Proceeds of Crime Bill

[back to previous text]

Mr. Wilshire: That was probably the best bit.

Mr. Ainsworth: When we had removed the entire proceeds of crime by the civil recovery process, it would be inappropriate for us to say, ''By the way, although we have taken all that away from you, a tax

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liability remains, which you must now pay.'' If that is being soft, then I am guilty.

The hon. Gentleman is probably right that if my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok were present, he would be more than happy to inflict a double hit on the people concerned, not only by using civil recovery to take away from them 100 per cent. of the proceeds of their crime, but by charging them capital gains tax, income tax, inheritance tax and any other tax that he could think of. That is not the Government's policy. The schedule ensures that that will not happen, but I do not think that that is being soft.

I turn to how the schedule will work. As I thought I said in my introductory comments, our amendments will not make any substantive changes. We are merely spelling matters out in more detail.

I admit to the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) that we were under pressure to get the Bill ready. It is a long and complicated Bill, and it was necessary to rewrite it, tidy it up and make absolutely sure that the intentions were clear, and all the tax regulations that could otherwise be brought to bear in such circumstances were removed.

The main thrust of the schedule is designed to achieve tax neutrality in two ways. First, it turns off the tax charges that might otherwise arise on transferral or when assets have been forfeited or vested in a trustee for civil recovery. Secondly, it allows normal tax rules to apply when a payment has been made to an innocent third party for assets recovered by the trustee and effectively returned to their ownership. I hope that that is clear, and that the hon. Gentleman will agree to the schedule.

Mr. Grieve: I am grateful for the Minister's explanation. If that is the aim of the schedule as amended, Opposition Members would not want to stand in the way of its being agreed to.

I may have an opportunity to return briefly to this subject at the end of our proceedings this afternoon, but may I say now that as a piece of text, the amendment is almost unintelligible? I mean that kindly to those who drafted it. Even as a lawyer, I was none the wiser or better informed at the end of reading it than at the beginning. That highlights the merit of explanatory notes, which we do not receive when an amendment of such a size and volume comes before us. I may be able to comment further at the end of our proceedings, but we are having to take a lot on trust from the Minister. In the absence of a tax expert among Committee members, it is difficult to disentangle whether the amendment will achieve what the Minister says is its objective.

The Chairman: Before I put the Question, it may be worth pointing out that I used to chair the Edinburgh tax commission.

Amendment agreed to.

Schedule 7, as amended, agreed to.

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Clause 434

Customs and Excise prosecutions

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland): I beg to move amendment No. 618, in page 252, line 14, after 'officer', insert

    ', unless the reason for his removal or discharge is connected with these proceedings.'.

May I clear up a point that arose this morning, Mr. McWilliam, when your colleague, Mr. Gale, was in the Chair? Members may recall that the Minister of State suggested earlier that we wanted him to be abolished. For the avoidance of doubt, I must stress that it is the office that he holds that I want abolished. If it were up to me, the hon. Gentleman himself would be preserved for the nation. [Interruption.]

Mr. Hawkins: I wonder whether Hansard has recorded the sotto voce observation by my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne that if the Minister of State were to be preserved he should be stuffed and mounted.

Mr. Carmichael: Neither of those are activities in which I would want to engage.

The amendment, which was drafted by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), raises an interesting issue, which at the time of drafting was known only to him and to the Lord God Almighty—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Spelthorne is obviously confusing one of those parties with my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes). Now that I find myself before the Committee having to move the amendment, it is unfortunate that one of those two is not available, and the other is not returning my calls—hon. Members may make of that what they wish, according to their faith preferences.

The point that my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes was trying to make when he drafted the amendment was that it would be undesirable for the officer who subsequently brought proceedings to be connected with the earlier removal or discharge of his colleague. I would be the first to admit that that is not what the amendment says.

Mr. Paul Stinchcombe (Wellingborough): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Carmichael: If the hon. Member for Wellingborough can cast any light on this, I should be happy to give way.

Mr. Stinchcombe: It strikes me that the amendment has the curious effect that if someone is being investigated by an officer who commences proceedings and he endeavours to bribe that officer so that he is discharged, no proceedings can be continued by any other customs officer. That seems rather perverse.

Mr. Carmichael: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has identified that my hon. Friend's amendment would have an effect; that was rather more than I could do when I first read it. Before I open up any more rifts between my Front-Bench colleagues and myself, I should be interested to hear what those briefing the Minister think about the amendment. If necessary I

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will make a further contribution, before I inevitably withdraw the amendment.

The Minister of State, Scotland Office (Mr. George Foulkes): I fear that we have made the dreadful mistake of treating the amendment seriously. We had to wait until our 39th sitting before a Member spoke on behalf of a colleague to move an amendment that he did not understand, the effect of which was not only opposite to the one intended but—as my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough pointed out—malign. To quote my late good friend Gregor Mackenzie, whose phrase has now been adopted by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), the introduction of the amendment by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) was ''less than convincing''.

If the hon. Gentleman wants to abolish the position of Minister of State, he should think seriously about that. He has only been here for a few months. Perhaps when he begins better to understand the devolution settlement and what it means, he may see that there is an important job to be done. If I went into that in more detail I should be entirely out of order, Mr. McWilliam—so perhaps I will take him aside on another occasion, with my hon. Friend the Whip. Between us we will find one way or another of convincing him.

We oppose the amendment because it would be contrary to the interests of justice and of the public automatically to put an end to proceedings in a number of circumstances where an officer had been removed from a case for any reason, however legitimate, that was connected to the proceedings, but where the evidence was otherwise sufficient to secure a conviction for serious offences. Sometimes it may become apparent that witnesses or defendants had some remote connection with the case officer that was not apparent when the proceedings were brought. They could be a distant relative, a former school or university colleague—or, may I suggest to the hon. Member for Surrey Heath, a member of the same rugby team. Although there would be no suggestion of the officer colluding or being involved with witnesses, defendants or offences, it might nevertheless be expedient to remove him from the case to avoid any such allegations being made.

That is the sensible response to an introduction of the amendment that was not sensible. My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough has given a more effective response than I have, and that is an even more effective reason why the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland should withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Ainsworth: With a good grace.

Mr. Grieve: Although there has been a great deal of community of view between us and the Liberal Democrats during our deliberations in Committee, I am unable to support the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland on this occasion.

5 pm

Mr. Wilshire: I have an overwhelming need to be consistent, and during our proceedings I have felt it

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necessary to chide the Labour party from time to time. Until now, I have not felt the need to chide the Liberal Democrats, but consistency demands that we consider what is before us. The drift of what the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said was that the amendment did not mean anything. Then—horror of horrors—we discovered that it does mean something. That was a nasty shock, but I suppose that we can draw our own conclusions about where it came from. We were told that it was malign and would wreck the intentions of this part of the Bill, so who are the wreckers now?

Mr. Carmichael: Despite that contribution by the hon. Member for Spelthorne, which almost persuaded me to press it to a Division, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Grieve: I beg to move amendment No. 644, in page 252, line 36, leave out subsection (7).

This is a probing amendment. The clause was interesting to read, and perhaps even more so when I read the explanatory notes. They explain how the powers will deal with customs and excise offences. It is well known that those offences usually apply throughout the United Kingdom, albeit that different procedures may sometimes apply north and south of the border. Subsection (7) states:

    This section does not apply to proceedings on indictment in Scotland.

That is all very useful, but those of us who are not versed in Scots law then looked at the explanatory notes, only to find that they say:

    this section does not apply to proceedings on indictment in Scotland.

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