Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs: removal of restrictions

Criminal Finances Bill – in the House of Commons at 2:15 pm on 21st February 2017.

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‘(1) The following provisions, which impose restrictions on the exercise of certain powers conferred on officers of Revenue and Customs, are amended as follows.

(2) In section 23A of the Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995 (investigation of offences by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs), omit the following—

(a) in subsection (2), the words “Subject to subsection (3) below,” and the words from “other than” to the end of the subsection;

(b) subsection (3).

(3) In section 307 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 (interpretation), omit the following—

(a) in subsection (1), in paragraph (ba) of the definition of “officer of law”, the words “subject to subsection (1A) below,”;

(b) subsection (1A).

(4) In the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 omit the following—

(a) in section 289 (searches), subsections (5)(ba) and (5A);

(b) in section 294 (seizure of cash), subsections (2A), (2B) and (2C);

(c) section 375C (restriction on exercise of certain powers conferred on officers of Revenue and Customs);

(d) section 408C (restriction on exercise of certain powers conferred on officers of Revenue and Customs).

(5) In the Finance Act 2007, in section 84 (sections 82 and 83: supplementary), omit subsection (3).”

This new clause, together with amendments 20, 25 and 28, removes restrictions on the exercise of certain powers by HMRC officers. The restrictions prevented the powers being exercised in relation to certain former Inland Revenue functions.—(Mr Wallace.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

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

Photo of Natascha Engel Natascha Engel Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 5—Unexplained Wealth Orders: award of costs—

“In Chapter 2 of Part 8 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, after section 362H insert—

‘362HB Unexplained Wealth Orders: award of costs

(1) Pursuant to Part 3 of the Civil Procedure Rules (The Court’s Case Management Powers) the High Court must make a costs capping order, in respect of—

(a) unexplained wealth orders under section 362A of this Act;

(b) interim freezing orders under section 262I of this Act.

(2) The High Court shall not have power to make an award for costs on the indemnity basis against enforcement authorities who bring an unsuccessful application for—

(a) unexplained wealth orders under section 362A of this Act;

(b) interim freezing orders under section 262I of this Act.

(3) For the purposes of this section “enforcement agencies” has the same meaning as in subsection 362A(7).’”

This new clause would prevent the courts from awarding uncapped costs on the indemnity basis against enforcement agencies where they have brought unsuccessful applications for unexplained wealth orders or interim freezing orders. It seeks to define such civil actions as within “exceptional circumstances” required for the purposes of Practice Direction 3F to Part 3 of the Civil Procedure Rules under which the court has the power to make a cost capping order.

Amendment 1, page 3, clause 1, leave out line 29.

This amendment would allow unexplained wealth orders to be issued to politically exposed persons in the United Kingdom and EEA States.

Government amendments 2 to 19.

Motion to transfer clause 12(3).

Government amendments 20 to 57 and 60 to 72.

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

We now come to a group of amendments relating to law enforcement investigative and recovery powers. It is primarily composed of Government amendments that I hope the House will agree are, for the most part, technical and uncontroversial. I therefore do not intend to linger on each of them, but I will quickly summarise the key amendments for the benefit of hon. Members.

New clause 8 and other consequential amendments remove the restriction on HMRC’s criminal powers being used for former revenue functions. This ring fence arose following the merger of Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise and the Inland Revenue in 2005. In the intervening period, legislative changes have brought most major taxes within the scope of HMRC’s criminal justice powers, but there remain some anomalies. For example, investigators cannot use certain powers to fight stamp duty tax fraud. Fraud is a crime, regardless of which function of HMRC it is committed against, and the amendments will ensure that the necessary powers are available in all such cases. They do not provide HMRC with any new criminal justice powers.

Amendments 2 to 15, 70 and 71 relate to the power in clause 9 to allow an extension of the moratorium period in which law enforcement agencies can investigate a suspicious activity report before a transaction is allowed to proceed. These amendments will deliver a number of minor and technical improvements to this provision: they will allow an automatic extension to the moratorium period while a court hearing is awaited to make a decision on an application; they will help to ensure that a company does not provide any information to the customer whose transaction is subject to a suspicious activity report, other than the fact that an SAR has been made; they will allow immigration officers to apply for an extension; and they will allow for an explicit right of appeal in Northern Ireland.

