Clause 158 - Making of order

Proceeds of Crime Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 10:30 am ar 11 Rhagfyr 2001.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath 10:30, 11 Rhagfyr 2001

I beg to move amendment No. 368, in page 93, line 38, after 'lifestyle', insert—

', or is or has been a member of any terrorist or paramilitary organisation'.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 369, in page 94, line 1, after 'lifestyle', insert—

', or is or has been a member of any terrorist or paramilitary organisation,'.

No. 370, in page 94, line 2, after 'conduct', insert—

', or paramilitary or terrorist activities'.

No. 377, in clause 161, page 95, line 5, at end insert—

'(c) take account of the defendant's involvement in or membership of terrorist or paramilitary activity or organisation'.

No. 378, in page 95, line 5, at end insert—

'(c) take account of any previous convictions recorded against the defendant relating to terrorist or paramilitary activity, without regard to the date of any such conviction and ignoring for the purpose any contrary provision under Rehabilitation of Offenders legislation and ignoring any amnesty offered by any Government at any time for terrorist activity'.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

This is an important group of amendments, along with amendment No. 371, which is not part of the group that we are about to discuss, but which we shall debate later. Conservative Members take exceptionally seriously the subject of terrorists and paramilitary violence in Northern Ireland, and I hope that Labour Members will not make attempts at point-scoring this morning by suggesting that we are trying to water down the Bill. Given the seriousness of the issues in Northern Ireland, we are making a conscious effort to influence the Government to toughen up the Bill. We hope that the Minister and the Under-Secretary of State will accept the amendments in the spirit in which they are intended. They are a serious attempt to confront such issues.

Many Conservative Members have had extensive experience of dealing with Northern Ireland issues. I dealt with many such matters when I held my first junior job in the Ministry of Defence under the Conservative Government in the mid–1990s, and my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) has even longer experience of Northern Ireland issues. Since the Labour Government came to power, they have made concession after concession—action that we have repeatedly described as unwise.

In referring to amendments that would introduce specific references to terrorist and paramilitary activities, I make no apology for talking about general involvement in criminality. Anyone who has had dealings with that troubled Province knows that terrorist and paramilitary organisations have for years, if not generations, added to their funds by their active involvement in what, on the mainland, would be called crime. Paramilitary and terrorist organisations are involved in racketeering. Labour Members have talked repeatedly about Mr. Bigs in cities such as Glasgow on the mainland, but the Mr. Bigs in Northern Ireland are not merely criminal racketeers, which is bad enough, but are involved in terrorist and paramilitary organisations.

In passing, I must say that I reject with utter contempt the views expressed last week by the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) when he said what one of our great national newspapers rendered as:

''Britain has no stomach for IRA fight'',

adding that the right hon. Gentleman had also predicted a united Ireland. Those words were rightly rejected by the Government, and I would not accuse either the Minister of State or the Under-Secretary of holding those views. They take such issues seriously, but I wanted to reinforce how strongly we reject the views held by the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

I turn now to the detail of the amendments. Amendment No. 368 would insert, after the words ''criminal lifestyle'':

', or is or has been a member of any terrorist or paramilitary organisation'.

We are talking about the proceeds of crime, so it should be specified in the Bill that there is a link between the new draconian provisions and those who have been involved in terrorist or paramilitary organisations. That would strengthen the Bill. We will be interested to hear whether the Under-Secretary has any particular reasons why that should not be included. Related issues have been debated in the Chamber, in the context of the Government's current anti-terrorist legislation. My hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), the shadow Home Secretary, has repeatedly pressed the Government to include in that legislation provisions governing terrorism committed within the United Kingdom. I am making the same kind of point.

Our amendments may not be perfectly drafted. I accept that Ministers may say: ''Well, we are happy with the general concept, but we think that the drafting could be improved.'' I shall be delighted if the Under-Secretary says that the Government will come back with some similar Government amendments on Report or in another place.

Amendment No. 369 is consequential on amendment No. 368. When I reread the amendment that my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) and I drafted hastily in advance of this morning's debate to ensure that our amendments would not be starred, I knew that I must stress the fact that in subsection (4)(c), the word ''not'' should govern the entire phrase as it would be if our amendment were made. In case anyone thought we were trying to water the provision down, I must explain that paragraph ( c) as amended would read, ''if it decides that he does not have a criminal lifestyle or is or has been a member of any terrorist or paramilitary organisation''. Perhaps, for clarity, we should have inserted a second ''not''. Amendment No. 370 is also consequential on amendment No. 368.

Amendment No. 377 would add new paragraph (c) to clause 161(2). It is designed to take account of the defendant's involvement in, or membership of, terrorist or paramilitary activities or organisations. The amendment would be inserted after the provision under which the court must

''take account of conduct occurring up to the time it makes its decision''


''take account of property obtained up to that time.''

That is a separate point, and it will be important when the court is considering the defendant's past conduct and benefit. In the context of Northern Ireland, the court should also properly take into account whether the defendant has been actively involved in terrorist or paramilitary activity.

Amendment No. 378 also relates to clause 161 and would add another extra paragraph, which also appears on the amendment paper as paragraph (c). Of course, if amendment No. 377 were accepted, the paragraph in amendment No. 378 would become paragraph (d). Amendment No. 378 also raises an important point. It would ensure that the court also took into account

''any previous convictions recorded against the defendant relating to terrorist or paramilitary activity, without regard to the date of any such conviction''.

The court should ignore

''any contrary provision under Rehabilitation of Offenders legislation and ignoring any amnesty offered by any Government at any time of terrorist activity''.

I have already referred to our strong and consistent concerns about terrorist amnesties. My right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), the former Leader of the Opposition, repeatedly challenged the Prime Minister on many occasions about prisoners being released in the Province of Northern Ireland without anything being given back. Opposition Members are still concerned that far too much is given away to the terrorists without receiving any benefit in return. We want the peace process to succeed, but we do not think that concessions are the way to achieve that.

What will happen when, after the Bill is enacted, a terrorist or paramilitary racketeer comes before the court? The court should have the power, when forming a picture of a defendant, to take into account whether he or she has ever been involved in any paramilitary activity. We do not believe that amnesties, early releases or the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 should prevent the court from considering those matters.

It is essential to be aware that many of those at the most senior levels of terrorist and paramilitary organisations have achieved those positions without acquiring any serious convictions. Some may have only minor convictions for disorder, perhaps 20 years earlier. Nevertheless, those people are the Mr. Bigs, like those whom the Government says that the Bill is intended to catch on the mainland.

I hope that the probing amendments will find some favour with the Government, and I hope that Ministers and their advisers will understand the serious spirit in which we have introduced them. We are not saying that the drafting is perfect. The Government may, if they accept the spirit of what we are trying to do, table their own amendments, which we will consider in a similarly serious way. I shall finish now, as some of my hon. Friends want to contribute to the debate.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

I have looked at this morning's business in the light of the requirements of the timetable resolution, which states that we must reach clause 244 by the end of the sitting. If they are not debated, a significant number of important Government and Back-Bench amendments will be decided upon on the nod at 1 o'clock. I therefore propose to be as lenient as I can regarding the breadth of the debate on the first group of amendments, in order to allow all hon. Members to express their views as widely as possible. I shall then be particularly rigorous regarding what is relevant in the stand part debates and other debates. In other words, if you have something to say, try to say it now. You may not get the chance later.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Ceidwadwyr, Spelthorne

Thank you, Mr. Gale, for explaining the ground rules so helpfully. There are some serious general issues that must be ventilated, but I accept that we must ventilate them only once, even if they recur throughout the Bill.

