would be no issue at stake. However, if we are simply to rely on the wording, that is all the more reason to firm it up as proposed.

I would feel more comfortable if the court had to

be satisfied that the information is directly connected to determining whether someone is in possession of recoverable property and to any offence through which that property was obtained.

That would provide a sort of safeguard, but would not water the provisions down or make the process more difficult. Above all, the safeguard would mean that there would be no room for lawyers to make a big argument based on the European convention on human rights if there were some sort of dispute.

As the Minister has rightly said, it is important that a disclosure order is made only when it is relevant and of substantive value, but the important question is, to which investigation should it be made? My grave concern is that the provision could be used as a fishing expedition not only for the investigation in hand, but for future investigations involving people who may be subject to other charges in future. For that reason, Opposition Members would feel more comfortable with the idea proposed in the amendment. I am a little sorry that the Minister does not see some merit in the arguments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) and the hon. Member for Lewes, who moved the amendment.

Photo of Ian Davidson Ian Davidson Labour/Co-operative, Glasgow Pollok

I speak as a critical friend of the Minister. I would like to respond to points made earlier by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath, whom I hope to see at 9 pm at the annual general meeting and at 9.30 for training in the bar.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

May I say—without infringing on your patience, I hope, Mr. Gale—that I have already made it known that I propose to be in Room 19 at 9 o'clock to propose the hon. Gentleman's re-election as captain of the Lords and Commons rugby club? He has my word on that.

Photo of Ian Davidson Ian Davidson Labour/Co-operative, Glasgow Pollok

I am grateful for that. I understand that the hon. Gentleman might bring the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) with him, and I look forward to hearing about his Ugandan adventures.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

Order. I am not sure what disclosures are likely to take place in Room 19—indeed, I shudder to think what they may be—but I am certain that they have nothing to do with the subject under discussion.

Photo of Ian Davidson Ian Davidson Labour/Co-operative, Glasgow Pollok

The way to find out about the disclosures is to be there at 9 o'clock.

The hon. Member for Surrey Heath confused style and substance. The Liberals' proposal was made in a cuddly, innocuous, soft-centred and liberalish way, but that does not mean that its effect would not be malignant. Again, I notice that only two of the three Liberals on the Committee are here. That makes me sorry that they did not give one of their places to the Scottish National party, which is regrettably absent from these discussions.

The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) regrets the fact that disclosure orders are intrusive—but they are designed to be so. That is the point of the orders. Frankly, I favour fishing expeditions. If there were more of them, more of the guilty would be caught, and more of my constituents whose lives are poisoned by drugs and drug dealers would stay alive.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Ceidwadwyr, Spelthorne

The hon. Gentleman is going back over old territory, so perhaps he should be asked to go back over the riposte that is bound to follow. Does he

not agree that fishing expeditions would also infringe the rights of the innocent?

Photo of Ian Davidson Ian Davidson Labour/Co-operative, Glasgow Pollok

In some circumstances they might, but that takes us back to the question of a balance. I am prepared for a large number of people to be inconvenienced if that is necessary to save a small number of lives. We have to take those issues on board.

The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster mentioned trusting the courts, but I do not trust the courts. They are too full of people who would have agreed with the hon. Member for Henley when he said the other day that he saw all this as ''sneaking''. That is the public-school mentality, whereby an Englishman's home is his castle. Those who hold that view feel that it is inappropriate to intrude in any way, and that the information should not be provided to the state. I have some sympathy with that view in the normal order of things, but we are not dealing with normal issues. These are matters of life and death, and I very much regret the fact that the Liberals are trying to place another hurdle in the way of obtaining information.

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Ceidwadwyr, Henley

Having been provoked several times, I feel that the hon. Gentleman is inciting me to ask him to explain his objection to this extremely sensible Liberal Democrat amendment, which is designed only to link the information to whether someone has recoverable property, and to any offence through which that property was obtained. In a few crisp sentences readily intelligible in Glasgow, Pollok and everywhere else, can he say precisely how the amendment would weaken clause 347? I should be delighted to hear that.

