Proceeds of Crime Bill

[back to previous text]

Vera Baird (Redcar): Is the hon. Gentleman not forgetting clause 432(6), which defines criminal conduct? For the purposes of initiating the procedures, ''criminal conduct'' is what constitutes an offence in this country—or rather, what would constitute an offence if it had been committed in this country. Is that not enough to put the hon. Gentleman's mind at rest on that point?

Mr. Wilshire: I do not think so. If that definition is specific to the provisions, it should say so in clause 429. None the less, I am grateful to the hon. Lady; she has given some reassurance, but not enough.

Mr. Hawkins: Is not the answer to the hon. Member for Redcar (Vera Baird) that, to take my hon. Friend's analogy, any Greek Cypriot could say that the invasion that led to Turkish Cypriots taking over a great deal of land belonging to Greek Cypriots in 1974 would have constituted an offence if it had occurred in this country? I think that my hon. Friend has given a good example, and clause 432(6) does not deal with it.

Mr. Wilshire: I have not had the opportunity to consider clause 432 in that context, but my hon. Friend has, and I am grateful for his explanation, which I shall put alongside that offered by the hon. Lady. It reinforces my worry, because while much of our debate has been about drug dealing and money laundering, the Bill goes much wider than those particular crimes. We are presenting a blank cheque to foreign Governments who say, ''We are doing this within our jurisdiction, so would you please help us out?'' That is dangerous. It gives Secretaries of State in this country the power to choose whether they will allow that to happen. A list should be drawn up and kept up to date.

Mr. Hawkins: A thought has just occurred to me. There is a dangerous parallel with another recent provision with which my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) and I were heavily involved when we argued with the Under-Secretary about the European arrest warrant. We said that an overseas court could make a decision that might not be recognised in this country, but that British police and the prosecution authorities would be instructed to arrest a British citizen, who would have no right to protest or have the matter investigated. The decision of the authorities overseas would be enough. The same problem would arise under this provision, and it is even more worrying because it would extend not only within the European Union but throughout the world.

Column Number: 1358

11.30 am

The Chairman: Order. That was a very long intervention. I appreciate that such issues are complex, but we are beginning to stray from the detail of the amendment.

Mr. Wilshire: I am grateful for that ruling, Mr. Gale. At the outset of our proceedings I promised myself that I would not discuss the European Union or the euro. This is the 38th sitting, and so far I have resisted the temptation. I was about to say that although my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath has made an interesting point about European arrest warrants, I would not rise to the bait. Even if I wanted to respond, I would not wish to spoil my good record.

The issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath is a general one, whether we think of it in terms of the European Union or not. I am sure that there are similar examples of different types of legal procedure in other parts of the world. I do not see it as a point about Europe. It is an issue of co-operation, and if we went down that route, severe difficulties about human rights could be involved.

The clause also raises other issues, which I would like to talk about later. However, for the purposes of our discussion of amendment No. 641, my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield has made an important point. Safeguards are necessary, and designating particular countries would be one way of achieving them. I unhesitatingly support my hon. Friend, and will be fascinated to hear what the Minister has to say.

The Chairman: Order. Before we move on, I must tell the Committee that I have had the opportunity to study the manuscript amendment that was originally handed in. It confirms that—although we may not need the exact details as it has not yet been moved—amendment No. 643 should read:

    in clause 432, page 251, line 36, leave out ''an'' and insert ''a designated''.

That is now a matter of record.

Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley): I am inspired by my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne, and by the wisdom of the amendment. While reading the clause and the amendment, an idea popped into my head. The provision could relate not only to drugs crime and all the rest of it, but to artefacts and other such objects, which in other countries may be deemed to be the proceeds of crime, although we had thought that they were not. I will not mention the Elgin marbles, Mr. Gale, but it is clear that many things that are legitimately traded in London will be judged by the Governments of other countries, such as Iraq, to be the proceeds of crime. I can imagine that the Iraqi Government—I am sure that they study the text of our Bills in detail—will realise that they can make an external request.

Let us suppose that a posh dealer in Bond street—or Pollok, or anywhere else—has an effigy of the great Babylonian lawgiver, Hammurabi, who, hon. Members will remember, instructed the ancient peoples of Sumeria in public law, rather as the hon. Member for Wellingborough instructs us. Hammurabi

Column Number: 1359

was the Solon of his day, a Mosaic figure like the hon. Gentleman—who, I am sorry to say, has shaved off his Hammurabiesque beard. Let us imagine that such an effigy was the subject of an external request from the Iraqi Government. They might say, ''This is the proceeds of crime. It was looted by Agatha Christie's husband''—or someone else—''back in the old days. Now it is in Bond street, and there should be a prohibition on dealing in that property.''

