Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Hawkins: I welcome once again the way in which the Minister has responded to a number of the points that we made in Committee, and I thank him for his helpful response to my earlier intervention. We hope that it will be possible at least to see a draft form of the code of practice referred to in some of the Government amendments. I thank him for saying that he will investigate carefully the practicalities of that.

The fact that the operation of the guillotines prevents discussion of certain very important matters on Report has once again been demonstrated. Just before we began considering this group of amendments, the House was not given any opportunity to discuss two other groups, which included some amendments on which Opposition Members wished to vote. In effect, especially because of a large number of speeches by Government Back Benchers on a previous group of amendments—I do not blame the Minister—and the operation of the guillotine, just as many matters were never reached in Committee, they have not been discussed by the House. Important matters will go to the other place completely undebated by this House.

6.30 pm

I make that point because of an example that arose last night, which also relates to Northern Ireland. Opposition amendment No. 145 was not reached before the guillotine fell. It went to the same point as the excellent new clauses 8 and 9 tabled by members of the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs. All hon. Members accept the importance of the links between organised crime and racketeering in Ulster and the funding of terrorist paramilitary organisations. That is why I welcome the unanimous report of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. I hope that Ulster Unionist party Members and others will speak to those new clauses, and I encourage members of the Select Committee to press them to a vote; if they do, Conservative Members will support them.

Mr. Ainsworth: First, I should like to firm up my offer and state that we can produce a draft code. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a timetable, but I can give a commitment that we will do that. Secondly, on the issue of time, I point out that our extensive debate before the knife fell on the first part of our debate today was an almost exact re-run of a Standing Committee debate that was described by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) as the longest single debate in the Committee. If that hon. Gentleman then spends more than half an hour moving his amendments, he must expect that we will run out of time and that other business will not be discussed.

Mr. Hawkins: I welcome the Minister's first point. It is helpful to know that it should be possible to see the draft code of practice, and I am grateful to him for firming up that assurance.

I think that the Minister would accept that his criticism of my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) is unjust. My hon. Friend was dealing with

27 Feb 2002 : Column 756

important matters and he took many interventions from Government Back Benchers. Hansard will show that it was almost entirely owing to his generosity in responding to the points made by Government Back Benchers that the debate was extended. Furthermore, Hansard will reveal that a huge proportion of the total time spent on those important matters was taken by Government Back Benchers re-running previously made arguments.

Those who have read the Committee proceedings on the Bill will be aware that the Opposition have repeatedly stressed our concern about the crucial issues that relate to paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland. The Minister will agree that few matters relating to money laundering and associated offences affecting United Kingdom citizens are more important than the way in which such offences and similar racketeering operations occur in Northern Ireland. Although all money laundering is a serious crime, it is hard to imagine anything more serious than when it is done for the specific purpose of funding terrorist murder and other acts of violence.

I therefore welcome the unanimous report of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. I draw the House's attention to paragraph 6, in which the Committee describes its visit to the Criminal Assets Bureau in the Republic of Ireland. I have discussed that with the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth), and I know that he wants to reinforce some of the points made in the report. The report states:

that is, the Committee—

We all know that that sort of thing goes on. During one of our debates, I mentioned my great concern on being told that even senior officials working on the mainland for the Crown Prosecution Service had had to be moved because of threats from representatives of organised crime.

We recognise that members of the Select Committee, under the distinguished chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates), have taken the opportunity to table new clauses 8 and 9 to try to put much tougher measures on the face of the Bill. Although the Minister is being helpful and has said that he is prepared to contemplate introducing similar Government amendments at a later stage, the issue is so important that I encourage those behind the new clauses to press them tonight. Both in Committee and in the House, the Opposition have often been accused of seeking to water down the Bill. There can be no argument that the new clauses would have that effect; on the contrary, they would toughen up the Bill in the same way as our amendment No. 145—sadly, not reached last night—would have done.

We welcome the fact that in several of their amendments the Government have responded to concerns that my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield, other Conservative Members and I raised in Committee.

27 Feb 2002 : Column 757

Government new clauses 4 and 12, the second of which relates to Scotland, reflect the importance of the code of practice and are therefore welcome.

Government amendment No. 108 to clause 338 is, as the Minister explained, a specific response to concerns expressed by my hon. Friend and reinforced by other Conservative members of the Standing Committee. We argued that there should be an opportunity to define precisely the range of judges able to use the powers in the Bill when it is enacted, and the range of the jurisdiction they exercise. I ask the Minister to make it clear whether the new wording will allow those who sit as Crown court recorders, rather than as circuit judges, to exercise that jurisdiction. I understand why the Minister expressed his argument as he did and we accept his point in respect of those who are given the status of circuit judge purely in their ceremonial capacity, such as City of London aldermen. We thoroughly welcome his concession in response to our arguments.

Amendments Nos. 67, 66, 167 and 166 would remove the words "either" and "or at once". We regard the matter as important. I shall listen to the Minister's response in due course, but I signal now the possibility of our pressing the amendments to a vote, especially amendment No. 66. Our aim is to make the operation of a new draconian measure more reasonable. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) said, draconian powers that require the organs of the state to demand instant action are not normal. Usually, even when serious allegations are involved, there is provision to allow legal advice to be taken.

I acknowledge the Minister's attempt to assist by saying that the matters may be dealt with in a code of practice, but we want to ensure that the procedure operates properly. The Government have said that the Bill complies in every respect with the Human Rights Act 1998—Ministers now have to certify that when they present a Bill. However, unless the Government accept a provision such as the one proposed in amendments Nos. 67, 66, 167, and 166, I wonder whether there is a danger that the procedure might be struck down in a future case. The Minister might say that the Government are prepared to risk it; I shall listen carefully.

Similar concerns prompt amendment No. 63 in respect of civil recovery investigations. We wonder whether it is appropriate for such draconian powers to exist in what my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal correctly says is a civil procedure.

Vera Baird: I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He said that it had occurred to him that there might be a breach of the European convention on human rights as a result of the demand laid on someone to supply information or answer questions at once. If that is right, has he worked out which article of the convention he fears might be breached?

Mr. Hawkins: I am tempted to say that that is a question of which I might require notice. I shall give the matter some thought, and perhaps I shall be able to respond more fully in a later intervention on the Minister or on the hon. Lady, after I have discussed the matter with my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield.

I wanted to say that the Opposition welcome Government amendments Nos. 98 and 99. As the Minister said, such technical amendments are not expected to cause

27 Feb 2002 : Column 758

much debate. They are tidying amendments, and we recognise that the Government are right to say that the High Court jurisdiction in Northern Ireland was more limited. The Government have undoubtedly been sensible to respond to that. Again, Government amendment No. 202 is purely technical in relation to the code of practice.

Amendments Nos. 73 and 75 are more significant. They deal with the meaning of customer information, which is set out in clause 359(4). We feel that that matter should be referred to again in clause 447. Again, I shall listen to the comments of the Minister and other hon. Members on that. Government amendments Nos. 251, 103 and 253 are also technical, and we have no difficulty with them. I shall be interested to hear the contributions of right hon. and hon. Members.

Next Section

IndexHome Page