HL Deb 21 May 1986 vol 475 cc294-6

2.55 p.m.

Lord Rodney

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have any proposals to extend the principle of confiscation of assets to crimes other than those associated with drugs.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, the Government intend to strengthen the powers of the courts to deprive offenders of the proceeds of their offences. In the White Paper setting out the plans for criminal justice legislation, we have invited comments on the extent to which the powers contained in the Drug Trafficking Offences Bill might be applied to other types of profitable crime.

Lord Rodney

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Can he advise the House what other types of crime might be made subject to the same sequestration conditions as drug trafficking?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, this is a matter for consideration. Certain types of offence, such as serious crime and other types of organised crime, are obvious candidates.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, does the noble Viscount recognise that when the Government brought the drug legislation before the House it was on the basis that it was a very exceptional measure to deal with a very exceptional situation? Will the Government exercise the greatest care before taking as precendents the extraordinary powers given under that legislation? Will they certainly stop short of the powers in that legislation that deal with banks, enforced disclosure and protection for banks?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I recall very clearly the discussions that took place last week on the Report stage of the Drug Trafficking Offences Bill and the very firm views expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. All I can say is that in considering whether it would be appropriate to extend this provision more widely we shall take full account of these and other comments made during the passage of the Bill.

Lord Denning

My Lords, is it not the case that the huge proceeds of bank robberies and airport robberies are spirited abroad almost at once and that, to use an expressive Americanism, they are laundered through the banks so as to make them apparently clean and are then brought back by the rogues and put into the hands of apparently innocent people? Is it not time that legislation was introduced to freeze those proceeds, to prevent the rogues from making use of them and to confiscate them? Was there not two years ago an inquiry by a very strong committee chaired by a High Court judge, Sir Derek Hodgson, and sponsored by the Howard League for Penal Reform, that went into this great question in full detail and produced a report entitled The Profits of Crime and their Recovery? Does not that report cover the proceeds of drug trafficking and also the proceeds of bank robberies, airport robberies and the like and suggest how those rogues can be prevented from getting all those profits?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, the Government have indicated at various points during the passage of the Drug Trafficking Offences Bill that they will be considering the extension of similar powers with appropriate modifications to other profitable offences, such as organised crime and serious fraud, later in the life of the present Parliament. Such wider legislation would fulfil a commitment given by Mr. Brittan when Home Secretary in a speech to the London Diplomatic Association in December 1983 and would also accord with the views expressed by the Hodgson Committee in its report, which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning mentioned, entitled The Profits of Crime and their Recovery, which recommended confiscation powers which would apply to profitable crime generally.