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Session 2001- 02
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Standing Committee Debates
Proceeds of Crime Bill

Proceeds of Crime Bill

Standing Committee B

Tuesday 11 December 2001

(Morning)

[Mr. Roger Gale in the Chair]

Proceeds of Crime Bill

10.30 am

The Chairman: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. As the Committee would expect, I have studied with great care the reports of its proceedings during my absence. I am pleased that it has made good—and good-humoured—progress, and I am sure that that can be maintained this morning.

Clause 158

Making of order

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): I beg to move amendment No. 368, in page 93, line 38, after 'lifestyle', insert—

    ', or is or has been a member of any terrorist or paramilitary organisation'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 369, in page 94, line 1, after 'lifestyle', insert—

    ', or is or has been a member of any terrorist or paramilitary organisation,'.

No. 370, in page 94, line 2, after 'conduct', insert—

    ', or paramilitary or terrorist activities'.

No. 377, in clause 161, page 95, line 5, at end insert—

    '(c) take account of the defendant's involvement in or membership of terrorist or paramilitary activity or organisation'.

No. 378, in page 95, line 5, at end insert—

    '(c) take account of any previous convictions recorded against the defendant relating to terrorist or paramilitary activity, without regard to the date of any such conviction and ignoring for the purpose any contrary provision under Rehabilitation of Offenders legislation and ignoring any amnesty offered by any Government at any time for terrorist activity'.

Mr. Hawkins: This is an important group of amendments, along with amendment No. 371, which is not part of the group that we are about to discuss, but which we shall debate later. Conservative Members take exceptionally seriously the subject of terrorists and paramilitary violence in Northern Ireland, and I hope that Labour Members will not make attempts at point-scoring this morning by suggesting that we are trying to water down the Bill. Given the seriousness of the issues in Northern Ireland, we are making a conscious effort to influence the Government to toughen up the Bill. We hope that the Minister and the Under-Secretary of State will accept the amendments in the spirit in which they are intended. They are a serious attempt to confront such issues.

Many Conservative Members have had extensive experience of dealing with Northern Ireland issues. I dealt with many such matters when I held my first junior job in the Ministry of Defence under the Conservative Government in the mid–1990s, and my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) has even longer experience of Northern Ireland issues. Since the Labour Government came to power, they have made concession after concession—action that we have repeatedly described as unwise.

In referring to amendments that would introduce specific references to terrorist and paramilitary activities, I make no apology for talking about general involvement in criminality. Anyone who has had dealings with that troubled Province knows that terrorist and paramilitary organisations have for years, if not generations, added to their funds by their active involvement in what, on the mainland, would be called crime. Paramilitary and terrorist organisations are involved in racketeering. Labour Members have talked repeatedly about Mr. Bigs in cities such as Glasgow on the mainland, but the Mr. Bigs in Northern Ireland are not merely criminal racketeers, which is bad enough, but are involved in terrorist and paramilitary organisations.

In passing, I must say that I reject with utter contempt the views expressed last week by the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) when he said what one of our great national newspapers rendered as:

    ''Britain has no stomach for IRA fight'',

adding that the right hon. Gentleman had also predicted a united Ireland. Those words were rightly rejected by the Government, and I would not accuse either the Minister of State or the Under-Secretary of holding those views. They take such issues seriously, but I wanted to reinforce how strongly we reject the views held by the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

I turn now to the detail of the amendments. Amendment No. 368 would insert, after the words ''criminal lifestyle'':

    ', or is or has been a member of any terrorist or paramilitary organisation'.

We are talking about the proceeds of crime, so it should be specified in the Bill that there is a link between the new draconian provisions and those who have been involved in terrorist or paramilitary organisations. That would strengthen the Bill. We will be interested to hear whether the Under-Secretary has any particular reasons why that should not be included. Related issues have been debated in the Chamber, in the context of the Government's current anti-terrorist legislation. My hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), the shadow Home Secretary, has repeatedly pressed the Government to include in that legislation provisions governing terrorism committed within the United Kingdom. I am making the same kind of point.

