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

Volume 812: debated on Monday 17 May 2021

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Cash Searches: Code of Practice) Order 2021.

My Lords, in moving this order, I shall also speak to the following draft instruments: the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Search, Seizure and Detention of Property: Code of Practice) Order; the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Cash Searches: Code of Practice) Order; the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Recovery of Listed Assets: Code of Practice) Regulations; the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Investigations: Code of Practice) Order; and the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Investigative Powers of Prosecutors: Code of Practice) Order 2021.

The Government are taking wide-ranging action to crack down on crime and make our communities safer. One important part of that mission is our drive to stay one step ahead of criminals seeking to move, hide or use the proceeds of their illegal activities, and seeking to frustrate attempts by law enforcement agencies to recover them. The Criminal Finances Act 2017 was introduced to amend the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 and significantly improve the UK’s ability to effectively trace and recover the proceeds of crime. The Criminal Finances Act has not been fully commenced in Northern Ireland. The reserved aspects of that Act—the counterterrorist financing and tax evasion provisions—were commenced, but the devolved provisions, primarily those pertaining to asset recovery, are outstanding.

Noble Lords may recall that the Assembly was dissolved during the passage of the Criminal Finances Bill, meaning that it was not possible to secure a legislative consent Motion. It was decided that the devolved provisions should remain in the Bill. At that time, we signalled our commitment to the central principles of the Sewel convention by openly stating before Parliament that we would not commence provisions on matters devolved to Northern Ireland without the appropriate consents having been obtained. Following the reconstitution of the Assembly, and in the absence of a mechanism to seek legislative consent in retrospect, the Justice Minister agreed that the outstanding powers should be commenced and—after engagement with the Northern Ireland Executive Committee and the Justice Committee and advising all Northern Ireland Assembly Members—asked the Home Secretary to commence the relevant provisions. We plan to commence the powers on 28 June this year.

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

The first draft instrument brings into force a code of practice providing guidance for UK-wide agencies exercising reserved functions in Northern Ireland. That code governs powers of search, seizure and detention of property located in Northern Ireland to preserve it for confiscation. While it applies only to Northern Ireland, the code is issued by the Home Secretary because it relates to reserved bodies and their functions in Northern Ireland.

The four remaining instruments before the Committee bring into force revised codes of practice to provide guidance on search powers for recovering cash, powers to search personal assets, and investigatory powers. Three of the four remaining codes are issued by the Home Secretary and one is issued by the Attorney-General and Advocate-General for Northern Ireland specifically to provide guidance to prosecutors in the exercise of investigation powers.

The new powers that give rise to the revised codes of practice were debated extensively by both Houses during the passage of the Criminal Finances Bill. They are: the extension of various powers to officers of the Serious Fraud Office; a change to the definition of cash for the purposes of cash seizure and forfeiture powers to include gaming vouchers, fixed-value casino tokens and betting slips; the creation of new powers to seize, detain and forfeit certain personal assets; a broadening of the use of disclosure orders, which may now be sought in support of a money laundering investigation; and the introduction of unexplained wealth orders, which require certain persons to explain the origin and legitimacy of any assets that appear disproportionate to their known income.

Codes of practice must be revised, or new ones brought into force, when certain changes are made to the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. That Act mandates that the Secretary of State must publish a draft, consider any representations made and modify the draft in the light of such representations, prior to laying revised codes. The draft codes of practice we are debating were subject to a nine-week public consultation spanning from the end of last year to the beginning of this year. Information on the consultation can be found in the Explanatory Memoranda that accompany the statutory instruments. Additional codes of practice have also been publicly consulted on and revised by the Northern Ireland Department of Justice.

To be clear, this debate does not concern the powers themselves. Rather, we are here to debate the codes that provide guidance about the use of those powers. The revisions that the Home Office and Attorney-General’s Office have made to the codes are technical and minor. The draft codes of practice largely replicate the published versions, as debated and approved by both Houses in 2017 and 2018.

The Proceeds of Crime Act and its subsequent amending legislation are complex. The codes of practice are therefore required to aid law enforcement officers’ understanding of the appropriate and proportionate way to utilise their powers. Additional record-keeping requirements imposed by the codes ensure that the public and judiciary can scrutinise the circumstances in which the powers are used, or are intended for use.

