Proceeds of Crime Bill

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Mr. Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green): Like Ernest Saunders?

Mr. Davidson: Yes, the Guinness. story. Could this be another remarkable case of a cure for Alzheimer's disease being discovered in the City of London?

The Chairman: Order. First, reading extensively from documents is to be deprecated. Members should précis them. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman must focus on money laundering. He has not yet done so.

Mr. Davidson: Thank you, Mr. McWilliam. I shall now refer specifically to City attitudes to having

    ''reasonable grounds for knowing or suspecting''

that people are engaged in money laundering. The City's culture is the key to this issue. The question is whether folk can be trusted in such matters—I apologise for my digression on the subject of Alzheimer's disease.

Mr. Field rose—

Mr. Davidson: I give way to the hon. Member for NatWest.

Mr. Field: That is an appropriate touch of Alzheimer's disease.

The issue of culture has rightly been raised. The antics of Sir Michael Richardson have nothing to do with money laundering, although I understand that the hon. Gentleman wanted to make a particular point. In an earlier contribution I tried to make the point that the culture has changed greatly. Sir Michael Richardson was a major City figure and his referees, to whom the hon. Gentleman referred, were from a bygone age of the City of London. The culture is now different, and the City is much better regulated. Everyone who works in the City, and all Conservative Members, agree that we need more regulation, but the culture that the hon. Gentleman mentioned has moved on.

The Chairman: Order. If the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok were to go down that road, and if I were to permit it, we would start to discuss Barings bank and all sorts of things that are not at issue under the amendment. Will he concentrate on the offence of money laundering and the tests?

Mr. Davidson: In my view, it all comes down to whether someone

    ''has reasonable grounds for knowing or suspecting''.

Mr. Hawkins: I want to understand the case that the hon. Gentleman was making before my hon. Friend intervened on him. Is he saying that in the case about which he quoted extensively, the £100 million was part of a money-laundering exercise? If so—and that is what I thought he might be suggesting—is not the fact that NatWest immediately closed the account and said that it would not take any more funds an example of the system working?

Mr. Davidson: That is an example of the system working, and I am glad that it happened. However, later in the article it becomes clear that some other arrangements were made, and in particular, letters were written, and those form evidence that the system

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was not working. That is why I am unconvinced by the assertion by the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster that that is all in the past. There are further relevant references from individuals who are still active. The continued existence of that culture makes me wonder whether the City, and professions such as law and accountancy, can be trusted to police themselves.

Yesterday I brought to the Committee's attention a quotation that indicated that lawyers seemed to believe that money laundering regulations did not apply to them. That culture still exists.

5 pm

May I also touch on the point about staff, Mr. McWilliam? I was struck that Conservative Members expressed concern for cleaners, as the Conservative party has not expressed concern about them in many other ways. I suspect that that point was raised as a red herring, and I am glad that the Minister dealt with it as he did.

Mr. Grieve: The hon. Gentleman is wrong to lack anxiety on that subject. The Minister might be able to satisfy us that schedule 6 is drafted in such a way as not to cover such people. Before lunch, I said to him informally that I would be delighted if they were not so covered, but that my initial reading of the schedule had not suggested that that was the case.

I find abhorrent the idea that executives or staff who have nothing to do with their organisations' regulated functions should be criminalised as a result of, for instance, overhearing a chance disclosure, and not knowing what to do about it. I inferred from the Minister's remarks that he shared my view about that, which is why I raised the point that I did.

The Chairman: Order. Can we save that subject for the debate on amendment No. 97? We have not got there yet.

Mr. Davidson: Thank you, Mr. McWilliam.

I think that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath wished to say something. Has it been covered by the comments of the hon. Member for Beaconsfield?

Mr. Hawkins: No, I wanted to make a slightly different point—although of course I agree with what my hon. Friend said.

The Minister is incorrect: schedule 6 is not drafted to exclude cleaners. The hon. Gentleman believes that Conservative Members do not care for anyone outside the professions and the City of London, but I have frequently raised issues on behalf of blue-collar workers in connection with a variety of legislation.

Mr. Davidson: The hon. Member for Surrey Heath, the cleaner's friend! I will bear that in mind.

