Proceeds of Crime Bill

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Clause 301

The minimum amount

Mr. Grieve: I beg to move amendment No. 462, in page 174, line 3, leave out from 'is' to end of line 5 and insert '£10,000'.

This is a probing amendment to give the Minister an opportunity to put on the record what he has already hinted at, which is where the minimum monetary point at which money will be recovered will kick in. I understand that it will be £10,000, and that could be expressed in the Bill. An argument against that is that, with the passage of time, there may be occasions when, without wishing to return to primary legislation, it ought to be possible to alter such a figure to reflect the changing value of money. I should be grateful if he would explain the position and say what the level will be when the Bill is enacted.

Mr. Ainsworth: I am grateful for that clarification. I thought that we were going to go down a well-trodden path, which would bore the Committee. The clause will require the Secretary of State to set a minimum amount to apply in the relevant clauses of chapter 3. The order must be made by the Secretary of State after consultation with Scottish Ministers and will be subject to the negative resolution procedure. It is better to establish a minimum amount in that way, rather than in the way proposed in the amendment. If the minimum amount were to need adjustment, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, that could be done by secondary rather than primary legislation. We have not made a final decision on the level of the threshold, but we anticipate that it will be at a level of £10,000, which of course is the threshold for cash under the borders scheme that currently applies in the provisions of the Drug Trafficking Act 1994. With that caveat, I hope that the hon. Gentleman is satisfied, and that he will withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Grieve: That goes a long way towards satisfying me. I confess that I would be happier if the Minister were able to tell us, before the Bill leaves the House of Commons, exactly what the amount will be. A figure of £10,000 makes a lot of sense because it is in the existing legislation. It also makes a lot of sense because, at current values, it is the kind of minimum level that we should be concerned about, and it reflects

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the level of money that people are likely to have on their person or in their houses.

Picking up on what the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok said at various stages—I am sorry that he is not here at the moment—if one has £25,000 in cash in a box in the house, it looks a bit odd. Certainly, anecdotal evidence suggests that some people carry several thousand pounds on them. If one were to reach the point at which the police were feeling the need to seize sums of £4,000 or £5,000 found on an individual at any one time, they might find that they had a pretty big task on their hands. That was the reason for my concern. If the Minister could address that before the Bill leaves the Committee, it would be helpful.

Mr. Ainsworth: I do not disagree with a word that the hon. Gentleman has said. I shall try to firm up what I have said as soon as possible.

Mr. Grieve: I am happy with that. 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 learned from experience that it is incredibly difficult to raise a question about the future of sterling without its appearing to be either out of order or in some way part of a hidden agenda. I genuinely seek information from the Minister, as I have a curious turn of mind. Whether one should dispense with sterling and introduce a different currency is not what I want to talk about.

Given legislation of this sort, in which reference is made to sterling, would the Government of the day have to come back and amend all legislation with such references if the currency of this country were to change? Alternatively, does the Bill state somewhere that, for sterling, one should read whatever currency is in use in the United Kingdom at the time. That must apply to hundreds if not thousands of statutes in the United Kingdom. Has anyone given thought to how we would handle that problem?

Mr. Ainsworth: All that I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that the Bill does not contain a clause stating that if the currency is changed certain provisions will not apply. I assume that an all-embracing clause would be included in legislation to change the currency, but I am not capable of answering his question.

Mr. Wilshire: I am grateful for such honesty, which appeals to me. Will the Minister undertake to find out and give us an answer?

Mr. Ainsworth: That is not within my ministerial responsibility. As a Member of Parliament, the hon. Gentleman can table questions to Treasury Ministers if he chooses to do so. Perhaps that is how he should pursue his query.

The Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman's question is beyond the title of the Bill, and should be addressed elsewhere.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 301 ordered to stand part of the Bill..

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Clause 302

Property obtained through unlawful conduct

3.45 pm

Mr. Ainsworth: I beg to move amendment No. 337, in page 174, line 17, leave out 'Property' and insert

    'Recoverable property obtained through unlawful conduct'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take Government amendments Nos. 338 and 339.

Mr. Ainsworth: These amendments will ensure that the drafting of clauses 302 and 303 is clear with regard to when property is recoverable. They do not represent a change of policy, but they will ensure that the clauses have the intended effect.

Amendment No. 337 is a drafting amendment. Clause 302 provides that property may be followed when it is disposed of by the person who originally obtained it through unlawful conduct. Where the property may be followed, it will remain recoverable, even though it is held by another person. Where property is disposed of, and one of the exceptions in clause 306 applies, the property ceases to be recoverable: it cannot be followed into the hands of the person who has obtained it. Thus, if property is disposed of to a bona fide purchaser, it cannot be followed into his hands—and it cannot be followed on a subsequent disposal. Amendment No. 337 makes that explicit, by establishing that the provisions to follow property apply to property obtained through unlawful conduct only while it is recoverable property.

Amendments Nos. 338 and 339 apply to clause 303. Subsection (1) of that clause provides that property that represents the original property obtained through unlawful conduct may also be recoverable property. It will be recoverable provided that the original property is, or has been, recoverable property. Thus, even if the original property has ceased to be recoverable—for example, because one of the exceptions in clause 306 now applies to it, or because it no longer exists—the property that represents it will remain recoverable. However, as I have mentioned, the original property may cease to be recoverable because one of the exceptions in clause 306 applies to it.

Subsection (2), as it is currently drafted, has the effect that, where other property is obtained in place of the original property, the other property represents the original property, regardless of whether the original property has ceased to be recoverable. I bet that that is not clear to Committee members, as we concentrated on cash forfeiture before switching to definitions, and we have now returned to civil recovery.

The situation to which I have referred with regard to subsection (2) should not arise under subsection (3), as it is implicit in that subsection that, if there is a disposal on which property cannot be followed, the property ceases to be recoverable. However, we think that it would be helpful if that was explicitly stated. That is why amendment No. 339 amends subsection (3) to make it clear that it applies only to recoverable property.

Mr. Grieve: I am reminded that, when the Committee debated civil recovery, there was some

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discussion of what constituted property that had been obtained through unlawful conduct, but I will not waste the Committee's time by rehearsing that at length.

The Government amendments are interesting, and I welcome them, as it is clear that they are intended to clarify: indeed, the Minister will be aware that I have tabled an amendment to clause 306 that addresses the same issue.

Subsection (1) states:

    ''Property obtained through unlawful conduct is recoverable property.''

Equally, it is not the case that recoverable property is property obtained through unlawful conduct. The reverse does not apply, because there is a series of exceptions. The law—as stated under the Bill—is that the property is deemed to have been obtained through unlawful conduct, but that it cannot be recovered.

It may be an exercise in linguistics or semantics, but as the Minister is aware, I expressed at an earlier stage my worry about at what point it could be said that property ceased to be property obtained through unlawful conduct. Unless that point is identified, it could be for ever and a day before the limitation period expires. I was also worried about the possible opprobrium that might be attached to a person. People could say of him, ''Well, it may be true that the property could not be recovered from you, but it was still obtained through unlawful conduct.''

It is noteworthy that the Minister must have had a sliver of feeling in that direction, because the Government amendments attempt to clarify that issue. I raise that matter now because when we discuss clause 306 I shall tempt him a little further. I shall ask him to exclude the bona fide purchaser for value without notice from being deemed to possess property obtained through unlawful conduct. Save for what I have just said, I welcome the Government amendments.

 
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