§ Order for Second Reading read.9.34 am
§ Sir John Hannam (Exeter)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
This is third time lucky for me in the private Members' ballot. I was also lucky last year in the private motions ballot, so I am not going to buy any more lottery tickets as I am sure that my luck has now run out. However, I am delighted to have the opportunity to present this Bill. Although it may appear a narrow and fairly technical measure—I apologise for its technicalities—it is none the less an ambitious one and I am confident that hon. Members of all parties will support its aims and principles.
The Bill aims to make life much more difficult for those who profit from crime and especially those who make a living out of the proceeds of crime, those whom we call the life-style criminals. It bites on a whole range of serious and acquisitive crimes except drug trafficking and terrorism, which are covered by their own legislation.
The proposals follow recent improvements to the drug trafficking confiscation scheme which, by an apt coincidence, comes into force this very day. Like those recent improvements in the powers of the courts to confiscate the proceeds of drugs offences, the proposals have their origins in a report of the Home Office working group on confiscation which was established in 1990 to monitor and develop the confiscation legislation. They do not alter the fundamental nature of the all-crime confiscation scheme; rather, they are intended to build on and strengthen the existing powers in part VI of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 and bring its powers more closely into line with the drug trafficking provisions as they now stand following the entry into force today of the Drug Trafficking Act 1994.
One of the concerns highlighted in the Home Office working group's report, which I draw to the House's attention, is the infrequent use being made of the confiscation powers in the 1988 Act. Home Office statistics show that in the financial year 1993–94 only 13 "non-drugs" confiscation orders were made by the courts to a total value of some £412,000. Of that sum, only £265,600 has been paid over to the Secretary of State. That is disappointing, to say the least, and such sums can only be a drop in the ocean of profits that criminals are making out of their lifestyles of crime. The Bill is designed to make our laws much more effective in removing profits from the criminal fraternity..
§ Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)
I congratulate my hon. Friend on promoting the Bill. Is he aware that the proposals that he is outlining have been warmly welcomed by the police and correspond four square with the evidence given to the Select Committee on Home Affairs during its current inquiry into organised crime and the need to widen the provisions to enable greater confiscation of criminal proceeds?
§ Sir John Hannam
Yes, I am aware of the support of the police and hon. Members of all parties for the measure, which will extend the available powers and place a duty on the courts.
Clause 1 imposes a duty on the court to make a confiscation order where written notice is tendered by the prosecutor. At present, the court has a discretion, so the clause would bring part VI of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 into line with drug trafficking provisions and ensure that in future the courts make a confiscation order to the full amount of the defendant's financial benefit from crime. In line with the arrangements for drug trafficking, if the prosecutor does not tender a notice, the court may still make an order of its own volition.
Clause 1 also abolishes the £10,000 minimum amount currently applicable to confiscation orders under the Criminal Justice Act 1988, which follows the approach taken in the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill being considered in another place. It must be wrong, as I am sure that hon. Members would agree, that criminals should know themselves to be safe from confiscation wherever they have—ostensibly—less than £10,000 of benefit or of realisable property. There has never been a lower limit for drug trafficking, and the same should apply for all indictable offences.
Of course, it costs money to pursue a confiscation case through the courts. Prosecutors will no doubt have the likely costs and benefits very much in mind when they consider whether to tender a notice asking the court to confiscate proceeds in a given case. Few cases below the £10,000 threshold may be considered viable and the cost would be greater than the benefit. On the other hand, confiscation orders may still be made and sums realised in cases involving benefit and property below £10,000 without imposing disproportionate costs on the courts. I suspect that the Government will wish to monitor that closely to ensure that public money is used to best effect.
Clause 2 is the cutting edge of the Bill. Part VI of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 permits the courts to confiscate only the proceeds of any offences of which the defendant is convicted, plus the benefit from any offences taken into consideration. Unfortunately, as a result, the 1988 Act has had little effect on criminals who amass large profits by repeating similar offences over a period of years. The best example of that is the difficulty illustrated by pornographic videos. A criminal may copy and distribute thousands of videos a month, but the production of each video will constitute a separate offence. For the entire proceeds of that criminal enterprise to be confiscated under the 1988 Act, every offence would have to charged and convicted separately or taken into consideration by the court.
Unfortunately, the courts may take offences into consideration only with the defendant's consent and lifestyle criminals are well aware of the possibility of their ill-gotten gains being confiscated if they allow the court to take too many offences into consideration and will obviously not allow it. Clause 2 addresses those problems.
Under certain circumstances, which I shall describe, clause 2 empowers the courts to assume that all property passed through the defendant's hands in the past six years has come from crime. If the defendant cannot show that assumption to be wrong, in whole or in part, the cout 1324 will be able to order the defendant to pay an amount equivalent to that assumed benefit. The Drug Trafficking Offences Act 1986 has always allowed similar assumptions to be made on the strength of one drug trafficking conviction.
§ Mr. Oliver Heald (Hertfordshire, North)
I fully understand that it is essential that the court may make assumptions, but does my hon. Friend agree that it may be possible to go further still, as the Drug Trafficking Offences Act does, and require the court to make those assumptions? Would he consider that sensible?
