Proceeds of Crime Bill

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Mr. Wilshire: I am grateful for the Minister's helpful explanation. He said that the provisions would be of significant length. With respect, I must point out that the Bill, too, is of significant length. It would not make a great of difference to add a bit more to it. If so much detail must be set out, even if it is not in the Bill, it still has to be set out somewhere. Neither the length nor the detail is a justification for not writing the provision into the Bill. Better scrutiny

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occurs in a Committee such as this than during consideration even of an affirmative resolution, for which a Committee's debating time is greatly curtailed.

Mr. Foulkes: We have already had 39 sittings—

Mr. Wilshire: Only 38.

Mr. Foulkes: Only 38—and we have considered more than 400 clauses.The Bill is technical in nature, and very complicated. A lot of explanation and consideration is required—as the Committee has discovered. To spell out in primary legislation what will be in the Orders in Council would be far more difficult and complex than the course of action that we have chosen. Our experience has taught us that Orders in Council are the best way of dealing with such complicated arrangements. I hope that I have now dealt with the points that Opposition Members raised.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 428 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 429

External requests and orders

11.15 am

Mr. Grieve: I beg to move amendment No. 641, in page 249, line 43, at end insert—

    'from a designated country'.

The Chairman: With this we may consider amendment. No. 643, in clause 432, page 251, line 37, leave out 'an' and insert 'a designated'.

Mr. Grieve: The legislation is intended to form a part of an international regime for seizing the proceeds of crime—and I have no disagreement with that. It must provide for international co-operation, including the ability to enforce in this country orders that might been made abroad—and I do not object to that.

However, as I have stated in previous discussions, I am concerned that the legislation might not be acceptable if people who were being pursued by a foreign Government argued that that Government's standards of investigation and proof, or motives, fell short of what would be regarded as acceptable norms and standards in the United Kingdom.

Every Government have experienced that problem in a variety of circumstances; extradition is a classic example. Governments have been unwilling to extradite people unless they were totally satisfied that they would receive a fair trial in the country to which they were being extradited, and that the crime with which they were charged was comparable with a similar crime in the United Kingdom.

The legislation does not provide a list of designated countries with which, because the Government hold the view that those countries apply acceptable standards with regard to the investigation and seizure of the proceeds of crime, it is deemed acceptable to co-operate. In failing to provide such a list, it differs from its predecessor legislation. My amendments do not provide a designated list, because I have not sought to widen the discussion to address that subject, but it might be right to debate it on Report.

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However, before the Bill leaves the Committee, we should discuss how the Government foresee the external request and orders regime working. If there is not to be a list of designated countries, what criteria will the Government apply in making decisions about which countries' requests are acceptable and which are not?

If we do not get that right, the international co-operation aspects of the Bill will bring the entire regime into disrepute. An endless series of Human Rights Act applications would come before our courts, with individuals claiming that orders should not be enforced because of the manner in which they were originally obtained, or the motives of the foreign Government—or enforcement authorities—seeking them.

The amendments are probing, and the references to designated countries are intended to stimulate discussion in the Committee—and a response from the Government—about how to ensure that the problems that I have described do not arise.

Mr. Stinchcombe: I do not follow the textual change proposed in amendment No. 643. I cannot find the words that it would delete in the line to which it refers.

Mr. Hawkins: On a point of order, Mr. Gale. I, too, would have been puzzled by the amendment as it now appears, but I imagine that there has been a printing error. I think that the amendment relates not to line 37 but to line 36, and it should possibly have proposed the deletion of the word ''another'', because I am not sure that it is possible to delete only the first two letters of a word. The amendment was designed to replace the word ''another'' with the words ''a designated'' in line 36. I hope that, if I am correct, that will solve the hon. Gentleman's puzzle.

The Chairman: That is probably a matter for the Chair. A typographical error has clearly been made, and we shall endeavour to unravel it while debate on the amendments continues.

Mr. Grieve: I am grateful to the hon. Member for Wellingborough for having brought the matter to my attention. I confess that I had missed it. In my draft, the point at which I made the mark on the paper was in line 36, not line 37. In view of the nature of the amendment and the discussion that I am trying to stimulate, I hope that that will not prevent us from debating the principle, which is plainly enshrined in the first of the two amendments, No. 641.

I should be grateful for the Committee's and the Minister's view of how the provision will work. I am sure that the Minister will acknowledge that the merit of the old system was that the designated list could be discussed and scrutinised if lawyers, Members of Parliament or the House of Lords considered that circumstances were changing in a country, so that whereas previously its presence on the designated list was desirable, things were going wrong and it could not longer be relied on to operate a judicial and investigative system worthy of our respect, credence and enforcement.

Mr. Hawkins: What my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield says about a designated list strikes me

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as important in the context of the Home Secretary's certification that the Bill is compatible with the Human Rights Act 1998. As my hon. Friend said, there could be countries that no Committee member would regard as having acceptable codes of law and criminal justice—or, in the terminology often used in human rights law, acceptable norms and standards of justice.

I have no doubt that the Minister will try to reassure the Committee that the Government will not want to be hampered in their dealings with those who might be involved in money laundering, especially in relation to drugs, but equally, that they will not want to use the provisions against people whose human rights have been ignored in countries often now referred to as rogue, or failed, states. Unless a list, or another mechanism for dealing with my hon. Friend's point, is incorporated, we might have severe worries about whether the Home Secretary was right to certify that the Bill complies with the provisions of the Human Rights Act.

I am worried about an undifferentiated position whereby any other country, regardless of its human rights record, is regarded as appropriate. There are many countries that all of us, regardless of the party that we represent, would say did not look after the human rights of their citizens. We could all give our own list. I do not believe that it would be a profitable use of the Committee's time to do so, but we all know what the concern is.

Mr. Wilshire: Not only is it important to have a discussion about designated countries, we should extend the list to include designated crimes with regard to particular countries. It is possible to express concerns about the standards of justice in a range of countries, and I certainly support what my hon. Friends have said. It is necessary to have a list of acceptable countries, but I fully accept that it would be unhelpful to write it into the Bill, because today's rogue state could be tomorrow's model of democracy and justice. It would therefore be better to have a definition of an unacceptable country.

It might be helpful to designate countries by the sorts of crimes that we would be prepared to consider. For example, none of us would dispute that we would do our level best to ensure that any provision we made to catch criminals involved in drug dealing applied to those doing the same in another country. Despite any reservations about the judicial system of that country, we would try to be as helpful as possible.

There are a couple of crimes that provide us with a way to make a list of designated countries. Corruption is a crime, and there are vast proceeds from corruption. Suppose the judiciary of Nigeria—if such a thing exists in a country like that—asked us about the proceeds of crime. What the Nigerians consider corruption may not be what we consider corruption, and vice versa. I would not put it past some countries to try to use their judicial system for corruption, and to get their hands on the proceeds of some crime or other. That would be a crime in itself. One would have to consider the honesty and integrity of a country's regime when deciding whether to designate it as a country with which we could do business.

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Some would argue that confiscating or taking over land or property is a crime against the laws of their country, against the nature of their state. For example, it would be easy for this country, if it was not careful, to get bogged down in disputes between the Cypriots as to who owned what, and whether it was criminal for Turkish or Greek Cypriots to take over someone's land. Cypriots might argue that it was. If we were asked to use the powers in the Bill in a territorial dispute, I would be worried. As I understand this part of the Bill, it would be possible for a regime to try to involve us.

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