Proceeds of Crime Bill

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Mr. Ainsworth: The hon. Gentleman's analysis of the effect of the clause is correct—although I wish that the concerns that he and the Law Society have expressed had gone wider than their own profession.

Clause 323 (2)(c) provides a defence for people such as tradesmen who are paid for ordinary consumable goods or services in money that comes from crime;

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they are not under any obligation to question the source of the money. Subsection (3)(c) makes it clear that that would not be a defence if goods or services that helped a person to carry out criminal conduct were provided for adequate consideration.

The hon. Gentleman's amendment therefore addresses a useful point, and I acknowledge the role that the Law Society played in persuading him to table it. It highlights the fact that a trader may not always know or suspect that the goods that he provides for adequate consideration may later be used for the purposes of criminal conduct.

The provision is similar to existing legislation, and no problems—such as those that the hon. Gentleman outlined—have so far arisen. However, I acknowledge that a trader might provide for adequate consideration goods that were used for purposes of criminal conduct without having any grounds for knowing or suspecting that that would be the case. In such circumstances the trader would, technically, still fall foul of the possession offence. However, that would not apply in cases of inadequate consideration.

I offer to look into the matter, and to report back on the outcome of my deliberations. We will need to satisfy ourselves that by making an amendment of the kind that the hon. Gentleman has suggested, we do not inadvertently create a loophole that might assist less scrupulous traders. He focused on a specific situation that would affect lawyers, but as I have said, other jobs and professions might also be affected.

Mr. Grieve: I hope that I made it clear that I acknowledge that that is the case. It is interesting that it should have been the Law Society that picked up this point. The example that it provided made sense; from the perspective of my professional experience, I could see how such a situation could arise. However, the Minister is right that any innocent trader could be affected if they supplied a service and found themselves unwittingly helping in the commission of crime.

I offer the example of vehicle hire. A person could rent a vehicle to someone and be paid in money that was criminal property. That person could have acted on a bona fide basis even if the van were then used to move the proceeds of crime from point A to point B. Such a person could fall foul of the law—although is unlikely that he would be prosecuted, as prosecuting authorities would exercise their discretion, and it would be glaringly obvious that he had acted innocently.

I have told the Minister many times that unless it cannot be avoided, it is undesirable to enact legislation that criminalises people but then leaves it to the prosecutor's discretion whether to prosecute. As a basic rule, whenever possible we should enact law that criminalises the activity of criminals, not those who are blameless. I am grateful to the Minister for listening to what I have said about the amendment, and for taking my points on board.

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In conclusion, I find it difficult to see how anyone in a reasonable environment could say that the amendment had a downside. If it were accepted, prosecutors would have to prove that a person whom they believed to have provided services for a valueless consideration in order to help someone to carry out criminal conduct, knew or suspected what he was doing. If a prosecutor were convinced that a person knew or suspected what he was doing, the burden for the prosecutor would be slightly heavier. However, that burden is one that any right-thinking person would believe that the prosecutor should bear in any case: he should prove that the person knew or suspected that he was facilitating criminality in taking the property for a good consideration. It is difficult to understand how anyone could formulate any proper argument that that should not be done.

I hope that the Minister will accept the amendment or something similar. I shall withdraw it, but I ask the Minister to let us know his decision before Report; otherwise we shall have to return to the subject. I would be grateful—and so would those who are likely to be affected by the issue—if on Report, we could agree an amendment on the subject. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Grieve: We cannot simply leave the clause as it stands without giving further consideration to what it does. Last Thursday, we discussed the state of knowledge required to commit an offence under the clause. In retrospect, I feel that my efforts to draw the Committee's attention to the issue that arose under the clause were diverted, although that was understandable as our discussion was linked to the amendment that would have put the word ''knowingly'' into clause 321.

Yesterday I looked at the transcript of that discussion, and it was glaringly obvious that resources had been heaped on discussing clause 321, while clause 323 had gone by the board. I noted with interest what the hon. Member for Redcar (Vera Baird) said in her important contribution to our debate on Thursday. When pointing out some of the derivation of the legislation, she extolled the Minister as a ''verray, parfit gentil knyght'', and commended him for his reasonableness.

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster): As my hon. Friend is making Chaucerian references, which Labour Member does he think would be the Wife of Bath?

Mr. Grieve: My lips are sealed on such matters. I would not wish to identify the Wife of Bath among Labour members of the Committee—or from elsewhere in the House. Occasionally names spring to mind—not necessarily Labour Members—but certainly not the name of anyone in this Committee.

The hon. Member for Redcar went to some lengths to emphasise that the changes being made in respect of states of knowledge were, for the most part, beneficial.

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When I reread the Bill and its origins in previous legislation, I found it impossible to reach that conclusion.

I now turn to the generality of clause 323. In our previous debate, I said that there was a close relationship between this provision and the offence of handling stolen goods. The more I consider the matter, the more persuaded I am of the closeness of that relationship, although I accept that it is not identical. For example, the scope of this clause is much wider. It deals not only with stolen property, but with the proceeds of crime. Although all stolen property is the proceeds of crime, not all the proceeds of crime are stolen property.

As I said earlier when we discussed the Law Society's amendment, No. 486, under the clause there could be a defence of providing good consideration, which might not exist in relation to stolen property. That is a somewhat recondite point, however, and I am not sure that it will take us much further. However, the clause encompasses the offence of handling stolen goods, plus an extra layer. I think that the hon. Member for Redcar and I agree that the origins of the Bill are the result of a consolidation of measures under the Criminal Justice Act 1988—as amended in 1993—and the Drug Trafficking Offences Act 1986. Section 93B(1) of the 1993 Act states:

    ''A person is guilty of an offence if, knowing that any property is, or in whole or in part directly or indirectly represents, another person's proceeds of criminal conduct, he acquires or uses that property or has possession of it.''

What is so noteworthy about that provision is that in the amendments that the 1993 Act makes to the Criminal Justice Act 1988, that is the key example of the use of the word ''knowing'' on its own. Whoever drafted the Act in 1993 and followed the then Government's policy—I do not necessarily support every aspect of Government policy in the early 1990s—must have had the specific purpose of inserting the word ''knowing'' in section 93B. That person was happy to use the words ''knows or suspects'' in section 93D and a similar phrase in section 93A.

The hon. Member for Redcar highlighted a distinction in section 93C, which is entitled:

    ''Concealing or transferring proceeds of criminal conduct.''

She was right to say that the Government have reduced the test that relates to that because it had previously been a negligence test. There was a negligence test under section 93C, which the Minister has altered to a test of knowing or suspecting. That is in sharp contrast with section 93B, which is entitled:

    ''Acquisition, possession or use of proceeds of criminal conduct''.

That provides for a straightforward knowledge test.

I have not had time to read either the Hansard transcripts of the Committee in 1993, or the then Government's reasoning. I apologise to the Committee for that. Either the Government and the draftsman in 1993 took leave of their senses and were bandying words about—that is unlikely—or there was a background reason why they used a test for the acquisition, possession or use of proceeds of crime that was different from the other tests. With respect to the

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hon. Member for Redcar, we did not examine that last week, which is why it is important to consider it now.

Vera Baird (Redcar): I, too, have read what I said last week, and I must make it clear that I was addressing primarily clause 321, because we were to consider clause 322 later. I said then that I expected to try to beef up clause 323, but a verray, parfit gentil knyght managed to persuade me that that was not necessary.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne): How many bones were broken?

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