Clause 295 - Interest

Proceeds of Crime Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 10 January 2002.

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Amendment made: No. 446, in page 171, line 17, at end insert—

'( ) In the case of cash detained under section 294 which was seized under section 293(1A), the customs officer or constable must, on paying it into the account, release the part of the cash to which the suspicion does not relate'.—[Mr. Bob Ainsworth.]

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

I beg to move amendment No. 417, in page 171, line 18, leave out subsection (2).

The purpose of the amendment, which was, once again, helpfully drafted by the Law Society of Scotland, is to explore with the Minister the purpose of the exception in subsection (2). I appreciate that banknotes might have fingerprints on them and might be required as exhibits in a court case. Perhaps that is the reason for subsection (2)—the Minister will tell us in a moment. If it is not, we would be concerned that there should be any other reason why any cash, even if it is involved in another case, should not bear interest.

We agree with the main provision of subsection (1).

We believe that it is right to put such cash in interest-bearing accounts so that interest is added if the cash is subsequently released. I am not merely probing, and I should like to hear what the Minister says on the subject.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I shall apply my non-lawyer's untidy mind to the hon. Gentleman's question.

The amendment would require the police and Customs to pay all cash seized under clause 293 into an interest-bearing account. That would result in the original cash being lost in every case. In most circumstances, the cash will be paid into an interest-bearing account, thus accruing interest as compensation for cash that is released and not ultimately forfeited. The Government recognise that that is an important protective measure. However, we do not accept that the provision should override the powers provided under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which allows material that has evidential value to be retained for an investigation or trial.

The same principle should apply if cash is needed as evidence in detention and forfeiture proceedings brought under chapter 3 of part 5. It is not difficult to foresee circumstances in which seized cash will have evidential value. In such cases, the cash will need to be retained for that purpose. Indeed, PACE requires as much for material seized under that legislation. The most obvious example is one in which traces of drugs—or fingerprints, as the hon. Gentleman said—are present on the cash. In such circumstances, the police and Customs will need to retain the cash as evidence.

The cash may be needed as evidence in proceedings under the scheme. For example, the amount and the form of the cash may be disputed. In such circumstances, the court may require the cash as evidence on that point. The same approach is taken in the equivalent scheme for terrorist cash in paragraph 4(3) of schedule 1 to the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001.

If the cash is not ultimately forfeited, compensation to the value of the lost interest—and more, in exceptional circumstances—will still be available under clause 300. The hon. Gentleman may have misunderstood that. I have tabled a Government amendment to clause 300 to make that explicit. There is a safeguard for the cash, even if it is not paid into an interest-bearing account because it is retained as evidence. In light of that, I hope that he will withdraw the amendment.

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

The Minister satisfied me by mentioning banknotes that might have traces of drugs on them. That was the point to which I was referring. If banknotes are to be retained as exhibits in a trial, there is reason to have them available.

The Minister has reassured me about the aim of the provision. It might have been made clearer if subsection (2) had mentioned using cash as exhibits. Perhaps he will consider the matter. I have looked at the Government amendment to clause 300, and as he rightly says, it provides a further safeguard. I ask him

to reconsider whether the wording would be clearer if exhibits were mentioned as an example of—although not as the exclusive reason—why cash might be retained. We may return to the issue, and the Government should consider tabling a further amendment. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: No. 446, in page 171, line 17, at end insert—

'( ) In the case of cash detained under section 294 which was seized under section 293(1A), the customs officer or constable must, on paying it into the account, release the part of the cash to which the suspicion does not relate'.

No. 447, in page 171, line 18, after 'cash' insert

'or, as the case may be, the part to which the suspicion relates'.—[Mr. Bob Ainsworth.]

Clause 295, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.