Proceeds of Crime Bill

[back to previous text]

Mr. Grieve: I put in the word ``habitual'' because I was concerned to follow as far as possible the interpretation in clause 75. If I was mistaken in that and the words ``criminal for gain'' were sufficient, I would not quarrel with that. However, the Minister must understand that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. He criticised my wording but said that ``criminal lifestyle'' is acceptable, despite the fact that it does not define criminality of any kind.

Mr. Foulkes: I said that the hon. Gentleman's wording is clumsy and tends to undermine our purpose, so let us address the phrase ``criminal lifestyle''. Hon. Members have only to look at me to realise that I am not a lifestyle person; I am not into all the modern, elegant things. However, the phrase ``criminal lifestyle'' is elegant and widely understood. We are not asking for a definition: the phrase is there and defined later. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart said, it is clear and understandable to most people.

Mr. Johnson: I fully take the Minister's point that the phrase is crisp and readily understandable. The problem is that it is misleading because it is possible to have a criminal lifestyle without being a criminal, just as it is possible to have an artistic lifestyle without being an artist and to have a thuggish appearance without being a thug. The phrase is inapposite and the Government would be wise to think of a substitute. It is already being widely misunderstood outside the House and it will cause trouble in the future.

Mr. Foulkes: I accept that it is possible to have an aristocratic lifestyle without being an aristocrat, or a muddled lifestyle without being—well, I will not go on.

Mr. Carmichael: A Minister.

Mr. Foulkes: Yes, I accept that from my hon. Friend, as he would be if we were in the Scottish Parliament.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and I want to be as flexible and reasonable as possible. On Second Reading, several hon. Members asked about mandatory and discretionary elements with respect to Scotland and we examined the issue further. I am prepared to demonstrate flexibility again here: if we can find an equally elegant alternative, which does not undermine the purpose and is a better description of what we mean, and if the hon. Member for Henley, with his literary knowledge and style, can help us—

Mr. Johnson: The Minister does me too much honour in respect of my literary qualities, but I draw attention once again to the crisp formulation of the Bill's title—Proceeds of Crime. What is wrong with the formulation ``if he decides that a person is living off, or from, the proceeds of crime''? I can think of nothing simpler and nothing more to the point.

Mr. Foulkes: It is unwise to take decisions on the spur of the moment—

Mr. Wilshire: Go on, just this once.

Mr. Foulkes: It is unwise, however brilliant an individual member of the Committee. It is also impossible because no amendment to that effect has been tabled.

Mr. Davidson: It has been suggested that the phrase ``living off the proceeds of crime'' is far too wide because it would include most lawyers.

Mr. Foulkes: In common with my hon. Friend the Member for Pollok, the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) and my fellow Minister, I am not a lawyer. I do not want to be rude to them, as some of my best friends are lawyers. Indeed, some of them are sitting behind me, so I had better be careful. I shall not adopt my hon. Friend's populist line on that.

I am trying to be helpful and flexible. The Government will try to formulate a better description and I invite the Opposition to do the same. If such a description is elegant, does not undermine the principles of the Bill and better describes the circumstances, we shall consider including it in later amendments. On that basis, I ask the hon. Gentleman not to press the amendment.

Mr. Hawkins: In his usual elegant ministerial style, the Minister has been realistic in acknowledging that the Government may not have got it right. I am genuinely grateful for his constructive approach. We may well have moved on from the position at the outset, but I stressed that Conservative Members feel strongly about this issue. We want to continue to negotiate and we shall certainly want to suggest an alternative wording—perhaps ``serious criminal for gain'', which removes the habitual element about which the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok is so worried.

To extend the thinking of my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield, the Ministers and members of the Committee will recall that in a previous group of amendments I drew to my hon. Friend's attention the fact that when he mentioned ``for gain'', the Ministers were busy nodding. I did so deliberately, to get it into Hansard that the Ministers were nodding as my hon. Friend was using the phrase.

Mr. Ainsworth: The hon. Gentleman cannot seriously suggest that he interprets a nod as acquiescence to any of the hon. Gentleman's ideas.

