|Proceeds of Crime Bill
Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne): I have been away for a few moments trying to ensure that things were under control in another Committee Room, but I thought that I should return and see that everything was under control here. If by any chance in the few moments that I was away I missed the answer to the questions that I am about to ask, I apologise. I am sure that you will remind me that had I been here, I would have heard the answers, Mr. McWilliam.
I have admitted many times that I am not a lawyer. I am not an accountant or a tax expert either, so it would be useful if some things were explained. Part 1 of the schedule says:
That is so that tax is not collectable, I assume, but I would be obliged if the Minister would say why those two sections should not apply.
I wish to consider paragraph 2(1)(b), in part 2. There have been other occasions when you have been in the Chair and references to the European Union and the euro have cropped up, Mr. McWilliam. I said this morning that I had got as far as the section—
The Chairman: Order. May I assist the hon. Gentleman? He is referring to the schedule as it is, not the amendment.
Mr. Wilshire: I was trying to save you a stand part debate, Mr. McWilliam, but if you would rather I kept my comments for later, I shall gladly do so.
The Chairman: Actually, the hon. Gentleman has spared us both some difficulty. The amendment is so wide that I have no intention of allowing a stand part debate.
Mr. Wilshire: In that case, Mr. McWilliam, I anticipated your thinking admirably, and I am impressed by my own judgment,
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I was saying—before I was politely interrupted—that for 38 sittings and a few minutes I have avoided every temptation to enter a EU or euro debate. Indeed, you have demonstrated in the past that if I tried to do so, you would not let me, Mr. McWilliam. I preface my question with those remarks because I am not trying to start such a debate, but I notice that paragraph 2(1)(b) states that
The Chairman: Order. Although the hon. Gentleman is referring to paragraph 2(1)(b)—
Mr. Ainsworth: Where is paragraph 2(1)(b)?
The Chairman: In the original schedule. The hon. Gentleman is referring to paragraph 2(1)(b), but the amendment would take that out.
Mr. Wilshire: Exactly.
The Chairman:- Although it may be fair to refer to the original schedule in a stand part debate, referring to words that are to be removed from it is out of order now.
Mr. Wilshire: Yes, I see that point, but although the amendment would take the provisions out, we may have to vote on that, and whether I vote to take them out or leave them in depends on my having the relevant information to enable me to make a judgment.
The Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman has not read the amendment. The provisions reappear.
Mr. Ainsworth: But not in paragraph 2(1)(b).
Mr. Wilshire: I think that at this stage it is best to say that I give up on that one. I doubt whether I want to try your patience so early in the afternoon, Mr. McWilliam.
I wish to make a general comment—perhaps one that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson) would make, too, were he not still away licking his wounds from Scotland's defeat on Saturday afternoon. If I understood the Minister correctly, one of the reasons for the schedule, amended or not, is to leave money available to pay the tax bills of someone who has had the proceeds of his crime taken away. If that is what is being suggested, I find it quite surprising.
Property that is the proceeds of crime, whether it is cash, goods or anything else, should be confiscated. I think that the Committee is united in that belief. I am assuming that tax will not arise on the proceeds of crime, as I am not sure that the Inland Revenue is entitled to benefit from the proceeds of crime by taxing it. I find it extraordinary that the proceeds of crime could be used to pay a tax bill.
Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): I have waited for my hon. Friend to finish his second point, but I wanted to ask about his first point. The words that he was going to ask the Minister about in the original paragraph 2(1)(b) have reappeared in amendment No. 650, the Government's complicated replacement of new schedule 7. In the new part 2 of schedule 7 those words reappear in what—if the amendment is
Column Number: 1386accepted—will be paragraph 3 (3)(b). Now that I have directed my hon. Friend on that matter, perhaps he can, while staying within the Chairman's ruling, return to his original point.
Mr. Wilshire: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I was ranting in my attempt to make that point, and I am not sure—even with his assistance—that I have the courage to return to it. I am sure that he can give a far better explanation of it than I could, so perhaps he will make a contribution later. I am grateful to him for trying to get me out of the hole into which I originally dug myself.
