Proceeds of Crime Bill

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Mr. Ainsworth: As I said, I cannot see the point of discussing the matter further when I am assured that those categories of people are not covered. That is on the record, and Hansard is quotable in a court of law, as people know. I have no intention to be anything other than clear on this point.

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Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster): I had hoped to touch briefly on the point that the Minister made about the example given by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith. I appreciated that the hon. Gentleman's point applied generally, rather than specifically to personnel officers, but it seems to me that personnel or human resources departments often have considerable knowledge at all levels. Individuals in those departments might therefore have a stronger duty to disclose than other junior employees within a particular firm.

We must not return to the debate that took place at great length on Tuesday, but I am concerned that the Government do not think that there should be a distinction between grades. I appreciate that it will be difficult to couch the provision in exact terms without the risk of exempting guilty folk. Conversely, if it is expressed in broad terms, we might run the risk of an inordinate number of claims. The point has been well made that it will be difficult to make a distinction within the business as a whole if, as the Minister said, a distinction should not be made between grades, or between levels and types of qualification.

The Chairman: Order. I must remind the hon. Gentleman that an intervention is not a speech—[Interruption.] I am terribly sorry. I did not realise that the Minister had finished, and the hon. Gentleman was making a speech..

Mr. Field: I have made speeches far shorter than this, Mr. O'Brien—[Interruption.] And amen say the rest of them. [Interruption.] Yes, perhaps I should stop now, while I am winning.

Representatives in the financial services industry take a plethora of examinations. It would be sensible for that fact to be recognised. I appreciate that the Minister will say that the real risk is that a small unscrupulous financial services organisation could drive a coach and horses through the Bill by ensuring that none of its employees took the registered representative examinations, and thus fell outside the duty of disclosure. However, a distinction needs to be made. I must not rehearse our argument of Tuesday that criminality will be established on the basis of objective grounds to suspect rather than negligence, but it that were genuinely to apply to junior employees, the real risk is that the clause would be lost on a day-to-day basis.

Mr. Hawkins: Does my hon. Friend recall that at our previous sitting the Minister said, in response to other amendments tabled to the same clause, that the level of staff was to be looked in a specific way. He said:

    ''Of course, if somebody had been put into a job or position, and wound up having information thrown at them when they were a brand new learner on the job, the prosecution would have to consider that before targeting them rather than their employer for having put them in that position.''—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 22 January 2992; c. 1114.]

Does not that reinforce the point made repeatedly by my hon. Friend and me, as well as the British Bankers Association, that it would be left to the prosecution to decide such matters? The staff whom my hon. Friend and I want to protect would be

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vulnerable to prosecution, and the prosecution may make the wrong decisions.

Mr. Field: I could not agree more. A more sensible overview needs to be taken. My hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield talked about relying on the courts to take the right action, and 95 per cent.—perhaps even 99 per cent.—of the time they will take the right action. If there has been a big problem in a small department, they will go for the senior members in that department, and the juniors who may have been involved peripherally will not have the full force of the law against them—at least, not under the provisions on failure to disclose.

Clearly those individuals, even at a junior level, will find that their careers are harmed irreparably, at least within the financial services industry, notwithstanding that a fully fledged prosecution may not have been taken against them. I hope that the Minister will give some thought to the matter, because whatever he says about schedule 6, it is clear that it would be possible to broaden the measure extensively. Can some guidance be formulated, either in Committee or on Report, which is not necessarily hard and fast, but will ensure that relatively junior or peripheral staff would not be caught under the clause?

Mr. Ainsworth: Following our extensive debate on amendment No. 487, which covered different matters, some of the concerns that were expressed then by my hon. Friends, and by outside organisations, are the same as those that have been expressed today, although today they have been amplified in respect of junior staff. We are fairly certain that such problems could be avoided. I can understand such worries, so let me explain what we have examined, which may allay some of the fears

I have said before that regulation 5 of the Money Laundering Regulations 1993 imposes a training requirement on the regulated sector. It is an offence for any company or institution to not provide relevant training on money laundering. However, there is a worry about junior staff, which has been raised both outside and inside the Committee. It is not right that a person who had not received relevant training could fall foul of a prosecution. That is the point that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath made: we should not rely entirely on the prosecution authority.

