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Proceeds of Crime Bill

Proceeds of Crime Bill

Column Number: 1191

Standing Committee B

Tuesday 29 January 2002


Mr. Bill O'Brien

Proceeds of Crime Bill

10.30 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): I beg to move,

    That, in the Programming Order of the Committee of 13 November 2001, the Table be further amended as follows—

    (1) in the second column in respect of the 34th sitting by leaving out the words there printed and inserting ''Part 8'';

    (2) in the third column in respect of the 34th sitting by leaving out ''1 p.m.'';

    (3) for the second and third columns in respect of the 35th sitting substitute—

''Part 8 (so far as not previously concluded), New Clauses and New Schedules relating to Part 86 p.m.
Part 9, New Clauses and New Schedules relating to Part 9 7.30 p.m.''

As you are aware, Mr. O'Brien, the Programming Sub-Committee met earlier this morning. A draft resolution has been agreed by representatives of the three political parties in Committee, which pushes back the knife that is due to fall on our deliberations at lunchtime to 6 pm, so that we can continue to discuss part 8 until 6 pm, thus, leaving one and a half hours to discuss part 9.

    Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne): We are grateful for this opportunity to give the Bill better consideration than it would otherwise have had.

Question put and agreed to.

The Chairman: We shall now continue our consideration of the Bill.

Clause 330 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 331

Offences of prejudicing investigation

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): I shall keep my remarks brief. We have a marathon sitting to get through, even though the finishing post has been moved to 6 pm. I am grateful to the Minister and the Government Whip for the way in which we have made such adjustments as time has required.

We are now dealing with investigations under part 8. Clause 331 is about offences of prejudicing investigation, and subsection (1) states:

    ''This section applies if a person knows or suspects that an appropriate officer or . . . a proper person is acting . . . in connection with a confiscation investigation, a civil recovery investigation or a money laundering investigation which is being or is about to be conducted.''

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Mr. Paul Stinchcombe
(Wellingborough): The hon. Gentleman has just mentioned a civil recovery investigation. Given that that would have to be an investigation into unlawful conduct, not criminal conduct, would there not be a problem with definitions?

Mr. Grieve: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. I shall return to it in a moment. The specific problem that hit me when I first read the provision was that it includes a ''money laundering investigation''. How is that intended to dovetail with the offence of tipping off under clause 325? We are creating two almost identical offences, the only difference being that the scope of the offences that can be committed under clause 331 is slightly wider.

I have sometimes described the Bill as ''draconian'', and its intention certainly seems to be to criminalise anyone who transgresses, right, left and centre. Is there not a little overkill in the clause, in that it refers to two offences, one under the money-laundering provisions and one under the investigations provisions, given that one could be subsumed into the other? It is undesirable for Parliament to pass a plethora of criminal sanctions when only one may be necessary.

The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Stinchcombe) has made a good point. Perhaps we should also consider whether the attempt at a catch-all provision for all three investigations reads properly. The Minister may wish to take on board that point, which did not occur to me when I first read the clause; it may merit consideration.

I should be grateful if the Minister would explain how the Government intend the clause to work, compared with clause 325. This is a probing amendment; I thought that the best way to facilitate our discussions would be to suggest deleting the reference to money laundering, and it would also enable the Minister to learn a little beforehand about the point that I was trying to raise.

Mr. Ainsworth: As we have said previously, the money-laundering provisions in part 7 consolidate, simplify and expand the existing provisions. Current legislation makes a distinction between laundering the proceeds of drug crime and laundering the proceeds of other crimes. That distinction has now been removed. The money-laundering offences in the Bill bite on the proceeds of all criminal conduct. In bringing about that consolidation, we have taken into account the fact that section 58 of the Drug Trafficking Act 1994, the current legislation, makes it an offence to prejudice an investigation into drug trafficking when an application has been made for a production order or a search and seizure warrant.

