Cookies: We use cookies to give you the best possible experience on our site. By continuing to use the site you agree to our use of cookies. Find out more
House of Lords Hansard
x
Serious Crime Bill [HL]
14 October 2014
Volume 756

Report (1st Day)

Clause 2: Provision of information

Amendment 1

Moved by

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

1: Clause 2, page 3, line 3, at end insert—

“( ) After that section insert—

“18A Provision of information as to defendant’s interest in property

(1) This section applies if the court—

(a) is considering whether to make a determination under section 10A of the extent of the defendant’s interest in any property, or(b) is deciding what determination to make (if the court has decided to make a determination under that section).In this section “interested person” means a person (other than the defendant) who the court thinks is or may be a person holding an interest in the property. (2) For the purpose of obtaining information to help it in carrying out its functions under section 10A the court may at any time order an interested person to give it information specified in the order.

(3) An order under this section may require all or a specified part of the information to be given in a specified manner and before a specified date.

(4) If an interested person fails without reasonable excuse to comply with an order under this section the court may draw such inference as it believes is appropriate.

(5) Subsection (4) does not affect any power of the court to deal with the person in respect of a failure to comply with an order under this section.

(6) If the prosecutor accepts to any extent an allegation made by an interested person—

(a) in giving information required by an order under this section, or(b) in any other statement given to the court in relation to any matter relevant to a determination under section 10A,the court may treat the acceptance as conclusive of the matters to which it relates.(7) For the purposes of this section an allegation may be accepted in a manner ordered by the court.

(8) If the court makes an order under this section it may at any time vary it by making another one.

(9) No information given by a person under this section is admissible in evidence in proceedings against that person for an offence.””

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

My Lords, in Committee there was a helpful debate on the provisions in Clauses 1 to 4, which relate to third-party interests in assets subject to a confiscation order. There was general agreement that the current arrangements for considering third-party interests are not sufficiently robust, allowing defendants to drag out and frustrate the enforcement of confiscation orders. The Bill addresses this by bringing forward the determination of third-party interests from the enforcement stage to the confiscation hearing and conferring new powers on the court to make binding determinations as to the extent of any third-party interests.

As part of this process, Clause 2 creates a requirement for the prosecutor to detail any known third-party interest in property associated with the defendant in their statement of information. That includes any interests that the defendant may have in companies, trusts, bank accounts and property. The defendant will then be under a duty to respond to every allegation in the prosecutor’s statement for which information has been supplied and the extent to which each allegation is accepted. Where an allegation is disputed, the defendant must provide full details of any matters relied on.

That is a very wide-ranging power, and the court may order the provision of any information from the prosecutor or the defendant that it believes it requires. The court may then use that information to make a determination at the confiscation stage as to the defendant’s interest in property. In making such a determination, the court will, by extension, also be ruling on the extent of any third-party interests in the relevant assets.

As my noble friend Lord Taylor said in Committee, there was general welcome for the provisions, but the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, questioned whether more could be done to address the problem. Having reflected on the debate, we agree that there is one further step that can usefully be taken further to enhance the court’s powers. Amendments 1 and 14 now provide the court with the power to order an interested person, such as someone making a claim against the defendant’s property, to provide the court with any information that the court believes necessary to determine the defendant’s interest in the property.

Conferring such a power on the courts will further strengthen the provisions to tackle bogus third-party claims. It is unlikely to be necessary for a court to order an individual with a legitimate claim to provide information—it is in that person’s interest to do so on their own initiative. The amendments are, however, aimed at individuals who are attempting to make spurious claims on behalf of—in all likelihood, in collusion with—a defendant to protect an asset from confiscation. Those individuals are unlikely to want to co-operate with the court by providing a witness statement unless compelled to do so. If a person fails without reasonable cause to comply with an order to provide information to a court, it may draw such inference as it believes is appropriate. Thus, for example, if a third party fails to provide information substantiating their alleged interest in property that the prosecution believes is wholly owned by the defendant, the court will be able to draw the conclusion that the property in question is indeed 100% owned by the defendant.

I trust that the House will agree that that represents a sensible addition to the court’s powers to ensure that the effective and timely enforcement of confiscation orders is not deflected by spurious third-party claims.

I will respond to Amendment 4, which is grouped, once the House has had the opportunity to hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Smith. For the time being, I beg to move Amendment 1.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

My Lords, I support my noble friend’s amendment. I apologise to the House for not being able to participate in the earlier stages of the Bill. I am doing so now mainly as a result of my membership of the Joint Committee on the draft Modern Slavery Bill, which will be coming to this House later in the Session. The Minister may recall that the Joint Committee made a number of recommendations to improve asset recovery, given what I might describe as the lacklustre performance in this area under the 2002 Proceeds of Crime Act, which was heavily criticised by the Public Accounts Committee.

In the Government’s response to the Joint Committee’s report, they said that the regime in the 2002 Act would be strengthened through this Bill and that they would use what they called,

“a range of non-legislative proposals to improve performance”.

They committed to implementing most of the committee’s legislative recommendations through a combination of this Bill and the Modern Slavery Bill. I have some concerns that the Bill before us does not really cut the mustard in terms of protecting proceeds of crime for the benefit of victims under the Modern Slavery Bill. I do not want a situation where, when this House gets to the Modern Slavery Bill, we are told that we have not done all we should under the Serious Crime Bill.

The key issue for the Joint Committee was the ability of the police, prosecutors and the courts to move swiftly to ensure that there were some assets to confiscate on securing a conviction. This means that when the police are about to act, they have to enable prosecutors to go to the court to try to freeze assets, not only to secure proceeds but to prevent those assets being used for criminal purposes. It is far from clear in the Bill how this is to be achieved. Can the Minister point me in the direction of provisions that effectively allow this early intervention to safeguard assets for confiscation? What work has been undertaken on the non-legislative means, especially with the police and prosecutors, to ensure that the previous practices are put to one side and that their behaviour and conduct are changing more in line with the need to confiscate such assets? What confidence can we have, when we come to consider the Modern Slavery Bill, that the Bill before us has been toughened up sufficiently to improve the prospects of securing the proceeds of crime for the benefit of victims?

Can the Minister also explain why he thinks that the government amendment on third party goes far enough to secure control over third-party holdings of criminal assets? Asking people who are sophisticated criminals to provide information about the transfer of assets to them is hardly likely to produce much in the way of assets for victims. Why cannot the police and prosecutors seek restraint on suspicion of asset transfers or shared use at a much earlier stage in the proceedings? I accept that the transfer of assets abroad poses more difficult jurisdictional issues, but should we not be raising this issue while this Bill is before the House, rather than waiting for the Modern Slavery Bill? Many of us who were on the Joint Committee will assuredly be raising these issues if we do not think that the committee’s report has had an adequate response.

To sum up, I suggest that the Bill leaves too many questions unanswered about a more credible system for restraining the disposal of criminal assets before conviction. That is why my noble friend’s amendment is so helpful; I think it helps the Government off a hook. The Home Secretary has made it clear that the Modern Slavery Bill is a flagship Bill for her, so I do not think that she will be desperately pleased if we get to the consideration of that Bill and find that we have blundered over these provisions when we get there.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

My Lords, perhaps I should have spoken to my Amendment 4 before the noble Lord, Lord Warner, but I first want to welcome the noble Lord, Lord Bates, to his new position. I know that it is not easy taking over in the middle of a Bill. I congratulate him on the amendments that he has brought forward and on some of the measures mentioned in his comments. I know he listened to the comments that we made in Committee. We spend a lot of time on Home Office matters in your Lordships’ House, and I am sure that we shall spend many happy hours debating this Bill and others.

We debated this issue at some length in Committee because nothing can be more important in this area than ensuring that proceeds of crime legislation is properly enforced. As I said at the time, we support many of the measures in the Bill, but we want to encourage the Government to use this opportunity to make the Bill as effective as it can possibly be. I shall not go into the detail of what we raised and discussed in Committee, other to say that the systems as a whole, including confiscation orders and restraint orders, are not working as well as they should. I think that was the point being made by my noble friend Lord Warner. We are not really recovering enough of criminals’ ill gotten gains. We can do better.

The noble Lord, Lord Bates, will be aware that in Committee my noble friend Lord Rosser and I went into a number of reasons why we feel the system is so ineffective and how it could be improved. These are some of the areas. The evidential threshold for freezing the subjects’ assets is very high and the cost to the CPS can be prohibitive. As we have heard, criminals often move their money overseas. There are those who try to move their money once they know that they are under investigation, and there are sophisticated criminals working here who have complex labyrinths of companies and transactions to try to hide the money. Moreover, confiscation orders are often an afterthought and the penalties for non-payments are not enough of a deterrent. Recoverable assets, including the third-party interests, are not identified early enough. There is a lack of leadership and strong incentives for the agencies involved in applying for and enforcing confiscation orders and, as we have heard, it is incredibly difficult to recover assets from overseas.

At the time, we tabled a number of amendments to address those specific areas. They were probing amendments, as we wanted to try to stimulate the debate and make some progress but also to prioritise those issues on which we felt serious progress could be made in the Bill. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Bates, that at the time I was disappointed by the answers from the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, as the then Minister. I felt that he was not really willing to engage to find ways to improve the Bill. I am delighted by the noble Lord’s comments today that I was at least partially wrong—if not entirely, unfortunately—because the Government have considered one of our amendments and I am pleased to see some amendments put down before us today.

At this stage of the Bill, we did not want to retable a whole raft of amendments that we felt could be helpful but there is still an opportunity to improve matters here. We could do better than what we have here and there is an opportunity to consider further some of the points we raised in Committee. Our amendment is a single amendment, which asks for a wider consultation to be undertaken on a number of ways in which we can improve the system as a whole. We have taken advice on this and spoken to those who are practitioners, have been involved and have given advice. There are things we could do better to really make a difference, so while we support many of the measures here and appreciate the amendment, we could be more effective. The fact that the Government have already taken on some of our suggestions indicates that room for progress remains.

I shall not go into detail on those matters that we have discussed previously but I want to focus on three areas that we think the consultation could take note of and improve. The first is the importance of early disclosure of third-party interests. The value of the money that is eventually confiscated is eroded when people other than the defendant crop up and say, “Actually, that property being confiscated is mine, or partly mine, and not the defendant’s”. Sometimes that will be genuine; equally, it is not unknown for it to be a ploy drummed up by the defendant. The practitioners have told us that this happens because the confiscation process is so lengthy and strung out that it ends up giving criminals plenty of time to be inventive in looking at ways to drum up bogus claims. It is very quick to tell the truth but it takes much longer to be imaginative.

At the moment, third-party claims are not addressed at the confiscation stage in the Crown Court. They get heard afterwards, at a different stage, in the High Court. The Bill seeks to address this by ending the split jurisdiction between the Crown and High Courts. Under the Bill, third-party claims will be determined by the Crown Court at confiscation stage. Clauses 1 to 4 introduce requirements for prosecutors to set out any known details of third-party interests in the statement of information that they provide to the court and for the defendant to detail any known third-party claims in response to the prosecutor’s statement. The court then has the power to determine the extent of any third-party interests in the defendant’s property, prior to making the confiscation order. It is good that that determination will be binding but we went further in our amendments in Committee, one of which suggested giving the court the power to order the defendant to provide information at any time under an order and details of any third-party interests in property.

The Government took that on board and we welcome the amendment the Minister has spoken to. Where a third party unreasonably fails to comply with the order, the court will be able to draw the appropriate inference. In our amendment we suggested a specific time delay of 21 days, but there is no time in the government amendment. What would be the time period here before the court can draw any inference from not providing that information? Will it be set out in secondary legislation or by order, and will they also have to notify the prosecutor of any change in circumstances—which is something we also suggested at the time.

I also assume that there will not be a reciprocal duty on the prosecutor and that the details of the investigation will not have to be disclosed to the defendant, but it would be helpful if that could be confirmed or if the Minister could tell me if I have misunderstood and if that is incorrect.

I also want to check whether the Minister has given any further thought to providing such a power to the court at the restraint stage. When I spoke in Committee, I quoted the impact assessment, which said:

“In many cases third party claims are made at a relatively late stage in proceedings and are deliberately used to frustrate confiscation investigations”.

In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said that it was not appropriate to bring the determination of third-party interests back to restraint stage. The reason he gave was that not all defendants were made subject to a restraint order and not all restraint orders lead to confiscation orders. That is an entirely valid point and we accept that. That is why it would be helpful for the further consultation that we are proposing to work through those points—which are important, crucial and very valid—to make sure that assets are not dissipated before we are even able to do anything about it.

