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Mr. McCabe: I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's argument, but I was intrigued by the reference to innocent third parties. Could a member of a family who is benefiting from clearly ill-gotten gains be described as an innocent third party? Is that the hon. Gentleman's view?

Norman Baker: It is, because it is a question of motive. For example, a third party who has benefited without any knowledge that illegal activities have been taking place may have decided to take a course of action that involves a financial commitment based on what they believe to be sound money only to find themselves very exposed as a consequence of action taken to recover that money.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): Does the hon. Gentleman also agree that part 2 might give rise to the following extraordinary state of affairs? Let us suppose that a confiscation order was eventually set aside. Although innocent third parties from whom assets had been removed might recover those assets, the consequential losses that could flow to them from that removal would be recoverable only in the case of a serious default in having brought the proceedings in the first place.

Norman Baker: That is a valid point for discussion, which was raised in the Law Society briefing. It is

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possible that assets will be frozen, and that innocent third parties—not builders, as in the example raised by the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg)—against whom action is taken that eventually proves unsuccessful, could in the meantime lose significant amounts of money as a consequence of the inability to use those assets, and, in extreme circumstances, go bankrupt. I am keen to know what safeguards are in place and what compensation will be available if action of a very serious nature is taken against an individual that subsequently turns out to be unjustified, or if the action taken in the courts is not upheld. That is bound to happen, and I have not heard a Minister deal with that point today.

Heavy weapons are being used in the Bill. I do not oppose the use of those heavy weapons because we are dealing with a sophisticated and difficult enemy, but heavy weapons need a stout remedy if they are improperly applied. We have not heard much about that today and I hope that the Minister will pick up that issue at the end of the debate.

What is the impact on the rights of a person who is accused, or whose assets are under investigation and have been frozen, to use those assets while they are frozen? Obviously they cannot be used for that person's financial gain, but can the person who holds those assets, or held the assets before they were frozen, gain access to them? If those assets concern company records, will it be possible to consult them for the purposes of financial dealings, or will they be off limits? If the latter, what happens to the people employed by that company? They, too, will be subject to possible unwanted consequences.

I shall not deal at length with retrospectivity, but I want to return to the subject in Committee. The Government appear to be moving closer and closer to the use of retrospective legislation, which as a principle is not welcome. Not too long ago, the Home Secretary suggested that he would introduce retrospective legislation to deal with hoax telephone callers. The legislation provided for a six-month penalty, which he proposed to increase to seven years retrospectively. It was wholly unnecessary to do it in that way. I suggest that, had the matter been that urgent, he could have obtained agreement from all parties in the House to railroad the legislation through Parliament in a day or less. The Government's increasing tendency to accept that retrospective legislation is justified represents a dangerous step, so I hope that we shall have a chance to consider that issue in Committee and to determine whether it is justified and consistent with human rights legislation—a point made by several people who have written to us.

As a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights I feel that it is important to have an opportunity to consider whether the Home Secretary's statement, which appears on the Bill's cover, that it is compatible with the European convention, is justified. In fact, it would be helpful to see the advice that enabled the Home Secretary to take that decision. I hope that the Government will publish that advice, so that we can see why he has reached that conclusion.

Lastly, there is an opportunity, perhaps even a need, to tighten up the organisational approach to such issues. A number of bodies are now involved in law enforcement—such as the police, the National Criminal Intelligence Service, Interpol, Europol, Customs and Excise, the Inland Revenue and now the Assets Recovery

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Agency—and although each has a specific brief, they could overlap, perhaps like concentric circles, and we should perhaps take the opportunity provided by the Bill to discover whether there is a chance to rationalise how those bodies interact with one another to ensure that no unnecessary duplication or contradiction occurs. We might even consider a common force for borders, for example.

None of that diminishes the support that my colleagues and I are very happy to give, in principle, to the Bill. We want the Bill to be as robust as possible. We think that it contains some very good provisions, but we want it to be as fair as possible, and I am confident that we can propose amendments in Committee that will help to achieve that aim.

5.31 pm

Mr. John MacDougall (Central Fife): May I say how grateful I am to the House for allowing me to make my maiden speech this evening? I feel particularly honoured and privileged to be a Member of the House and especially to represent my constituency. I am interested in the Bill, and I shall explain how it could represent a positive aspect of life in Fife and to my constituents in particular.

I have to say, however, that it is not the happiest of times to make a maiden speech in the House. Only yesterday, I visited a local company in Glenrothes, which is in my constituency, to be confronted with the fact that four of its employees had been killed during the atrocities of 11 September in New York, in that deliberate, callous and calculated attack on innocent people. Of course, my condolences go to those people and their families.

The people of Fife and I welcome the spirit of the Bill, which is intended to tackle drug trafficking. Of course, drug trafficking had a big influence on the terrorists' ability to carry out that atrocity, but let us not forget that many young people are continually getting caught up in the drugs culture and are losing their lives because of drugs. I shall allude to how we can continue to educate young people to discourage them from entering the drugs culture, but at the same time let us not forget the loss of life caused by terrorism.