Perhaps Opposition Members should explain why we are raising the subject of terrorism. The Government could respond by asking why we should have the provisions that we suggest for Northern Ireland but not elsewhere. I readily accept that criticism. As my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) has explained, we are not legal draftsmen, and if the Government think that there is some substance in our argument, better wording could well be used.

Although the amendments relate to Northern Ireland, I do not advocate that Northern Ireland should be treated specially, and differently from the rest of the United Kingdom. If the our provisions were to find favour, we would argue that they should be incorporated in the parts of the Bill that relate to England, Scotland and Wales as well. If we had spotted the issue at the beginning of the Committee's proceedings, we could have debated it when we considered the provisions for England—but we did not. I put that on the record, so there is no misunderstanding. We are not arguing for special treatment for Northern Ireland terrorists; we believe that everyone should be treated the same.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Llafur, Birmingham, Hall Green

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that being a terrorist or a member of a paramilitary organisation in itself constitutes a criminal lifestyle?

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Ceidwadwyr, Spelthorne

I accept that it can do, but I shall explain later why I believe that there is a distinction, and why a distinction is necessary. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will bear with me. He makes a valid point.

Some people, both in the Room and elsewhere, will be conscious of my contributions to debates on Northern Ireland in the past. However, the issues that I have raised in the past are not relevant to the Committee, and I do not intend to discuss them here. In the past I was speaking for myself, and any comments that I have made in the past should not spill over into a contribution being made today by a representative of the Opposition Whips Office.

Today's debate is about terrorism in general. For this morning's purposes, I draw no distinction between terrorists, whatever the motivation, and whether they are in Northern Ireland, the rest of the United Kingdom or the rest of the world. As far as I am concerned—and I am sure that this goes for everyone else in the Committee, too—all terrorism is to be condemned and all terrorists, whatever their persuasion and whichever part of the divide they come from, are equally guilty of the same atrocities and crimes, and we must deal firmly with them all.

I do not believe that my hon. Friends and I are pursuing an Opposition agenda. I believe that we are pursuing a laudable Government objective in strengthening the hand of the Government and law enforcement agencies against terrorism in the United Kingdom.

To understand why we should specify what is suggested as well as referring to criminals, we also need to understand the nature of the problem with which the amendments are intended to deal. There is little doubt in my mind, and there seems to be no doubt in the Government's mind, that organised crime in Northern Ireland is a serious problem. To quote the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland:

''The transformation of Northern Ireland society promised in the Good Friday Agreement is already underway. The next great challenge is to build a society worthy of the next generation. To achieve that, this generation cannot tolerate or overlook those who refuse to give up their profitable criminal activities—from drugs to vehicle theft, counterfeit goods to extortion.''

It is a serious problem, as the Government recognise, and the amendments are intended to help them deal with it.

It helps to be clear about the sums involved: this is not petty crime or petty extortion. I draw the Committee's attention to an episode in October when illegal goods worth half a million pounds were seized in County Armagh, which followed the seizure of £700,000 worth of counterfeit goods in County Antrim. Two recent episodes in one month involved £1.2 million worth of counterfeit goods—and that is the tip of an iceberg. It is important to deal with the particular crimes and particular nature of activity in Northern Ireland.

We also need to understand what the Government have done thus far. Their response has been to set up an organised crime taskforce, which they did early last year. On 23 March it produced a threat assessment that identified some 78 groups involved in organised crime in Northern Ireland, and about 400 participants in organised crime. That may not sound like many people, but if we compare the population of Northern Ireland with that of England, that number is the equivalent of about 12,000 people being engaged in organised crime in England. In terms of the percentage of the population involved, that is serious. Of those 78 groups and 400 people, the Government's taskforce estimated that half were in some way linked to paramilitary activity.

It is clear that the Government have established that there is a serious problem of organised crime and that large sums are involved. In response to the point made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe), I must emphasise that it is not only ordinary criminals—if that is the phrase—who are involved. The activity is driven by the paramilitaries, and it is correct to address that group over and above criminals.

The types of activity that we are discussing are covered by later amendments, so I will not stray down that route, apart from commenting that the organised crime taskforce has assessed the situation. Its conclusion about the types of crime that we wish to deal with is summarised in its document, which says:

''The legacy of terrorism is a significant influence. More than half of the groups known to police are either associated with, or controlled by, Loyalist or Republican paramilitary organisations. In some criminal areas such groups are predominant. The pervasive existence of some local problems—notably extortion—can be traced directly to terrorism. Some important local criminals derive their influence/status directly from their current, or historic, paramilitary links.''

That last point is relevant to an understanding of the difference between criminal activity and terrorist activity. What terrorists gain includes influence and status, and there are further considerations that distinguish the terrorist from the criminal, because this is about more than individual financial benefit, which we have been discussing thus far. I will elaborate on that aspect in due course.

It is interesting that the Government have worked out a system in Northern Ireland that we appear to be following. As the Committee will know, the Proceeds of Crime (Northern Ireland) Order 1996 was introduced in Northern Ireland as an attempt to deal with the problem. The order has proved successful, as I noted from the Belfast Telegraph of 6 November. This will be a sorry tale for some members of the Committee, because the first victim caught in the net of the order, which deals with money laundering among other matters, was a Belfast solicitor. He was the first person in Northern Ireland to be charged with money laundering.

The Government have gone down this route, and it requires strengthening. The amendments would help. If one listens to the politicians in Northern Ireland with the greatest experience, it is clear that we must do more than we are doing now. I shall cite just one example to demonstrate that point. When the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) addressed the Labour party conference in October, he urged the Government to match their seizure of Taliban assets in the United Kingdom with a crackdown on the profits of terrorist groups in Northern Ireland. One of the leading figures attempting to create a new society in Northern Ireland is asking us to do more. We should approach the amendments in that spirit, because they would help the Government to make a greater impact.

I now turn to the amendments themselves, and I shall try to answer any questions. Amendments Nos. 368 and 369 would add a terrorist lifestyle to the definition of a criminal lifestyle. Of course, it would be out of order to return to the question of what a criminal lifestyle is—

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Ceidwadwyr, Spelthorne

None the less, one must make a contrast. I refer hon. Members to the debate that we had about that, because we had a clear image of the Range Rover and other aspects of a criminal lifestyle—[Laughter.] I am only quoting what other people said; I am not making that up. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson) is not here now to add a graphic description in his Glaswegian dialect, but we can refer to Hansard to discover how the criminal lifestyle was described. The important point is that that is very different from the terrorist lifestyle, and we should draw a distinction between the two.

The terrorist is the opposite of the flash, obviously wealthy criminal. The terrorist sets out to be ordinary and inconspicuous, and to ensure that he cannot be accused of having any of the characteristics that we talked about—and cannot talk about again, Mr. Gale. If such accusations were levelled at terrorists, that would draw attention to them.

We are talking about a group of people who appear to lead very ordinary lives. The most remarkable thing about the perpetrators who have been brought to trial for terrorist incidents in Northern Ireland or England is that they are ordinary and inconspicuous people, and that for long periods, they do not fraternise with anyone else in the terrorist world. That is not how the criminal fraternity tend to behave, as I gathered from that debate that we cannot have again.

