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Column 1330VI of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. One cannot therefore exclude the possibility that certain provisions of the Bill will create a heavier penalty than would currently be imposed, and that that penalty may be imposed in a few cases where proceedings are instituted after the Bill comes into force but where the offences were committed beforehand.
My hon. Friend the Member for Exeter was right to table amendments to deal with the issue, and the Government support them. His amendments will ensure that any provisions in the Bill that might give rise to a heavier penalty will apply only where offences with which a person has been charged are committed after commencement. Amendment Nos. 2 and 3 specifically prevent the assumptions from being made unless all the qualifying offences for both triggers are committed after commencement.
Amendment No. 13 is directed at the provision abolishing the £10, 000 limit. Hon. Members will recall that a confiscation order cannot be made at all at present under part VI of the Criminal Justice Act unless the defendant's benefit and the amount of realisable property available for confiscation both exceed £10,000. For the purposes of article 7 of the European convention, a confiscation order cannot be regarded as available in such cases at present. Therefore, the same risk of violation arises as with the triggering offences that attract the assumptions. The provisions of clause 1, which provide for the abolition of the £10,000 limit, will therefore apply only where a person has been convicted of offences committed after commencement. Amendment No. 14, to clauses 8(1) and 9, relates to the provisions on imprisonment in default and the addition of interest to unpaid confiscation orders. A confiscation order will continue to be expunged by the service of imprisonment in default unless the offences in respect of which the order was made are committed after commencement. Similarly, interest will not be added to a confiscation order unless the offences leading to the order were committed after commencement.
I apologise for making such a lengthy intervention, but it is important that the Government's position on this matter is made clear. I thank the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green for her support for the amendments, which will protect the Bill. Having heard the Government's views on the extraordinary judgment by the Strasbourg court, I hope that the House will my support hon. Friend's amendment.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment made: No. 4, in page 3, line 32, leave out `and' and insert--
`( ) it is an offence which was committed after the commencement of section 2 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 1995; and'.-- [Mr. Maclean.]
Sir John Hannam: I beg to move amendment No. 5, in page 3, line 46, leave out from `court' to `in' in line 1 on page 4 and insert-- `(i) to be held by the defendant at the date of conviction or at any time in the period between that date and the determination in question, or
Column 1331(ii) to have been transferred to him at any time since the beginning of the relevant period,
was received by him, at the earliest time when he appears to the court to have held it, as a result of or'.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris): With this, it will be convenient to discuss also the following amendments: No. 6, in page 4, line 3, leave out from `his' to `in' in line 4 and insert `since the beginning of the relevant period was met out of payments received by him as a result of or'.
No. 7, in page 4, line 35, after `section', insert--
` "the date of conviction" means--
(a) in a case not falling within paragraph (b) below, the date on which the defendant is convicted of the offence in question, or (b) where he is convicted of that offence and one or more other offences in the proceedings in question and those convictions are not all on the same date, the date of the latest of those convictions;'. No. 8, in clause 5, page 8, line 10, after `apply' insert `(subject to subsection (8A) below)'.
No. 9, in line 13, at end insert--
`(8A) For the purposes of any determination to which section 72AA above applies by virtue of subsection (8) above, none of the assumptions specified in subsection (4) of that section shall be made in relation to any property unless it is property held by or transferred to the defendant before the time when he was sentenced or otherwise dealt with in the case in question.'
No. 10, in clause 6, page 9, line 47, after `apply' insert `(subject to subsection (6A) below)'.
No. 11, in line 50, at end insert--
`(6A) For the purposes of any determination under or for the purposes of subsection (3) above to which section 72AA above applies, none of the assumptions specified in subsection (4) of that section shall be made in relation to any property unless it is property held by or transferred to the defendant before the time when he was sentenced or otherwise dealt with in the case in question.' No. 12, in clause 7, page 11, line 1, at beginning insert `subject to subsection (3A) below,'.
No. 13, in line 18, at end insert--
(a) the court is under a duty to make a fresh determination for the purposes of subsection (3)(a) above in any case, and
(b) that case is a case to which section 72AA above applies, the court shall not have power, in determining any amounts for those purposes, to make any of the assumptions specified in subsection (4) of that section in relation to any property unless it is property held by or transferred to the defendant before the time when he was sentenced or otherwise dealt with in the case in question.'