§ Sir John Hannam
As I shall describe, the Bill places certain requirements on the court, and the onus to prove otherwise will fall very much on the defendant. Nevertheless, since general crime is distinct from clearly defined drug trafficking offences, the assumptions require a little more latitude. I shall address that point in more detail.
First, the courts have power to make assumptions only when the prosecutor regards the case as suitable and tenders a declaration to that effect. Secondly, assumptions may be made only when there is some indication of a pattern of offending. We are aiming at catching the life-style criminals. Either the defendant must have been convicted of another qualifying offence in the previous six years or he must stand convicted of four or more qualifying offences.
Thirdly, the court has overriding discretion to make assumptions, which is quite different from the Drug Trafficking Offences Act, under which the court is obliged, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, North (Mr. Heald) pointed out, to make more far-reaching assumptions in all cases, even when sentencing a first-time offender for a single drug trafficking offence. The Bill enables the courts to confiscate benefits from offenders who have previously been able to keep their profits. However, the Bill also establishes necessary safeguards to ensure that the new powers are not used in undeserving cases.
Clauses 3 and 4 recognise that information is essential in confiscation hearings. They ensure that the court has the opportunity to get the information it needs in a reasonable period. Clause 3 requires the prosecutor to give the court a statement or statements about the defendant's benefit from crime. At present, the production of a statement is discretionary. Conversely, clause 4 allows the court to order the defendant to provide any information that it considers relevant to the making of a confiscation order.
As hon. Members will readily appreciate, the amount and whereabouts of proceeds is very often known only to the defendant. Clause 4 will help the courts to assess the value of the confiscation order. Failure to comply with the court order will, of course, put the defendant in contempt of court. Clauses 3 and 4 echo the Drug Trafficking Offences Act, as do the revaluation powers in clauses 5 to 7. At present, under part VI of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, the courts are powerless to confiscate the value of the benefit, which was made from crime but discovered after the original proceedings. The Bill will enable courts to confiscate additional benefit within six years of the defendant's conviction on an application by the prosecutor.
1325 Clause 8 closes a loophole in serious and lucrative crime which is already closed in drug trafficking. Since confiscation orders made under the 1988 Act are enforced like fines in many respects, the service of a term of imprisonment in default of payment expunges the debt for the amount payable under the order. In some cases, that means that the offender can hang on to substantial ill-gotten gains by serving a short term of imprisonment in default of payment—an issue raised in almost every radio interview that I have given regarding the B ill—which is contrary to the spirit of the confiscation legislation.
I am sure that hon. Members will share my view that there should be no question of choice between paying the court's confiscation order and going to prison and keeping the profits. The Bill will prevent that choice from arising in future. Even when a default term has been served, it will still be possible to enforce a confiscation order by other means.
Clause 9 is a further enforcement measure. At present, if they wish, the courts can allow time for the payment of a confiscation order. That may sometimes be necessary when, for instance, a property is to be disposed of because, often, the criminal sinks the proceeds into property as quickly as possible. However, defendants who fail to pay up promptly can benefit from the interest accruing on the unpaid account, which is quite wrong. Clause 9, therefore, allows the courts to add interest on the unpaid amount and treat it as part of the confiscation order. Again, that echoes drug trafficking legislation.
The remaining clauses of the Bill essentially provide more effective asset-tracing powers for use by our enforcement authorities. Clause 11 allows the police and customs officers, who have been heavily involved in the preparation of the Bill, to obtain material for use in an investigation into whether a person has benefited from any criminal conduct or into the extent of any proceeds and their whereabouts. Clause 12 enables a search warrant to be issued for the same purpose.
Those new powers are based on powers in clauses 27 and 28 of the Drug Trafficking Offences Act and are designed to enable the enforcement authorities to gain access to confidential banking and other material which could be of substantial use in financial investigations. The powers of drug trafficking legislation have proved an effective tool, especially in the early stages of a drug trafficking investigation. That is operated on an international scale. We can all cite instances of crimes in respect of which the public are fed up and disgusted with the lack of follow-up. As a result of the Bill, the police will be able to carry out the necessary investigations so that ultimately the proceeds can be confiscated.
The House clearly has a duty to ensure that the appropriate authorities have the necessary tools to unearth the true extent of a criminal's benefit from crime. The new measures include all the appropriate safeguards and they are limited to investigations into the proceeds of crime. They do not extend police powers generally.
Clause 13 is modelled on provisions originally in section 30 of the Drug Trafficking Offences Act 1986. It incorporates the safeguards in the drug trafficking legislation. It allows the High Court to order Government Departments to produce material which is likely to be of use in restraining, charging and realising property under 1326 part VI of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. Where the High Court permits, material produced may be disclosed to other agencies to assist in the fight against crime.
I believe that I have given a fair and accurate description of the aims, principles and content of the Bill. In my view, it is absolutely essential that the courts and the enforcement authorities should be able to deal effectively with lucrative crime of all kinds. The Bill will go a long way towards achieving that, and I am confident that it will be welcomed by hon. Members and the general public. I commend it to the House.
§ Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir John Hannam) on his luck in the ballot and on choosing this subject. He has presented his concerns and the concerns of hon. Members and of the general public very clearly. I am a member of the British delegation to the Council of Europe and I serve on the Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee. We held meetings in Strasbourg this week in which we had detailed discussions about the problem of drug trading and dealing. The hon. Member for Exeter referred to that point.
