Proceeds of Crime Bill

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Mr. Hawkins: I did not say, ''retrospectively criminalise''. Unusually for her, the hon. Lady misquotes me. I said that parliamentarians of all parties should be worried when part of a Bill can have a retrospective effect. One of the interesting things about the provision, as she has rightly identified, is that it refers to what happened to the property, rather than, as she would put it, retrospectively criminalising people.

We have debated the problem of cut-off times on previous occasions, and while it would be out of order to repeat our debates, I will touch on them briefly. My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) gave a hypothetical example about property that had belonged to one of his now deceased relations, which had long ago been the subject of crime. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok, who is sadly not with us at the moment, went into flights of fancy about property that may once have been the proceeds of crime and ended up on the Scottish borders in the hands of the ancestors of my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield. There must be clear signs of where the line is drawn. It might be possible to say that it is immaterial whether the property was the proceeds of crime before or after the Bill was enacted and we have no defined cut-off point.

Let us suppose that some of the proceeds of criminal activity that took place 25 years ago or longer was not recovered at the time. An example could be the great train robbery, or the Brink's-Mat robbery. What if some of those proceeds of crime were to turn up now? Where is the cut-off point? It is that type of retrospection that we must be careful about.

Mr. Stinchcombe: Would the amendment change the criminal character of any criminal property, bearing in mind subsection (3)? If it would not, the purpose of subsection (4)(c) is to clarify the case.

Mr. Hawkins: As he so often does, the hon. Gentleman has touched on an important matter. It would have been possible for my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield and myself to try to change any part of the Bill that might have dealt with timing. Certainly, I considered whether a consequential amendment to subsection (3) was needed. We did not say that our amendment was perfect. Indeed, neither of us would say that any of our amendments were perfect, although a couple of them—now known to members of the Committee as the Grieve amendment and the Hawkins amendment—cannot have been that bad, because the Government accepted

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them. Most of the time, we do not place any great faith in our drafting skills, but we want to be able to raise significant issues. The Government could say, ''We accept that point, but we wish to amend subsection (3) as well.''

Ian Lucas: My hon. Friend asked why this is a significant issue. He said that the deletion would have no effect.

Mr. Hawkins: No, I think that the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Stinchcombe) said that removing subsection (4)(c) would have no effect because of the form of subsection (3). However, the hon. Members for Wellingborough and for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) will accept that we do not mind whether subsections (3) and (4) would need amending.

Mr. Stinchcombe: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that his amendment has no effect at all?

4.30 pm

Mr. Hawkins: No, I do not. We often table amendments to raise an issue. That is the Committee's purpose. We do not say that our drafting is perfect, but we felt that suggesting the deletion was a simple and clear way in which to raise the issue. I have set out our case, and I will listen to what the Minister says. I anticipate that interesting issues will be raised by the question of what retrospectivity is.

Mr. Foulkes: I do not think that we are talking about a retrospective effect in the way that the hon. Gentleman claims. I hope that I can convince him of that.

As currently drafted, the legislation provides that it is does not matter whether criminal conduct took place before or after the passing of the Bill. It would be quite impractical to apply part 7 to only proceeds that were acquired through conduct that was committed after the Bill came into force. That would mean that the Bill would have no effect for many years, and it would create uncertainty about the status of the present law, which also catches conduct committed prior to the date on which the relevant provisions in the Drug Trafficking Act 1994 and the Criminal Justice Act 1988, as amended by the Criminal Justice Act 1993, were brought into force.

I emphasise that the way in which subsection (4)(c) is drafted does not mean that the actual principal offences or the failure to report an offence may be retrospective. Those offences can be committed only if the laundering occurs, or the actual knowledge or suspicion for reporting purposes is formed, after the Bill comes into force. The subsection does, however, mean that a person who committed an acquisitive crime before or after the Bill comes into force, and who then launders the proceeds of that crime after the legislation has been commenced, or who fails to report his suspicions after the commencement, will commit an offence under clauses 321 to 324. Hon. Members will agree that that is sensible.

In order to commit a money laundering offence, a person must know or suspect that property is the

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proceeds of crime. If the person has that suspicion, he should stop any dealings with it, regardless of how long ago the offence was committed. I hope that that convinces the hon. Member for Surrey Heath.

The construction of the offences, which replicates the approach taken in existing legislation, is fully compatible with the European convention on human rights. Article 7 of the ECHR requires that there shall be no punishment without law. However, in order to commit a money laundering offence, a person must do something in addition to the original crime that generated the proceeds. People who have already generated proceeds from criminal conduct will have time to become aware of the provisions of part 7 before they come into force. They will be able to take steps to ensure that they do not commit a money laundering offence.

In view of that explanation of the operation of part 7, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Hawkins: I anticipated that the Minister would take such a line and at this stage—and only at this stage—I am willing to withdraw the amendment. However, he may have to be a little cautious because some issues may yet be raised by much more expert lawyers in another place. From reading their debates, I know that any issues that touch on even the slightest retrospection always cause Law Lords grave concern. I am not sure that he is completely off the hook in the long term, but for now I am prepared to say that I concede some faults.

I know that the Minister would recognise from the intervention of the hon. Member for Redcar that the measure was not retrospective in the full sense, but we thought that that such matters were worth raising. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: No. 286, in page 190, line 40, leave out 'or a pecuniary advantage'.

No. 287, in page 190, line 41, at end insert—

    '(5A) If a person obtains a pecuniary advantage as a result of or in connection with conduct, he is to be taken to obtain as a result of or in connection with the conduct a sum of money equal to the value of the pecuniary advantage.'.

No. 288, in page 191, line 4, leave out 'or pecuniary advantage'.—[Mr. Bob Ainsworth.]

Mr. Foulkes: I beg to move amendment No. 289, in page 191, line 6, leave out subsection (8) and insert—

    '(8) Property is all property wherever situated and includes—

    (a) money;

    (b) all forms of property, real or personal, heritable or moveable;

    (c) things in action and other intangible or incorporeal property.'.

The amendment is technical. It will have no effect on what is meant by property under part 7. Its purpose is to avoid unnecessary confusion if the definition under part 7 is compared with the definitions of property under parts 6 and 8.

Amendment agreed to.

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Amendments made: No. 267, in page 191, line 19, leave out 'but excluding a lease which is not a long lease'.—[Mr. Foulkes.]

No. 514, in page 191, line 30, at end insert—

    '(10A) For the purposes of a disclosure to a nominated officer—

    (a) references to a person's employer include any body, association or organisation (including a voluntary organisation) in connection with whose activities the person exercises a function (whether or not for gain or reward), and

    (b) references to employment must be construed accordingly.'—[Mr. Bob Ainsworth.]

Clause 329, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Mrs. Anne McGuire (Stirling): I beg to move, That further consideration be now adjourned.

Mr. Wilshire: I believe that this is a debatable motion. I am not about to do anything silly, but I want

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to put on record that there could have been a guillotine a sitting and three quarters ago that would not have enabled us to have such discussions. It would be churlish not to say that it was helpful of Labour Members to make that possible, given that such discussions were worth having. I hope that they were taken in the spirit in which they were meant. I am not conscious of time wasting, other than if that means raising matters that people did not want to hear. Genuine points were made and I wanted to say, on behalf of colleagues, that I appreciate the courtesy that has been shown to us to enable us to reach this part of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-two minutes to Five o'clock till Tuesday 29 January at half-past Ten o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
O'Brien, Mr. Bill (Chairman)
Ainsworth, Mr. Bob
Baird, Vera
Baker, Norman
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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