Clause 88 - Mutual assistance in freezing

Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 13th January 2005.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

I tabled an amendment that would have deleted the clause, but that was not my purpose. I really wanted to alert the Minister to the fact that I should like an explanation about what is intended. As I understand clause 88, it puts into effect the Council framework decision 2003/577/JHA, which must be accomplished by primary legislation because it falls outside the scope of ordinary European Union directives. It deals with the execution in this country of orders freezing property or evidence. It would useful if she could outline how she expects the system to work in practice before we enact an important piece of primary legislation.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

Much of our discussion has been about recognising the way in which organised crime works. It is global activity, trading and working across national borders, so we need an international approach to tackling it. The clause embraces that approach, allowing the UK to implement obligations arising from the EU framework decision on freezing property and evidence. The key objective of this EU decision is to establish the rules by which member   states recognise and execute in their respective territories freezing orders issued by the judicial authority of another member state. Such freezing is vital if property which would be liable to confiscation as the proceeds of crime is not to disappear. This is a significant example of what can be achieved through co-operation between member states, based on the principle of mutual recognition in criminal matters.

That approach was endorsed by the EU Heads of State and Heads of Government at the European Council in Tampere on 15 and 16 October 1999, assuming that competences in the decision to be recognised and acted on would always be taken in compliance with the principles of legality, subsidiarity and proportionality. The clause allows the Secretary of State, or Scottish Ministers, to implement these obligations by order under the affirmative resolution procedure, rather than by having to enact primary legislation. The power vested in the clause to create such provisions is also subject to certain qualified restrictions. We therefore envisage it enabling the UK to freeze property or assets suspected to be the proceeds of crime more quickly and with less formality than at present. Such freezing should only be a short-term and temporary measure, and must be followed up quickly by a formal request for confiscation. It is something that we and our European colleagues will gain from. I hope that that answers the hon. Gentleman's query.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

I simply raise this question as the devil always lies in the detail. I want to make it clear that I am not objecting to the Council framework decision 2003/577/JHA, but if its enactment is going to be complex, I would usually think it good for that to be done in primary legislation. The problem, as the Minister knows, is that its enactment is not simple and we have the opportunity only for a short debate on a statutory instrument. From my experience, that is when we start making mistakes. Would it not be better to have primary legislation to initiate what is quite an important piece of an international co-operation treaty that is to be enacted into British law?

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

The implementation of the framework decision on property that is liable to confiscation is particularly complex given our own extensive provisions in the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 and the differing powers enjoyed by other EU member states. I fear it has not been possible to finalise our proposals in time for this Bill. Had we included any such provision, it would have considerably lengthened and complicated the entire measure. Similar consideration did not arise as regards implementation in the context of terrorist property and evidence, which was achieved in the Crime (International Co-operation) Act 2003. As I said, the affirmative resolution measure also allows for debate in Parliament.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Will the Minister assure us that any secondary legislation will be based on full reciprocity with applicable measures of other states?

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)


Question put and agreed to.

Clause 88 ordered to stand part of the Bill.