Proceeds of Crime Bill

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Mr. Wilshire: I shall be brief. The clause refers repeatedly to a criminal lifestyle. I assure you, Mr. Gale, that I do not want repeat our arguments about that, but the provision refers to a collection of requirements whereby account must be taken of that lifestyle. I referred earlier to the evidence in Northern Ireland whereby some activities are not criminal but amount to financial aid to terrorism. The Under-Secretary may wish to add special provisions concerning matters that do not arise from a criminal lifestyle or are not criminal activities. According to the taskforce in Northern Ireland, which has carried out much research on behalf of the Government on such matters, situations are developing in which activity that cannot be prosecuted and for which those persons engaged in it cannot be seen to be involved in a criminal lifestyle because, by definition, it is not technically criminal, is terrorist activity and gives rise to significant sums of money.

Will the Under-Secretary reflect on that on Report? Will he make changes that would add to the clause extra provisions for activity not only in Northern Ireland but elsewhere in the United Kingdom? The Northern Ireland position gives rise to a special circumstance that should apply to the whole United Kingdom.

Mr. Bob Ainsworth: I say to the image-conscious hon. Gentleman that he has probably opened up a split on the Government side. He will have heard my hon. Friend the Minister of State groaning when he rose to speak earlier, whereas I have no objection to his interventions. I find them very useful. I encourage him to continue to make them. He has managed to drive a wedge between me and my hon. Friend.

Obviously, the hon. Gentleman is worried about such issues and is trying to ensure that they are covered. Under the clause, we are discussing assumptions, as we were when dealing with clause 11. I remind him of what I said to the hon. Member for Surrey Heath. When I wrote to the Committee, I said that terrorist funding was one of the issues that I was minded to add to the list of offences that triggered the assumption of a criminal lifestyle. I should have thought that that would have assured him that his point is covered under the clause. I am sure that he is aware that, under the Terrorism Act 2000, aid to terrorism is criminal. The Act makes the funding and assisting of terrorism with money or other property a criminal offence. I am convinced that the point is covered, and I am not sure where his concerns lie.

Mr. Wilshire: Let me see whether I can persuade the Under-Secretary further; I hope that I can. Not only does the circumstance arise in which certain things are not classed as criminal activity, but in Northern Ireland ''donations'' are ''encouraged''. It is not necessarily criminal to hand over money, and the causes to which the donations are made are not necessarily prosecutable.

One of the problems with Northern Ireland is that donations are made to organisations that run alongside terrorism and take the money slightly away from it. The donations are therefore not caught by the criminal law, although it is patently obvious that the purpose of the donation may be to support the families of terrorists, for example. The donations would not be caught under the provisions of the Bill. That is why I press my point.

Mr. Ainsworth: The Terrorism Act 2000 gives us the ability to proscribe terrorist organisations. Funding a proscribed organisation, whether by legal or other means, is a criminal offence. I do not know what the hon. Gentleman is asking us to consider. Does he suggest that it should be a criminal offence to aid in any way organisations that are not proscribed as terrorist organisations? We would have considerable problems with that.

We must first identify terrorist organisations and proscribe them under the 2000 Act. It will then be a criminal offence to give any aid to them, by either lawful or illegal means. That is covered by the Bill, the emergency legislation and legislation enacted under various Governments. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is making a point to which I can respond, and I do not think that I can go away and consider extending the powers in the clause to cover it.

Mr. Wilshire: I can only refer the Under-Secretary to his own taskforce report, which states:

    ''In practice there is little difference between those who collect money for so-called 'legitimate' causes and demands made with menaces.''

The taskforce identifies those who obtain money for so-called ''legitimate'' purposes. Proscribing a terrorist organisation under a different Act does not help us to catch organisations that, although not part of the terrorist organisation, exist exclusively to support those on the fringes. I am simply referring to the Under-Secretary's report.

There is plenty of evidence of ''legitimate'' money going to ''legitimate'' organisations whose real motivation is to make terrorism easier. The Under-Secretary needs to ask himself whether existing legislation catches such organisations, because the report says that it does not.

Mr. Ainsworth: The hon. Gentleman is going far wider than the provisions in the Bill. I think that he is inviting me to suggest that legitimate money going to legitimate organisations should in some way be proscribed. I have repeatedly told him that it is a criminal offence to intend to use, no matter how circuitously, legitimate money in order to fund terrorism. It does not matter how legitimate the money is. That point is covered in the Terrorism Act 2000 and other legislation, and the money would be confiscatable under the Bill. I do not know what more I can say on the matter.

