Clause 192 - Offences

Enterprise Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:30 pm on 23 April 2002.

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

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Liberal Democrat, Southport

We have some concerns about the clause that relate closely to its wording. As I said, anyone can be in the frame or drawn into the net of an investigation. I draw hon. Members' attention to subsection (2)(b), which states that anyone who ''recklessly makes a statement'' that is not necessarily false but simply ''misleading'' is ''guilty of an offence''. The clause goes on to state that the offence attracts a two-year prison sentence. That is a serious matter for anyone. What safeguards are built into the process of investigation to ensure that people who make casual or thoughtless observations in the process of investigation, but are not the central focus of the investigation, are not in serious trouble—or at any rate that they are advised of the danger before they get into serious trouble? I understand that people who are suspected of crimes are warned seriously about their behaviour. I do not believe that witnesses usually are. In this case we are dealing with witnesses, or perhaps suppliers, not agents in the cartel.

My second reservation is that the clause makes it difficult for anyone under investigation to establish negligent loss of a document. Such a thing can happen, and the OFT may deem such a document pertinent to the investigation. If it is thought to have been destroyed or lost, for example, the person who has destroyed or lost it must prove that they had no intention of concealing facts. I understand that it is difficult in law to prove intention. It must be even more difficult to prove that someone did not have an intention when the presumption would be that they did. Are the offences drafted in such a way that we are in danger of catching people who are not really the target of the Bill? Instead of having a robust and effective system of prosecution of cartels, we have something closer to the Spanish inquisition—which, as hon. Members know, no one expects.

Photo of Miss Melanie Johnson Miss Melanie Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry

I crave your indulgence, Mr. Beard, in relation to amendment No. 142, which was not moved. I believe that it has some merit. [Interruption.] Perversely, hon. Members may feel the opposite. I believe not that there is merit in reducing the period to three years, but that there may be merit in considering a seven-year period. Strong arguments could be advanced for aligning sentences under this clause and under clause 179. I had intended to say that I was grateful to hon. Members for having highlighted the issue, and that I should like to return to it on Report.

Mr. Waterson: I am grateful for that indication, and I shall try to leave more amendments unmoved in future, if that is to be the reaction. I am delighted. If the hon. Lady wants to return to the matter later, we shall be only too pleased.

Photo of Miss Melanie Johnson Miss Melanie Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry

I am glad, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his suggestions about the future conduct of our business.

The hon. Member for Southport made a point about what the clause seeks to achieve. Again, the clause is modelled on the Criminal Justice Act 1987, and the procedures are in line with that Act.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 192 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 193 ordered to stand part of the Bill.