Serious Fraud Office

Criminal Finances Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:15 pm on 17th November 2016.

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

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

That schedule 1 be the First schedule to the Bill.

Clauses 15 and 16 stand part.

Government amendment 11.

Government new clause 9—Immigration officers.

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

We come to chapter 4 of the Bill. This group concerns clauses 14 to 16, schedule 1, amendment 11 and new clause 9, which relate to provisions that grant officers of a number of agencies access to new powers under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

Clause 14 and schedule 1 amend POCA to grant officers of the Serious Fraud Office direct access to the wide range of powers under POCA without the unnecessary existing step of them having first to be accredited and monitored as accredited financial investigators by the National Crime Agency. We are also granting officers access to the new powers proposed elsewhere in the Bill, including the power to extend the moratorium period under clause 9 and the new seizure and forfeiture powers in clauses 12 and 13.

It is, of course, only right that those using the intrusive powers provided by POCA are trained and monitored to ensure that the powers are not misused. However, officers of the SFO are experienced and well trained in the use of POCA powers and have appropriate oversight arrangements.

Clauses 15 and 16 amend part 5 of POCA to grant the powers for the civil recovery of assets to both HMRC and the Financial Conduct Authority. Expanding the civil recovery powers to HMRC and the FCA will improve both the capability and capacity for civil recovery. It will ensure they have access to the full suite of investigatory powers to support them in their civil recovery investigations. The use of those powers is governed by an existing code of practice, which will be amended. The Bill will also enable the SFO, HMRC and the FCA to apply for unexplained wealth orders. As we have discussed, the civil recovery provisions in POCA are robust and powerful, and giving additional bodies access to those powers will strengthen the UK’s overall response to serious and organised crime.

Clauses 12 and 13 provide for new freezing, seizure and forfeiture powers. At present, the Bill allows the police, the National Crime Agency, the SFO and accredited financial investigators to use those powers. Amendment 11 and new clause 9 will extend the use of those important new powers to immigration officers to support their investigations into immigration offences and to take action against criminal property that is the proceeds of immigration crime, or that is being used to fund further immigration offences. Those officers will also be able to seize suspected criminal property obtained through offences unrelated to immigration if they encounter them during immigration investigations. The amendment will strengthen the UK’s ability to tackle money laundering and will allow for the seizure of more criminal assets.

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Crime and Prevention)

We will support the clause. However, the amendment will lead to an increased workload for agencies such as the SFO and others. Our new clause will be debated later, but we would like an assurance that the blockbuster funding model that they currently operate, which seems to momentarily splash cash, will be replaced with some sort of consistent funding model, because their workload is going to increase and the investigation time in the courts is increasing. That is my only caveat.

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

In response to the hon. Lady, some of the measures in the Bill actually make their jobs easier. Although it might give them more people to catch, the fact that they are going to have disclosure orders and that they will be able to use things such as unexplained wealth orders as an investigatory measure, and the fact that we are going to improve the subject access request data sharing regime, so that the private sector produces more quality referrals rather than just a blurb of quality, will hopefully make their jobs easier when it comes to an investigation. In one sense, all of those barriers that they have to get through at the moment will be removed, which, hopefully, will make them more productive.

I recognise the hon. Lady’s point about the funding of the SFO and other agencies. Under the comprehensive spending review and the SDSR, we found quite a lot. SFO officers are already doing this work. It is here to be—[Interruption.] My writing is appalling. One of the reasons we want to remove their need be accredited financial investigators is that that is another hurdle that will get in their way and make them less productive, so we have removed some of those issues.

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Crime and Prevention)

It is the NCA as well. Both of those big reports from the Home Affairs Committee and the Public Accounts Committee said that there should be more consistent funding, but I am not going to let that niggle get in the way right now because we have a whole clause on that coming at the end.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 14 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 1 agreed to.

Clauses 15 and 16 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 17