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General Committees

Debated on Wednesday 26 May 2021

Delegated Legislation Committee

Draft Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Investigative Powers of Prosecutors: Code of Practice) Order 2021 Draft Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Search, Seizure and Detention of Property: Code of Practice) (Northern Ireland) Order 2021 Draft Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Cash Searches: Code of Practice) Order 2021 Draft Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Investigations: Code of Practice) Order 2021 Draft Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Recovery of Listed Assets: Code of Practice) Order 2021

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: †Clive Efford

Bryant, Chris (Rhondda) (Lab)

† Caulfield, Maria (Lewes) (Con)

† Elmore, Chris (Ogmore) (Lab)

† Foster, Kevin (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department)

Harris, Rebecca (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

Holmes, Paul (Eastleigh) (Con)

Jarvis, Dan (Barnsley Central) (Lab)

McCabe, Steve (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab)

† McGinn, Conor (St Helens North) (Lab)

Mak, Alan (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

Mann, Scott (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

Morris, James (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

† Pursglove, Tom (Corby) (Con)

Rutley, David (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

Thomson, Richard (Gordon) (SNP)

Tomlinson, Michael (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

Yasin, Mohammad (Bedford) (Lab)

George Wilson, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Fourth Delegated Legislation Committee

Wednesday 26 May 2021

[Clive Efford in the Chair]

Draft Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Investigative Powers of Prosecutors: Code of Practice) Order 2021

Before we begin, I remind Members to observe social distancing and sit in places that are clearly marked. I also remind Members that Mr Speaker has stated that masks should be worn in Committee unless Members are speaking or they are medically exempt. Hansard colleagues would be most grateful if Members could send their speaking notes to hansardnotes@ parliament.uk.

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Investigative Powers of Prosecutors: Code of Practice) Order 2021.

With this it will be convenient to consider the draft Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Search, Seizure and Detention of Property: Code of Practice) (Northern Ireland) Order 2021, the draft Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Cash Searches: Code of Practice) Order 2021, the draft Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Investigations: Code of Practice) Order 2021 and the draft Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Recovery of Listed Assets: Code of Practice) Regulations 2021.

It is a pleasure, as always, to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford. Taking wide-ranging action to crack down on crime and make our communities safer is top of the Government’s agenda. One important part of that mission is our drive to stay one step ahead of criminals seeking to move, hide or use the proceeds of their illegal activities and to frustrate attempts by law enforcement agencies to recover them.

The Criminal Finances Act 2017 was introduced to amend the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 and to improve significantly the UK’s ability to trace and recover the proceeds of crime effectively. The Criminal Finances Act has not been fully commenced, though, in Northern Ireland. Some aspects of it—the counter-terrorist financing and tax evasion provisions—were commenced, but provisions with devolved elements, primarily those pertaining to asset recovery, are still outstanding.

Members of the Committee may recall that the Northern Ireland Assembly was dissolved during the passage of the Criminal Finances Bill, meaning that it was not possible to secure a legislative consent motion in Northern Ireland. It was decided that the provisions that related to devolved matters should remain in the Bill, and at the time the Government indicated to Parliament that they would not commence provisions on matters devolved to Northern Ireland without the appropriate consent having been obtained first.

Following the reconstitution of the Assembly, I am pleased to advise the Committee that, even in the absence of a mechanism to seek legislative consent in retrospect, Northern Ireland’s Justice Minister agreed that the outstanding powers should be commenced on behalf of the all-party Executive. After engagement with the Northern Ireland Executive Committee and the Justice Committee, and advising all Northern Ireland Assembly Members, she asked the Home Secretary to commence the relevant provisions. We plan to commence the powers on 28 June 2021.

I am therefore pleased to introduce the draft instruments that we are debating today, which form part of the package of legislation required to complete commencement of the provisions in Northern Ireland. The draft instruments will each bring one of five distinct codes of practice into force. Each of the five codes of practice has been revised to reflect the extension of the Criminal Finances Act powers to Northern Ireland. Some further minor amendments, for clarity only, have also been made.

