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Mr. Hawkins: Answering questions at once is very different from having to produce documents forthwith. Much legislation already contains the requirement to produce documents forthwith, but there is a danger involved in forcing people to answer questions at once without their having any opportunity to take advice. This point also gives me an opportunity to respond to the hon. Member for Redcar (Vera Baird), because there is also the danger that the Government may face problems under articles 6(3)[b] and 6(3)[c] of the European convention on human rights when these matters are analysed in the courts.

Norman Baker: I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman has taken the opportunity to refer to the relevant articles of the convention. Perhaps the hon. Member for Redcar (Vera Baird), who knows more about these matters than I do, might wish to vouchsafe whether they are the relevant articles.

If it is inappropriate to require questions to be answered at once, it is even more inappropriate to require documents to be produced at once. After all, one can answer a question after one has received legal advice, and the Minister has referred to the safeguards that he wishes to introduce. I hope that he will provide more information on how the safeguards will work to ensure that people are not unduly forced to provide information if they have not received legal advice. He suggested that he was aware of the issue, and I would be grateful if he could pick up on that point.

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A person can theoretically answer a question at once, but they could not necessarily produce a document at once, perhaps because it was elsewhere. In a sense, it is a more onerous requirement. In addition, clause 352(4(b) contains the requirement to

The time specified could be immediately, so the deletion of the words "or at once" does not get round the problem that the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) tried to identify. Unusually, the hon. Gentleman's amendment does not make a great deal of sense and is not coherent. It is not justified if the Minister has the safeguards in mind to which he referred. I shall be grateful if he expands on that.

7 pm

I am not convinced that the requirement to have answers at once, if there are safeguards, would breach the Human Rights Act. I shall be interested to hear whether the hon. Member for Redcar has a view on that. I am keen to invoke the 1998 Act wherever possible. It is good legislation and one of the best things that the Government have done. I am struggling to find a means by which it could be applied in the way that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath would like to see.

Let us allow the Minister to leave the House and think about new clause 8. I am happy, for the sake of appearing not to be too supportive of the Conservatives, to disagree with their amendments in the group that is before us.

John Robertson: I am pleased that new clauses 8 and 9 have been accepted in principle, if not in their entirety. I am glad that I will not have to decide which Lobby to pass through, as it seems that the proposals will not be put to a vote. The Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs should be congratulated on the work that it has done.

I shall move on to amendment No. 63, and I hope that I will be intervened on when I ask my questions. Why do the Tories not want an offence of prejudicing investigation in the context of a civil recovery investigation? It might be said that it is a draconian measure, but draconian to whom—the victims of crime, or those who profit by crime? To me, a draconian measure would suggest that everybody suffers. But the only people who appear to me to be suffering at present are the victims of crime.

I am in a quandary yet again in relation to amendments Nos. 66, 167 and 168, which are basically the same. Those amendments would seem to be advantageous to those who in the director's opinion have information. Why would we not want to gain information, and why would we not want to obtain it quickly? Criminals can move vast sums quickly, so surely we would want to get hold of them immediately. As I mentioned earlier in terms of the Drug Enforcement Agency in Scotland and Strathclyde police, the point was made on several occasions that we must seize assets quickly and, if possible, obtain the relevant information even more quickly. Why are we seeking to introduce measures that would lengthen the time during which we secure information? Perhaps the Opposition's spokesman will answer these questions for me in his summing up.

Mr. Mark Field: The hon. Gentleman will be glad to know that I shall leave the summing up to my Front-Bench spokesman.

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It is easy to see these things in black and white, and I think that what we have tried to do throughout is to look at them in shades of grey. The innocent parties who concern the Conservatives and whose interests need to be protected are on the whole—though not exclusively—innocent members of the public who find the juggernaut of a new state agency up against them. It is against the background of the almost Kafkaesque world in which it would seem some Labour Members try to live that we have tabled what we hope are searching amendments. That is not to say that the general thrust of what is being proposed is not supported by my right hon. and hon. Friends.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman's intervention is developing into a speech.

