Proceeds of Crime Bill

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Mr. Bob Ainsworth: Notwithstanding the fact that we are searching for opportunities to accept the ``Grieve No. 2'' amendment for the sake of good will, I fear that I shall upset the hon. Gentleman by saying that one amendment would alter the clause. I do not know whether he is trying to wreak revenge on us for the fact that he is looking after terrorism in the Chamber and looking after criminality in the Committee Corridor. He is being stretched all ways. I am sure that he is doing very well, but there is no need to make us stay up all night to try to fathom whether such an amendment would make any change to the Bill.

The hon. Gentleman described his amendments as drafting amendments. I do not think that amendment No. 94 seems to add anything to the Bill. The hon. Gentleman has demonstrated that he does not think so, either. The amendment would not clarify subsection (1)(b), which is already clear.

Mr. Grieve: The Minister has flagged up two issues, the first of which surprises me. Under subsection (1)(b), there has been a previous confiscation order, so the courts should ``now'' find something different. That is, the courts should not ``find something different'' in the abstract, but do it at that time. It seems to me that the word ``now'' is useful. Incidentally, I have noticed that I had put the word in the right place but simply read it out wrongly.

The second issue is the word ``originally'' in amendment No. 95. That word could cause a problem; a better word might be ``previously'', in view of the fact that multiple applications can be made.

The Chairman: Order. Interventions are getting rather long, although I understand the difficulty that the hon. Member for Beaconsfield has experienced. I must make it plain that I know of no precedent in which it was found to be out of order to split infinitives.

Mr. Ainsworth: The hon. Gentleman pursues his amendment, but the Bill already makes it clear that subsection (1)(b) applies to the court's decision following an application for revaluation. I am of the view that the amendment does not add to the clarity of the subsection, although I accept that it does not change the subsection.

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that amendment No. 95 would be harmful. We must bear in mind that more than one application may be made. The court may have made a confiscation order after the defendant's conviction, and under clauses 20 or 21 more than one revaluation may have occurred.

Were we to change ``originally'' to ``previous'', the hon. Gentleman—on the face of it—would rule out the harm of amendment No. 95, although I would not like to commit myself to that. We never know what consequences might sneak up on us if I did so. Nevertheless, I am not certain that the amendment would add anything to the Bill, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be prepared to withdraw it. I think that the Bill's intentions are clear enough.

Mr. Carmichael: There is little wrong with subsection (1)(b) that could not be cured by some punctuation. We should debate the absence of commas more than anything else. Why does the subsection mention that we must ``find'' the amount of the defendant's benefit, when clause 6 refers to the word, ``deciding''? I know that ``find'' can be a legal term, but in the interests of simplicity and consistency—or if the subsection is to be redrafted—my point should be taken on board.

The Chairman: Order. It is not out of order to move amendments, but it would have been in order to move an amendment inserting punctuation. That has been done before. It would not be in order to insert punctuation at this stage.

Mr. Ainsworth: I can speak only to the amendments that are before us. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that he could improve the Bill with punctuation, he should table amendments that we could consider.

With regard to the word ``finding'', investigations take place under clause 6, which is about assessing the benefit. Clause 22 is about reassessment.

Mr. Carmichael: Clause 6 uses the word ``decide''. In the interests of consistency, I suggest that we should also use it in clause 22. The word ``decide'' may result in nonsense—rather than ambiguity—as the court can order the defendant to find something, as opposed to the court finding it for itself. In this context, to use ``find'' is inappropriate; to use ``establish'' or ``decide'' would be adequate.

Mr. Ainsworth: Let us listen to what the hon. Member for Beaconsfield has to say before we decide whether changes ought to be made.

Mr. Grieve: This has been an interesting discussion, and it illustrates the merit of bothering to read the clauses.

I shall, with some regret, withdraw my amendment shortly, but I have been thinking about the matter as the discussion has proceeded. It seems to me that subsection (1)(b) might have developed in the course of our debate. It may be right not to proceed with the insertion of ``now''—regardless of the matter of the split infinitive. However, the Minister should consider incorporating the recommendations of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, and my recommendation about the word ``originally'', so that subsection (1)(b) would state:

    ``the prosecutor or the Director believes that if the court were to decide the amount of the defendant's benefit in pursuance of this section''—

Mr. Carmichael: Comma.

Mr. Grieve: Yes. The rest of subsection (1)(b) would state:

    ``it would exceed the amount''—

previously—

    ``found as his benefit for the purposes of the order''.

That collective draft—for which I thank the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, and the Minister—is better than the current version. I therefore urge the Minister to have subsection (1)(b) redrafted, so that I can say nice things about him on Report, which would make me very happy. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Wilshire: I have listened to my hon. Friend's reading of the Bill with great care. He should apply to read ``Book at Bedtime'', because if he were to read the Bill, I would get to sleep much more quickly.

I have a number of concerns about clause 22 and I hope that the Minister will address them so that I need not object to the clause. Subsection (1)(b) appears to state that the prosecutor or director would go to the court if it appeared to him that the amount that should be made in the order would exceed the amount that was originally made. I understand why it should normally be left to the defence, and the convicted person, to argue why a reduction should be made. However, there have been cases in which information has been available to prosecuting authorities, the police and similar agencies and when it has served their purpose—I choose my words carefully—to withhold that information from the public gaze. Sometimes, it is many years before the information comes to light, and, when it does, many questions are asked.

There might be occasions when it would occur to the director—or to one of his senior officials or senior prosecutors—that the original amount was excessive, given the information that had subsequently come to light. It would be unfortunate if he were not able to go back to the court and say, ``Look, we are very sorry, but we realise that an honest mistake has been made and it is appropriate for the amount to be reduced.'' The clause would prevent him from doing that. It would prevent him, when he came across an injustice, from putting the matter right in a simple way, and that might leave a convicted criminal and his advisers to dig away in search of information that they did not know existed. I would be interested to hear the Minister's views on that.

Subsection (4)(c) states that it is possible to make reference to things that have been obtained before the original order was made. Am I right in understanding that anything that may have been gained subsequently—even things that arise from the crimes for which a person has been convicted—will not be taken into account? If that is the case, and if it subsequently becomes clear that something else was obtained from the proceeds of a crime—

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. {**vert_rule**}

The following Members attended the Committee:
O'Brien, Mr. Bill (Chairman)
McWilliam, Mr. John (Chairman)
Ainsworth, Mr. Bob
Baird, Vera
Carmichael, Mr.
Clark, Mrs. Helen
Davidson, Mr.
Field, Mr. Mark
Foulkes, Mr.
Grieve, Mr.
Hawkins, Mr.
Hesford, Stephen
Johnson, Mr. Boris
Lazarowicz, Mr.
McCabe, Mr.
McGuire, Mrs.
Robertson, John
Stinchcombe, Mr.
Stoate, Dr.
Tredinnick, Mr.
Watson, Mr.
Wilshire, Mr.

 
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Prepared 27 November 2001