HL Deb 22 June 1993 vol 547 cc298-300

7.45 p.m.

Viscount Astor rose to move, That the draft orders laid before the House on 13th May be approved [30th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, these orders play a vital part in our defences against drug trafficking and other serious crimes. Attacking the profit motive, through strong confiscation and money laundering laws, is one of the most effective ways of fighting serious crime. The increasingly international environment in which criminals operate makes international co-operation vital in tracing and confiscating the proceeds of crime across national boundaries. The Government are determined to do everything possible to ensure that crime shall not pay.

In most respects the present orders are similar in form to a number of previous orders made under the Drug Trafficking Offences Act 1986, the Criminal Justice Act 1988 and the Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Act 1990. They contain all the safeguards of their predecessors. We are making our domestic confiscation powers available only to countries which we know can reciprocate. An overseas confiscation or forfeiture order will be enforced in the courts here only if it has been properly made; if it is in force and not subject to appeal; and if the subject of the order has either appeared in the proceedings or has been given the opportunity to contest the order. Similar safeguards apply in respect of external restraint orders, and third parties affected by an external order have the right to challenge it in the courts.

The main purpose of the new orders is merely to add to the lists of countries already designated. The orders will bring the number of countries with which we can co-operate in tracing, freezing and confiscating the proceeds and instruments of drug trafficking to almost 100. I would draw your Lordships' attention to the designation of Denmark and Luxembourg. It is particularly gratifying when we have the opportunity to designate an EC partner. Those countries are two of a number which we are designating on this occasion by virtue of their ratification of the 1988 UN convention against illicit traffic in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. Other countries are being designated because we have recently concluded a bilateral confiscation agreement with them or extended the scope of an existing agreement.

The order under the Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Act 1990 is innovatory. It enables us for the first time to enforce external orders for the forfeiture of instruments used in crimes other than drug trafficking—the aircraft used to transport a kidnapping victim, for example. The countries whose "all crime" forfeiture orders we will now be able to enforce are set out in Schedule 2. Schedule 1 adds to the list of countries on behalf of which we shall now be able to enforce drug trafficking forfeiture orders.

The network of multilateral confiscation conventions and bilateral agreements, which we have been helping to build up in recent years, has reached impressive proportions. But they will be of no value unless the confiscation system established is seen to work in practice. It is therefore a matter of some satisfaction that around £5 million is currently under restraint here by virtue of bilateral confiscation agreements and that our first international confiscation was successfully completed last October. That case involved part of the proceeds of crime of the Colombian drug trafficker and Medellin Cartel member, Jose Rodriguez Gacha—proceeds which had been salted away in bank accounts here in the United Kingdom.

The Gacha case demonstrated clearly what can be achieved once a bilateral agreement and the designation process have been completed. I am sure that more successful cases will follow from the further designations in the orders. I commend the orders to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That, the draft orders laid before the House on 13th May be approved [30th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Viscount Astor.)

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, we thank the Minister for bringing forward these orders, although we cannot congratulate him on his Spanish accent. The Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments in another place considered them in four minutes flat. I believe that we shall do better than that, even though we may not wish to.

Members on these Benches entirely support the orders, as we have in previous years. I understand that the condition for an extension of the list of countries to which the orders apply depends on suitable bilateral and legal arrangements within the countries concerned. We express the hope that in future years the orders will apply to an increasing number of countries and that the Government will devote all their efforts to that end.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Lord's support.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.30 p.m.

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

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.52 to 8.30 p.m.]