Clause 346 - Disclosure orders

Part of Proceeds of Crime Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:30 pm on 29 January 2002.

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Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 4:30, 29 January 2002

We have been in Committee for a few months, and we have got to know each other so well that I am not the slightest bit surprised that the hon. Gentleman expects us to object to someone doing anything at once—or quickly, or forthwith, or now. To do something at once is more than we might expect from the hon. Gentleman's character, as he has shown so well in Committee.

The amendment would mean that the director of the agency would not be able to conduct an interview with an individual under the disclosure order with immediate effect. He would have to arrange for the interview to be held at some stage in the future. The disclosure order power is modelled closely on the power under the Proceeds of Crime (Northern Ireland) Order 1996. That allows the power to be exercised by notice in writing and specifies where, and at what time, the interview is to take place, which may be immediately.

If the director considers that the person whom he wishes to interview already has the knowledge to answer the questions, there is no need for delay. A member of the agency, armed with the authorised notice under the clause, could visit a person who is considered to have relevant information and compel him to answer questions there and then.

The hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) referred to a person's rights. There is certainly a right to be legally represented, and that could be seen as clashing with the requirement to deal with the matter immediately. I have asked my officials to check with their colleagues in the Northern Ireland Office on how the provision operates in the Province.

Paragraph 8 of schedule 2 of the Proceeds of Crime (Northern Ireland) Order enables the Secretary of State to draw up a code of practice in connection with the exercise of financial investigations under the powers conferred by that schedule. The code provides information about the operation of a disclosure order in Northern Ireland, and says that a

person should be interviewed in private, and should be permitted to be legally represented, if he asks. The wording in the Bill differs from the code, but there is no difference in substance. We do not believe that there is a substantive difference between ''forthwith'' and ''at once''.

When it is believed that a person has information already in his possession, he should be required to render it. He has the right to be legally represented, and that cannot be cut across by such a requirement.