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3.43 pm

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury): I rise to oppose the Bill. It is only a little more than a month since the hon. Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner) introduced his Bill. This Bill is even more restrictive than his, but I oppose it not on grounds of liberty, of whether one should have fun or not, or of being a killjoy or a spoilsport. I oppose it simply because it will not address the fears and concerns of most people.

I have fought for a long time on the issue of noise. The Bill that the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Joan Ryan) will present shortly will not prevent cruelty to animals—be they cats, dogs, horses or wildlife. It will not stop antisocial behaviour by bad neighbours or by yobs who buy fireworks, legally or illegally. It will not stop public display organisers using very loud bangs. It will not protect the elderly from loud noises or young children from being frightened or injured by fireworks. It will not stop shift workers or night workers having their precious sleep shattered.

I shall not go into the regulations again. If hon. Members read the debate initiated by the hon. Member for Brent, North, they will see that there are a lot of them.

I also support the position of the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Miss Johnson), who I am delighted to see in her place today. She said:

To her credit, she has done that.

The explosives industry group of the Confederation of British Industry recognises the great concern in the country and last year's unprecedented reaction to firework noise. The group has been working with the Department of Trade and Industry to see what steps the industry can take to alleviate the problem. It met the Minister on 19 December 2001 to discuss a possible action plan. One aspect of that plan was for the industry to examine the noise aspects appertaining to airbombs—the main culprit, especially in the hands of hooligans—to see whether it might be possible to stop supplying them to consumers or voluntarily reduce the decibel level to conform to the forthcoming European standards.

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All those present at an emergency meeting held at the recent Harrogate toy fair, at which the main consumer fireworks suppliers exhibit, resolved to take the single tube airbomb out of circulation. That is a major step for the industry to consider because orders have already been placed and there is existing stock. The industry takes a responsible view and has been working with the Minister to find some legal backing to enforce that possibility. The DTI officials present at the Harrogate meeting undertook to find out whether what the industry wanted was within the scope of the Firework (Safety) Regulations 1997. From then on it has been quite clear that the industry is willing to address the fears of the public.

I would press the Minister on one more important point. Fireworks are imported, usually in containers, through British ports. I think that most of them come through Felixstowe. Many are sold under the counter or out of the famous white vans. Those people are not bothered about having legal, licensed explosives storage, nor do they abide by the requirements. In order to catch the dodgy importers—who may represent only 1 or 2 per cent. of the fireworks trade—the explosives industry group has proposed the introduction of a tracking system from the point of entry to the final destination of the container, so that local authorities and the police can follow up the shipments and seize those that are illegal. That is why I urge the Government to strengthen the role of the port trading standards officers and encourage the police to assist.

The explosives industry group is fully committed to addressing the overall problem of firework noise and wishes to convince the public that responsible firework sectors take this matter very seriously. I invite the House to consider that it would be a much better proposition to work with the industry and the Government to achieve the objective that we all want—far less noise from fireworks. People do not object to the visual display; in almost every case it is the noise. That point has been made in letter after letter. The fireworks industry action plan should be supported by the House.

Finally, Mr. Speaker, there is even something that you could do—as could hon. Members and anyone outside this place who feels strongly about the matter. If people log on to my website,, they will find that my online voting topic for this month is fireworks. They will see that, to date, voting is two to one in favour of my proposal—to reduce the noise—against the proposal of the hon. Member for Enfield, North. There is an opportunity for everyone to have their say online.

The Bill is not only restrictive but will not work. I wish that the Labour Whips would take a grip on their Back Benchers and encourage them to support the Minister in her achievements so far.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Joan Ryan, Linda Gilroy, Mr. Barry Gardiner, David Cairns, Dr. Nick Palmer, Dr. Evan Harris, Bob Russell, Sir Teddy Taylor, Ross Cranston, Siobhain McDonagh, Shona McIsaac and Tony Wright.


Joan Ryan accordingly presented a Bill to make provision with respect to the retail sale of fireworks and use of fireworks by the general public: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 19 April, and to be printed [Bill 101].

