Orders of the Day — Register of Drug Trafficking Offenders Bill

– in the House of Commons at 2:22 pm on 23 March 2001.

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Order for Second Reading read.

Photo of Des Browne Des Browne Labour, Kilmarnock and Loudoun 2:24, 23 March 2001

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I am grateful for the opportunity at least to talk briefly about the Bill. Drug dealing is a pernicious evil that destroys the health and hopes of thousands of our young people. Daily, I read of tragic tales of what drug dealing has done to families and communities across the United Kingdom. That tragedy is exacerbated by the fact that those who deal in that deadly trade flaunt their wealth and power in the very communities that they are destroying. Many millions of pounds of drug money is successfully laundered into respectable businesses, property and investments. It is also used to buy high-value goods. In all those transactions, those who work in financial services and related professions of in commerce are unwittingly handling the proceeds of crime.

For about 12 years, we have had legislation designed to help confiscate the assets of crime, particularly drug trafficking, but it is ineffective. It was designed to provide a punishment, to deny criminals access to the funds that they need to continue their criminal activities, to deter others by showing that crime does not pay and to take criminal money out of circulation. Its effectiveness has been assessed recently, both in the report of the Cabinet Office performance and innovation unit published in June 2000 and in Scotland by the report of Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary, entitled, "Making Crime Pay: Confiscation of Criminal Assets in Scotland" published last year in response to a request by the Scottish Deputy Minister for Justice.

The former report, which was commissioned by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in late 1999, concluded that criminals and their associates can often retain the gains that they make from their criminal activity even when they have been convicted and imprisoned.

The latter report contains statistical evidence for Scotland that shows just how unsuccessful the current legislation and its implementation is in taking criminal money out of circulation.

I know that I am not telling the Minister anything that he does not know already or that is not already documented in the PIU report. I am aware of the proposal in the draft Proceeds of Crime Bill, which is a major initiative to deal with some of the problems that arise from the status quo.

I do not propose to go into all the reasons why the present legislation is considered deficient, but the proposal in this Bill for the establishment of a register of drug trafficking offenders is a practical addition to that set of tools. It would amend the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 by inserting a new section that deals with the establishment of the register and its maintenance and sets out the circumstances in which the register may be consulted and by whom.

The Bill is designed to target money laundering and to assist existing legislation in seizing the proceeds of drug dealing. Its principal purpose is to help the Government and the devolved Administrations, the police and the business sector to share important information to help them work together in a concerted way to tackle and disrupt the supply of illegal drugs.

Since the Bill was presented to the House on 26 February, it has attracted support from surprising corners, but I shall not go into that now.

The proposed new section of the 1971 Act is divided into four subsections. Subsection (1) sets out the offences for which the punishment of recording the fact of conviction on a register may be imposed. The offences set out are those that are generally described as drug trafficking offences. They are all very serious offences and can attract significant periods of imprisonment on conviction, up to life imprisonment. Subsection (1) also allows the court to order the recording of the conviction on a register to be established and maintained by the Secretary of State.

Subsection (2) describes the persons who may consult that register and the circumstances in which they may do so. It draws heavily on the provisions of the money laundering legislation and it is designed to provide to people in commerce or in financial services an opportunity for convenient and quick access to information about those who present them with substantial amounts of money where there is no clear legitimate source of such wealth.

Subsection (3) requires the Secretary of State to lay regulations of an incidental nature and relating to any fee for access before Parliament within three months of the Bill being enacted.

Subsection (4) limits the type of offenders to which the Bill's provisions relate. As I have explained previously, it is only a register of serious drug dealers. By limiting it to them, those who deal for commercial gain and who have a track record that suggests that they will continue to do so in the future, the proposals in the Bill are a proportionate response to the threat to human rights posed by crime and criminality and are no more draconian than is necessary.

By preventing criminals from profiting from crime, we create a powerful deterrent to criminality. I am grateful for the support that this modest proposal has generated. I await with interest any further comments and I commend the Bill to the House.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst 2:29, 23 March 2001

I am delighted that the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. Browne) has invited further comments, which are appropriate when we have only six minutes to do justice to a Bill with such ramifications.

It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed on Friday 30 March.