Clause 32

Policing and Crime Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 12th February 2009.

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Recovery of expenses etc

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Home Office) (Policing, Crime & Security)

I beg to move amendment 259, in clause 32, page 23, line 36, leave out second ‘the’ and insert ‘a’.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments 260, 191, 266, 267, 268, 269, 270, 271, 272, 273, 274, 275, 276, 277, 278, 279, 280, 281, 282, 283, 284, 285, 286, 287, 288, 289.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Home Office) (Policing, Crime & Security) 3:45 pm, 12th February 2009

Good afternoon Mr. Bayley. A new voice needs to be injected into the proceedings. This is a very important clause. I know that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee have important points to make, but they also want to make some progress. It would be right for me to put on the record the fact that the hon. Members for Hornchurch, for Bury St. Edmunds and for Chesterfield, as well as other Opposition and Labour Members—indeed, all members of the Committee—support the need to try to take from criminals more of their ill-gotten gains. There is no divide between us on that point. I hope that it is helpful to put that on the record, notwithstanding some of the discussion that will take place on part 4.

All hon. Members are tracking these amendments very carefully, because the issue is a little complicated. I found it complicated; I am sure that those who grouped the amendments found it the same, too, and I thank them for their efforts. Government amendment 191 is a minor and technical amendment to the new power under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 to seize and retain property in anticipation of having to sell it to raise the sum for an outstanding confiscation order in future. Once property has been seized, the new powers will provide for continued detention. An officer may initially detain seized property for 48 hours. In Scotland, if there is no restraint order or the officer decides not to apply for one, he must obtain a detention order from the sheriff. This amendment provides that an appeal not to make the order or an appeal against a decision on discharge or the variation of such an order must be  made in 21 days. That is the standard time limit for an appeal in Scottish law, rather than 30 days, as currently drafted. I apologise for that initial error, and I thank Scottish officials for advising us accordingly.

Government amendments 266 to 269, 273 to 278, 282, and 284 to 286 will add to the new provisions in the Proceeds of Crime Act that relate to seizing, detaining and selling property to meet the value of an outstanding confiscation order. They merely provide that, from the amount paid in settlement of a confiscation order, the police and other law enforcement agencies can claim back their reasonable costs in having to store and sell the property. It is entirely reasonable that the additional cost that falls on the police and others is reimbursed, much as it is at the moment under the 2002 Act in respect of receivers. On a matter of budgeting, they receive their costs after the event, rather than being funded up front.

It is important to note that the amount is paid from the settled amount, so no additional burden of payment falls on the defendant. This is simply to do with the distribution of the money that has been collected. It is also a safeguard, as the magistrates court determines what the reasonable costs are, thus ensuring open and independent oversight of the costs that are incurred. Government amendments 259, 260, 270, 272, 279, 281, 283, 287 and 289 will add to the new provisions in the 2002 Act. They simply amend the provisions on distributing sums received in consequence of payment of a confiscation order. Notably, they provide that, where a court has determined the reasonable costs that the police or another law enforcement agency have incurred, those costs are paid from the recovered amount. They also provide for the court to make directions on any payment. Therefore, any third-party interests in the property can be paid back.

Government amendments 271, 280 and 288 are merely technical. They will remove from the Bill proposed changes to the 2002 Act, and those changes will be made in schedule 6. Nothing is changing; it is just tidier, I am advised, to make all the consequential amendments that flow from the changes to the 2002 Act in one place. The amendments to schedule 6 will be tabled in due course.

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I welcome the Minister’s introductory remarks in relation to part 4, as Her Majesty’s Opposition support powers to ensure that the ill-gotten gains of criminals and organised crime are seized and returned where appropriate. Our difficulty with part 4 is its extent and nature, the protections that it affords and the judicial oversight that may apply—in other words, its practical import. The Minister will be aware of the comments made by the Bar Council during the evidence session, when it noted that this was a significant change, rather than merely a tidying-up exercise. We will come to some of those revisions as we work through part 4.

The Minister’s explanation of some of the amendments in this group was helpful. I would appreciate further clarification on amendment 267, which allows the new right to charge. The Minister said that the amendment was not adding a extra cost but was setting out the regulation and the approach to be taken on payment. Proposed new section 67AA(3) states:

“If the court makes a determination under this section the appropriate officer is entitled to payment of the amount under section 55(4)” of the Proceeds of Crime Act. However, yet section 55(4) of that Act does not provide for an amount. It makes provision for the order in which certain payments are to be made. Am I missing something? I appreciate that we are considering Government amendments to a provision that amends another measure, so it is not necessarily easy to follow this, and the Minister may not be able to give me a straight answer to my question and may need some assistance. Some of these technical issues are a little difficult to follow. Proposed new section 67AA(3) seems to be about a payment, but the section to which it refers does not appear to mention payment. Perhaps I have misunderstood something. The Minister, or a note passed to him, may be able to elucidate that point.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Home Office) (Policing, Crime & Security)

I am advised that it is the payment of costs. I wish to reiterate that the purpose of the amendment is simply to ensure that the amount paid is the reasonable cost as determined by the magistrates court. It will be for the court to determine what those reasonable costs are; it is not about trying to ensure that somebody profits from the exercise. That judicial oversight is built into the Bill. The provision refers to the payment of an amount that the court will determine as the costs incurred by the law enforcement body in storing the detained property, and as such will encourage that body to do more of this work, knowing that it does not have to incur a cost.