It is clear that drug crime and every other form of major crime is now highly organised. Criminals do not simply deal in drugs on a national and international basis. We are aware that very large sums of money are involved in crime.
I am glad to see the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), in the Chamber today. He will be aware that we are not talking about the little groups of villains which, sadly, exist in many parts of the country and elsewhere. Those villains cause trouble, commit robberies, steal and beat up people if they step out of line. We are talking about organised crime which has international links.
The financial rewards of international organised crime are enormous: enormous sums of money are made. The people who run those organisations are very rarely caught. The lower ranks are caught and appear before the courts. Wandsworth prison is in my constituency, and I sometimes get to know inmates and the kind of offences which have caused them to be in prison.
However, the people who are making enormous sums of money and who are building up their empires are rarely caught. I wish the Bill every success, but, with respect, the hon. Member for Exeter omitted to refer to one or two points. I am sure that he would not be opposed to the comments that I propose to make later. I believe that we should confiscate the assets of the people who run the organisations and, if they are convicted by our courts, they should be sent to prison for a very long time.
A few moments ago, I said that we were concerned about drugs and the vast sums of money that can be earned from that form of criminal activity. Hon Members may have listened to this morning's "Today" programme. According to a report on that programme, a large number of police officers in a police station in the Bronx were actively involved with people who were trading in drugs in New York. From that brief report, it appeared that one officer had well over $1 million stuffed in a holdall in his locker in the police station.
1327 That report illustrates the amount of money involved and the extent of the corruption that takes place at all levels. Not only police officers are involved; sadly, corruption occurs in many spheres of day-to-day life and it involves people who have authority to make decisions.
With regard to other aspects of crime and the vast sums of money involved, we must consider the illegal arms trade. We know something about that activity. If our colleagues from Northern Ireland were here today, I am sure that they could speak at length about the illegal arms which found their way into Northern Ireland from far-away countries. Those arms are were not given; they were sold. They were obviously being sold for very large sums of money, and that money had to be filtered through other channels so that it appeared to be clean and not dirty money.
We should also consider the traffic in stolen art. Many pictures are extremely valuable. They sell for very large sums of money. There are professional criminals and thieves operating in the art world.
Although I am a London Member, I am aware that car crime occurs in all parts of the country. I recall that, two or three years ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) bought quite a pricey motor car, having regard to the distance that he has to travel from his home to this place. That car was stolen. When he went to the police, they said, "We've got to tell you, your chances of ever seeing your car again are zero. In our view, that car could well be somewhere in Europe today." Car stealing groups in this country and elsewhere in Europe make enormous sums of money. Although we are aware of that crime, it is not easy to contain it or to obtain the information which the hon. Member for Exeter seeks to obtain in his Bill.
The hon. Member for Exeter referred to pornography. Pornography is undoubtedly one of the growth industries. Again, we are talking about very large sums of money. Far be it from me to name people, because they would then say, "He is just taking advantage of parliamentary privilege," but there are extremely wealthy people in London. We often read about them in the daily press. They are proud to say, "I have been associated with the pornography industry for years. That's how I made my money." They own substantial businesses and large properties. We certainly know that the pornography trade is not run by a little group in the United Kingdom; its links are worldwide. It is now easy to move around the world.
There are some who say that, by and large, the single market could be a good thing. The Minister may wish to comment on the problems that the single market has caused.
The next problem to which I refer is not talked about very much, but it certainly exists—Hon. Members who serve in the Council of Europe certainly discuss it with their colleagues there. It occurs in the present central European countries—the old eastern European countries—in which, sadly, life can be very hard for many people. There is now clear evidence of a flourishing trade in women in certain eastern European countries. Because of the hardship that those women and their families suffer, some might think, "Prostitution is not the kind of life that 1328 I would like, but if it will give me money to help my family, I might do it for a while." There is evidence of such women being moved around countries in Europe.
How do we tackle the people who indulge in that evil trade? As we know, it is easy for someone to approach women, especially young women, and say, "Look, we are seeking hostesses, dancers and others in the entertainment world." I am sure that the most honourable of women would think, "I would like to do that." They are then moved to a foreign country whose laws they know nothing about and where they know no one. They then become the virtual prisoners of the people who move them from country to country.
There is evidence of that—it does not receive much coverage, but it most certainly happens. I do not say that we should spend much time on that subject today, but perhaps the Minister will comment on it.
The hon. Member for Exeter will be the first to agree that the people whose activities he wants to curb and whose ill-gotten gains he wishes to recover are highly professional. I am sure that he agrees that it will be very hard to do that.
I have a paper that was prepared and presented by a senior official of the Italian law enforcement office. It makes very interesting reading. I suppose that all hon. Members have heard of the Mafia and have seen "The Godfather". Hon. Members possibly enjoyed such films and thought, "Well, perhaps a little bit of it is true, but much of it is typical Hollywood make-believe." That is not the case, according to that official's paper. It shows that there are many other highly organised, professional criminal groups in Italy.
You, Madam Deputy Speaker, might ask me, "What does Italy have to do with the hon. Gentleman's Bill?" The answer is, a great deal. Crime knows no boundaries, nor do those who organise crime. It is easy for people from Italy or from the United Kingdom to be in each other's country in two or three hours. One has a passport, one goes to the appropriate airport, and one is away. Obviously, one can quickly meet somebody abroad.
