|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Grieve: I shall try to pre-empt the note. My hon. Friend may agree by way of qualifier that one has to show that there has been a benefit under those convictions, rather than just punching someone in the face, or a pecuniary advantage. However, what constitutes a pecuniary advantage is an interesting matter for speculation.
Let me end with a warning. It is interesting that on the front of the Bill the Secretary of State has signalled that he is content that it will be acceptable under the European convention on human rights. Many hon. Members will have read about the McIntosh case, in which the court of criminal appeal in Edinburgh ruled that the confiscation of the assets of convicted drug traffickers contravened article 6(2) of the convention because they were built up in the years before the criminal conviction.
We want to hear Ministers say that they really believe that the Bill, with all its clauses and all the subjects it covers, is judge proof, and that it will not be struck down under judicial review. The Bill has more than 400 clauses and we will spend hours debating it in the Chamber and in Committee; it will be a waste of time and bring the House into disrepute if the legislation is quickly struck down because the legal advice on which it is based was not correct. My brief experience at the Home Office tells me that if officials warn a Minister that there is a dangera small dangerthat a measure will be struck down under the European convention on human rights, that cloud no bigger than a man's hand will assuredly grow larger, until the measure has become history because a judge has spoken.
There will be a lot of discussion about the European convention on human rights in the coming weeks, especially in connection with the forthcoming terrorism legislation. We have to get the Proceeds of Crime Bill right.
Norman Baker: The hon. Gentleman has, rightly, spoken at length about civil liberties and the Bill's impact on human rights legislation. May I take it that he and his colleagues now recognise the value of the Human Rights Act 1998?
Mr. Cameron: No, that does not necessarily follow. I tend to agree with the Home Secretary, whom my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton quoted. The right hon. Gentleman has said that our liberties are based predominantly on the actions of Parliament, and that Parliament has done the job of defending our rights. Although I supported the principle of the European convention on human rights, I think that the way in which we signed up to it and the Government wrote it into our law via the Human Rights Act has resulted in the Government and Parliament sometimes being unable to do things that all reasonable people accept are the right things to do.
I suspect that we will find that the same restrictions apply to the terrorism legislation that is soon to be introduced. I do not want to stray from the subject of the debate, but it is worth noting that just the other day the Home Secretary admitted to the Select Committee on Home Affairs that in dealing with terrorism he would like to have available to him both deportation and detention, but that because of the convention and the Act he will not have the option of deportation available to him; instead, he will have to rely on detention. Sometimes we tie our hands too tightly. I do not agree with the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) on that point.
John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland): I am delighted to have the chance to participate in the debate. I did not receive the Law Society briefing; that is probably because I am not a lawyer, but I am sure that the House will not hold that against me.
For too long, we have paid insufficient attention to the financial aspects of crime. Let us not forget that the motivation for many crimes is money: it is estimated that profit is the ultimate goal of 70 per cent. of all recorded crime. Last year, total assets of organised crime were estimated to be £18 billionthat is, 2 per cent. of gross domestic product.
As the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) said, half the £440 million in profits held by 400 crime bosses are in the hands of only 39 big bosses. Crime barons whose assets are not stripped are often responsible for generating further crime. Assets left in the hands of the perpetrators of crime can be used to fund further criminal activity, which leads to an impenetrable cycle of crime that devastates communities such as that in my constituency, which has one of the highest rates of drug crime in Scotland.
I am pleased that the Government are addressing the issue through legislation. Many criminals regard prison as an "occupational hazard", as the hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) said, and use the money made from their activities either as a nest egg awaiting their release from prison, or to keep their businesses going outside and ensure that their loved ones and families are well looked after while they are inside. Although no one wants innocent family members to suffer, people cannot benefit or be seen to benefit from crime.
Arrest and conviction alone are not enough to reduce crime significantly, as they can leave criminals free to run or return to their illegal enterprises. Legislation to strip criminals of their working capital has been widely welcomed by police forces throughout the country. I commend the principles of the Bill. All the responses that I have seen agree with the Bill, which is designed to strengthen and extend existing legislation on confiscation and recovery of the proceeds of crime. The hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) appears to have in mind the case of Al Caponepronounced by most normal people with a silent "e"but that is hardly surprising, given that his party robbed the country for 18 years. Many criminalssome of them members of the Conservative partyhave evaded prosecution because of loopholes in current legislation.
Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): The hon. Gentleman said that all the responses that he has seen have welcomed the Bill. Has he read the responses of organisations such as Justice and Liberty? We Conservatives have become
John Robertson: The hon. Gentleman obviously did not listen to the start of my speech, when I said that I had not received them, attributing that to my not being a member of the Law Society or having any connection with it.
Given that many criminals have evaded prosecution, I seek clarification on several points to ensure that the loopholes will be closed. Clause 67 deals with the seizure of money and applies to money held in bank or building society accounts, and clause 42 deals with the use of restraint orders in the early part of an investigation. Both clauses have been widely welcomed. In the past, people who became aware of police interest attempted to arrange the disposal of their assets. The Bill rectifies thator at least it should. However, we must also consider cases in which the perpetrators of crime have already used the names of associates to register property, or have signed over assets to friends and family to avoid seizure. Unfortunately, such practices can be extremely difficult to prove.
Like many hon. Members, I want the Bill to contain clear safeguards to protect innocent third parties who, by association, might be unfairly targeted and have legitimate financial assets confiscated. The Human Rights Act 1998mentioned by many Conservative Members who have taken the road to Damascusenables individuals more easily to challenge decisions of the police should the latter fail to adhere to the standards laid down in the European convention on human rights. It is crucial, therefore, that the rights of third parties to claim lawful ownership of property under dispute be closely observed by law and enforcement officers.
Concerns have been raised about access to bank records held in Scotland. Financial institutions based in Scotland operate accounts on behalf of other banks. Access to these accounts is required quite frequently. However, orders issued by the Crown court in England are not valid. Access can be gained only by means of an order obtained in Scotland from the sheriff via the procurator fiscal.
This process can be extremely time consuming and bureaucratic. It can often result in the line of inquiry not being followed up. It is therefore necessary that, under any new legislation, production orders issued in England should be valid in Scotland, and vice versa.
Concerns have also been raised about how the legislation will apply to Scottish law. I hope that the Minister will keep in contact with his counterpart on the Scottish Executivehe has already said that he will, so perhaps I need say no more about that.
It is vital to ensure that financial investigators are fully and properly trained in all areas of the new legislation, as breach of process could lead to claims for compensation. I seek assurance that funding and training will be carefully considered. The Bill is important and a landmark in the fight against crime and the criminals who plague our communities. The Government should be commended for introducing it.