The second point made in Committee which could make a lot of difference is the costs to the CPS of seeking to obtain a restraint order. One of the issues raised with us by practitioners is that when an application is unsuccessful, the prosecution is liable for the legal costs of the defendant. The CPS is undergoing cuts of 27% to its budget over the course of this Parliament. Obviously prosecutors want to minimise any risk of what could be an expensive failure. In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, told us that it would not apply in most cases because the orders are obtained ex parte. That is correct, but we have looked into this further and, of course, not all orders are obtained ex parte. If an order is obtained ex parte, it is more likely to be appealed and significant costs can be racked up on appeal.

The amendments that we tabled in Committee suggested that defendants should be able to recover costs at legal aid rates only when an application requires an individual who has succeeded in setting aside a restraint order to pay his or her own costs. But if the alternative is to put the cost risk on to the prosecutor, there will be an inevitable dampening effect on the appetite for large-scale restraining orders, which is clearly not in the public interest. If I recall correctly, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said in Committee that the Government would look into this and draw it to the attention of the Ministry of Justice. Has there been any further thinking on this issue? What was the response from the Ministry of Justice?

The third point concerning deficiencies in the system is that we seek further consideration on the enforcement of orders against assets located abroad. This is perhaps one of the most important issues in the whole proceeds of crime debate. Practitioners tell us that this is one of the key problems that they face. Criminals hide their ill-gotten gains overseas. In an FOI response to the shadow Attorney-General’s office, the Serious Fraud Office revealed that £37 million of its £106 million of unpaid confiscation orders is thought to be located overseas.

Criminals are pretty savvy. When they have substantial assets, they often seek to put them where the UK authorities are least likely, and will find it hardest, to recover them. That usually means a jurisdiction with which the UK has no standing mutual co-operation agreements. Even where that is not the case, without mutual recognition of confiscation orders in the jurisdiction where the assets have been hidden, those charged with enforcing the orders effectively have to relitigate the issue abroad. It is hard, it is slow and it is not very effective. There are countries that want to co-operate with us to return criminal assets, but the process by which they would have to do so is quite difficult and drawn out, and they may not have much experience or expertise in doing so.

There is an example on page 5 of the fact sheet that is quite useful in illustrating that. So we have included in the consultation proposal a legal obligation to repatriate liquid assets subject to a restraint or confiscation order that have been removed overseas. When we tabled this in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said that the Proceeds of Crime Act already allows the court to make any order that it believes is appropriate for the purpose of ensuring that the restraint order is effective. But it is not being effective; time and again the issue is the ability to enforce any order.

If there is going to be any significant progress, we need to improve the way—perhaps we should look at different strategies or structures—in which we co-operate with overseas jurisdictions. First, we want them to be well disposed to us in order that they will want to co-operate and look again at the processes. One of the problems of their not being co-operative—and again this is revealed in Parliamentary Answers from the Home Office to the shadow Attorney-General—is that despite UK courts freezing more than £200 million at the request of overseas jurisdictions, not a single penny of this has been repatriated to the country asking for the money. So we are asking other countries to do for us something that we are not very good at doing for them.

Since 2010, only two bilateral agreements have been signed with overseas jurisdictions to ensure co-operation on mutual legal assistance. So the UK is seen as being slow to respond to requests for mutual legal assistance, if it responds at all. The UKCA, the part of the Home Office that receives the requests, was restructured in 2007 following criticism from lawyers and the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering that it was slow to respond to requests. Jeremy Carver, a lawyer and senior adviser to Transparency International UK, has been quoted as saying that little has changed since he told a House of Commons Select Committee in 2001 that other countries “dread” having to make a request to the UKCA. Our ability to get other countries to co-operate with us is being made all the more difficult because we are not good at co-operating with them.

The former head of SOCA’s financial intelligence unit said:

“When an investigation is initiated from the victim country and monies are suspected to be in the UK, the requests go out through all the proper channels, but there’s no great keenness to comply … The mindset is that we’ll just be giving ourselves a headache … This could be abused by a corrupt official as the chances of them losing their assets in the UK are getting slimmer”.

Clearly, we need to do much more to have far better reciprocity at international level.

We raised this issue in Committee, though not in such detail, and responses from the then Minister were a bit disappointing. That is why we have tabled the amendment in the way that we have: to have a consultation look specifically at the three points that I have made. A mutual recognition that would remove the need to relitigate in other countries would save time and money, and has the potential to significantly improve results.

The Minister has started really well in his new position because he has already conceded on one of the points that we raised in Committee. I hope that he will look at this issue and accept our amendment. I am sorry that I have spoken for rather longer than I normally would. We propose the amendment in a cross-party spirit of wanting this legislation to succeed. If we are really going to tackle organised and serious crime, we can do so only if we are able effectively to seize the proceeds of crime.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

My Lords, I, too, welcome my noble friend to his position. It must have come as quite a facer in the middle of his holiday to be told what a workload he was going to be coming back to.

Before I come to Amendment 4, I would like to say a word about part of the wording of Amendment 1 and indeed Amendment 14—and this point crops up elsewhere. I suspect that we are looking at a bit of modernised style, because we are told to have in mind the concept of the court “thinking”. There are a number of places now where the court “thinks”. We are quite used to words like “considers”. The Minister himself, in introducing the amendment, used the term “believes”, but one might “suppose”, “imagine” or “suspect”—one could go on for quite a long time.

I am a little concerned that we should be cautious about using modernised language without being very clear about what it means, particularly when similar concepts have been introduced in other legislation using different, and perhaps more “old-fashioned”, words. English is a rich language, and its richness covers a lot of subtleties. I just wanted to get that off my chest because I might come back to it on other legislation.

However, most of the debate so far—and we will hear more—is about the effectiveness of the restraint and confiscation regime. I share the outrage of other noble Lords about criminals salting away the proceeds of their crime. We used to discuss it quite a lot in the context of legal aid: that there were recipients of legal aid who were suspected of having a good deal of cash if only one could find it. Now, in the context of the Modern Slavery Bill, as the noble Baroness said, we could do better.

I hesitate to support the amendment going into legislation. The changes which it appears that we are all agreed should be made to the regime will barely have been in force before April 2015, which is the proposed end of the consultation period. Of course we should be assessing and evaluating the impact of the changes made by the Bill—in themselves, in the wider context and continually—to the confiscation regime. We should be prepared to make changes. Is it sensible to have a consultation running in parallel with the introduction of some alterations? Indeed, are we always talking about legislation that needs changing or about practice? I suspect that quite a lot of the problems are in the area of practice.

The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, explained in Committee that a couple of the proposals were, in the Government’s view, unnecessary; I do not want to anticipate what my noble friend will say. Indeed, as the noble Baroness reminded the House, on the recovery of costs, the noble Lord said that the Government would consider capping legal aid rates. However, without for a moment wishing to suggest that the concerns regarding the application of the Modern Slavery Bill are not important—they are immensely important—it seems that without the amendment there is nothing to preclude both consultation about the application of the provisions of that Bill and the bringing forward of more legislation. Conversely, consultation does not solve the issues which have been raised during the passage of the Modern Slavery Bill—which, like other noble Lords, I am very keen to see being effective.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

My Lords, the Proceeds of Crime Act has been inadequately applied. There is no doubt that it could be better dealt with. As far as they go, the Minister’s amendments are to be supported—but they by no means go far enough. As a member of the Joint Committee on the Modern Slavery Bill, I strongly support the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Warner. However, it goes further than that. The Modern Slavery Bill is an important part of getting the proceeds of crime, but all of us in this House want to see criminals dispossessed of their assets. The Proceeds of Crime Act and all of the amendments go further than the Modern Slavery Bill. We do need something.

I am not entirely certain, having listened to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that we need it in Amendment 4, but we certainly need either this amendment or a very strong undertaking from the Government that—side by side with implementing the government amendments to the Bill—they will consult. If there was a strong commitment to consultation before the Modern Slavery Bill comes in—bearing in mind that it is much broader than the Modern Slavery Bill—I would be content with that. However, if the Government are not going to give a strong commitment, I would find myself supporting Amendment 4.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

My Lords, first, I thank the noble Baroness and also my noble friend for their warm welcome to me in this role. I will do my very best to try to ensure that I answer as fully as possible the very serious points which they made.

I will commence with the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Warner, and to some extent the points raised by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, in relation to the Modern Slavery Bill. As these Bills were drafted and conceived, and as they move through the legislative process, they are seen very much as two parts of an attempt to address the problem of human trafficking and the gangs that seek to profit from that. They also seek to ensure that those gangs are unable to hide away the funds which they amass from the misery they afflict on others. On that we are absolutely united. I would also say to the noble Lord, Lord Warner, that we set out a number of points in a detailed letter which was drafted and sent to his noble friend the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, on 7 October. A copy has been placed in the Library but it might be helpful, as part of my response to the debate, if I place some of the remarks from it on the record in this House.

In responding to Amendment 4, let me first say that we share the objective underpinning this amendment— namely, to further strengthen the effectiveness of the asset recovery regime provided for in the Proceeds of Crime Act. It is also worth noting at this point that, under this Government, more than £746 million of criminal assets have been seized through all four current methods of recovery, which in itself is a record amount. I know it is not getting anywhere near to addressing the full scale of the problem but it shows that the law enforcement of the courts is having some effect. Of course we want to do even better. One of the aims of the Government’s serious and organised crime strategy is to crack down on those who do not pay their confiscation orders. As part of this, the criminal finances improvement plan aims to look at ways to improve the recovery of the proceeds of crime.

The amendment calls for consultation on ways to strengthen the legal framework as set out in the Proceeds of Crime Act. Part 1 of this Bill is the product of just such a consultation. It already includes significant reforms to the asset recovery regime. I do not for a moment suggest that these provisions are the last word in terms of changes to POCA—if I may use that acronym for the Proceeds of Crime Act. We remain open to further constructive suggestions, which was very much what the noble Baroness asked us to do. We remain open to suggestions and to having a constructive dialogue over what improvements can be made with, among others, the National Crime Agency, police forces, the Crown Prosecution Service and Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service.

Let me turn to the specific proposals contained in Amendment 4. First, the amendment calls for a change in the test for securing a restraint order. Clause 11 already reduces the legal test for obtaining such an order from “reasonable cause to believe” that the alleged offender has benefited from his criminal conduct to “reasonable grounds to suspect”. This was a point that the noble Lord, Lord Warner, also touched upon. That will enable restraint orders to be secured earlier in an investigation. We remain at this stage unpersuaded of the case for removing the requirement to show that there is a real risk that the defendant will dissipate his or her assets. Such a test goes to the heart of the purpose of a restraint order. If there was no such risk, there would be nothing to be gained from seeking a restraint order.

Moreover, we believe that it would be extremely difficult for a defendant to prove a negative to a court—namely, that they do not intend to dissipate their assets. In contrast, an investigator is able to show by the steps an individual is taking that they have the ability and intention to dissipate. Furthermore, we should not lose sight of the fact that a restraint order is generally obtained from a court in the individual’s absence, before they are arrested, and so they would not be afforded the opportunity to prove that they have no intention of dissipating. Indeed, in the letter to the noble Baroness of 7 October to which I referred earlier, I made the point that often when the restraint order is applied for, the individuals are not aware. If there is a requirement to place an additional responsibility to come forward at that stage, there is of course a risk that that might alert people to the fact that an investigation is under way.

On the noble Baroness’s second proposal, we agree in principle that any reimbursement of the defendant’s costs that arise from a restraint hearing should be capped at legal aid rates. New primary legislation will not be required to effect this change, as provision could be made under the Criminal Procedure Rules. We have consulted the CPS on this issue already, as any change to the rates would need to be applied even-handedly to them when recovering costs. We now intend to consult the Criminal Procedure Rule Committee on this matter.

The amendment next calls for the court to have the power to require a defendant to disclose any interests in realisable property. Clause 2 of the Bill already provides that the prosecutor and defendant must detail any known third-party interest in property linked to the defendant. That information will be used by the court to consider whether to make a determination as to the defendant’s interest in property. As I have already explained, Amendment 1 will empower the court to require a third party to provide any information it believes is necessary to assist it in making such a determination. Taken together, these provisions will enable the Crown Court to deal with claims from third parties at the same time as it makes the confiscation order. Those changes to POCA ensure that all assets and claims against them may be considered thoroughly in one court hearing, and earlier in the process than is currently the case.

