Proceeds of Crime Bill

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Mr. Ainsworth: We consulted widely on the provisions in the Bill, but I cannot say whether the Lord Chancellor's Department consulted widely on the potential impact of the Bill and its burden on the court system. I shall check and let him know.

Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley): At the risk of trying the Minister's patience, I should like him to clarify something.. I may have misunderstood clause 15 and its timing of postponements for permitted periods. Is there any point at which the action to recover the proceeds may not go ahead? As I understand it, such proceedings could continue after the permitted period and, in exceptional circumstances, sine die. When will it all end for the poor miscreant?

Mr. Ainsworth: How could I possibly lose patience with the hon. Gentleman? As he said, in normal circumstances the process will end within two years, and that gives guidance to the courts about how quickly the director or prosecutor should be able to put the case together. It will continue beyond two years only if the court accepts that exceptional circumstances justify a postponement. I do not know whether it is right to say that a court would not under any circumstances say that the case should last for a certain time. Only if the prosecutor or the director can convince the court that there are exceptional circumstances that justify postponement for longer than two years will cases be postponed for that time.

Mr. Davidson: I am tempted to join the discussion because of the hon. Gentleman's use of the phrase ``sine die''. In the west of Scotland, that is more commonly pronounced ``sign dye''—or ``sign dye, ya bass'' on occasions. It would be helpful if we had conversations in English—

Mr. Johnson: Ad infinitum.

Mr. Davidson: If the hon. Gentleman spells it for me, I will certainly add it.

I missed some of the debate this morning because of medical reasons. As some hon. Members are aware, I am occasionally breathless because I have only one lung—the other side is all heart, Mr. O'Brien, and I was having some of it hardened against lawyers this morning.

Mr. Hawkins: May I ask the same question that the hon. Gentleman asked me in an earlier intervention? Is this a commercial break?

Mr. Davidson: The hon. Gentleman will find out what this is about in a moment.

3.30 pm

I had reason to see the nurse this afternoon, as I had several symptoms related to this Committee. I described them as lethargy, hopelessness and despair. She said to me, ``Are you in the Committee with the Member for Beaconsfield and the Member for Surrey Heath, because we've had a number of members of that Committee here with those symptoms.'' She said that it would be okay for me to return to the Committee this afternoon—but only on the understanding that the hon. Member for Beaconsfield would be absent. She thought that I would be able to survive the hon. Member for Surrey Heath, even if he was complemented by the hon. Member for Lewes, who was a little equivocal earlier in telling the hon. Member for Surrey Heath what he thought of him.

Mr. Wilshire: I am sorry that I missed the beginning of the hon. Gentleman's speech, but I thought that I should warn him—in case he was in danger of having a relapse into whatever he had this morning—that my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield will be back soon, so he might want to finish his speech and leave sooner rather than later.

Mr. Davidson rose—

The Chairman: Order. Will the hon. Gentleman address his remarks to clause 15?

Mr. Davidson: Ah, yes—[Interruption.]

I was looking out of the window, as I have on several occasions, to check whether flying pigs were going by—I understand that the House authorities have had these windows specially strengthened to stop Members on the Government side of the Committee throwing themselves out—and at that point the hon. Member for Beaconsfield arrived.

Mrs. Helen Clark (Peterborough): As the hon. Member for Beaconsfield has made such a spectacular entrance, will my hon. Friend brief him on the medical problems to which he referred?

The Chairman: Order. No, the hon. Gentleman will not.

Mr. Davidson: When thinking of the hon. Member for Beaconsfield, the word ``brief'' is not one that springs to mind.

To return to the clause, will the Minister clarify the intention behind the wording? Do I take it that the intention is to give the courts the maximum flexibility so that those who deserve punishment receive it, and what should be confiscated is confiscated? The amendments that have been floated, especially by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath, would make it easier for malefactors to escape justice.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 15 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 16

Effect of postponement

Mr. Field: I beg to move amendment No. 105, in page 8, line 29, after `(1)', insert

    `Notwithstanding the provisions of section 7'.