Certain powers governed by these codes of practice are intrusive; they may involve significant interference with individuals’ rights to privacy and peaceful enjoyment of their property. That is not to say they are not justified, but it is clearly right that we provide guidance on the exercise of those powers to safeguard against improper use. The codes of practice achieve this not only by clarifying the circumstances in which the powers may be exercised but by ensuring a consistent application of those powers. That is of vital importance given the broad range of law enforcement agencies to which the powers apply. When new powers are introduced the codes must be revised and scrutinised to ensure that the safeguards within are up to date. That is what these draft instruments and these debates provide.

These five draft instruments are necessary to deliver the Government’s objective to bring outstanding provisions of the Criminal Finances Act 2017 into force in Northern Ireland. We are determined to use every possible tool to trace and recover the proceeds of crime. The draft codes that we are debating ensure that those powers are used effectively, not only to deprive criminals of their ill-gotten gains but to help prevent further offending, therefore supporting our efforts to protect the public. I commend the instruments to the Committee.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing these instruments, which stem from the Criminal Finances Act. The Minister will no doubt recall that I spent a fair bit of time trying to encourage more and faster steps during the passage of that Act. However, today’s instruments relate to the codes of practice for enforcement, and I wish to speak around that more generally rather than on the particular extension to Northern Ireland.

The codes are important because they give guidance on how officers exercise their functions, and are of interest to persons who may be the subject of the powers. While I have little sympathy for wrongdoers, functions must be exercised lawfully and proportionately. There may also be parties inadvertently dragged into scope. I therefore have no quarrel with the content of these instruments as such, but there are surrounding matters of interest and I am taking the opportunity of the time available for this debate to see whether the Minister can provide some more information.

My first point is that the code of practice will be of use only if it is backed up with a proper and robust training package by the NCA’s Proceeds of Crime Centre. The Home Office’s Asset Recovery Action Plan of July 2019 stated that the Government would conduct an independent review of the Proceeds of Crime Centre by March 2020. Earlier this month, the Government released a statement of progress on the economic crime plan, which states that this review has been completed and its recommendations are being implemented. The fact of that follow-up is good, one supposes, but the review has not actually been published and requests for its release under the Freedom of Information Act have been rejected. Therefore, it is not possible to know what the recommendations from the review that are being implemented are, what the background to those recommendations is or how effective they will be, because the information is not published. Given the centrality of the Proceeds of Crime Centre to ensuring effective training on the code of practice, will the Government make public that review and put a copy in the House of Lords Library? If that is not being done, can the Minister explain why not and what other information is available to Parliament?

My second point relates to the first: these powers will also be effective only if the UK has properly resourced financial investigators and law enforcement to investigate and prosecute for proceeds of crime. Again, there is an unpublished review, in Sir Craig Mackey’s independent review into law enforcement capabilities for tackling serious and organised crime and the cost of implementing the 2018 serious and organised crime strategy. The Government published the executive summary of Sir Craig’s review in March 2021, but that summary does not cover one of the key areas of the review’s terms of reference: the funding for law enforcement to tackle serious and organised crime. That is despite the fact that the review was specifically commissioned in 2019 in the context of the comprehensive spending review. Again, requests for the report or a summary of its recommendations on those matters to be released under the Freedom of Information Act have been rejected.

The Government have committed in their economic crime plan to develop a sustainable long-term resourcing model for economic crime reform. As part of that they have announced that they will introduce an economic crime levy, which they expect to bring in £100 million per year. The consultation closed in October last year and we are still waiting for its results. They have also made a one-year £63 million settlement with the Home Office to tackle economic crime, but the director-general of the NCA said in 2019 that the UK needed a £2.7 billion investment over three years in tackling serious and organised crime, which was estimated to cost the UK at least £37 billion a year. Without serious funding, these codes of practice will surely be used a lot less than they might be.

Will the full review be published? If not, why not? What further information will be given to Parliament? Without publication of the reviews, one is left to postulate that the content is embarrassing, but right now the embarrassment is in the extent of organised crime, and that ultimately it falls as a cost on society and the individual, yet the numbers indicate it should be possible to recover far more.

Finally, the code of practice lays out how law enforcement can use unexplained wealth orders, among other investigative tools. However, recent case law, the Baker judgment, has exposed significant gaps in the legislation for implementing unexplained wealth orders and exposed how, without greater protection against costs, law enforcers are unlikely to use these tools against wealthy, litigious kleptocrats, if at all. It has been suggested that there might be additional reforms, such as allowing production orders to be used before an account freezing order needs to be made. Is that reform something that the Government intend to pursue?