The fourth issue raised by the noble Baroness’s amendment concerns the court’s powers to compel a defendant to return to the UK realisable liquid assets held overseas, and she is right to express that concern. Again, a number of provisions in the Bill address this issue. Clause 7 makes provision for compliance orders. Those will allow the court to impose any restrictions, prohibitions or requirements it believes appropriate to ensure that the defendant pays a confiscation order and that the order is effective. Any compliance order will be made at the time a confiscation order is granted. A compliance order will be capable of being used by the court to order the defendant to return assets to the UK from overseas. Breach of such an order will be a contempt of court. The Act already confers on the Crown Court the power to make such order as it believes is appropriate for the purposes of ensuring that a restraint order is effective. A restraint order can be obtained at a significantly earlier stage; for example, before the defendant has been charged. The requirement to compel a defendant to return property to the UK is therefore already available under a restraint order.

Finally, the amendment seeks ways to improve international co-operation in the recovery of the proceeds of crime. This was one of the issues specifically addressed in the serious and organised crime strategy. The UK is engaging with key countries to encourage and improve international co-operation in asset recovery, which we accept has historically been very poor. We have already engaged with Spain, China and the United Arab Emirates, and will be working with the FCO and the CPS to negotiate further agreements and understanding with other key countries, including Romania, South Africa and Ghana. These agreements will relate to asset sharing. The long-standing international position is that the country that enforces an overseas order in its jurisdiction gets to keep the confiscated assets. There is now a move towards sharing recovered assets, particularly where there are identifiable victims who need to be compensated. We have recently had the first successful case involving the repatriation of assets totalling just over £300,000 to the UK with the assistance of the United Arab Emirates.

I believe that the tools for international recovery already provide for successful co-operation between the UK and our overseas counterparts. However, as I have already acknowledged, the tools have historically been underused, both here and overseas. This has undoubtedly improved in the last year or two, but more could be done to encourage the use of these powers. The bilateral agreements that we have recently concluded and are seeking to negotiate with priority countries should have the effect of improving co-operation overseas. In addition, the CPS is seeking to post five dedicated asset recovery advisers overseas, starting with Spain and the UAE. The CPS will provide targeted assistance to international colleagues from the UK or through its network of overseas advisers where asset recovery advisers are not deployed.

The UK has, last month, signed the Council of Europe Convention on Laundering, Search, Seizure and Confiscation of the Proceeds from Crime and on the Financing of Terrorism of 2005—the Warsaw convention. This will assist the UK in obtaining asset- sharing agreements and in encouraging other jurisdictions to recognise UK civil recovery.

I hope that I have been able to demonstrate to the noble Baroness, and indeed to the House as a whole, that we have taken seriously the suggestions she has made for further improving asset recovery. As I have indicated, the Bill already directly addresses some of the issues raised by the amendment and we are now actively pursuing her suggestion in relation to the capping of legal costs.

I turn to the points raised by my noble friend Lady Hamwee in defence of the English language, in which she has such expertise and ability. She asked about the use of the word “thinks” in the context of the court in subsection (1) of new Section 18A. The words “thinks” and “believes” are used interchangeably throughout the Proceeds of Crime Act. For example, in Section 49(4)(f) the court may authorise the receiver to take any other steps the court thinks appropriate. In the context of new Section 18A of POCA, where a court is required to make a decision, we do not consider that there is any meaningful difference between “thinks” and “believes”. In subsection (4) of new Section 18A, the word “believes” is used for the sake of consistency with the existing Section 18(4). In subsection (1) of the new section, we have used “thinks” as it seems to us to be the more natural word to use there; it would arguably look slightly odd to say,

“believes is or may be a person holding an interest in the property”.

I hope this reassures my noble friend that the wording of new Section 18A is clear and conveys the appropriate meaning.

The noble Baroness asked specifically how long people would have to respond to a compliance order. As regards an order made under new Section 18A, the specified time would be the time specified in the order by the court in the process which is set out, so that could vary from case to case. Obviously, the court will take due cognisance of the risks which might be involved in delaying the recovery of the assets which are identified.

I am conscious that this has been a lengthy response, but this is a very substantive amendment which raises a number of issues and I wanted to get my response to them on the record in order to help the House further.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I have a question for him about his answer to me on restraint orders and third parties, which left me extremely puzzled. If he does not have the answer today, perhaps he could write to me. As I understood what he said—and I do not, in any way, disagree with it—restraint orders may well be taken certainly before someone is charged and possibly before they are arrested, because the investigation may give the police and the prosecution reason to believe that the people have considerable assets which may disappear at the point of arrest. However, as I understood him, he then said that it made no sense to make that restraint order deal with dissipation of assets to a third party. If the person does not know that the restraint order has been taken out because they have not been arrested or charged, what is to stop the courts including a provision about dissipation of assets which the person may have or subsequently engage in dissipation of? If the chap or woman does not know they have actually got a restraint order on them, I cannot see at the moment why it should not be drawn more widely to cover dissipation at the point when restraint is introduced. However, the Minister seemed to be saying that was not possible. If I have got it wrong, he can answer me now; if I have not, could he explain what the Home Office lore is on why that does not make sense?

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

I will, of course, take very seriously what the noble Lord said. I do not think that was exactly what I said, but I will check the record and clarify it if necessary. The point I was making was that if it was necessary to identify third-party interests at the restraint stage, which Amendment 4 seeks to do, that might alert people who are not unconnected to the person of interest that an investigation is under way. This might damage the prospects of bringing a successful prosecution. I was seeking to make a point of argument rather than a point of law or lore. However, I will read the record and clarify this, if need be, for the noble Lord.

Amendment 1 agreed.

Clause 6: Confiscation and victim surcharge orders

Amendment 2

Moved by

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

2: Clause 6, page 5, line 30, leave out “after “other than”” and insert “from “an order under section 130” to the end”

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

My Lords, I can be relatively brief with this group of essentially minor and technical amendments to Part 1 of the Bill. Amendment 2 is consequential upon the provisions in the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill in respect of the new criminal courts charge, which will recover some of the trial costs from offenders. This amendment will ensure that, although the court takes no account of any confiscation order when imposing a criminal courts charge, payment of a confiscation order will take precedence over payment of the new charge.

Amendment 51 inserts into Schedule 4 a consequential amendment to Section 22 of the Proceeds of Crime Act, arising from the provisions in Clause 6. That clause provides that priority will be given to the payment of a victim surcharge order where a defendant has insufficient funds to pay both a confiscation order and a victim surcharge order. This amendment to Section 22 of POCA will ensure that a victim surcharge order is taken into account by a court when it is reconsidering the available amount payable under an existing confiscation order. Amendment 52 makes the equivalent change to Section 107 of POCA which relates to Scotland.

Amendments 3 and 15 are to Clause 7 and the equivalent provision for Northern Ireland in Clause 29. These clauses amend POCA to provide the court with the power to make any order it considers appropriate for ensuring that a confiscation order is effective. Such a compliance order may, among other things, impose a travel ban on the defendant. Clauses 7 and 29 provide for a right of appeal to the Court of Appeal by the prosecutor against a decision by the Crown Court not to make a compliance order, and by the prosecutor or person affected by a compliance order against the decision to make a compliance order. However, as currently drafted, these clauses do not provide for any right of appeal against a decision of the Crown Court to vary or discharge a compliance order. This is at odds with the existing provision in respect of the variation and discharge of a restraint order. These amendments remedy the inconsistency.

At the request of the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland, Amendment 16 amends Clause 30. This clause empowers the Crown Court to discharge a confiscation order where the defendant has died and it is not possible or reasonable to seek payment of the order from the defendant’s estate—for example, where there are no assets remaining in the estate. In England and Wales, an application to the Crown Court will be made by the designated officer for a magistrates’ court. The Department of Justice in Northern Ireland has advised us that, in Northern Ireland, the prosecutor would be best placed to make any application to discharge an order and not the chief clerk. This amendment makes the necessary adjustment to Clause 30 to this end.

Finally, Amendment 54 corrects a drafting error in Section 185 of POCA. I beg to move.

Amendment 2 agreed.

Clause 7: Orders for securing compliance with confiscation order

Amendment 3

Moved by

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

3: Clause 7, page 6, line 31, after “make” insert “, discharge or vary”

Amendment 3 agreed.

Amendment 4 not moved.

Amendment 5

Moved by

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

5: After Clause 15, insert the following new Clause—

“Orders for securing compliance with confiscation order

After section 97A of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (inserted by section (2)) insert—15“97B Orders for securing compliance with confiscation order

(1) This section applies where the court makes a confiscation order.

(2) The court may make such order in relation to the accused as it believes is appropriate for the purpose of ensuring that the confiscation order is effective (a “compliance order”).

(3) The court must consider whether to make a compliance order—

(a) on the making of the confiscation order, and(b) if it does not make a compliance order then, at any later time (while the confiscation order is still in effect) on the application of the prosecutor.(4) In considering whether to make a compliance order, the court must, in particular, consider whether any restriction or prohibition on the accused’s travel outside the United Kingdom ought to be imposed for the purpose mentioned in subsection (2).

(5) The court may discharge or vary a compliance order on an application made by—

(a) the prosecutor;(b) the accused.(6) For the purposes of any appeal or review, a compliance order is a sentence.

“97C Breach of compliance order

(1) This section applies where—

(a) a compliance order has been made in relation to an accused, and(b) it appears to the court that the accused has failed to comply with the compliance order.(2) The court may—

(a) issue a warrant for the accused’s arrest, or(b) issue a citation to the accused requiring the accused to appear before the court. (3) If the accused fails to appear as required by a citation issued under subsection (2)(b), the court may issue a warrant for the arrest of the accused.

(4) The unified citation provisions (as defined in section 307(1) of the Procedure Act) apply in relation to a citation under subsection (2)(b).

(5) The court must, before considering the alleged failure—

(a) provide the accused with written details of the alleged failure,(b) inform the accused that the accused is entitled to be legally represented, and(c) inform the accused that no answer need be given to the allegation before the accused—(i) has been given an opportunity to take legal advice, or(ii) has indicated that the accused does not wish to take legal advice.(6) If the court is satisfied that the accused has failed without reasonable excuse to comply with the compliance order, the court may—

(a) impose on the accused a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale,(b) revoke the compliance order and impose on the accused a sentence of imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 months,(c) vary the compliance order, or(d) both impose a fine under paragraph (a) and vary the order under paragraph (c).(7) The court may vary the compliance order if the court is satisfied—

(a) that the accused has failed to comply with the order,(b) that the accused had a reasonable excuse for the failure, and(c) that, having regard to the circumstances which have arisen since the order was imposed, it is in the interests of justice to vary the order.(8) Evidence of one witness is sufficient for the purpose of establishing that an accused has failed without reasonable excuse to comply with a compliance order.

“97D Appeals against variation or discharge of compliance orders

The prosecutor or the accused may appeal against a decision of the court under section 97B(5)—(a) to vary or refuse to vary a compliance order, or(b) to discharge or refuse to discharge a compliance order.””

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

My Lords, these amendments follow up the debate in Committee on the new offence of participating in the activities of an organised crime group. Noble Lords will recall that in response to various amendments tabled at that stage by my noble friend Lady Hamwee and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, my noble friend Lord Taylor undertook to consider further the potential for the offence to capture the naive or unwitting participant.

I am pleased to say that discussions between Home Office officials and the Law Society, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales and the Local Government Association have continued over the summer. As a result of those deliberations, I have tabled Amendment 20, which is similar but not identical to Amendment 21 put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith. Both amendments would change the “reasonable cause to suspect” limb of the mental element of the offence. In Committee, noble Lords were concerned—

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

My Lords, we are considering the third group of amendments, rather than the fifth, and I should move Amendment 5, as that is my role. I apologise to my noble friend Lord Bates.

Strengthening the proceeds of crime legislation is a priority for the Scottish Government, as it is for the UK Government. Maximising recovery of moneys through the route of criminal confiscation is a major part of this. Chapter 2 of Part 1 already replicates for Scotland a number of the changes made by the Bill to the confiscation regime in England and Wales. At the request of the Scottish Government, it is now proposed to replicate a number of further provisions—namely, those in Clauses 7, 9, 10 and 12. In each case, the England and Wales provisions are subject to appropriate modifications and adaptations to take account of Scots law and any policy refinements determined by Scottish Ministers.

Amendments 5 and 6 broadly replicate the provisions in Clause 7 to enable the courts to make a compliance order imposing overseas travel bans and other restrictions and requirements on an accused person, for the purposes of ensuring that a confiscation order is effective. Unlike in England and Wales, it will not be possible to make a compliance order against a third party. Amendment 7 replicates the provisions in Clause 9, which ensure that individuals who abscond before conviction, but are then convicted in their absence, may be subject to confiscation.

