Proceeds of Crime Bill

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Mr. Tredinnick: I hear what the Minister is saying, which is in essence that the clause already encompasses our objective. However, does he not believe that it would be better to include the word ''terrorist'' to make it easier for courts to interpret the Bill and avoid argument? Indeed, in a Province in which intimidation is a fact of life, it might be easier to specify it. Although the Minister suggests that it is all already specified in black and white, it would be better if it were emphasised in order to make interpretation easier for those involved in law enforcement.

Mr. Ainsworth: I do not accept that. We must consider the Bill together with the Terrorism Act 2000 and the emergency legislation, which has drawn out similar, and in some cases mirrored, provisions, and is intended to take them through Parliament in a different time scale in order to cover the circumstances surrounding terrorism.

The hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson), who is not with us at the moment, said that he feared that terrorism was not covered by clause 75. However, section 11 of the Terrorism Act 2000 makes it a criminal offence to belong or to profess to belong to a proscribed organisation. Some provisions in the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill exactly mirror provisions in this Bill. Some Opposition Members have tried to change other provisions in that Bill so that they mirror this Bill—as, for instance, in the case of account-monitoring orders. The effect of that mirroring might be to lower the threshold necessary to trigger an account-monitoring order as it applies to a terrorist organisation. I do not believe that we should do that. I have not participated in the debate and heard the Opposition's reasoning for lowering that threshold as it applies to terrorism, so I do not understand what their justification could be.

Mr. Wilshire: The Minister said that he could not understand why it would be necessary to include terrorism, because existing criminal legislation and criminal definitions would be adequate. I draw his attention to an aspect of the threat assessment that I mentioned earlier relating to non-licensed and illegal gaming and jackpot machines. It states that in 1999–2000, Customs and Excise

    ''collected £2.5 million from betting and gaming activities in Northern Ireland. Fraud estimates indicate significant non-compliance and the trend is upwards.''

Thus far, I am sure that the Minister is right and that provision exists to deal with that. However, the next sentence should be considered, too:

    ''There are indications that some ventures may be 'legitimately' run—making action by law enforcement very difficult.''

That threat assessment is saying that some things that cannot be caught by criminal prosecutions are funding terrorism. That is the point that we are trying to make.

Mr. Ainsworth: The hon. Gentleman is surely aware that the Terrorism Act 2000 contains forfeiture and restraint provisions for all moneys linked with terrorism, whether they are moneys required to fund terrorism or moneys derived from terrorism. It is difficult to imagine how someone could acquire money as a result of terrorism that is not acquired through, or as a result of, criminal activity. It is beyond my powers of reasoning to imagine how one could apply and not the other. Hon. Members should be aware that the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill—parts of which the Opposition objected to and tried to water down—provides for the introduction of the availability of restraint, exactly as it is being introduced in this Bill, at the start of an investigation. I therefore do not believe that in the Bill, it is either necessary or sensible to duplicate powers in relation to terrorism—or in some cases, to provide powers that are not as extensive as those in other legislation—when other legislation covers the matter.

The hon. Member for Spelthorne referred to the taskforce in Northern Ireland and suggested that there had been only one prosecution, of a Belfast solicitor. My information is that that solicitor is the first solicitor in Northern Ireland to be accused of money laundering, but that other people have been accused of money laundering too, and solicitors in the rest of the United Kingdom and in Wales have also been prosecuted for money laundering. In the year September 1999 to October 2000, two people were convicted of money laundering offences in the Province.

Mr. Tom Harris (Glasgow, Cathcart): Does the Minister agree that Opposition statements supporting strengthening the Bill would carry a lot more weight had the Opposition supported the Financial Investigations (Northern Ireland) Order 2001, which came before the House earlier this year? Yet they abstained on it.

Mr. Ainsworth: My hon. Friend is more familiar than I am with the detail of the Opposition's activities. I do not know the consequences of their abstention and did not follow the reasons given for it at the time.