My Lords, I begin by saying that I fully support the SIs that the Minister is proposing. I welcome her detailed explanation of the purpose of the regulations and that they will allow the full commencement of the Criminal Finances Act provisions in Northern Ireland at long last. This will unlock better outcomes against organised criminality, protect our economy and reduce harm in those communities that are particularly affected by organised crime gangs and paramilitarism, which has bedevilled many communities in the area that I had the great privilege to represent for many years in north Belfast.

The Criminal Finances Bill, as the Minister said, received Royal Assent back in April 2017 and has been fully commenced in England, Scotland and Wales. The fact that it has not been fully operational—the reserved matters have been, but the devolved issues have been disrupted and delayed by the previous suspension of devolution—is a matter of deep regret. We certainly saw the fall of this legislation, which proceeded in the other parts of the United Kingdom, as a major disadvantage to the collapse of devolution. It has led to a disparity in powers available to authorities in other regions of the United Kingdom in the fight against serious organised crime—and my goodness we need it in Northern Ireland perhaps more than anywhere else.

The Justice Minister in Northern Ireland has rightly said that she wants to see this introduced as quickly as possible, and there have been widespread calls, including from Members of the Assembly, for the commencement of the powers, particularly in relation to the new unexplained wealth order, account freezing and forfeiture provisions. We do not want Northern Ireland to have a weaker regime than other UK jurisdictions. It is therefore welcome news that these SIs have been laid.

It has been frustrating, as I say, but I hope that we can now look forward to the forces of law and order and the NCA having all the tools at their disposal to tackle organised crime gangs. As the Minister said, this will not just deal with those who have been directly engaged already but act as a severe deterrent to others. When I was an elected representative for north Belfast, time and again residents would ask me, “How is it that so-and-so around the corner is driving an extremely fancy car and is able to go on foreign holidays? We’re all here looking at this, we know what’s going on and the police seem powerless to act.” It was a severe problem and still is today.

The unexplained wealth orders in particular are extremely welcome and will go a long way to tackling paramilitarism and organised crime. When people do not see clear action taken in the face of obvious wrongdoing, it erodes confidence in law enforcement agencies’ ability to deal effectively with the problem. I hope that this will really give the police and others the tools they need.

There was a recent documentary on Northern Ireland television—I do not know whether it was shown on the mainland as well—about the Northern Bank robbery, one of the biggest bank robberies in the history of the UK, when £26 million was stolen by the Provisional IRA back in December 2004. Many millions of that money are still unaccounted for. People have been searching out how it has been used to finance all sorts of nefarious activity. It would be really good if some of these powers were used to track down that money and seize some of those assets from those who should not have them and are using them for nefarious purposes.

The extension of the National Crime Agency to Northern Ireland was, of course, resisted in the usual quarters, but it is playing a vital role in disrupting and dismantling organised criminality in our Province. Increasingly, protocols have been agreed with the PSNI to focus the National Crime Agency on major-impact disruption, and it is important that this does not lead to a diminution of activity towards smaller groups, particularly where the criminal finance element does not meet the threshold for some of the powers afforded by today’s code.

I believe that there is scope for the Justice Minister in Northern Ireland to examine the potential for a new assets-recovery agency, in line with the recommendations of the Independent Reporting Commission and the Policing Board, to better capture the economic harm and proceeds of crime held by paramilitaries. There is a need to continue to focus all the time on how we can increase the effectiveness and targeting of tools to enhance outcomes against these groups. If we cut off their finance, we will go a long way to putting them out of business. It is one of the greatest priorities we have in Northern Ireland. Make no mistake: some of these groups are still very active as crime gangs and drug gangs across Northern Ireland. I welcome the Northern Ireland Justice Minister’s intention to establish new offences of participating in and directing organised crime, as well as aggravated offences.

I very much welcome this very positive step forward. It is overdue, but at least come June we will be at the point where these powers are available in Northern Ireland. That is very good news indeed for the people of Northern Ireland.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for the explanation of these instruments, all of which are important in the fight against crime and criminality, and to ensure that the ill-gotten gains from crime do not fuel further levels of criminality in our society. Like the noble Lord, Lord Dodds of Duncairn, I welcome these prescribed codes because they will enable the Minister for Justice in Northern Ireland and those involved in tackling crime and criminality, such as the National Crime Agency, the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Assets Recovery Agency, which was subsumed into SOCA, to do their job more effectively. We are fed up of seeing these criminal gangs feeding off their ill-gotten gains at the expense, in many instances, of deeply marginalised and vulnerable communities, particularly in urban areas.