Section 53 of the 1994 Act contains a general tipping-off offence for those who know or suspect that a constable is acting, or proposing to act, in an investigation that is, or is about to be, conducted into money laundering. It is also an offence for a person who knows or suspects that a suspicious transaction disclosure has been made to the police to disclose information likely to prejudice an investigation. Section 93D of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 is similar

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to section 53 of the 1994 Act. We captured the thrust of those provisions in clause 325, which deals with tipping-off disclosures made under part 7, and for part 8 in clause 331, which deals more generally with prejudicing an investigation.

There is a good reason to have separate offences of prejudicing an investigation and of tipping-off disclosures made under part 7. Tipping off under clause 325 applies only when a disclosure is made that falls under clause 327 or 328. Furthermore, as the offence relates to making a disclosure, that could be before the law enforcement authorities undertake or even contemplate an investigation. The offence of prejudicing an investigation might not be sufficient to cover that situation.

Conversely, the offence of prejudicing an investigation might sometimes cover ground that is not covered by the tipping-off offence. For example, if a person knew that an investigation into money laundering was going on because an account-monitoring order had been made, there would not have been a disclosure under clause 325 and he would not have committed a tipping-off offence by telling the subject of the investigation. The amendment would remove one of the important safeguards for the money-laundering provisions.

The offence of prejudicing a money laundering investigation is a significant support in ensuring the success of an investigation. I hope that I have explained that it would not be possible to rely on only the tipping-off offence in clause 325, because in most cases of applications for the powers specified in part 8, there will have been no disclosure under part 7.

I hope that that shows the hon. Gentleman that there is no deliberate duplication, and that the power is necessary, in addition to those in the tipping-off clause.

Mr. Grieve: I am grateful to the Minister for providing that clarification, which wholly satisfies me. I wanted something on the record about the relationship between the offences in the two clauses.

I have had the chance to examine further the point made by the hon. Member for Wellingborough, and his anxiety is probably not well founded. The clause refers to investigations, which could apply to a civil recovery investigation as much as to any other. Did the hon. Gentleman try to raise another aspect that I did not understand?

Mr. Stinchcombe: We discussed the unusual case of the different definition of criminal conduct as ''unlawful conduct'' in certain clauses. Clause 330(1) carries that through because it states:

    ''a confiscation investigation is an investigation into . . . criminal conduct''.

However, subsection (2) mentions property rather than conduct itself. That is an unusual consequence of the unusual approach in the Bill.

Mr. Grieve: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. He will remember that we highlighted that matter at length when we discussed the civil recovery provisions, and I expressed my misgivings about the whole approach.

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My difficulty is that further discussion would reopen an issue that we debated earlier—although I shall be happy if the Minister continues to think about it.

After hearing the hon. Gentleman's point, I wondered whether I had missed something that made clause 331 unworkable or difficult. However, I do not think that I have, so I did not pursue that point further. I am grateful to him for raising the matter, because I continue to be worried about it. I am not allowed to reopen an old debate, although if those who advise me continue to have disquiet on the subject, we may return to it on Report.

I am grateful to the Minister for explaining the relationship between the two offences and for highlighting the fact that the provision originates from the 1994 legislation. Setting out the different offences in this way is not the healthiest way to proceed, but I see the point of it.

Vera Baird (Redcar): Before the hon. Gentleman withdraws the amendment, I seek clarification. The Minister put forward the case for the two offences, but I wish to raise two points.

The tipping-off provisions in clause 325 include the caveat that an offence will be committed if a disclosure is likely to prejudice a subsequent investigation. Will there not inevitably be considerable overlap between the two types of criminality in the case of a disclosure that leads to an investigation? A person could be charged under clause 325 or clause 331.

It is not necessary to pursue my second point straight away, but the offence of prejudicing an investigation under clause 331 seems exactly like a classic case of perverting the course of justice. Consequently that provision is unnecessary, and such duplication should be avoided if possible.


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