The majority of the remaining amendments in this group—amendments 22 to 24, 26, 27, 29 to 38, 46, 47, 49 to 57, 60 to 69 and 72—clarify the operation of the seizure and forfeiture powers that the Bill adds to the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 and the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. Many of these changes are extremely technical in nature, but I will highlight a few of the more significant ones. They will allow the director general of the National Crime Agency to designate the level of senior officer that can authorise the use of certain powers—unlike in the police, no such designation currently exists in law. They will ensure that any interest accrued on forfeited funds while in the agency’s account is returned to the owner of the funds if that person successfully appeals against the forfeiture. They provide that, where the NCA has used the powers, and a court determines compensation should be paid, the NCA will be responsible for paying that compensation. They will introduce a duty on the police and others to consult with the Treasury to ensure that the full range of terrorist asset-freezing powers are considered before exercising the related power provided by the Bill. They will require consultation with the devolved Administrations before the provisions in clause 12 relating to the seizure of gaming vouchers and betting slips are commenced. This will ensure that the provisions are implemented effectively in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

On the devolved Administrations, we hope the Scottish Parliament will approve their legislative consent motion on the Bill shortly. Although the Government assert that none of the provisions are devolved with respect to Wales, I note that the Assembly has already provided such a motion. The Government have had extensive discussions with the Northern Ireland Executive about the Bill, and plans were in place for a legislative consent motion to be considered by the Assembly—law enforcement authorities in Northern Ireland are keen to ensure they have access to the powers in the Bill—but the suspension of the Assembly prior to elections has prevented the motion from being pursued at this time. These are clearly extremely unusual circumstances, but the Government remain committed to the central principles of the Sewel convention. We will therefore commit not to commence provisions on matters devolved to Northern Ireland without the appropriate consents having been obtained. It is our intention to pick this up with the Executive, following those elections. It may not be possible to resolve this before the Bill receives Royal Assent. We are most likely to make further amendments to the Bill in the House of Lords to put beyond doubt that all the relevant provisions can be commenced at separate times for different areas of the United Kingdom.

Photo of Gavin Robinson Gavin Robinson Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights) 2:30 pm, 21st February 2017

The Minister will be aware that although the aspiration is to see an early return to the Stormont Executive, the likelihood of that happening in the immediate future is somewhat fraught. Given that the Bill will inevitably conclude before we see the return to the institutions of Stormont, will he outline what steps will be taken to regularise issues, once the Assembly has been restored?

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

We are in ongoing discussions with the Northern Ireland Assembly, and we hope that the Northern Ireland Assembly elections are completed and that Stormont takes up the reins again, so that devolution returns to Northern Ireland. That is our starting-point, and it is what we all wish. There was a good cross-party consensus for these provisions for Northern Ireland in the Assembly earlier. I cannot remember the exact date of the election—the hon. Gentleman might have to remind me. Let us plan for normality in Northern Ireland and make sure that we get to a good position.

Photo of Gavin Robinson Gavin Robinson Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights)

The election is planned for 2 March. I agree with the aspiration to see a return to Stormont as soon as possible, but does the Minister believe that there would be some merit in at least corresponding with the leaders of each political party to attain affirmation for the measures at this stage, for fear that we do not see a return in a reasonable period?

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, and I will certainly put that suggestion to officials. My view would be that pre-suspension of the Assembly is the place we are at, and although there has been a change of a leader, I am not sure that we have had any signal that it has gone backwards. The date of 2 March gives me some good hope. I have never known the other place move at the speed of light, so I hope we shall have time to make sure that this gets through.

Finally, this group includes two proposals concerning unexplained wealth orders: new clause 5, in the name of a number of the officers of the all-party parliamentary groups on anti-corruption and responsible tax, and Opposition amendment 1. I will allow hon. Members the opportunity to speak to those amendments and will respond to them in my closing remarks.

Photo of Carolyn Harris Carolyn Harris Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

We on the Opposition side support the spirit of the Bill and broadly support this group of amendments. We welcome new provisions to prosecute those professionals who fail to prevent tax evasion, as well as welcoming unexplained wealth orders, under which assets can be seized if owners are unable to explain how they were funded. We, of course, support the Government’s effort to tighten up state powers against white-collar crime, but we have concerns that they are squandering the opportunity that the Bill provides to stamp out the everyday corruption of the super-rich who are getting a free ride at the expense of the wider society, thereby fuelling inequality.