As the paper shows, we are dealing with organisations. Until I read that paper and talked to people from Italy, I did not fully understand the extent of organised crime. We are talking about family groups who live in Italy, the United States, Argentina and Venezuela—they could live in this country—who have close links. They meet not to talk about the weather but about how they organise their racket. That is of great concern to us.
The Italian official's paper highlights enormous problems for the courts. Sadly, the hon. Gentleman will find out about them as he pilots his Bill through its Committee stage. I shall certainly support him fully. The paper states:In the complex investigative field in which we operate, changes in orientations and methods evolve rapidly. In addition, these changes involve not only criminals' new operational schemes, but also the last achievements of technology, such as fax machines, computers, cellular phones and global satellite mobiles and so on.Through their wealth and their international organisations, people have been able to pursue their criminal activities.
There is no cut in criminals' funding. No criminal organisation ever says, "We should be doing that, but just think of the money." I do not make a party political point, because it could happen under any Government, but hon. 1329 Members repeatedly express concern about the lack of sufficient funding for police forces to try to combat crime at whatever level.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the confiscation of assets. No one other than criminals would object to that. However, we are not talking only about bank transactions. Many people often think that criminals put large sums of money in a bank or perhaps in several banks so that there are smaller amounts, but we are not talking about that. Evidence has been submitted to us in the Council of Europe, and I am sure that the Home Office has also received information. We may be talking about property investment, and I do not mean the family house. There is clear evidence that large properties and businesses, such as night clubs or casinos, are being bought.
I am sure that the Minister knows that it is easy to launder money through such businesses. The owners can fill in books and allow inspections, but it can be difficult to charge anyone running those organisations, although the authorities may not believe that all the money the owners are declaring has been paid in the course of gaming transactions in the casino. How do we tackle those people, and the confusion they cause?
Another thing which amazes me—I should no longer be amazed at what criminals get up to—is that there is a lucrative market for criminals in antique furniture. I do not mean anything cheap or tatty, but antique furniture of elegance and great value. It is the easiest thing in the world for someone who has bought furniture quickly to pass it on, and that is a great problem with which the Bill must deal.
I return to the report from the senior Italian officer. A short comment highlights what I am talking about. In June 1993, the leader of a criminal group purchased a boat for 1 billion lire. Some of that money had previously been changed into Dutch guilders and Swiss francs, and eventually the money was transferred to the seller from a Swiss bank. My understanding is that the gentleman sold the boat not long after buying.
I would like to know what checks are being made—or can be made—within the single market. It is easy to move from country to country, and the traffic in women exists because there are few border controls. As an example, I came home last night from the Council of Europe. I was in Strasbourg, and was taken by car across the Swiss border. There were no checks, the car did not stop at customs or immigration and we were just waved through. We were making a perfectly honourable journey, but there could be many people who are not.
A point that we must examine is extradition. Let us think about two recent cases which perhaps did not involve drugs. I suppose that I can name the gentleman in the first case, because he is presently serving a prison sentence. Mr. Ronnie Knight and his friends made life very enjoyable and pleasant for themselves in Spain from the proceeds of crime, and they received massive press coverage. Only Knight knows the reasons he had for coming back, but eventually he did come back. The House will know of the on-going difficulties that we experience in this area, and the Government—to their credit—had tried to get that gentleman back.
I am told that there are a number of people in Spain whom the police authorities here would like to interview—to use the polite jargon—but they cannot get them back. It would be interesting to hear from the Minister what kind of discussions are taking place with 1330 countries in the European Union, and we must not forget that Spain is a member of the EU. There are a number of people who have, frankly, paid no regard to the laws of this country and, to use a somewhat crude expression, have put two fingers up to authority and said that they could not care less. They know that we can do nothing about them, and they continue to live as pleasantly as they can from their gains from crime.
It would be interesting to hear from the Minister how he thinks the Bill could be strengthened to tackle the issue of extradition. The House will remember also the Brinks-Mat robbery at Heathrow some years ago, when large sums were taken. Some individuals went into hiding abroad, and there was nothing we could do about it.
I shall be careful about the next person to whom I refer, as I realise that there may be criminal proceedings in the pipeline. My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche) has asked questions in the past couple of weeks to the Attorney-General about Mr. Nadir. We know that he is in northern Cyprus, and we know that there is a great deal of evidence which the police may wish to use in charges against him. It would obviously then be for the courts to decide whether, based on that evidence, Mr. Nadir was guilty.
There was a conference in Cyprus on legal affairs some years ago, and I think that the then Lord Chancellor went there to try to talk to Mr. Denktash in an effort to build relations and in the hope that Mr. Nadir could be sent back to the UK. Nothing happened, and he is still there. That is another example of a person who may have committed offences, yet whom the police cannot question.
I welcome the Bill, but aspects of it could still be tightened. The Bill goes outside the existing legislation regarding drug offences, and I would like to know how much co-operation we are seeking from member states of the EU. That has great relevance. We should know if any have similar legislation at present and, if so, how it is working.