It is important to discuss the degree of responsibility of junior staff, because it raises serious issues about having reasonable grounds for knowing or suspecting. If someone walks into the building with an enormous bag full of used fivers, should it be a defence that reporting that is the responsibility of a senior member of staff? I understand the point about back-office staff; some of them will have responsible jobs and some of them will not. However, everyone

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involved in the chain of transactions ought to have a separate and individual responsibility for reporting.

I would much rather the same transaction were reported twice or thrice than not be reported at all. What happens if everyone in an organisation leaves the responsibility for reporting a transaction to someone higher up the chain, and that person deliberately chooses not to report it, claiming that they had no reasonable grounds for knowing or suspecting, even though that is patently untrue? They will be guilty of an offence, but the transaction will not have been reported. That highlights why subsection (2)(b) is crucial; it refers to having

    ''reasonable grounds for knowing or suspecting''.

Mr. Hawkins: I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. He believes that it does not do any harm to have multiple reports, and says that he would far rather a suspicious transaction were reported twice or thrice than not at all.

We agree that there ought to be a report, where there is proper ground for one. However, if the policy that the hon. Gentleman advocates, which would lead to multiple reporting, were introduced, and it created a huge bureaucratic empire in NCIS, caused the City of London to grind to a halt, destroyed the economy of this country and had all the City's business going to Frankfurt or Paris, what would he think about that?

The Chairman: Order. Can we come back to order? We are not dealing with reporting. That is covered under a different part of the clause. Will the Committee deal with the narrow point with which it is supposed to be dealing, and not wander off in all sorts of directions? We are dealing only with amendments Nos. 487 and 524. The debate will go no further.

Mr. Davidson: Indeed, Mr. McWilliam. I am glad that you have dealt with the matter and rightly rebuked the hon. Member for Surrey Heath, who was attempting to lead me down all sorts of highways and byways. A few more rebukes to him would not go amiss.

The Chairman: Order. It strikes me that the hon. Gentleman does not need much leading.

Mr. Davidson: Have I not followed the Minister's lead throughout the debate?

Finally, I turn to the issue of—

Mr. Hawkins: Finally?

Mr. Davidson: In common with most of my hon. Friends, I give ''finally'' a particular parliamentary and political meaning, which is that we are about 40 per cent. through our speeches, but we want to give our audience hope.

Mr. Hawkins: Before the hon. Gentleman says ''finally'' a second time, I must point out that we are not blessed in this Committee with the presence of the acknowledged parliamentary expert, the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), who usually says ''finally'' about six times in each speech.

The Chairman: Order. I have already ruled in a previous Committee on the language used by the hon.

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Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey. Members of Committees must use language that the Chairman understands—and when that hon. Gentleman says ''finally'', we understand exactly what he means.

Norman Baker (Lewes): On a point of order, Mr. McWilliam.

The Chairman: Order. I must first say that the hon. Gentleman was not a Member of Parliament when I made that ruling in respect of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey.

Norman Baker: I should point out for the record that my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey does not say ''finally'' on a regular basis. He may say ''seventeenthly'', but not ''finally''.

Mr. Davidson: That is a new one on me.

It is helpful to have a view from the Liberal Democrats. We had only one Liberal Democrat member of the Committee at yesterday's sitting—and if I remember correctly, he had two opinions: the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) was able to have a discussion with himself. It was noticeable this morning, when two Liberal Democrat Members were on the Front Bench, that they were unable to reach a view and abstained on the one Division that was held. Surely with two Liberal Democrat members in the Committee, at least four opinions could have been advanced. There are now two Liberal Democrats in the Committee again, but it is significant that one is sitting on the Front Bench and one on the Back Bench. I am not clear whether that means that one of the four of them has a casting vote—but I shall not continue with that line of argument, Mr. McWilliam. In fact, I shall not mention it.

The hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) is absent from our proceedings at the moment. Following what he said yesterday, as is recorded in column 1021 of the Hansard report, about the similarities between his constituency and Pollok, I understand that he is searching for the Pollok regatta, but has not been able to locate it yet.

In the light of my potentially relevant remarks, I urge the Committee to reject the amendment. I draw again to the attention of my colleagues the fact that I regret that the Scottish nationalists are absent from our proceedings.

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