Another problem is that, amid the Government’s cuts to public services, the Bill could be very difficult to enforce. Although I understand the giving of new powers to HMRC, are the Government not concerned about how HMRC will carry out its new duties? Given that the coalition Government decimated HMRC’s budgets by £100 million and that HMRC is set to lose 137 of its offices by 2027, there seems little point in creating laws that cannot be enforced—unless, of course, it is to give the impression that the Government are doing something. This, I fear, is a theme that has sadly run through our proceedings on the Bill so far.

We Opposition Members argue that it is crucial for the agencies involved in civil recovery powers to have sufficient resources to do their jobs properly. We therefore request a distinct and clear annual report that details the resources allocated to the agencies that are concerned solely with the task of carrying out these recovery powers.

In previous stages, the Government objected on the grounds that the asset recovery incentivisation scheme would allow frontline agencies to keep 100% of what they recover, but this argument is seriously flawed. In theory, yes, the agencies could retain the total value recovered, but as the Public Accounts Committee made clear in its progress review of confiscation orders and as the Home Affairs Select Committee made clear in its review of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, these agencies’ recovery rates have been typically poor. Consequently, it remains to be seen how these agencies will improve their rate of recovery to benefit from the new incentivisation scheme.

Another reason that the Government gave is that anyone who wanted to find out this information could in theory obtain it by going to a number of different sources. Yet again, this is flawed. We previously argued for a detailed reporting of resources, specifically for these agencies, in the exercise of the powers laid down in the Bill and the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.

The Government have already blocked a number of measures that Labour has proposed to make this a meaningful and effective Bill. We proposed a corporate probation order. If a company was found to have committed a failure to prevent offence, it would have been subject to an independent review of its compliance procedures and it would have had to pay the full costs of such a review. This was coupled with allowing for the removal of directors from companies who failed to ensure that proper procedures were in place to prevent UK and foreign tax evasion offences from taking place. The Government believed that this was unnecessary because UK law could already deal with such cases of negligence. Although there may be a case for some UK law to be used to a similar effect, it would not be an identical effect.

While there is an implied threat to the EU that the Government could change the UK’s economic model into one of a tax haven, there is a strong case for legislation to protect both UK citizens and citizens from around the world. With the potential for a race to the bottom and the destruction of workers’ rights and the slashing of corporation tax, it could be argued that a Brexiteer Government would foster an environment where tax evasion was implicitly encouraged.

As my colleagues have said, and will no doubt say again, the Bill must do more to tackle the deeply entrenched and extraordinarily costly phenomenon of tax avoidance. Tax avoidance is, in effect, living to the letter of the law, but not in the spirit of the law. Repeated investigations of companies that sail close to the wind but know that they have bought the lawyers and accountants to make their tax abuse legal is both very frustrating and extremely costly. As the UK general anti-abuse rules show, there are ways to minimise the risk of corporate abuse of the tax system, and these should be absorbed into the Bill.

Spain, Canada and Australia each have a single agency responsible for supervising and enforcing anti-money laundering regulations—Britain has 22. Worse still, according to Transparency International UK, 15 of these 22 supervisors also lobby on behalf of the interests of their sector, creating clear conflicts of interest and a system inefficient to its core. The Government raised this problem in their action plan that preceded the Bill, but they were not concerned enough to convert this into proposed legislation. The system needs reform and the Bill needs to reflect this. Unless the Government accept all these concerns and indeed all the changes suggested in the Opposition amendments, the Bill is likely to fail on the intention to clean up money laundering and tax evasion.

Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Conservative, Amber Valley

It is a pleasure to speak to new clause 5, which, as the Minister said, stands in my name and those of colleagues in the all-party parliamentary anti-corruption group. The reason for tabling new clause 5 was to probe the Government on the issue and make sure that we make full use of the unexplained wealth orders and the interim freezing orders that we envisage in passing this Bill. I fear that if we are not careful, the various authorities that can use the orders may be a little concerned about the possibility that the people against whom they want to use them—who, in some cases, will no doubt be very rich and powerful and will not take the freezing or restriction of their wealth lightly—will seek to frustrate the process and oppose the orders with every means available to them. They might, for instance, incur huge costs—perhaps well above what could be considered reasonable in the circumstances—and try to force them on to the taxpayer at a later date if they succeeded in resisting the orders.

Although it is absolutely right for people to be able to recover reasonable costs if the state tries to impose orders and fails, it would be unreasonable for them to engage numerous very highly paid barristers and incur costs that were wholly disproportionate, which the taxpayer would end up having to pay. The real risk is that bodies trying to use these powers would be deterred from doing so, because they would fear that very rich people might take large chunks of their budgets for a long period while resisting the orders.