Sir John Hannam: As the Bill stands at present, a court is permitted to assume that property that has passed through a defendant's hands in the past six years has come from crime. The purpose of the amendments is to permit a court to make a further assumption that property held by the defendant has also come from crime.
The amendment brings the assumptions in the Bill fully into line with those in the drug trafficking legislation. I should mention that the Bill as originally drafted reproduces three of the four assumptions provided for in
Column 1332the drug trafficking legislation. In so doing, it allows the court to look only at property that has been transferred to or spent by the defendant in the past six years.
The other assumption in the drug trafficking legislation--that property held by the defendant has come from crime--is presently omitted from this legislation on the principle that the existing assumptions are sufficient to allow the courts to confiscate the proceeds following a continuing course of criminal conduct. The courts should now have the power to make that fourth assumption provided for in the drug trafficking legislation.
If the provision is omitted, the result might be that proceeds evade confiscation. For example, there will be cases where property can easily be shown to be held by a defendant at the time described in the amendment where there will be no trace of transfers or expenditure by the defendant in the past six years. For example, a defendant may own a large manor house and estate yet have been technically unemployed for several years. The court can assume that that property has come from crime, unless the defendant can show to the court's satisfaction that he acquired that manor house legitimately. We anticipate that the court will use that assumption only in particularly serious cases.
Amendment Nos. 7 to 13 are technical amendments which are consequential on the new provisions. Their main purpose is to ensure that in the revaluation of cases provided for in clauses 5 to 7 the court assumes that property held by or transferred by the defendant came from crime only if that property was held or transferred before sentence. That is a sensible safeguard, and I commend the amendments to the House.
Mrs. Roche: The amendment is in the nature of a tidying-up measure. It brings the Bill into line with the drug trafficking legislation. It seems entirely right that, if the prosecuting authorities can make assumptions that lead to certain conclusions about the habits of life-style criminals, they should not be stopped there but should be allowed to continue. The amendments would allow the court to assume that property held by a defendant at the time of his or her conviction or at any time up to the time of the court's final determination have indeed come from crime. I understand from the hon. Member for Exeter that that is the intention of this group of amendments. If that is so, they certainly have our full support. We can all envisage circumstances in which proceedings take place and property is mysteriously disposed of during the trial, at the time of conviction or at the time of sentence. The property is no longer there. If it is a fairly complex matter, as some of these matters are, some time may elapse between the commencement of criminal proceedings and the court's final determination. It would surely be entirely wrong that the court could not look back at that period.
I have one question which may well be for the Minister to answer. Given that this is such an obvious measure, why was it not in the Bill in the first place? I accept that we live in an imperfect world and that we always have to consider human fallibility, but it seems that this is one measure that could have been taken in the first place as it brings the Bill into line with previous legislation.
Mr. Maclean: The amendments will strengthen the assumptions that the court can make about the illegal origin of the defendant's property. As the Bill stands, the court will be able to assume that only property that passed
Column 1333through the defendant's hands in the six years before the institution of proceedings came from crime. The amendments will enable the court to assume that property held by the defendant at the time of his conviction or at any time thereafter up to the time of the court's determination has also come from crime. The amendments bring the assumptions in the Proceeds of Crime Bill into line with the drug trafficking legislation.
The hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green asked me a pertinent point. She will be aware that the design of the Bill is slightly different from other legislation. The aim was to deal with life-style criminals. That is why we picked the trigger four rather than the trigger two or no trigger at all. When we made legislation dealing with a different type of criminal and sought to take the proceeds of life-style criminals, we made parts of it slightly different. That seemed appropriate at the time. I accept responsibility. Having looked at the matter again, I, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter, take the credit for having the wisdom to bring the Bill more into line with the drug trafficking legislation. It is important that we make those changes.
I was impressed when I visited recently the south-east regional crime squad and met the fantastic police officers who work on serious crime. In one case, a person has now been convicted and awaits sentence. He last came to the attention of the police officially when he was released from prison for robbery in 1979. He came out of prison apparently without any assets and went back to a small council flat. Since then, he has had no convictions whatever. It looks as if, up to his conviction a few weeks ago for serious drug offences, his assets have increased to half a dozen mansions scattered over south-east England. I hope that, as it is drug trafficking legislation, even if he is charged with only one offence, which he has not been--I believe that he has been charged with a few--if the prosecution so wishes and the court makes the assumption, it will be possible to get at all his assets.
