Proceeds of Crime Bill

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Mr. Wilshire: If I understand correctly, there may be a serious point that the Minister might want to consider. If the wording is being changed throughout the Bill, has the decision been taken part way through? If so, there will be some occurrences that we have already gone beyond, and we will have to go back and change them later. It would then be genuinely helpful to have an explanation at some stage—not necessarily now—of the reasoning behind it. I would be grateful if the Minister would say that if that is happening, we could quietly reflect and have a thoughtful discussion at some stage of what it is all about.

Mr. Ainsworth: No, the Bill is mostly already drafted using ''believe'' rather than ''think''. Can I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that if we want to spend a lot of time considering this issue, we may not want to do it on a Thursday afternoon when there may be more important issues to deal with.

Mr. Grieve: The Under-Secretary is right. There may be more important issues to deal with. I am a little surprised, however, that he has not been told the drafting reason for such a change. I assume that it can be summarised simply, but he does not seem to know what it is. It may be technical, or the draftsmen may have decided that they will never use the word ''think'' again. I am intrigued by the question of what prompted such a decision.

Mr. Ainsworth: My curiosity does not, perhaps, reach the same level as that of the hon. Gentleman. Given that there is no fundamental difference in the outcome whichever word we use, I shall not spend much time delving into the issue.

Mr. Wilshire: If the Under-Secretary does not think that there is any difference in the outcome, why does the change need to be made?

Mr. Foulkes: My hon. Friend does not ''believe'' that there is any difference in the outcome.

Mr. Wilshire: Surely the Under-Secretary agrees that there has to be an explanation. If the outcome does not matter, we should not be wasting time considering the change.

Mr. Ainsworth: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: we should not be wasting time. The change concerns commonality of language—nothing more profound than that.

Clause 114, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 115

Variation of order

3 pm

Mr. Ainsworth: I beg to move amendment No. 209, in page 70, line 33, after 'founded', insert—

    '(a) it must find the amount which should have been the amount required to be paid (taking the circumstances prevailing when the amount was found for the purposes of the order), and

    (b) '.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take clause stand part.

Mr. Ainsworth: This drafting amendment is designed to ensure that when the court varies an order under clause 115, it should determine what should have been the appropriate amount when the order was made originally. It brings the clause into line with clause 30 under part 2 of the Bill.

Mr. Grieve: That may be the purpose of the amendment but as it stands, it risks descending into farcical gobbledegook. It splits or adds to the subsection. It removes the words

    ''it may vary the order by substituting for the amount required to be paid such amount as it thinks is just.

and introduces a twofold test. I assume that paragraph (b) is the immediate preface to the words ''it may vary''. Is the amendment really necessary? Perhaps it is, but I am beginning to wonder whether it just reflects the fact that the English drafting was complex.

Mr. Ainsworth: The hon. Gentleman touched on the point a while ago. Under a mandatory scheme, the language needs to be more prescriptive, and he should not be surprised by that fact.

Mr. Hawkins: If the Under-Secretary thinks about the way in which amendment No. 209 is drafted, he will see that Sir Humphrey Appleby would have been proud of such drafting. The proposed new subsection states:

    ''it must find the amount which should have been the amount required to be paid (taking the circumstances prevailing when the amount was found for the purposes of the order''.

''Find'' and ''found'' are in the same sentence, which is extremely inelegant. I put it no more critically than that. I can only echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield.

Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth): I am interested in what my hon. Friend is saying. I am Chairman of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments; that Committee regularly examines the way in which measures are drafted and may report them as defective. The drafting in this case is confusing despite a general drafting policy to ensure that we have plain English. The provision under discussion is not plain and it borders on not being English. It behoves the Minister to see if he cannot at least break the sentence up.

Mr. Hawkins: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has experience as Chairman of a very important Committee. I served for a relatively short period, two Parliaments ago, on one of the Joint Committees with another place which dealt with the question of resolving conflicts in legislation between the two Houses. The work of that Committee overlaps to some extent with that of the Committee chaired by my hon. Friend. The Minister is talking about inserting some words after the word ''founded''. If the amendment is incorporated into the legislation, we will have three different tenses of the same verb all at once—''founded'', then ''find'', then ''found''.