The aim of new clause 5 is to establish whether the existing powers for the courts to restrict the amount of costs recovered can be described as applying to efforts to obtain the orders that are specified in the Bill, so that it is plain to everyone that the various state authorities, acting competently and reasonably clearly in trying to use the orders, cannot be unreasonably opposed and end up with excessive costs. It would be helpful if the Minister explained how he thinks the orders would work and what he thinks about the interaction with the existing capping rules for the courts.

This is not an entirely theoretical issue. In the past, very significant costs have been awarded against the Serious Fraud Office. I am not pretending that the circumstances were similar to those that we are discussing in this instance—I think that that may not have been the finest hour of the Serious Fraud Office—but there is clearly evidence that the sort of people with whom we are dealing might try to obtain costs that would have a deterrent effect on the use of the orders. It would be useful to hear from the Minister whether he thinks that the courts can and should use various cost-capping measures to ensure that we are not unreasonably exposed to very high costs.

Photo of Richard Arkless Richard Arkless Scottish National Party, Dumfries and Galloway

I want to talk briefly about what I must admit is probably my favourite section of the Bill—the part that deals with unexplained wealth orders. I think it is an excellent provision, which is likely to drive a Trojan horse right through the assets of criminals who choose to lodge them in the United Kingdom.

Nigel Mills made some very valid points about new clause 5. Indemnity costs can be easily translated to mean, in layman’s terms, full costs. In other words, every single hour and every penny of the expense on the file can be charged to the losing party, with no assessment of whether those costs are reasonable. Given that we are talking about politically exposed people, potentially in other jurisdictions, we can imagine the number of officials travelling back and forth on flights. All that will find its way on to a costs sheet, and all of it will be recoverable to the payee in indemnity costs. We could end up with an inequality of arms, not in favour of the Government but in favour of the respondents, which I think would be very dangerous.

The threat of indemnity costs acts as a major litigation risk for the claimants or pursuers, or, in this case, the applicants. If they know that they are likely to be in for a bigger bill, they will think twice about making applications. These are our law enforcement agencies, and I believe that they should be able to pursue their applications with determination, without fear or favour, and without the risk of incurring indemnity costs which would be deeply disproportionate. That would be very bizarre and counterproductive.

I thank the hon. Member for Amber Valley for tabling his probing new clause, and I shall be pleased to hear what the Government have to say about it. As a boring, pedantic lawyer, I think it worth mentioning that indemnity costs are very rare, and arguably arise only in proportionate circumstances. However, we are talking about politically exposed people with potentially limitless funds. The better they can make their case in court, the more likely it is that they will be awarded indemnity costs if they are successful, and I think that we should take that risk out of the equation.

As I have said, the unexplained wealth orders provision is an excellent feature of the Bill. Let me explain exactly how the orders would work. The Bill will enable a court in Scotland—the Court of Session—on application by Scottish Ministers to make an unexplained wealth order. Such orders will require individuals or organisations to explain the origin of their assets if there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that they may have been involved in criminality, or intend to use that wealth for criminal purposes, and if the value of the assets exceeds £100,000. During earlier stages of the Bill, the Minister and I discussed that threshold, and I should be pleased if he could update me on his thoughts about it.

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

In response to what has been said about the issue, and the sensible suggestions made by the hon. Gentleman, we are considering options for potentially lower thresholds, to be dealt with in the other place. We will of course inform him when there is agreement across the Government.

Photo of Richard Arkless Richard Arkless Scottish National Party, Dumfries and Galloway 2:45 pm, 21st February 2017

That is very co-operative of the Minister, and I greatly appreciate it. I may not have his confidence in the other place, but we will wait with bated breath.

Unexplained wealth orders will be available to the courts when assets appear disproportionate to known legitimate income. For example, it was reported recently that a taxi driver owned a £1 million fish tank. That is not to say that taxi driving is not a potentially lucrative trade, but the asset could certainly be disproportionate to that person’s income. Failure to provide a response to an order and explain the legitimate source of funds would give rise to a presumption that the property was recoverable, which would make any subsequent civil recovery action much easier.