For some of these life-style robbers there is a very long gap between convictions. Some of my hon. Friends have pressed me to extend the six-year period to 10 or 15 years. Again, a judgment has to be made, and that might be going back a little too far. Amendment No. 7 defines "the date of conviction" for the purpose of clause 2 and is necessary because the new assumption about property held by the defendant considers property held at the time of conviction or thereafter and not at the time that proceedings are instituted. Before the amendment, the Bill considered only property transferred to a defendant before the institution of proceedings or any expenditure in the relevant period.
The amendments to clauses 5, 6 and 7 are also technical and consequential on the new assumption that has been added to clause 2. That clause, as amended, could have an unfair effect in revaluation cases, since the court without a compensating amendment would be able to assume that property held by the defendant between conviction and the revaluation is the proceeds of crime. In revaluation cases, the intention is that the court should be able to make the assumptions in respect of property received by a defendant before conviction and should also be able to take into account property received by the defendant after conviction. Where property is received by the defendant after conviction, it must be demonstrated that the property
Column 1334in question was received from relevant criminal conduct carried out before conviction. The court should not simply be able to assume that it was.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter explained, the amendments will bring the assumptions provided for in the Bill fully into line with those in the drug trafficking legislation and, for those reasons, his amendments have the Government's full support.
Amendment agreed to .
Amendments made: No. 6, in page 4, line 3, leave out from `his' to `in' in line 4 and insert
`since the beginning of the relevant period was met out of payments received by him as a result of or'.
No. 7, in line 35, after `section', insert--
` "the date of conviction" means--
(a) in a case not falling within paragraph (b) below, the date on which the defendant is convicted of the offence in question, or (b) where he is convicted of that offence and one or more other offences in the proceedings in question and those convictions are not all on the same date, the date of the latest of those convictions;'.-- [Sir John Hannam.]
Amendments made: No. 8, in page 8, line 10, after `apply' insert
`(subject to subsection (8A) below)'.
No. 9, in line 13, at end insert--
`(8A) For the purposes of any determination to which section 72AA above applies by virtue of subsection (8) above, none of the assumptions specified in subsection (4) of that section shall be made in relation to any property unless it is property held by or transferred to the defendant before the time when he was sentenced or otherwise dealt with in the case in question.'-- [Sir John Hannam.]
Amendments made: No. 10, in page 9, line 47, after `apply' insert
`(subject to subsection (6A) below)'.
No. 11, in line 50, at end insert--
`(6A) For the purposes of any determination under or for the purposes of subsection (3) above to which section 72AA above applies, none of the assumptions specified in subsection (4) of that section shall be made in relation to any property unless it is property held by or transferred to the defendant before the time when he was sentenced or otherwise dealt with in the case in question.'-- [Sir John Hannam.]
Amendments made: No. 12, in page 11, line 1, at beginning insert
`subject to subsection (3A) below,'.
No. 13, in line 18, at end insert--
(a) the court is under a duty to make a fresh determination for the purposes of subsection (3)(a) above in any case, and
Column 1335(b) that case is a case to which section 72AA above applies, the court shall not have power, in determining any amounts for those purposes, to make any of the assumptions specified in subsection (4) of that section in relation to any property unless it is property held by or transferred to the defendant before the time when he was sentenced or otherwise dealt with in the case in question.'-- [Sir John Hannam.]
Amendment made: No. 14, in page 23, line 7, leave out subsections (5) to (7) and insert--
`(5) Section 1 above shall not apply in the case of any proceedings against any person where that person is convicted in those proceedings of an offence which was committed before the commencement of that section.
(6) Sections 8(1) and 9 above shall not apply where the offence, or any of the offences, in respect of which the confiscation order was made was committed before the commencement of section 1 above.'-- [Sir John Hannam.]
Order for Third Reading read .
I am proud to have had the opportunity to guide the Bill through the House. As I embark on what may for me be the last lap, I must express my thanks for all the kind support that I have received from both sides of the House throughout proceedings on the Bill. It has made the journey thus far a good deal smoother than it might otherwise have been, since the subject matter of the Bill is not entirely straightforward, as I would be the first to admit. Hon. Members have commented on the complexity of what appears, on the face of it, to be quite a simple Bill.