Amendment 259 agreed to.

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I beg to move amendment 87, in clause 32, page 24, line 4, leave out paragraph (c).

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment 88, in clause 32, page 24, line 17, leave out subsection (10).

Amendment 89, in clause 32, page 24, line 28, leave out paragraph (c).

Amendment 90, in clause 32, page 24, line 39, leave out subsection (10).

Amendment 91, in clause 33, page 25, line 17, leave out paragraph (a).

Amendment 92, in clause 33, page 25, line 21, leave out paragraph (e).

Amendment 94, in clause 35, page 26, line 30, leave out paragraph (a).

Amendment 95, in clause 35, page 26, line 34, leave out paragraph (e).

Amendment 96, in clause 36, page 27, line 10, leave out from ‘or’ to the end of line 15.

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

These amendments relate to the application of the power of confiscation and the power to retain seized property so that it is available to accredited financial investigators. My first question is whether it is appropriate to grant those significant powers to people who are not warranted police officers or officers of the Serious Organised Crime Agency or Revenue and Customs. Accredited financial investigators are simply defined as such by order of the Secretary of State. Will the Minister confirm who is considered to be an accredited financial  investigator and what plans he has to extend that definition, if at all? I acknowledge that this has been a steady move by the Government over a period of time. In their 2006 consultation document, “New powers against organised and financial crime”, they said:

“Financial investigators are becoming more independent from police in their work and therefore to give them the full range of powers would be beneficial.”

The example given to support that was police staff designated by chief constables to have certain powers under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.

What controls and standards are expected of such financial investigators? How independent are they and what checks exist to ensure that they use the powers appropriately? In its report on the Assets Recovery Agency published in 2007, the Public Accounts Committee was highly critical of the agency’s role in supervising the financial investigators’ regime:

“The agency has not been adequately monitoring the accreditation of trained Financial Investigators, despite its obligation under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. It did not know, for example, how many active Financial Investigators should have been completing Continuing Professional Development activities in order to retain their accreditation and it was not monitoring completion of these activities.”

What assurances can the Minister provide that the situation has improved? Given the complexity and nature of the powers that are at issue, it is pretty significant if we are not sure how many financial investigators have retained the qualifications to fulfil the job. Given the PAC’s comments, is it appropriate to grant further powers to financial investigators in the light of this, and what steps have been taken to ensure that the accreditation process is robust and reliable?

Why are the powers to retain seized property that are proposed to be granted to accredited financial investigators in England, Wales and Northern Ireland not intended to apply to Scotland? The reference to accredited financial investigators is conspicuous by its absence from proposed new section 120A of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. Why or how will this impact on operations across the whole of the United Kingdom?

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Home Office) (Policing, Crime & Security)

Let me deal first with my response to the hon. Gentleman’s amendment, while I receive advice about Scotland.

The National Policing Improvement Agency trains the accredited financial investigators. My understanding from the people there is that they take this area of work seriously, putting a great deal of credence in it, because they understand, with the additional powers given to accredited financial investigators, how important is the need to ensure that they are accredited properly. It is something that the NPIA has been working extremely hard on over the past period of time.

The hon. Gentleman asked me about monitoring. The monitoring takes the form of monthly activities and work-based evidence submissions, via the NPIA’s financial investigation professional register. There is a dip sample of evidence submitted in support of continued correct use of those powers. If they see in that dip sample that there is inappropriate or incorrect use of the powers, the NPIA has the power to withdraw that accredited status. From that point of view, that is a significant step forward.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about numbers and, it might be of interest to the Committee, to learn that the latest total, from February 2009, is 2,135. Of those, the majority—1,311—are warranted police officers, the remainder civilian investigators. I shall answer his point about Scotland later, when I receive advice. We see the role of accredited financial investigators as a particularly important part of this whole area of work. I hope that the assurances that I have given him about the importance of training are helpful.

There are no accredited financial investigators in Scotland. Scotland has no need for accredited financial investigators according to the law enforcement agencies there—only police are used. Given that that is the case, it would not be appropriate to include anything with respect to Scotland in the amendments. With that, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will see fit to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

There is still a question of why there is the distinction, but we can leave that for another day. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: 260, in clause 32, page 24, line 23, leave out second ‘the’ and insert ‘a’.—(Mr. Coaker.)

Clause 32, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.