Proceeds of Crime Bill

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Mr. McCabe: Is it in order, Mr. Gale, for the hon. Gentleman to quote extensively from a list of names on a piece of paper to which no other member of the Committee has access?

The Chairman: If it were not in order, Mr. McCabe, I would not have permitted it.

Mr. Hawkins: If the hon. Gentleman would like a copy, I will happily circulate it to him or any other member of the Committee.

We must bear in mind the significant concerns of the people on whom the success of our economy so heavily depends, about precisely this kind of legislation. The amendment that my hon. Friends and I propose is designed to try to introduce common sense to the Bill so that it hits only the real target. We all want to hit the real money launderers, as do the Americans whose briefing the Committee heard this morning. However, we do not want to hit those at whom the Bill should not be aimed.

In a moment, the Minister will tell us whether he can point to any words in schedule 6 that draw the line that my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield discussed. I do not see any. Will the Minister tell us that the Government will introduce a measure to ensure that the Bill is aimed at only those who should properly be targeted?

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Pollok): If the hon. Gentleman is leading us down the road of all members of the Committee confessing what they discussed over breakfast, I do not doubt that we will have fascinating conversations. However, I cannot understand how he was able to get up over an hour ago to have breakfast

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when the Committee's starting time has been changed from five minutes to 9 to a quarter past 9 in order to accommodate him. If the Committee's times are to be changed every time somebody has a morning appointment, that will be bizarre.

The Chairman: Order. There is a limit even to my legendary patience. We will not explore these culinary delights further.

Mr. Hawkins: I will not be tempted by the hon. Gentleman, although he is good at tempting members of the Committee down all kinds of highways and byways.

My point is substantial and I hope that the Minister, if not some of his Back Benchers, will take it seriously. What proposals does he have to ensure that the Bill will hit only those at whom it should be aimed?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): I refer Opposition Members to the clause, and especially to subsection (3), which says:

    ''The second condition is that the information or other matter . . .

    (b) which gives reasonable grounds for such knowledge or suspicion, came to him in the course of a business in the regulated sector.''

Schedule 6 contains the definition of the regulated sector. We changed the schedule by inserting its first line in response to representations that were made on exactly the point that Opposition Members have raised. The first line clarifies the list in part 1 of the schedule. It reads:

    ''A business is in the regulated sector to the extent that it engages in any of the following activities''.

Therefore, as I said during a previous debate, I can assure Opposition Members that we have consulted draftsmen to ensure that the provision does what is intended. A cleaner or personnel officer would not be affected. The people affected will be only those who are engaged in the duties listed in schedule 6. That was achieved by the change to the schedule following previous consultation.

Mr. Hawkins: I entirely accept that it was helpful for the Government to consult on and introduce the first part of schedule 6. That addresses what businesses must do. I stress again to the Minister that not only my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield and I, but the British Bankers Association and the Law Society of England and Wales, too, are saying, ''Never mind about the business; there is no line drawn on the level of employee.''

As the Bill stands, any person who works for a business in the regulated sector might be caught. Guidance that states that people will not be prosecuted is not enough.

Mr. Ainsworth: This has nothing to do with guidance. I would appreciate it if the hon. Gentleman did me the courtesy of listening to what I say, as he obviously did for his American friends over breakfast.

The offence is defined as information that

    ''came to him in the course of a business in the regulated sector.''

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Schedule 6 defines a business as being in the regulated sector with regard to

    ''the extent that it engages in''

certain activities. Those activities do not include the activities of personnel officers. Therefore, personnel officers do not work in a part of a business that is within the regulated sector. We have checked that. I assure the Committee that people who are peripheral to those regulated activities—such as personnel officers, cleaners and cooks—are not covered.

Mr. Paul Stinchcombe (Wellingborough): I am confused by the wording of the provision, as it misses out a verb that would help to clarify matters.

If my hon. Friend's answer is correct—and it makes a lot of sense—the preferred amendment might be simply to replace ''a business'' with ''his business'', so that the information would have to come to someone

    ''in the course of his business in the regulated sector'',

as that sector is defined in schedule 6.

Mr. Ainsworth: It has just been pointed out to me that it might be sexist to put that into the Bill, but my hon. Friend's recommendation appears to make perfect sense, and to do so in good English.

The specific point that has been raised was first raised long ago, so we have been able to discuss the matter with the draftsmen, and we are convinced that, with the addition that we have made, the wording fully addresses the problem. We have consulted extensively, and we assure the Committee that people such as cooks, cleaners and personnel officers who are not involved in the activities listed in schedule 6 are not covered by the offence.

Mr. Grieve: I understand and appreciate the Minister's point, but I hope that he will forgive me for continuing to examine the matter.

When I first read schedule 6, I understood that it was seeking to differentiate between the nature of business activities, so that if a business occupied two buildings, but engaged in regulated sector matters in only one of them, the building in which it did not engage in such matters would not be covered, but that everyone who worked within the building that was engaged in regulated sector work would be covered, including—if they were directly employed—the cooks, cleaners and personnel managers.

The Minister has told me that I am wrong about that, but I echo the comments of the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Stinchcombe) by saying that the way in which the Minister has explained the provision does not accord with how I understood it when I read it. It is clear that we are in broad agreement, and I do not wish to cause the Minister grief for no reason, but I am worried about the way in which schedule 6 is worded.

Mr. Ainsworth: We do not want to make a differentiation according to grade. We have debated that matter. We do not want to rule out people who are employed in a capacity that is not covered in

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schedule 6, but who are temporarily moved so that they are engaged in a function that is covered.

A definition according to grade would not be workable. A definition of the extent to which a business is engaged in the regulated sector is preferable. The Bill defines the kinds of activities that are in the regulated sector, and states that a business is in the regulated sector only to the extent that it engages in them. It also states that the offence can occur only in the regulated sector.

The point has been covered. We have discussed it at length with the draftsmen, and I have been assured that there is not a problem. As the hon. Gentleman said, he raised the point the other day. Therefore, we had another debate about it with him—and we made another check to make certain that the kinds of people about whom he is concerned are not covered. I am sure that they are not.

Mr. Lazarowicz: I have referred to the category of the head of personnel. That category should be covered by the legislation. I was satisfied that the provisions of subsection (2) would cover a cleaner or someone who worked for the canteen. Should not a senior officer, such as the head of personnel, even if he or she is not directly involved in the trading activities of the organisation, be obliged to disclose such information if he or she comes across it?

9.45 am

Mr. Ainsworth: All of us, including the head of personnel of a company within the regulated sector, are covered by the other offences of money laundering. However, in relation to this specific offence, it is people who have regulated duties involving dealing with other people's money who should be subject to the requirement to report. I do not know how a personnel officer falls into that category to a greater extent than any other member of the company. As the hon. Member for Beaconsfield said, if information is revealed to him during a discussion in a restaurant, he has a duty under other parts of the money laundering regulations on concealment, holding of property and so on. We want this specific offence to apply to those who work in the regulated sector and are involved in the activities described in schedule 6, and we do not see any reason to draw it more widely.

Stephen Hesford (Wirral, West): My hon. Friend the Minister has put on record in clear and helpful terms that the sort of people who are not expected to be prosecuted under this clause are cooks, cleaners, personnel staff and so on. Because of the change of regime in terms of prosecuting such offences, the courts will be able to look at what the Minister has said for guidance. Does the Minister accept that there cannot be clearer guidance than the words that he has put on the record?

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