The Bill has not emerged entirely unscathed from its passage through the House and I will comment briefly on the amendments. First, we changed the long title to allow for clause 14 to be inserted. Clause 1 amends the Criminal Justice Act 1988 substantially and has not been amended. Clause 2, which deals with the confiscation of the proceeds from persistent offending, is at the heart of the Bill and has been much debated, especially in Committee. It has been amended so that the court can apply the assumptions where the defendant is convicted of only two relevant offences in the same proceedings instead of four. The assumptions have also been strengthened and brought into line with drug trafficking legislation.
Clause 2 has also been amended so that it will apply only when the triggering offences are committed after the Bill comes into force. That amendment is intended to ensure that it conforms with our international obligation and takes into account the decision of the European Court of Human Rights which was issued immediately after the Second Reading.
Clauses 3 and 4 are unaltered. We have made technical amendments to clauses 5, 6 and 7. Those are consequential on the new provision in clause 2, which allows the court to assume that property held by the defendant has come from crime. The purpose of those technical amendments is to prevent unfairness, about which we have been anxious during the Bill's passage.
Column 1336Clauses 8 to 13 are unchanged. Clause 14 is the new clause that amends the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989 and the Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Act 1990. It was introduced to provide a more effective enforcement of external forfeiture orders. Clause 15--formerly clause 14--has not been amended. Clause 16--formerly clause 15--now provides that certain sections of the legislation will apply only where offences are committed after it comes into force. That is a result of the Welch case in the European Court of Human Rights. It has also been amended consequential to clause 14.
As hon. Members will see, the changes that we have made have not affected the Bill's basic structure and thrust. The Bill is now even better and more valuable than when it started. It sets out to strengthen our protection against criminal conduct by extending the courts' powers to confiscate the accrued gains of life-style criminals in all types of crime. If crime is seen to pay, there is a continuing incentive to commit offences, even with the risk of a prison sentence. Whether a life-style criminal is engaged in theft, fraud, pornography or whatever, if he or she stashes away and launders the proceeds of crime ready to pick them up after completing a sentence, that criminal will be deterred and victims reassured that justice prevails only if we seize those illegally gained assets. By removing the £10,000 threshold, abolishing the expunging of confiscation through a prison term, and providing the fullest powers of search and investigation of criminal assets, the Bill takes the important steps needed to win the fight against crime. I am therefore proud to commend the Bill to the House.
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East): The House has never been divided on the Bill. Although we have had a number of votes, the House has generally accepted the amendments put forward. Throughout Second Reading and in Committee we have never disputed a matter to the point of dividing the House. However, the Bill has changed and the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) has done a service to the House in introducing this measure. I am still doubtful about why a private Member's Bill was necessary, given that the Government support the measure. Nevertheless, it is the hon. Gentleman's choice and the Bill has undergone various procedures.
What upsets me about our procedures is that Standing Committee C, which is the only Standing Committee that can discuss private Members' Bills, spent three weeks discussing this Bill. I know that time must be spent discussing Bills and that, even if probing amendments are tabled, they serve a purpose and help to shape a Bill's development, but a sittings motion could have been passed to allow the Bill to go through Committee much more quickly. The Committee's third sitting lasted for 18 minutes. Those 18 minutes took up an entire sitting day and presented a grave problem for hon. Members with important Bills further down the queue. The hon. Member for Exeter is aware of what one of those important Bills is, because he has supported it. It is the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, although that is not the only important Bill in the queue.
Column 1337if the important new clause, which my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale was due to present, had been proceeded with and not withdrawn on that day. It could have been a long debate because, as we have heard this morning, that new clause dealt with an important matter. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) should understand that, although that sitting finished within half an hour, it was expected to last much longer.
Mr. Barnes: I accept what the hon. Gentleman has said. I nevertheless consider that I am entitled to feel aggrieved about procedures that have been followed, and especially about the work in Standing Committee C. It is not merely the Proceeds of Crime Bill that has taken longer than it should have done in that Committee when there was no dispute, and when there was adequate agreement between parties on both sides of the House to seek to progress with the measure.
I wanted to place those matters on record, rather than to say anything about the nature of the measure before us. I appreciate that the House has reached agreement about the measure and there will obviously be no Division on Third Reading.
First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) on bringing the Bill to the House and successfully piloting it through its stages. He deserves great credit for doing so, and I hope that he receives that credit publicly, because that tough piece of legislation obviously builds on the public's expectations of action.
