Proceeds of Crime Bill

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Mr. Hawkins: I realise that the hon. Gentleman is making serious points, and my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield and I entirely agree with him in his criticism of such people. I hope that he will understand that the comments that he has just made about legal representation come close to home on his own side. I also hope that he understands our fear that

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the kind of people whom he wants to hit will become more difficult to hit if the legislation proves unworkable, for the reasons that we have set out.

Mr. Davidson: No, I do not accept the thrust of that. May I take a little time to respond to the hon. Gentleman's point about legal representation hitting close to home on our side? Does he believe for a moment that that should make any difference to us? My wife does not work for the firm and nor do any of my children. The matter does not hit close to home for me. I am unaware of any of my colleagues who work, or who have worked, for Matrix. Should that matter at all?

Perhaps that is an insight into how the Conservatives work: they would take account of who had relatives or connections in a particular firm, but I do not believe that we should. It is irrelevant that Matrix may have a connection with a Labour Member. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman even raised that. I do not want to labour the point—[Hon. Members: ''Go on.'']—although people obviously feel that I should.

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Mr. Wilshire: To put the hon. Gentleman's mind at rest, may I confirm that I have no connection with that firm or any of the firms that he mentioned and nor, to the best of my knowledge, do any of my family, relatives, neighbours or friends? However, I disagree fundamentally with what he said, and I shall vote with my hon. Friends on the matter.

Mr. Davidson: That is a fascinating point that has nothing to do with the point that I raised.

I return to the question of Matrix striking a little close to home. I shall give way to the hon. Member for Surrey Heath if he wishes to clarify the extent to which my criticism of the banks and legal firms that are involved in the matter should take account of any connection that I might have with them. Even if I have an account with a bank, I am not responsible for directing its affairs. That is perhaps unfortunate, for it and for me. The question of connections is neither here nor there.

I see that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath has chosen not to respond but has passed responsibility to his apprentice.

Mr. Grieve: This may arise from a misunderstanding of what was said. The hon. Gentleman appeared to criticise a barristers' chambers with a human rights track record for taking on the Abachas' case. That is unjustified, because there was a professional duty to do that and failure to take the case would have been a breach of professional conduct by a member of the chambers.

Mr. Davidson: That is an interesting point, although I do not follow the connection between that and the matter hitting close to home, which was the point made by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath. The hon. Member for Beaconsfield did not mention anything hitting close to home, and I assume that that means

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that he is deserting the field on the point. Will anybody clarify it? Does the hon. Member for Henley wish to speak?

Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley): I hesitate to try to improve on anything that was said—I could not really improve on it. I speak only because the hon. Gentleman persists in ignoratio elenchi and failing to understand the point that is put to him. It is clear that learned and distinguished counsel at Matrix chambers believe that there are human rights points to defend, over which, once again, the hon. Gentleman is prepared to ride roughshod.

Mr. Davidson: That is an interesting point, but I do not see its relevance to hitting close to home, about which I asked for clarification. The hon. Member for Surrey Heath told me that the matter was close to home and that I should be cautious. Nobody has clarified why that is, or should be, the case. I shall move on and remain puzzled at the double standard that the Opposition apply. Perhaps it is all in the context of sneaking.

Lest hon. Members think that I am attacking only British banks, may I mention that several banks in Jersey are implicated in the foul trade?

The Chairman: Order. The provision does not extend to Jersey. The hon. Gentleman will be out of order if he persists in making his point.

Mr. Davidson: You make a very fair point, Mr. McWilliam. I was raising the matter only to clarify that the guilty banks in Jersey also have branches here. The style of operation that they adopt in Jersey is likely to be the same culture that pervades the whole organisation. In Jersey, there is Deutsche Bank, the Bank of India and Citibank.

