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Order for Second Reading read.
This is a consolidation measure. The first general legislative recognition of extradition came in the Extradition Act 1870. The Fugitive Offenders Act 1967 is currently the main legislation governing extradition to the independent members of the Commonwealth and to the remaining colonies. Part I of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 set out a new system of extradition to foreign states. The Bill consolidates this new legislation about extradition as between the United Kingdom and foreign states with the 1967 legislation about Commonwealth extradition.
In preparing the consolidation, the Law Commission and the Scottish Law Commission issued a report in which they made a number of recommendations for minor technical amendments in order that a satisfactory consolidation might be achieved.
The Bill has been passed in another place where, in the usual way, it was referred to the Joint Committee on Consolidation, &c., Bills. The Committee reported that the recommendations of the Law Commissions were necessary for the purpose of producing a satisfactory consolidation of the law, and that the Bill gives effect to those recommendations. The Committee adopted certain amendments to improve the form of the Bill. It concluded that, apart from giving effect to the Law Commissions' recommendations, the Bill was pure consolidation of the existing law.
As always, our thanks are due to the Law Commissions and to the draftsmen for continuing their important consolidation work and also to the Joint Committee for its careful scrutiny of the Bill on our behalf.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : I wondered whether this consolidation measure on extradition would take care of people who have committed large-scale fraud in the City of London and have the money and ability to fly the coop, unlike many of the people who are committed for crimes in Britain. I am thinking particularly of Peter Cameron-Webb and Peter Dixon in the famous PCW fraud case, who managed to get away with about £40 million--
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker) : Order. I remind the hon. Member that when we debate a consolidation measure we consider not the merits of the law but merely whether the law as enacted should be consolidated. We cannot discuss the merits of cases arising out of the law.
Mr. Skinner : But there is a difficulty. Not too long ago--I do not know whether you were present, Mr. Deputy Speaker--during Question Time I asked the Attorney-General about this matter. He gave the impression that there might be opportunities to extradite these two gentlemen, who are living in the lap of luxury, from the United States under the extension of- -
Mr. Skinner : This is a rather strange place, is it not? If it had been some old lady who had been caught stealing a tin of sardines in Marks and Spencer, I have no doubt that any consolidation measure would have allowed for that matter to be discussed, especially if she were thrown in gaol. But when it is the establishment--
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Member has been here a long time. He knows that whatever may have happened in other circumstances with respect to old ladies in Marks and Spencer, he cannot discuss these matters on the measure that is before the House. It is a consolidation of the law that has been approved by Parliament. The hon. Member cannot discuss changes arising under that law.
Mr. Skinner : I am not altogether happy about the consolidation, for the good reason that I do not think that the Acts, consolidated or otherwise, have been doing the job correctly in terms of those City crooks- -
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. Be that as it may, and the hon. Member may well be entitled to his opinions about the wisdom or otherwise of what has happened in the past, but Parliament has enacted that law and we cannot reopen those matters now. The hon. Member must address himself to the merits of consolidation. The only issue before the House is whether these measures should be consolidated.
Mr. Skinner : As a matter of fact, I am a little concerned about the fact that this consolidation is taking place. I may have to vote against this consolidation measure. I assume that I am still able to vote against consolidation measures.
I wonder whether the Solicitor-General can reply to my point about these crooks in the City of London who have got away with blue murder--£40 million, as a matter of fact. Will the Solicitor-General give us updated information about whether that five-year extradition period has been extended? Will it be possible under this consolidation measure--which we cannot discuss in principle, but which we can mention in passing--for these people to be apprehended? Can they be brought over here at a later date?
We have had a Cabinet reshuffle, so I suppose that we could say that it has been consolidated, or otherwise. Shall we have another statement from the Attorney-General under the consolidation measure? Is that possible or am I asking too much in requesting the Solicitor-General to explain why these people have got away with it? As this Government are supposed to believe in law and order with equality for everyone--which we know is not true, but let us assume that it is--will the Solicitor-General tell the people that those crooks in the City of London, such as those at Blue Arrow, Phillips and Drew, County NatWest and NatWest itself, could come under this consolidation measure?
