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8.31 pm

Mr. Bill Tynan (Hamilton, South): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Central Fife (Mr. MacDougall) on his well-constructed and thoughtful maiden speech. I look forward to many more of his contributions.

The Bill will play an invaluable role in the fight against organised crime. I understand that some may regard it as controversial in regard to civil liberties, but I think that we should see it as an opportunity to strengthen and assist the police, customs officers and other agencies in their war against serious crime. The proposals contained within the Bill will remove the constraints that have seriously inhibited the effectiveness of previous legislative changes. The change in emphasis from merely law enforcement to targeting the profits that criminals and their associates make from crime is particularly welcome, and is one that all hon. Members should support.

In my short contribution, I shall remind hon. Members why the Bill is necessary. Those who will be subject to the proposed legislation have a devastating effect on our communities. It is widely acknowledged that the proceeds from past criminal activity fund the relentless upward spiral of profits from organised crime. I believe that the Bill will strike at the heart of the problem. It will target those who enjoy a lavish lifestyle from the proceeds of drug dealing and money laundering.

More often than not, the criminals who are apprehended are the small fry. They are those who, for various reasons, have become victims and have been forced into a life of crime. They are often expendable and easily replaced. They take the fall for those who appear to the public to be untouchable and above the law.

The law has not thoroughly and systematically addressed the issue of the proceeds of crime. For example, the Home Office has stated that during 1999–2000 only £49 million was recovered from criminals through existing powers. In 1995, it was estimated that £400 million could be recovered. That demonstrates the scale of the task. That is why I welcome the fact that the Bill forms part of a wider Government programme to reach the so-called untouchables—those who profit by leeching on the misery of others.

We have an opportunity to correct the failures of previous legislation. The Bill includes substantial and effective measures to do that. I especially welcome the allocation of resources for the creation of an action

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programme that will create specialist training for law enforcement and prosecution agencies. I applaud the development of a multi-agency strategic approach to improve performance in the pursuit of all proceeds of crime. The failures of the past are of deep concern and it is crucial that proper training and accreditation of the proposed financial investigators and other agencies takes place as soon as possible.

In support of the proposal, we need only refer to recent history. Unfortunately, there are numerous examples of drug trials that have collapsed. There are other examples of such cases that have been lost on appeal owing to the errors of the police, the Crown Prosecution Service or customs investigators. I shall give an example which is pertinent to many people who have expressed concern about civil liberties. An article entitled "Drugs in Britain: Special Report", which appeared in The Guardian on Friday 9 June 2000, stated:

Two individuals were cleared of smuggling £34 million- worth of cocaine into Britain. The report continued:

Judge Butler said:

That clearly demonstrates the need to look carefully at the way in which we apply the Bill's provisions so as to make sure that such incidents cannot happen again. The training that will be given will, I hope, eradicate the problem in future.

In July 2000, The Guardian reported that an individual accused of involvement in a £50,000 cannabis ring in Scotland was freed because a deadline had expired, amazingly, because a judge could not be found to try the case.

Mr. Cameron rose

Mr. Tynan: I am sorry, I want to make progress.

The Bill would permit the assets of those criminals who, for whatever reason, escape prosecution, to be frozen and seized. While a botched criminal investigation

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may enable them to remain free, it would not safeguard their ill-gotten gains. It is abhorrent to everyone that they flaunt their success with lavish lifestyles, flashy cars, large houses, expensive clothes and often substantial business interests. They sometimes become unacceptable role models for our young. Confiscating their illegal funds will strip away the belief that crime pays and will highlight to impressionable young people the fact that those criminals will pay the price for the misery that they create in communities throughout the United Kingdom.

I remind those who express doubts and concern about civil liberties of the many young men and women in our constituencies whose lives and families have been torn apart by the tragedy of drug addiction. Young people are actively targeted by the dealers in death, even at primary school, as has been said tonight. During the by-election at which I was elected in 1999, South Lanarkshire experienced its 100th drug death. A young woman who had been at school with my youngest daughter, who is 25, was found dead in a Hamilton flat, another victim of the drug barons. In 1997, there were 22 drug-related deaths in Lanarkshire; by 1999, that had risen to 27. In 2000, drug users in South Lanarkshire were 17 per cent. more likely than users in Scotland as a whole to be using heroin as their main drug. That situation is repeated across the country every day. The trend must be reversed and the Bill can play an important part in that.

