Clause 71 - Financial reporting orders: effect

Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 13th January 2005.

Alert me about debates like this

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

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I wish to raise an information point. The clause does not specify that financial reporting orders are to start at the end of the custodial sentence, even though that was the position set out in the White Paper. I raise the point noting that Liberty questions whether offenders in prison would be able to comply with the requirements of an order.

I shall be interested to hear the Minister's views. I think that, given that the Bill deals with serious organised crime, the provision is right and that it should be possible to place an FRO on a Mr. Big in prison, on the grounds that he could be running a drugs empire from prison. However, compliance might not be possible for the small criminal in prison who does not have an accountant. Considering the Minister's reluctance, under previous amendments, to address the question of limiting FROs to serious cases, the point perhaps becomes more relevant.

Could the Minister also look again at subsection (10)? Is the threat of an extra maximum of 51 weeks in prison enough of an incentive to ensure compliance with an FRO by a big criminal who has earned millions of pounds from illegal activity?

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

Our view, after some discussion, is that people in prison do manage to continue to oversee their financial activities in a number of ways. They may not have an accountant, but they have visits from family members and others. Considering the range of people who may be affected by a financial reporting   order, it is important to recognise that someone outside prison could squirrel away a huge amount of money, or transfer assets or put them in someone else's name, in order to continue the business in another form. We did not want to lose an opportunity to deal with that. I am glad to hear that in principle the hon. Gentleman sees merit in that argument.

On subsection (10), we have taken advice on a number of provisions in the Bill covering such offences such as, for instance, people not complying with disclosure orders or giving incorrect information. Subsection (10) was drafted after consultation with a number of different people, so I shall write to the hon. Gentleman to explain why we felt that it was appropriate.

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

Presumably, under subsection (10) the offence and the sentence can be applied each time a report is required. Therefore, a person in prison who continually fails to make their financial records available will simply stay in prison for a long time.

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

That sounds entirely logical. If people in prison do not comply with such a requirement for action, that would have to be looked into in terms of their prison sentence. As I said, I shall clarify the issue. However, if someone receives a prison sentence and is then given a financial reporting order with which they do not comply, that is a different offence. We have to be clear. I do not want to confuse matters, but I am happy to clarify that in a letter.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

I think that I understand what the Minister means. For a moment, it seemed she was suggesting that a person who did not comply with a reporting order would stay in prison for longer but on the existing sentence. I do not think that can be right. I want to clear it up, because I do not think that that is what the hon. Lady intended to say.

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

No, that is not what I meant. Obviously, the courts would impose a prison sentence and a financial reporting order, but the penalty for not complying with the reporting order is an add-on. I will write to both hon. Gentlemen to clarify that point a little further.

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Labour, Redcar

It is a small point, but the hon. Member for Huntingdon is conjuring with the notion of someone who does not have the resources to make a return. One defence to the charge of not making a return is reasonable excuse. That may offer some reassurance.

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

I am indebted to my hon. and learned Friend's expertise.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I was not suggesting a defence of being unable to comply. I was simply questioning whether it is fair that a small criminal, who does not have the resources of big criminals, should have to make such a report. Can they physically do it? The Minister said that they have researched the point and that the answer is yes. I am happy to accept that, but it is a slightly different issue.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 71 ordered to stand part of the Bill.