Those of us who have been in this place for a while know that when Bills go into Committee, amendments may be tabled by other Members or by the Government. If there is a general willingness to see the Bill go throughߞI hope that there is such a willingness on this Bill—there is no harm in amendments being tabled in Committee.
I referred to the fact that I serve on the Council of Europe. I would like to hear the Minister's comments on the point that I have just made. I would like him and his officials to find out how many of the other 11 member states have similar legislation; whether it is working; and what weaknesses they have found. I have concentrated my remarks on the 11 members, because we know of the rules that govern the interaction of members of the European Unionߞ
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)
Order. I am sorry to interrupt to hon. Gentleman, but we are looking at a Bill that deals with the recovery of the proceeds of criminal conduct, and it seems to me that, although some background is certainly desirable, he is now dealing with matters that could not possibly relate to the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ Mr. Cox
I note what you say, Madam Speaker, and will bear it in mind. I was simply giving examples to show that the European Union suffers from the same kinds of problems that the hon. Member for Exeter seeks to 1331 overcome in his Bill. Surely this is an opportunity, before the Bill becomes law—I hope that it goes through all its stages without problems—to say that we have consulted other countries and believe that it is a good thing, because I can think of legislation that was introduced some time ago with regard to the control of firearms, but not long afterwards, we found that there were loopholes in the legislation. That is the point that I was making.
I warmly welcome the Bill and the way in which it was presented by the hon. Gentleman. I have outlined other matters which I believe fit into the overall discussion that we are entitled to have on Second Reading. It is no good simply saying, "It is a wonderful Bill; I am going to support it and I hope that everyone else does," without saying, "Yes, I will support the Bill, but are we really aware of this problem, or that problem?" I hope that, when it is considered in Committee it will not be rushed through, because that is the opportunity to look in detail at the worthwhile proposals that the hon. Gentleman has presented in the Bill and outlined today. I for one offer him my fullest support.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean)
Before any more hon. Members speak, I shall take this early opportunity to express the Government's position on the Bill, which may influence other speeches. I want to set at rest any doubt about whether the Government support it.
The Government are grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) for introducing the Bill to deprive criminals of wealth accumulated from crime, and it has our full support. I am delighted, although not surprised, that it has received a warm welcome from hon. Members on both sides of the House. Most hon. Members recognise that tough laws are necessary to ensure that criminals do not enjoy a living from crime, at the cost and suffering of those who live within the law. The Bill tackles the problem head on, and my hon. Friend can be assured that the Government will continue to give him all the support and assistance necessary to ensure that it is enacted.
In the two years since the publication of the Home Office working group's second report, the need to strengthen the courts' powers to confiscate the proceeds of non-drugs crime has become even more acute, as the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) pointed out. The statistics quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter in his opening remarks speak for themselves. Last year, confiscation orders under the Criminal Justice Act 1988 realised the meagre sum of £265,600. Clearly, many criminals—too many—are continuing to benefit from their crimes and are keeping their profits.
My hon. Friend gave a full description of the main contents of the Bill, and I do not think that the House would want me to delay other speeches by repeating ad nauseam what he said or by running through the clauses. With your permission, however, Madam Deputy Speaker, I wish to say that the Government particularly support the innovative proposals in clause 2. The fact that the law does not deal effectively with criminals who persist in a life style of crime and make a good living from doing so has been of great concern to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and me for some time.
1332 Although, for good reasons, the proposals in clause 2 fall short of the powers available in drug trafficking and terrorism legislation, they are, none the less, hard hitting, and I am confident that once the legislation begins to bite criminals will be far less confident about their ability to hold on to their ill-gotten gains. Safeguards will ensure that the powers are not used unfairly or in unsuitable cases.
The new investigative powers in clauses 11, 12 and 13 are well overdue and will be especially welcomed by the police and Her Majesty's Customs and Excise.
In short, the Government fully support my hon. Friend's Bill and I welcome the support that I believe it will receive from the Opposition. We are very grateful for the consensus across the House. We wish the measure well during the remainder of its passage through the House and in another place. Once again, I congratulate my hon. Friend on introducing such a sensible Bill—a highly technical and complex measure—and on the excellent way in which he explained it.
§ Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)
I add my congratulations to those of other hon. Members who congratulated the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) on introducing the Bill, and on his luck in being successful in the private Member's ballot. He is fortunate indeed. I have not yet had such good fortune myself, although I hope to before I eventually leave the House.
It is important to say that the Bill has the full support of Opposition Members, and I am very happy to stand and express that support. It is good, too, to hear of the Government's support, because I presume that it will mean that the Bill will have an easy passage through all its stages in the House. I look forward to the Bill completing its passage during this Session.
Labour Members are tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. The Bill falls, perhaps, into the first category—of being tough on crime. It will have a deterrent effect, particularly on those who are habitual criminals. I hope that it will have a minor effect on the causes of crime too.
For many people, who perhaps are listening to the debate today or will read about it at a later stage, it is important that the Bill satisfies the laws of natural justice. Most people would feel it instinctively right that criminals should not be able to benefit from criminal procedures. I am not particularly familiar with the criminal law, but I was quite shocked to realise that there were such gaps in the law on the recovery of the results of crime.