I must say, as a lawyer, that the notion of reversing the burden of proof does not automatically sit very comfortably with me, but, as in other areas, I consider it to be proportionate to the issue at stake. Sound legal principles such as the presumption of innocence, and the burden of proof being on the Crown, should not inadvertently protect criminals, which I suspect may have been the case thus far. The key aspect of this provision is that a criminal conviction will no longer be necessary before law enforcement can pierce the criminal’s veil that camouflages his wealth. Getting away with the crime itself will no longer protect a criminal’s wealth. The Bill will allow this power to be applied to foreign politicians and officials or those associated with them, known as politically exposed people. That will enable the issue to be tackled substantively and determinedly for the first time.

I agree with some of what was said by Carolyn Harris about resources. Part of the reason for introducing provisions for unexplained wealth orders is the fact that many law enforcement agencies think that there is a raft of applications, ready to be made immediately. There are properties and asset groups and accumulations in this country, and in some cases we do not know where they come from. If the Act receives Royal Assent, this power will land on the desks of law enforcement agencies that potentially have applications piled up. I think that, in those circumstances, resources are a very viable concern.

I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some reassurance, which unfortunately he has not been able to give thus far during the Bill’s passage, that enough resources will be allocated to make unexplained wealth orders work. This is probably the best part of the Bill, and it needs to work. If it does work, we shall make huge strides in ensuring that this country cannot be used as a safe haven for dirty money.

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

This has been a short and helpful part of our proceedings today. I am pleased that Members in all parts of the House agree in principle with the concept of the unexplained wealth order. I think that it will be an incredibly useful tool. The first group of amendments dealt with another tool that could be used to ask people to explain where their wealth came from, even without the evidence or the intelligence that would link them to the offence of gross human rights abuse that we are seeking to introduce.

The use of unexplained wealth orders to put the onus on individuals to tell us where they acquired their wealth will obviously be a strong step towards clearing the United Kingdom of people who seek to harbour their ill-gotten gains here, but we should not forget that it will also deal with criminals in the UK who are “washing” their wealth and depositing it elsewhere in the community. Such people sometimes hide in plain sight.

What I am about to say is no different from what I have said to the National Crime Agency. I would like to see this provision used sooner rather than later. We in Parliament always get lobbied for new offences—lots of people come along and lobby us, and there is always either a Home Office Bill or a Ministry of Justice Bill going through this House—and a lesson I have learned in my 12 years in Parliament is that if offences are not used sooner rather than later, many of them just sit on shelves. It is therefore important that the law enforcement agencies hear Parliament today say, “We are—hopefully—going to give you these powers; we want them to be used.”

Photo of Richard Arkless Richard Arkless Scottish National Party, Dumfries and Galloway

Given that we want to start using these orders immediately, resource is a key issue. It is difficult to put a price on this, but has any assessment been made within Government of what this is going to cost in the next two to three months after Royal Assent, because there are a lot of applications ready to be made and we need the resources to make them?

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

I can reassure the hon. Gentleman and Carolyn Harris that one part of government that has not seen a significant reduction in its budgets is the area of the regional organised crime units, the national crime agencies and the security and intelligence agencies, which assist us in tackling organised crime and money laundering. The National Crime Agency has a capital budget of £50 million this year, with £427 million of funding. It is supported in England and Wales by the regional organised crime units, which have got £519 million of funding. The figures for the Serious Fraud Office are £45 million, with £5 million of capital this year, and the figures for HMRC are £3.8 billion in resource and £242 million in capital. Of course, in terms of crime-fighting, the question is, “How long is a piece of string?”

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Crime and Prevention)

I am listening intently to what the Minister is saying, and I am reminded of an Evening Standard report—from earlier this year, I think—headed: “Home Office reveals new Criminal Finances Bill will target just 20 tycoons a year.” The report says that is based on the Home Office’s own impact assessment which

“predicts that the power will remain unused in its first year ‘as part of the learning curve’, and thereafter will be used in only 20 cases each year.”

That is because of resource implications, which is precisely the point raised by Richard Arkless. Does the Minister have any comment to make on that?

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

The impact assessment is not linked to access to funds. The impact assessment is a judgment as to how it would see these powers being used. Probably like the hon. Lady, I would like to see them used an awful lot more, but that is an impact assessment, and the NCA does not follow the impact assessment. If the evidence is presented or the cases are put before it that allow it to do 100, it will do 100. It is not restricted by the impact assessment. I would therefore not be too distracted by the London Evening Standard and the impact assessment.

Instead, I would focus on the fact that we have well resourced our law enforcement agencies to tackle this, and this Bill will give them the power. They have the political support of both sides of the House to exercise that power, so let us see how far we go. However, I would be delighted to join the hon. Lady in asking, in 12 months’ time or whenever the Bill goes through, why we have not used them more; I will be asking the NCA and all the other organisations to try to make sure they have done so.

