Clause 7 - Confiscation of assets

Part of Modern Slavery Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 10:00 am ar 9 Medi 2014.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 10:00, 9 Medi 2014

I thank the shadow Minister and my hon. Friend for their contributions.

On clause 7, it is vital that we take seriously the confiscation of criminals’ assets, and the Government do. There are many serious and organised criminals for whom a jail sentence is merely an occupational hazard. Serving time in jail is no disincentive to leading a life of crime if, at the end of that sentence, and often during it, a serious criminal has access to the assets they accrued through their criminal activities and can continue those activities using those assets.

The clause looks specifically at confiscation orders relating to modern slavery offences. It should be looked at in the context of the other work the Government are doing, through the Serious Crime Bill, to strengthen the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 in relation to the confiscation of the assets of serious criminals.

The clause acts on recommendations made by a number of parties, including the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee, to change the definition of offences in the 2002 Act to include the offences in the Bill and make them lifestyle offences, which means the courts will have access to more of the assets than they otherwise would. That is a sensible suggestion, which the Government were happy to act on.

The Serious Crime Bill, which is going through the other place, amends the 2002 Act to enable law enforcement agencies to seize criminal assets more quickly, close loopholes that criminals use to get around confiscation and crack down on those who try to avoid paying them. There are harsher penalties for those who do not pay the confiscation orders. There are new rules about the disclosure of assets and who has the right to assets before the guilty verdict is given, to ensure that we stop the legal wrangling that has taken place, with many people having claim to assets once a defendant has been found guilty. I hope that the Committee agrees that we are taking significant action against serious and organised criminals to ensure that they are deprived of the assets that enable them to continue their criminal activities.

The shadow Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate, asked a number of questions, which I will do my best to try to get through. I will write to the Committee to clarify any points that I do not answer directly. The shadow Minister asked how much money will be recovered from those responsible for modern slavery. It is difficult to predict, as I am sure she understands. More than £2 million has been recovered from human traffickers in the past four years, but there could and should be more. The inclusion of the “criminal lifestyle” offences under clause 7, for the purposes of the Proceeds of Crime Act, will assist the courts in recovering more assets from the criminals.

The shadow Minister asked about the proportion of assets that would be recovered and how much would be available to the police to enable them to fund further operations. I will deal with clause 8 in a couple of moments, but the first priority in all cases will be to use seized assets to provide reparation to the victims. I understand the point that she raised; victims will be the number one creditor. I am going back to my accounting days and remembering priority creditors; the victims under a reparation order will be the priority creditors and will have first call over any seized assets. Any seized funds that are left over will benefit criminal justice agencies through the asset recovery incentivisation scheme, which returns a proportion of sums recovered to law enforcement, prosecution and enforcement agencies. The amount of assets recovered using confiscation orders continues to increase since ARIS was introduced and over the past three years more than £238 million has been returned to front-line agencies.