Money Laundering

Oral Answers to Questions — Treasury – in the House of Commons at 10:30 am on 26th October 2006.

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Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands Conservative, Hammersmith and Fulham 10:30 am, 26th October 2006

When he expects to announce the results of the consultation for new proposals to tackle money laundering carried out to fund terrorist activities.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

When he expects to announce the results of the consultation process on new proposals to tackle money laundering for funding terrorism.

Photo of Edward Balls Edward Balls The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

The Government are consulting on how best to safeguard the money services business sector from criminal and terrorist finance, and will publish the results of their consultation on implementing the third money laundering directive when they publish draft regulations for consultation at the turn of the year.

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands Conservative, Hammersmith and Fulham

Last year the Chancellor lectured fellow EU Finance Ministers on terrorist financing after the 7/7 bombing. He said that

"it's important to realise that you're only as strong as your weakest link. Where there are countries that are not taking action to cut off the sources of terrorist finance, we will clearly have continuing problems".

Will the Minister ask the Chancellor to apologise to those EU Finance Ministers for failing to freeze the assets of former Hammersmith and Fulham resident Abu Hamza, and will he join the new Conservative council in Hammersmith and Fulham in seeking to evict the Hamza family from their council house?

Photo of Edward Balls Edward Balls The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong in his assertions. We have applied our terrorist order in exactly the right way over the past few years in this— [Interruption.]

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. Once again, let the Minister answer. That is the best thing to do. [Interruption.] Order. I tell the hon. Gentleman that he should not interrupt the Minister, and he should not interrupt me, which is worse.

Photo of Edward Balls Edward Balls The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

As I said, we have applied the order in exactly the right way. The assets of that individual have been frozen from the beginning. There has been no transfer of resources to him. The transfer of property, which was discussed between ourselves and the police, was not an illegal act. That transfer has now been frozen in order that we can recover legal costs. We strengthened our position in the case a few weeks ago. I ask the hon. Gentleman to look at the facts in more detail before he makes such accusations. I can tell him that he is quite wrong in all the things that he said.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

The whole House appreciates that the Chancellor has much on his mind at present, not least his relationship with his at times tiresome neighbour. However, he said in October 2001 that finance was

"the lifeblood of modern terrorism".

That being the case, can the Minister tell the House why we are still waiting for the report that the Chancellor promised us as long ago as December last year?

Photo of Edward Balls Edward Balls The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

We have made repeated reports over the past year. I made a ministerial statement to the House just a few weeks ago. We have acted regularly in recent months to strengthen our terrorism order, to use closed source evidence and to strengthen our benefits regime. As I just said, we are also acting on money laundering and money services business. Across the piece we have been acting, and at the same time we have been freezing assets of individuals regularly and substantially. I say to the hon. Gentleman and to his colleagues on the Front Bench that I accept that we will not have a consensus on the new deal, public spending cuts, tax cuts or the priority that we attach to tackling child poverty, but I would have thought that we could have a consensus on the importance of our acting together on these issues. Frankly, we do not have that consensus because of the absurd claims that have been made by Opposition Members, which only undermine our efforts to take the terrorists to task.

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour, North West Leicestershire

Systems to disrupt money laundering and terrorist financing are most effective when necessary information for the authorities and private sector institutions is shared and acted on. What is being done to encourage the supervisory authorities and the financial intelligence units to develop international information-sharing systems?

Photo of Edward Balls Edward Balls The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

On those very issues, we are acting all the time. I have met the US Treasury Under Secretary, Stuart Levey, three times in the past four months to discuss them. Across the piece, we are working very closely with our police and our security services to ensure that we use all the available information. I will publish a report at the end of the year that will set out all the measures that we are taking in order to make sure that we have the best and most comprehensive approach to those issues.

Let me give some more facts. Since 2001, a total of 85 individuals and 58 entities have had their assets frozen in the UK. Of those 85 individuals, 68 were designated by the Treasury and only 17 by the European Union. Of the 58 entities, 51 were designated by the Treasury and seven by the EU. We have been on the front foot on these issues. We have been acting decisively with our international partners. I believe that we are putting in place the best regime that we could have. Instead of undermining Britain's efforts to tackle the terrorist threat around the world, I wish that the Opposition parties would start to support our efforts.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

In 2001, the Chancellor promised that there would be

"no safe haven for terrorists" and

"no safe hiding place for their funds."

Despite all the Economic Secretary's bluster, can he explain in what possible universe that statement by the Chancellor can be consistent with letting Abu Hamza sit in his prison cell in Belmarsh and splash out £220,000 on a four-bedroom semi in Greenford, two years after the Chancellor proudly claimed to have frozen the man's assets?

Photo of Edward Balls Edward Balls The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

I am happy to have a meeting with the hon. Lady to explain the facts to her, because the accusations that she makes are both completely wrong—completely factually incorrect—and undermine our efforts as a country to deal with these issues. I have to say to Opposition Members that if they want to get involved in a grown-up debate about how we can tackle the terrorist threat in our country, I am happy to have that debate, but if they want to make party political shots that are based on incorrect facts, all they will do is undermine their own standing and—