Terrorists are often inconspicuous loners who do not get noticed, and who would not be caught by the definition of a criminal lifestyle—in fact, their lifestyle is the exact opposite of a criminal lifestyle. If amendments nos. 368 and 369 are not adopted, someone who ought to be caught in the net could say in his defence, ''But I don't have a criminal lifestyle.'' However, it might be straightforward to demonstrate that he is involved in terrorism.

There is another difficulty: a conclusion must be come to about what constitutes membership of a terrorist organisation. I anticipate that some Labour Members might ask me to explain how we would identify someone as a terrorist, because such people do not carry membership cards advertising that they belong to a terrorist organisation. To identify such people, considerable emphasis will have to be placed on the police and the security services, and provisions exist that address that need. A problem will arise between the House and the other place over the coming 48 hours, with regard to identifying terrorists and deciding what rights they should have. That issue spills over into the legislation under discussion.

Another important question might be asked: what do I, and other hon. Members, mean by the phrase ''terrorist organisation''? I do not draw a distinction between terrorist organisations and the political parties that represent them—between, for example, Sinn Fein and the IRA, or the Progressive Unionist Party and its paramilitary godfathers. Someone who is involved in what might be termed the respectable end of terrorist activity should be caught by the legislation as much as should the person who carries the gun or plants the bomb. It should not be the case that a gun-carrying terrorist is caught by the legislation, but someone who pleads that he does not carry a gun but is merely the official spokesman of the terrorist organisation, is not caught by it. We should be able to catch anyone who has anything to do with terrorist activity: I am talking about someone who will not unequivocally denounce all kinds of terrorist activity, violence and criminal activity.

Amendment No. 370 introduces the notion of ''benefiting from'' terrorist activities. It could be argued that many terrorists are not wealthy individuals. However, there is plenty of evidence—and I will not bore the Committee by referring to it, unless hon. Members insist—of personal wealth being generated by certain members of terrorist organisations. The simple reason for that is that large sums are involved. It would therefore be foolish to say that, just because people who have a terrorist lifestyle do not look wealthy and are not flash, they have not managed to stash away a fair amount of money somewhere.

I have stayed in hotels in the Republic of Ireland that are notorious for being funded by terrorist money. There are plenty of examples of that sort of thing. Another thing that one must understand about the wealth of terrorism is that it will be incredibly difficult to make a defence—

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Llafur, Birmingham, Hall Green 11:00, 11 Rhagfyr 2001

I want to make sure that I did not misunderstand the hon. Gentleman. Did he say just moments ago that he knowingly stayed in hotels that were fronts for terrorist activity? How did he justify that behaviour?

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Ceidwadwyr, Spelthorne

I did not say that they were fronts for terrorist activity. I did not know of their connections until I got there and was subsequently enlightened. When I stayed in such hotels, I had been booked into them by the Irish Government, and had meetings with TDs—Members of the Dail—so I did not set out to aid and abet any sort of terrorism. I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, and my defence is that I only discovered all that afterwards; I hasten to add that I have not been back to any of those hotels.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Ceidwadwyr, Spelthorne

Ignorance may indeed not be a defence.

My point about the phrase ''benefited from'' is that if you were—I do not mean you, Mr. Gale; I should say, if I were a terrorist—[Interruption.] I managed to avoid that one. If I were a terrorist and robbed a bank, it could be argued that I was not doing that for myself, and that the proceeds of the crime belonged to an organisation. That is why it is important to understand that such organisations do not have membership cards. I would therefore argue that something that might appear to be communal wealth is also the individual wealth of the person who robbed the bank.

Will the Minister assure me that if I were to rob assorted banks, threaten to kneecap people unless they paid me protection money, and run black taxis and pocket the proceeds, the fact that I had passed on the money to my godfathers in terrorism would not prevent that money from being taken away under what will be the Proceeds of Crime Act? I hope that if a terrorist is convicted of a crime involving the obtaining of large sums of money, even if it is argued that that is now in the hands of a paramilitary organisation rather than an individual criminal, the amendments will cover that point. If not, I hope that the Government will table amendments to make it crystal clear that in the event of a terrorist being convicted of obtaining £1 million by threatening to kneecap people, that £1 million can be seized, just as terrorist money has been seized from bank accounts in this country. Perhaps the anti-terrorist legislation will necessarily deal with that, but I would be grateful for the Government's comments.

Not only is there a difference in lifestyle between terrorists and ordinary criminals, but it is notoriously difficult to press criminal charges against terrorists, for the simple reason that witnesses are required. Witnesses usually want to stay alive, so they tend to become very quiet. If one looks at the situation that has developed in the United Kingdom through the terrorist experience in Northern Ireland, one will find that many people are clearly identified as being involved in terrorism. The membership of the Army Council of the IRA is well known, and the individuals are identified, but it is not possible to get people to go to court to give evidence against them. Relying on the definition of a crime to take action against criminal activity, and on obtaining convictions simply for the committing of crimes, patently does not work in the case of terrorism. It is therefore important that we include terrorist activity per se in the Bill.

Another reason why it is important that we take this route is the question of amnesties and pardons, which my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath touched on, and to which one of the amendments refers. During a previous sitting, I referred to the fact that somebody who has been pardoned may still be guilty—but the Government have chosen to say that if somebody is pardoned, they are exempt from certain parts of the Bill. In attempting to create a different society in Northern Ireland, the Government—I do not confine this comment to the current Government, as the previous Government took much the same view—have decided that the sensible thing is to release terrorists from jail and introduce amnesties.

In many respects, the Government are saying that such terrorist activities are a thing of the past, and we must build for the future. I am anxious that that should not be used as a defence against action for the money that has been taken. It may seem a good idea to release terrorists and provide them with amnesties and pardons in order to build a new society, but that is not sufficient justification to allow them to retain the money that they have obtained in the past. Given the evidence available, the comments of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the organised crime taskforce research, it has become clear that, notwithstanding the amnesties, the early releases, the pardons and the ''new start'' philosophy, organised crime by paramilitary groups continues. The amendment concerning amnesties is intended to make sure that, irrespective of what happens in the future, if somebody continues to benefit, or has benefited in the past, from the proceeds of crime, they cannot use as a defence in proceedings under the Bill the argument that, as they have been given an amnesty by the Government, they are not guilty, and the legislation does not apply to them.

We are talking about big sums of money, a phenomenon that is not—thank goodness—typical of other parts of the United Kingdom, and a group of people who do not fit into the common definition of ''criminal lifestyle''. They are a menace, they are rich, and, as we will show when we discuss the amendment that refers to adding to the list of crimes, they are engaged in a series of unpleasant activities, from which they profit. If I understand the Government correctly, they want to ensure that people do not profit from crime. On this occasion, although we might have appeared to be trying to soften the effects of the Bill during the past few weeks, I hope that the Government will accept that we are trying to strengthen their hand, strengthen the Bill, and deal with a specialist criminal activity that is abhorrent to all of us.

Photo of David Tredinnick David Tredinnick Chair, Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Select Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Select Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee)

It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Gale, and I am grateful to have this opportunity to speak to the amendments. As I was looking at the amendments last night, I pondered about which of the Ministers would want to respond to the debates today. I reflected on whether the Committee would have the benefit of the considerable charm of the Minister of State, Scotland Office. All Opposition Members noticed the generous remarks that he made about the father of my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield, whom he knew in the House. The Minister has served in the House for more than 20 years, and formerly represented South Ayrshire; he has now been transferred across from his former duties of writing cheques for the deserving poorest countries.