Confiscation is tough in itself, but confiscation of assets acquired over a period, which are presumed to have been the proceeds of crime, is an even tougher step to take, although it is absolutely right. It should be borne in mind that the Bill incorporates in its clauses proper defences for people who can show that those assets were not illicitly gained.
It is perhaps a sign of the times that that hardening of the law is so widely accepted. Time was when such a suggestion would have produced a series of objections from all quarters. It struck me that today even the Opposition were beginning to sound like parts of a Conservative party conference.
Mrs. Roche: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is no new departure? If he casts his mind back, he may recall that the previous legislation on forfeiture and confiscation received the whole-hearted support of the Opposition, especially as regards the proceeds of the dreadful trade in drugs.
Mr. Merchant: I am not so certain that the Opposition were always so keen on fighting crime as they now purport to be, but I am happy to accept the hon. Lady's remarks about the drugs trade at least. Increasing crime has created a massive public backlash against a perceived weakness of the law and the courts, and that anger is understandable. It is caused not only by fear but by the juxtaposition of those who live law-abiding lives and note what gains they receive and those who appear to be getting away with a life of crime and obtaining much greater gains.
Column 1338There has been a demand for tougher punishment and a demand to ensure that people do not profit from the proceeds of crime. Other legislation tackles the first issue, but the second issue is adequately and thoroughly tackled by the Bill. It is not over-simplistic, and it is important not to be so in tackling crime. However, the Bill precisely tackles the problem. It is not about the yob who gets drunk and thumps someone; it is not about a teenager with a personality difficulty who goes astray; it is not about the pathetic habitual criminal who finds that he cannot get away from a life of crime. The Bill concentrates on the professional criminal. It concentrates on the successful crook and fraudster. It concentrates on the racketeers, on the people who cock a snook at society and in many cases acquire massive fortunes--large houses, pools, yachts, foreign villas--who live on the in my view rather inaptly named, "costa crime".
Those criminals may try to live an upper class life-style, but they do not practice upper class crime; they involve themselves in the violence and intimidation that one encounters at all levels of the criminal fraternity. The Bill strikes against some of the most evil gangsters, against the cold and calculated decisions made by some to profit from crime, against the Mr. Bigs, against the criminal fraternities and organisations and especially against international crime. The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) made a good speech about that type of crime on Second Reading and it is regrettable that it is becoming ever more prevalent in Britain. We can see the effects of it in Italy and the United States.
I am delighted that the Bill has reached its Third Reading. I hope that it will pass into law quickly, so that proper measures can be taken against those who have profited from crime. Punishment is important, but it is not enough. It is also important to make criminals realise that the price of their behaviour is not worth paying. They should realise that they will be caught up with eventually and that crime does not pay. The Bill will ensure that that happens and for that reason I am happy to support it. 12.55 pm
Mrs. Roche: It will not surprise hon. Members to learn that I welcome the Bill, as I did its Second Reading. My hon. Friends and I also supported it in Committee. It is right that life-style criminals should not profit from their gains and that legislation should be brought into line with that currently enforced against drug traffickers.
This is a particularly topical week in which to have the Bill's Third Reading, because we have learnt that the risk of becoming a victim of a home burglary has trebled from one in 32 in 1979 to one in 11 last year. Similarly, a person's risk of being a victim of violent crime now stands at one in 64 whereas it was one in 213 in 1979. Unfortunately for my constituents, the figures for London are even more alarming. Only yesterday the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys revealed huge increases in burglaries from its general household survey which, unlike Home Office statistics, collects the details on all burglaries whether or not they are reported. The Opposition believe that the criminals who burgle our constituents' homes and jeopardise their safety should not profit from their actions. The hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) should note that it is right to say that the Labour party is not only tough on crime and
Column 1339the causes of crime, but on the proceeds of crime. We have demonstrated that by our continuing support for Bills of this nature.
One of the concerns that I raised on Second Reading was that the proceeds of confiscation should be used to fund crime prevention. Where possible, the money that is confiscated should go back to the victims--those who lost a great deal through the crimes of others. Where that is not possible--in many instances, due to the passage of time, it is almost impossible to identify the victims--the money should go towards crime prevention. As I said on Second Reading, just 0.2 per cent.--a tiny proportion--of Britain's spending on the criminal justice system is devoted to crime prevention. Numerous reports have called for better crime prevention policies and many schemes cannot be implemented due to lack of funding.
