Proceeds of Crime Bill

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Mr. Grieve: I accept that if people have remaining assets after their assets have been seized under the procedure, those remaining assets would be available to pay for the debts that the Committee has discussed. In some instances, that might not be a problem. However, I am talking about cases in which people lose all their assets—and I believe that that will frequently happen.

Mr. Hawkins: My party is happy for there to be a proper inquiry into any fraudulent transactions, or interlocking transactions, that a defendant might come up with. That should happen. We do not want anybody to get away with the deliberate creation of fraudulent apparent debts. Our sole concern is that the provision might hit entirely innocent people. The court should have the opportunity to look at deliberate attempts to create fraudulent debts, and to ignore them. The Bill gives the court the power to look at matters such as tainted debts—as they are called. We do not seek to open a loophole. My party's intention is to ensure that the entirely innocent should not be hit, and I think that the hon. Gentleman agrees with that.

Mr. Davidson: That is true. However, difficulties will arise if the concept of interlocking transactions that the hon. Gentleman raises becomes a reality. Presumably, if that happens, the only transactions that will come to light are those that the criminal who is being convicted brings forward, and the balancing contracts might not be produced at all if villains were to lend each other money. That would be a deliberate attempt to distort, and it would be difficult to gainsay.

Given that we are dealing with people who are, in many cases, pillars of the community, and who have lent money and engaged in transactions with other—alleged—pillars of the community, the scope for obfuscation is considerable. The amendment under discussion is almost certain to result in the opening up of an enormous number of loopholes—although I am sure that that is not the intention behind it.

Norman Baker: I am prepared to accept that difficulties and loopholes might be created. Nobody wants that to happen. The hon. Gentleman has championed the cause of the ordinary person—the man in the street who does not have much money and is not a Mr. Big. He is very keen on doing that. Does he not accept that there is a danger that the people whom he champions will be adversely effected if changes are not made?

Mr. Davidson: Yes, I accept that there is a danger of that, but I am also aware that any opportunity that is taken to champion the rights of those whom I wish to protect will open up a loophole.

Norman Baker: It is a question of balance.

Mr. Davidson: Yes, that is correct, and I am not convinced that the proposed catch-all removal is the best way of addressing the matter.

Mr. Foulkes: As the hon. Member for Beaconsfield, who moved the amendment, said, the effect would be to allow unsecured creditors to take preference over the settlement of a confiscation order. I am referring to amendment No.32; amendment No. 75 is consequential to amendment No. 32. The Government do not support the principle behind the amendment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok questioned the hon. Member for Beaconsfield about the purposes behind all of the Opposition amendments, and the effect of almost all of them was to weaken—

        It being One o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

        Adjourned till this day at half-past Four o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Gale, Mr. Roger (Chairman)
Ainsworth, Mr. Bob
Baird, Vera
Baker, Norman
Brooke, Mrs.
Clarke, Mrs. Helen
David, Mr.
Davidson, Mr.
Field, Mr. Mark
Foulkes, Mr.
Grieve, Mr.
Harris, Mr. Tom
Hawkins, Mr.
Hesford, Stephen
Johnson, Mr. Boris
Lazarowicz, Mr.
Lucas, Ian
McCabe, Mr.
McGuire, Mrs.
Robertson, John
Stinchcombe, Mr.
Stoate, Dr.
Tredinnick, Mr.
Watson, Mr.
Wilshire, Mr.

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