Mr. Hawkins: I hear what the Minister says but I thought that it was an indication that gave away a lot about what the Ministers really thought about the matter. Every member of the Committee who has spoken on this group of amendments has accepted their main target. Probably for the first time, the motivation behind our amendments has not been directly challenged. Even Government Members of the Committee accept that we are trying, in the same constructive spirit as the Minister showed in his response, to work our way towards wording that will make good law.

I want to make one other significant point about lifestyle, in response to the debate that we have just had, because it is important to get it on the record and it may help inform our debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne talked about the case of someone he had encountered when he lived near Bath; that person's lifestyle had led to ordinary people drawing conclusions about the person. I did not know that he would raise that case, but it made me think of something that happened the year before I came into the House. I was working as a banking lawyer and I went to an extremely interesting presentation by one of the senior police officers who had been involved in the Brink's-Mat investigation. He described the surveillance of those who were suspected by some of the most senior police officers in the land of being involved in the robbery and the subsequent disposal of the proceeds. The senior police officer, I think a detective chief superintendent in the flying squad of the Met, told us all—many of us were involved in the banking industry, some as lawyers—that the real breakthrough came when they were keeping a house under surveillance. The wife who lived there came out onto the lawn one day to call in the two large dogs that patrolled the grounds; she shouted, ``Come in Brinks! Come in Mat!''

That story may seem amusing but I mention it to make a serious point. To the police officers carrying on the surveillance, it was the first direct link in the evidential chain that the people who were subsequently convicted were directly involved in that and it was a private joke to christen their dogs Brinks and Mat. I see the Minister nodding again; I do not want to read too much into his nods. The Minister clearly recognises that it is easy for ordinary people, perhaps particularly irresponsible journalists, to make assumptions about people's lifestyles.

To expand what my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield said one stage further, something that has been heavily commented on in style magazines and tabloid newspapers in the past few years has been so-called gangster chic. There has been much reference to the fact that some of the most successful writers and film directors in the UK, particularly the husband of one of the world's biggest pop stars, like to associate with ex-gangsters, who make no secret of the fact that they have had a criminal lifestyle and have had pages of criminal convictions. People such as Mad Frankie Fraser go onto the nightclub circuit, delighted to bring in mass audiences to hear about their criminal careers. One of the most serious drug traffickers of recent years makes a huge amount of money, billing himself as Mr. Nice and appearing at different venues. One week a venue may host a pop group, and the next it is hosting a convicted drug trafficker who sells copies of his book, ``Mr. Nice'' and makes a huge amount of money. People who glory in their past criminal lifestyles may have put their crimes behind them, but they are still making money by appearing on the nightclub circuit. They would not be notorious, and people would not flock to hear them talk, if they were not part of the so-called gangster chic. I reject that, because when people are seen to be profiting from crime, it is an immoral lesson.

4.45 pm

However, it is dangerous to go down the slippery slope of using the term ``criminal lifestyle''. That wording is inappropriate and we will return to the issue if the two Front Benches—

Norman Baker (Lewes): Three.

Mr. Grieve: Two and a half.

Mr. Hawkins: As my hon. Friend says, there are two and a half Front Benches. I said two because I am responding directly to the Minister, but all the main parties have a view. I hope that we decide on a phrase such as ``serious criminal for gain''. That avoids the concept of ``habituality'', and most of the courts understand that ``serious offences'' may mean indictable offences.

Mr. Foulkes: The hon. Gentleman does not seem to listen. He talks a lot, but he does not listen. The courts do not have to interpret the phrase. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Stinchcombe) said, the interpretation is in clause 75, and I explained it twice.

Mr. Hawkins: I accept what the Minister says, and I do not want to fall out with him. He has spoken with grace, and we want to work constructively to get the Bill right.

Having said how fundamental the matter was, and having had every intention of pressing it to a Division, in the light of the Minister's generous concession in his wind-up speech that the Government are not set on the wording and will consider improvements, I will reluctantly withdraw the amendment. However, we reserve the right to return to the matter.

Finally, I remember that just before the parliamentary recess, the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) wrote an autobiographical piece for The House Magazine. She described her lifestyle, and said that she was proud that she used to wear white stilettos and dance around her handbag. We have reservations precisely because people should not be typecast in the criminal courts as having a particular lifestyle. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Previous Contents Continue

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

©Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 15 November 2001