Amendment 8, which replicates subsections (1) and (2) of Clause 10, increases the maximum default sentences where offenders fail to pay confiscation orders in respect of amounts over £500,000. There are no changes to the early release arrangements in Scotland. Amendment 8 also provides that, where a confiscation order was made by a court in England and Wales, or in Northern Ireland, but it falls to be enforced in Scotland, the courts in Scotland, when sentencing the defendant for non-payment of the order, would apply the default sentences set elsewhere in Part I of the Bill, rather than the sentences applicable for non-payment of a fine.

Amendment 9 replicates the provisions in Clause 12 to ensure that a restraint order may be maintained following the quashing of a conviction and pending the outcome of a retrial.

Amendments 10 to 13 point in the opposite direction. Rather than adding new Scottish provisions to the Bill, they would remove Clauses 19, 20, 22 and 23. Those clauses, which were included in the Bill at the request of the Scottish Government, sought to make it an offence to breach a prohibitory property order or an interim administration order. These orders are designed to prevent a person from dissipating identified assets through the course of a civil recovery investigation. As such, they are analogous to restraint orders under the criminal confiscation regime. Under the existing civil recovery regime, the focus of these orders is on applying prohibitions on dissipating property rather than on the owners of, or those who control, the property in question.

After further consideration and discussion with operational stakeholders, the Scottish Government have concluded that the introduction of these offences would result in a loss of flexibility in the civil recovery regime and have therefore asked for the relevant clauses to be removed from the Bill. Breach of these orders will continue, as now, to be dealt with through contempt of court proceedings.

The other amendments in this group are either consequential on the amendments that I have already described or make other technical amendments to the Scottish confiscation regime in Part 3 of POCA. I beg to move.

Amendment 5 agreed.

Amendments 6 and 7

Moved by

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

6: After Clause 15, insert the following new Clause—

“Compliance orders: appeals by prosecutor

(1) The Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 is amended as follows.

(2) In section 108 (Lord Advocate’s right of appeal in solemn proceedings)—

(a) in subsection (1), after paragraph (cc) insert—“(cd) a decision under section 97B(2) of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 to make or not to make a compliance order;”;(b) in subsection (2)(b)—(i) in sub-paragraph (ii), for “or (cc)” substitute “, (cc) or (cd)”;(ii) in sub-paragraph (iii), after “paragraph” insert “(cd) or”.(3) In section 175 (right of appeal in summary proceedings)—

(a) in subsection (4), after paragraph (cc) insert—“(cd) a decision under section 97B(2) of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 to make or not to make a compliance order;”;(b) in subsection (4A)(b)—(i) in sub-paragraph (ii), for “or (cc)” substitute “, (cc) or (cd)”;(ii) in sub-paragraph (iii), after “paragraph” insert “(cd) or”.”

7: After Clause 15, insert the following new Clause—

“Accused persons unlawfully at large

(1) In section 111 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (conviction or other disposal of accused), in subsection (1), for “after” substitute “and, either before or after he became unlawfully at large”.

(2) For subsection (4) of that section substitute—

“(4) Once the accused has ceased to be unlawfully at large—

(a) section 104 has effect as if subsection (1) read—(1) This section applies if—

(a) in a case where section 111 applies the court did not proceed under section 92,(b) before the end of the period of six years starting with the day when the accused ceased to be unlawfully at large, the prosecutor applies to the court to proceed under section 92, and(c) the court thinks it is appropriate for it to do so.”;(b) section 105 has effect as if subsection (3) read—(3) The second condition is that—

(a) before the end of the period of six years starting with the day when the accused ceased to be unlawfully at large, the prosecutor applies to the court to reconsider whether the accused has benefited from his general or particular criminal conduct (as the case may be), and (b) the court thinks it is appropriate for it to do so.”;(c) section 106 has effect as if subsection (1) read—(1) This section applies if—

(a) a court has made a confiscation order,(b) the prosecutor believes that if the court were to find the amount of the accused’s benefit in pursuance of this section it would exceed the relevant amount,(c) before the end of the period of six years starting with the day when the accused ceased to be unlawfully at large, the prosecutor applies to the court to proceed under this section, and(d) the court thinks it is appropriate for it to do so.”;(d) the modifications set out in subsection (3)(a) to (d) of this section do not apply to proceedings that take place by virtue of section 104, 105 or 106 (as applied by this subsection).”(3) In section 112 of that Act (accused neither convicted nor acquitted), in subsection (1)(c), for “two years” substitute “three months”.

(4) For subsection (4) of that section substitute—

“(4) Once the accused has ceased to be unlawfully at large—

(a) section 106 has effect as if subsection (1) read—(1) This section applies if—

(a) a court has made a confiscation order,(b) the prosecutor believes that if the court were to find the amount of the accused’s benefit in pursuance of this section it would exceed the relevant amount,(c) before the end of the period of six years starting with the day when the accused ceased to be unlawfully at large, the prosecutor applies to the court to proceed under this section, and(d) the court thinks it is appropriate for it to do so.”;(b) the modifications set out in subsection (3)(a) to (d) of this section do not apply to proceedings that take place by virtue of section 106 (as applied by this subsection).””

Amendments 6 and 7 agreed.

Clause 16: Enforcement of confiscation orders

Amendment 8

Moved by

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

8: Clause 16, page 13, line 23, at end insert—

“(b) after subsection (2) insert—“(2A) In its application in relation to confiscation orders, subsection (2) of section 219 of the Procedure Act is to be read as if for the Table in that subsection there were substituted the following Table—

Amount to be Paid under Compensation Order

Maximum Period of Imprisonment

£10,000 or less

6 months

More than £10,000 but no more than £500,000

5 years

More than £500,000 but no more than £1 million

7 years

More than £1 million

14 years

(2B) The Scottish Ministers may by order —

(a) amend section 219(2) of the Procedure Act (as applied by this section) so as to provide for minimum periods of imprisonment in respect of amounts ordered to be paid under a confiscation order; (b) amend the Table in subsection (2A) so as to remove, alter or replace any entry (including an entry inserted by virtue of paragraph (a) of this subsection) or to add any entry;(c) apply (with or without modifications) any provision of the Procedure Act relating to enforcement of fines in consequence of exercising the power in paragraph (a) or (b) (including modifying any such provision in its application in relation to confiscation orders by virtue of this section).(2C) In its application in relation to a confiscation order under Part 2 of this Act, subsection (8) of section 222 of the Procedure Act is to be read as if, in relation to a transfer of fine order under section 90 of the Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980, for “139 of the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000” there were substituted “35(2A) of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002”.

(2D) In its application in relation to a confiscation order under Part 4 of this Act, subsection (8) of section 222 of the Procedure Act is to be read as if—

(a) before the words “section 90” there were inserted “section 35 of the Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 1945,”;(b) in relation to a transfer of fine order under section 35 of that Act, for “139 of the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000” there were substituted “185(2A) of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002”.”( ) In section 459 of that Act (orders and regulations)—

(a) after subsection (3) insert—“(3A) Subsection (3) does not apply to the power of the Scottish Ministers to make an order under section 118(2B).”;

(b) in subsection (5)(a), after “section” insert “118(2B),”;(c) in subsection (6)(b), after “section” insert “118(2B),”.( ) In section 219 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 (fines: periods of imprisonment for non-payment), in subsection (8)(b), after “section 118(2)” insert “, (2A) and (2B)”.”

Amendment 8 agreed.

Amendment 9

Moved by

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

9: After Clause 17, insert the following new Clause—

“Continuation of restraint order after conviction quashed or verdict set aside

(1) In section 121 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (application, recall and variation), after subsection (8) insert—

“(8A) The duty in subsection (8) to recall a restraint order on the conclusion of proceedings does not apply where—

(a) the proceedings are concluded by reason of—(i) an accused’s conviction for an offence being quashed under section 118(1)(c) of the Procedure Act, or(ii) the setting aside of the verdict against the accused under section 183(1)(d) of the Procedure Act,(b) the restraint order is in force at the time when the conviction is quashed or the verdict set aside (as the case may be), and(c) the High Court of Justiciary has granted authority under section 118(1)(c) or 183(1)(d) of the Procedure Act to bring a new prosecution or the prosecutor has requested that the court grant such authority.(8B) But the court must recall the restraint order—

(a) if the High Court of Justiciary refuses a request to grant authority under section 118(1)(c) or 183(1)(d) of the Procedure Act to bring a new prosecution, (b) if the High Court of Justiciary has granted authority under section 118(1)(c) or 183(1)(d) of the Procedure Act to bring a new prosecution but no proceedings are commenced by the expiry of the time mentioned in section 119(5) or 185(5) of that Act (as the case may be), or(c) otherwise, on the conclusion of the proceedings in the new prosecution of the accused under section 119 or 185 of the Procedure Act.””

Amendment 9 agreed.

Clause 19: Notification of making etc of prohibitory property orders

Amendment 10

Moved by

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

10: Clause 19, leave out Clause 19

Amendment 10 agreed.

Clause 20: Offences relating to prohibitory property orders

Amendment 11

Moved by

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

11: Clause 20, leave out Clause 20

Amendment 11 agreed.

Clause 22: Notification of making etc of interim administration orders

Amendment 12

Moved by

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

12: Clause 22, leave out Clause 22

Amendment 12 agreed.

Clause 23: Offences relating to interim administration orders

Amendment 13

Moved by

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

13: Clause 23, leave out Clause 23

Amendment 13 agreed.

Clause 25: Provision of information

Amendment 14

Moved by

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

14: Clause 25, page 20, line 43, at end insert—

“( ) After that section insert—

“168A Provision of information as to defendant’s interest in property

(1) This section applies if the court—

(a) is considering whether to make a determination under section 160A of the extent of the defendant’s interest in any property, or(b) is deciding what determination to make (if the court has decided to make a determination under that section).In this section “interested person” means a person (other than the defendant) who the court thinks is or may be a person holding an interest in the property.(2) For the purpose of obtaining information to help it in carrying out its functions under section 160A the court may at any time order an interested person to give it information specified in the order.

(3) An order under this section may require all or a specified part of the information to be given in a specified manner and before a specified date.

(4) If an interested person fails without reasonable excuse to comply with an order under this section the court may draw such inference as it believes is appropriate.

(5) Subsection (4) does not affect any power of the court to deal with the person in respect of a failure to comply with an order under this section.

(6) If the prosecutor accepts to any extent an allegation made by an interested person—

(a) in giving information required by an order under this section, or(b) in any other statement given to the court in relation to any matter relevant to a determination under section 160A,the court may treat the acceptance as conclusive of the matters to which it relates.(7) For the purposes of this section an allegation may be accepted in a manner ordered by the court.

(8) If the court makes an order under this section it may at any time vary it by making another one.

(9) No information given by a person under this section is admissible in evidence in proceedings against that person for an offence.””

Amendment 14 agreed.

Clause 29: Orders for securing compliance with confiscation order

Amendment 15

Moved by

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

15: Clause 29, page 24, line 7, after “make” insert “, discharge or vary”

Amendment 15 agreed.

Clause 30: Variation or discharge

Amendment 16

Moved by

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

16: Clause 30, page 24, line 32, leave out “a chief clerk” and insert “the prosecutor”

Amendment 16 agreed.

Clause 40: Unauthorised acts causing, or creating risk of, serious damage

Amendment 17

Moved by

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

17: Clause 40, page 30, line 40, leave out “country” and insert “place”

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

My Lords, as we noted in Committee, the tentacles of cybercrime can now stretch across the globe. A perpetrator, sitting in their bedroom in London, could be hacking into a computer anywhere in the world, or, located outside the UK, a British national could be causing serious damage to their host country or in our own. The new offence provided for in Clause 40 acknowledges this reality and captures the serious damage that cybercriminals can cause in any country.

Clause 40 goes on to define a reference to country as including a reference to: a territory; any place in, or part or region of, a country or territory; and the territorial sea adjacent to any country or territory. My noble friend Lady Hamwee moved an amendment in Committee to seek further clarity on the last of these three points, which gave rise to an interesting debate on how best to capture damage caused outside territorial waters.

Following that debate, we have given further consideration to the position of installations such as oil rigs, ships and so on that are located outside the territorial waters of any country. Although I acknowledge that this scenario is extremely unlikely, it is not clear that the offence as currently drafted would capture an attack that caused serious damage to the human welfare of those living and working on such an installation, or to the surrounding environment.

