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Clause 147 - Value of tainted gifts

Proceeds of Crime Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:15 pm on 6th December 2001.

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Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes Minister of State, Scottish Office, Minister of State (Scotland Office) 4:15 pm, 6th December 2001

I beg to move amendment No. 258, in page 89, line 28, leave out subsections (3) and (4).

Clause 147 deals with the value of tainted gifts. The amendment will delete subsections (3) and (4) because they are inconsistent with the rules about the value of tainted gifts in subsections (1) and (2). It will bring clause 147 in line with clause 81 in part 2.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 4:30 pm, 6th December 2001

Perhaps I will not talk as quickly as the Minister. The subject is of legitimate wider interest to the Committee and I am intrigued about the way in which the Scottish system operated. The situation is rather like looking at a priceless work of literature that is about to be burned and wondering whether there is any use that can be derived from it before it goes and we would have to go into the deep archives to resurrect it. [Interruption.]

Photo of Mr John McWilliam Mr John McWilliam Labour, Blaydon

Order. Conversation is breaking out in the Committee. Some hon. Members are getting demob happy. I tell the hon. Member for Beaconsfield that I have read more interesting priceless works of literature than this Bill.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Subsection (3) states:

''Where the recipient of a tainted gift of money shows, on the balance of probabilities, that all or any part of the money has not been used to purchase goods or services or to earn interest or any other return, the value of the gift or, as the case may be, that part of it is to be taken as the face value of the money or part of the money.''

Although that is bizarrely worded, it suggests that the Scots have a system in which, if a person received a tainted gift—we discussed this matter at great length on Tuesday—they would not to have to make good the shortfall at the time that the gift was handed back. I may be wrong about that, but it would happen if subsection (3) were not deleted. Could that assist us when we consider ways in which to improve the Bill, which the Minister has undertaken to do?

[Mr. Ian Davidson in the Chair]

Similarly, subsection (4) states:

''In deciding the value of a tainted gift the court may disregard the amount, or part of the amount, of the gift if it considers it improbable that the amount or part could be realised.''

That is an added protection for the recipient of a tainted gift when a valuation is made.

I ask the Ministers to consider whether this little bit of Scottishness that is about to be disposed of could assist us in examining how we may temper the full force and rigour of the law on tainted gifts. I am conscious that I may not have fully understood the purpose of subsections (3) and (4). However, it would be useful for us to pause and consider the matter before the subsections disappear.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

I simply follow up what my hon. Friend said. I have compared clauses 81 and 147. When the Minister responds, will he expand on what he said when he moved the amendment?[Mr. John McWilliam in the Chair]

[Mr. John McWilliam in the Chair]

The Minister said that subsections (3) and (4) must be removed because they are inconsistent with subsections (1) and (2). If that is the case, I do not understand what subsections (3) and (4) were doing in the Bill in the first place. If they were already inconsistent with subsections (1) and (2), we are not simply tidying up, and nor are we moving the Scottish system back towards the English system. He seems to be saying that subsections (3) and (4) should never have been in the Bill in the first place. There are no equivalent subsections in clause 81, either. Either subsections (3) and (4) should never have been included, or there is a more expansive explanation than the one that the Minister has given. My hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield is right to think that there is more to the matter than mere inconsistency; we may be about to lose what my hon. Friend rightly calls a little piece of Scottishness. [Interruption.]

Photo of Ian Davidson Ian Davidson Labour/Co-operative, Glasgow Pollok

I really do not know why the Chairman allowed you to speak on this subject. You seem to be belabouring the point about Scottishness that the hon. Member for Beaconsfield made so much work of earlier. The fact that the Scottish legal system was written so strongly into the Act of Union is one of the earliest and best examples of the self-interest of the Scottish lawyers who determine public policy. That is not necessarily something to be commended.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

The hon. Gentleman has, unwisely, repeatedly referred to the Chairman. He probably meant me, not the Chairman, when he used the word ''you''.

