Proceeds of Crime Bill

[back to previous text]

Mr. Paul Stinchcombe (Wellingborough): If you are not entirely satisfied, which terrorist offences are you concerned about?

The Chairman: Order. It is of no consequence whether I am satisfied.

Mr. Stinchcombe: I apologise, Mr. Gale. Let me rephrase my question: if the hon. Gentleman is not entirely satisfied, which are the terrorist offences that he thinks might not fall within clause 75(2)?

Mr. Hawkins: One of the points that I was going to raise, in responding to the Under-Secretary's reply to the debate, was that he said that, if people have been members of proscribed organisations for six months, they will be caught, but as the Bill is currently drafted, that is not the case with regard to people who have been members of proscribed organisations for less than six months. However, if the amendments—or provisions akin to them—were introduced, that gap would not exist. I also intervened on the Under-Secretary during the discussion about kneecapping. He said that that would be covered if there were financial consequences.

My hon. Friends the Members for Spelthorne, for Bosworth, for Henley and for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) have expressed the remaining concerns of Conservative Members. The Bill would be better understood by everyone who takes an interest in the very serious difficulties that continue to exist in Northern Ireland if it included phrases that specifically referred to terrorist and paramilitary activity.

The whole of part 4 deals with Northern Ireland Although, happily, there are far fewer murders there now, because of the peace process, we all know—and anyone who has ever received any kind of military briefing in recent months, from people serving in Northern Ireland, or from the security services, will know very well—that racketeering continues, and that the proceeds of criminal activity controlled by terrorist and paramilitary organisations continue to grow. I am disappointed that the Minister has not responded by saying, ''Well, we understand that the Opposition amendments contain several drafting mistakes, but we are prepared to consider the issue again.''

Mr. Ainsworth: Has the hon. Gentleman forgotten that, when I wrote to Committee members on 27 November—I think that that was the date—I suggested that terrorist funding should be added to the list of offences that will indicate a criminal lifestyle?

Mr. Hawkins: That is correct. I am not condemning everything that the Minister has done in this regard. I accept that that is a perfectly valid point. However, it will be difficult for those who examine our proceedings to understand why the Bill does not contain specific additional words that refer to terrorist and paramilitary organisations, as we have suggested.

I was surprised and disappointed that the Minister did not deal in detail with our points about removing issues of amnesties or rehabilitation of offenders legislation. I appreciate that we will not have much of a clause stand part debate because of the pressures of the guillotine, but he may refer to the matter briefly before we move on.

Mr. Ainsworth: There is no amnesty in the Bill. As I recall, the only people who have proposed the inclusion of amnesties are the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues.

Mr. Hawkins: The Minister may slightly misunderstand my point—not deliberately, I am sure. One amendment would mean that when the court examines the past criminal activities of a person who is before them, they should not take into account any application of rehabilitation of offenders legislation or amnesties granted by a Government of any party—I am not making a party political point.

I do not propose to press the amendments. Although the Minister has not said this, I hope that, in the light of what he has written to all members of the Committee about including terrorist matters in the list of offences, he will further consider the issues with his officials. I hope that more carefully drafted amendments will be tabled on Report or in another place to take account of the spirit of our amendments. With that earnest hope, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Chairman: Before we move on, during the previous debate the hon. Member for Henley referred by name to Mr. Martin McGuinness. I did not intervene because I was uncertain of whether a Member of the House of Commons who has not taken the Oath should be referred to by name or constituency. I have scoured ''Erskine May'' and I cannot find a current ruling. I am minded to suggest that, during this Committee, if a Member is an elected representative of the people, he or she should be referred to by constituency rather than by name. I may ask the Chairman of Ways and Means for a further ruling on the matter, and I shall advise the Committee if he has an alternative view.

