HC Deb 02 July 2001 vol 371 cc9-11
4. John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland)

What plans he has to confiscate the assets of serious criminals. [613]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Bob Ainsworth)

As part of our manifesto commitment to crack down on crime, we announced the proceeds of crime Bill in the Queen's Speech. The Bill will attack the profit motive that drives organised crime. It will reform confiscation procedures, modernise the criminal law on money laundering, establish an agency with powers to recover criminal assets—including through a new form of civil litigation—extend the provisions for forfeiture of cash derived from or intended for use in crime, and provide for the taxation of criminal gains.

John Robertson

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. He will be aware that there has been substantial investment in the new Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency, which has been welcomed universally by those in my constituency who try to fight drugs. However, a drug knows no boundaries, so how does my hon. Friend envisage his Department's scope in relation to the Scottish Executive in fighting that evil trade throughout the whole country?

Mr. Ainsworth

I can assure my hon. Friend that the proceeds of crime Bill will apply in Scotland as well as in England and Wales. We are discussing its provisions with, and have received full co-operation from, members of the Scottish Executive. That consultation process will continue to make absolutely certain that there are no loopholes when dealing with the purveyors of organised crime, many of whom are involved in drugs trafficking.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)

The Minister will probably know that in the Republic of Ireland there is a Criminal Assets Bureau dealing with confiscation of such assets. Is he aware that many of those who have dealt with the bureau—myself included—believe that the balance is tilted too much in favour of the bureau? It is very important to establish law that ensures that, if there is to be a confiscation of criminal assets, the burden of proving the fact that they are indeed criminal assets must rest firmly on those seeking the order, and that the standard of proof is a high one. Otherwise, injustice will be done.

Mr. Ainsworth

If the right hon. and learned Gentleman has studied the Irish experience, he will know that our country's record on the recovery of the proceeds of crime is not good. Taking into account the different sizes of economies, we recover about a quarter of that which the United States recovers, and about a tenth of that which Ireland manages to recover. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman supports our general thrust, which is to make certain that we bear down on the profits of crime and that we improve our record considerably.

John Mann (Bassetlaw)

In my constituency, historically, many problems were sorted out down the pit, but a previous Government shut the vast majority of the pits in my constituency. Can we expect this Government to continue to pursue stronger policies that will lead to the harassment of the harassers and allow ordinary, decent people in my constituency to go about their business in peace?

Mr. Ainsworth

The proceeds of crime Bill is about bearing down on organised crime rather than issues of harassment. I assure my hon. Friend that it should apply underground as well as overground.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

I welcome the Minister and his right hon. and hon. Friends to their new posts. Does he recognise that the Government have created a problem for themselves with their proposals, given that the Prime Minister decided that none of the previous Home Office Ministers should continue in their posts, so the entire team was either promoted, moved or fired; and given that the new team of which the hon. Gentleman is a part does not have a single legal qualification among its members?

Does the Minister recognise that Labour's friends among human rights lawyers are already pointing out to The Guardian that the Government's only Human Rights Act—that of 1998—will make it difficult for the new Bill to be compatible with that Act? Does the hon. Gentleman recognise also that there is a real issue about confiscating the assets of those who have never been convicted by a criminal court? How does he reckon that he can square the circle between confiscating the assets of those who are convicted and confiscating the assets of those who have never faced a criminal conviction?

Mr. Ainsworth

We will introduce the Bill after the summer recess. I hope that we will have the co-operation of Opposition Members, even if they are legally qualified. We shall obviously seek to ensure that our proposals are compatible with the Human Rights Act 1998. I have confidence that we shall be able to do so.