I recall the case of the great train robbers. Although it occurred a long time ago, I remember the shock with which most people realised that, having served their sentence, the people involved were permitted to come out of prison and live a fairly luxurious life style on the proceeds of the crime that had been committed. I cannot emphasise enough how unfair that will appear to most of the people in this country. I am very happy that the Bill has come before the House, and am happy to give it my full support to ensure that those injustices are put right.
One of the rather sad features of our present criminal justice system is that only one in 50 crimes results in a successful prosecution. The Bill will not redress that or make it easier for the police to bring successful prosecutions. However, I hope that once criminal activity 1333 has been uncovered and the criminals have been brought to justice, they will be pursued not only at the time of the trial but later if proceeds from the crime are discovered, and that action will be taken to recover them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) referred to international crime and cross-border smuggling. I refer to a domestic criminal activity of which a relative of mine has recent experience. A gang of so-called antique dealers made a speciality of preying on the elderly and those living alone. I am glad to say that the criminals were eventually brought to justice, but most of the stolen property was not recovered. It is a source of great anguish to the elderly people involved, who felt defrauded of property that had probably been in their family for many years, that the criminals could serve a short prison sentence and then come out and live on the proceeds of the stolen property.
That nasty crime, which caused much anger among not only the elderly people involved but their relatives, was perpetrated by people calling on homes, possibly during the day when few other people were around, and persuading elderly people to part with family heirlooms and goods of which they may not have realised the intrinsic value. The disappearance of other goods was not noticed until the thieves had departed. As the Minister said, confiscation orders last year totalled only £265,000. I am sure that that group of so-called antique dealers is living off profits that greatly exceed that sum.
I am happy to support the Bill, and congratulate once again the hon. Member for Exeter on introducing it.
§ Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham)
I join other hon. Members in congratulating the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) on what may be his swan-song measure in the House. It is a fitting end to a noble and long career, which will end—I hope that he will begin a well-earned retirement as soon as possible—by putting on the statute book a measure that will act as both a retribution for and a deterrent to crime.
I am delighted that the Government support the Bill and hope that it will send a message to criminals that they should have some regard for the fact that, even if they are caught, condemned and spend time in prison, they will in no way benefit from the crime.
I draw attention to a small caveat: the need to protect criminals' families. The sins and crimes of a father or mother should not be visited upon their children. I assume that some consideration will be given in Committee to ensuring that criminals' families are not deprived of a roof over their heads in order to punish the person who may have bought the house with the proceeds of crime.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) said, although the Bill is tough on crime and criminals, Labour Members would prefer the Government, in their remaining months in office, to introduce measures that are tough on the causes of crime. In my constituency of Rotherham in South Yorkshire, since 1979 home burglaries have increased by 483 per cent.; other burglaries have increased by 228 per cent.; motor vehicle thefts have risen by 242 per cent.; and other thefts and handling have increased by 335 per cent.
It is wholly appropriate that the Bill is before the House because hon. Members on both sides have a duty to try to ease the sense of the majority of citizens that they live in 1334 a society in which crime pays. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge pointed out, criminals are often not caught or, if they are apprehended, only one in 50 cases results in prosecution.
The Bill may serve as an important deterrent in the growing area of white collar crime. A substantial increase has taken place in what one might call "big money" criminality in new areas such as computers and automatic money transfers, which can take place with great ease thanks to there being no exchange controls. My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) should note that, if we want to control criminality in Europe, it should be done not by stepping up border checks or putting road blocks between Switzerland and Europe, which would not solve the problem, but by greater supervision, disclosure and policing of the flow of money between, say, French and Swiss banks and between various gentlemen in this country and trusts in Anstalten in Liechtenstein and Switzerland.
I congratulate The Guardian on successfully resisting a disgraceful gagging writ by Ms Karen Morgan Thomas, who was involved in share dealing in Anglia Television. I shall not go into the case, because Madam Speaker gave a ruling last week when my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) raised the clear indications of criminal dealings in the buying of Anglia Television shares.
Even the new chairman of the stock exchange, Mr. John Kemp-Welch, is reported as saying that he is extremely concerned about our criminal prosecution system's inability to deal with white collar crime, particularly involving share dealings. I hope that the Bill will give a message to gentlemen of the City that, despite the culture of sleaze and corruption—a culture in which the bacillus of crime has developed so strongly in recent years—the House is now taking this issue seriously, even if it is through a private Member's Bill on a Friday morning.
It would be far better to have measures aimed at prevention rather than prosecution, as discouragement is far better than punishment. None the less, if the Bill results in the message going out through the media, the implied threat will be that, however much money is made and however well it is hidden, crime will not pay, even after a period of imprisonment.
We need far more powerful mechanisms of disclosure. I greatly regret that the Department of Trade and Industry is still not fully publishing all the details of the reports sent to it on insider share dealing. Such action would be a preventive measure—the threat of disclosure may be a greater deterrent even than the stepped-up retribution in the Bill.
I join all hon. Members in welcoming the Bill. An unpleasant court case is taking place in Sheffield Crown court involving a Rotherham company. Many investors lost their money and many people lost jobs. The case involved one of the business expansion schemes scams of the 1980s. If the Bill had been on the statute book, the gentleman involved in that case might have thought twice before setting up a scheme that robbed honest investors and cost many of my constituents their jobs. Once that case is over, I may return to the House with the subject, as it involves a deputy chairman of the Conservative party.