I believe that, given the opportunity, the community can identify the drug dealers in its midst. One need only look at the successful national campaign run by the Daily Record in Scotland. By enlisting the help of the people, the newspaper was able to name and shame those who peddle drugs. If the Bill is successful, we can gain the confidence of the people in every community in the UK and enlist their help in targeting the drug dealers and money launderers. The Hamilton Advertiser also plays an important role in its opposition to drug dealers. It recently ran a hotline in conjunction with the local police, which was extremely successful.

Recent history is littered with examples of criminals who have escaped the law. The Bill is, among other things, an excellent example of the fact that UK-wide legislation is necessary to combat organised crime. I applaud the action of the Scottish Executive in ceding some of its authority to Westminster in this matter to ensure that criminals have nowhere to hide. The Bill is tailored to Scottish law and contains some elements that are unique to Scotland. The fact that my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Scotland Office is helping to pilot the Bill through the House emphasises the importance attached by the Government to the Scottish aspects of the Bill, as do the 110 clauses relating directly to Scotland.

The fight against crime is one that we cannot afford to lose, and the Bill will be an invaluable new weapon in our anti-crime armoury. The beauty of it is that it will target not just the criminal minnows, but the gangland bosses and the criminal bigwigs, who will sleep less easily in their opulent residences tonight because the Bill sends out a clear message that crime does not pay.

8.41 pm

Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove): I am grateful to be called to speak, as I acknowledge that I have not been in the Chamber for the entire debate. [Interruption.] The

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Minister of State, Scotland Office, who is a very nice man, asks why not. With my new-found domestic responsibilities, I find spending the entire day listening to a Second Reading debate in the Chamber a little more difficult than I did previously.

I associate myself with some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Hamilton, South (Mr. Tynan) in his impassioned speech about the reasons why it is necessary to attack the drug traffickers and the profits that they make out of innocent people, especially innocent young people. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the reason behind the Bill, which we can all support, is to go after the Mr. Bigs—the criminals who somehow manage to get away with it and in so doing scar the lives of the constituents not only of Labour Members, but of all of us. Those whose lives have been scarred will certainly welcome the measures that the Government are taking tonight.

The purpose of the Opposition's argument is to sound a note of caution. Although we all endorse the aspirations behind the Bill, there are some obstacles and difficulties, which were eloquently outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), the shadow Home Secretary. I should tell the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth), that my hon. Friend is a very clever man and he would be well advised to listen to the points that he raises. [Interruption.] The Minister may also be a very clever man, but on our Benches, my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset is considered somewhat superior, even in these intellectual circles, and he raised some pertinent points. No doubt the Minister's civil servants will be busily trying to answer some of them and putting the Minister right in Committee. We look forward to that debate.

We all recognise that the criminal justice system sometimes lets us down. As the hon. Member for Hamilton, South said, people who are clearly guilty sometimes manage to escape justice. We hope that the measures before us will tackle that abuse. We want to see such people behind bars where they deserve to be and deprived of their liberty. If they cannot be deprived of their liberty, we can at least deprive them of their lifestyle, their assets and their wicked daily business. We recognise the Government's aims in that respect, and hope that they succeed in catching the Mr. Bigs who have not been caught by the criminal justice system, but who may be caught by the provisions of the Bill.

We all live in the real world, however, and, as constituency Members, we have seen good intentions go down the wrong hole. Perhaps I am mixing my metaphors. What I mean is that, having set out to catch the Mr. Bigs—those who really deserve to be treated to measures such as this because all else has failed—we sometimes catch people whom we did not intend to be subject to such draconian measures.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset mentioned the Child Support Agency, and the circumstances are, indeed, potentially comparable. When we launched the CSA, we all thought that it would catch absent parents who paid nothing towards their children's support. One of the reasons why it became so controversial was that it did not, and still does not, catch those parents; it catches parents who pay something, who then object to what they consider to be the CSA's exorbitant demands for extra payment.

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We want the Bill to catch Mr. Big, but whether it will catch Mr. Big we do not know. What we do not want it to do is catch those who in this sense are innocent: those who, having committed a tachograph offence, are suddenly brought into a system which, although civil, is backed by serious instruments of the law and find themselves in a position they never thought possible.

As I know from many of my constituents—I am glad to say that I do not know it from personal experience—those involved in civil proceedings end up paying the legal bills. The Minister shakes his head; I hope that that means that all costs will be paid if people are found not guilty. That would certainly be welcome, because, owing to the powers that have been conferred, people might otherwise be affected because their affairs had precipitated an investigation later found to be unreasonable.

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