Photo of Mr John McWilliam Mr John McWilliam Labour, Blaydon

Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman was referring to himself.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

He said that he did not know why the Chairman allowed me to speak, and subsequently referred to ''you''. I think that he was referring to me then, and not to you, Mr. McWilliam. In a sedentary comment, my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield rightly said just now that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson) could be described as a little piece of Scottishness himself.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes Minister of State, Scottish Office, Minister of State (Scotland Office)

The previous few exchanges were almost as confusing as the reason why the content of subsections (3) and (4) is included in clause 147 but not in clause 81. We are certainly not burning books. In fact, as Christmas is approaching I was delighted to see that the hon. Member for Henley is signing copies of his book. I hope that there will be presents for all of us.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

I fear that if my hon. Friend were to give all of us copies, he would have to double the print requirement.

Mr. Foulkes rose—

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

On a visit to my local bookshop in Camberley, I noticed that there was only one copy left of the excellent book written by my hon. Friend the Member for Henley. On a second visit, even that last copy had gone. Contrary to the belief of my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster, my hon. Friend's great work is undoubtedly becoming a bestseller.

Photo of Mr John McWilliam Mr John McWilliam Labour, Blaydon

Order. For the sake of clarity, is the hon. Gentleman telling the Committee that he did not buy the book himself?

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes Minister of State, Scottish Office, Minister of State (Scotland Office)

We hope that if we do receive the books, they will not be tainted gifts—I said that just to prove that the discussion is in order, Mr. McWilliam.

Photo of Ian Davidson Ian Davidson Labour/Co-operative, Glasgow Pollok

I hope that the hon. Member for Henley is not signing his books before he colours them in.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes Minister of State, Scottish Office, Minister of State (Scotland Office)

I think that we have exhausted that topic.

Mr. Johnson rose—

Photo of Mr John McWilliam Mr John McWilliam Labour, Blaydon

I call the hon. Member for Henley. I shall be intrigued to see how he keeps his comments in order.

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Conservative, Henley

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way to me—and for promoting my book in this distinguished Committee. It is available at £14.99, but I shall offer it to the Minister as a Christmas present if he can explain, in simple English, what subsection (3) means, why it is there, and why he now proposes to remove it. If he can do that in two succinct paragraphs—

Photo of Mr John McWilliam Mr John McWilliam Labour, Blaydon

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman was not implying that the Committee is available for £14.99.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes Minister of State, Scottish Office, Minister of State (Scotland Office)

The hon. Member for Henley is offering a tremendous incentive, but I am afraid that I am going to fail the test, so I shall have to find £14.99 and buy a copy of the book. I hope that he will sign it, none the less.

My spies—the people who have been pursuing the matter on my behalf—tell me that subsections (3) and (4) have been included because they were in previous Scottish legislation, and for no other reason, whereas clause 81 follows previous English legislation. We should delete the two subsections, but, in the spirit of Christmas, I shall make an offer to the hon. Member for Beaconsfield: I shall revisit the matter as part of our reconsideration of how to deal with gifts, which we promised when we were discussing part 2.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I am grateful to the Minister. That is all I wanted. When he does that, will he ask his officials what subsections (3) and (4) were designed to achieve? Will he let me, and even my hon. Friend the Member for Henley, know the answer? My hon. Friend might then repent, and decide to give him the book after all.

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Conservative, Henley

Or include him in my next book.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

If he told us, it would also be helpful if we are to consider how to improve this part of the Bill.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes Minister of State, Scottish Office, Minister of State (Scotland Office)

Now I really have an incentive. What kind of books does the hon. Member for Henley write? I would like to know before I appear in them. We need to resolve this mystery. I would find it interesting to do so, as would the hon. Member for Beaconsfield and some of our officials. Let us see if we can find out, and I shall enlighten the Committee in writing, or orally on a subsequent occasion.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

When the Minister was musing about what sort of book my hon. Friend writes, it occurred to me that, as my hon. Friend's excellent tome was called ''Friends, Voters and Countrymen'' the next one should be called ''Ministers, Officials and Committee Members''.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 147, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 148 ordered to stand part of the Bill.