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Mr. Grieve: I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's remarks about assumptions. He will know that in part 2 there are assumptions. Assumptions are to be made in Scotland as in England and Wales. Is he aware that in Scotland the courts are allowed not to make assumptions, whereas under the Bill courts in England and Wales will have to make them? Is he saying that the parts of the Bill that have been drafted for Scotland, a part of which he represents, should be changed so that there are mandatory assumptions there as well as in England and Wales?
I return to the remarks of the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin). It is a fair bet that our positions will change ere long. I suspect that I will be a Government Back Bencher for longer than he will be an Opposition Front Bencher. I am prepared to offer odds of 3:1 that he will not last until next Christmas. However, I digress.
It is clear that the Tories are soft on this area of crime. I was struck by the extent to which they were indulging in nit-picking rather than agreeing strongly with the Government about taking broad sweeping action against those who benefit from crime. The communities that we represent would be much happier if they thought that in principle there was unanimity in the House; we could then have some disagreements about implementing that principle. I am not certain that the Tories are committed to the principle of chasing down the gains of criminals.
I was appalled by the remarks of the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell), who seemed to speak for about 10 minutes on vested interests. His speech was all about defending our banking system and the value that flows from that. We should understand that there are people in British banking who are crooks. They have benefited from crime for a considerable period. Some of us have travelled to other jurisdictions, where we are told that Britain is good at telling them how they should improve their systems. However, they say the City is the dirtiest washing machine in the world in terms of the amount of illicit money that goes through it. Looking at the recent Abacha case in Nigeria, it is clear that ill-gotten gains acquired by that family and several others were welcomed by bankers in London with open arms because they made money out of them. We should not take too pusillanimous an attitude when dealing with that. There is a crisis in communities such as mine, and if a bit of rough justice is meted out to wealthy people, so be it. If that makes me appear new Labour to my colleagues, I am prepared to bear that burden.
The Bill is not perfect, and I wish to raise some points with Ministers so that they can pursue them. I am concerned that there is insufficient capability under the Bill to allow the systemthe lawto pursue the relatives or friends of criminals who have had assets transferred into their names. It is common to find that a house cannot be seized because it is owned by someone's wife, son or daughter who has no identifiable means of support or income. Again, that is a difference between the Conservatives and me; I do not assume that it is an inheritance or a legacy from a long-lost aunt. In many cases, the dogs in the street know that it is the gains of crime. The individuals involved might not have committed criminal acts but, none the less, they are benefiting. We need to know that those assets will be pursued.
Mr. Grieve: The hon. Gentleman has completely misunderstood the point made by the Opposition about relatives. We are not concerned about the ability to recover assets from relatives who acquired them from criminals in the knowledge of their criminality or, indeed, recovering them from people who have acquired them and have simply got them. However, if people have obtained assets innocently and their removal will create serious
Mr. Davidson: Thank you, God. I must tell the hon. Gentleman that Stalin dealt with things more roughly; he did not simply break eggs. Then again, perhaps the hon. Gentleman had a sheltered upbringing.
I was not referring to the Opposition, but the hon. Gentleman has made a helpful point. If someone suddenly receives from his father, who has no visible means of support, an enormous sum of money, and does so entirely innocently, the natural assumption is that he would consider where it had come from. The hon. Gentleman and I obviously live in different worlds. Most people in my constituency, if they suddenly received an enormous gift from someone they knew, would start to wonder where it came from. I do not assume innocence in that regard. However, if the hon. Gentleman has some money to spare, I would be happy to see him afterwards in the bar or the venue of his choice.
Those who assist criminals are as bad as, or worse than, the criminals themselves; I refer to lawyers, accountants and bankers. Many criminals in the west of Scotland, whence I come and which I represent, would be unable to conceal their assets but for the professional help that they receive. Those individualsaccountants and lawyersare clearly known to the police and other lawyers, which raises several issues. Not only is there the question of the inability of the Law Society and other professional associations to police their own members, but the penalties are insufficiently severe to act as a deterrent. I hope that the Bill's provisions will be applied vigorously to identify lawyers, bankers and accountants involved in concealing assets, punish them severely and send a message to others. For far too long, the only people punished for drug dealing have been people from communities such as mine at the very bottom of the tree; those who are much higher up get off scot-free. That is not fair, and not what a Labour Government should be doing.
We will apply different legislation to terrorism, drugs and crime; they will be treated as three separate issues. It has already been said that there are spillovers and tie-ins linking the three, and there are a couple of instances in the Bill where the distinction between crime and drugs is made too strongly. Perhaps there is an opportunity for loopholes to be exploited, contrary to the purpose of the Bill. I hope that Ministers will look at that.
I also seek clarification of the extent of the mechanism by which there will be an opportunity to review the Bill's operation to close loopholes, as the Chancellor does with the Budget every year when he closes tax evasion and avoidance loopholes, and deals with similar misbehaviour. We do not want to decide issues here on the assumption that they mean one thing, only for them to be reinterpreted by the courts in a way that we do not wish; we want the opportunity to step back and sort matters out without going through the full range of parliamentary procedures.
On the question of law and lawyers, may I mention judges? We are perhaps giving them too much discretion at several points in the Bill. They are unlikely to be as unsympathetic to the prosperous as we would wish them to be. They are frequently harsh on the little men and women but let off the prosperous. It is inappropriate for me to give examples in case they sue me when I get out. [Hon. Members: "Go on."] No, I will not be tempted. There ought to be an assumption that assets will be confiscated except in exceptional circumstances; it should not be merely an option available to the court.
I agreed with the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield about overseas boltholes. As he said, it is no good stopping up boltholes in this country if places such as Guernsey, Jersey, the Isle of Man and other communities that are basically parasitic on Britain's financial community can be boltholes for people to hide ill-gotten gains. Much of the work done by the Financial Action Tax Force with overseas territories, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the G8 is helpful, but I am concerned that it does not go far enough. The same standards need to be applied across the world; if boltholes and weaknesses are discovered in certain places, the money will flow there. I agree with the hon. Gentleman's point about hedge funds and the like.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): The hon. Gentleman is making an important point about British overseas territories and the Crown dependencies. Very often, people abroad simply do not understand why the United Kingdom's jurisdiction does not seem to apply to them; people can do what they want in them, yet we are responsible for them in international law. We cannot have treaties with them, so we need equally strong legislation in the British overseas territories and the Crown dependencies.
To follow precedent, I should have started by saying that my hon. Friend the Member for Central Fife (Mr. MacDougall) is a wonderful man and made an excellent speech. May I say so now? He is undoubtedly one of the good guys in politics and will make a great contribution to the House, as he already has to local government. I would say more wonderful things about him, but I hope that he will excuse me for rushing on to a point about incentives.
If money is to be seized, may I have some of it, on the basis that my constituency is one of those where the ill-gotten gains of drug dealing are generated? It seems reasonable that the proceeds should not disappear into the maw of the Treasury, but be hypothecated so that they go back into communities such as mine, to show that the system works on their behalf. As I raised the point, may I be guaranteed that my constituency will be among the first to receive some of that money?