John Robertson: I understand the thrust of the hon. Gentleman's questions, but it is time that the juggernaut to which he refers got to grips with crime. The Conservative Government were in power for a long time but they did not get to grips with it. The Labour Government have been in power for more than four years, and we have not properly come to grips with it. The Bill is the best measure that I have seen to enable us to get hold of criminals and their ill-gotten gains—assets that have been taken from those who have become drug addicts, or from organised crime in large cities or smaller ones. Perhaps we have got to the crux of the matter as regards Her Majesty's loyal Opposition, as I think they call themselves. Perhaps they have become total oppositionists who feel that they have to oppose every Bill that the Government put before the House and to advance reasons for so doing. That is sad.

Mr. Wilshire: If the hon. Gentleman thinks that the Opposition oppose only for the sake of it, will he explain why it is that when we have opposed certain things those on the Government Front Bench have agreed with us, accepted our opposition and brought forward amendments? Surely that undermines the hon. Gentleman's argument.

John Robertson: There is always the exception that proves the rule.

We listen. We have become a listening Government, much to the annoyance of the Opposition. The fact that we may have listened to some of the arguments and found something worth listening to probably surprises me more than anyone. The fact remains that the Opposition oppose everything that the Government put before the House, and especially this Bill.

Rev. Martin Smyth: I welcome the opportunity to make a few comments, given that I intervened earlier. I share the concern that has been expressed by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (John Robertson) about dealing with drug addicts and about smuggling in Scotland. The lesson that has been coming through is that the best way to tackle these folk is to hit them where it hurts, and that is through their finances and by dealing with the crimes that they are committing. Like the hon. Gentleman, I do not believe that there is a juggernaut directed against the citizens of the United Kingdom.

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If anything, it is a juggernaut against those who have been growing rich on the poverty and misery of others in the UK.

I speak as a Northern Ireland Member, but I have always thought of myself as a British Member of Parliament. When Northern Ireland Members illustrate our experience, I regret that it is thought that we are dealing only with Northern Ireland. I understand that recently in Yorkshire there was a vast smuggling expedition, which had an impact on the Treasury. There might have been some people from Ireland, but at this stage I cannot comment emphatically.

The Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs took the opportunity, as the Bill was passing through Parliament, to highlight some gaps. We welcome the fact that the Government are ready to examine these matters. I trust that before the Bill leaves the House, some amendments will be accepted and fine tuned. There is some time to go.

As I have said, some gaps have been noted. For example, people speak of the relationship between Northern Ireland and southern Ireland. In the Northern Ireland courts, recently, we were able to imprison a person who was retailing illegal petrol, but we could not deal with the person in the Republic who supplied it. Why was that? The answer is that in international terms there seems to be no legislation that allows for extradition for fiscal charges.

It seems to me that ultimately all crime comes down to fiscal issues. There is the person in poverty who steals because she wants to feed a child and has not the money to do so. That is a fiscal problem. The Government must consider the issue with their colleagues in the European Union and perhaps elsewhere to ascertain whether something can be done to cross frontiers.

When members of the Select Committee visited the Republic, we discovered that perhaps one of the greatest benefactors of what has been going on possibly lives in the east end of London. It is an interesting world that we live in. Anyone who thinks that the Bill has been introduced simply because of Northern Ireland or, for that matter, the Republic, should think again.

I regret to have to say that in the House some years back, a former Minister in the Northern Ireland Office defended the fact that social security was provided for a person who had a job in this place that he would not take up. He would not take up a job, yet the family was getting social security. Why? Because otherwise some social security staff might have been endangered. That is why the concept of anonymity must be tackled seriously. I urge the Government not just to consider the matter, but to press ahead with the necessary legislative changes before the Bill returns to us in this place.

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