Proceeds of Crime Bill

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Mr. Carmichael: I may have misread the clause, but we seem to be discussing the recovery of the asset rather than the order being made in relation to it. That would be a jurisdictional point that would make perfect sense. It is perfectly proper for a court to make an order in England for recovery of assets that are situated elsewhere.

5.45 pm

Mr. Ainsworth: I may have confused the hon. Gentleman. The Bill has different sections for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. That is the only reason for the provision. We are not suggesting that the matter is a jurisdictional issue and should not apply across the border. The Bill has been written in a way that reflects the different legal framework north of the border—as we discussed in relation to criminal confiscation. This part applies to England and Wales, and a subsequent part applies to Scotland. The intention is not that the provision should not apply. The way in which the Bill has been written and the structure of the Bill leads to the words to which the hon. Gentleman draws attention.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 25 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 26

Small amount outstanding: discharge of order

Mr. Carmichael: I beg to move amendment No. 66, in page 17, line 32, leave out `50' and insert `1000'.

The amendment would delete from subsection (1)(c) the reference to £50 and would replace it with a reference to £1,000. The rationale behind the amendment is fairly straightforward. It seems to me that when we have a de minimis provision, we must be careful about the level specified. If we create a mechanism that allows for the recovery or discharge of orders in cases in which the amount remaining to be paid is that low, we risk creating a provision that will cost an awful lot more than it is worth.

Parallel provision is made in clause 25(1)(c). As the hon. Member for Surrey Heath said, £1,000 is the sensible level to set. A symmetry is involved, which is the basis of the amendment. The amendment is perfectly simple. The Minister is an honourable man of great common sense, and I invite him to accept the amendment and restore some of the will to live that I feel ebbing away from many Committee members.

Mr. Hawkins: When I read the amendment, I wondered why the amount specified was £1,000 rather than £100, for example. I am glad that the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland confirmed that I correctly anticipated him, Mr. McWilliam, when you ruled me out of order for so doing during the debate on the previous clause.

I anticipate that the Minister will say that there is a difference between the inadequacy of an available amount after the discharge of an order and the circumstances with which the clause deals, when a small amount is outstanding. However, I shall be as interested as the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland to hear the Minister's response and whether there is any real difference.

Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith): The amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland has some merit, but I do not believe that the amount specified should be £1,000. I appreciate the argument for a different approach for clauses 25 and 26, but the Minister might consider whether greater flexibility might be allowed for the court in relation to the de minimis amount. I urge him to recognise that some valid points are being made through the amendment, even if the level of £1,000 may be too high to allow such flexibility.

Mr. Mark Field: I agree with the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, although there was also a lot of merit in the comments of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mr. Lazarowicz). The Minister might consider allowing the court greater discretion. In practical terms, as my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield said about the previous discharge of orders and the relatively small amount, if we are directing the measures toward the Mr. Bigs, £50 is absolutely de minimis and one may argue that sums running to thousands of pounds would be small. The logistics of chasing down small remaining moneys may be expensive. Did the Minister give thought to giving a court overriding discretion about very small amounts, perhaps between £50 and £1,000, given the large-scale Mr. Bigs who will come under the purview of the confiscation order?

Mr. Bob Ainsworth: I am in great danger of damaging the reputation of Englishmen by responding to a Scottish Member in the terms that I am likely to use. We must consider the interrelation of clauses. There is provision in clauses 23 and 24 for prosecuting authorities and defendants to apply for the recalculation of available amounts. Clause 25 specifies circumstances in which to write off up to £1,000 because a straightforward calculation can be made to show that the available amount has changed for understandable reasons, such as the fluctuation of currency.

We are not discussing whether there should be reconsideration of the available amount. The clause provides for situations in which the amount is clearly attainable but is not worth chasing. We want to provide a fall-back position when the amount is not worth chasing. All the bureaucracy would have been conducted and all costs incurred, but relatively small amounts might be knocking around on the books for ever. If they are not worth chasing, there should be a provision to write them off and remove them from the ledger.

I obviously have a different value structures to other hon. Members, and I would be unlikely to let a person go and not think it worth it to chase an amount up to £50, let alone £1,000, as anybody who knows me will attest. A de minimis figure should be de minimis.

We have a structure in which we allow reconsideration of the available amount and, in specified circumstances, we set the level at £1,000. Where there are no specified circumstances, we are able to write off very small amounts. That provision is not in current legislation and such amounts stay on the books. I thought that £50 might be a little high rather than low, and I do not know why courts should not chase money that is outstanding. I would be totally opposed to raising the amount, and I ask for the amendment to be withdrawn.

Mr. Carmichael: I fear that, as with earlier provisions, we may end up with a risk of courts being overwhelmed by nonsense such as this. It is not worth the candle to have court proceedings to discharge an amount lower than £50. If the provision is to be meaningful, the amount should be higher.

Mr. Ainsworth: The court would not have sought a confiscation order for £50 or £55. The provision relates to amounts of less than £50 that remain on an order that has already been chased. As I have said, there is no provision in the legislation to write off even 50p. The amount is small.

Mr. Carmichael: It is more than small. In terms of the figures that we should be discussing or the people at whom the Bill is aimed, the amount is miniscule. I hesitate to draw attention to the fact that subsection (2) gives the court discretion, in case a Government amendment appears tomorrow removing that discretion. However, even if the figure were closer to £1,000 or any other figure, the court would still have discretion.

Mr. Paul Stinchcombe (Wellingborough): If the hon. Gentleman is trying to avoid the court being swamped with applications, is it not likely that there would be more applications to discharge if the levels proposed were higher than £50?

Mr. Carmichael: Swamped was perhaps an injudicious use of language. My point was that courts should not have their valuable time taken up in dealing with sums of £50 or less. The point is made. I would not die in a ditch over it, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn. Clause 26 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 27


Mr. Grieve: I beg to move amendment No. 110, in page 18, line 4, leave out paragraph (d).

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 118, in Clause 33, page 22, line 1, leave out subsection (10).

Mr. Grieve: The amendment is a plea for clarity. The clause is brief and deals with the provision of information in cases that come under clauses 20, 21 or 22. It states:

    ``In such a case—

    (a) the prosecutor or the Director . . . must give the court a statement of information within the period the court orders''.

It then states:

    ``(b) section 17 applies accordingly (with appropriate modifications where the prosecutor or the Director applies under section 22);

    (c) section 19 applies accordingly;

    (d) section 19 applies as it applies in the circumstances mentioned in section 19(1).''

If one goes chasing off through the Bill to find clause 19(1), one discovers that that does not provide an answer, because it tells us that

    ``This section applies if—

    (a) the court is proceeding under section 6 in a case where section 6(3)(a) applies, or

    (b) it is proceeding under section 6 in a case where section 6(3)(b) applies or it is considering whether to proceed.

If the legislation is designed to be self-explanatory, this is hopeless. We have—the amendments have been grouped correctly—another, similar instance in clause 33, which amendment No. 118 would amend. That clause is entitled ``Court's powers on appeal''. It contains long and complex provisions and deals, under subsection (9), with section 11. Clause 33(10) states:

    ``Section 27 applies as it applies in the circumstances mentioned subsection (1) of that section.''

If one examines clause 27(1), it states:

    ``This section applies if—

    (a) the court proceeds under section 6 in pursuance of sections 20 or 21, or

    (b) the prosecutor or the Director applies under section 22.''

I am looking forward to the Minister providing me with a comprehensible explanation as to what is happening in both these clauses.

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