Proceeds of Crime Bill

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Mr. Wilshire: I not sure whether it is the appropriate moment to raise the matter, but the Minister made a point today that is absolutely correct and accurate. He bet that some people did not understand what he had read out. He was spot on. I followed him for the first couple of sentences, though, and there is a matter under clause 306 that worries me. I understand that he said that he had tabled the amendments to clarify that people who had acquired property in good faith would not find themselves in an unholy mess. Will he reassure me that, if a person has money of his own that is nothing to do with crime, and he purchases something in all good faith without any sort of collusion, he will not be caught up in seizure, forfeiture, confiscation, or whatever the correct word is? I think that that is what he was trying to reassure me about. If he was not, I am deeply concerned. I do not believe that buyer beware should apply to that type of situation. Is that what the wonderful legal jargon, carefully prepared by one of the Minister's civil servants, was telling me?

Mr. Ainsworth: I do not know whether I can satisfy the hon. Gentleman without returning to the explanation that we used in an earlier part of the

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Bill. Unless we say that property that represents recoverable property is itself recoverable, we will not succeed, because people will be very effective at hiding the proceeds of crime. Therefore, there is a need for mobility, so that such property can be chased through. At some point, for various reasons, property ceases to be recoverable. The example that has been flagged up is when a property has been acquired by a bona fide purchaser for value—and why not?

However, the chain then goes off in another direction and I suggested that it was like the branches of a tree. Selling property to a bona fide purchaser for value would provide a return, which would then represent the original property that was the proceeds of crime. The tracing should be allowed to continue. The innocent bona fide purchaser for value will be free of any ability to claim back that which has fallen into his hands, but the eventual profits of that original criminality should be traced.

The hon. Gentleman is right. He is worried about a situation when a legitimate person who acquires property in a legitimate way for full value, not knowing it to be the proceeds of crime. I can assure him that such property is not recoverable. We will discuss the matter when we consider the amendments to clause 306. Heaven only knows how we remove the opprobrium from such situations. As the hon. Gentleman and I know, people still suggest that the Elgin marbles and the Koh-i-noor diamond and other items were obtained by semi-legitimate or illegitimate means. Debate will continue about that and about the circumstances in which something is chased because it is the proceeds of crime.

Mr. Wilshire: I am grateful to the Minister for his reassurance on the question that I asked. However, I have a mind that looks for a booby trap and his reply prompts a further question. If I were a collector who, in all good faith, purchased an antique that was acquired by a person involved in a crime, I understand that the Minister says, ''That's that,'' and that the antique ceases to be recoverable because I have acquired it, but if the person who sold the antique to me returned and said, ''I desperately want it back; I'll pay you 20 per cent. more than you gave me for it,'' would that person, who sold the proceeds of crime, acquire back property that cannot be gathered in?

Mr. Ainsworth: No, the person would not, because the branches of the tree have gone around the blockage. The only way in which the hon. Gentleman would be protected would be if he bought the antique for full value without knowledge that it was the proceeds of crime. If the person returned and offered to buy the antique, it could be shown that he bought it back with money that was gained from his original criminality. The money that was paid for the antique in the first place could be recoverable and if money were paid to get the antique back, the antique would again become recoverable property.

Mr. Wilshire: What about the 20 per cent. extra that was paid in good faith?

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Mr. Ainsworth: That depends where it came from.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 302, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 303

Tracing property, etc.

Amendments made: No. 338, in page 174, line 27, leave out

    'the original property or of'

and insert

    'recoverable property, whether the original property or'.

No. 339, in page 174, line 31, after 'of', insert 'recoverable'.—[Mr. Bob Ainsworth.]

Clause 303, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 304

Mixing property

Mr. Grieve: I beg to move amendment No. 470, in page 175, line 1, leave out subsection (3).

To my mind, the clause is extremely simple. Subsection (1) states:

    ''Subsection (2) applies if a person's recoverable property is mixed with other property (whether his property or another's).''