However, I understand that the hon. Gentleman is not going to perform today, and that it will be the Under-Secretary—[Interruption.] I was trying to be generous, in the hope of attracting favourable concessions later. The Under-Secretary was a metal worker for many years, and a shop steward. Many of my constituents work in his constituency. He was the senior Lord Commissioner to the Treasury in the previous Parliament. My hon. Friends may think that that sounds like a friendly occupation, but the Under-Secretary was an enforcer. He was one of the hard men in the Labour party, whose job was to squeeze the breath out of Members who were recalcitrant—

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

Order. I am not entirely certain that ''miserable git'' is a parliamentary expression—nor am I certain that undue flattery is in order. The Committee should return to the amendment under discussion.

Photo of David Tredinnick David Tredinnick Chair, Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Select Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Select Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee)

I did not realise that I had strayed, Mr. Gale—but I shall not now go on to describe the hon. Gentleman as a parliamentary anaconda, as I had been minded to do. None the less, I am seriously worried about addressing the Committee this morning, because I have a document here that says: ''Labour thugs attack MP.''

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

Order. I may expect members of the Committee to stray from the subject of our discussions on one occasion, but I do not expect to have to tell them twice about such matters.

Photo of David Tredinnick David Tredinnick Chair, Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Select Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Select Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee)

I am grateful to you, Mr. Gale, for reining me in, but I want to refer to the document. I gather that the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Marsden) has now departed from the life of the new Labour party.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Llafur, Birmingham, Hall Green

Will the hon. Gentleman give way to me? I am only giving him time while he writes the next part of his script. Surely he is not accusing the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham of having a criminal lifestyle, or having joined a paramilitary organisation.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

Order. Hon. Members are well aware that I allow some levity in our proceedings, as do all Chairmen. However, we have a considerable number of clauses to debate, and if the hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Tredinnick) cannot get back to the matter in hand, I shall call the Under-Secretary to wind up the debate.

Photo of David Tredinnick David Tredinnick Chair, Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Select Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Select Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee)

I shall certainly not try to work out whether terrorist activities have been employed against the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham. It would be wrong to do that. Instead, I shall offer the Committee details of my experience of the matters to which the amendments relate. When I was 19 years old, I was in the Army in Northern Ireland. [Interruption.] I see that the Minister is being smothered by the Whip, the hon. Member for Stirling (Mrs. McGuire).

I shall be flippant no longer, Mr. Gale. I am grateful for your leniency, of which I have perhaps taken advantage, but now I want to raise some serious issues. I am not sure whether other members of the Committee have had the experience of being in the Army in Northern Ireland in a terrorist situation. When I was 19, we marched into Londonderry off a ship in the Foyle to try to restore order. Looking back, it seems strange how crude our techniques were compared with the rather more sophisticated techniques that are used today. If there were rioters, we would unfurl a banner, one side of which said: ''Disperse or we fire.'' On the other side, it said: ''Anyone crossing this line will be shot.'' There were colonial riot drills that had been used in Cyprus. We could learn a lot from that time about how to deal with terrorist groups and win over hearts and minds, and the lesson could be learnt in Palestine and Israel.

Amendments Nos. 368 and 369 are intended to give the Bill greater force by adding the idea of a terrorist lifestyle to that of a criminal lifestyle. One point that became crystal clear when I was in Northern Ireland was how all-pervasive terrorism is, and how it does not mean simply that there are people on the streets throwing petrol bombs. There were men who organised such terrorist activities, and the support structure went far beyond one or two individuals armed with armalites or other equipment. I put it to the Under-Secretary that a wide range of support structures are in place for terrorists. I shall list some of them.

First, there are the munitions holders. In all the houses on the front line in Belfast or Londonderry, there would be weapons dumps. Householders would be required to store equipment; that was the status quo. Fortunately, the peace process is apparently succeeding in Northern Ireland, but if things deteriorated in that theatre or elsewhere, the status quo ante could recur. The munitions holders are crucial. There are also those who provide safe houses, into which terrorists can disappear if necessary.

There are also the allegedly bona fide businesses, such as the construction industry, which is important in Northern Ireland. I attended a conference a few years ago with the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body—I see the Under-Secretary nodding—in one of the border counties; I think it was Cavan. I was struck by the sight of a hotel complex in the middle of nowhere, built to a very high standard, with a lot of cement. I made inquiries, and by the end of our stay, which lasted a few days, I was certain that the money to build the hotel had come from unorthodox sources.

My hon. Friend the Member for Staines—sorry, I mean Spelthorne; that does incorporate Staines—mentioned black taxis. We have all heard that black taxis are a massive racket on both sides of the line of the Shankill road. There are many people operating such cabs, and they should be covered by the provisions.

There is also the issue of massive organised benefit fraud. Many people assist terrorism through such fraud. There are also the people who work petrol rackets, using the difference between the cost of petrol in the Republic and in Ulster. That, too, should be addressed. There are the farming fiddles, too. We have all heard stories of pigs being driven across the border, and other methods of defrauding the state.

My hon. Friends on the Front Bench may want to think more carefully about where we draw the line on what we should add to the definition of ''criminal lifestyle''. What, for example, should we do with farmers who move animals around and contribute to the coffers of terrorists in their area? There are also the protection rackets: people visit housing estates, businesses, garages or restaurants and demand protection money.

I have tried to list some of the activities that make up a sort of terrorist mountain. I use as an illustration the arrest in New York of the Genovese family—an allegedly criminal family. Their lifestyle epitomised much of what has gone on in Northern Ireland, too. They were involved in every conceivable racket under the sun, and terrorists in Northern Ireland are involved in the same range of activities.

Amendments Nos. 368 and 369 would include terrorist activity in the ''criminal lifestyle''. The situation in Northern Ireland is different from that in the mainland UK, and we were right to table the amendments. Northern Ireland has always been a special case.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Llafur, Birmingham, Hall Green 11:15, 11 Rhagfyr 2001

I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that his hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne said that if he had spotted the issue earlier, the Conservatives would have tried to applied the conditions to all parts of the UK. Is a difference of opinion emerging?

Photo of David Tredinnick David Tredinnick Chair, Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Select Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Select Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee)

We discussed the amendments privately. The principal reason for tabling them is to address specific issues. Conservative Members do not have a fixed view about those issues. The point of probing amendments is to get the Government to think about things, and I applaud the Under-Secretary because he is thinking about things; he has nodded assent on several occasions.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Llafur, Birmingham, Hall Green

Perhaps he is just nodding off.

Photo of David Tredinnick David Tredinnick Chair, Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Select Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Select Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee)

Criminality and terrorism go hand in hand. In Northern Ireland, criminality tends to be of a terrorist nature, and if somebody transgresses against an organised criminal group, they might not merely get thumped; their kneecaps might get blown off, their house might get burnt down, or they might get murdered or tortured—a fate that befell a brother officer in my regiment.

In Northern Ireland stones get thrown, and people explode pipe bombs outside schools to dissuade parents from walking their children there by a particular route. Criminality is seldom dissociated from terrorism there. With regard to the Bill, we must take account of the fact that Northern Ireland is a special case.