The hon. Member for Spelthorne talked about the unique situation in Northern Ireland. He said that the issue of moneys derived from menaces concerned with kneecapping needed to be adequately covered. It will be covered. Such an act is a crime in itself. It will be covered under the Bill and under terrorism legislation. Any person who obtained money with menaces, such as threatening to kneecap someone, would be guilty of robbery, assault or a variation of those crimes, depending on the circumstances.

Mr. Hawkins: I would accept what the Under-Secretary says if we were talking about kneecapping being carried out specifically for financial benefit. Clearly, that would be covered. However, in Northern Ireland, kneecapping is often carried out for other reasons.

Mr. Ainsworth: We are talking not about criminal law, but the law concerning the proceeds of crime. If there are no proceeds, we cannot confiscate them. If there are proceeds, we certainly can confiscate them. The incidents to which the hon. Gentleman referred would be categorised as crime and would be covered by the Bill. Those incidents would also be acts of terrorism and would therefore be covered by provisions in the emergency legislation. I do not see the gap that the amendments seek to cover.

The hon. Member for Spelthorne talked about moneys that might not be held by the individual concerned but had been passed to an organisation. I want to return briefly to the issue that he has repeatedly raised about lifestyle criminals. It has nothing to do with image. I was amused by his portrayal of lifestyle criminals driving around in Range Rovers with gold rings on their hands, whereas terrorists try to look like everyone else to avoid being discovered and caught. If only the world were that simple. Lifestyle criminals masquerade under many different guises, as do Members of Parliament. Some hon. Members may wear funny ties each day of the week—so may terrorists. They may present themselves in different ways.

The hon. Gentleman knows—and the matter has already been adequately discussed—that the designation of a criminal lifestyle arises from the offences that have been committed. It is not reflected in the type of car that the individual drives, nor the jewellery or clothes that he wears.

Mr. Wilshire: I am perplexed by the Under-Secretary's answer. The example that I gave of criminal lifestyle was not mine, but was first introduced by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok, although I stand to be corrected on that. Our argument was that a criminal lifestyle created an image that we were not sure about. The reply that we received was that a criminal lifestyle is self-evident, yet the Minister is now saying that there is no such thing as a distinct criminal lifestyle. Will he comment on that point? I do not want to reopen that debate, but is his answer not contradictory to the way in which we resolved the earlier issues? Is there a distinct lifestyle or is there not? Which is it?

The Chairman: Order. I will allow the Under-Secretary to respond to that specific point. We shall not, however, reopen the debate on the definition of a criminal lifestyle.

Mr. Ainsworth: The hon. Gentleman has already been told, and I will tell him again, that a criminal lifestyle has nothing to do with the image that is portrayed. He is apparently concerned about the image that he portrays and may find that aspect fascinating. The Bill designates those people who have committed a set of offences, or particular offences, as having a criminal lifestyle. He talked about when the money gained was passed to an organisation and sought assurances that that situation would be covered. It will be covered under the Bill because it would be a tainted gift. I appreciate that Conservative Members want to explore the issue. They want to be certain that terrorism is covered adequately both in the legislation that has already passed through the House and in provisions that are presently under consideration. We need to do that in the context of Northern Ireland and in a wider context—particularly in light of the events of 11 September.

I assure hon. Members that the Terrorism Act 2000, the emergency legislation that is currently passing through the House—and I appeal to hon. Members to co-operate with that—and the Proceeds of Crime Bill adequately cover all those circumstances. If the amendments provided further cover, I would be happy to consider them. However, they add nothing, so I ask that they be withdrawn.

11.45 am

Mr. Hawkins: I am somewhat disappointed by the Minister's response, although I accept that he has tried to address the issue seriously.

It is helpful that a Minister has said that he does not think that there will be any gaps in the various provisions, when the Bill is enacted. With regard to the rule in Pepper v. Hart that statements made by Ministers while they are arguing the Government's case can be used in court, it might be helpful to a court, when it comes to look at the provisions—in whatever form they finally take—to read that the Minister said that there are not intended to be any loopholes through which people can slip. However, Conservative Committee members are still not entirely satisfied.

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