The measures before us do not alter the powers available; they only clarify the relevant codes of practice in the light of the extension of outstanding Criminal Finances Act 2017 powers to Northern Ireland, which must be done by affirmative statutory instruments in this instance. I hope that they will be uncontroversial, and commend them to the Committee.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford, and to speak for the official Opposition on this important set of orders, which, as we have heard, have the shared purpose of bringing into force five updated Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 codes of practice, reflecting the extension of the Criminal Finances Act 2017 provisions to Northern Ireland.

I want to make it clear from the outset, not unexpectedly, that we fully support today’s orders. The wider provisions are about dealing with serious criminality, and deterring individuals from stepping into it, notably by confiscating their ill-gotten proceeds of crime, and enabling money laundering and terrorist financing to be better tackled. It is welcome that Northern Ireland is now finally able to access the full stretch of Criminal Finances Act powers that have been available to law enforcement agencies and prosecutors elsewhere in the UK for some time.

It is good to see that the provisions of the orders have gained consent from the Northern Ireland Assembly in the somewhat unusual retrospective way that we have discussed, and gained support from the Minister of Justice, Naomi Long. I understand that she initially asked for the powers to be extended back in June 2020, so could the Under-Secretary explain why there was a delay, and whether there were specific reasons for that?

The Opposition support the orders, but I am sure that the Minister will understand that I have several questions, which I hope he can address. As always, in these strange times, given the absence of officials, I am very happy for him to write to me if he cannot answer all of my questions now.

Can the Minister update the Committee on how the Criminal Finances Act 2017 is operating across the UK? Are law enforcement agencies happy with it? Are they being given the tools, resources and training needed to engage fully with it? Is the legislation meeting its full potential? Is it having an impact? I note that the Treasury’s money laundering and terrorist financing risk assessment, published six months ago in December 2020, commented that such illicit activity had only increased—a worrying conclusion.

Can the Minister say how many unexplained wealth orders have been issued? My understanding is that the answer is only four, which seems at first sight relatively few. I noted in the debate on the orders in the other place that Baroness Williams was questioned on Sir Craig Mackey’s independent review of serious and organised crime. Bar the executive summary that we have seen, that review remains unpublished. It includes key findings on funding for law enforcement to tackle serious and organised criminality. Disappointingly, Baroness Williams said that the full review would remain unpublished, although, apparently, relevant partners have been given full sight of it.

I say gently to the Minister, and I have raised this on the floor of the House in another debate, that it is right that the Government can expect the Opposition’s support on such matters, but it is also right that the Opposition invoke what I believe is our entitlement to have the relevant information that we need from the Government. Perhaps we might be able to discuss how the Government might share with the shadow Home Secretary on Privy Council terms, or through a briefing for the wider shadow Home Office team, some of the contents of that report. In the spirit of co-operation on such important issues in the best interests of the country we should be able to share information in an environment of trust. I am sure that we can work out the specific arrangements that are required.

The Opposition fully support today’s orders, and welcome the introduction of the provisions to Northern Ireland at long last. When there is a lot of political discourse around issues that some have in Northern Ireland with the protocol and the continuing threat against police officers from dissident republicans—obviously the issue with the protocol is from loyalists—it is important that we should remember that the motivation for a great number of those people is criminality and illicit activity. The Government should give no credence to paramilitaries who are masquerading as spokespersons for their community. They do not speak for their community, so let us not give them the attention that they crave and desire.

Confiscating the ill-gotten proceeds of criminality and paramilitarism and tackling money laundering and the financing of terrorism remains a key challenge and urgent priority, and we of course welcome the powers that the provisions bring to that task.

As always in such debates, I begin by thanking the Official Opposition spokesperson, the hon. Member for St. Helens North, for his constructive approach to such matters. As he says, there is certainly no division between the Opposition and Government in the drive to tackle serious criminality and ensure that those who have made ill-gotten gains from their criminal activities, in some cases in the millions, are tracked down to recover that money. It is very welcome that the provisions of the orders are now extended to Northern Ireland.

The hon. Gentleman noted that the first request to extend those powers to Northern Ireland was made in June 2020. I hope that he accepts that the past year has been a rather unusual one in the parliamentary landscape, not least in our ability to introduce secondary legislation, as evidenced by this morning’s arrangements. The capacity to consider such legislation has not been available, and available legislative time has largely had to consider the pandemic. That explains partly why it was not possible to introduce the legislation at an earlier date, but we look to bring the powers into effect next month. This morning’s package of affirmative SIs will deliver that.