This is a relatively small matter of general housekeeping. Hon. Members who can recall the debate at this time last week, which seems like an inordinate time ago, may remember that we debated clause 7 at length. My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne, who, interestingly, is one of the few non-lawyers in Committee, raised a matter that pricked the Minister's conscience. I can probably say that safely because my hon. Friend is here—but perhaps not so safely because, of course, he is the Whip. At the start of proceedings last Tuesday, he sent a round robin for members of the Committee to note their previous professions. The list showed that there are many solicitors, ex-solicitors, barristers and ex-barristers; I cannot remember exactly what the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok was listed as. However, in the analysis, my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne said, ``I've never done an honest day's work in my life'', other than, perhaps, looking after his late mother's affairs—maybe illicit affairs, who knows?—as was discussed this morning. We do not know what old Ma Wilshire was up to in those days that may have come within the remit of clauses 11 and 12 of the Bill.

This is about good housekeeping, and I hope that we can link clause 16 with clause 7, as we envisaged when we discussed the subject the other day. I proposed the wording with that in mind.

Mr. Ainsworth: I thank the hon. Gentleman for reminding us of the allegations that the hon. Member for Spelthorne made about his mother. I do not know which is a worse offence—selling one's granny down the river or shopping one's mother. However, the hon. Member for Spelthorne may clarify what he said about that as the Committee proceeds. It may be interesting to hear the details.

When we discussed clause 7, I recall that hon. Members were doubtful whether the Bill makes it sufficiently clear that it does not prevent the defendant from being sentenced first during a case in which a confiscation proceeding would be postponed. I know that a similar question arises from other clauses of the Bill. I draw hon. Members' attention to the reconsideration clauses 21 and 22, which permit a confiscation order to be made after sentence. As has been pointed out, clause 16(6)(b) says that

    ``section 7 must be ignored''

if the court proceeds to sentence the defendant under subsection 16(1). The Government believe that that meets some hon. Members' concerns. However, as we have been reminded, the Government are willing to consider whether the Bill makes sufficiently clear the relationship between clause 7 and other relevant clauses, or whether further clarification is desirable. We stand by that commitment and we will tell the Committee our views in due course. We may decide, following further advice, that an amendment is not desirable. Therefore I ask the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster to withdraw the amendment for the present, although I confirm that we are willing to examine whether the drafting is adequate.

Mr. Wilshire: I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster tabled the amendment, because we were invited to consider the point that I raised when we reached this clause. However, I will not rehearse those arguments; I intervene only because of the reference to my mother. You were not present this morning, Mr. O'Brien, when I cited the relevance to the Bill of my difficulty in sorting out her possessions following her death a few weeks ago. It is appropriate that my hon. Friend mentioned my mother when discussing clause 16, which is about the effect of postponement. If we had been able to postpone my mother's death, she could have come and told us what she was up to herself.

Mr. Field: My memory about the wording of the occupation of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok has returned—and I recall that my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne wrote that in Latin. I am happy to beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 16 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 17

Statement of information

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): I beg to move amendment No. 78, in page 9, line 21, after `court', insert `and the defendant'.

The Chairman: With this we may discuss the following amendments: No. 79, in page 9, line 25, after `it', insert `and the defendant'.

No. 80, in page 10, line 4, at end insert—

    `(c) he must give a copy of the further statement to the defendant, within any period that the court orders.'.

No. 81, in page 10, line 38, after `it', insert `and the prosecutor or Director'.

Mr. Grieve: It is a pleasure to return to the Committee. I am sorry that I was not present to hear the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok explain the cause of his ill health, but it has been communicated to me by my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath.

However, I rejoice in the fact that consideration is to be given to an amendment in which I had an interest but could not move myself, which addressed gobbledegook in draft Bills.

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