Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Home Office
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

My Lords, I reiterate what the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, and the noble Lord, Lord Fox, have said: there has been a co-operative approach to this Bill, which I think will make it a better Bill. I was going to make exactly the points that the noble Lord, Lord Fox, has just made about the need to build in a way of feeding back to Parliament, particularly given that crypto assets are a very turbulent technology; it is a very turbulent industry. We know about the criminality endemic within these types of so-called assets. The point has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Fox, that Parliament needs to find a way, through flexibility and feedback, to make sure that the appropriate regulations are kept in place.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their brief points in this debate. Broadly speaking, I agree with all the points that have been made. It is important to maintain a high level of flexibility, because this is a very fast-moving space technologically as well as with regard to the use of these assets in the broader economy and for other purposes. I agree with everything that has been said. Obviously, these amendments allow us to maintain a high degree of flexibility, so I ask noble Lords to support them. There is not much point in saying anything else at this point.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Faulks Portrait Lord Faulks (Non-Afl)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I rise briefly to support the noble Lord. Two key themes emerged from our lengthy debates on the Bill. The first was that the scale of economic crime is a major threat to the prosperity of the country. The second was that there is a significant inequality of arms between the enforcement authorities and the perpetrators of economic crimes. I could weary the House at length but I will not do so. This is an attempt to redress that inequality and not provide a disincentive for the authorities to pursue the perpetrators of economic crime.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

My Lords, if the noble Lord chooses to move to a vote, we will support him. This amendment would build on last year’s Bill, which introduced similar changes to unexplained wealth orders. It is a welcome development, and I hope that the noble Lord presses his amendment to a vote.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, unfortunately, the Government are not able to accept this amendment, although we are sympathetic to the points made by my noble friend Lord Agnew. The amendment is designed to protect public authorities from having costs awarded against them if they fail to recover the proceeds of economic crime under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

First, the Government are not persuaded that public authorities that lose their case should be protected in this way. Secondly, this is a major breach of the general principle applied in civil litigation in the High Court that the loser pays.

Thirdly, it is a major interference with the discretion of the court on the question of costs. Fourthly, if such a change were to be contemplated, it should be a matter for the Civil Procedure Rules and not something inserted without detailed reflection on Report in your Lordships’ House. Fifthly, it would produce even more inconsistency than allegedly we have already. I do not accept that there is material inconsistency, but you would have one rule for some POCA cases and another rule for other POCA cases, because not all POCA cases are economic crime cases.

However, the Government are prepared actively to consider a consultation to properly consider this matter and the evidence with a view to ensuring that there is a correct balance of justice and the proper consideration of the pros and cons. That, very briefly, is the Government’s position.

I will briefly deal with one or two points. This is not like unexplained wealth orders, which have been mentioned. Those are an investigative procedure and not determinative of civil rights and obligations. In some respects, the UWO procedure is closer to a search warrant than to a recovery of money in civil litigation. It does not provide an analogy to the present case.

It is true that there are various costs regimes in various cases. It is probably not useful to weary your Lordships with particular decisions, but it is not without interest that in the case of Pfizer and Flynn, which involved the Competition and Markets Authority, the authority lost at first instance and was ordered to pay some of the costs. The Court of Appeal overturned that on the basis that it did not want to have the “chilling effect” of public authorities having to pay the costs when they lose litigation. However, the Supreme Court restored the original judgment and said, “This so-called chilling effect is only one factor”. In other words, it is not decisive. You must consider in that jurisdiction all the factors. The Government draw from that case that the so-called chilling effect is not necessarily decisive, and that one must have a regime that enables the court to balance all the relevant effects.

With all respect for the motives behind it and the concerns that have been expressed, this amendment is too blunt an instrument to be a proper exercise of primary legislation in an area which very much calls for balanced consideration under the Civil Procedure Rules. As I said at the outset, the Government are perfectly prepared actively to consider reform of the Civil Procedure Rules with that aim in mind.

I hope that I have persuaded your Lordships that this is not an occasion to make an exception to the well-established rule that has stood for hundreds of years, whether it applies to HMRC, the National Crime Agency or the FCA. If they make a complete Horlicks of a case, there is no reason to let them off the costs. That is the Government’s position.