Today, I simply wish to congratulate the hon. Member for Exeter, to record my support for the Bill and to wish it a speedy passage through its remaining stages in this and the other House.
§ Mr. Oliver Heald (Hertfordshire, North)
I join other hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) on introducing the Bill, which will provide important strengthening and tightening of the law on confiscation.
Those of us who, in 1993, served on the Committee that considered the Criminal Justice Bill, which strengthened the law in respect of the Drug Trafficking Offences Act 1986, felt that the law, as it stood under the Criminal Justice Act 1988, also required review. I know that the Home Office working party has worked extremely hard to produce conclusions. The evidence it heard from the Association of Chief Police Officers, the national crime intelligence service and Customs included strong arguments for a move in that direction. I am pleased that my hon. Friend has been able to introduce an excellent measure that will strengthen the courts' hand when dealing with people who create a life style from crime.
I do not intend to go into the Bill's details, but I am glad to have had this opportunity to give my support to my hon. Friend for his pioneering criminal legislation, which runs with the current of present thinking in the courts and, I believe, among hon. Members and lawyers.
§ Mrs. Barbara Roche (Hornsey and Wood Green)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) on winning his place in the ballot and all those hon. Members who have supported the Bill, including my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell), who spoke so well today, and my hon. Friend the Member for Stockportߞ
§ Mrs. Roche
I wish to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ms Coffey), who is a sponsor of the Bill. I shall deal with the excellent contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) in a little while. Another sponsor of the Bill is the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Coe). I have to mention him because he is my parliamentary pair, and therefore an extremely important person in my parliamentary life.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Exeter, not only on his success in the ballot, but on the eloquent way in which he presented the Bill which, as the Minister of State said, is a technical Bill. I firmly believe that the Bill, which is long overdue, will make a tremendous contribution to our criminal justice system—to the courts and the police—in combating crime.
There have been a number of excellent contributions to the debate. The hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) made an important point about the nature of organised crime. The theme of organised crime was touched on in the interesting and wide-ranging speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) and in the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham.
Until recently, I had the great honour to be a member of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. That Select Committee is undertaking an investigation into organised crime, which is no easy subject as it is involved and complicated. A great deal of evidence has been submitted to the Committee. There is no doubt that all hon. Members must take organised crime seriously. Some aspects of it 1336 have great ramifications—it is sophisticated, it is organised internationally and it has an effect on the everyday lives of men and women.
Crime is an extremely debilitating feature of our society. It is right that burglars, robbers, fraudsters and other criminals should not profit from their crimes any more than those who traffic in drugs. In London and in my constituency, the levels of home burglary are significantly higher than elsewhere in England and Wales. Victims have to pay three times: through the loss of their property; through the size of their insurance premiums—they are proportionately worse off because of last October's new 3 per cent. tax on home and car insurance—and through their taxes, which are used to fund the huge cost of the criminal justice system.
Businesses are also hard hit by crime. The latest quarterly report of the Forum of Private Business reported that more than 43 per cent. of the businesses that it surveyed in London described crime as a significant burden, leading to serious implications for the numbers of people employed by small businesses.
There is no reason why burglars, those who rob and commit fraud should be treated differently from those who engage in the dreadful traffic in drugs. There is no reason why they should be able to serve short prison terms—costing the taxpayer more than £400 a week, according to the answer to a parliamentary question tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock) last November—then come out of prison and live on the proceeds of their ill-gotten gains. Some of them even use the proceeds to fund future criminal activities.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge made a pertinent point when she said that the public were very shocked at the thought of people serving relatively short prison sentences, coming out of prison and leading luxurious life styles. There is a sense of revulsion at that, and my hon. Friend spoke for the whole House. There is no reason why a burglar should be able to avoid confiscation if the proceeds of his night's criminal activities amount to £9,999. That is why I so welcome the relevant provision in the Bill.
Various big criminal cases have been discussed this morning. We all know the sort of criminals that we are talking about. The popular television series "Birds of a Feather" almost celebrates the life style of the criminal with a luxurious home. Of course, I make no reference to the constituency of the Minister for Transport in London, the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris), who is sitting on the Treasury Bench. I am sure that the inhabitants of Chigwell in his lovely constituency in the fine county of Essex are law-abiding. That is certainly a part of the world in which the Labour party expects to do extremely well in the next general election, following the results of the last local government elections.
On a serious note, it is correct that the legislation is aimed at those criminals who are popularly depicted. Knowing that Parliament takes the issue seriously will have great resonance for members of the public.
Part VI of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 is not working as well as it should. The answers which were given yesterday to my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Mr. Byers) show that only 13 confiscation orders were made under part VI in 1993–94, realising a mere £265,000. Orders made in the same period under the Drug Trafficking Offences Act 1983 realised more than £5 1337 million. There is a clear discrepancy between the two figures and Parliament must rectify that anomaly. That is why I welcome the Bill on behalf of the Opposition Front Bench.
I hope that the Minister will intervene again to explain why the Government have taken so long to come to their conclusions and why the provisions in the legislation did not form part of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.
