Proceeds of Crime Bill

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Mr. Ainsworth: Less effective, too.

Mr. Grieve: Doubtless so. It is all about the balance of civil liberties.

I do not wish to continue my peroration for too long, as I said at the outset that I was conscious that the amendment could have been better drafted, in order to narrow down the persons whom I want to protect. For that reason—not necessarily that reason alone, as I am not wholly adverse to the Minister's intentions—I shall ask the Committee's leave to withdraw the amendment while reserving to myself the opportunity of considering the matter further on Report. I think that a significant civil liberties issue is involved. It is important that Parliament should consider that.

Mr. Hawkins: In light of the Minister's helpful reference to the guidance, which is one of the factors that is influencing my hon. Friend somewhat conditionally to withdraw the amendment in its current form, I wonder whether to observe that a better way to approach the problem would be for the Minister to contemplate writing into the Bill the sort of safeguards that are currently available only in guidance.

Mr. Grieve: My hon. Friend makes a good point. The Minister has been kind enough to give us the list that was produced by his officials of the things that he has agreed to think about, which I read over the Christmas recess. I do not know whether other members of the Committee have seen it, but it was quite long. It might add to the burden placed on him and his officials, but this might be another sensible matter on which to consider inserting something into the Bill. It would cover specifically the position of the innocent third party who happens to be in possession of a large quantity of money that is suspected—only suspected—of being recoverable property or property intended by another person to be used in unlawful conduct.

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Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Pollok): On the question of civil liberties, will the hon. Gentleman turn his thoughts to the position in my constituency and in Glasgow generally, where lots of people are dying as a result of drug money being allowed to flow through? I would rather that 49 people were stopped and searched in order to catch one guilty person than to have no search. I am sure that the vast majority of my constituents, and those of my hon. Friends, would be quite prepared to undergo a large number of fruitless searches rather than have the police and other authorities constrained by unduly restrictive proposals. It seems that the hon. Gentleman is out of touch with the real feeling in the country. Again, he is acting as the criminal's friend.

Mr. Grieve: I understand the hon. Gentleman's sentiments, but after almost 50 years of a continually rising crime rate and a deteriorating social situation, particularly in connection with drugs—this Parliament has been backwards and forwards over the criminal law and, in this case, a parallel administrative law code, designed to suppress and reduce that criminality—the profound irony is that most of our efforts have proved to be completely unsuccessful. I wish the Bill well, as the Minister knows, but over the past 50 years we have been eroding our civil liberties. From time to time, it is worth pausing to ask whether a change is likely to produce such an obvious benefit that it is worth losing some civil liberties for.

As civil liberties are eroded by parliamentary decisions so, I suspect, will people's self-respect and their respect for the law. We will live in a society in which, instead of people saying freely that there are good reasons for being law-abiding, a position will be reached where it will be us and them, and that will contribute ultimately to the social disintegration that is such a problem not only in the hon. Gentleman's constituency but in mine.

An important issue is at stake. If, for the next four weeks, I am jumping up and down in Committee picking up on such points—as I have been doing for the past two months—it is because I have a fundamental anxiety about such measures. Furthermore, I have those worries while genuinely wishing the Bill success. The last action that the Under-Secretary wants to take is to introduce a Bill that interferes with people's civil liberties while producing none of the benefits that were intended. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.30 pm

The Chairman: Before we proceed, I remind members of the Committee that interventions must be interventions. I appreciate that complex legal matters sometimes require a greater level of explanation than other matters, but if hon. Members wish to make speeches, they must catch my eye in the usual fashion.

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Mr. Bob Ainsworth: I beg to move amendment No. 321, in page 167, line 32, leave out paragraph (b) and insert—

    '(b) postal orders,

    (c) cheques of any kind, including travellers' cheques,

    (d) bankers' drafts,

    (e) bearer bonds and bearer shares'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take Government amendments Nos. 322 and 340.

