Proceeds of Crime Bill

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Mr. McCabe: I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that his hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne said that if he had spotted the issue earlier, the Conservatives would have tried to applied the conditions to all parts of the UK. Is a difference of opinion emerging?

Mr. Tredinnick: We discussed the amendments privately. The principal reason for tabling them is to address specific issues. Conservative Members do not have a fixed view about those issues. The point of probing amendments is to get the Government to think about things, and I applaud the Under-Secretary because he is thinking about things; he has nodded assent on several occasions.

Mr. McCabe: Perhaps he is just nodding off.

Mr. Tredinnick: Criminality and terrorism go hand in hand. In Northern Ireland, criminality tends to be of a terrorist nature, and if somebody transgresses against an organised criminal group, they might not merely get thumped; their kneecaps might get blown off, their house might get burnt down, or they might get murdered or tortured—a fate that befell a brother officer in my regiment.

In Northern Ireland stones get thrown, and people explode pipe bombs outside schools to dissuade parents from walking their children there by a particular route. Criminality is seldom dissociated from terrorism there. With regard to the Bill, we must take account of the fact that Northern Ireland is a special case.

I have given misplaced plaudits to the Under-Secretary. Apparently he will not speak this morning. However, as he is a fellow representative of a midlands constituency, I will try to put him in the right frame of mind. I will try to persuade him not to be curmudgeonly—a term loved by lawyers—but to be helpful and kind in his approach.

I have highlighted two key areas. First, terrorism in Northern Ireland is characterised by a wide-based pyramid of funding, and activities that are largely unique to that part of the United Kingdom. Secondly, criminality and terrorism go hand in hand there, because much criminality is terrorist activity, such as burning and kneecapping. The Bill must take account of all of that.

Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley): I fully echo the flattery that has been heaped on various Labour Members by my hon. Friend, and I wish to respond to a point that was raised by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green. He doubted whether it was necessary to interpose the reference to terrorism and paramilitary activities, because he thought that they might be captured by the phrase ''a criminal lifestyle''. Although I do not wish return to that unhappy debate—and I am sure that if I did return to it, I would be ruled out of order—a few remarks should be made on the subject.

Clause 75 is the key clause for the definition of a criminal lifestyle, and I am sure that the Minister will refer to it. However, I am unsure whether membership of a terrorist or paramilitary organisation would be captured by that clause, because it is ambiguous, to say the least, about whether the Government believe that being a member of a terrorist or paramilitary organisation constitutes criminal conduct. Many terrorists and paramilitaries have been released early from prison, thereby giving the impression that they have committed a unique kind of crime that the law can treat differently.

Moreover, people who we know are important members of terrorist and paramilitary organisations are elected to the House; they are also welcomed at Downing street, for example, and they play important roles in the peace process.

There may be good reasons for that. It may result from the hard necessity of trying to reach a peaceful conclusion in Northern Ireland. None the less, we should recognise their membership of such organisations—I think that Martin McGuinness has returned as chief of staff for the IRA.

Mr. Hawkins: Does my hon. Friend accept that one of the problems for any Government dealing with issues in Northern Ireland is the way in which people who have been fairly open about their involvement with paramilitary organisations have tried to reposition themselves? That is why one of our amendments refers to ignoring amnesties and the rehabilitation of offenders legislation. If the people who have skilfully repositioned themselves found themselves before the courts, their early record should be taken into account.

Mr. Johnson: I agree with my hon. Friend. My point is simple. I am not sure that terrorists would be caught by clause 75, because it is not clear that they are treated as terrorists: they are welcomed by the Government and let out early. My hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth graphically explained the horrendous activities in which they engage, which generate huge amounts of money. We all want to take that money away. It would be a useful amplification if the amendment were accepted to make it clear that membership of a terrorist organisation would provoke the expropriation of a person's assets.

I am sure that both Conservative Members and the Government would want to show that they are tough on terrorists. The Minister should realise that our amendments contain a great deal of logic.

