HL Deb 05 December 1991 vol 533 cc391-3

7.23 p.m.

Viscount Astor rose to move that the draft order laid before the House on 25th November be approved [4th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, this order is brought forward in the furtherance of an objective which I believe has the support of us all. I shall not therefore detain your Lordships with lengthy explanations. In short, the order enables us to advance into a new area of international judicial co-operation against serious crime. It does so by enabling us for the first time to comply with requests from other countries to freeze or confiscate the proceeds of offences other than drug trafficking.

Thus we shall be able to immobilise funds which are suspected to be the proceeds of, for example, international fraud or of extortion while their origins are investigated. Once a confiscation order has been issued by a court of a designated country we shall be able to act on behalf of that country to remove those funds from circulation and to prevent their reinvestment into crime.

The order is closely modelled upon a number of Orders in Council which were approved by this House earlier this year, the last, under the Drug Trafficking Offences Act 1986, concerning the enforcement of confiscation orders in respect of drug trafficking proceeds. By those earlier Orders in Council we have already designated a number of countries with which we have negotiated a drug asset confiscation agreement. The present Order in Council performs a similar function in relation to three countries—Italy, Nigeria and Sweden—with which we have concluded broader confiscation agreements in relation to the proceeds of all serious crime. As such it will enable us to implement our agreements with those countries.

In addition the order is one of the pieces of subsidiary legislation which must be put in place before we are able to ratify the 1990 Council of Europe Convention on Laundering, Search, Seizure and Confiscation of the Proceeds from Crime.

The order has been considered by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. I therefore beg to move that it be approved.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 25th November be approved [4th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Viscount Astor.)

Lord Richard

My Lords, perhaps I may start with a mild complaint. I understand that the order was considered only this morning by the Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments in another place. It seems a little rushed to have it considered in one House in the morning and in the other House in the evening. Having said that, it is a mild complaint which the noble Viscount, Lord Long, with his customary enthusiasm for the procedures of the House, will no doubt wish to take on board and register with the Government.

As I understand it, Part VI of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 enables the courts to order the confiscation of the proceeds of certain offences of which a defendant has been convicted and from which the defendant has gained at least £10,000 from his activities. The offences concerned are indictable offences, and some others, but, as the noble Viscount said, not drug trafficking offences which are dealt with under legislation. Section 96 of the 1988 Act is concerned with arrangements which may be made to allow confiscation orders made in countries outside the United Kingdom to be enforced here. The order is made under that Act.

The draft order is concerned with setting up arrangements for the enforcement in the United Kingdom of confiscation orders made by courts in certain designated countries. As the noble Viscount said, the three which are listed in Schedule 1 to the draft order are Italy, Nigeria and Sweden. That is a development of which we approve. It is important that such arrangements are made so that where defendants have been convicted in foreign jurisdictions there is a chance of confiscating property in others. I support the Motion.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, for his support for the order. Perhaps I may answer his first point. The order was originally put down last month and then withdrawn because there was discovered to be a very minor technical defect in the drafting. I imagine that that is why the rather strange timetable was adopted.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Viscount Long

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.5 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.28 to 8.5 p.m.]