To provide greater clarity on this point, therefore, Amendment 17 replaces the reference to damage to human welfare in any country with a reference to damage to human welfare in any place. Amendment 18 similarly replaces the reference to damage to the environment in any country with a reference to damage to the environment of any place.

Once these changes are made, there is no longer any need to extend the meaning of “country” to include its territorial seas. References to damage to the economy or national security of any country will remain, as either the economy or national security of a country has been damaged or it has not. In these cases, it is not necessary to include territorial seas within the definition of a country, so Amendment 19 removes this reference. I am most grateful to my noble friend for raising this issue and I beg to move.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

My Lords, I am grateful to both my noble friends on the Front Bench.

Amendment 17 agreed.

Amendments 18 and 19

Moved by

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

18: Clause 40, page 31, line 1, leave out “in any country” and insert “of any place”

19: Clause 40, page 31, leave out line 23

Amendments 18 and 19 agreed.

Clause 44: Offence of participating in activities of organised crime group

Amendment 20

Moved by

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

20: Clause 44, page 34, line 19, leave out “has reasonable cause to suspect” and insert “reasonably suspects”

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

My Lords, my apologies to the House for the slight mix-up in the order. It is one of the things that happen when you take people out of the Whips’ Office and put them in a departmental office—they forget their day job. We were sharply reminded of it and I am grateful to noble Lords for their patience.

These amendments follow up the debate in Committee on the new offence of participating in the activities of an organised crime group. Noble Lords will recall that, in response to various amendments tabled at that stage by my noble friend Lady Hamwee and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, my noble friend Lord Taylor undertook to consider further the potential for the offence to capture the naive or unwitting participant. I am pleased to say that discussions between Home Office officials and the Law Society, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales and the Local Government Association continued over the summer. As a result of those deliberations, I have tabled Amendment 20, which is similar but not identical to Amendment 21 put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith. Both these amendments would change the “reasonable cause to suspect” limb of the mental element of the offence. In Committee, noble Lords were concerned that “reasonable cause to suspect”, as an objective test, could capture the unwitting or naive and that there might be instances where the “reasonable cause to suspect” became clear only with the benefit of hindsight.

In providing for a threshold of “suspects” without qualification, Amendment 21 certainly deals with the concerns about inadvertently capturing the naive or unwitting. By definition, these individuals will genuinely not have suspected, when they took part in the relevant activities, that they were participating in organised criminal activities, even if they had reasonable grounds to do so. But this threshold might also capture the paranoid who suspected that their conduct was contributing to the activities of an organised crime group, despite the fact that there were no reasonable grounds for such suspicion. Amendment 20 therefore also requires the suspicion to be reasonable. This adds an objective test—there were reasonable grounds for the suspicion—to the subjective test that the individual genuinely suspected, and it requires both to be met for the offence to have been committed. It therefore provides some further additional protection against overcriminalisation. The approach in Amendment 20 has been welcomed by the stakeholders whom we consulted over the summer.

I will respond to the other amendments in this group once the House has had an opportunity to hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and my noble friend Lady Hamwee. For now, I beg to move.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

My Lords, I can certainly forgive a technical hitch when we are given a welcome substantive response. I am grateful to the Minister, because he has taken away the points that we raised in Committee and has brought forward proposals that will make the Bill more workable. It was always our concern, which the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said he would reflect on, that those who were not criminals but who were caught up in criminal activities for which they were not responsible could be affected by the clause. It could also act as a deterrent to people to report crimes in which they had become unwittingly involved because they could themselves be prosecuted, so I think that this is a major step forward. We have tabled our Amendment 21, but I think that the Minister has addressed the points that we have raised. We also needed to consider whether there was a case for an additional defence. I think that the Minister is saying that it is not necessary, because the change in the mens rea from suspicion to “reasonably suspects” is enough. It would be helpful if he would clarify that. However, this is a positive move from the Government, which makes the Bill more workable, and we are grateful to the noble Lord for taking on board the points that we made.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

I welcome the Government’s response to this. My amendment seeks further clarity on the provision in Clause 44(8) which makes it,

“a defence … to prove that the person’s participation was necessary for a purpose related to the prevention or detection of crime”.

“Necessary” is narrow, which is right, but a,

“purpose related to the prevention or detection of crime”,

seems to me very wide. The example that came to mind at the previous stage was undercover policing, which is a contentious activity, although we heard from a report in the last day or two some good news on how it is conducted.

I am still puzzled about whether the phrase,

“participation … for a purpose related to”,

and not just,

“necessary for … the prevention or detection of crime”,

takes it beyond something that is acceptable. My amendment invites my noble friend to amplify the provision, if he is able to do so.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

I am grateful for the welcome that the amendment has received. I am mindful of the two questions, which I shall do my best to address. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, the Bill already provides for a defence when the,

“participation was necessary for a purpose related to the prevention or detection of crime”.

We considered that that, together with raising the threshold for the offence to “reasonably suspects” and a requirement for any prosecution to be in the public interest, provided that additional safeguard. We therefore concluded that the general defence of acting reasonably is unlikely in practice to add any additional protection from overcriminalisation of this offence. However, in the light of particular concerns expressed about the position of the regulated sector specifically, we looked again at the need for a bespoke defence for the regulated sector.

Two aspects of the Proceeds of Crime Act have been raised in this context. The first relates to the obligation that members of the regulated sector have to report money-laundering carried out by another. This aspect is addressed in Amendment 22, which would provide a partial defence that would apply to a member of a regulated sector who took part in activities that he did not know or suspect to be criminal activities as part of an organised crime group. We believe that the additional dimension is there and that it provides a further protection for those who are involved in financial services. I am sure that is why the Law Society, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales and the Local Government Association have welcomed the amendment as far as it goes.

On the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, I covered that in the previous answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, but I will come back to her with more detail in writing if necessary. I beg to move.

Amendment 20 agreed.

Amendments 21 to 24 not moved.

Schedule 1: Amendments of Serious Crime Act 2007: Scotland

Amendment 25

Moved by

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

25: Schedule 1, page 55, line 8, leave out “involved in” and insert “convicted of”

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

My Lords, I intend to speak also to other amendments in my name, namely Amendments 26, 27 and 28. Amendment 25 is directed at paragraph 2(2) of Schedule 1. It seeks to replace “involved in” with “convicted of”, so that new Section 1(1A) would read:

“The appropriate court in Scotland may make an order if … it is satisfied that a person has been convicted of serious crime (whether in Scotland or elsewhere): and … it has reasonable grounds to believe that the order would protect the public by preventing, restricting or disrupting involvement by the person in serious crime is Scotland”.

I resist the temptation to enter the debate on whether “think” means “believe” by noticing that the “satisfied” appears in this provision.

New Section 1(5) of the Serious Crime Act 2007, which is also to be found on page 55 of the Bill, will provide that the term “appropriate court” means in Scotland the Court of Session or sheriff. As many of your Lordships will be aware, the Court of Session is the supreme civil court within Scotland. It handles civil business as opposed to handling criminal proceedings. As far as my understanding and experience go, it is not a normal part of its judicial role to make a formal ruling that an individual has committed a serious offence in Scotland. The prosecution and conviction of a person on a charge of serious crime has to take place in a criminal court, either the High Court of Justiciary or a sheriff sitting in exercise of the criminal jurisdiction that a sheriff court has. That distinction is applicable to all aspects of new Section 2A, which is at the foot of page 55, which states:

“For the purposes of this Part, a person has been involved in serious crime in Scotland if he … has committed a serious offence in Scotland; … has facilitated the commission by another person of a serious offence in Scotland; or … has conducted himself in a way that was likely to facilitate the commission by himself or another person of a serious offence in Scotland”.

These are all issues which, to my mind, involve alleged criminality.

If a Court of Session judge sitting in a civil court were to be involved as an “appropriate court” for the purposes of these provisions, a sheriff sitting in the sheriff court as an “appropriate court” would reasonably also be expected to be assessed as exercising the sheriff court’s civil jurisdiction. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm that those inferences have been correctly drawn.

Thus, the terms of the additional provisions set out on this page of the Bill would allow certain judges sitting in the civil courts in Scotland to impose a serious crime prevention order in Scotland on a person who had not been convicted in criminal proceedings of any serious crime committed in Scotland or, for that matter, elsewhere.

The Law Society of Scotland has been interested in this matter for some time. Having discussed the matter with it and seen the representations that it made in response to some consultations carried out by the Scottish Ministers, I submit that the provisions relating to the roles of the “appropriate court” are inadequate. It is suggested that the judge in such a court has to be satisfied that the person in respect of whom the order is sought has been involved in serious crime. That, they maintain, should be in the criminal court.

In addition to that concern, the position of the Law Society of Scotland in this matter is that the making of a serious crime prevention order in Scotland should be based on a pre-existing conviction of a serious crime, not just on allegations that fall to be considered once the matter comes before a judge. That position is based on the consequences for a person if they are made subject to a serious crime protection order. I do not intend to go into this in huge detail, but it is perfectly obvious—looking at the provisions of the Serious Crime Act 2007—that such an order has considerable implications for a person on whom it is placed. That means that any debate in court in proceedings leading up to the making of such an order has to be such that will ensure that all aspects of the allegations made against the person who is being threatened with the imposition of an order, and equally any explanations from the person concerned, are brought before the court for its consideration.

Obviously, this is based on provisions that have applied in England for some years. The background to it, I understand, is that Scottish Ministers issued a consultation paper in September 2013 entitled Serious Crime Prevention Orders in Scotland. The consultation paper explained that Ministers wanted to consider the effectiveness of serious crime prevention orders elsewhere in the United Kingdom as part of their policy for disrupting the activities of serious organised crime. As part of that policy, they sought to tighten the existing legislation and introduce new legislation in Scotland to make it harder for serious crime groups to operate. The Law Society of Scotland launched a response to the consultation paper. Among a number of submissions it made was one saying that a serious crime prevention order should only be made by a court in Scotland following a conviction for an offence of the person in question falling within one or a number of serious categories of crime.

After the Scottish Ministers received the various responses to their consultation paper, they announced that they would give further consideration to the options available for introducing serious crime prevention orders in Scotland. The route that the Scottish Ministers have followed has involved their requesting the United Kingdom Government to legislate to extend the provisions of Part 1 of the Serious Crime Act 2007 to Scotland. The Scottish Ministers, however, have never fully explained in public their reasons for rejecting the Law Society’s submission that no order should be granted unless the person to whom it relates has been convicted of a serious offence. The Law Society remains of the view that no order should be made unless the Lord Advocate or the police force have sought it in respect of a person to whom a conviction has already adhered. Given the restrictive nature of such orders, the Law Society remains of the view that it is unreasonable to impose such an order when an alleged offence remains unproven.

The Law Society understands that in England there have been no cases in which orders have been pronounced without a conviction against the subject of the order. They are referred to as stand-alone orders. It is fully accepted that there are not likely to be many of them were the provisions to be applied in Scotland, but if they were, in the Law Society’s opinion, they would clearly amount to an unreasonable restriction in the absence of a suitable foundation for them.

I therefore hope that the Minister will be able to accept Amendment 25 as representing the views of a very important body within the justice system in Scotland, which finds some support when one looks at the terms of Schedule 1 in its present form. Amendments 26 to 28 are there because of the content of page 55 of the Bill. If Amendment 25 is accepted, they would be of relevance. If it is refused, they become superfluous as a consequence of that decision.

In conclusion, I hope that the Minister can accept the amendments. If he can, that will be very welcome; equally, if he is unable to do so, it would be helpful if he could explain the approach that the Government have adopted to the various points raised.

At this stage, it is right that I should publicly recognise that, following Committee on the Bill, I had a very useful meeting with the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, for which I was very grateful, as was the Law Society when it was advised what had taken place. I beg to move.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

My Lords, before I address the specific points raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, it might assist the House if I provide a little background to Schedule 1. The provisions to extend the serious crime prevention order to Scotland have been included in the Bill at the request of the Scottish Government. The main policy driver for this in Scotland is the implementation of the serious and organised crime strategy, Letting Our Communities Flourish, in which the Scottish Government have committed to tackle serious and organised crime and to disrupt and dismantle organised crime groups. That is a priority for both the Scottish and the UK Governments. Clause 45 of and Schedule 1 to the Bill will extend the serious crime prevention order regime to Scotland and provide an additional power for law enforcement agencies to minimise the harm that serious organised criminals do to communities in Scotland.