Mr. Wilshire: On a point of order, Mr. Gale. I may be able to assist to you and the Committee. I almost ran foul of this point on the Floor of the House some years ago when I referred to the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Adams) as the dishonourable Member for West Belfast. The now Lord Walker was about to call me to order for using the phrase ''dishonourable Member'', when the Clerk advised him that a person who has not taken the Oath is not caught by the protection that the rest of us enjoy from unparliamentary language. That ruling may assist you when you do further research.

The Chairman: With respect to the hon. Gentleman, that is not the point that is at issue, which is whether a person should be referred to by name or by constituency. It is my view—this is why I make the ruling—that if it is necessary to refer to either of the two hon. Gentlemen who are the elected representatives of the people of their constituencies but have not taken the Oath, they should be referred to by constituency. If the Chairman of Ways and Means advises me differently, I shall inform the Committee.

Mr. Hawkins: I beg to move amendment No. 371, in page 94, line 7, leave out subsection (6).

In relation to the ruling that you just made, Mr. Gale, I did not refer to the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. McGuinness) when I intervened on my hon. Friend the Member for Henley after he had referred to the hon. Gentleman, because of my uncertainty about that point. I am grateful for your ruling, because in my intervention I simply referred to ''people''. That was why I used that term.

The amendment raises a slightly different issue from the previous group of amendments, but a related one. We tabled it because of our concerns about the way in which terrorists and paramilitary organisations operate in Northern Ireland. Sadly, the intimidation of ordinary, law-abiding people is a feature of life in places where terrorists and paramilitary organisations hold sway. Under subsection (6), the court is instructed to

    ''treat the duty in subsection (5) as a power if it believes that any victim of the conduct has at any time started or intends to start proceedings against the defendant in respect of loss, injury or damage sustained in connection with the conduct.''

Opposition Members think that subsection (5) should remain a duty, not a power, because we are concerned that a victim of such conduct may want to

    ''start proceedings against the defendant in respect of loss, injury or damage''

but may be intimidated into not doing so. It would be unwise to constrain the court's opportunities to consider the issue. We know from practice that, sadly, such intimidation regularly occurs. The court's duties should not be circumscribed in any way. Subsection (5) should remain unchanged, so that whenever

    ''the defendant has benefited from the conduct referred to it must—

    (a) decide the recoverable amount, and

    (b) make an order (a confiscation order) requiring him to pay that amount.''

We are talking about people who have benefited substantially from the proceeds of crime. We want to toughen up the Bill. The court must always have the unavoidable duty to make an order requiring a defendant to pay the recoverable amount.

In Northern Ireland, specific conditions prevail that, happily, do not prevail in any other part of the UK. Because of those special circumstances, the powers of the courts should not be circumscribed. There are many precedents for special provisions for courts in Northern Ireland: for example, there are arrangements for judges to sit without juries. One reason for that is that jurors may be subject to intimidation. We want to ensure that confiscation orders are made against money launderers, drug traffickers, or anyone who could be dealt with under the Bill. We do not want victims of their conduct to be subject to intimidation.

A victim may start proceedings but be intimidated and prevented from pursuing them. That should not allow the Mr. Big to get away with a lower recoverable amount. I can well envisage a money launderer or a drug trafficker who has profited from his crime being able to impose improper pressure through associates on a victim not to pursue proceedings that have already started. It could then be argued that, because the proceedings had already started, the recoverable amount should be reduced.

Given the special circumstances that prevail in Northern Ireland, it would be safer if subsection (6) were removed. We are probing the Government. I am not suggesting that our aim will necessarily be achieved by deletion of subsection (6)—the Under-Secretary may say that there may be a better way of doing that—but I hope that he will understand our sincerity and the thinking behind the amendment. I am sure that Labour Members accept that we are conscious of the realities of life in the Province. If he can say either now or at a later stage that the Government accept that there is a problem and that there is another way in which to solve it, we will listen carefully to him. If he cannot assist us today, I hope that he can do so on Report or in another place.

12 noon

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 11 December 2001