Proceeds of Crime Bill

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Mr. Ainsworth: Obviously there are dangers, but there are also deterrents, such as perjury, that give people pause for thought before they lie in court about what was intended. The alternative is to say that under no circumstances should a person be compensated over and above the interest that is available from an interest-bearing bank account. Grave injustices could arise from such a decision. That is why we intend that, when exceptional circumstances have been satisfactorily proven, the court may consider compensation above that level.

There is no need to discuss the matter further and I ask the hon. Member for Beaconsfield to think about the matter. He is, in effect, proposing to lower the threshold at which the court must consider exceptional circumstances. Most cases would involve cash, and the appropriate level of interest is the right amount of compensation. Only in exceptional circumstances should a greater amount be considered.

Mr. Hawkins: The Minister thought that, because my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield intervened, he would pursue amendment No. 420, but we agreed that I should move the amendment. The Law Society of Scotland suggested the provision and we strongly support it. It must not be forgotten that we are talking about innocent people. That issue underpins clause 300. From the way in which he responded to his hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson), I know that the Minister recognises that.

The Chairman: Order. Amendment No. 420 cannot be subject to a separate Division, because if amendment No. 335 is accepted, the text that it amends would be withdrawn from the clause. Does the hon. Gentleman understand that?

Mr. Hawkins: I understand that, but I believe that it is in order, Mr. McWilliam, to address the issue.

The Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman is perfectly in order. I am merely pointing out to him the implication of him saying that he would ''move'' the amendment. I am just explaining the situation.

Mr. Hawkins: I am grateful to you, Mr. McWilliam. The point that my hon. Friend's intervention raised remains relevant. Before we read the Government amendment, the Law Society of Scotland queried—and we agreed with this—the use of ''exceptional'' in the Bill, which is why we tabled amendment No. 420. We want to propose, as the Minister has correctly set out, a wider test. The Minister's revised wording of the clause still contains that exceptional circumstances test.

Mr. Paul Stinchcombe (Wellingborough): On a point of clarification. I am considering the wording that the hon. Gentleman advocates and the reasons behind it. Would it be preferable to replace ''them'' with ''it''? Otherwise, the amendment would not make

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sense and would not catch the meaning that he is seeking to articulate. I will leave that with him. I make that suggestion simply so that I may understand the nature of his argument.

The Chairman: If I can be of assistance, let me explain. Because of the way in which amendment No. 420 is framed, the relevant words will disappear if Government amendment No. 335 is included in the Bill. The words reappear in the subsequent amendment. A way around that would be to attempt to amend the subsequent amendment at a later stage in the Bill.

In passing, I ask hon. Gentlemen who choose to grow a beard in the recess to let me know that they have done so, in order that I may recognise them. I also make that request of hon. Gentlemen who shave one off.

3 pm

Mr. Hawkins: In relation to the hon. Gentleman's intervention, we shall look again at the wording of our amendment to take account of the serious point that he makes. As you have reminded us, Mr. McWilliam, we may need to table further amendments to the Government's revision of the Bill at a later stage. Our basic point is that the provision should not apply only in exceptional circumstances. Starting from the premise that clause 300 deals with a situation in which someone's cash is taken, and no forfeiture order follows—because it turns out that they were not doing anything wrong, and they were not one of the Mr. Bigs that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok wants to hit—it is not appropriate to have too high a threshold for the person to claim that he has suffered a loss. It should not only be in exceptional circumstances; the Law Society of Scotland is right to say that it should be what the court or sheriff considers reasonable. I am sure that it will be possible to return to the issue at a later stage or in another place and produce a further amendment to the revised Bill, which would introduce the concept of reasonableness and give the court or sheriff discretion.

Mr. Stinchcombe: I now understand what the hon. Gentleman is suggesting. Will he confirm that he wants the Bill to allow compensation to be awarded if the court considers that it is reasonable to do so?