I have given misplaced plaudits to the Under-Secretary. Apparently he will not speak this morning. However, as he is a fellow representative of a midlands constituency, I will try to put him in the right frame of mind. I will try to persuade him not to be curmudgeonly—a term loved by lawyers—but to be helpful and kind in his approach.

I have highlighted two key areas. First, terrorism in Northern Ireland is characterised by a wide-based pyramid of funding, and activities that are largely unique to that part of the United Kingdom. Secondly, criminality and terrorism go hand in hand there, because much criminality is terrorist activity, such as burning and kneecapping. The Bill must take account of all of that.

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Ceidwadwyr, Henley

I fully echo the flattery that has been heaped on various Labour Members by my hon. Friend, and I wish to respond to a point that was raised by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green. He doubted whether it was necessary to interpose the reference to terrorism and paramilitary activities, because he thought that they might be captured by the phrase ''a criminal lifestyle''. Although I do not wish return to that unhappy debate—and I am sure that if I did return to it, I would be ruled out of order—a few remarks should be made on the subject.

Clause 75 is the key clause for the definition of a criminal lifestyle, and I am sure that the Minister will refer to it. However, I am unsure whether membership of a terrorist or paramilitary organisation would be captured by that clause, because it is ambiguous, to say the least, about whether the Government believe that being a member of a terrorist or paramilitary organisation constitutes criminal conduct. Many terrorists and paramilitaries have been released early from prison, thereby giving the impression that they have committed a unique kind of crime that the law can treat differently.

Moreover, people who we know are important members of terrorist and paramilitary organisations are elected to the House; they are also welcomed at Downing street, for example, and they play important roles in the peace process.

There may be good reasons for that. It may result from the hard necessity of trying to reach a peaceful conclusion in Northern Ireland. None the less, we should recognise their membership of such organisations—I think that Martin McGuinness has returned as chief of staff for the IRA.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

Does my hon. Friend accept that one of the problems for any Government dealing with issues in Northern Ireland is the way in which people who have been fairly open about their involvement with paramilitary organisations have tried to reposition themselves? That is why one of our amendments refers to ignoring amnesties and the rehabilitation of offenders legislation. If the people who have skilfully repositioned themselves found themselves before the courts, their early record should be taken into account.

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Ceidwadwyr, Henley

I agree with my hon. Friend. My point is simple. I am not sure that terrorists would be caught by clause 75, because it is not clear that they are treated as terrorists: they are welcomed by the Government and let out early. My hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth graphically explained the horrendous activities in which they engage, which generate huge amounts of money. We all want to take that money away. It would be a useful amplification if the amendment were accepted to make it clear that membership of a terrorist organisation would provoke the expropriation of a person's assets.

I am sure that both Conservative Members and the Government would want to show that they are tough on terrorists. The Minister should realise that our amendments contain a great deal of logic.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Ceidwadwyr, Cities of London and Westminster

Thank you, Mr. Gale, for calling me to speak. I shall do so briefly, because the amendments have already been fully discussed, at least by Conservative Members.

It is important to stress that the idea of a criminal lifestyle, which we have previously discussed at length, is a triggering mechanism. Likewise, the additional wording proposed would influence the trigger mechanism from which everything else might flow. The Bill contains a separate part 4, so the rules for Northern Ireland could differ from those for the rest of the United Kingdom. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne explained, Conservative Members had not considered all the implications until examining Northern Ireland in the same way as we had previously considered England, Wales and Scotland. Given the reality of what occurs on the ground in Northern Ireland, it would be proper to include in the Bill wording relating to membership of a terrorist or paramilitary organisation. I stress that that should be a trigger mechanism before everything comes into play, rather than an implication of guilt.

We have gone round the houses, and my hon. Friends the Members for Bosworth and for Surrey Heath went into detail about what might be caught by the legislation, so now I shall sit down and allow the Minister to explain why he will resist the amendments—or if there is a change, that we have held some sway.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I will devote no more than two sentences to the less serious aspect of the debate. I was the Whip of the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham for four years, and to my knowledge he has not accused me of threatening or assaulting him—although I am sure that he is capable of getting round to that in time.

I shall follow the strictures of the hon. Member for Bosworth and try to not be curmudgeonly, but I shall accept the debate in the way in which the hon. Member for Surrey Heath framed it. That is not an attempt at point-scoring or time-wasting, and on those terms, I accept the strictures of the hon. Member for Bosworth.

Amendments Nos. 368, 369, 370, 377 and 378 would widen the criteria for the making of confiscation orders and the assessment of the benefit of a person's criminal conduct to include either membership of a terrorist organisation or a paramilitary organisation. The effect would be that the court would have to consider whether someone convicted of any offence—not necessarily a terrorist-related one—is or has been a member of a terrorist or paramilitary organisation, and if it concludes that he is or has been, it must confiscate the benefit of his terrorist activities.

The clauses that the amendments would amend reflect clauses 6 and 9, but the amendment seems to apply only to Northern Ireland. Hon. Members have given various explanations for that, including the idea that something different is necessary for Northern Ireland—but that if they had thought of it earlier they would have said that it should apply far more widely. [Interruption.] I am not trying to expose a split in the Opposition.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Ceidwadwyr, Spelthorne 11:30, 11 Rhagfyr 2001

To help the Minister, I can explain that we are suggesting that certain activities are especially prevalent in Northern Ireland. My hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth mentioned kneecapping. It is a feature of Northern Ireland society that unpleasant things happen. That much we accept, and it is a special case. The point that we are all trying to make is that it does not matter whether the kneecapping takes place in Northern Ireland or England. It should be covered wherever it happens. However, I am thankful to be able to say that some activities do not take place in England, Wales or Scotland. That is the distinction. I believe that the Minister would agree that it would be necessary to include such a provision in earlier clauses, too.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. That does not and should not matter. If the matter were not adequately covered in other legislation that has already been made into Acts of Parliament or is currently going through the parliamentary process, it would be essential to consider amendments such as he suggests. However, I hope to persuade him that that is not so, and that those issues are adequately covered either in this Bill or in other measures, whether those are currently going through the parliamentary process or have already been passed.

Hon. Members will be aware that the Government are taking steps to update and amend anti-terrorist legislation. The aim behind the amendments seems to be that terrorists should not be able to profit from their actions. The Government agree with that aim, but the amendment is unnecessary. The terrorist activities with which the amendments deal will constitute criminal offences and will therefore be covered. A convicted terrorist may have a criminal lifestyle. That will obviously be true if he has been convicted of money laundering or drug trafficking, but also if he is convicted of being a member of a proscribed organisation and his membership lasted more than six months.

Photo of David Tredinnick David Tredinnick Chair, Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Select Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Select Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee)

I hear what the Minister is saying, which is in essence that the clause already encompasses our objective. However, does he not believe that it would be better to include the word ''terrorist'' to make it easier for courts to interpret the Bill and avoid argument? Indeed, in a Province in which intimidation is a fact of life, it might be easier to specify it. Although the Minister suggests that it is all already specified in black and white, it would be better if it were emphasised in order to make interpretation easier for those involved in law enforcement.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I do not accept that. We must consider the Bill together with the Terrorism Act 2000 and the emergency legislation, which has drawn out similar, and in some cases mirrored, provisions, and is intended to take them through Parliament in a different time scale in order to cover the circumstances surrounding terrorism.

The hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson), who is not with us at the moment, said that he feared that terrorism was not covered by clause 75. However, section 11 of the Terrorism Act 2000 makes it a criminal offence to belong or to profess to belong to a proscribed organisation. Some provisions in the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill exactly mirror provisions in this Bill. Some Opposition Members have tried to change other provisions in that Bill so that they mirror this Bill—as, for instance, in the case of account-monitoring orders. The effect of that mirroring might be to lower the threshold necessary to trigger an account-monitoring order as it applies to a terrorist organisation. I do not believe that we should do that. I have not participated in the debate and heard the Opposition's reasoning for lowering that threshold as it applies to terrorism, so I do not understand what their justification could be.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Ceidwadwyr, Spelthorne

The Minister said that he could not understand why it would be necessary to include terrorism, because existing criminal legislation and criminal definitions would be adequate. I draw his attention to an aspect of the threat assessment that I mentioned earlier relating to non-licensed and illegal gaming and jackpot machines. It states that in 1999–2000, Customs and Excise

''collected £2.5 million from betting and gaming activities in Northern Ireland. Fraud estimates indicate significant non-compliance and the trend is upwards.''

Thus far, I am sure that the Minister is right and that provision exists to deal with that. However, the next sentence should be considered, too:

''There are indications that some ventures may be 'legitimately' run—making action by law enforcement very difficult.''

That threat assessment is saying that some things that cannot be caught by criminal prosecutions are funding terrorism. That is the point that we are trying to make.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Gentleman is surely aware that the Terrorism Act 2000 contains forfeiture and restraint provisions for all moneys linked with terrorism, whether they are moneys required to fund terrorism or moneys derived from terrorism. It is difficult to imagine how someone could acquire money as a result of terrorism that is not acquired through, or as a result of, criminal activity. It is beyond my powers of reasoning to imagine how one could apply and not the other. Hon. Members should be aware that the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill—parts of which the Opposition objected to and tried to water down—provides for the introduction of the availability of restraint, exactly as it is being introduced in this Bill, at the start of an investigation. I therefore do not believe that in the Bill, it is either necessary or sensible to duplicate powers in relation to terrorism—or in some cases, to provide powers that are not as extensive as those in other legislation—when other legislation covers the matter.

The hon. Member for Spelthorne referred to the taskforce in Northern Ireland and suggested that there had been only one prosecution, of a Belfast solicitor. My information is that that solicitor is the first solicitor in Northern Ireland to be accused of money laundering, but that other people have been accused of money laundering too, and solicitors in the rest of the United Kingdom and in Wales have also been prosecuted for money laundering. In the year September 1999 to October 2000, two people were convicted of money laundering offences in the Province.

Photo of Tom Harris Tom Harris Llafur, Glasgow Cathcart

Does the Minister agree that Opposition statements supporting strengthening the Bill would carry a lot more weight had the Opposition supported the Financial Investigations (Northern Ireland) Order 2001, which came before the House earlier this year? Yet they abstained on it.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend is more familiar than I am with the detail of the Opposition's activities. I do not know the consequences of their abstention and did not follow the reasons given for it at the time.

The hon. Member for Spelthorne talked about the unique situation in Northern Ireland. He said that the issue of moneys derived from menaces concerned with kneecapping needed to be adequately covered. It will be covered. Such an act is a crime in itself. It will be covered under the Bill and under terrorism legislation. Any person who obtained money with menaces, such as threatening to kneecap someone, would be guilty of robbery, assault or a variation of those crimes, depending on the circumstances.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

I would accept what the Under-Secretary says if we were talking about kneecapping being carried out specifically for financial benefit. Clearly, that would be covered. However, in Northern Ireland, kneecapping is often carried out for other reasons.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

We are talking not about criminal law, but the law concerning the proceeds of crime. If there are no proceeds, we cannot confiscate them. If there are proceeds, we certainly can confiscate them. The incidents to which the hon. Gentleman referred would be categorised as crime and would be covered by the Bill. Those incidents would also be acts of terrorism and would therefore be covered by provisions in the emergency legislation. I do not see the gap that the amendments seek to cover.

The hon. Member for Spelthorne talked about moneys that might not be held by the individual concerned but had been passed to an organisation. I want to return briefly to the issue that he has repeatedly raised about lifestyle criminals. It has nothing to do with image. I was amused by his portrayal of lifestyle criminals driving around in Range Rovers with gold rings on their hands, whereas terrorists try to look like everyone else to avoid being discovered and caught. If only the world were that simple. Lifestyle criminals masquerade under many different guises, as do Members of Parliament. Some hon. Members may wear funny ties each day of the week—so may terrorists. They may present themselves in different ways.

The hon. Gentleman knows—and the matter has already been adequately discussed—that the designation of a criminal lifestyle arises from the offences that have been committed. It is not reflected in the type of car that the individual drives, nor the jewellery or clothes that he wears.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Ceidwadwyr, Spelthorne

I am perplexed by the Under-Secretary's answer. The example that I gave of criminal lifestyle was not mine, but was first introduced by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok, although I stand to be corrected on that. Our argument was that a criminal lifestyle created an image that we were not sure about. The reply that we received was that a criminal lifestyle is self-evident, yet the Minister is now saying that there is no such thing as a distinct criminal lifestyle. Will he comment on that point? I do not want to reopen that debate, but is his answer not contradictory to the way in which we resolved the earlier issues? Is there a distinct lifestyle or is there not? Which is it?

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

Order. I will allow the Under-Secretary to respond to that specific point. We shall not, however, reopen the debate on the definition of a criminal lifestyle.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Gentleman has already been told, and I will tell him again, that a criminal lifestyle has nothing to do with the image that is portrayed. He is apparently concerned about the image that he portrays and may find that aspect fascinating. The Bill designates those people who have committed a set of offences, or particular offences, as having a criminal lifestyle. He talked about when the money gained was passed to an organisation and sought assurances that that situation would be covered. It will be covered under the Bill because it would be a tainted gift. I appreciate that Conservative Members want to explore the issue. They want to be certain that terrorism is covered adequately both in the legislation that has already passed through the House and in provisions that are presently under consideration. We need to do that in the context of Northern Ireland and in a wider context—particularly in light of the events of 11 September.

I assure hon. Members that the Terrorism Act 2000, the emergency legislation that is currently passing through the House—and I appeal to hon. Members to co-operate with that—and the Proceeds of Crime Bill adequately cover all those circumstances. If the amendments provided further cover, I would be happy to consider them. However, they add nothing, so I ask that they be withdrawn.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath 11:45, 11 Rhagfyr 2001

I am somewhat disappointed by the Minister's response, although I accept that he has tried to address the issue seriously.

It is helpful that a Minister has said that he does not think that there will be any gaps in the various provisions, when the Bill is enacted. With regard to the rule in Pepper v. Hart that statements made by Ministers while they are arguing the Government's case can be used in court, it might be helpful to a court, when it comes to look at the provisions—in whatever form they finally take—to read that the Minister said that there are not intended to be any loopholes through which people can slip. However, Conservative Committee members are still not entirely satisfied.

Photo of Mr Paul Stinchcombe Mr Paul Stinchcombe Llafur, Wellingborough

If you are not entirely satisfied, which terrorist offences are you concerned about?

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

Order. It is of no consequence whether I am satisfied.