The noble Lord, Lord Dodds, referred to one of the greatest acts of criminality—the Northern Bank robbery, about which there was a documentary and a BBC Sounds drama in recent weeks. Two of the people abducted lived quite near me, and were my constituents when I was a Member of the other place and of the Northern Ireland Assembly. They vividly told me what happened to them on that night, when they were imprisoned in their own homes and the husband was taken away to the Northern Bank to participate in the robbery of his own place of employment. Like the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, I agree that these new codes of practice should be used to find out how and why that money was stolen, where it is being used, how it has been disbursed and in what ways it is strangulating our society in Northern Ireland.

All these instruments are very important for the recovery of cash obtained under illegal circumstances. I have already referred to Northern Ireland; that is my starting point and, I suppose, my end point. I note that the revised code is required due to the commencement of outstanding provisions in the Criminal Finances Act 2017 in Northern Ireland, which grants additional powers to law enforcement and prosecution agencies that are already available in England, Scotland and Wales. All these codes have been amended to reflect the commencement of new powers in Northern Ireland. The Minister for Justice has been looking for these enhanced powers, which could not have been enacted earlier because of the lack of functioning political structures in Northern Ireland for three years. Thankfully, those were reinstated in January last year with the launch of New Decade, New Approach.

While I support and underline the importance of these prescribed codes, I would like the Minister’s reassurances that they were subject to an equality impact assessment. If not, why not? Are they human rights compliant? As others have mentioned, it is important that the prescribed codes themselves, in their guidance and in the powers, are proportionate and that they reflect good human rights practices. I am also in absolutely no doubt that many communities in Northern Ireland, particularly in urban areas but also in rural areas, have been left in a perilous state because of the actions of paramilitaries and gangsters who have tried to escape these rules in order to pursue and perpetuate their ill-gotten gains. That, I believe, must be stopped.

The National Crime Agency and the Assets Recovery Agency have important powers that need to be used proportionately and assertively. The Serious Organised Crime Agency concentrated on international crime, which was and is important, but it changed the threshold for crime detection. As a result, many others involved in paramilitary activity and gangsterism in Northern Ireland have escaped the net. It is important that those issues are looked at.

While I agree with these rules, it is important that we look at this in the all-Ireland sphere, because many of the paramilitary operations, with their gangland assets and ill-gotten gains, operate on an all-Ireland basis. They also operate through drug trafficking. Many drug barons operate in the south of Ireland and in Northern Ireland. There needs to be a greater level of co-operation. What efforts can be made with the Irish Government to look at this as an all-Ireland operation to tackle such crime, using these prescribed codes?

I am very happy to support these instruments because I believe that we and the Government must have the intention and power to deal with drug trafficking, money laundering and bank robberies on an all-Ireland basis to free our communities from the danger of paramilitarism and racketeering.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for explaining these statutory instruments. My noble friend Lady Bowles of Berkhamsted has raised important issues relating to the operation of the legislation more broadly, but as far as these SIs are concerned, the first relates to the code of practice covering cash searches under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, which needed to be revised as a result of the powers extended by Section 22 of the Criminal Finances Act 2017. Although these new powers were brought into effect in Great Britain shortly after Royal Assent, as the noble Baroness explained, the suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly in February 2017, until its reconstitution in January 2020, prevented the Home Office seeking the approval of the Northern Ireland Assembly to commence the relevant provisions of the 2017 Act in Northern Ireland. The Home Office has now secured that approval, hence this and the other four SIs.

Although this SI and the others being debated simply bring Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the United Kingdom, and there is a good reason why this was not possible before, there is one aspect of this first SI on which I seek further information from the Minister. The Explanatory Memorandum says that the codes of practice require

“an officer who is contemplating using the powers to consider the impact on the community in their use, balanced against the public interest and the benefit … the powers would add to the case.”

For me, who has no knowledge or experience of Northern Ireland, that still has particular resonance for Northern Ireland. Could the Minister explain further what the impact might be of the use of these powers in the light of the circumstances in Northern Ireland? Is there a potential for the use of these powers to be particular sensitive against the background of the Province? The noble Lord, Lord Dodds of Duncairn, mentioned that there was a protocol between, I think, the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the National Crime Agency. Is this further evidence of such sensitivity? The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, wondered whether there was a diversity impact assessment and a human rights assessment, again suggesting that there might be particular issues in Northern Ireland that are not as relevant to the rest of the United Kingdom.