Mr. Hawkins: Exactly. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Davidson: I am grateful to have the opportunity to respond to the points made by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) when he referred to my anxieties about a Mr. Big. He suggested that the circumstances provided for would not apply when it was a Mr. Big but would apply when it was an entirely innocent party. Unfortunately, he fails to recognise that a Mr. Big might be found innocent, or at least not found guilty, in certain circumstances. That does not necessarily mean that he is innocent. Therefore, rewarding him unduly by allowing him to produce witnesses who will assert that he was going to do this, that and the other, will not necessarily ease my anxieties.

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Mr. Hawkins: I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but we must preserve the position whereby if somebody is innocent, and it seems that the forfeiture order should not properly have been made, the person should be compensated. That seems to be the purpose of the Government's rewriting of the clause. I see the Minister nodding assent. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok talked about betting coups and people wandering around Glasgow claiming that horses were bound to win. I seem to remember, without intruding too much on a private grief, that there was a betting coup in relation to certain events that happened not a huge length of time ago in the Palace of Westminster. Certain hon. Members, who represent the relevant part of Scotland, were thought to have been betting on a certainty. I seem to remember that the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Mr. Roy) had to resign a position as a result of accepting that he had bet on an outcome that he was influencing.

Mr. Davidson rose—

The Chairman: Order. Before we go too far down that road, the Committee should return to the effect of the amendments under consideration. With regard to the comments of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok, I want to point out that when I worked in and around Pollok, turf accountants offices were not to be seen because they were unlawful in those days.

Mr. Hawkins: In the light of your ruling, Mr. McWilliam, I shall not pursue the matter. The Minister has helpfully rewritten the clause and we shall accept Government amendment No. 335. We ask him, however, to reconsider whether it may be better to import a concept of reasonableness into the provision later in our proceedings.

Mr. Davidson: Given the present company, I wish to say that my hon. Friend the Minister is wonderful, as is our Whip, who has treated us harshly, yet fairly.

The Chairman: Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not referring to anyone who is sitting beyond the Bar in the Room. That would be out of order.

Mr. Davidson: Is there someone beyond the Bar? I had not noticed.

Mr. Field: I can see someone over here.

Mr. Davidson: That is good. ''Mr. Holiday'' has just responded to me.

Will the Minister clarify the juxtaposition of clause 300(5)(b), under which a fine or penalty or compensation is to be paid by the police authority, with clause 299, under which any money seized or forfeited goes into the Scottish Consolidated Fund? That is a trifle unfair and unbalanced, given that the Scottish Consolidated Fund receives all the gains, yet the penalties fall on the individual police force.

The Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman should raise such matters under the clause stand part debate, not when the Committee is discussing an amendment.

Mr. Grieve: I want to touch on two matters, the first of which is in respect of the comments of the hon.

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Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Stinchcombe). He is right that the amendment should read:

    ''such that the court or sheriff considers it reasonable''.

The word ''them'' under the amendment was probably a result of my drafting it late in the evening. I apologise and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for picking up the error.

I have a query about the Government's amendment. The Minister said that it would usually be the case that, when the cash was detained for more than 48 hours and was not in an interest-bearing account, compensation would be paid. It is right that there is a residual court discretion not to pay it. That is clearly implicit in the word ''may'', not in the word ''must''. The hon. Gentleman is looking a little quizzical, so I shall read out the relevant part. The amendment states:

    ''If, for any period after the initial detention of the cash for 48 hours, the cash was not held in an interest-bearing account while detained, the court or sheriff may order an amount of compensation to be paid to the applicant.''

The only inference that can be drawn from that form of words is that the Minister is envisaging circumstances in which the court should have the discretion not to award interest, even though the cash had not been placed in an interest-bearing account and the person was entitled, all along, to that money. I am interested why such a form of words is used. If the Minister wishes, in the ordinary course of events, for the money always to be paid and assessed under proposed subsection (1B), surely the word ''must'' should be used. If he has a cogent reason why the court should have the discretion not to award interest in those circumstances, I should be grateful to hear it. However, he has not touched on such a reason so far. I doubt if one has crossed his mind. I suggest respectfully to him that the amendment would be better drafted if ''must'' replaced ''may''.

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