Clause 5 - Advice and assistance

Part of Proceeds of Crime Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:00 pm on 13th November 2001.

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Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 5:00 pm, 13th November 2001

I beg to move amendment No. 5, in page 3, line 7, leave out `must' and insert `may'.

The amendment is a probing one, and follows along the lines of the discussion that we have already had, but that does not make it any less important. The clause provides that

``The Director must give the Secretary of State advice and assistance which he reasonably requires and which —

(a) relate to matters connected with the operation of this Act, and

(b) are designed to help the Secretary of State to exercise his functions so as to reduce crime.''

What is the purpose of this? I suppose it will be said that it puts on a statutory footing the duty of the director to report to the Secretary of State and tell him about the way in which his Department or agency is working and how the Act is operating, and, if necessary, to make suggestions about how the Act might be amended or improved if the Secretary of State were minded to do that. If that is the case, I will be the first to accept that the clause is innocuous, although its mandatory nature is perhaps surprising. After discussing the matter with my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins), who took the debate on the previous mandatory requirement under clause 3, I am surprised at the need for the mandatory footing. It appears to emphasise the subservience of the director to the will of the Home Secretary, which is odd in view of the director's functions, which we discussed under clause 1. The director has to exercise a function akin to that of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

On this clause, however, things go further. Read as it stands, it appears to give the Secretary of State power to require the director to give him the sort of information that the DPP would never be minded to give the Home Secretary—detailed information that the director has obtained in confidence relating to the investigation of offences. That is why we seek to substitute ``may'' for ``must'', although I am the first to accept that it may be possible to approach the issue in other ways.

I seek reassurance from the Minister about what is intended, because when the intention is clear, it often becomes much clearer what alternative wording might achieve the same effect. We might word the clause without introducing the potential mischief of effectively requiring the director, if he were so bidden by the Home Secretary, to provide him with every piece of information to which he has access. I accept that the clause includes the word ``reasonably''—but on the whole, when Home Secretaries say that something is reasonable their underlings, including directors of independent agencies, tend to jump to it. I am not convinced that the word ``reasonably'' is sufficient protection in those circumstances.

Will the Minister explain exactly what is intended? With that, we may pause for a moment and consider, as the Minister helpfully did under clause 3, whether the wording is much wider than is necessary to achieve its object.