Amendment 101A

Victims and Prisoners Bill - Report (3rd Day) – in the House of Lords at 4:07 pm on 30 April 2024.

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Lord Garnier:

Moved by Lord Garnier

101A: After Clause 27, insert the following new Clause—“Compensation for victims of fraud and other economic crimes(1) The Secretary of State must, within one year of the passing of this Act, lay before Parliament a review of victims of fraud, bribery and money laundering offences.(2) The purpose of the review under subsection (1) is to identify how victims of such economic crimes could be better compensated without such victims needing to pursue civil action.(3) The Secretary of State must provide for a public consultation on the review.(4) In this section “victims of economic crime” includes United Kingdom and overseas victims of complex corruption cases where the harm caused by the offending is not easily quantifiable.”Member’s explanatory statementThis new Clause requires a review to explore how domestic and overseas victims of fraud, bribery and money laundering offences could be better compensated without the need for civil proceedings to recover their losses or compensation.

Photo of Lord Garnier Lord Garnier Conservative

My Lords, I wonder whether I can achieve such a satisfactory result at the end of my little outing.

For my noble friends on the Front Bench, listening to me speaking about this subject, which includes the proposed new clause in my Amendment 101A, it must seem as though they are listening to a cracked record—but for me it is like banging my head against a brick wall. For both of us, it will be nice when it stops.

In brief, my proposed new clause intends to require

“a review to explore how domestic and overseas victims of fraud, bribery and money laundering offences could be better compensated without the need for civil proceedings to recover their losses or compensation”.

I will hardly speak at all about the reasons behind the amendment and the good sense for it, because I already did so in Committee and trailed it, more or less verbatim, prior to that at Second Reading in December. Your Lordships will be pleased to hear that I will not say it a third time. However, what I will say a third time is a matter of formality relevant to the amendment: I declare my interest as a member of the Bar who practises in the field of economic crime.

I thank my noble friend Lord Roborough on the Front Bench, who very kindly arranged for me and Sam Tate—the partner of Reynolds Porter Chamberlain, RPC, the London law firm, who has studied this question with me and others—to meet him last week, along with a number of his officials. We had a very useful and friendly discussion, as one would expect. The conclusion was that there would need to be—guess what?—further discussions before the Government would be prepared to do very much.

I fully understand, and I fully understood then, the difficulties in which the Minister found himself in having the discretion to move this thing forward, but I think we both understand that this needs to be dealt with. It is a matter of morality and good law, and it has nothing whatever to do with party politics. This is not an area of political discord but just a matter of common sense and getting it done.

Essentially, I am trying to make it possible for the victims of fraud and other economic offences that impact on people overseas to be compensated by our English courts. The headline points are these. According to research done by Sam Tate and others at RPC, approximately £1.5 billion has been paid by corporates in fines and disgorgements of profits in the United Kingdom in relation to international corruption cases over the last 10 years, but only 1.4% of that money—about £20 million —has been paid to overseas state victims in compensation.

As I said, I will not repeat what I said at Second Reading and in Committee about the complications that may follow with trying to arrange for compensation to overseas victims to be implemented. It is not an utterly easy thing to do but, equally, it is not utterly difficult. It just requires effort, political will and drive. I hope that the meeting I had with my noble friend the Minister last week and the brevity of my remarks today will encourage the Government to just use a bit of oomph to get this thing going.

If the public listened to what I am saying now— I quite appreciate that they do not—they would realise that it is mad that we prosecute people here for things they did overseas but we do not compensate the victims who are overseas. There are hospitals and schools to be built, and other infrastructure and good causes to benefit from the compensation that ought to be paid.

I will leave it there, because I know that my noble friend the Minister would like to say some very encouraging things about what the Government are going to do, very shortly and certainly before the election, to ensure that this programme is moved forward. I have a draft letter, which I will send to the chairman of the Sentencing Council and which my noble friend has seen; he has heard all my arguments many times before. I just hope that, this third time, I will be able to persuade him to move a little more than an inch towards that milepost that I can see not very far away. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Roborough Lord Roborough Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend Lord Garnier for raising this issue in Amendment 101A and for taking the time to meet me the other day to discuss this important issue further. As he is well aware, cases linked to foreign bribery are inherently complex, and the suggestion and detail that he has provided are being given careful consideration by my officials. Given the range of departmental interests engaged, His Majesty’s Government need to give it the consideration it is owed and welcome further conversations once they have digested my noble and learned friend’s points further. I will briefly lay out the Government’s position, which I did not cover fully in Committee.

His Majesty’s Government are fully committed to identifying potential victims and utilising suitable means to return money and/or compensate victims in line with international provisions, per the Government’s framework for transparent asset returns. As a signatory to the UN Convention against Corruption, the UK places great importance on the recovery and return of the proceeds of corruption to those affected by bribery, embezzlement of public funds, money laundering, trading in influence and other abuses of official functions. The UK is obligated to return funds where the conditions for mandatory return are met. However, the UK also exercises its discretion to return funds in appropriate cases when it is not otherwise mandated to do so. Transparency and accountability are critical principles which the UK applies to its work under the UN Convention against Corruption and in providing redress for victims of corruption crimes under the convention. It is also right that any avenue of redress should embody those principles in the UK for victims of crimes.

His Majesty’s Government are also actively engaged with our international partners and regularly seek out opportunities to learn and share best practice with them on how to address this inherently complex issue. As my noble and learned friend Lord Garnier will be aware, in cases where there are overseas victims, the Serious Fraud Office, Crown Prosecution Service and National Crime Agency compensation principles have committed law enforcement bodies to ensuring that compensation for overseas victims of economic crime is considered in every relevant case and that the available legal mechanisms are used whenever appropriate to secure it. This provides the most appropriate and suitable mechanism for compensation to be considered, and it works.

Further to this, development of a new anti-corruption strategy is well under way, with publication expected shortly. The new strategy will build on progress made in the 2017 strategy and set out how the Government will go further to counter corruption. The strategy will consider steps to prevent institutions being corrupted, bring corrupt actors to justice, address the harms to victims and combat corruption internationally. His Majesty’s Government also regularly engage with and welcome the views of civil society on issues of this nature and will continue to do so.

As I have previously set out, extensive work is being undertaken to strengthen the rights of victims through legislative vehicles which are still undergoing implementation. I therefore do not believe that it is appropriate for a legislatively required review to be introduced at this time. However, my noble and learned friend has raised some excellent and well-considered points which I know my officials would welcome further discussion on. I hope that this provides him with some reassurance. I therefore respectfully ask him to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Lord Garnier Lord Garnier Conservative 4:15, 30 April 2024

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend on the Front Bench for his response. I take on board precisely what he has said. This is complicated but it is not as complicated as he perhaps has been led to believe. It is easy to say that it is all too difficult, put it into the “too difficult” box and leave it. I simply urge my noble friend the Minister to move it just a bit into the “let’s have a look at it quite seriously” box. There is an awful lot of good that we can do, both for the victims of such overseas criminal activity and for our reputation as an honest place in which to do business and from which to do business.

I have troubled the House about this subject quite enough during this Bill, so will draw my remarks to an end by asking the leave of the House to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 101A withdrawn.

Clause 28: Meaning of “major incident” etc