Mr. Ainsworth: The amendment extends the definition of cash to include postal orders, cheques, bankers' drafts, bearer bonds and bearer shares. It mirrors the definition under paragraph 1(2) of schedule 1 to the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, which has a scheme for seizure, detention and forfeiture of terrorist cash. It is desirable that the definitions of cash under the Bill and the Act are consistent.

Moreover, such instruments share with other forms of cash the property that they have monetary value, that they are easily transported and that they can be readily converted. That means that they can also be paid into an account for the purposes of clause 295 and then divided to ensure that, if only some of the cash is under suspicion, the other part can be released.

Amendment No. 322 transfers from the Treasury to the Secretary of State the proposed power to make an order extending the definition of cash. On reflection, it became clear that the decision about which monetary instruments should be subject to the cash recovery scheme is a matter of Home Office policy. It is therefore more appropriate for the Home Secretary, not the Treasury, to make the order. Officials in the Home Office and in the Treasury will liaise closely about its terms. However, as that is a matter over which the Home Office has responsibility, the order-making power should rest ultimately with the Secretary of State. A similar order-making power is provided under paragraph 1(3) of schedule 1 to the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001.

We propose that the Secretary of State should be required to consult Scottish Ministers as the addition of a further monetary instrument to the definition of cash will extend the search powers of Scottish constables. The same approach is taken with the minimum amount order under clause 301, on which Scottish Ministers will also be consulted.

Mr. Hawkins: I hope that I am not perceiving a hidden agenda under amendment No. 322, but is there any significance in the phrase

    ''any kind of monetary instrument which is found at any place in the United Kingdom''?

For example, if the Government were to succeed in their plot to replace our currency with the euro, are we giving powers such that that would be covered?

Mr. Ainsworth: I am sure that the provision would cover foreign currency as well as pounds sterling. The hon. Gentleman is right in that regard. It is euro-neutral, and there is no need for him to get too upset at this point.

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Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne): This is a separate issue that was prodded by the Minister's reference to foreign currency. I see that the wording of the Bill refers to

    ''notes and coins in any currency''.

Does that go beyond legal tender? I have in mind such things as krugerrands, which are probably not legal tender but are cash. Does the matter need to be revisited in order to avoid doubt and to clarify that the Bill refers to legal tender and any other coinage?

Mr. Ainsworth: It is intended that the provision covers cash and instruments that are the equivalent of that in the way that they may be moved and traded. That is why we have included bonds that are not easily traceable after they have moved from those situations. The Bill would cover foreign currency, krugerrands, euros and any other form of cash.

Mr. Wilshire: I am sorry to press the point. As a non-lawyer, I have a sense that cash means something that is legal tender. However, such things as krugerrands are not legal tender. In order to avoid doubt, it would be useful for the Bill to contain a phrase such as ''notes or coins whether currently legal tender or not''. That would make it clear that a person could not offer a defence that notes or coins would not be covered by the Bill because they are not legal tender.

Mr. Ainsworth: I am beginning to suspect an ulterior motive.

Mr. Wilshire: I am just trying to be helpful.

Mr. Ainsworth: I know. I understand the hon. Gentleman exactly. I wonder when we will get round to an amendment that mentions ''foreign currency like the euro''.

I am fairly certain that the situation is covered, although I will check that it is, because it should be. The provision must cover not only cash that is legal tender in this country, but foreign currency that is not legal tender in this country.

Mr. Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green): Does my hon. Friend believe that only Tory sympathisers and British criminals would refuse to use the euro? Should there be a special provision for that?

Mr. Ainsworth: I do not know whether the hon. Member for Spelthorne would be willing to give up moneys that came to him in euros because he is not prepared to become tainted by the stuff.

Mr. Wilshire: I simply thank the Minister for saying that he will consider the matter. There is no ulterior motive behind the question. It is a genuine search for clarification to try to ensure that the Bill is not soft on people by offering loopholes.

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