I am throwing those cases in as an example in discussing the merits of consolidation generally, of course. I am not into discussing the merits of a particular measure, but whether, when we pass consolidation measures, it is a good idea to throw in a few anecdotes and examples to give the issue some colour and flavour so that we understand what it is about.
Column 1135Is the Solicitor-General likely to say that the Serious Fraud Office will deal with the crooks at County NatWest, and ensure that they do not fly the coop under this consolidation measure and that they are treated equally with ordinary citizens? Those are questions that hon. Members should ask on behalf of their constituents late at night in this quaint little place. Will the Solicitor-General respond to them? Of course he will not.
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : I want to raise a couple of points about consolidation. The measure involves a number of orders and they seem to be affirmative orders in every case. That is, no doubt, a reflection of a consolidation. Affirmative orders were produced in previous consolidated legislation so, naturally, we expect that precedent to be followed. However, it is the practice of the House for affirmative as well as negative procedure orders to go to the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments. The Committee then reports to the House on the deficiencies, including, as the Solicitor-General knows, the question of the vires of the order. As some important issues are covered by the Bill, it is relevant that if the Committee reports that an order is ultra vires or defective in drafting, or that a Minister is making unusual use of powers, those reports should be taken into account.
When the Joint Committee on Consolidation, &c., Bills examined the fact of consolidation and the incorporation of these affirmative procedures into the legislation, did it consider making it a requirement--which is not a requirement under Standing Orders of the House--that before the affirmative orders could be debated in the Chamber, the Solicitor-General and the House should have the opportunity to study the report from the Joint Committee? The examination and scrutiny of delegated legislation in this House is abysmal. Only last week, we dealt with 15 orders--admittedly not by the affirmative procedure, because they were negative instruments which were being prayed against--in three hours. There was a report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments for which the evidence was not available so the House could not consider it, although it should have done so. As the members of the Joint Committee on Consolidation, &c., Bills are Members of the House and as they are getting measures together in one central document, they should have given some consideration to such reports and they should have incorporated other matters into the legislation. I shall be pressing for this more widely on every consolidation measure so that members of the Committee know that they should not consider only previous legislation--and I have no quarrel with their considering that.
The Committee should also incorporate the way in which the House has dealt with previous legislation. Would it not be reasonable for the Minister to comment, first, on whether he thinks that the House should have the reports before the orders provided for in this measure are debated and, secondly, whether the Committee considered framing the legislation so that there was no question of a repeat of what has happened in the past?
Column 1136On several occasions the Committee has undertaken work and taken evidence but because the Government Whips find the democratic process a bit of a nuisance and push to one side not only Labour Members of the Committee but Conservative Members--
"Orders in Council relating to colonies"
and clause 32(3) says :
"Any Order in Council under this section shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament."
Clearly, we are talking about affirmative resolutions. What I am asking the Minister is whether, in deciding on the affirmative procedure, the Consolidation Committee considered ensuring that Ministers who are being given power under the Bill-- [Interruption.] Effectively, the House throws such powers away ; it does not care how Ministers exercise the powers. That happens in Standing Committee as a matter of course, so why cannot we ask whether members of the Consolidation Committee gave their minds to this process, instead of going through the routine in about half an hour and being glad to get out of the place--the usual path that the Consolidation Committee takes? In this instance, at least, we are legislating for people in difficult and controversial circumstances, and in my view, we do not examine the minutiae of some of the legislation that we pass as closely as we should.
In the light of the powers given in the Bill, my question to the Minister seems relevant. Did the Consolidation Committee say, "All right--we shall ensure that the Minister is subject to further scrutiny by making sure that the reports of the Committee appointed by the House to produce them are considered, instead of being thrown on to the legislative scrap heap so that the House cannot make a judgment on them"? I can see from your interested attitude, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you think that the Minister could well comment on this matter.
Mr. Gary Waller (Keighley) : I want to make two quick points in response to the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer). First, the Joint Committee on Consolidation, &c., Bills, of which I am a member, goes through these matters in considerable detail, and for very much longer than the hon. Gentleman suggested. Secondly, some half a dozen members of the Labour party are members of that Committee and I do not think that a single one of them has attended the Committee during this Parliament.
Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield) : I am a little surprised at what is going on here ; I really am. We as Members of Parliament are entitled to know what is going on, but it would seem that there is a secret society about, and I am pleased that I have listened to my hon. Friends the Members for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) and for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). The problem that they have outlined worries me. We are ordinary Members of this
Column 1137Parliament, and we are entitled to know what is going on, yet it would seem that those who serve on the Committee are the only ones who know what is going on apart from the Minister, so I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will give us some answers tonight. I am pleased that I stayed to listen to my hon. Friends.
What drew me more than anything was the speech made by the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller), because he is trying to protect his Committee. He was afraid and upset as a result of the remarks made by my hon. Friends. Their comments drew the hon. Member for Keighley to his feet. I hope that, because of what my hon. Friends have said, we will get some answers tonight.
I know the Solicitor-General quite well. He seems to be a fair and honest chap. I speak to him privately outside the Chamber and we talk about all manner of things. I have got to know him and I hope that he will stand up tonight and answer some of the questions that have been put to him. He should ignore the contribution from the hon. Member for Keighley. The questions that count were raised by Opposition Members.
I hope that the Solicitor-General will respond to the questions from my hon. Friends. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover suggested that the Solicitor-General was fastened to his seat and did not want to get out of it. As a result of what has been said this evening, I hope that we will get the answers. I do not like secret societies. We are entitled to know what is happening in this place. I represent 66,000 electors back home out of a population of 103, 000. When I return to my constituency, I want to be able to tell them that this is not a secret society. My hon. Friends the Members for Bolsover and for Bradford, South have opened this matter up when it could just have slipped through. I congratulate them on returning to the Chamber to open this matter up because they have given me the opportunity to express my feelings about it. Mr. Solicitor-General, come to the Dispatch box and tell us what is happening.
The Solicitor-General : It is a very special pleasure to be able to fulfil the wishes of the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) who wants to know what is going on. I must disappoint him by disagreeing with his criticism of my hon. Friend the Member for Keighly (Mr. Waller) who obviously knows what is going on and who played a detailed part on the Joint Committee on Consolidation, &c., Bills. I am glad to be able to tell the hon. Member for Ashfield that he is not living in a secret society. If his onerous duties as an Opposition Whip had given him time to pass through the Members Lobby, he might have swung away to his left--something that I know that he finds very difficult to do--and called at a window where he could have obtained a selection of documents including the minutes of proceedings and evidence of the Joint Committee on Consolidation, &c., Bills.
The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) has an almost unrivalled knowledge of the procedure of the House, and that knowledge is greatly respected. It was therefore very unusual that he should not have stopped off at the Vote Office and equipped himself with the very detailed documents about the workings in this House and
Column 1138another place of the Joint Committee on Consolidation, &c., Bills, in which he would have found informative answers to the questions that he raised.
Mr. Haynes : The Solicitor-General is pursuing a line which might cause me to go off him. I do not think that he has worked in the Government Whips Office. Yes, I work in the Opposition Whips Office. However, the Solicitor-General has not been there and he does not know what kind of work is involved. I do not have the time to run to the Vote Office every five minutes to see what is going on in there. I have other duties to perform on behalf of east midlands Members. I am a very busy chap and I am here all the time.
I frequently pass through the Members Lobby unless I am telling at the Division Lobby door. The Solicitor-General must understand that we are not all like him--we are not lucky enough to have everything put in front of us, in our laps, with a clear explanation of what is going on. I have to seize opportunities like this to find out. My hon. Friends the Members for Bolsover and Bradford, South have opened all this up. Come off it, Mr. Solicitor-General, be fair about this.
[Interruption.] The Mansfield CHAD, I am told, will have a particularly interesting article this week, drawn from the minutes of the proceedings of the Consolidation Committee. The hon. Gentleman has been kind to me, so I shall be kind to him and say that he has actually spoken to me occasionally on the Terrace, which was a special treat. I hope that he will do me another favour and send me a copy of his article drawn from the debate, and I shall read it and learn from it and know that our proceedings are understood far beyond the portals of this place, to the benefit of our fellow countrymen. Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.-- [Mr. Greg Knight.]