Photo of Mr Paul Stinchcombe Mr Paul Stinchcombe Llafur, Wellingborough

I apologise, Mr. Gale. Let me rephrase my question: if the hon. Gentleman is not entirely satisfied, which are the terrorist offences that he thinks might not fall within clause 75(2)?

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

One of the points that I was going to raise, in responding to the Under-Secretary's reply to the debate, was that he said that, if people have been members of proscribed organisations for six months, they will be caught, but as the Bill is currently drafted, that is not the case with regard to people who have been members of proscribed organisations for less than six months. However, if the amendments—or provisions akin to them—were introduced, that gap would not exist. I also intervened on the Under-Secretary during the discussion about kneecapping. He said that that would be covered if there were financial consequences.

My hon. Friends the Members for Spelthorne, for Bosworth, for Henley and for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) have expressed the remaining concerns of Conservative Members. The Bill would be better understood by everyone who takes an interest in the very serious difficulties that continue to exist in Northern Ireland if it included phrases that specifically referred to terrorist and paramilitary activity.

The whole of part 4 deals with Northern Ireland Although, happily, there are far fewer murders there now, because of the peace process, we all know—and anyone who has ever received any kind of military briefing in recent months, from people serving in Northern Ireland, or from the security services, will know very well—that racketeering continues, and that the proceeds of criminal activity controlled by terrorist and paramilitary organisations continue to grow. I am disappointed that the Minister has not responded by saying, ''Well, we understand that the Opposition amendments contain several drafting mistakes, but we are prepared to consider the issue again.''

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Has the hon. Gentleman forgotten that, when I wrote to Committee members on 27 November—I think that that was the date—I suggested that terrorist funding should be added to the list of offences that will indicate a criminal lifestyle?

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

That is correct. I am not condemning everything that the Minister has done in this regard. I accept that that is a perfectly valid point. However, it will be difficult for those who examine our proceedings to understand why the Bill does not contain specific additional words that refer to terrorist and paramilitary organisations, as we have suggested.

I was surprised and disappointed that the Minister did not deal in detail with our points about removing issues of amnesties or rehabilitation of offenders legislation. I appreciate that we will not have much of a clause stand part debate because of the pressures of the guillotine, but he may refer to the matter briefly before we move on.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

There is no amnesty in the Bill. As I recall, the only people who have proposed the inclusion of amnesties are the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

The Minister may slightly misunderstand my point—not deliberately, I am sure. One amendment would mean that when the court examines the past criminal activities of a person who is before them, they should not take into account any application of rehabilitation of offenders legislation or amnesties granted by a Government of any party—I am not making a party political point.

I do not propose to press the amendments. Although the Minister has not said this, I hope that, in the light of what he has written to all members of the Committee about including terrorist matters in the list of offences, he will further consider the issues with his officials. I hope that more carefully drafted amendments will be tabled on Report or in another place to take account of the spirit of our amendments. With that earnest hope, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

Before we move on, during the previous debate the hon. Member for Henley referred by name to Mr. Martin McGuinness. I did not intervene because I was uncertain of whether a Member of the House of Commons who has not taken the Oath should be referred to by name or constituency. I have scoured ''Erskine May'' and I cannot find a current ruling. I am minded to suggest that, during this Committee, if a Member is an elected representative of the people, he or she should be referred to by constituency rather than by name. I may ask the Chairman of Ways and Means for a further ruling on the matter, and I shall advise the Committee if he has an alternative view.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Ceidwadwyr, Spelthorne

On a point of order, Mr. Gale. I may be able to assist to you and the Committee. I almost ran foul of this point on the Floor of the House some years ago when I referred to the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Adams) as the dishonourable Member for West Belfast. The now Lord Walker was about to call me to order for using the phrase ''dishonourable Member'', when the Clerk advised him that a person who has not taken the Oath is not caught by the protection that the rest of us enjoy from unparliamentary language. That ruling may assist you when you do further research.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

With respect to the hon. Gentleman, that is not the point that is at issue, which is whether a person should be referred to by name or by constituency. It is my view—this is why I make the ruling—that if it is necessary to refer to either of the two hon. Gentlemen who are the elected representatives of the people of their constituencies but have not taken the Oath, they should be referred to by constituency. If the Chairman of Ways and Means advises me differently, I shall inform the Committee.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

I beg to move amendment No. 371, in page 94, line 7, leave out subsection (6).

In relation to the ruling that you just made, Mr. Gale, I did not refer to the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. McGuinness) when I intervened on my hon. Friend the Member for Henley after he had referred to the hon. Gentleman, because of my uncertainty about that point. I am grateful for your ruling, because in my intervention I simply referred to ''people''. That was why I used that term.

The amendment raises a slightly different issue from the previous group of amendments, but a related one. We tabled it because of our concerns about the way in which terrorists and paramilitary organisations operate in Northern Ireland. Sadly, the intimidation of ordinary, law-abiding people is a feature of life in places where terrorists and paramilitary organisations hold sway. Under subsection (6), the court is instructed to

''treat the duty in subsection (5) as a power if it believes that any victim of the conduct has at any time started or intends to start proceedings against the defendant in respect of loss, injury or damage sustained in connection with the conduct.''

Opposition Members think that subsection (5) should remain a duty, not a power, because we are concerned that a victim of such conduct may want to

''start proceedings against the defendant in respect of loss, injury or damage''

but may be intimidated into not doing so. It would be unwise to constrain the court's opportunities to consider the issue. We know from practice that, sadly, such intimidation regularly occurs. The court's duties should not be circumscribed in any way. Subsection (5) should remain unchanged, so that whenever

''the defendant has benefited from the conduct referred to it must—

(a) decide the recoverable amount, and

(b) make an order (a confiscation order) requiring him to pay that amount.''

We are talking about people who have benefited substantially from the proceeds of crime. We want to toughen up the Bill. The court must always have the unavoidable duty to make an order requiring a defendant to pay the recoverable amount.

In Northern Ireland, specific conditions prevail that, happily, do not prevail in any other part of the UK. Because of those special circumstances, the powers of the courts should not be circumscribed. There are many precedents for special provisions for courts in Northern Ireland: for example, there are arrangements for judges to sit without juries. One reason for that is that jurors may be subject to intimidation. We want to ensure that confiscation orders are made against money launderers, drug traffickers, or anyone who could be dealt with under the Bill. We do not want victims of their conduct to be subject to intimidation.

A victim may start proceedings but be intimidated and prevented from pursuing them. That should not allow the Mr. Big to get away with a lower recoverable amount. I can well envisage a money launderer or a drug trafficker who has profited from his crime being able to impose improper pressure through associates on a victim not to pursue proceedings that have already started. It could then be argued that, because the proceedings had already started, the recoverable amount should be reduced.

Given the special circumstances that prevail in Northern Ireland, it would be safer if subsection (6) were removed. We are probing the Government. I am not suggesting that our aim will necessarily be achieved by deletion of subsection (6)—the Under-Secretary may say that there may be a better way of doing that—but I hope that he will understand our sincerity and the thinking behind the amendment. I am sure that Labour Members accept that we are conscious of the realities of life in the Province. If he can say either now or at a later stage that the Government accept that there is a problem and that there is another way in which to solve it, we will listen carefully to him. If he cannot assist us today, I hope that he can do so on Report or in another place.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Ceidwadwyr, Cities of London and Westminster 12:00, 11 Rhagfyr 2001

I agree with my hon. Friend's comments. The proposal is a probing amendment and, in one sense, it may seem a little perverse, given that we endorsed the idea that the court has much discretion earlier in the Bill, but are now keen to rein back such discretion and ensure that the court is under a duty.

