Proceeds of Crime Bill

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Mr. Foulkes: What a surprise.

Mr. Hawkins: Would it not reinforce my hon. Friend's argument if he were to remind the Ministers—especially the Minister of State, Scotland Office, who keeps making comments from a sedentary position—that, in response to an earlier intervention, I said that if the Government had inserted ''reasonable belief'' into clause 321, we would not have had a problem? Is not that the comprehensive answer to all of the suspicious comments being made by the Under-Secretary and other Labour Members?

Mr. Grieve: My hon. Friend is right. Throughout weeks of sittings, I come have to this Committee willing to be persuaded by argument. One of the merits of the Committee system is the ability to have a dialogue that is, on the whole, free of party political polemics. This morning, however, we seem to have had more of that than on previous occasions, and I regret that. The Under-Secretary has been the principal initiator of that process. I am always prepared to be persuaded, and, on occasions during the Committee, I have said to him that he has persuaded me.

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However, the way in which part 7 has been tackled is noteworthy. First, the Under-Secretary has been defensive. Secondly, there has been a tendency to say, ''This is designed to achieve a laudable end, and, therefore, those who stand in the way of it must be trampled into the dust, as they are the supporters of criminality.'' Finally, there has been a worrying unwillingness to go into the details of some of the, perhaps unintended, consequences of the way in which the Bill is drafted. The first amendment must be tackled now. I cannot leave it until a further discussion of clause 323. The way in which the amendments have been selected require that, which may be unfortunate, but it is not our fault. I will be grateful if that is dealt with and I will tell the Under-Secretary if he succeeds in persuading me.

Government Back Benchers put forward good, and persuasive, arguments about the impact on the regulated financial sector. At the same time, as the debate progressed, I have become more troubled about the knock-on consequences that we have not examined. It is up to the Under-Secretary whether he wishes to go down that road.

I continue to have the gravest reservations about the change to the standard mens rea test. By leaving the test as it is in other areas of criminal law, we would create a terrible barrier to the prosecution of those who launder money, including those in the financial sector. We often go around changing tests and trying to beef things up, and that does not make a huge difference at the end of the day. That is a compelling reason to leave the principles as they are.

Mr. Davidson: The hon. Member for Beaconsfield was speaking about his regret that party politics has entered the debate and that it has become somewhat polemic. I confess that he is about to get a bit more of that. Politics is involved in the matter. It is clear who the Conservatives speak for and who we speak for. Some arguments by Conservative Members were a disgrace. You have not attempted to take account of the seriousness of the situation that people in our communities face. You argue in defence—

The Chairman: Order. I am not arguing anything.

Mr. Davidson: Indeed you are not, Mr. McWilliam.

The Conservatives have defended vested interests and did not convince me that they are concerned meaningfully about the effects of money laundering and corrupt practices.

Mr. Hawkins rose—

Mr. Davidson: I am happy to give way to the hon. Gentleman. He is not altogether a bad man, but he has not convinced me that he has much concern about the issue.

Mr. Hawkins: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman both for giving way and for his description of me, which is perhaps as good as I shall get in his eyes.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will give all Conservative Members credit for saying on several occasions—as Hansard will show—that we want to help the Government to stop money laundering and that we are worried about drugs. I have seen the appalling effect of drugs at first hand from experience

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in my constituency and when I defended and prosecuted serious drugs cases. Conservatives are worried about the way in which the Government have gone about the provision and the way in which it will affect people who are not sophisticated and who are not solicitors or accountants. Clauses 321 and 323 are not restricted to the professional fields to which the hon. Gentleman objects. We are worried that the Bill will not be effective enough to protect the hon. Gentleman's constituents.

The Chairman: Order. May I remind the Committee—nobody has broken the rule yet—that all members of the Committee are hon. Members, and we must address each other as such. We should certainly not question the honour or conduct of any member of the Committee.

Mr. Davidson: I am almost speechless after the long case for the defence by the hon. Member for Surrey

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Heath. The Opposition say that they are concerned about the impact of these crimes on our constituents. After listening to their arguments, I do not believe it. The emphasis on everything that they said did not lead me to believe that the Tories are serious about pursuing that vigorously.

The Conservative's amendment—the stupidity, or ignorance, defence—reminds me of the tale of the Scottish sinner who was about to be consigned to the flames by God. He said, ''Lord, Lord, we didnae ken.'' The Lord said, ''Well, ye ken noo.'' The defence that the Conservatives put forward would allow people to say, ''We simply didn't know.'' That is too weak.

It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at half-past Two o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
McWilliam, Mr. John
O'Brien, Mr. Bill }(Chairmen)
Ainsworth, Mr. Bob
Baird, Vera
Baker, Norman
Clark, Mrs. Helen
David, Mr.
Davidson, Mr.
Field, Mr. Mark
Foulkes, Mr.
Grieve, Mr.
Harris, Mr. Tom
Hawkins, Mr.
Hesford, Stephen
Johnson, Mr. Boris
Lazarowicz, Mr.
Lucas, Ian
McCabe, Mr.
McGuire, Mrs.
Robertson, John
Stinchcombe, Mr.
Stoate, Dr.
Tredinnick, Mr.
Watson, Mr.
Wilshire, Mr.

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Prepared 17 January 2002