A serious crime prevention order is a civil order that is used to protect the public by preventing, restricting or disrupting a person’s involvement in a serious crime. It is not intended to operate as a punishment. Serious crime prevention orders have operated successfully in England, Wales and Northern Ireland since 2008. When the Serious Crime Act 2007 was going through Parliament, the then Scottish Government decided to consider the effectiveness of serious crime prevention orders elsewhere in the UK before deciding whether those orders should be introduced in Scotland. It is a measure of confidence in the value of the orders that the Scottish Government have now concluded, following consultation last year, that the provisions in Part 1 of the Serious Crime Act 2007 should extend to Scotland.

As the noble and learned Lord made clear, the intention of these amendments is that the serious crime prevention orders should only be made by a court following conviction for an offence. I hope that I can allay the concerns of the noble and learned Lord by reassuring him that there will be a robust framework of safeguards for the use of SCPOs—as they are called—in the civil courts.

The class of applicant authorities will be restricted. Only the Lord Advocate will be able to make applications for civil or criminal SCPOs in Scotland. This reflects the current position in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, where only prosecutors may apply for an SCPO. It is not the case, as suggested in the Law Society of Scotland’s briefing paper, that the police will be able to apply for stand-alone SCPOs. I hope the fact that the Lord Advocate will act as a gatekeeper in this regard will provide some comfort for the noble and learned Lord, as he is a former holder of the office.

When considering an application for an SCPO, the court will need to be satisfied that the respondent has been involved in serious crime and believe that imposing an order would protect the public. Courts will impose an SCPO only when it is a necessary and proportionate response. There will also be a right of appeal against the imposition of an order. Furthermore, third parties will have the right to be represented at SCPO hearings if a decision concerning the order is likely to have a significant adverse effect on them.

It is also worth noting here that, since the 2007 Act came into force, no stand-alone order has been imposed in the rest of the UK in the absence of a criminal conviction. That said, we are working with the CPS to make better use of this preventive tool in future, including by seeking stand-alone orders in appropriate cases. I stress that, although these orders are civil, their overriding aim is to protect the public from harm.

The noble and learned Lord made a point about stand-alone orders in the more junior sheriff courts. In Scotland, a sheriff court may consider both civil and criminal cases. For criminal cases, on indictment a sheriff court may consider all crimes except murder, treason, rape and breach of duty by a magistrate. Stand-alone orders may also be considered in the Court of Session. It will be for the Lord Advocate to decide in which court to make the application. If a sheriff court sitting in its criminal capacity has the power to impose an SCPO, it is logical that it should have the same power when sitting in its civil capacity.

Schedule 1 seeks to replicate what is already in existence in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Other than allowing for different legal systems, there are no real differences in how the regimes will operate. I very much hope that I have been able to reassure the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, that the safeguards that will be in place will ensure that SCPOs will be imposed by Scotland’s civil courts only where it is necessary and proportionate to protect the public from the harm caused by serious crime. In the light of those assurances, I hope that the noble and learned Lord will be content to withdraw his amendment.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

I am very grateful to the Minister for her clear and helpful response to my question on the reasons for the Government’s position. In the light of that position and in the absence of any support from anyone else in your Lordships’ House, these four amendments are coming to a rather abrupt end. Speaking more seriously about it, I have little doubt that what the Minister has said today will be of use to those in Scotland who will come to implement the provisions in this Bill. In these circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 25 withdrawn.

Amendments 26 to 28 not moved.

Amendment 29

Moved by

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

29: Schedule 1, page 57, line 38, leave out from “Advocate” to end of line 39

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

My Lords, the four amendments in this group are minor, technical and drafting amendments to the provisions in respect of serious crime prevention orders. I do not propose to go through them in detail, but I would of course be happy to do so if it would assist the House. In the mean time, I beg to move.

Amendment 29 agreed.

Amendments 30 and 31

Moved by

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

30: Schedule 1, page 59, line 17, leave out “A court” and insert “The High Court”

31: Schedule 1, page 66, line 26, at end insert—

“( ) in subsection (1), for “, the Treasury or the Scottish Ministers” substitute “or the Treasury”;”

Amendments 30 and 31 agreed.

Clause 49: Serious crime prevention orders and financial reporting etc

Amendment 32

Moved by

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

32: Clause 49, page 39, leave out lines 28 and 29

Amendment 32 agreed.

Clause 56: Notice to be given where substances seized

Amendment 33

Moved by

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

33: Clause 56, page 42, line 34, leave out from “notice” to end of line 35 and insert—

“(a) to the person from whom the substance was seized, and(b) if the officer thinks that the substance may belong to a different person, to that person.”

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

My Lords, we now turn to the amendments relating to Clause 65—no, we do not. I am sorry but I had what is completely the wrong speaking note and I apologise to your Lordships.

During debate in Committee, I agreed to consider further an amendment put forward by my noble friend Lady Hamwee to what was then Clause 56—it is now Clause 59. Where a substance suspected of being used as a drug-cutting agent has been seized and the court makes an order authorising the continued retention of the substance, Clause 59(7) requires the relevant police or customs officer to notify a person entitled to the substance of that fact, if they were not represented at the court hearing. My noble friend queried why such notice should not also be given to the person from whom the substance was seized, if different from the person entitled to the substance.

I am grateful to my noble friend for raising a pertinent point. On further consideration, we agreed that her suggested amendment would strengthen the provisions in the Bill by helping to minimise any impact on the legitimate trade. Amendment 35 to Clause 59 therefore extends the notice provision in that clause. A similar point also arises in relation to Clauses 56 and 61, which also require notice to be given to a person entitled to the seized substance. Amendments 33, 34 and 36 therefore make equivalent changes to these clauses, while Amendments 37 and 38 to Clause 64 make consequential amendments to the definition of “entitled”. Once again, I am grateful to my noble friend for raising the point and I beg to move.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

My Lords, again, I give my thanks to my noble friend.

Amendment 33 agreed.

Amendment 34

Moved by

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

34: Clause 56, page 42, line 38, leave out subsection (3)

Amendment 34 agreed.

Clause 59: Continued retention or return of seized substances

Amendment 35

Moved by

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

35: Clause 59, page 44, leave out line 21 and insert “to the person from whom the substance was seized and, if the officer thinks that the substance may belong to a different person, to that person.”

Amendment 35 agreed.

Clause 61: Appeal against decision under section 60

Amendment 36

Moved by

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

36: Clause 61, page 45, line 35, leave out from second “to” to end of line 36 and insert “the person from whom the substance was seized and, if the officer thinks that the substance may belong to a different person, to that person.”

Amendment 36 agreed.

Clause 64: Interpretation etc

Amendments 37 and 38

Moved by

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

37: Clause 64, page 48, line 9, leave out “section 56(3)” and insert “subsection (2A)”

38: Clause 64, page 48, line 24, at end insert—

“(2A) The persons “entitled” to a substance for the purposes of this Part are—

(a) the person from whom it was seized;(b) (if different) any person to whom it belongs.”

Amendments 37 and 38 agreed.

Clause 65: Child cruelty offence

Amendment 39

Moved by

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

39: Clause 65, page 48, line 40, at end insert—

“( ) In subsection (1)—

(a) after “ill-treats” insert “(whether physically or otherwise)”;(b) after “ill-treated” insert “(whether physically or otherwise)”.”

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

My Lords, we now turn to the amendments relating to Clause 65, which clarifies and updates the law on child cruelty in Section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933. We had an informed debate on Clause 65 in Committee, during which a range of issues were raised in relation to Section 1 of the 1933 Act. In responding to that debate, my noble friend Lord Taylor undertook to reflect further on some of those issues over the summer. Having done so, we propose to make two further changes to Section 1.

The first is to clarify that the behaviour necessary to establish the ill treatment limb of the offence can be non-physical. In Committee the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, argued that as well as clarifying that the offence can be committed where the consequences of the behaviour in question are psychological, as Clause 65 already does, further amendments should be made to clarify that the offence can be committed by way of non-physical—for example, emotional—ill treatment and neglect. The Government’s view is that a failure to provide for a child’s emotional needs is beyond the neglect element of the offence, as a result of the House of Lords judgment in R v Sheppard. However, we consider that the ill treatment limb of the offence can relate to non-physical cruelty and Amendment 39 makes this explicit.

Amendment 40 updates subsection (2B) of Section 1 of the 1933 Act. That subsection makes specific provision about the liability for the child cruelty offence in circumstances where the child under the age of three is suffocated while in bed with a drunken person. Although there was no detailed discussion on this issue in Committee, the amendment of the noble and learned Baroness sought to repeal this subsection. Following discussions with the police and the Crown Prosecution Service, we believe that this provision continues to have some utility. Accordingly, we propose to modernise rather than simply repeal it. Amendment 40 will extend the provision to cover circumstances where the person is under the influence of prohibited drugs. The amendment also deals with the reference to the suffocation occurring in a bed, so that the provision also covers circumstances where the infant dies by suffocation while lying next to a person aged 16 or over,

“on any kind of furniture or surface being used … for the purpose of sleeping”.

These changes will address the specific concerns expressed by campaigners about Section 1(2B) being too limited. I should make it clear that Section 1(2B) does not create a separate offence but is a deeming provision—that is, if the circumstances described are proved by the prosecution, then the defendant is automatically held to have neglected the child under three in a manner likely to cause injury to its health, as required by Section 1(1), without the need for those ingredients of the offence to be proved individually.

Of course, taking a legitimately prescribed or over-the-counter medicine may make you drowsy. While it is not advisable then to sleep with a child, we are not convinced that if the child then dies, doing so should be deemed to amount to neglect. It should be clear, however, that it is not acceptable for anyone who illicitly consumes controlled drugs—as with alcohol—to then share a bed or sleeping place with a baby who is in their care.

The amended deeming provision applies only to the case of taking prohibited drugs, which are defined as illegally possessed controlled drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. For the amended deeming provision to apply in the case of drugs, a person must have been in unlawful possession of a controlled drug immediately prior to taking it. They must also have been under the influence of that controlled drug when they went to bed or other place to sleep. In our view, the term “under the influence” of a prohibited drug generally means that a drug must have made a material difference to the person’s day-to-day functioning.

Finally, Amendment 56 to Clause 71 will ensure that the changes to the law on child cruelty are not retrospective. I hope that noble Lords will agree that these are sensible changes that, when taken with existing provisions in Clause 65, will ensure that Section 1 of the 1933 Act continues to be fit for purpose, which I know was the concern of Members of your Lordships’ House. I will respond at the end of the debate to Amendments 41 and 41A, also in this group, having heard the contributions of my noble friend Lady Walmsley, the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and others. I beg to move.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

My Lords, I wish to speak to Amendment 41 in my name in this group. I welcome Clause 65 and the Government’s amendments to it, but I have tabled this further amendment, the purpose of which is twofold. First, it would delete the limitation in Section 1(1) of the 1933 Act that only people with responsibility for a child or a young person can be prosecuted for child abuse. This means that anyone could be prosecuted for such offences—for example, clergy, pastors, friends, relatives, neighbours or lodgers—not just parents or people acting in loco parentis. It is unclear to me why Section 1 was ever limited in this way. I ask the Government to explain why, particularly since we have seen in the recent Rotherham scandal how many children are abused by people who are not responsible for them. Secondly, it would clarify the meaning of “ill-treats” in order to make it clear that any allegation, by word or deed, that a child is possessed by an evil spirit or has harmful supernatural powers is unlawful because it amounts to serious emotional abuse of the child.

This amendment was debated twice on the then Children and Families Bill at the end of last year and the beginning of this year, and was followed by correspondence with my noble friend Lady Northover. Further to that correspondence, it is clear that the Government now accept two important facts that were not recognised before these debates. First, they now recognise that possession accusations are child abuse, regardless of what is done to the child as a result. Secondly, they accept that neither criminal nor civil law on child abuse can be used to take action on such abuse if it is perpetrated by someone who is not a parent or acting in loco parentis. Thus neither Section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 nor the Children Act 1989 can be used in such cases.

However, the Government did not accept the need for the change that I was proposing, pointing to various other criminal statutes that could be used where someone had caused a child injury by making a possession accusation: the Public Order Act 1986, the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and the Serious Crime Act 2007—my noble friend mentioned all of these in the correspondence. Those other statutes are not appropriate for three reasons. First, the point of my amendment is to protect children from knowing that they are believed to be possessed by evil spirits or to have supernatural powers, whereas using those statutes would entail the child having to give evidence that they were harmed by the allegations—thus precisely obviating the protection that my amendment is seeking.

Secondly, the primary aim of the amendment is not to prosecute but to prevent this kind of abuse. This can be done only if the law explicitly states that a possession accusation constitutes an offence against children—which, I reiterate, would not make a belief in evil spirit possession an offence, just the communication of that belief to the child or those known to the child. It is not my intention to get in the way of people’s seriously held religious beliefs. I hope I made that clear the last time I raised this point.