The second SI relates to revised codes of practice relating to the investigative powers of prosecutors to cover unexplained wealth orders, interim freezing orders, disclosure orders, extending the powers of members of staff of the Serious Fraud Office, detained property and frozen funds investigations. These are again the result of the Criminal Finances Act 2017 amending powers under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. As with the other SIs, other than drafting changes and responses outside the scope of the SIs, there were no responses to the public consultation. In addition, I understand that the Home Office has invited representations from the Attorney-General’s Office, Her Majesty’s Treasury, the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland and the Scottish Government, in accordance with the Proceeds of Crime Act, and each organisation has confirmed that it is content.

The third SI relates to revised codes of practice for investigations concerning the use of general asset recovery investigation powers in Chapter 2 of Part 8 of the Proceeds of Crime Act, as amended by the Criminal Finances Act 2017, now that these provisions are being enacted in Northern Ireland. These are codes of practice for officers and other persons exercising their functions under POCA, as opposed to those for prosecutors contained in the second SI.

The fourth SI relates to the need for a revised code of practice in connection with the search, seizure and recovery of certain listed assets, such as precious metals and stones, watches, art works, vouchers and postage stamps, as opposed to the first, which relates to cash, gaming vouchers, fixed-value casino tokens and betting slips.

The fifth SI relates to a revised codes of practice in connection with the search, seizure and detention of property, such as cars, jewellery, electric goods and clothing, that is often of high value and can be easily moved, hidden or sold during a confiscation investigation following a criminal conviction. As with all these SIs, the need for the change is the result of the enactment of changes to the Proceeds of Crime Act made by the Criminal Finance Act 2017 that were delayed in Northern Ireland as a result of the suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly. As a result, with the exception of the community impact concerns, we are content with the orders.

My Lords, as we have heard, these orders are being brought forward to reflect the extension of the Criminal Finances Act provisions to Northern Ireland. I say right at the start that I fully support the orders and welcome the fact that they are with us this afternoon.

I recall our extensive debates in the Chamber on the Criminal Finances Act. It is about tackling money laundering and terrorist finance, among other things, and being able today to bring forward these orders to apply to Northern Ireland is very welcome. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, that it was regrettable that the Assembly was suspended and we could not get them in place earlier, but now that it is up and running again, it is welcome that we are able to do so today.

I very much agree with the noble Lord that the measures will deal with criminality—that is really important—and act as a deterrent to others who are thinking of getting into criminality or paramilitarism. It is very important we are seen to give a strong lead there. I endorse the remarks of my friend the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, in her support for these measures and what she hopes will be their positive effect. It is really important if they can help track down those funds from the Northern Bank robbery. I saw the documentary; I have not heard the stuff on BBC Sounds, but will have a look for it. It is important that we recognise what the money that was stolen there has been able to finance.

I do not know Northern Ireland as well as either the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, or the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, but I have been there many times and I have many friends who live in the Province. I think that it is absolutely right, no matter what community you come from, to look at the effect that this sort of activity will have on marginalised communities and on all communities, on their prospects. If we can stop people being dragged into this sort of behaviour in future, that is a really good thing, and all communities will benefit from that. I very much welcome that.

I also endorse the comments from my noble friend Lady Ritchie. It is important to work with the Government in the Republic as well, because there are cross-border issues there. That is a very important issue.

The order updates the codes of practice. I am aware that Naomi Long has asked for these powers to be extended; she actually asked for that in June 2020. My only regret is that we have not been able to do this sooner, which I suppose is because of the pandemic and everything that has been going on. The sooner we get these powers in place, the better.

I have a couple of questions, although nothing of any major significance, because many points have already been raised. It is very good to get the orders in place, as I say, but can the Minister confirm the reasons for delay, given that the request was made in June 2020—nearly a year ago now? Is the delay because of the pandemic? It is quite unusual to bring in legislation to be retrospectively consented, three years after the Bill became law. I know that that is because the Assembly was suspended; I am delighted that it is up and working now, and we hope that we never again get a situation when it is not up and running. It would be useful to understand that.

What is the Minister’s opinion about how the legislation works in the rest of the United Kingdom? It has been in place for three years now—has it been good? I have seen a number of reports of when unexplained wealth orders have been granted against individuals. Will the Minister tell us a little about what she thinks the effect of the law has been? What additional training and oversight has been put in place to help officers and others to ensure that they can actually enact this legislation and use the power that they have been granted properly and forcefully so it can have the effect that we all want it to have?

