The total value of criminal assets recovered in 2004–05 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland was £84.4 million. That was a record amount exceeding the previous year's total of £54.5 million.
I am grateful for that response. The United States in particular has made great play of the amount of money it has seized in terrorist assets. What assessment does the Minister make of the deterrent value of such actions and statements? Does he favour a more public approach to the seizure of criminal assets in general and terrorist assets in particular?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Whether those assets are funding terrorist activity or other criminal activity, the message from this Parliament and this Government is that they can no longer be relied on because we want not only to prosecute and convict people for the offences that they commit but to strip them of their assets and make sure that the proceeds go back into funding front-line services.
I can confirm that there was a certain amount of activity in Greater Manchester last week, when searches were carried out on a number of domestic and business properties associated with two Manchester-based business men. The properties are estimated to be worth over £30 million. The information that is being gathered as a result of those searches will be reviewed, and a decision will be made in due course whether to apply for a freezing order or an interim receiving order.
I welcome the figures that the Minister has given us. The work of the Assets Recovery Agency has particular significance in Northern Ireland, given the problems of prosecuting former paramilitaries there. Will the Minister assure me that the agency will pursue those former paramilitaries who have made money illegally in Northern Ireland and invested it in legal businesses in the rest of the UK, that they will be prosecuted and that their assets will be recovered to the communities, as should be the case?
I can confirm that. As my hon. Friend probably knows, the Assets Recovery Agency has a dedicated office in Belfast. I am very encouraged by the fact that last year the agency raised £4.7 million and restrained £17 million of assets. The message is clear: whether people are from Northern Ireland or the mainland, if they have assets built on criminality—if they have houses, yachts and a lifestyle based on criminality—we are after them, and we will reclaim those assets and put them to good public use.
Does the Minister agree that the current system does not incentivise police forces such as West Mercia because assets and cash recovered go to the Treasury, which keeps most of that money rather than returning it to police forces, which is what they want? Would not police forces be incentivised if they were allowed to keep all the money rather than it being creamed off by the Treasury?
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be encouraged to learn that only a few weeks ago I was able to send back £13 million of recovered assets directly to front-line policing. We estimate that in the coming year some £30 million will be recycled to police front-line services. Indeed, in 2007–08, half of all money gained by front-line agencies will be returned to them. There is a clear incentive to law enforcement agencies operating in our communities: the more cash and assets they seize, the more money they will get back.
The figure mentioned of £84.4 million is presumably spread across the different police forces. Is the money divided equally or is it given back to the police force that seized it, such as that associated with drug dealing in Lancashire?
The money is returned in proportion to the level of assets recovered by a particular police force. I draw my hon. Friend's attention to a statement that I made before the summer recess. He might want to check how well his police force has done, as might many other Members.