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster): Thank you, Mr. Gale, for calling me to speak. I shall do so briefly, because the amendments have already been fully discussed, at least by Conservative Members.

It is important to stress that the idea of a criminal lifestyle, which we have previously discussed at length, is a triggering mechanism. Likewise, the additional wording proposed would influence the trigger mechanism from which everything else might flow. The Bill contains a separate part 4, so the rules for Northern Ireland could differ from those for the rest of the United Kingdom. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne explained, Conservative Members had not considered all the implications until examining Northern Ireland in the same way as we had previously considered England, Wales and Scotland. Given the reality of what occurs on the ground in Northern Ireland, it would be proper to include in the Bill wording relating to membership of a terrorist or paramilitary organisation. I stress that that should be a trigger mechanism before everything comes into play, rather than an implication of guilt.

We have gone round the houses, and my hon. Friends the Members for Bosworth and for Surrey Heath went into detail about what might be caught by the legislation, so now I shall sit down and allow the Minister to explain why he will resist the amendments—or if there is a change, that we have held some sway.

Mr. Ainsworth: I will devote no more than two sentences to the less serious aspect of the debate. I was the Whip of the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham for four years, and to my knowledge he has not accused me of threatening or assaulting him—although I am sure that he is capable of getting round to that in time.

I shall follow the strictures of the hon. Member for Bosworth and try to not be curmudgeonly, but I shall accept the debate in the way in which the hon. Member for Surrey Heath framed it. That is not an attempt at point-scoring or time-wasting, and on those terms, I accept the strictures of the hon. Member for Bosworth.

Amendments Nos. 368, 369, 370, 377 and 378 would widen the criteria for the making of confiscation orders and the assessment of the benefit of a person's criminal conduct to include either membership of a terrorist organisation or a paramilitary organisation. The effect would be that the court would have to consider whether someone convicted of any offence—not necessarily a terrorist-related one—is or has been a member of a terrorist or paramilitary organisation, and if it concludes that he is or has been, it must confiscate the benefit of his terrorist activities.

The clauses that the amendments would amend reflect clauses 6 and 9, but the amendment seems to apply only to Northern Ireland. Hon. Members have given various explanations for that, including the idea that something different is necessary for Northern Ireland—but that if they had thought of it earlier they would have said that it should apply far more widely. [Interruption.] I am not trying to expose a split in the Opposition.

11.30 am

Mr. Wilshire: To help the Minister, I can explain that we are suggesting that certain activities are especially prevalent in Northern Ireland. My hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth mentioned kneecapping. It is a feature of Northern Ireland society that unpleasant things happen. That much we accept, and it is a special case. The point that we are all trying to make is that it does not matter whether the kneecapping takes place in Northern Ireland or England. It should be covered wherever it happens. However, I am thankful to be able to say that some activities do not take place in England, Wales or Scotland. That is the distinction. I believe that the Minister would agree that it would be necessary to include such a provision in earlier clauses, too.

Mr. Ainsworth: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. That does not and should not matter. If the matter were not adequately covered in other legislation that has already been made into Acts of Parliament or is currently going through the parliamentary process, it would be essential to consider amendments such as he suggests. However, I hope to persuade him that that is not so, and that those issues are adequately covered either in this Bill or in other measures, whether those are currently going through the parliamentary process or have already been passed.

Hon. Members will be aware that the Government are taking steps to update and amend anti-terrorist legislation. The aim behind the amendments seems to be that terrorists should not be able to profit from their actions. The Government agree with that aim, but the amendment is unnecessary. The terrorist activities with which the amendments deal will constitute criminal offences and will therefore be covered. A convicted terrorist may have a criminal lifestyle. That will obviously be true if he has been convicted of money laundering or drug trafficking, but also if he is convicted of being a member of a proscribed organisation and his membership lasted more than six months.

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Prepared 11 December 2001