With that, I fully endorse the orders before us today and look forward to the Minister’s response.

I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. So many questions were asked that I can hardly keep up with them.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, asked about training for law enforcement, which is a perfectly reasonable question, because of course the powers will apply to them. The powers will largely be exercised by asset recovery specialists, who require little to no additional training; this includes officers of the NCA and the Serious Fraud Office. Our operational partners have a strongly embedded practice of supporting one another in our asset recovery endeavours. That can involve referring all aspects of the case to other agencies with particular expertise to ensure maximum proceeds of crime are removed from the system.

Noble Lords may also be aware that accredited financial investigators, individuals who support the traditional law enforcement agencies to disrupt economic crime, are trained, accredited and closely monitored by the Proceeds of Crime Centre in the National Crime Agency. Accredited financial investigators are subject to continuous professional development requirements and have their accreditation reviewed every two years. To ensure that recruitment, retention and training of financial investigators is robust and effective, an independent review of the current training provided by the Proceeds of Crime Centre—or POCC—was commissioned. It was completed in 2020, and we are working with the NECC and wider stakeholders to develop a comprehensive plan for reform. That will ensure that the training offered to our financial investigators is among the best. To that end, we intend to have a multiagency approach to the reform of POCC, and progress will be overseen by the multiagency strategic asset recovery group of Ministers.

The noble Baroness is also right to make the point about resourcing; we understand those concerns and it is important that agencies have the required resources to implement the new powers, which is why a proportion of the proceeds of crime recovered by law enforcement agencies is reinvested into the system under the asset recovery incentivisation scheme. The more an agency recovers, the more it receives to be reinvested in law enforcement capability. It is also important to recognise that, although powers are necessary to keep pace with criminals’ ever-changing modus operandi, these new powers will not necessarily demand additional resource. For example, existing resource that may have been used exclusively to address criminal cash five or 10 years ago may now be better deployed across cash forfeitures and forfeiture of funds held in bank accounts.

The upcoming economic crime levy will also be used to drive reforms to the sustainable resourcing of economic crime and could be used to fund an uplift in financial investigative capacity. On the SOC review, it has always been our intention to publish its key recommendations and we did so on 16 March by releasing the executive summary. The full report will not be published because of its sensitivity, but we have made it available to the appropriate partners.

An impact assessment has not been prepared for the instruments because we have considered the overall impact of commencing the Criminal Finances Act in Northern Ireland rather than preparing separate assessments for each statutory instrument in this package. On what has delayed it, the EU exit statutory instruments —of which there were many—have to a large extent been impacting absolutely everything we have done for the last couple of years, so that is the answer.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, is right to ask how the Act is working; I think it is working well. The Criminal Finances Act has been vital in dealing with just the sort of people that the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, spoke about—those driving around in big cars and you wonder where the heck they ever got the money from; that is absolutely right. On the utility of the regulations in Northern Ireland, the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, asked whether we are going to bring in new legislation. Clearly, we will keep them under review, which is very important, and update legislation where necessary.

In Northern Ireland, civil recovery investigations enhanced by the use of unexplained wealth orders, where appropriate, could play an integral role in tackling organised criminality and, as the noble Lord and the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, said, paramilitarism, which is a key priority for the law enforcement agencies represented under the Organised Crime Task Force and the Paramilitary Crime Taskforce. Indeed, the Independent Reporting Commission recommended that the powers in the Criminal Finances Act were commenced in Northern Ireland as an utmost priority. Stripping criminals who are linked to organised crime and paramilitarism of their proceeds of crime can prevent those engaged in criminal activity benefiting financially or materially. This, in turn, will discredit them and prevent funding of other illicit activities.

On the thresholds that the noble Lord asked about, noble Lords may recall that the Criminal Finances Bill originally specified that only property valued in excess of £100,000 could be the subject of an unexplained wealth order and that that was then lowered to £50,000 after the Government tabled an amendment following representations from the devolved Administrations that the value of property varies considerably depending on where it is held in the UK. Having a value threshold as a qualifying criterion is considered to be a necessary safeguard against what is essentially an intrusive investigatory power.

I underline the point that I made to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, that the statistics demonstrate that the Proceeds of Crime Act powers are having a good impact. However, as I said to the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, they are of course always kept under review.

I think I have answered all the points that noble Lords put to me and, with that, I beg to move.

Motion agreed.