Photo of Ian Davidson Ian Davidson Labour/Co-operative, Glasgow Pollok

My hon. Friend the Minister explained that very well, and it would be inappropriate for me to waste the Committee's time by repeating the arguments. On this issue, I want to be a friend of the Minister and to say that he presented his brief well. My reservation relates to the words ''substantial value'', which appear both in the amendment and the clause. I wonder why that is the hurdle. I would have thought that information discovered often turns out to be of substantial value, but is not always recognised as such when it is being sought. As a result of information discovered, the investigation may take a different route.

Including the word ''substantial'' creates a higher hurdle than is desirable in public policy terms, given the scale of the issues with which we are dealing. I would be grateful if the Minister would clarify why ''substantial'' is the test and not simply whether something is ''of value''.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I accept that the powers are intrusive. They will be available only to the director, and the necessary safeguards are adequate. The director should be required to show the judge who issues the order that it is necessary and of substantial value to his investigation, and he should not be allowed to have one if it is not. I am sorry if my hon. Friend feels that that makes me inappropriately soft, but we should have safeguards to prevent such orders from being used too widely and inappropriately. The

amendment would limit the court's ability to use that discretion, and would place a restriction on the director by making him link the property with the criminal conduct. As I repeatedly said in discussing part 5, he will not always be able to do that.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Lewes

This has been an interesting debate, like many in this Committee. I am delighted to have been called moderate, reasonable and cuddly, among other epithets, all of which are absolutely accurate.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Lewes

I am sure that the Hansard record will not show that.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

Order. Hansard does not record comments made from a sedentary position.

Photo of Ian Davidson Ian Davidson Labour/Co-operative, Glasgow Pollok

On a point of order, Mr. Gale. Is it in order for you to make such a comment? My understanding is that Hansard will record sedentary interventions if they are responded to, so as the hon. Member for Lewes was sufficiently innocent to respond to the intervention, it will be recorded. If it was not recorded before, the fact that he is innocuous certainly will be on the record now.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

Order. If it were not in order, Mr. Davidson, I would not have said that—which is why the answer to your question is yes.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Lewes

There are worse things to be called in this life than innocuous—although I do not accept that particular accusation.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok is entertaining, as always, but I want to pick up a point that he made in responding to the debate. I resent the suggestion that anyone who draws attention to what may be excessive state power in whatever manifestation is somehow trying to weaken the Bill or being soft on criminals. As he and the Minister said, a balance has to be struck. Most of us are, sensibly, trying to decide where that balance should be. That is what this is about. It does not help to suggest, as does the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok, that anyone who wants to introduce a safeguard is being helpful to criminals or is on the side of collaborators. If the Government had introduced a Bill that provided that people could be arrested without charge, have no access to lawyers and be kept inside for seven days without due process and we wanted to water it down, we would be accused of being on the side of collaborators. That is not a sensible approach.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Obviously the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok sometimes has his tongue in his cheek, but there is always an underlying theme—a theme about which I share the views of the hon. Member for Lewes. There have been one or two occasions on which both the hon. Member for Lewes and his colleagues, and my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield and I, have raised issues that by any standards—even those of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok, as I am sure he would agree if he studied Hansard—would be recognised as trying to toughen up the Bill. It is perhaps unfortunate that those were all in the week

that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok was away getting bronzed.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Lewes

I do not know about that, but given the Government's thrust, it is more difficult to find ways of toughening up the Bill than of introducing safeguards, which some of us are trying hard to do.

Photo of Ian Davidson Ian Davidson Labour/Co-operative, Glasgow Pollok

Yes, there are ways of toughening up the Bill. It might have been suggested that the word ''substantial'' be deleted. That was a clear opportunity for the Liberal Democrats to toughen up the Bill, but you declined to do so, and instead—

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

Order. I did not decline to do anything at all.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Lewes

I am glad that you did not, Mr. Gale.

That would have toughened up the Bill. However, it would also have meant a huge number of extra inquiries about a whole range of innocent people on matters of little value, which would have been a complete waste of time.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath 5:30, 29 Ionawr 2002

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be perfectly possible for the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok, if he were not terrified of the Government Whip, to table his own amendment to do precisely what he is now advocating and delete the word ''substantial''?