There may be a case for considering whether it would be beneficial to insert a training proviso as a defence for junior employees. If they could show that they did not know or suspect that money laundering was occurring, and that they had not received the training required under the Money Laundering Regulations 1993, they would have that specific defence for the alleged offence.

That might strengthen the existing reasonable excuse defence. A reasonable excuse would be for anyone to tell a court—the prosecution would take account of this—that they did not receive the training to which they were entitled, and that their employer was obliged to give under the Money Laundering Regulations 1993, so they could not be expected to have reasonable grounds for suspicion. However, we may strengthen that by inserting such a requirement in

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the Bill. I assure Opposition Members and my hon. Friends that I will examine that, if their worries about junior staff in companies would be allayed by strengthening the ability of such staff to make that defence.

Mr. Stinchcombe: I thank the Minister for that helpful contribution.

However, the Minister's arguments relied on the first line of schedule 6, which he tells us was specifically incorporated as an endeavour to deal with the problem. I do not understand that line. It does not define when a business is in the regulated sector. One wants a definition in a statute to contain qualification. This measure introduces quantification, but it does not give a threshold. I understand the reasons behind the measure, but it does not achieve what is intended.

Mr. Ainsworth: I have raised that question repeatedly, and have received repeated reassurances that the line does what is required of it: it rules out people who are doing a job that should not fall under the provision. Hon. Members may have serious doubts, despite what I said. I see no point in arguing with them when they say that I have flatly refused to examine the provision in any circumstances. I have made the Committee aware that we repeatedly raised the issue with the draftsman, and he told us that it does what we want it to—but I will examine the issue again if hon. Members' worries remain.

Mr. Lazarowicz: I found the Minister's statement helpful. My worry is about a senior officer in an organisation who was not otherwise covered by the regulations and who could be exempt from a duty to disclose in certain circumstances. That example should not be put aside, but, as the Minister said, there might be situations in which someone, such as a senior officer in an organisation who would not otherwise be covered by the term ''business activities'', as he defines it, might be regarded as morally blameworthy. We should consider ways of ensuring, as far as possible, that such individuals do not escape through changes that are introduced as a consequence of our discussion.

10 am

Mr. Ainsworth: We need to be very careful about that. While I am happy to consider those two areas—although I do not hold out much prospect in relation to the second, having been given assurances—I want to bring the Committee's attention back to the main point, which I have made repeatedly. The current regulations, which I accept apply only to drug money laundering—

Mr. Hawkins rose—

Mr. Ainsworth: The hon. Gentleman should allow me to finish one point at least.

A fair amount of laundering of drug money is taking place in this country. However, the current offence is not used to any extent. People are saying, ''Well, prove it.'' They are not even prepared to believe me on that. To quantify it, I am told that there has not been a single offence recorded in Scotland under the

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current regulations on reporting of drug money, and if there has been more than one in England and Wales, we are not aware of that either. That is the extent to which that specific regulation—not the other money laundering regulations—has been used. I hope that that reinforces the importance of introducing further measures in the Bill.

Mr. Hawkins: Let me try to reassure the Minister that we share his aims, especially with regard to the matter raised by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith. If the matter could be recast so that somebody who was senior and who ought to be a target was brought into the net, my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield and I might support such a toughening up of the Bill, which might reassure Labour Members who are always accusing the Opposition of watering it down.

The Minister, in his usual reasonable way, has assured Opposition Members, and Labour Members who share some of our concerns, that he will consider the matter again. I know that we shall vote on the matter in a moment, but while he is reconsidering, will he give another undertaking? Rather than just going back to the same draftsman, who has not drafted correctly, will he also talk to people on the anti-money laundering committee of the Law Society of England and Wales, and to people at the British Bankers Association? Will he work with them on a draft that takes out of the net those people whom we all want to take out of the net? Surely the experts at the sharp end can best advise him on how that can be done. They are not satisfied with the current wording, and neither are we.

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