Mr. Wilshire: I am most grateful to the Under-Secretary. I draw his attention to a case in 1997 in which two people convicted on blackmail charges asked the court to draw a distinction between those who ask for donations for legitimate organisations and those who make threats for money. That argument is being used, and it is in danger of being successful. The Bill gives us the opportunity to ensure that that argument, which was used in 1997, can never be used again.

Mr. Ainsworth: I have nothing to add.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 163 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 164

Time for payment

Mr. Foulkes: I beg to move amendment No. 119, in page 97, line 3, at end add—

    '(6) An order under subsection (4)—

    (a) may be made after the end of the specified perid, but

    (b) must not be made after the end of the period of 12 months starting with the day on which the confiscation order is made.'

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take Government amendment No. 120.

Mr. Foulkes: My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is being far too kind to the hon. Member for Spelthorne, and my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mrs. McGuire) and I think that he needs a rest.

Mr. Wilshire: I need a rest?

Mr. Foulkes: No, the Under-Secretary.

Amendment No. 119 is a technical amendment, relating to applications for more time to pay. It replicates amendment No. 36 to clause 12, which the Committee has already agreed to. Amendment No. 119 removes doubt as to the procedures involved in handling applications for further time to pay. That will be of assistance to the courts.

Amendment No. 120 is consequential on amendment No. 119 and replicates amendment No. 37 to clause 13. It will ensure that defendants are not unfairly subjected to the payment of interest.

Mr. Hawkins: I do not need to offer a lengthy response to the Minister's comments, as the amendments merely repeat Government amendments that have been made to equivalent earlier clauses.

However, I seek clarification with regard to amendment No. 120. That is a pro-defendant amendment: as the Minister said, it ensures that the defendant is not unfairly prejudiced against. Is he satisfied that we ought to be so generous to defendants in Northern Ireland, given the special circumstances that exist there?

Mr. Foulkes: If the defendant fails to pay the confiscation order in full before time to pay expires, the order automatically accrues interest at a fixed rate. That rate is currently 8 per cent., although it varies. The amendment provides that, where the defendant applies for an extension of time to pay before a previous period expires, no interest accrues on the order, as long as the application is outstanding, or it is less than 12 months since the order was made, after which time no extension can be given in any case. That should apply to people in Northern Ireland in equal measure as it applies to people in Wales, Scotland and—even—England.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 164, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 165

Interest on unpaid sums

Amendment made: No. 120, in page 97, line 9, at end insert—

    '(2A) For the purposes of this section no amount is required to be paid under a confiscation order if—

    (a) an application has been made under section 164(4),

    (b) the application has not been determined by the court, and

    (c) the period of 12 months starting with the day on which the confiscation order was made has not ended.'—[Mr. Foulkes.]

Clause 165, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 166 to 170 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 171

Provision of information by defendant

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

Mr. Hawkins: The clause mirrors the provisions of clause 19, which refers to England and Wales. It addresses the provision of information by a defendant, and once again there might be special factors with regard to defendants in Northern Ireland.

I want Ministers and their advisers to consider the situation of a defendant who is not the Mr. Big—so to speak—but is a middle-ranking defendant involved in money laundering, drug trafficking or racketeering in Northern Ireland. The provisions of the enacted Bill will be binding on anyone against whom proceedings are being taken. In particular, subsection (4) includes the provisions relating to the court's drawing inferences. In the courts in England and Wales, there may be little difficulty about drawing adverse inferences from a defendant's failure to respond. However, in the case of Northern Ireland, one can envisage a defendant who has quite properly been brought before the court being intimidated by people higher up the criminal organisation.

12.30 pm

I wonder whether the Ministers and their advisers have thought about the way in which courts draw inferences in an atmosphere in which intimidation and the threat of violence are constantly present—which, sadly, is true of racketeering organisations in Northern Ireland controlled by terrorists or paramilitaries. Although I did not table specific amendments to match those debated previously under clause 19, which were of a different nature, I wanted at least to alert the Ministers to the possibility that it might not be appropriate for inferences to be drawn in the same way in Northern Ireland as in England and Wales under clause 19. In relation to provision of information by defendants, special circumstances arise from conditions in Northern Ireland. Despite the ostensible peace process, to which I referred when we debated an earlier group of amendments, every official briefing stresses that, sadly, the racketeering, intimidation and threats continue.

 
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