Clause 436 - References to financial investigators

Proceeds of Crime Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 5:15 pm ar 5 Chwefror 2002.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

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

When I looked at the terms of clause 436 I had a distinct feeling of déjà vu and thought back to the scripts of ''Yes, Minister'' and ''Yes, Prime Minister''. The wording appears, if not circular—a term that I have used about other parts of the Bill and for which I have been criticised by some Government Members—then certainly elliptical. It says:

The Secretary of State may by order provide that a specified reference in this Act to an accredited financial investigator is a reference to such an investigator who falls within a specified description . . . A description may be framed by reference to a grade designated by a specified person.

If the Plain English campaign examined clause 436, I do not think that it would be terribly happy. I always support that campaign, particularly on one of its recommendations, which is that there should always be an index to a Bill, with numbered footnotes to enable one to see exactly where else terms such as ''specified person'' and ''specified reference'' are referred to.

The current drafting means that it is difficult, particularly in a Bill as bulky as this one, to find out where the terms are defined. I can understand that categories of people must sometimes be referred to by reference to a grade, so I am less critical of subsection (2). However, subsection (1) should have been more tightly drafted to make it clear, even to a relatively experienced reader of such legislation, exactly what is meant. The clause will have to be pored over by experts in firms of tax advisers, accountants and solicitors who advise those in financial services. As I have said before, I used to examine legislation that affected the financial services industry to see how it affected the companies that I advised or worked for, and Parliament should be obliged to ensure that legislation is made clearer.

I could not see how to table an amendment that would not be considered a wrecking amendment, so I thought that it would be better to debate the principle of the drafting in the clause stand part debate. I hope that the Minister will be able to say that, as with his helpful response to my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield on the last group of amendments, he will re-examine this clause in the same way, and see whether the school examiner's comment, ''Could do better'' could be applied to it, too. There may be a better way of drafting it, which would make it clearer to both the casual and the experienced reader, because it is not clear as it stands.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Ceidwadwyr, Spelthorne

The Minister should address another issue before we decide whether the clause should stand part of the Bill. A few sittings ago, we debated the specific powers provided to the Inland Revenue with regard to Customs and Excise. My hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield tabled an amendment to the effect that the powers were sufficiently important to have to be exercised by someone of a senior grade. The amendment went on to suggest what grades were appropriate—a district tax inspector, or a collector

within Customs and Excise. We believed that making provision for a senior person—

Photo of Mr John McWilliam Mr John McWilliam Llafur, Blaydon 5:30, 5 Chwefror 2002

Order. I recall that argument, as I was in the Chair at the time. We do not need to hear it again.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Ceidwadwyr, Spelthorne

I understand your point, Mr. McWilliam, but the issue is relevant because the exact opposite is proposed here, although the circumstances appear to be much the same, requiring someone senior to be available. We were told at the time that such a solution was not practical, could not be done and did not commend itself to the Government. Yet in clause 436 the Government are attempting to implement what they were not prepared to countenance when we suggested it earlier. What on earth is the difference? Why should we accept now the precise reverse of what the Minister argued earlier? I look forward to hearing the Minister's response.

We should try to place on record what sort of grade is considered appropriate. The case is accepted in the notes on clauses, albeit in a rather elliptical or circular way. It is acknowledged that persons of senior standing should be involved, so we should know precisely which grades apply. What is the definition of ''senior'' and why specify one particular grade rather than another? The notes on clauses suggest that the simple designation of one grade may not be possible. Does the Minister intend one grade to apply in one department and a different one in others? What grade would he designate as appropriate for other departments? These are important issues, and they mark a reversal of the Minister's previous arguments. It is not enough to refer to a grade and leave it dangling in the air. In future, might we not find that the grade designated by the Minister is not high enough for the requisite work?

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

The grounds mentioned by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath are insufficient for withdrawing or reconsidering the proposal, though I accept some of his points. It can be difficult to understand the purposes behind the drafting. We are now referring back to accreditation systems that we first debated on clause 3—a long time ago. The provision may not be wholly clear, but I hope that I can persuade the hon. Gentleman that it is necessary.

The hon. Member for Spelthorne is right to say that we debated the same issue earlier, but he will recall that we were talking about the Revenue, and he somewhat misrepresented my argument at that time. I felt that I had persuaded the Committee that the Revenue people themselves were the best to decide who should be designated as dealing with disclosures to and from the director.

The clause would enable the Secretary of State to specify by order the type of accredited financial investigators who may exercise restraint powers under part 2 or investigation powers under part 8. Such an order would be subject to the negative procedure. A system for the accreditation of financial investigators is, as I have said, provided under clause 3. The order-making power enables the Secretary of State to limit the use of restraint and investigation

powers to financial investigators employed or engaged by law enforcement authorities, or those employed or engaged in a law enforcement capacity by Government Departments.

It will be possible, in an order, to include investigators working in specified organisations or Departments, or investigators who are not below a specified grade. It would thus be possible to designate investigators who may act as senior appropriate officers for the purposes of making an application for a customer information order. We want to lift the standard of financial investigation. That is why, under clause 3, we gave the director of the agency the right and duty to train financial investigators, to accredit them when they reach a certain standard, and to see to it that they maintain that standard. We need to lift our game.

We do not want to give every trained accredited financial investigator access to the powers in part 8. We want to limit them to particular grades of people within appropriate organisations. We have to do that by order, unless we try, in primary legislation, to identify every appropriate department and guess those that might change their status. The order will have to say what level of individual in any organisation will be given access to the powers. Only an accredited financial investigator, trained and maintained under the system set up by the director and employed at a specific grade in that organisation, will be entitled to have access to the powers.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Ceidwadwyr, Cities of London and Westminster

I appreciate the difficulties that are inevitable when setting up an institution. Such rules cannot, at this juncture, be set in stone. However, it would be interesting to have some guidance as to how frequently the Minister expects to make a revising order to specify which grades are entitled. We do not want the matter left in limbo for long. We also worry that there would be a significant number of investigators, and that bureaucracy would build up. How frequently does the Minister envisage coming back to Parliament to get a new order, or being asked at Home Office questions about how the provisions are working in practice, to ensure that bureaucracy is kept to an acceptable minimum?

Photo of Mr John McWilliam Mr John McWilliam Llafur, Blaydon

Order. That was a Tennyson's brook of an intervention. It was far too long.

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

I recall that we talked about the kind of organisations that would be given access to the powers, and about the levels of people who might be designated to use them, in an earlier sitting, but I do not recall at what length or depth. It is difficult for me to go back to that substantive argument. The provision merely gives the order-making power that allows us to make that designation. I can only ask the hon. Gentleman to accept that we do not intend to allow access to the powers to be inappropriate or too widely drawn. That would be a cause for concern.

The hon. Member for Surrey Heath says that the clause does not make easy reading, which I accept. Complicated legislation rarely does. However, the clause is necessary and has a purpose, no matter how circular, elliptical, rectangular or anything else it

appears to be, or how offensive it may be to the Plain English campaign.

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

I understand that the clause is significant. The Minister considered the previous clause in his helpful response to my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield. Would he be prepared also to consider this clause to see whether there is a clearer way of expressing it? I entirely accept his comment that it can have a purpose. While he considers the preceding clause, he might as well consider this one.

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

I cannot do that, as I told the hon. Gentleman—who briefly left the Room at the start of my reply to him. He is always the same: give him an inch and he tries to take a mile.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 436 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 437 ordered to stand part of the Bill.