This week, the Government announced 120 successful bids for closed circuit television schemes. That is welcome, but only seven of the excellent bids from London were successful. The unsuccessful bids included one for a CCTV scheme for Wood Green high road. It had the support of Wood Green traders and businesses, Hornsey police and Haringey council in my constituency. I hope that hon. Members will forgive me for making a special plea for that excellent scheme. We are still absolutely flabbergasted that it was unsuccessful and do not understand why. It is, however, one of many worthwhile schemes that should be supported. It would be fine and fitting to think that money confiscated from criminals as the proceeds of crime could be rechannelled to prevent further crimes.
I have already spoken about a particular CCTV bid in my constituency, but I also know that there is great concern among the Jewish community, which also put in bids for CCTV for Jewish schools. Unfortunately, I believe that not one of those bids was successful. As hon. Members will know, unfortunately there are many security fears within the Jewish community. Many Jewish schools, with the encouragement of the police, put in bids that were unsuccessful. I should declare an interest because I was a pupil at a Jewish school which, while I was there, had occasional security alerts and risks. We are coming to the end of this stage of the Bill's passage through this House, so it is right to congratulate the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) on the courteous and expert way in which he handled the Bill in Committee. I am a comparatively new Member of Parliament, but I believe that he has followed the very best traditions of the House. On behalf of the Opposition, I offer him our warmest congratulations. I also pay tribute to the sponsors of the Bill, including my hon. Friends the Members for Stockport (Ms Coffey) and for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell), who served in Committee. We wish the Bill well in its passage through the other place.
G. K. Chesterton once said that it was not true to say that thieves had no respect for property. He felt that they had a great respect for property: they respected it so much that they wanted it to become their own property so that they could more perfectly respect it. The Bill's purpose is to thwart that aim and we support anything that can achieve that purpose.
There is a well-known adage that crime does not pay. Unfortunately, for too many criminals crime pays very well indeed. The Opposition are happy to support a Bill
Column 1340to ensure that wealth accumulated through crime does not profit the perpetrators. We believe that in the 20th century criminals should not be rewarded for their crimes. For that reason, we give our wholehearted support to the Bill.
Mr. Maclean: I reiterate the Government's gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) for agreeing to take forward this important Bill. I know that that gratitude is shared by the whole House and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche) for the warm tribute that she paid to my hon. Friend.
My hon. Friend has remained unfailingly calm and considerate in the face of what he rather generously described as provisions which are not entirely straightforward. The concept of what we wanted to do, and what my hon. Friend has achieved in his Bill, is very straightforward. However, because of the nature of the amendments that we have to make to previous legislation, the Bill is very complex. Indeed, I am relieved that I did not have to take the lead on it. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the masterful way that he took the lead and for his unfailing courtesy during the Committee stage.
I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes). He knows that in every private Member's Bill Committee there will be Back Benchers, from both sides, with their own agendas. However, if he looks at the Committee proceedings he will recognise that most of the probing amendments that were tabled have ended up being accepted because they were eminently sensible. Contrary to what may happen with some private Member's Bills, where a number of spurious amendments are tabled but never accepted, most of the amendments tabled to this Bill were accepted.
The Bill was given a thorough scrutiny in Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Exeter was right to point out that it is only because our hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) twisted our arms for a debate on the Floor of the House today, and because I agreed seriously to consider our statutory instrument making power, that our hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale agreed to curtail our discussions in Committee last Wednesday. The improvements that have been made to the Bill should ensure that enforcement authorities in the courts have at their disposal some worthwhile powers to use against life-style criminals. I want briefly to dwell on those important changes.
We have given wholehearted approval to the amendment from my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter which lowers the first trigger in clause 2 from four convictions in the same proceedings to two. Let no one underestimate that change. It represents a substantial strengthening. We agree with hon. Members who have drawn attention to the fact that convictions for four offences in the same proceedings may mean that the sort of criminals that we are all aiming at will escape. A defendant may, for example, be convicted of only three offences in the same proceedings; that, to say the least, would be most unfortunate.
Amendments have proved necessary as a result of the European Court of Human Rights judgment in the Welch case. The Government agreed to those amendments with considerable reluctance, but I reassure the House--this is the important point--that the