In terms of the legislation’s impact on the rest of the UK, it is worth noting that since 2014-15, more than £1.25 billion has been taken out of the hands of criminals using Criminal Finances Act powers, including its predecessor legislation, to be fair, which was passed under the Labour Government in 2002. Since 2006, £1.126 billion has been returned to law enforcement agencies under the asset recovery incentivisation scheme. Those figures are true up to the end of the financial year 2019-20, so another year’s figures will be published shortly. In 2019-20, just under £208 million pounds-worth of proceeds of crime were collected under POCA powers. That represents an 8% increase in comparison with 2014-15. We believe that those powers have a clear impact on denying criminals their ill-gotten gains, but we keep those powers under review because we recognise that patterns of crime are changing. We may need to change our approach, and if required we will bring the necessary legislation before the House, subject to available parliamentary time. If we identify such a need, I am sure that we would enjoy the broad support of the Opposition, given the comments of the hon. Member for St. Helens North.

Four unexplained wealth orders have been issued. Such is their impact that one recently related to the recovery of £10 million from one person linked to serious and organised crime. They sit alongside the suite of available powers and should not be considered in isolation; they are exercised in addition to those other powers. We will, however, monitor their use, and ensure that that power is used appropriately and effectively. If we identify a need to extend their use or to modify their application, we will of course make the necessary changes. I accept the Opposition’s constructive approach to the issue and I am sure that we would enjoy their support were such a change required.

On the publication of the Mackey report, I think it would be better to respond to the hon. Gentleman in writing. I took on board his comments, particularly the possibility of meeting under Privy Council terms, but I think it would be best to reflect on that further.

I completely agree with the shadow Minister that no one should use “claimed” political affiliations or affiliations of nationality and wrap themselves in a flag to excuse themselves committing serious criminality. As we know, all too often paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland has been based on criminality in Northern Ireland— extortion rackets, looking to smuggle items. Those are not the actions of those with particularly strong political views, but those of criminals who look for a cause with which to dress themselves up to avoid the liabilities they should face. I certainly reassure the hon. Gentleman that we will give whatever support we can to both the Northern Ireland Executive and the Police Service of Northern Ireland, as evidenced by the package of measures we are considering today, to tackle the scourge of criminality in Northern Ireland, thus ensuring that ill-gotten gains of criminality cannot be used to fund terrorist activity.

I commend the orders to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Draft Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Search, Seizure and Detention of Property: Code of Practice) (Northern Ireland) Order 2021

Resolved,

That the Committee has considered the draft Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Search, Seizure and Detention of Property: Code of Practice) (Northern Ireland) Order 2021.—(Kevin Foster.)

Draft Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Cash Searches: Code of Practice) Order 2021

Resolved,

That the Committee has considered the draft Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Cash Searches: Code of Practice) Order 2021.—(Kevin Foster.)

Draft Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Investigations: Code of Practice) Order 2021

Resolved,

That the Committee has considered the draft Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Investigations: Code of Practice) Order 2021.—(Kevin Foster.)

Draft Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Recovery of Listed Assets: Code of Practice) Regulations 2021

Resolved,

That the Committee has considered the draft Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Recovery of Listed Assets: Code of Practice) Regulations 2021.—(Kevin Foster.)

Committee rose.

Draft Pollution Prevention and Control (Fees) (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2021

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: †Sir David Amess

Caulfield, Maria (Lewes) (Con)

Efford, Clive (Eltham) (Lab)

† Fletcher, Mark (Bolsover) (Con)

† Hobhouse, Wera (Bath) (LD)

Mak, Alan (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

Mann, Scott (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

† Morris, James (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

Pursglove, Tom (Corby) (Con)

Rutley, David (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

Thomson, Richard (Gordon) (SNP)

Throup, Maggie (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

† Tomlinson, Michael (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

† Trevelyan, Anne-Marie (Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth)

Twigg, Derek (Halton) (Lab)

† Twist, Liz (Blaydon) (Lab)

† Whitehead, Dr Alan (Southampton, Test) (Lab)

Winter, Beth (Cynon Valley) (Lab)

Chloe Freeman, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Fifth Delegated Legislation Committee

Wednesday 26 May 2021

[Sir David Amess in the Chair]

Draft Pollution Prevention and Control (Fees) (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2021

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Pollution Prevention and Control (Fees) (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2021.

