Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 29th November 2022.
‘(1) The Secretary of State must, no later than 90 days from the date on which this Act comes into force, publish and lay before Parliament a strategy for the potential establishment of a fund for the compensation of victims of economic crime.
(2) The strategy may include provisions on the management and disposal of any assets realised by the government, or any body with law enforcement responsibilities in relation to economic crime, under relevant UK legislation.’—
This new clause would require the Secretary of State to prepare and publish a strategy on the potential establishment of a fund to provide compensation to victims of economic crime.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
As this is the last time I will be on my feet, I thank the Committee; it has been an excellent set of debates, and I look forward to further constructive engagement with the Government on these matters.
The context of new clause 84 is the devastation caused by Putin’s barbaric and illegal war for the lives and livelihoods of Ukraine’s population. This demands a concerted cross-party and international effort, of which the UK should be at the forefront, as the staggering costs of reconstruction are sure to remain a key challenge long after the war itself has reached its inevitable end.
The new clause would require the Government to prepare and publish a wide-ranging strategy for efforts to ensure that the necessary financial compensation is made available to victims of economic crime, wherever they may be. This could and should be applied to victims of international crimes, of which the war in Ukraine is without doubt an example, but it could be applied more broadly as a means of providing a measure of justice to the victims of any other kleptocratic regimes around the world. The new clause would provide a mechanism for compensating victims of economic crime in the UK, including the thousands, or perhaps even millions, of British victims of online scams and other kinds of fraud. We therefore commend the new clause to the Committee, and I look forward to the Minister’s response.
If this is indeed the last opportunity I have to speak in the Committee, I thank the Ministers. I hope they have been listening closely to what we recommend and will bring back amendments on Report. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North for being so patient and helpful in supporting me throughout the passage of the Bill.
The new clause gets to the heart of the matter. Victims of economic crime often receive very little compensation but suffer greatly from the impact of the crime. It can be devastating for people, both financially and personally, and they are deeply affected by it for the rest of their lives, so anything that will go towards helping to compensate those victims seems like a sensible prospect.
As this is probably the last time I will speak in the Committee, I thank you, Mr Robertson. I also thank the right hon. Member for Barking for her input into the Bill not just today, but over many years and as Chair of the Public Accounts Committee. The way in which she has championed tackling economic crime, drawn the House’s attention to it, and focused the country on the real threats that we have faced has been impressive to us all, and I am personally enormously grateful to her. She certainly helped my work enormously when I chaired the Foreign Affairs Committee, and she has now helped to focus my work as a Minister. I am very grateful that I have had the privilege of working with her.
I forgot to thank you, Mr Robertson, for chairing the Committee and for showing such an interest in what we are doing. I also thank the Ministers and Members of all parties who have spoken and participated. I look forward to working further to get even more into the Bill.
If anybody thinks that I was trying to soft-soap the right hon. Lady in order to shut her up in future sittings, they do not know her very well. It would have not worked, and I have not tried it. All I have done is to pay credit to somebody who has definitely earned it. I also thank my fellow Minister and the Whips, who have got us through at lightning speed.
On the new clause, the powers in part 4 already increase the focus on victims. The compensation principles of the Serious Fraud Office, CPS, the National Crime Agency and others have committed law enforcement bodies to ensuring that compensation for economic crime is considered in every relevant case, including where there are overseas victims, so I believe that the Bill already focuses on many of the aspects that we have discussed. That said, we are coming to Report. As always, I will be listening, but I have yet to be convinced about the new clause, because I believe that it has largely been covered.
Has the Minister any thoughts on the international forums that have been set up—for example, the Russian Elites, Proxies, and Oligarchs Taskforce and the European Commission’s Freeze and Seize Taskforce. What contribution are the UK Government planning to make to those processes?
I can speak directly to that, because I have recently had a meeting about it with other Governments and other jurisdictions. So far, many people have come up with ways to freeze assets. That is not a particular challenge; the UK does so very actively. Seizing and forfeiting in totality is a different challenge, because it depends on ownership and on many aspects of common law jurisdiction that we would not want to understate. I assure the hon. Gentleman honestly that I have not given up on this, because compensation for the victims in Ukraine is the very least that we should expect, as he correctly identified. Ukraine’s inevitable victory, which is absolutely assured, leads us to start thinking about how we reconstruct that extraordinary country. It is clear that Russian state assets held abroad—some, sadly, are held in the UK—should go some way to contributing to that.
That said, how do we construct the legal arguments to ensure that that is possible? They need to be in keeping with British common law, for obvious reasons. We do not want a jurisdiction of forfeiture; we want a jurisdiction of law. There is more work to be done, therefore. We are working very closely with other common law jurisdictions, such as Australia, Canada and, indeed, the United States. There is an ongoing discussion, but it is not quite as straightforward as I would have hoped.
I have no further comments, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.