My predecessor as Member of Parliament for Central Fife, Henry McLeish, was clearly a tireless, dedicated and committed Member of Parliament. He was well respected in the constituency. I thank him for all his dedication and hard work; I hope that I can carry on his good work.

Most hon. Members may or may not find this interesting, but I seem destined to follow my predecessor in many ways. When he left Fife regional council, I became its leader and held that position for nine years. Lo and behold, he went to the Scottish Parliament and here I am following him again. It is important to point out that there was no design or plan behind that action. I reassure hon. Members and, more importantly, Henry McLeish that I have no ambition other than to serve the people of my constituency in this House. I look forward to that challenge, which is quite a sufficient one.

Members who are not familiar with my constituency might not know that it lies between the city of Dundee, which is divided by the River Tay, and the city of Edinburgh, which is divided by the River Forth. It is

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within the ancient kingdom of Fife. It is a very proud and passionate part of Scotland and, indeed, the United Kingdom. It has been and is home to many famous people—none more famous to hon. Members than my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in whose capable hands the economy rests.

I should like to tell the House something about the traditions and heritage of my constituency. As a former coal mining area, it is steeped in the history of that proud industry. Like so many coal mining areas, it suffered greatly from the industry's quick demise. Unfortunately, with that came high unemployment. Despite the Government's best efforts since taking office, which have been appreciated, they have managed only to reduce rather than make a severe impact on the very high figure. I assure the House that, in hoping to create the necessary opportunities, particularly for young people in the area, I will do everything on behalf of my constituents to tackle that problem.

With high unemployment comes the great influence of drugs—hence I felt it important to speak in this debate, and I appreciate the opportunity to do so. With high unemployment and a drugs culture comes a high incidence of crime. An average heroin addict, I am advised, requires about £30,000 a year to feed their habit. To someone who is unemployed but requires £30,000, there is only one way to acquire such resources. Therefore, not surprisingly, drugs, unemployment and crime rise similarly. My constituency suffers badly from the scourge of the drugs industry, so there is little doubt that the Bill will be welcomed in principle by my constituents as a means of beginning the process of tackling such challenges.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) quoted the interesting and enlightening figures of £220,000 and 220 burglaries. I picked up from the Bill that the value added by illegal drugs transactions amounts to an amazing 1 per cent. of gross domestic product. I also noticed that the confiscation figure for 1999–2000 was £25 million, which is startling. Clearly, if such efforts can be intensified, we can make a greater impact on the drugs culture.

The challenges that we face in Fife require the Bill's provisions, although we have already done much to support the principles behind it. We have considered the rehabilitation process and introduced methods to discourage young people from entering the drugs culture—through education and by offering support services in the community. I should like to give the House two good examples of that.

The Fife youth drugs team deals with 14 to 16-year-olds who have committed offences and are involved in drugs. The initiative is a partnership between Fife council and Fife constabulary. We are rightly proud of the strategic benefits of that multi-agency approach, to which the Bill refers. Working in that way can produce results.

The second example is the drug treatment testing order, as established in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. It is a partnership between the health service and social services and, importantly, has strict criteria attached to it. People who are caught up in drugs have the option of rehabilitation and random testing instead of immediately being taken through the prosecution process. Not only does that help to keep them out of the prosecution system

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and to reform them, but it rightly helps to release services, which otherwise would be overburdened, to provide a much needed back-up. We are proud of that.

The ability to use the orders has allowed us to produce figures, and they are given strict consideration. There have been 78 orders since July and 273 referrals, which shows that they can make a difference. Unfortunately, there has been a 100 per cent. increase in new drug users in Fife among 15 to 24-year-olds. I believe that there is an increasing awareness that help is available. That gives us a better chance to influence young people at an earlier age and make a difference by preventing them from being drawn into the serious drug culture.

According to reports to the services that we set up, heroin is the main drug used, although cannabis is the most widely used drug by people aged between 13 and 21. The problem for the support services is that my constituency is predominantly rural. Trying to offer a wide range of services to rural communities—other hon. Members may suffer from the same difficulty—is challenging. Nevertheless, we all appreciate that drugs have a wide- ranging impact. They do not affect simply the user, but everyone in the community—next-door neighbours, sons, daughters, employees and, unfortunately, school chums. Many people are affected by drugs.

I emphasise—this is reflected in the Bill—that strategic working produces great benefits. I have witnessed that happening in a small way in Fife. I should like to share my experiences with other hon. Members during my time here and, I hope, gain from their experiences so that we can make an even greater difference.

I am grateful for the opportunity to make my maiden speech. In offering support, many hon. Members reassured me that it is not a daunting experience. I can assure everyone that it is. Each and every hon. Member remembers that, but no one wanted to tell me. The support is appreciated and I look forward to serving in the House. I also look forward more proudly and passionately to serving my constituents in Central Fife.

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