Subsection (2) states:

    ''The portion of the mixed property which is attributable to the recoverable property represents the property obtained through unlawful conduct.''

That is crystal clear. Why do we have subsection (3)? It does not purport to be definitive, because it states:

    ''Recoverable property is mixed with other property if (for example)''.

I am puzzled as to why primary legislation should contain a subsection that gives limited examples of what the other subsections may relate to. The Minister may persuade me of a good reason for that, but otherwise I query whether the subsection is required.

Mr. Ainsworth: I anticipated the hon. Gentleman's argument. Subsection (3) is intended to be helpful to the courts. The amendment would not achieve anything.

Mr. Hawkins: A shorter Bill.

Mr. Ainsworth: It might save some paper, but most Bills have already been printed, so the paper has already been wasted. However, new versions will be printed.

Subsection (3) sets out four examples of when recoverable property may be mixed with other, non-recoverable property. The intention behind the examples is to assist the courts by clarifying how the provision will work in certain circumstances. The examples are not intended to be an exhaustive list, as the hon. Member for Beaconsfield said. They give an indication of the breadth of the situation in which the provisions are to be applied. That was our intention, and if he considers the examples that are given under the Bill, he will see that they show the breadth of the

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provision. We thought that the subsection would be helpful and there is no other reason for it than that.

4 pm

Mr. Hawkins: In light of the definitive case of Pepper v. Hart, the Minister can help the court by giving examples as he would usually do when in Committee. Such matters do not have to be set out in the Bill because his words, as recorded by Hansard, become part of the guidance to the courts.

Mr. Ainsworth: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Nothing will be lost under the Bill by removing subsection (3). However, nothing will be gained. It was drafted for a good reason. It shows the breadth of the provision in a potentially complicated area. I suggest that hon. Gentlemen, despite their misgivings about the subsection, accept that it should remain and that such matters may be helpful to people without their having to trawl through Hansard reports to find out what was said in Committee.

Mr. Grieve: If the clause had been drafted under the part of the Bill dealing with confiscation, whereby matters would have taken place in the Crown court in front of Crown court judges, it might have been helpful. On the basis that such matters will be dealt with under civil recovery procedure in the High Court, surely the points made under subsection (3) might be matters of which the judiciary had some knowledge. However, I do not want to make a big issue out of the amendment. I understand the Minister's point. I see that he has been handed a note.

Mr. Ainsworth: I want to make the hon. Gentleman aware that such measures apply to the whole of part 5. We are talking about not only the High Court but the magistrates court.

Mr. Grieve: Then perhaps the Minister makes a good point. I accept that it could be helpful to put such details in front of the noses of a bench of magistrates who have to determine a particular issue. I do not suppose that they will be familiar with the principles of mixing property. Perhaps I am a pedant, but I have always believed that we should try to keep legislation simple.

Ian Lucas: I am interested that the hon. Gentleman is arguing for excluding information from the Bill, when throughout our considerations he has often advanced the opposite argument.

Mr. Grieve: If there were a definitive list of the categories, I would welcome it. However, the fact that we are being treated to examples is an odd way in which to present a Bill. I was about to withdraw the amendment, but I shall not do so immediately, because my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) may wish to say something.

Mr. Wilshire: My hon. Friend said that magistrates may find the measure helpful. I accept that, but this is not the only clause that will go before a magistrate. Why is it thought necessary here, when in great tracts of the Bill, which could well end up in a magistrates court, we are not treated to that way of proceeding? If the poor magistrates need help on the issue, we need to be told why they do not need help with other passages of the Bill, as otherwise the provision is not necessary.

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Mr. Ainsworth: The hon. Gentleman is right. There is no end to what we could do. I am trying not to agree with him as he sits there in his Pooh bear tie. Our intention was to clarify the position and spell out examples in order to show the breadth of the provision. It would not be helpful for me to say more. I do not believe that the examples in the Bill do any harm. I therefore ask the hon. Member for Beaconsfield not to press the amendment to a vote.

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