Reference has already been made to the fact that the Bill will be warmly welcomed by the police, who have said that the lack of investigative powers in the 1988 Act has resulted in that Act having little effect in preventing criminals from benefiting from the proceeds of their crimes. In November 1992, the Home Office working group on confiscation pointed out that the number of confiscation orders made under the Criminal Justice Act was "disappointingly low". It advised:the practical advantages of harmonising the provisions [of the Criminal Justice and Drug Trafficking Offences Act] are clear… legislation should be strengthened and clarified".It is hard to believe that consultation on the working group's proposals has taken more than two years. Perhaps the Minister can explain why the proposals have taken so long to reach this stage.
I would be grateful if the Minister could also assure the House that the proceeds of confiscation will be recycled to fund crime prevention. My hon. Friends referred to the Labour party's policy of being tough on crime and on the causes of crime. This legislation is tough on crime, but we also need to be tough on its causes. Crime prevention is at the heart of that debate. Britain spends a miserly 0.2 per cent. of its criminal justice budget on crime prevention. That is nowhere near the United Nations short-term target of 1 per cent. or its long-term target of 10 per cent. It would constitute some progress if the Minister could assure us that recycling the proceeds of crime might improve our dismal record in some small way.
I welcome the Bill on behalf of the Labour party, because it goes to the root of the problems in our criminal justice system. I know that many police officers feel frustrated that, after long and painstaking investigations, criminal sentences are often inadequate. They also feel that, owing to the nature of the criminal justice process, they have not managed to halt the careers of life-style criminals and stop their activities once and for all.
If the Government are serious about empowering the police and dealing with the proceeds of crime, I urge the Minister to recall the amendment that I tabled to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill—which has now been enacted—which would have allowed the police to apply to the courts to use in their fight against crime the high-tech and expensive computer equipment seized from computer pornographers. The amendment was backed by the police and by the all-party Home Affairs Select Committee, of which I was then a member. It recommended last February that the Government should introduceappropriate amendments to the law to allow the police to redirect confiscated equipment against the pornographers".In a letter to me dated 21 February 1994, the Minister stated that he had "a degree of sympathy" with the new clause and that, if the power were "deemed necessary", it could be enforced by statutory instrument. However, that has not happened. Perhaps the Minister will explain why 1338 that measure—which Detective Inspector Bob McLachlan of Scotland Yard's obscene publications branch said would "greatly help in our fight against these appalling crimes"—has not been implemented.
The Home Affairs Select Committee has published its evidence on organised crime and it makes extremely interesting, if worrying, reading. It presents a picture of organised crime in this country and its international links. The national criminal intelligence service, the police unit which is responsible for gathering intelligence information on organised crime, presented a great deal of evidence to the Committee. In examining the background to the Bill, we must look at organised crime.
Ben Jonson once said:As crimes do grow, justice should rouse itself".This Bill is about justice; it is about depriving offenders of what is not rightfully theirs and, for that reason, it has the Labour party's whole-hearted support.
It is in everyone's interest that so-called "life-style criminals" be forced to pay back any money which they have gained illegally. If the measures in the Bill act as a deterrent it may make a small difference to the huge amount of criminal activity, which has more than doubled since 1979 and which blights the lives of too many of our citizens.
§ Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)
I apologise to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to the House for not being present for the whole of the debate. Nowadays, television monitors relay the proceedings of the House live to Members' rooms and, while doing other work, I have attempted to follow the debate very closely.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) on his luck in the draw and on introducing the Bill. Initially, I was somewhat disappointed that, in view of his background as joint chair of the all-party disablement group, he did not decide to pick up the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill which he sponsored last year. However, I realise that he now has a different view about tactics in connection with that measure, so I have picked it up, and we shall consider it next week.
This proposal enjoys the support of both the Government and the Opposition. Parliament does not meet very frequently and it is not overrun with business at the moment, so I think that the Government could have taken the opportunity to introduce their own measure. However, that does not detract from the significance and importance of the proposal or from the fact that the hon. Gentleman has picked it up and run with it.
The deterrent theory espoused by the Bill—which is one that I would not normally adhere to closely—seems to have some relevance in this matter. If criminals believe that, in the end, they will not benefit from the proceeds of their crimes—if there is a change in criminal cultureߞthe Bill will add a deterrent factor. Generally, I advocate—as does my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche)—prevention and higher capture rates as the best forms of deterrent. I acknowledge that there is much ill will in society towards easy sentences. That view is justifiable and not a matter of retribution. Criminals should suffer for their activities, not benefit from the proceeds.
Sometimes, the true value of stolen property is not easy to determine. There may be cases when the figure is exaggerated by the victims for insurance purposes. In such 1339 instances, there may be an injustice done, because the proceeds of a crime were said to be greater than they were. The fact that a criminal is the victim of such an injustice is not a ground for ignoring it. The law must be seen to be reasonable and fair. Perhaps the Bill's promoter will clarify that matter.
§ 11.1 am
§ Sir John Hannam
I am grateful to all hon. Members who spoke in support of the Bill—particularly my hon. Friend the Minister and the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche). I listened with care to the points made, and I am left in no doubt that my Bill is of considerable importance to the House. In Committee, we will have ample opportunity to explore the various questions that hon. Members raised—including that of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes), which is well covered by the Bill's provisions for re-examination of any assumption made by the court when it decides confiscation amounts. I again thank hon. Members for their support, and I look forward to discussing my Bill further in Committee.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).