HL Deb 24 July 1990 vol 521 cc1317-8

2.48 p.m.

Lord Bruce of Donington asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their position on the European Commission proposal of 23rd March 1990 on the "Prevention of the financial system for the purpose of money laundering" (COM (90) 106 final).

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (The Earl of Caithness)

My Lords, the Government attach high priority to the war against drugs and money laundering and have taken a leading role in recent international initiatives. Together with all other members of the European Council, the United Kingdom has welcomed the Commission's proposal. The draft directive is broadly in line with existing United Kingdom law and practice, though there are a number of issues to be resolved, including the question of Community competence. Negotiations on these issues are now in progress.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, first, perhaps I may offer the noble Earl our felicitations on his new position in which we are quite sure he will serve with distinction. Is he aware that his Answer must be regarded as unsatisfactory? The Question asked for a statement of the Government's position. So far as one can gather, the Government's position is that they do not approve of sin. Will the noble Earl give the House some assurance that the matter will be pursued with vigour in the Council and that some effort will be made to ginger up those who often pay lip service to the abhorrence of money laundering but who in practice do little about it?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, first, perhaps I may thank the noble Lord for his kind opening words. As to whether or not the Answer is acceptable, I hope that it is acceptable to most of your Lordships. As I have said, we have welcomed the Commission's proposal. We believe that it will bring European law on this matter into line with United Kingdom law. We shall certainly continue to lead from the front in the battle against money laundering.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, on this side of the House perhaps I may join in congratulating my noble friend. Will he use his new and important position to persuade the European Commission to write proper English? In English there is nothing to be said in favour of the "Prevention of the financial system". That phrase cannot be used. Surely we ought to have papers that make sense in our own language.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his first remark. I note with great care his supplementary question which I shall pass on to my right honourable friend.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, can the noble Earl at least give the House an assurance that Her Majesty's Government accept the definition of money laundering as given in Article 4 of the proposed directive? Whatever defects in grammar it may contain, the definition conveys some degree of precision as to exactly what is meant by "money laundering".

Furthermore, will the noble Earl give the House an assurance that when Sub-Committee E of the Select Committee of your Lordships' House meets to consider the matter—which it is proposed will be after the Recess—he will instruct those who give evidence on his behalf to provide much more detail than he has been able to provide today?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, with regard to the second part of the noble Lord's question, if the committee seeks evidence from the appropriate Minister or from Treasury officials I am sure that it will obtain all the evidence it requires. I must reiterate that this matter is taken most seriously. We wish to see a fruitful outcome from the directive. As your Lordships may be aware, it was agreed at the Dublin Council that this directive should be adopted before July 1991, which is next year. At a meeting last week progress was made, although not as much as we would like. There will be a further meeting in September.