I want to concentrate on what is reasonable and what is unreasonable. I referred earlier to the point that if people did not know, they ought to have known. I very much want the onus of activity placed on the professionals who are involved. When the defence put forward is, ''I had no suspicions whatever,'' it should be reasonable for the courts to say, ''Well, given the circumstances, you ought to have had suspicions, so you are guilty of something anyway.'' The sooner we have a few high-profile hangings of lawyers, accountants and bankers who have been caught by the Bill, the more salutary the effect will be.

The Chairman: Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that capital punishment is not covered by the Bill, nor have I seen any amendments to that effect.

Mr. Davidson: There might be one later. I shall certainly consider tabling a new clause to that effect on Report. It would draw the attention of lawyers and others to such matters if they thought that they would be severely punished. The great advantage of capital punishment is that it would reduce recidivism considerably.

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Harris) referred to tanning studios. Like him, I have a substantial number of them in my constituency, but I must confess that I have never seen anyone go

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into them. There is a widespread suspicion that most of them are used to launder drug and other criminal money in Glasgow.

Mr. Wilshire: Given that the hon. Gentleman said that he has never seen anyone going into the tanning studios, can he tell us how many hours a week he hangs around outside them?

Mr. Davidson: The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. Perhaps I have not been scrutinising such premises as closely as I should. As I drive to and fro on constituency business, I see many commercial premises. I see people going into newsagents. The Committee may find it difficult to believe about my constituency, but I see people going in and out of public houses. I see them going in and out of bookies, but I have never seen people going in and out of tanning studios—

Mr. Carmichael rose—

Mr. Davidson: Not even Tommy Sheridan. I anticipated the hon. Gentleman's witticism, so he has no need to intervene.

Given the number of tanning studios in Glasgow, if members of the Committee wandered down any street in the city, they would expect to be confused into thinking that they were in the Caribbean. In fact, all they would see is peelie-wally faces—I look forward to seeing those words in Hansard—who obviously have been nowhere near tanning studios. Unless only a few people are now burned to the colour of toast and have been overdoing such treatment, it means that the studios are not being used properly, yet they are in abundance.

John Robertson: Does my hon. Friend agree with Strathclyde police, who have told me that it is well known that tanning studios in the Glasgow area are being used for money laundering, but the problem has always been to get them to court so that the people involved can be convicted. The Bill will go a long way towards bringing to book the people who operate such places, not only to get the money from them, but to get them for their criminal processes.

Mr. Davidson: My hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow, Cathcart and for Glasgow, Anniesland (John Robertson) have had several discussions with Strathclyde police, who confirmed that, in their view, several tanning studios were being used for money laundering. Similarly, we have information that a number of taxi firms are being similarly used. The police also confirmed—as have others in the west of Scotland—that several lawyers' firms are well known to them, the criminal fraternity and others to be conduits for drug money and other ill-gotten gains. Their difficulty is finding the means under the existing law to catch such people.

A substantial amount is coming in, allegedly from tanning studios to which nobody seems to go. Professional advisers are accepting it and putting it into the system, thereby laundering it. That happens

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regularly. I believe that the professionals involved are well aware of the source of that money. If they are not, they ought to be. Any effort by Conservative Members to weaken the Bill in the way that they are proposing plays into the hands of the evil men and their assistants who are poisoning many young people in my community. That is why I am concerned about the flippant attitude that some Opposition Members have adopted to many of the arguments that have been advanced by Labour Members.

Despite protestations that they are adopting a balanced approach to the Bill, Conservative Members have spent 20, 30, 40 times as long trying to weaken it as they have trying to strengthen it. I cannot remember one Opposition amendment that would toughen the Bill. They are making efforts only to water it down, which confirms my view that the Opposition are the criminals' friends. I hope that the Committee will reject the amendment and, over the next few weeks, will look for ways in which to toughen some of the Bill's provisions, particularly when we debate lawyer-client privilege and the way in which that is used to conceal information about money laundering, drug trafficking and other offences.

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Prepared 17 January 2002