Mr. Foulkes: The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point, but I assure him that officials from the Scottish Executive have been involved at every stage in the Bill's drafting, and they will be involved during the Committee stage. I intend to serve on the Committee, as will many of my colleagues on both sides of the House who represent Scottish constituencies, so that we can ensure that the Scottish interests are properly considered. Last Wednesday, I attended the debate on the Sewel motion in the Scottish Parliament and found it very helpful to our consideration.
Mr. Carmichael: I am obliged to the Minister for that reassurance. He may be aware that, by virtue of politics and geography, I have perhaps better access to Ministers in the Scottish Executive, especially in relation to justice matters, than many hon. Members, but that is my good fortune, and to leave such matters to that sort of accident is less than desirable.
A very lengthy fraud prosecution might well take the police 18 months or two years to investigate and a further year or 18 months to be dealt with by the procurator fiscal and perhaps another year as successive advocate-deputes kick the case on to one another in the High Court, finding a good reason not to proceed with it. If the proposed restraint orders were used at the start of such cases, which may well happen, innocent parties might be deprived of their legitimate enjoyment of their property for a prolonged time. I wonder whether the Minister could assure me in replying to the debate that if it ultimately transpires that someone has been deprived of the enjoyment of his or her property in that way, the Crown will be liable for damages as a result of wrongful diligence. It seems that a strong parallel can be drawn between the existing law of interdict and the proposed law on restraint orders.
The other danger to innocent third parties comes from the interaction of the confiscation provisions and the law on bankruptcy and corporate insolvency. I understand that, under profits confiscation orders, the property will be removed from the estate of a possible sequestrated person before the estate is determined, so those who have a legitimate claim on a proportion of a bankrupted person's estate will find that they are significantly worse off. Those people may have entered into a contract with the person who was the subject of the confiscation order. I wonder how much consideration has been given to people in those circumstances.
My final nagging doubt relates to the provision of search powers. I am no great fan of legislation that reintroduces powers that already exist, and there is a danger that we shall do so under the Bill. All the powers given to the police under it already exist under section 14 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995. That is a live concern for the efficient and effective operation of the law on search because many hon. Members will be aware that there has been considerable conflict in the past between the law of search under the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980 and section 23 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Why are the search powers in the Bill necessary?
Finally, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes said, a clear hierarchy of confiscation procedures can be followed, such as those on conviction, on civil recovery and on taxation. I hope that that will be followed stringently. Indeed, it would be beneficial to require the Lord Advocate to give his consent before the director can take taxation actions in Scotland. That would preserve the Lord Advocate's position as the primary actor in the first and second instances. In many ways, those are quibbles that can no doubt be resolved in Committee, but tonight my Liberal Democrat colleagues and I are more than happy to support the Government.
Ian Lucas (Wrexham): I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael). Orkney is my favourite holiday destination and I urge all hon. Members to go there as soon as possible.
I speak as yet another lawyer, albeit happily retired, so I hope that I can bring some valuable insights to the debate. I have practised as a defence criminal solicitor and also been involved in the regulation of financial services in a firm. It is important that we consider the Bill closely and that we strike the correct balance in dealing with such matters. It is most important, however, that we put this Bill in context.
It is difficult to overstate the effect of illegal, addictive drugs on our society. They are the predominant source of crime; they prevent people from making a positive contribution to society's well-being; they create misery for those who take drugs and for their families. The response by successive Governments to the problem has to date been strong on rhetoric but, I regret, largely ineffective. I am afraid that there is little doubt that the problem of drugs in our society has got worse, not better over the past 20 years.
It is in that context that, in passing, I welcome last week's announcement that the classification of cannabis under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 is to be reconsidered. I also welcome the Bill, because it seems to be part of a shift of emphasis towards the specific targeting of those who treat drugs as some kind of legitimate business. Whether those people are traffickers or launderers, they must get the message that the trade is a sick one, that it devastates those who are affected by it and that we as a society will no longer put up with it.
As I mentioned, I had some experience of drugs in the criminal courts. I worked as a solicitor, often with juvenile offenders, on Merseyside and in north-east Wales in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Much of the crime was committed to feed heroin addiction. The use of cannabis was not a factor in the commission of theft, burglary or robbery. The use of heroin was the major factor. In many cases, without heroin there would have been no crime. Without the crime, people's fear would have lessened and the community would have been stronger and happier. The connection really was that simple.
Seeing a 14-year-old who is a victim of heroin addiction is a formative experience. I represented one 14-year-old who had committed 24 dwelling-house burglaries. Twenty-four people suffered the life-changing experience of feeling threatened in their own homes. The child concerned had no moral sense; he lived only to feed his habit. His family, who were so supportive in court, mattered to him only in so far as they gave him money. Often, he stole from them. He cared nothing for the hurt that that caused his mother, and less for the fear of victims remote from himthe people whose homes he had burgled.
It struck me then how often I represented the victims of heroin addiction and how seldom I represented those who profited from trade in the drug. Those traders seemed almost immune from prosecutionable to build their wealth by exploiting the young heroin addicts who were their customers. Their further victims were the people whose houses were burgled. There seemed to be no strategy to get such traders. Large-scale traffickers and launderers were never the specific targets of the law.
As I said, later in my legal career, I was a supervising officer under the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000. As Conservative Members will accept, that was an onerous burden. Frankly, it was a pain in the neck; it involved constant form filling, much supervision of a financial adviser who worked for me and many interviews with people from the regulating authority, but it was necessary. Weighing that against the effect of heroin on our society is not difficult. The effect of the trade in heroin is so profound that it demands the far-reaching measures in the Bill.
Mr. Grieve: The hon. Gentleman clearly has not listened, and certainly not to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin). He highlighted not the money-laundering provisions, on which there may be little disagreement, but the draconian and wide-reaching legislation that could affect those who, far from being lawyers and accountants, are rather vulnerable members of society.
Ian Lucas: I do not accept that for one minute. The thrust of Conservative Members' comments has been advocacy of a limited section of society. We did not hear such advocacy at any stage while the Conservative party was in governmentquite the contrary.