Our amendments may not be perfectly drafted. I accept that Ministers may say: ''Well, we are happy with the general concept, but we think that the drafting could be improved.'' I shall be delighted if the Under-Secretary says that the Government will come back with some similar Government amendments on Report or in another place.

Amendment No. 369 is consequential on amendment No. 368. When I reread the amendment that my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) and I drafted hastily in advance of this morning's debate to ensure that our amendments would not be starred, I knew that I must stress the fact that in subsection (4)(c), the word ''not'' should govern the entire phrase as it would be if our amendment were made. In case anyone thought we were trying to water the provision down, I must explain that paragraph ( c) as amended would read, ''if it decides that he does not have a criminal lifestyle or is or has been a member of any terrorist or paramilitary organisation''. Perhaps, for clarity, we should have inserted a second ''not''. Amendment No. 370 is also consequential on amendment No. 368.

Amendment No. 377 would add new paragraph (c) to clause 161(2). It is designed to take account of the defendant's involvement in, or membership of, terrorist or paramilitary activities or organisations. The amendment would be inserted after the provision under which the court must

    ''take account of conduct occurring up to the time it makes its decision''

and

    ''take account of property obtained up to that time.''

That is a separate point, and it will be important when the court is considering the defendant's past conduct and benefit. In the context of Northern Ireland, the court should also properly take into account whether the defendant has been actively involved in terrorist or paramilitary activity.

Amendment No. 378 also relates to clause 161 and would add another extra paragraph, which also appears on the amendment paper as paragraph (c). Of course, if amendment No. 377 were accepted, the paragraph in amendment No. 378 would become paragraph (d). Amendment No. 378 also raises an important point. It would ensure that the court also took into account

    ''any previous convictions recorded against the defendant relating to terrorist or paramilitary activity, without regard to the date of any such conviction''.

The court should ignore

    ''any contrary provision under Rehabilitation of Offenders legislation and ignoring any amnesty offered by any Government at any time of terrorist activity''.

I have already referred to our strong and consistent concerns about terrorist amnesties. My right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), the former Leader of the Opposition, repeatedly challenged the Prime Minister on many occasions about prisoners being released in the Province of Northern Ireland without anything being given back. Opposition Members are still concerned that far too much is given away to the terrorists without receiving any benefit in return. We want the peace process to succeed, but we do not think that concessions are the way to achieve that.

What will happen when, after the Bill is enacted, a terrorist or paramilitary racketeer comes before the court? The court should have the power, when forming a picture of a defendant, to take into account whether he or she has ever been involved in any paramilitary activity. We do not believe that amnesties, early releases or the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 should prevent the court from considering those matters.

It is essential to be aware that many of those at the most senior levels of terrorist and paramilitary organisations have achieved those positions without acquiring any serious convictions. Some may have only minor convictions for disorder, perhaps 20 years earlier. Nevertheless, those people are the Mr. Bigs, like those whom the Government says that the Bill is intended to catch on the mainland.

I hope that the probing amendments will find some favour with the Government, and I hope that Ministers and their advisers will understand the serious spirit in which we have introduced them. We are not saying that the drafting is perfect. The Government may, if they accept the spirit of what we are trying to do, table their own amendments, which we will consider in a similarly serious way. I shall finish now, as some of my hon. Friends want to contribute to the debate.

The Chairman: I have looked at this morning's business in the light of the requirements of the timetable resolution, which states that we must reach clause 244 by the end of the sitting. If they are not debated, a significant number of important Government and Back-Bench amendments will be decided upon on the nod at 1 o'clock. I therefore propose to be as lenient as I can regarding the breadth of the debate on the first group of amendments, in order to allow all hon. Members to express their views as widely as possible. I shall then be particularly rigorous regarding what is relevant in the stand part debates and other debates. In other words, if you have something to say, try to say it now. You may not get the chance later.

 
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Prepared 11 December 2001