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9.18 pm

Rev. Martin Smyth: I appreciate the opportunity to say a few words. My interest was sparked many years ago when I brought to the attention of the then Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, Sir Kenneth Newman, a scam using stocks and shares to pass money to terrorist groups. It took some years before anything began to happen.

I understand the comments of the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve). When a previous discussion was going on, my erstwhile colleague Enoch Powell expressed concern that we were interfering too much with civil liberties. However, the harsh reality of life is that society has changed dramatically. On behalf of my colleagues on the Select Committee, I express our thanks to the Minister for the reception that he gave our report, and to the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) for his kind words.

For far too long, law enforcement bodies have not worked together. The Bill should help them to move together. It is amazing how long it is since income tax legislation brought Al Capone to justice. It is also amazing how often we fail to realise that various law enforcement officers must come together to make a difference.

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In that context, I should like to say something about lifestyle. A glazier who was doing some work in my office said to my secretary one day, "What is going on in this world? I am driving an old banger and doing my best to make an honest living, but I saw one of those godfathers driving into the petrol station the other day in a Mercedes." Fascinatingly enough, the papers began to refer to such lifestyles, and we saw the same person who drove the Mercedes pay tribute to his financial adviser, who helped him to invest wisely, although he earned only £3 a week in his prison days. I have yet to find out who that financial adviser is; I could do with him.

Lifestyle means something. On reclamation of income tax, £10 million has already been restored through the Criminal Assets Bureau in the Republic to the Treasury—money that would never otherwise have been lifted in income tax. Some £20 million is waiting to be dealt with; it must be done legally and appeal methods can be involved. None the less, the reclamation of that money is a reflection of what is going on in our society.

I welcome the movement that the Bill represents and I wish it speed through the other House, although I also welcome the fact that the Government will have the opportunity that has been given to successive Governments, whatever their hue, to be made wiser by the second opinions given in that place. I look forward to improvements being made. In Northern Ireland, the Bill is not only about terrorism—a subject to which some people keep returning—but about a whole change in our society. When we consider the courts, I think about the problem of drug pushers and other criminals in Ballymena, who are brought to the courts and remanded on bail so they can go out and make enough money to pay any fine that is imposed. While the judiciary must be careful in sentencing, it must realise that its job is not only to see that the law is not administered in a draconian way, but to ensure that the victims are protected.

9.23 pm

John Robertson: I thank the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) for his speech. What happened in his Province today is an example of why we need to tackle the proceeds of crime. The people of Northern Ireland know full well what happens with such proceeds in terms of terrorism and intimidation, and I should like to thank him personally for his contribution.

In giving my own thoughts and feelings, I shall keep my remarks as short as possible. The Bill is a 301-page document with 450 clauses and nine schedules, so I can assure you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that the Committee stage was a long slog. It seemed more like 139 steps than like 39. While I might not have the same experience as other hon. Members—especially those in the legal profession—I have always tried to put victims first. I make no apology for that; the criminals will always be second. The people who perpetrate crime will always have to be taken care of, and I see the Bill as a way of ensuring that that happens: it is a start in allowing us to attack the Mr. Bigs, the money men; or, for that matter, the Mrs. Bigs—I do not want to be sexist.

I am glad that the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) is in his place. He gave a good example of the way in which the official Opposition have conducted themselves throughout the Committee stage and in this debate. In Committee, he tried to justify

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the money laundering of the City of London. At one stage, he actually said "We need the money in London; otherwise it will just go somewhere else".

Mr. Mark Field rose

John Robertson: I would be very disappointed if the hon. Gentleman did not wish to intervene at this point.

Mr. Field: I think that I have made it clear, as has the Minister, that it is crucial to the City of London that we should not be seen as a soft touch in terms of money laundering or any of the other problems raised in the Bill. The hon. Gentleman rightly puts his constituents' interests first. The City of London is part of my constituency, and it is right for me at least to put the arguments against the problems of over-regulation and over-compliance, which are important to exporters. I do not suggest that those arguments should override all those advanced by the hon. Gentleman, but they should at least be heard.

John Robertson: If those in the City of London and people like them had put their house in order in the past, I would not be attacking the hon. Gentleman now. I feel, as do the police and the Drug Enforcement Agency—which I mentioned earlier—that such people must be brought to book. Lawyers have rules, and they have not stuck to them.

I will not attack lawyers and bankers, unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson)—I certainly could not do it as well as he did—but, as I have said, these people must be brought to book. They seem to feel that they can turn a blind eye to the passage of illegal money through their hands. It is nothing to do with them; they are just doing their job, and they are well paid. No one can tell me that a lawyer in such circumstances does not know that someone is making a living from a criminal lifestyle. I am sorry to say this, but lawyers are not going to the police and telling them about such people. Indeed, lawyers defend them and get them off when they knew fine well from the outset that they were guilty as sin.

The Liberals, who may be described as the unofficial Opposition—

Norman Baker: The effective Opposition.