The Government would probably say that it was open to them to decide whether to accede to the Iraqi request and make an Order in Council forbidding dealing in such property. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, always eager to propitiate this or that interest throughout the world, and seeking to make new inroads and alliances, might lean on the official responsible for the decision and make a dreadful utilitarian calculation. It might be decided that it was in the interests of the Government to accede to the Iraqi request and forbid the dealer from trading in the effigy of Hammurabi—or, indeed, of the hon. Member for Wellingborough. That would be a sad infringement of the dealer's human rights.

We should ensure that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield suggests, the Bill is amended. There should be designated countries from which we would view all such requests with scepticism. It is highly appropriate for us to ensure that some countries do not have an automatic right to make such requests. I shall be interested to hear the Minister's comments on this sensible and judicious amendment.

Mr. Ainsworth rose—

Mr. Carmichael: Follow that.

Mr. Ainsworth: I cannot imagine how I can emulate either Hammurabi or my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough.

On a serious point, it is true that the current legislation requires the Secretary of State to designate countries for the purposes of co-operation concerning external requests and orders. The way in which part 11 is drafted intentionally removes the current requirement for countries with which co-operation is permitted to be designated by Order in Council.

Under the Criminal Justice Act 1988 and the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, assistance in seizing property and enforcing overseas confiscation orders may be granted only to countries and territories that have been ''designated'' for the purpose. That has meant that every time the United Kingdom has concluded an asset recovery agreement with a new country, or a new country has become a party to an international convention to which we belong and which includes asset recovery obligations, it has been necessary to table an Order in Council. When parliamentary time has proved difficult to find, the United Kingdom has been dilatory in putting itself in a position to honour its obligations.

Additionally, the designation procedure under the 1988 and 1994 Acts is outdated and anomalous. For example, it contrasts with the absence of any designation procedure in the Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Act 1990, under which

Column Number: 1360

applications can be made to our courts for search warrants and other coercive evidential measures at the request of foreign jurisdictions. Therefore, the Bill dispenses with the need for designation.

We have discussed this before, but just because a previous Government did something, there is no need for us to continue it. I continue to be amused by Conservative Members who find their conscience in opposition—it appeared to be lacking while they were in government.

Mr. Hawkins: Shame.

Mr. Grieve: I am not sure that I follow the Minister's argument. We established that the Bill's predecessor had a designation requirement. Although the Minister's example of non-designation might be questionable, it referred to obtaining evidential material, not to enforcing what might be substantial confiscatory penalties by confiscating the assets of an individual residing in this country.

Mr. Ainsworth: The hon. Gentleman is right. The provision does not do that, but it does include the ability to undertake coercive investigation, which he was exercised about when we discussed previous clauses. However, it now seems that that is of no consequence for foreign jurisdiction, although confiscation is.

There are other practical matters that we must consider. I ask the hon. Gentleman to accept and reflect on the international nature of crime. I have mentioned repeatedly that the international dispersal of criminal assets is growing considerably, and the number of orders is not increasing to reflect that trend, because of the cumbersome nature of several of the arrangements. The Government—this is not a party political point, as I hope that any party in government would take this position—have played the role of trying to drive through higher international standards to address criminal assets and money laundering. We have encouraged other nations to increase their attack on criminal assets and actively fostered greater international co-operation in investigating and recovering criminal assets.

The hon. Gentleman asked for reassurance about how we would do that, and some of his colleagues gave examples of potential problems. As my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar spelled out, we are discussing how domestic provisions may apply to areas of co-operation with other countries. We are discussing definitions of criminality that apply in the United Kingdom but not in Iraq or Nigeria. We must be satisfied that such criminality is based on what would be a crime in this country. We would have to have a bilateral agreement or be party to a convention to which the requesting country was also a party. We would also want to consider case by case whether action was appropriate.

I ask the hon. Members for Henley and for Spelthorne, because one provoked the other's intervention, whether designation by country would deal with the issues that they raised. For example, is it not likely, at present—let us not try to prejudge the situation—that Iraq would not be a designated country? Therefore, the issues of Hammurabi images

Column Number: 1361

might not arise. However, it would be likely that Greece would be a designated country, so issues of the Elgin marbles would arise, if they were covered. Designation would not deal in itself with the points that the hon. Gentlemen raised. As I said, there must be case-by-case consideration of the partner country's requests.

 
Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index


©Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 5 February 2002