Thirdly, none of the cited laws has ever been used to charge anyone for alleging that a child has supernaturally evil powers, which is not surprising. It is extremely unlikely that any prosecutor would agree to a wholly speculative prosecution that balanced having to prove a child’s psychological trauma against the expression of strongly held religious beliefs, in the absence of direction from central government on this issue. I invite the Minister to seek the opinion of the Director of Public Prosecutions on this point if the Government are going to rely on these various statutes.

The numbers of children killed or seriously physically injured in this country by this form of faith-based abuse are not great—probably still under 100, although of course even one is too many. However, we do not know how many children are psychologically scarred for life by being told that they are possessed by evil spirits, that they are responsible for causing supernatural harm to their loved ones and that they are an object of hatred, fear and revulsion. Members of the National Working Group on Child Abuse Linked to Faith or Belief estimate that that number could run to many hundreds.

Are we failing to take action on this horrible torment of children because we are reluctant to challenge, in this instance, the religious practices of minorities? If the Government believe, as they say they do and I know they do, that possession accusations are child abuse, they should prohibit the practice specifically as they have every other form of significant harm to children. I ask my noble friend again to consider the wisdom of such an amendment.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving me the opportunity to discuss with him his Amendments 39 and 40. I am extremely grateful to him. I am happy with Amendment 39; it takes us a long way along the road that I have been battling for under the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, and I think it goes far enough. I thought that Amendment 40 was unnecessary. I have now been convinced by the Minister that it is not unnecessary, so I am also happy with that.

On what the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, has said, I suspect that the offences that the police and social workers did not deal with in Rotherham, for example, were so serious that the first part of Amendment 41 would not be necessary. However, I see the point that the noble Baroness is making and it is, with respect, a good one. Her point is that most, but not all, cases come under other legislation, and that is a point well worth taking away.

I agree with the noble Baroness’s point about evil spirits and witchcraft. We in this country underestimate what goes on in relation to witchcraft. It is an extremely serious and worrying, though limited, problem in relation to children, and it ought not to be ignored. There are those who, sometimes under the guise of an obviously totally debased form of religion, are trying to exorcise children through really appalling child cruelty. The noble Baroness is raising that area and, again, with respect, the Government ought to look at that rather more carefully.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

I am not sure that I heard my noble friend correctly but he talked about child cruelty when someone was, first, in possession of drugs and, secondly, under the influence of drugs. I understood him to say that they were actually under the influence of the drugs of which they were charged with being in possession. Purely for clarification, what is the position if they are in fact under the influence of a different drug? I ask this because barristers are on the whole extremely clever. I would like to make certain there is no escape clause in the Bill.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, was going to speak to Amendment 41A, but if he is not here I would be happy to make that case—or part of it, anyhow.

Child protection law clearly defines a child as a person under the age of 18. This is enshrined in the Children Act 1989 and in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, the law on neglect is 80 years old, so quite clearly it is seriously out of date. In 1933, life as a 16 year-old was very different. The school-leaving age at that time was 14. In 1931, 88.5% of males and 75.6% of females aged 16 to 17 actively participated in the labour market.

Current laws on work and benefits mean that 16 to 17 year-olds are made more vulnerable to neglect. You will not qualify for universal credit if you are under 18—with some limited exceptions. The minimum wage for a 16 to 17 year-old is £3.72 an hour, which makes it impossible for many to live independently.

This law clearly has had serious impacts on 16 to 17 year-olds. The police find it much harder to prosecute parents or guardians of 16 and 17 year-olds for abuse or neglect because these laws do not apply to 16 and 17 year-olds. Around 16,000 young people aged 16 to 17 experience a risk of homelessness as a result of conflict or relationship breakdown with their families. Ofsted’s review of serious case reviews between 2007 and 2011 showed that 18% of cases were in relation to 14-plus year-olds. One of the issues that the review highlights is that many young people in SCRs were treated as adults rather than being considered as children because of confusion about the young child’s age and legal status, or a lack of age-appropriate facilities.

What I am really stressing is that the law is inconsistent and needs clearing up. While a 16 year-old can marry, they still need permission from a parent or guardian. It makes no sense that an adult can break the law if they sell alcohol or cigarettes to a 16 to 17 year-old, or smoke in a car with a 16 or 17 year-old in the back seat, but not if they abuse or neglect them. I very much support this amendment from the Children’s Society. I hope that the Minister will be able to take account of it and work further on what needs to be done to update this law.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

My Lords, I rise briefly to support my noble friend Lady Walmsley on Amendment 41. This subject has been brought to my attention for the last 20 years or more and it is getting worse. Just last week there was a report on the number of children who are accused of having been bewitched. We need to make sure that those children feel secure and protected in the society that we live in. This is a form of cruelty, as my noble friend has said, and we must be assured in this House and in wider society that those children are protected, looked after and that they feel secure. The people who actually do these cruel things to children—because that is what it really is: child cruelty—must be aware that they cannot hide behind religious beliefs. That is the case at the moment. We need to make sure that everything is in place to ensure that children feel protected and secure and—as my noble friend said—feel that they have got somebody to whom they can turn if in need.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

My Lords, we have come back to a clause that was much debated in Committee. While we very much welcomed Clause 65 and the change to make clear that it is a crime to inflict cruelty which is likely to cause psychological suffering or injury to a child, we also supported amendments tabled at the time by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and called for by various children’s organisations, to further update the offence. As I understand it, those organisations, and indeed we ourselves, welcome the amendments that the Government have tabled and the explanations they have provided.

However, I would like assurances on a couple of issues. First, our original amendment further defined the scope of the offence by adding the words “physically or emotionally ill-treats, physically or emotionally neglects”. As the Minister has said, the Government have now tabled an amendment to clarify that the behaviour necessary to establish the ill-treatment limb of the offence can be non-physical, and we welcome this.

Another change relates to Section 1(2)(b) of the 1933 Act which makes specific provision about liability for the child cruelty offence in circumstances where a child under the age of three has suffocated while in bed with a drunken person. Again, the Government have listened to the Committee amendment and extended the provision to cover circumstances where the person is under the influence of illegal drugs, and it applies also where an adult suffocates an infant while lying next to him or her on any kind of furniture or surface. Again, this is welcome.

The Committee amendment would also have removed the reference to unnecessary suffering, which somehow suggests that the suffering of children may otherwise be necessary, and replaced it with a reference to serious harm. We understand the Government’s concerns that the overall impact of the amendment would be to raise the threshold of unnecessary suffering to serious harm, but we would like to hear more of the Government’s thinking after having given further consideration to the Committee amendment. We would like assurances that the difficulties with the term “unnecessary suffering” will be sufficiently addressed while also making sure that the threshold for harm is not raised.

Finally, the Committee stage would have defined the word “wilful”, which many have criticised as too difficult to interpret. Here, the Minister said that the Government felt that the concerns raised would be best dealt with through guidance rather than by amending the legislation. In the light of that, we would like reassurances on the following points: namely, that the police and others within the criminal justice system will be made fully aware of the change in law so that they understand the impact of psychological abuse; that guidance and directions will directly address the case-law definition of “wilful” to secure absolute clarity, including on the inclusion of “reckless state of mind”; and that that will be communicated to all parties. I hope that the Minister will be able to provide the assurances that I seek.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. I will seek to answer all the points they have raised as best as I am able. I will be mindful as I do so that I am relatively new to this field, in which many of your Lordships have immense and deep personal knowledge and experience. We therefore want to give that every possible attention and consideration. I will follow no particular order, but will try to follow through some of the points that were raised.

The first point was raised by my noble friend Lady Walmsley, who asked about Section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act; in fact the amendment is directed at any person who,

“has responsibility for any child”,

or is otherwise “legally liable to maintain” them. It therefore goes beyond that narrow definition of parental supervision to something much wider: to those who have responsibility for the child.

I turn to the extreme religious practices that were referred to by my noble friends Lady Walmsley and Lady Benjamin, and other noble Lords. As my noble friend Lady Walmsley explained, Amendment 41 seeks to amend Section 1 of the 1933 Act to make it an offence for any person to allege that a child is possessed by evil spirits or has supernatural harmful powers—the unacceptable practice sometimes referred to as “witch branding”. I am aware that my noble friend proposed similar amendments during the passage of last Session’s Children and Families Bill and has been in correspondence with the Department for Education regarding her concerns.

I share my noble friend’s commitment to safeguarding children from this and all other forms of abuse. A belief system can never justify the abuse of a child. We need to ensure that children are not subjected to abuse, or left vulnerable to potential abuse, because someone alleges that they are possessed. However, the Government believe that the current law is sufficient for this purpose. It provides adequate protection for children from the type of abuse that this amendment is trying to prevent. While the existing legislation does not specifically mention communication of a belief that a child is possessed by evil spirits, the current offence of child cruelty already captures ill treatment or other conduct by a parent or carer that is likely to cause a child unnecessary suffering or injury to health.

The Government are amending Section 1 through Clause 65 to make it absolutely clear that physical and psychological suffering or injury is covered by the offence. In addition, we are now making one further clarification in respect of the “ill treatment” limb of the offence to make it explicit that the behaviour amounting to “ill treatment” can be non-physical as well as physical. Those changes will make it even clearer that conduct of the type described by my noble friend’s amendment is capable of being dealt with, as we believe it is, under the Section 1 offence.

Where the conduct in question could not be covered by the offence of child cruelty or is not committed by a parent or carer, it could be caught by other criminal offences depending on the circumstances of the case. I am aware that Department for Education officials had earlier discussed the issues around witch branding with the Crown Prosecution Service, which makes any decision on whether a prosecution should be pursued. I understand that my noble friend has been sent a copy of the CPS guidance for prosecutors; this is an area with which the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, is also concerned. The guidance illustrates which legislation and which offences could be considered in different circumstances. I believe that it covers all the situations where a child might face potential harm, including those situations where the perpetrators of potential harm are third parties, such as “rogue pastors”.

Our approach should be to ensure that the scope of the current legislation is better understood to ensure that it works as it should. We will certainly engage in conversation with colleagues in the Department for Education and with other officials to do this. We must also raise awareness among the relevant communities and faith groups. That is a very important part of combating this problem: not only catching the offences when they happen but supporting work to raise awareness. I am sure my noble friends are aware that the Department for Education is part of the national working group on the issue, which published an action plan in 2012.

The department is funding two organisations, AFRUCA and the Victoria Climbié Foundation, which work with black and minority ethnic communities on safeguarding issues. In addition, part of the Department for Education grant to Children and Families Across Borders has been used to produce an online application to raise awareness of issues relating to witchcraft and spirit possession, which was launched earlier this year. This issue is an ongoing concern for the Department for Education and the Home Office, and I know that they will value enormously my noble friend’s input into developing an appropriate response.

My eagle-eyed noble friend Lord Swinfen spotted a potential gap in the existing law. The relevant wording is that the person would need to have been in possession of the drug that they had taken and of which they are under the influence. There would need to be evidence that the person was in illegal possession of that drug immediately before taking it. My noble friend highlighted that point and thought that it could be an area that a skilful barrister might be able to argue his way round. That may be the case and we will have to see how it is tested. However, that is the test which is required under existing law.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for his welcome of the amendment. He asked about replacing the reference to “wilfully” with the word “recklessly” or defining it as meaning that a person with responsibility for a child foresaw that an act or omission regarding that child would be likely to result in harm, but nonetheless unreasonably took that risk. There is a well established body of case law that sets out the meaning of the term “wilful” in this context. It clearly provides, among other things, that “wilful” already implies an intentional or reckless state of mind.

We are concerned that inserting a definition of “wilfully” into Section 1 of the 1933 Act would risk creating uncertainty in respect of the significant number of other existing offences subject to the “wilful” mental state; for example, the offence of wilfully neglecting a person lacking mental capacity under Section 44 of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 being taken forward in the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill. For these reasons, the Government cannot agree to the proposed changes. That said, I reiterate the assurance given by my noble friend Lord Taylor in Committee—namely, that Ministry of Justice officials are liaising with the Department for Education, the Crown Prosecution Service and the police on whether any updates or revisions to the relevant guidance would be necessary to ensure that the effect of Section 1 of the 1933 Act, as amended, including the correct understanding of “wilfully”, is clearly understood and appropriately applied by front-line professionals.

