Lords amendments Nos. 17 and 32 consolidate and strengthen the law relating to breaches of restraint orders granted under powers in schedule 4. As the House will be aware, the purpose of such orders is to freeze assets so that they are available to be confiscated or forfeited if a conviction is obtained. It is right that the courts should have available a wide range of penalties to deal with those who choose deliberately to flout such orders, and that is the effect of the amendments.
Contraventions of restraint orders are normally dealt with as contempts of court. By virtue of the Contempt of Court Act 1981, the maximum sentence available to a court is two years' imprisonment. I believe that hon. Members will recognise that such a penalty is not adequate to deal with those who deliberately flout a restraint order relating to terrorist finance.
There is the further difficulty that contempt of court is neither a scheduled offence nor a relevant offence for the purpose of the confiscation scheme and, as most contempts of court have nothing to do with the emergency in Northern Ireland, it would be inappropriate to provide that they should be.
As hon. Members will recall, the confiscation scheme as introduced on Report included a new offence of contravening a restraint order granted by the Secretary of State. That was necessary because contravention of such an order would not amount to contempt of court but, because the offence was analogous to contempt of court, it was not considered that we could ask the House to provide a stiffer penalty for it than for contempt.
The inadequacies of the two-year maximum sentence and the other difficulties to which I referred were appreciated, but unfortunately it was not possible to complete all the consultations necessary before Report stage in the House. The consultation has since been completed, and the amendments are the result.
The amendments therefore create new offences of contravening restraint orders, whether made by the High Court or by the Secretary of State. It will be a defence to prove that the breach took place with lawful authority or reasonable excuse. The maximum penalty will be 14 years' imprisonment. The offences will be both scheduled and relevant for the purposes of the confiscation scheme in part VII. I commend them to the House.
Lords amendments Nos. 19 and 29 have the same effect for restraint orders under schedule 4 to the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989 and the arguments for them are identical to those that I made in support of Lords amendments Nos. 17 and 32. I commend the amendments to the House.