If pressure is brought to bear on an individual to commence proceedings, in order to fall under the subsection, a process of abuse may begin. I hope that the Under-Secretary can assuage the fears of my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath and myself in that regard. Clearly, if the court is to have strong discretion that depends on the actions of a particular victim, we could be in a dangerous position. Has he foreseen such problems? Why does he believe that the court should have such discretion rather than having a duty to behave in a particular way as envisaged in the clause?

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Ceidwadwyr, Spelthorne

My hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath explained far better than I possibly could the implications—

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Ceidwadwyr, Spelthorne

Never mind the quality, feel the width. My hon. Friend explained the implications of allowing such discretion. He is right. Such a provision would open up a loophole. I hope that it does not go unnoticed that Conservative Members are arguing for the Bill to be toughened up. Intimidation of witnesses and extortion are inextricably linked. Extortion is a particular problem in Northern Ireland. It is a serious issue. My hon. Friend did the Committee a favour by saying that the amendment would toughen up on both extortion and intimidation.

I return to the threat assessment of the task force in Northern Ireland. It made it clear in its report that extortion was ''a very serious issue'', and not only because of the sums involved. I shall not pre-empt that debate, because the money involved in extortion is dealt with in a later amendment. The report states:

''Extortion is a key factor in perpetuating paramilitary control of vulnerable communities. In the same way as paramilitary beatings, the extortionists create a climate of fear and insecurity which threatens the rule of law.''

We are in serious territory. I say to those who look back at my previous comments on such matters that it is worth noting that the report makes it clear that extortion and intimidation of the sort to which my hon. Friend referred is almost exclusively the domain of the loyalist paramilitaries rather than the republican ones. On this occasion it is not as easy to be even-handed in condemnation of everybody.

It is important to ask whether we are right to pursue the amendment, in the light of what experience shows. The report makes it clear that incidents of extortion and intimidation are getting worse. It says:

''Of 86 complaints made to police in the period 1995–1998 only one quarter were successfully prosecuted. Almost half the cases originally reported to police were withdrawn as a result of fear . . . before any investigation could be carried out.''

That is exactly the point made by my hon. Friend: the extortionist moves on to the intimidation of witnesses. To allow any sort of discretion would provide a loophole that such people would use. In case the Committee is tempted to think that the Opposition are kicking up a fuss about nothing, the section of the report on extortion and intimidation concludes:

''There is a real danger of organised crime developing more sophisticated extortion rackets. Already vulnerable communities are at greatest risk.''

That is why the amendment, or something like it, is important. I would be grateful if the Minister would at least accept that we have a point that needs to be explored. He may wish to come back to the Committee later with observations on details and improved wording.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The amendment would mean that the court would have to make a confiscation order for the full amount of the defendant's benefit, even when a victim of criminal conduct—not necessarily terrorist-related—had started or intended to start civil proceedings against the criminal for damages. The clause mirrors the provisions of clause 6. If the amendment were accepted, a victim might not be able to recover damages against the criminal. That is because, once the property had been confiscated and the money paid into the Consolidated Fund, the criminal could be left with no funds out of which to pay any damages. That would not protect the rights of the victim, which the Government have sought, in several respects, to do.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

I think that the Government could get round that problem—I know that the Minister is going to address the basis of our amendment—if they introduced an opportunity for the victim subsequently to take proceedings against the Consolidated Fund. That would protect the victim from intimidation without leaving the loophole that we are talking about. Of course, even if the money has gone to the Consolidated Fund, a victim might still be able to take proceedings under the criminal injuries compensation scheme.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Yes, people will certainly be able to do that under the criminal injuries compensation scheme. I can only address the amendments that have been tabled. I have found them rather difficult, conceptually, to understand. I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying about the different circumstances in Northern Ireland in comparison with the rest of the United Kingdom. However, in the light of previous amendments tabled by Opposition Members—whereby they were almost expecting us to offer a service to any victim or compensation claimant, at the taxpayer's expense, in almost any circumstances—I found it difficult to understand what he was trying to achieve. We agreed that we would reflect on whether movement was necessary. However, the amendment would prevent not only victims of terrorist-related crime but victims of any crime in Northern Ireland from being able to be given consideration. It would remove the discretion of the court to take into the account the circumstances that apply.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

Perhaps I did not make myself clear. We want to protect victims but also to ensure that the criminal racketeers—the Mr. Bigs—in Northern Ireland are not able to intimidate victims and exploit a loophole. We foresee that a victim may wish to start proceedings. At the moment, the courts' powers are limited the minute such proceedings are started. The defendant may have the opportunity to cut down the order made against him because the victim may make the claim. The problem is that if a victim starts a claim, the defendant or his associates may intimidate him so that he does not pursue it. Therefore, the defendant would get away without the full majesty of the law bearing down on him, and the victim would not get anything.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I understand that. However, the hon. Gentleman's solution is to deprive the court of the discretion to examine circumstances and estimate whether there is a real problem. The exemption in subsection (6) is present to allow the court the discretion to turn a duty into a power to examine whether it should continue with the order when circumstances apply. The court will be far nearer to individual circumstances and will be able to consider all those issues. It will not be fettered in any way. If we accepted the amendment, we would deprive the court of that ability.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman understands that the amendment would mean that the court would be unable to consider circumstances when a claim by a victim is pending or in process and would have the duty to continue to confiscate possibly all the criminal's property.

I understand the hon. Gentleman's worries. They are very real in relation to Northern Ireland. We discussed the matter outside the Committee in order to establish the position. I am satisfied that the best way of dealing with the matter is to allow the courts the power to continue with a confiscation order when that is appropriate. The court will be able to take account of the circumstances that the hon. Gentleman envisages, and I resist the amendment, which would deprive the court of that ability.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

Obviously, I understand that the Minister is addressing the point seriously. I had hoped that he might go further when he referred to the indications that he gave during an early sitting when he said that the Government will reconsider how to help victims further. I hope that he will then think about this issue, although he has not said that he will. I see him nodding. If he is prepared to say that he will think again about this matter, which he said that he considered seriously with his advisers, and the genuine problem that he recognises that we have addressed, I will be very pleased.

I said that Conservative Members did not claim to have the perfect solution. I know the potential downside risks to which the Minister referred. However, we hope that there is a better way to ensure that the court has the duty to bear down heavily on defendants and not to give them a loophole through which to climb, while at the same time protecting victims.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

As I said, we are examining matters that the Opposition raised about compensation claims. There is no reason of principle why we should not cast our eyes over this matter when we do that. That is no hardship, so I give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. I believe that the best way in which to deal with the matter is by giving discretion to the court, but we will consider his proposal.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

I am very grateful to the Under-Secretary. His response was enormously helpful and makes my task easier. I said that we were probing such matters. He has now said that he will reconsider the proposal, but starting from the point that that the Government are right. Perhaps some of our arguments will cause them to think again and to table a further amendment on Report. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Chairman, being of the opinion that the principle of the clause and any matters arising thereon had been adequately discussed in the course of debate on the amendment proposed thereto, forthwith put the Question, pursuant to Standing Orders Nos. 68 and 89, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—

Question agreed to.

Clause 158 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 159 to 162 ordered to stand part of the Bill.