The regulations, which I will respectfully refer to as the fees regulations, were laid in draft before the House on 21 April.

As the environmental regulator of the offshore oil and gas industry, which I shall refer to as the offshore industry, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s Offshore Petroleum Regulator for Environment and Decommissioning—OPRED—recoups the cost of its regulatory functions from the industry rather than the taxpayer footing the bill. OPRED’s role is to minimise the impact of the offshore industry on the environment by, for example, controlling air emissions plus discharges to sea and minimising disturbance over the lifecycle of operations from seismic surveys through to post-decommissioning monitoring.

The regulatory activities for which OPRED can recover costs are covered in two ways—within a suite of regulations, which are covered by the fees regulations and by four fees schemes, which are not covered by the regulations because they do not require legislative change and will be amended administratively.

OPRED’s annual fees income is, on average, £6.2 million, which is recovered from around 130 companies that are billed quarterly. It recovers its costs via fees based on hourly rates. The fees regulations will increase the hourly rates used to calculate fees payable by the offshore industry. The fees relate to the provision of regulatory functions in relation to the environmental management of offshore operations. Currently, the fees that OPRED charges for providing its regulatory services are based on hourly rates of £190 for environmental specialists and £101 for non-specialists.

Environmental specialists are qualified technical staff who carry out the legislative functions of the Secretary of State and the non-specialists are administrative staff who support them. The current hourly rates have been in place since April 2020. OPRED has reviewed the cost base and concluded that the existing hourly rates need to be increased to recover fully OPRED’s costs for providing specific regulatory services.

The fees regulations will therefore amend the charging provisions by increasing the hourly rates for environmental specialists and non-specialists to £197 and £108 respectively. As the increases relate to cost recovery, they do not represent monetary changes linked to inflation. OPRED’s fees are determined by adding together the recorded number of hours worked by environmental specialists and non-specialists on cost-recoverable activities multiplied by the hourly rates. The new hourly rates were approved by Her Majesty’s Treasury in November last year.

Guidance on OPRED’s fee-charging regime is published and clearly explains the scope of the cost-recoverable functions undertaken by OPRED and how the costs are to be calculated and recovered. The revised fees to be paid will increase by a small amount, sufficient only to allow OPRED to recover its eligible costs. In that regard, the additional total cost resulting from the increase in hourly rates will be around £300,000 per year. OPRED’s guidance on its fees-charging regime will be revised to reflect the new hourly rates.

The fees increase will enable OPRED to recover the costs of providing regulatory services from those who benefit from them instead of those costs being passed on to the taxpayer. I hope that hon. Members will support the measure, which I commend to the Committee.

I thank the Minister for a lengthy and lucid exposition of the statutory instrument, which in essence can be summarised as “OPRED would like to put its prices up. Should we agree or not?” I have no objection to the principle of a regulator recovering its costs from the industry it is regulating. It is perfectly reasonable therefore that the costs are set forward for OPRED and are then translated into the charges that it puts across to the industry.

I note, however, that this is an annual process, and that it was last carried out in April last year, although I am not aware from the notes what the increase was. I think that it might be wise for future reference to develop between OPRED and industry some sort of agreed indexing for price rises, to give greater certainty to industry about what is coming its way in terms of charges in future years. The notion of validating those increases entirely from looking at the cost base of OPRED itself is not necessarily a smooth process, and perhaps something that indexes cost increases against other price indexes would be a more appropriate way of developing future price rises. Perhaps there should be a longer term periodic adjustment against cost base to make sure that OPRED is not out of pocket in the long term.

Those are very minor, hopefully helpful, suggestions, and the Opposition have no objection to the principle or the practice of what is being done in the SI, other than to note that the increases are slightly above the rate of inflation and perhaps that should be looked at. And that is the most I can think of to say about the regulations. I have nothing to offer the Minister in terms of detailed analysis of the work of OPRED, or things that might require her to write to me. On that basis, I think we can all agree that it is a good measure; it keeps OPRED in business; keeps the industry properly regulated, and should be proceeded with on that basis.

Does the Minister wish to reply, or does she want to stand by her opening statement?

Committee rose.