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Lewes

Throughout our debates we have had a number of useful contributions from Labour Committee members. That has been good for democracy. However, there has been a shortage of amendments tabled by them, which is regrettable, as some of them have been very eloquent, albeit careful to couch their points in terms that stay on the right side of the Whip.

We discussed the point about the Human Rights Act this morning in relation to clause 335. I do not want to return to it in detail—

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Lewes

Only in so far as it is relevant to this clause, Mr. Gale.

It will not do for the Minister to keep saying that if the other provisions do not work, the Human Rights Act is there as a backstop because it requires proportionality. Of course the Human Rights Act is there. However, there is also a requirement for legislation introduced by the House to be consistent with human rights legislation in itself—not for it to be inconsistent and for us to rely on the Act to be used later to make up for any deficiency. The test is not whether another piece of legislation helps, but whether the legislation before us is compatible with the convention. I suggest that it might not be, for the reasons that I spelled out earlier.

Incidentally, the Minister did not respond to the point, which is also relevant to this clause, that it is open to a future Government to repeal the Human Rights Act. In that case, all the legislation that is reliant on invoking it at some distant date will be useless; there would not be safeguards in the legislation that had not been repealed.

The amendment was very moderate and reasonable—innocuous, even. I do not think that it was cuddly, but it was the other three things. What is wrong with the court having to be satisfied that information is directly connected to determining whether someone is in possession of recoverable property and to any offence through which the property was obtained? It seems entirely reasonable. I have listened carefully to the Minister's objections, and I understand the thrust of his argument. It seems that there is a debate to be had, and I understand his genuine concerns.

I am not saying that the amendment is perfect, but equally, the Minister has not said that he understands why I tabled it, nor has he responded to the points raised by Conservative Members in recognition that this is a serious issue. It would have been helpful if he had said, ''I understand that this is a serious issue for the following reasons, but I am not happy with the amendment for these other reasons.'' He has not said that; he has given the impression that there is no issue and that the matter should be swept away. That is a pity.

The Minister made one particularly valid point. He was concerned that the amendment would apply to the confiscation investigation—and that was indeed not intended. I am more concerned about the civil recovery investigation element, which was also the concern of the hon. Member for Beaconsfield this morning. For that reason, I shall not press the amendment, but I hope that the Minister will recognise that there is a serious issue concerning how far legislation goes, and how far safeguards have to be introduced.

The Minister has not answered my earlier question about other legislation, already on the statute book, that could be invoked to help in such inquiries. I mentioned the Police Act 1997 and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. Law is there to help with investigations of this nature. I do not know whether those who drafted the Bill have cross-checked whether the powers that they seek to introduce are already present in legislation. I suspect that that has not been done, because I have been able to give two examples.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The disclosure order is available only to the director with regard to criminal confiscation that has been passed on to him by the prosecuting authorities because of the complexity of pursuing the case, and civil recovery. Those powers are unavailable in other circumstances, and no other equivalent powers exist; they are for the director and for those two uses alone.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Lewes

I hear what the Minister says, but could not a disclosure order also be used to establish the movements of someone in whom the director was interested? Legislation already exists for establishing someone's movements; the two pieces of legislation to which I referred would allow that to be pursued in the same way, so I do not think that there has been a cross-check of legislation.

I am sorry that the Minister does not want to accept that that there is any point in the amendment. I am

trying to be helpful to him, but he is not being helpful in response.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Ceidwadwyr, Spelthorne

I am conscious that the hon. Gentleman is reasonable and straightforward, and is trying to be helpful to the Minister in saying that he does not want to press the amendment to a Division. However, some of us would like to vote, so will he reconsider his niceness and generosity?

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Lewes

From my point of view, and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole, there is a fine balance between whether to vote or not. I accept that the amendment is not 100 per cent. perfect and that the Minister has a point, but I am disappointed that he has not acknowledged in his responses to myself and to the hon. Member for Surrey Heath that a real issue exists. As the Conservatives want to vote, I will not withdraw the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 13.

Rhif adran 33 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 347 - Requirements for making of disclosure order

Ie: 6 MPs

Na: 13 MPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 347 ordered to stand part of the Bill.