Proceeds of Crime Bill

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Mr. Field: At a later stage we shall have the opportunity to discuss professional privilege at length. I have sympathies with Labour Members, because as a former lawyer, I know that there is nothing so unedifying as watching certain lawyers trying to defend their own interests.

There are two matters that I want to raise. The first is that I am worried about the Minister's comments about the ethics division of either the Law Society or the Bar Council. I am not sure that that will be an entirely satisfactory route to take. There will be occasions when the time that it takes to obtain a definitive explanation may put lawyers in a difficult position. Indeed, it may happen that a junior and perhaps not very well qualified person in the ethics department gives an ad hoc judgment. However, we could argue that by going to the ethics division and having that on the record, a solicitor could avoid the potential problem—highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield—of falling foul of negligence and triggering a string of criminal charges.

Secondly, I wish to reiterate the point that has just been made, because I too am worried by the stance behind what the Minister when he played the numbers game. The success or otherwise of the provision will be dependent on the number of reports that come through—at least, that is how it will be judged—which is a great worry. The statistics revealed, I believe, that there were about 300 reports from however many tens of thousands of registered firms—but surely the rate of successful prosecutions would be a more sensible statistic. I appreciate the difficulty in assimilating figures for 2001 within a few weeks of the end of that year, but it is worrying if the perceived success of the legislation will boil down to a numbers game.

Mr. Ainsworth: I was trying to point out a potential problem. If Opposition Members believe that my comments were made merely on the hoof, I assure them that they were not. I do not know if the hon. Gentleman is aware of, or interested in, the opinion of Select Committees, but the Select Committee on International Development said that it was

    ''concerned at the under-reporting of suspicious transactions by certain professional groups, in particular lawyers''.

Those worries were expressed by a Select Committee, and are not an on-the-hoof response from me.

Mr. Field: I was not suggesting that the Minister's response was made on the hoof. We live in a world of

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league tables, and I accept that my party is as guilty as any in that respect. If we examine the matter in purely statistical terms, there is a grave danger of undermining a general and quantitative analysis of what occurs in new law, and the effectiveness of existing laws.

That was the point that I was trying to make, although I appreciate that it was not the only issue

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that the Minister had in mind. It is worrying—this applies to the Government as a whole—that such measures are examined in terms of a statistical analysis rather than according to their general effectiveness.

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:
Gale, Mr. Roger (Chairman)
Ainsworth, Mr. Bob
Baird, Vera
Brooke, Mrs.
Carmichael, Mr.
Clark, Mrs. Helen
Davidson, Mr.
Field, Mr. Mark
Foulkes, Mr.
Grieve, Mr.
Harris, Mr. Tom
Hawkins, Mr.
Hesford, Stephen
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 24 January 2002