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Orders of the Day

Proceeds of Crime Bill

[2nd Allotted Day]

As amended in the Standing Committee, further considered.

New Clause 7

Negligent failure to disclose: regulated sector

'(1) Where a person receives, in the course of a business in the regulated sector, information or other matter which gives him reasonable grounds for knowing or suspecting that another person is engaged in money laundering, he commits an offence under this section, unless subsections (2) or (3) below apply.
(2) No offence is committed under this section if a disclosure within section 330(4) is made in relation to the information or other matter in question.
(3) No offence is committed if either of the circumstances in section 330(5) applies.
(4) Schedule 6 applies for the purposes of this section as it does for the purposes of section 330.
(5) Section 330(6) applies for the purposes of this section.'.—[Mr. Grieve.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

3.52 pm

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Amendment No. 71, in clause 330, page 192, line 24, leave out from "suspects" to end of line 25.

Amendment No. 72, in page 192, line 28, leave out from "based" to end of line 29.

Government amendment No. 93.

Amendment No. 175, in clause 332, page 194, line 11, at end insert—

'(3) A person guilty of an offence under section [negligent failure to disclose: regulated sector] shall be liable to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale.'.

Mr. Grieve: On the second day of our consideration of the Bill on Report, we come to part 7 which relates to money laundering. As the House may be aware, some controversy has arisen as regards the impact of the measure on those who will have the duty of providing information to the Assets Recovery Agency—eventually through the National Criminal Intelligence Service—to ensure that money laundering is stopped.

In Committee, we discussed issues relating to money laundering and to the offence of failure to disclose in the regulated sector. That debate was, in fact, the largest single debate during the whole Committee stage. I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth), will agree that the debate reflected the importance attached to the issue—especially by Government Back Benchers, although concerns were raised on both sides of the Committee about the existing legislation.

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Clause 330 provides that a person commits an offence if, within the regulated sector, he

The third condition is that he has not availed himself of the opportunity to disclose the information

In Committee, serious disquiet was expressed about the fact that subsection (2)(b) will criminalise not only those who know or suspect that money laundering is taking place and who fail to pass that information to the authorities, but those who may have been merely inadvertently negligent in not noticing what a court might regard, with hindsight, as the evidence that would have allowed them to know or suspect that money laundering was taking place.

As I said, that gave rise to serious disquiet, which a number of hon. Members expressed fairly eloquently. I shall not take up the House's time by reading out chunks of what was said in Committee, but the hon. Members for Redcar (Vera Baird) and for Wellingborough (Mr. Stinchcombe) both expressed concern about how the proposal would work. They spoke about the risk of unfairness, and of criminalising people who normally would be regarded by any right-thinking person as innocent. Such people would not deserve the frankly draconian penalties that are attached to the offence. The maximum penalty is a possible five years' imprisonment.

The Government's response was encapsulated in what the Minister said in response to the debate, which was that the Government

It seems to me that the question of money laundering goes much further than the prevention of terrorism. Although the Minister showed considerable willingness in Committee to appreciate the concerns that had been raised, his justifications for the proposal were inadequate.

The other issue raised in connection with the clause concerned its drafting. Clause 330(2) is unusual in that it seeks to encapsulate two separate offences. The prosecutor who has to draft an indictment will have to choose whether the accused either knew or suspected that money laundering was taking place, or had reasonable grounds for knowing or suspecting. I remain unconvinced that that choice will be easy to make. I suppose that we will end up with an either/or offence, and that the jury will be offered the choice of convicting on the greater or lesser charge. However, the clause is also unusual in that it makes absolutely no distinction with regard to the penalty to be imposed, except in so far as the court's discretion might apply.

I am sure that the Minister would be the first to agree that the category of seriousness of an offence will be very different if the person who carries it out does so

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inadvertently or through negligence, or deliberately. However, Parliament does not seem willing to cater for that difference.

When we discussed the matter in Committee, the proposal that I put forward was fairly straightforward. It was that we should delete from the Bill a negligence offence. The Government resisted that proposal, even though I had the impression that some Government Back-Bench Members on the Committee would not have viewed such a course of action unfavourably.

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