Clause 24 - Inadequacy of available amount:

Part of Proceeds of Crime Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:00 pm on 27 November 2001.

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Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 5:00, 27 November 2001

The confiscation system is designed to ensure that orders are not made for more than the value of the property available to justify them. However, it may happen that the realisable property, if assessed by the court at the defendant's request, loses its value before the order is fully satisfied. The clause therefore enables the court to reduce the amount payable. The clause is based on existing legislation with one important exception, which is worth flagging up at this point. We are transferring the functions currently dealt with by the High Court to the Crown court, making it the single venue for confiscatory procedures. As is well known, we have already made some general arguments in favour of the change. The change of venue from the High Court to the Crown court is particularly valuable. One of the weaknesses of the current system is that the Crown court makes the confiscation order, which is then enforced by a magistrates court. The result is that the Crown court loses touch with the order.

The hon. Gentleman raised several points that he has already mentioned. He raised again the issue of orders that have been placed on the defendant, which he believes should not be outside the confiscation proceedings. When orders have been made on the defendant for payment of fines, those fines must be excluded from the proceedings. Otherwise, we would be double counting and claiming back more than the proceeds of crime.

With regard to bankruptcy, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. If bankruptcy proceedings were to take precedence over confiscation proceedings—for example, in respect of property—long after a restraint order had been put on the property, a considerable number of people could come up with bankruptcy proceedings to prevent confiscation. When confiscatory proceedings have started, bankruptcy cannot then take precedence. It will not be possible to suggest that bankruptcy proceedings that started before confiscation proceedings should be disregarded and overridden by a confiscation procedure that starts after that date. I do not know how that could be achieved, but we are trying to close the potential loophole that he referred to by ensuring that bankruptcy proceedings cannot be used to provide a way out for people facing confiscation orders.

I do not know if I have satisfied the hon. Gentleman. He said before that he does not accept my points. I do not know what more I can say to satisfy him.