Considered in Committee.
Mr. Cryer : On a point of order, Mr. Walker. The Order Paper states that the remaining stages "may" be taken. It does not say that they will be taken. Therefore, I wonder whether any manuscript amendments are permitted, in view of the vague indication on the Order Paper and the unusual circumstances in which other stages may be taken. Naturally, with a lack of certainty, it is not easy for hon. Members to table amendments. Therefore, it seems to me that, as the point that I have raised could easily be altered in a tiny, modest amendment, perhaps a manuscript amendment could be moved so that we could progress more equitably and improve the Bill.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : I have no responsibility for what appears on the Order Paper. The House has agreed that we should be in Committee. I have received no notice of any amendments. With the leave of the House I will put together clauses 1 to 38.
Clauses 1 to 38 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Schedules 1 and 2 agreed to.
Bill reported, without amendment.
Order for Third Reading read.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.-- [Mr. Patnick.]
Mr. Cryer : I understand your difficulty, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wonder whether, at some time, you could have a word with the person who chaired the Committee for which you are not responsible and draw to his attention the omission to which I have drawn your attention. That would be a help. On Second Reading, the Minister did not answer my point. He referred me to some documents that explained the details of the working of the Consolidation Committee. That Committee produced a report, and hon. Members are very grateful for it. My guess is that the Consolidation Committee did not consider incorporating a requirement that the report of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments should be available to the House before the provisions in the Bill are debated. If it did so, I am sorry that it did not press ahead with it and incorporate it in the consolidated measure with which we are dealing. If it had done so, it would have been an unprecedented move which I would have welcomed
As a member of the Committee is in his place--the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller)--I wish to draw his attention to the desirability of such a procedure. It would ensure that the work of Conservative and Labour Members who serve on the
Committee--unfortunately, the SLD member of the Committee has not turned up since the 1987 general election and has resigned his membership of the Committee as a consequence of my drawing attention to the matter, and I have no doubt that the minority parties are searching for a replacement--is not ignored. They work hard and diligently.
It is important that reports of the Committee's work should be available to the House. There should be a Standing Order that the reports should be available and
Column 1140that the Committee should report to the House before a debate takes place in the Chamber. At present, the procedure amounts to a matter of luck. It seems reasonable that I should register my concern. I hope that some sort of pressure will result in time in the incorporation of a requirement in primary legislation that covers secondary legislation.
I remind the House that under the Government, secondary legislation and statutory instruments have not diminished. In 1979, the new Conservative Government were committed to taking legislation off our backs. Since then they have increased the number of statutory instruments that come before us. There are more and more delegated powers, and these are often highly complicated in their nature. Sometimes their text is four or five times the length of the Bill.
I am merely saying that there should be some sort of check. The Minister has not answered the points that I have raised. I wish only to register the importance of the procedure that I am advocating. 11.37 pm
Mr. John Fraser (Norwood) : I have listened carefully to my hon. Friends the Members for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) and for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes). The House will recall that I spoke briefly to welcome the Bill.
The problem with British law is that it is far too complicated and found in far too many places. Schedule 2 tells us that the law on extradition, which is extremely important, is found in 27 different statutes. It was the idea of the leading Bevanite, Geoffrey Bing, that we should have a simple and speedy method of, to take the Bill as an example, getting rid of 27 statutes and replacing them with one statute. It was the view of Geoffrey Bing and his colleagues that the best way of achieving that would be to consolidate the law in a way which meant that there would be no substantial changes to it. I do not disagree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South says when he expresses his concern about statutory instruments, but I wish to make my position clear. If we introduce amendments when we deal with consolidation, the major objective of bringing complex law into one statute so that it can be understood by practitioners and laymen alike will be lost. For that reason I was somewhat brief at the beginning of our consideration of the Bill.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill read the Third time, and passed, without amendment.
in the Chair ]
Except as provided for in subsection 3(A) below'.
The Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Harold Walker) : With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 2, in line 27, add at end-- 3(A) The provisions in subsection (3)(a) above, insofar as they require the presence of and attestation by witnesses, should not apply to the execution of deeds of covenant made in favour of a charity'.
