HC Deb 29 June 2004 vol 423 cc137-8
2. Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries) (Lab)

What discussions he has had with the First Minister about returning cash seized under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 to local communities worst affected by the criminals. [180230]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Alistair Darling)

As my hon. Friend will know, that is a matter for the Scottish Executive, but I know that they are determined that recovered criminal assets must be used to benefit the communities that suffer from drug dealing.

Mr. Brown

I thank my right hon. Friend for his response. About 50 per cent. of all assets seized in Scotland have been seized through the good work of Dumfries and Galloway constabulary, which also led to the largest ever UK seizure through the civil recovery aspect of the Act. I appreciate that this is a matter for the Scottish Executive; nevertheless, when my right hon. Friend speaks to the First Minister will he impress upon him that some of that money must find its way back to the local communities that have been so badly damaged through criminal activities, and especially drug dealing which is rife in many parts of the country?

Mr. Darling

I am aware of the seizures that have taken place in the south-west of Scotland and my hon. Friend is right to pay tribute to the chief constable and his police force in Dumfries and Galloway. For many years—indeed, ever since he has been the Member for Dumfries—my hon. Friend has expressed his concern about the impact of drug dealing on communities. Of course, I talk to the First Minister about such matters. It is difficult to have an exact correlation between where the money is seized and where it is paid back, because the place where it is seized may not be the scene where so many crimes have been committed and communities have suffered. The Scottish Executive is talking to the Treasury about the exact percentage that is retained and repaid. The general principle of the legislation is absolutely right, and it is a great pity that Opposition Members were so reluctant to support us.

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Pollok) (Lab/Co-op)

Notwithstanding the fact that many of these responsibilities lie with the Scottish Executive, this House has responsibility for regulating and dealing with professionals. Given that the amount of money that has been seized is lower than might have been expected, what steps is my right hon. Friend taking to deal with professional associations representing accountants, bankers and lawyers, which often act to assist criminals by hiding their assets and preventing their being seized?

Mr. Darling

I am tempted to declare an interest, but it has, sadly, been some years since I practised, although the register shows that I am still a member of the Faculty of Advocates. I am still practising politics, however.

My hon. Friend makes an important point. As he will know, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is considering various measures to attempt to deal with some of the problems that he highlights. There is a balance to be struck between maintaining confidentiality between clients and professionals and dealing with situations involving abuse of the system.