The hon. Member for Swansea East made a point about the asset recovery incentivisation scheme, or ARIS, funding for the recovery of assets not really being worth the paper it was printed on—I think that was what she was trying to say, if she will forgive me for putting words in her mouth. However, since 2006, under an arrangement under her last Government, £764 million has gone into funding those law enforcement agencies, and in the last three years £257 million has gone in. Hopefully, with the new arrangement, above the baseline of, I think, £146 million—I will correct that in writing if it is not £146 million—100% will be kept.

We are also following on from the excellent reports from the Home Affairs Committee and the Public Accounts Committee looking into why we have not achieved enough in terms of confiscation orders and recovery of assets. I have told officials I am particularly concerned that it was suggested in one of those reports that the focus seemed to be on small assets—the collection rate was higher for smaller amounts of money, but lower among millionaires—and I have specifically directed officials that we must look at turning the tables. I want all assets collected that are subject to confiscation, but those reports are a good guideline and we did not ignore that specific point. We will certainly make sure that we build on it and improve on it, because there is money in it for us all, should we do it, and I am very keen that we should.

New clause 5, tabled by my hon. Friend Nigel Mills, seeks to prevent the courts from awarding uncapped costs against enforcement agencies when they have brought unsuccessful applications for unexplained wealth orders or related interim freezing orders. I appreciate that this is to ensure that law enforcement agencies do not feel constrained in their ability to apply for an unexplained wealth order, for fear of incurring financial liability. But, as law enforcement representatives told the Public Bill Committee in November, this is a natural part of the state wielding its investigative powers, and they are certainly not pressing for a provision of this type. It is a well-established principle that the losing party pays the winning party’s legal costs. This is an important check and balance on parties bringing spurious claims, or the state using its powers erroneously.

At the same time, the civil procedure rules do already allow for capping in exceptional circumstances, so law enforcement agencies would be able, as things stand, to apply for a cost-capping order in appropriate cases. I undertake to ensure that this point is included in the code of practice that will support the use of these orders. I trust that Members will agree that this is a far more sensible way forward than a blanket rule for all unexplained wealth order cases.

It is crucial that the initial cases are thoroughly developed to ensure that the orders have the greatest possible impact. We are already actively engaging with law enforcement officers and prosecutors to encourage the use of the new powers being introduced by the Bill. Ultimately, it will be for the enforcement authorities to decide when to use them, but we will—as, no doubt, will Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition—monitor and review the use of the orders once they have been introduced. This will inform future support or changes that may be needed to ensure that they are being used to maximum effect.

The hon. Member for Swansea East explained from the Opposition Front Bench the objective behind her amendment 1. However, as I explained when this issue arose in Committee, politically exposed persons in the UK and European economic area can, in fact, already be made subject to an unexplained wealth order. These orders can be made in two situations: first, where an individual is suspected of involvement in serious crime; and secondly, in relation to non-EEA politically exposed persons. An unexplained wealth order can thus be made in relation to politicians and senior officials in Europe, when they are suspected of being involved in serious criminality. In such an investigation, if evidence exists of links to serious organised crime, it should be available, obtainable and readily provided, and it would be unreasonable and disproportionate, for example, for Members of this House to be made subject to an order without any evidence of criminality.

However, for investigations into grand corruption involving countries outside Europe, including the developing world, that evidence is far less likely to be available. It will be much harder in some countries where corruption is endemic to get the evidence to bring to the court at first about wealth hidden in London. That is why we have chosen to have a lower threshold for evidence when applied to countries outside the EEA.

We should not forget that unexplained wealth orders are not an end in themselves; they are part of a process leading eventually, should those concerned not be able to give satisfactory answers, to another action in court to confiscate the assets. As I said when I met Ms Abbott to discuss this, I do not want unexplained wealth orders also to produce a lot of derelict empty buildings that are caught up in legal dispute and sitting around London being no good for anyone. I want these them to be used and be placed on people whom we have linked to serious crime, and then, should they not be able to satisfy the court, for us then to go to the next step and recover that asset, so that the houses and the housing market are freed up, and any money is returned to whoever it has been stolen from—a country, or other people. An order is therefore a step in the process, not an end in itself.

I hope that I have sufficiently reassured the House on these points, and that the Opposition will feel inclined to withdraw their amendment.

Question put and agreed to.

New clause 8 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 2