John Robertson: The hon. Gentleman would say that, wouldn't he? Anyway, the Liberals are very nice men. Unfortunately, criminals just love very nice men. I know that their hearts are in the right place, because they told me so, but they cannot sit on the fence for ever. They will become sore after a while if they do. We know that: we tried it for long enough.

May I say a word about the nationalists? I will not say anything about a Committee on which they did not sit—and I mentioned the fact that they did not ask to sit on it—because I would be ruled out of order if I did. I will say, however, that it is a pleasure to see them tonight. I am glad that they made an input today—I think—but whether it was effective is another matter. The leader-in-waiting made a slight input, but it was so slight that I will not even mention it.

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The Committee stage was excellent. We had some fun. Members on both sides acted in good faith, for what they believed to be right. It just so happens that we are right and Opposition Members are wrong.

9.29 pm

Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley): I am grateful for the chance of intruding a few comments into the dying moments of the debate. I take my leave of the Bill in the immortal words of Geoffrey Howe, who referred to

My loyalties are divided, as are my instincts, following 39 fun-filled sittings.

I have listened with great care to the passionate and sincere speeches of the two Glasgow Members. They plainly want to devise a Bill that creates a great money-extorting machine that will put every criminal inside it and squeeze them until the last bawbee—if I have the right term—drops from their pockets. I want to say how sincerely I agree with them in that ambition. I have listened to the hon. Members and I think that they are right, although I sometimes think that the landscape of Glasgow that they portray is a trifle too depressing. Not a single innocent sunbed-owner, and not a single innocent suntan—save, perhaps, that mantling the brow of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok—escapes their attention. None the less, I share their general prejudice against the criminals who inflict great misery on people not only in their constituencies but in those of all hon. Members, including my own.

It has been a privilege and an education for me to listen to the Ministers and to the many learned and distinguished Labour and Liberal Members, all of whom have shown remarkable command of their subject. I have also been profoundly impressed—of course, I would say this, but I mean it—by the wisdom and humanity of our own Front-Bench Members. It became clear to me as our deliberations went on that, no matter how vehemently we agree with the ends, it is our duty as conscientious legislators sometimes to dissent from the means, particularly if the means that we are advocating will frustrate the very ends that we have in view.

Let me risk the disapproval of some of the most learned Labour Members by trying to grasp this great Bill by its fundamentals. I shall not dwell on the minor points, but a problem still extant in the Bill is that some foreign Governments could decide that the legitimate property of London Bond Street salerooms was the proceeds of crime. I am thrilled to see that the Home Secretary has arrived at this critical point, and I hope that he will address his vast brain to this question. It is still a problem that those salerooms could be the object of the jealousy of a rapacious foreign Government who might want to repatriate an artefact—an image resembling the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Stinchcombe), perhaps—on the ground that it resembled Hammurabi, for instance. They might contend that it had been stolen by some British archaeologist in the 1920s.

I shall leave those concerns on one side, however, and pass on to the guts of the Bill. I want to put an end to the Minister's perplexity by explaining what the Conservatives were trying to do during the 39 Committee sittings. We were right to take the line that we did, not

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because we want to water the Bill down, but because we want it to work. I stand to be corrected, but my understanding is that the Bill appears to mean, in a nutshell, that if a convicted criminal—who could have been convicted of anything—can be shown, under the nebulous terms of clause 75, to have a criminal lifestyle, the court must order the confiscation of their assets unless they can show that they are not the proceeds of crime.

That is a terrifyingly powerful engine for getting money out of criminals. I can see why the eyes of Labour Members glitter when they contemplate it. All I can say is that there seems to be a risk, in some of the language, that the measure could be used not just against the Mr. Bigs—whom we all oppose—but against the innocent, such as the relatives of whom my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) spoke so movingly, and the mules—the victims of the drugs trade who are more likely to end up in the hands of the police.

Time after time, Conservative Members have tried to ensure that the rights of the innocent are protected. That is not, as I have said, because we want to attenuate the Bill, but because we want to make it more legally robust and more successful. Unless the Bill is intelligently and humanely drafted, it will fail in its objective. It will net no assets, and all the glitter and excitement in the eyes of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok and his friends will be frustrated, and they will be disappointed.

I shall give an example of what I mean. As the Minister knows, in 2000, the courts convicted one Robert McIntosh. I think that he was from Glasgow; he might even have been a constituent of one of the hon. Members here tonight. He was a very bad man—he is a very bad man; I think that I can say that without fear of contradiction. He was a drugs dealer and the court ordered £18,000 of his assets to be confiscated. The money was confiscated, but the decision was overturned by the Court of Appeal in Scotland because it involved the assumption, without any proof, that those assets were the proceeds of crime. That is exactly the way in which we are formulating the Bill and it will be a great shame if it fails to net the assets that we all want because, as the Scottish Appeal Court found, that means of the state getting its hands on the proceeds of crime conflicts with the Human Rights Act 1998.

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