Clause 343 - Further provisions: general

Part of Proceeds of Crime Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:30 pm on 29 January 2002.

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Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath 12:30, 29 January 2002

I want to explore some of the provisions in the clause, and especially what is not covered by the search and seizure warrant. Over recent months and years, we have seen unfortunate cases in which a particular individual—I shall not give him further publicity because he has been well publicised by the tabloid press, and even occasionally the

broadsheets—has raided dustbins outside certain firms of solicitors. He has obtained documents, even if they had gone through a shredding machine and had to be stuck back together, and provided them to scandal sheets and lawyers for the other side for remuneration. There are serious worries that will be shared by the Minister's advisers about the way in which the edges of legal professional privilege have become blurred.

Obviously, no Minister of any Government will condone the theft of private and confidential information. It is often said that this country has the best broadsheet press and the worst tabloid press in the world, and Labour Members may agree with that. Yesterday, the editor of one of our tabloids was all over the media saying that he was allowed to breach all confidentiality regulations relating to a document because, in his words, it was left on a tube train. We must take care not to blur the edges, as we all want the legislation to be effective. Subsection (1) states that the name and address of a lawyer's client is an exception: we must be sure that that does not open the gates a little wider than previous legislation has done.

I am not claiming that the floodgates will be opened by subsection (1) making an exception with regard to

''material containing only the name and address of a lawyer's client.''

However, I do not recall having come across that formulation in previous legislation. If the Minister states that the formulation has previously been used, I would be happy if he could point to legislation that contains it.

I agree with subsection (3), which states that

''material held with the intention of furthering a criminal purpose is not privileged.''

I accept that there are substantial protections in subsection (4), which states:

''A search and seizure warrant does not confer the right to seize excluded material.''

Subsection (2) appears to be simply a restatement of existing law. However, I have concerns about the phraseology of subsection (1), and I want the Minister to address them in detail.

Perhaps the hon. Member for Lewes shares my concerns. He is always concerned to protect the liberty of the subject, and I know from our discussions that we take the same approach to certain public issues.

Will the Minister address my concerns?