It is important that the thinking behind the provision be explained. Are we saying that money that is the proceeds of crime can be retained to pay other tax bills? It would be more sensible to confiscate the proceeds of crime, and if a person has tax bills, he should find the money to pay them in a way that does not involve the proceeds of crime. The Minister is being soft in a way that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok would not approve of if he were present. I am being firm on his behalf, and I hope that the Minister will respond.
Mr. Hawkins: In response to my hon. Friend's invitation, I am not sure that I will be able to alight—by osmosis, as it were—on his point about the original wording of paragraph 2(1)(b), which the amendment would replace with paragraph 3(3)(b).
The Chairman: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not do that. He was not present to hear my ruling, but those words reappear in the amendment in a different place.
Mr. Hawkins: That is what I was referring to. I was present to hear your ruling, Mr. McWilliam, and in my intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire), I said that the words reappear in amendment No. 650 in paragraph 3(3)(b) of schedule 7 in its new form. I see that you are assenting to that, Mr. McWilliam, so I am on the right track.
Some weeks ago, we discussed whether certain provisions needed to be added in respect of bearer bonds and bearer shares. I believe that earlier in our proceedings the Government tabled some amendments that dealt with currency other than sterling, and bearer bonds and bearer shares. No doubt the Minister will tell us whether schedule 7 had to be fully rewritten to make it fit logically with those earlier amendments. I suspect that that is the reason.
If I understood my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne correctly, he was worried about currency other than sterling. We want to hear a little more detail from the Minister—more than appears in proposed paragraph 3(3)(b) and (c). Will he say how currency other than sterling—or bearer bonds or bearer shares—will be used in practice?
Mr. Wilshire: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I have been listening carefully, and now that he has explained what he thought I was trying to say, I am quite impressed with what I was saying.
Mr. Hawkins: I will wait to hear the Minister's answer.
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Mr. Ainsworth: If the hon. Member for Spelthorne had any credibility with the Committee—I say that in a light-hearted way—he completely shot it through when he asked us to accept the idea that he had been into another Committee to see that things were in order, and had then returned to our proceedings to ensure that things were in order here. That is not the interpretation of his activities over our previous 38 sittings that many of my hon. Friends would have given—but perhaps that is unfair. When the hon. Gentleman told you that he was going to give up at this point, Mr. McWilliam, some Committee members might—very unfairly—have wished that he had given up a while ago, instead of waiting until the final sitting.
Mr. Wilshire: Things are getting better as the afternoon wears on. I sometimes wonder whether I get things right, but to be told that I have not been doing things as Labour Committee members would like me to is the biggest compliment that has been paid to me in our 38 sittings so far.
Mr. Ainsworth: We always try to please. I was amused by the thought of the hon. Gentleman keeping things in order.
Mr. Grieve: I hesitate to say this, but when the Minister was explaining the amendments, I thought that I detected that he did not understand what the schedule was about any more than I did, and that that was why he brought his remarks to a speedy conclusion. If that is the case, is it not a little dangerous for him to criticise my hon. Friend for his intervention, because he might have been capable of shedding a little light on the matter?
Mr. Wilshire rose—
The Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot intervene on an intervention.
Mr. Ainsworth: Yes, we must now try to prevent the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield from intervening. In the last sitting on this very long Bill, no one is going to get an admission from the Minister that he does not know what he is talking about—I wish to make it very clear to the hon. Member for Beaconsfield that I am not going to do that.
The substantive point that the hon. Member for Spelthorne lighted upon, after he gave up on his tussle with the Chair, was that he was worried that I was playing my usual role—of which I have often been accused by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok—of being soft, by allowing people to get away with reneging on a tax liability.
The schedule does not do that. The rewritten part of it deals with the tax liability that would accrue on property that had been subject to civil recovery. The hon. Member for Spelthorne missed the start of my contribution to the debate.
|©Parliamentary copyright 2002||Prepared 5 February 2002|