The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, made another point about whether the term “unnecessary” actually needed to be there as some considered it archaic and not relevant to modern times and wished for it to be deleted. Others want to use “serious or significant harm”, with “harm” defined broadly, to include “the impairment of physical, intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development”. It seems to us that the overall impact of such a change would be to raise the threshold of “unnecessary suffering” to “serious harm”.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

I think I had accepted what the Government had said: if you use the words “serious harm”, it would raise the threshold. However, I asked for assurances that the difficulties with the term “unnecessary suffering” will be sufficiently addressed rather than just being left. I had accepted the Government’s point that if you put in “serious harm” you might end up raising the threshold, but that still does not address the issue of the reference to “unnecessary suffering” with the implication, almost, that there can be such a thing as necessary suffering as far as children are concerned.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

I am grateful to the noble Lord for his clarification of his position, which I certainly accept. In this context, I refer him back to the reassurances given by my noble friend Lord Taylor in Committee, to which I referred previously. That guidance, and the understanding of how the rules should be applied by front-line professionals, will, of course, be taken very seriously indeed. We want to make sure that people understand that thoroughly.

In response to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, about the age of 16 or 17, young people aged 16 or over are lawfully able to be married, and are generally deemed capable of living independently of their parents. Those under the age of 16 are generally more vulnerable and dependent on those who care for them. For this reason, we believe it is right that Section 1 of the 1933 Act is focused on protecting persons under the age of 16. I realise that there is a campaign—if I may call it that—or movement that seeks to change that through the UN convention but, at the moment and in this context, we feel that 16 is the right threshold.

I have tried to address most of the points raised by noble Lords in response to my moving the amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment 39 agreed.

Amendment 40

Moved by

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

40: Clause 65, page 48, line 43, at end insert—

“( ) In subsection (2), in paragraph (b)—

(a) after “to bed” insert “or at any later time before the suffocation”;(b) after “drink” insert “or a prohibited drug”.( ) After that subsection insert—

“(2A) The reference in subsection (2)(b) to the infant being “in bed” with another (“the adult”) includes a reference to the infant lying next to the adult in or on any kind of furniture or surface being used by the adult for the purpose of sleeping (and the reference to the time when the adult “went to bed” is to be read accordingly).

(2B) A drug is a prohibited drug for the purposes of subsection (2)(b) in relation to a person if the person’s possession of the drug immediately before taking it constituted an offence under section 5(2) of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.””

Amendment 40 agreed.

Amendments 41 and 41A not moved.

Amendment 42

Moved by

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

42: After Clause 65, insert the following new Clause—

“Child abduction warning order

In section 2 of the Child Abduction Act 1984 (offence of abduction of child by other person), after subsection (3) insert—“(4) A chief officer of police may issue an order under this section (a “child abduction warning order”) in respect of a person (“A”) if it appears that the following conditions are met—

(a) A is over 18; and(b) A has without lawful authority or reasonable excuse been found in the company of a child (“C”); and(c) C is reported missing and is found on two or more occasions to be in the company of A; or(d) there is reason to suspect that C’s behaviour is, by reason of association with the defendant, giving significant cause for concern.(5) An order under subsection (4) prohibits A from being in the company of C.

(6) A person who, without reasonable excuse, does anything that he or she is prohibited from doing under a child abduction warning order commits an offence.

(7) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable—

(a) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or a fine (or both);(b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years.(8) The Secretary of State must issue guidance to chief officers of police in relation to the exercise by them of their powers with regard to child abduction warning orders.

(9) The Secretary of State may, from time to time, revise the guidance issued under this section.

(10) The Secretary of State must arrange for any guidance issued or revised under this section to be published in such manner as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.””

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

My Lords, I am moving again the amendment relating to child abduction warning notices which I raised in Committee. I do not want to go through everything that was said on that occasion. I was supported by the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley and Lady Howarth, and the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, who also supports my bringing this amendment before the House again. The problem is that the police do not have adequate powers to deal with grooming of young girls at the point at which the girl is in the process of being groomed but has not yet been taken off and sexually abused, raped or whatever. It is at a relatively early stage, but if it is not stopped it will carry on, as we know from a number of cities around the country.

The quite simple point, as was very neatly expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, in Committee, is that the current notice that the police have leads to no action being taken unless the threshold of an abduction threat has been met. This applies to the stage before the actual abduction threat. I am not happy about what the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said. I understand his concern that the police might have a power greater than they have in other powers but something needs to be done, which is why I have raised the matter again. I beg to move.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

This proposal came out of a parliamentary inquiry co-ordinated by Barnardo’s and chaired by Sarah Champion MP. Two of my noble friends, my noble friend Lady Benjamin and my noble kinsman Lord Thomas of Gresford, and I were both on that inquiry. We heard first-hand what others have been able only to read: the evidence for making this change to the law. It was very interesting and moving to hear the evidence of the victims. It was also moving to hear the evidence of the police who are committed to protecting children but feel that they do not have sufficient tools to do so.

Our focus should be on prevention or at the very least on the earliest possible intervention. The police are asking for this power to be made statutory so that they can enforce it at an earlier stage of the grooming process. It was made very clear that many of these young girls are quite willingly in the company of older people who eventually abuse them. One young person who gave evidence to us said that she genuinely thought that these people were her friends and the only people who cared about her in the world. That indicates that these young people are not there because they have been physically abducted; they are there willingly. Very often, in a prosecution, they are not willing to give evidence that they have been abducted.

Passing this amendment, or something very similar, would strengthen young people’s confidence in the police. Currently, the approach has a further damaging effect because it erodes the confidence of victims and their families in the ability of the police to protect them when they see that an abuser has broken the terms of a child abduction notice but no action is taken. That is why we need to make it statutory.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

I certainly do not intend to repeat the arguments that have already been made in Committee and on Report in favour of this amendment. As the Minister will well know, in his response in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, accepted that proposals to strengthen the impact of child abduction warning notices had the support of the police, legal experts, representatives of local agencies, young people who had been affected by sexual exploitation, children’s charities and others. The then Minister undertook to consider carefully the benefits of putting these notices on a statutory footing and how such a statutory scheme might operate. He indicated that the Government were committed to examining the case for placing child abduction warning notices on a statutory footing but said that, while the Government may not have completed their review by Report stage, he would update the House on progress. I may have missed a letter but I am not aware of the Government having completed their review.

Among the issues that the then Minister felt needed to be considered were whether it was appropriate for the police to impose an order or injunction, breach of which is a criminal offence; the test for the grant of an order; the prohibitions or restrictions that might be attached to an order; the penalty for breach of an order; and the reference in the amendment requiring a child to have been found two or more times in the company of the person to be made the subject of an order. On these issues, which were raised by the then Minister in Committee, as far as I am aware, we await the Government’s conclusions. I am assured that all those groups and bodies interested in this specific issue are happy to work with the Government to resolve these points.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, for tabling this amendment and for giving me the opportunity to put on the record some of the developments that have occurred over the summer, since my noble friend Lord Taylor addressed this issue in Committee on 15 July. I also congratulate my noble friend Lady Walmsley on the work of the committee that produced the report. I have had an opportunity to see and to review it. It produced some disturbing material and we need to get that material and that evidence into the policy process. I will set out what we are doing in response in my remarks.

We can all agree that child sexual exploitation is a horrendous crime; the Government are determined to stamp it out. We have seen this from the dreadful events in Rotherham, as highlighted by Professor Alexis Jay’s report, where there were appalling failures by the council, the police and other agencies to protect vulnerable children. We were all sickened to read about the victims in Rotherham and the horrific experiences to which they were subjected. Many have also suffered the injustice of seeing their cries for help ignored and the perpetrators not yet brought to justice. Our priority must be the prosecution of the people behind these disgusting crimes. Where there has been a failure to protect children from abuse, we will expose it and learn from it. I am grateful to the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, for again articulating the case for putting child abduction warning notices on a statutory footing. We note that there is support for this position from the police, legal experts, children’s charities and others.

Police forces are tackling child grooming for sexual exploitation. This is clear from the increasing number of these cases before the courts and the significant sentences being handed down to perpetrators. There will always be more to do. The Home Secretary has written to all chief constables to ask them to take on board the lessons from the Jay report into the failings of Rotherham, and from the rolling Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary inspections into how forces are protecting children.

Amendment 42 is an important contribution to this debate. The existing non-statutory child abduction warning notices are issued by the police. That is entirely appropriate where breach of a notice is not, of itself, a criminal offence. As the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, reminded us, in Committee, my noble friend Lord Taylor undertook to examine further the case for placing child abduction warning notices on a statutory footing. I am grateful to the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, for affording me this opportunity to update the House.

Over the summer, Home Office officials have worked with policing colleagues to examine the issues in more detail. Discussions have taken place with colleagues representing the National Policing Lead for Child Protection, the national policing co-ordinator on child sexual exploitation, the CEOP—Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre—command of the NCA and the College of Policing. While, in some cases there may be merit in the statutory offence of breaching child abduction warning notices, it has become clear through these discussions that the effectiveness of the current system is in its simplicity and non-bureaucratic process. Such notices are intended to disrupt predatory behaviour and stop access to a vulnerable child. They are often a useful step along the path towards more formal orders, and it is suggested that the immediacy of these notices could be inhibited by the need to apply for an order from the court.

Existing non-statutory child abduction warning notices are issued by the police. That is entirely appropriate where breach of a notice is not, of itself, a criminal offence. As my noble friend Lord Taylor indicated in Committee, it would be an unusual step to invest directly in the police—rather than in the court—a power to impose what amounts to a restraint order or an injunction, breach of which is a criminal offence. Compare, for example, restraining orders under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, which are granted by the courts. Other civil preventive orders such as serious crime prevention orders and gang injunctions, which are dealt with elsewhere in the Bill, are also subject to judicial oversight. We will continue to consider carefully with policing colleagues their views on the potential use of a statutory notice and whether, in their view, further changes are required better to protect children.

It is important to note here the wider work taking place across government to protect children. The Home Secretary is chairing meetings with other Secretaries of State to look at what happened in Rotherham. We will consider the findings of Professor Jay’s report and consider what the state at every level should do to prevent this appalling situation happening again. The meetings will build on the existing work of the Home Office-led national group to tackle sexual violence against children and vulnerable people, which is bringing the full range of agencies working in this area together better to protect those at risk and create a victim-focused culture within the police, health and children’s services. In July, the Home Secretary made a Statement about the sexual abuse of children, announcing the establishment of an independent inquiry panel of experts in the law and child protection to consider further whether public bodies and other non-state institutions have taken seriously their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse. The inquiry panel will be chaired by Fiona Woolf.

Given what I said, there is still more work to be done on this issue to find a position that balances the need of police forces to be able to take appropriate, effective and timely action when required and the need for safeguards, including appropriate judicial oversight. On this point, we still need to be convinced that making the change does not affect the simplicity, speed and unbureaucratic nature of the existing process. I hope and expect that we will have completed our consideration of this proposal before the Bill completes its passage through the House of Commons. I will, of course, notify the noble and learned Baroness and other noble Lords who have spoken in this debate of the outcome of our consideration of this issue. Indeed, I would add that, given the level of expertise in this House, it would be extremely useful if interested noble Lords would join me in a discussion with officials and other representatives so that they can see some of the responses we have already had about data, and the number of notices that have been issued and their effect, soon after the conclusion of our deliberations today, and certainly in the next few weeks. That will ensure that we can draw on the input and expertise of this House.

I know that the noble and learned Baroness would have liked to hear something more definitive in my response today, but I ask her to bear with us and accept that the intentions of Her Majesty’s Government are those of all noble Lords: we are absolutely resolute in respect of this heinous crime. I hope that she will agree to withdraw her amendment at this stage.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

My Lords, I thank all those who have taken part in this short debate and the Minister for setting out the thought processes of the Government, together with those who have been advising them. I am not entirely happy, as the Minister would expect. Perhaps I may start by saying that it is not the police in Rotherham who I was talking about because they failed the children. It is the police who do not fail children in other parts of the country and are issuing the child abduction notice who are concerned about its ineffectiveness. That, I think, is the point. I understand the advantages of an immediate notice and I can see that it is a disadvantage that an immediate notice necessarily has a statutory backing. But I wonder if the Minister could take away what I was thinking about while I listened to what he said. It may be that if the notice is immediately disregarded, one ought then to be looking at some sort of statutory notice that would make it a requirement to go to the magistrates’ court because it would be the second time. What you want to do is catch the groomers before they become child abductors and rapists. It is this early stage that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and I are particularly concerned about. However, I would welcome the opportunity to take part in any discussions, as I am sure would the noble Baroness—she is nodding—so do please ask us to take part. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 42 withdrawn.

Consideration on Report adjourned.