Mr. Tredinnick: We must not prolong proceedings, but is my hon. Friend familiar with fox hunting terminology? We have ''find'' and ''found'', which is the sort of language that might be used at the Master of Fox Hounds Association dinner.

Mr. Hawkins: I am indeed familiar with that. I am sure that, whether they are old or new Labour, many Government Members would not want that.

Mr. Tredinnick: My hon. Friend may find ''gone to ground'' somewhere.

Mr. Hawkins: If I go too far down that route, the Chairman will find that I have ''gone away''.

The Chairman: Order. The Chairman is about to find that—as far as I am aware—fox hunting has not been made illegal yet, so it would not arise under any part of this Bill. However, I should not anticipate too much.

Mr. Hawkins: I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Henley, the acknowledged wordsmith of this Committee, will be able to give the Committee the benefit of his understanding of a single sentence that contains ''founded'', ''find'' and ''found''. On a serious point, if the amendment does not really change the meaning, the original drafting at least has the merit of being clear. However, the change that the Government propose to introduce in clause 115 can only confuse. I hope that my hon. Friend can shed some light on the matter.

Mr. Johnson: I rise to speak with great trepidation. I think that my commission was to find a sentence in which the word ''found'' was used in a not particularly well-founded way. I hope that I have just done it.

Mr. Ainsworth: If all I had to look forward to was a conversation about legal issues in the drawing room when I got home, I would be as content to go around the streets and houses as Conservative Members are.

The wording of the amendment is required. It may appear contorted, but lots of things in this place appear contorted to me. However, in relation to a returning absconder, the court needs to go back and consider what the amount should have been at the time before moving on to decide what is just in hearing his case for a variation. It is not possible simply to remove the words. That is the process that the court must go through to treat that returning absconder in a proper fashion.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 210, in page 70, line 34, leave out 'thinks' and insert 'believes'.—[Mr. Bob Ainsworth.]

Clause 115, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 116 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 117

Appeal by prosecutor

Amendments made: No. 211, in page 71, line 22, leave out '(9)' and insert '(10)'.

No. 212, in page 71, line 34, leave out '(9)' and insert '(10)'.—[Mr. Bob Ainsworth.]

Clause 117, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 118

Time for payment

Mr. Bob Ainsworth: I beg to move amendment No. 213, in page 72, line 18, at end insert—

    '(5A) An order under subsection (4)—

    (a) may be made after the end of the specified period, but

    (b) must not be made after the end of the period of twelve months starting with the day on which the confiscation order is made.'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take clause stand part, Government amendment No. 214 and clause 119 stand part.

Mr. Ainsworth: Amendment No. 213 clarifies the time limits when the accused seeks to extend the time given for the payment of a confiscation order. Subsection (4) enables the court to make an order to extend the time for payment beyond the specified period of six months up to a maximum of 12 months. That is known as the extended period. The amendment provides that the court can make an order extending the period after the end of the six-month specified period, but not after 12 months from the date of the confiscation order. That is to ensure that the maximum time for payment is never greater than 12 months. The amendment brings clause 118 into line with clause 12.

Amendment No. 214 temporarily suspends the application of interest to the outstanding compensation orders when an accused has made an application to the court under clause 118 for time for payment but the court has yet to determine the application.

Mr. Hawkins: The clause 119 stand part debate is grouped under clause 118 because of the consequential amendments. I want to ask the Minister about clause 119 and the provisions on interest.

Clause 119(1) is an example of inelegant and circular drafting, but I anticipate that the Minister will tell us that that is unavoidable. Subsection (2) states:

    ''The rate of interest is the rate payable under a decree of the Court of Session.''

I do not know how that operates because I am not a Scottish lawyer. I would be interested if the Minister can tell me—if he cannot do so today, perhaps he will write to me and other members of the Committee—how the rates of interest are calculated in relation to decrees of that court. What is the comparison between such rates and base rate? The Committee should have a rough idea of the rates of interest that we are considering. In English legislation, the relationship between interest and base rates is normally set out in the English statutes. That is obviously not the case in the Bill

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