Mr. Wallace : The amendment would exempt from the provisions of the Bill, which substantially enacts the recommendations set out in report No. 163 of the Law Commission on deeds and escrows--I hope that I have pronounced that correctly--a provision which would exempt deeds of covenant executed in favour of a charity.
The reason for the amendment is relatively simple. As the Bill stands, it will be necessary for deeds of covenant to be attested by two witnesses or in the presence of a witness who attests the signature of the person who is executing the deed. Several charities have expressed the fear that, as the amounts given by many people are relatively small, if those people had to go through the additional procedural requirement of having the deed attested, they might be discouraged from executing such deeds, thus depriving many charities of sums on which they depend to keep their good works going. Barnardo's in particular has made representations to my hon. Friends and myself that that could have a considerable impact on their receipts. It has been estimated that the average donation by covenant is £32.95, which the House will recognise is a modest sum, but when that amount is grossed up over many people, it amounts to the lifeblood of many charities.
There are several reasons why people might hesitate to execute such deeds if they had to require the presence of a witness. The witness may be a member of the family or a close friend, and the individual may feel embarrassment. Some people have a natural modesty about giving money to charity because it is the sort of thing that they like to do anonymously and they would not necessarily want their friends or relatives to know. People might be reluctant to make covenants that had to be witnessed, as they might feel that the person who was being asked to witness the deed would feel left out in any testamentary succession.
Whatever the motives, many charities feel fear and apprehension. We have consulted many bodies, including the Charities VAT and Tax Reform Group, which shares the concern that charities could lose a substantial amount of money. I am sure that that is not the Government's intention ; I concede that, in a number of successive
Column 1142Budgets, they have made specific proposals to encourage charitable giving and have done some things to help the fiscal position of charities.
Having looked at the Law Commission's report, I must say that it is not evident that this position has been considered, and I do not believe that to date--perhaps the Solicitor-General will be able to inform the House on this point--that potential problem has been given adequate consideration.
As charities could be seriously affected by this measure, I hope that the Government will give serious consideration to the amendment which, albeit in small amounts, could mean cumulatively hundreds of thousands of pounds for charities. If the Government cannot accept the amendment, I hope that the Solicitor-General will be able to say something positive so that the many charities that genuinely fear the consequences of the measure will have some reassurance.
The Solicitor-General (Sir Nicholas Lyell) : I am grateful to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) for moving this short amendment and for giving us the chance of a short debate to clarify the Government's position on this matter. There has been an opportunity to consider correspondence with the charities that he mentioned. I am grateful for what he said about the actions of this Government over several years in taking steps greatly to encourage charitable giving. The Bill's objective is to put nothing in the way of that.
If one concentrates for one moment on what the hon. Gentleman's amendment would seek to do and then on what is current practice and on what is sensible, one quickly finds the answer to the point that he has raised. Therefore, I hope that what I say will quickly set minds at rest.
The effect of the amendment is that deeds of covenant in favour of a charity would not need to be witnessed and attested, but they would still have to be signed and delivered, and it would still have to be clear on the face of the instrument that it was intended to be a deed. Even for this amendment, it would be recognised that there must be formalities, which are important because the giver is creating a document which has legal effect and also, through the Revenue, gives rise to tax relief.
What the Bill proposes, and what the Law Commission after much careful thought decided was sensible, was that, whereas in the past, a Bill had to be signed, sealed and delivered, but did not have to be witnessed--the question of sealing frequently gave rise to difficulties and to failure to receive tax relief--in future a deed should make it clear on its face that it was a deed and that it should be witnessed and delivered.
The practicality of witnessing, which the amendment seeks to remove, is well illustrated by the fact that every covenant that hon. Members on both sides of the House have signed already contains lines for witnesses' signatures. It has become almost standard practice for such deeds to be witnessed, although that is not a legal requirement. Therefore, the Law Commission recommended that we should bring the formalities of the Bill into line with contemporary standards--yes, keeping some formality and, yes, providing safeguards, but doing it in a way that people will very well understand.