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8.53 pm

Norman Baker: Parliament has dealt with the Bill in an exemplary fashion. If it were to approach other Bills similarly, we might all end up with better reputations outside the House than we probably collectively have at present. May I pass on my thanks to the staff and officers of the House for their help with the Bill? I also thank the Minister, who has been willing to respond to legitimate points. He has been polite and cheerful throughout and has been the sort of Minister whom one would hope to be responsible for a Bill.

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I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) and his colleagues. The hon. Gentleman in particular has given the Bill a great deal of his time and raised a number of legitimate issues, and the Bill is better as a consequence of some of the amendments that he moved. I also thank my own colleagues, of course, including my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael), who has kept me busy and otherwise helped me during the debates on the Bill.

I also pay tribute to Labour Members, who raised legitimate issues and took a real interest in the Bill. I particularly mention the hon. Members for Redcar (Vera Baird) and for Wellingborough (Mr. Stinchcombe), who managed to raise issues about which the Government did not necessarily want to hear, but did so in a constructive way that was loyal to their party. It is not always easy to strike that balance, and that should be recognised.

My colleagues and I have always supported the principle of the Bill. I do not think that there will be a Division on Third Reading, but if there is we shall support the Bill. We support its principle because it takes the profit out of crime. I bear in mind the fact that two thirds of crime is motivated by profit, and that we must ensure that crime does not pay. That very old slogan needs some teeth, and this Bill gives it teeth. We are much better at convicting people than at depriving them of their ill-gotten gains. If the Bill goes some way to addressing that, it will have achieved a great deal. If we follow the money, we will end up getting the criminal, and that is a welcome change from traditional methods of approaching such matters.

The principle of the Bill is agreed, so proceedings in Committee were largely about detail—or, perhaps, tensions. The hon. Member for Beaconsfield referred to some areas of concern, some of which I share and others I am less concerned about. I have identified four tensions that I will take to my colleagues in the Lords as areas of difficulty.

The first tension is the key one: the balance to be struck between the power of the state and the rights of the individual. The Bill undoubtedly contains several heavy weapons to try to deal with serious crime committed by very clever people who may have expensive lawyers—or whatever the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson) wants to attribute to them—and have escaped the traditional methods of justice and existing law. We must deploy heavy weapons against those people. I recognise that, even if it causes some trepidation. The other side of that coin is that we need strong shields to ensure that the innocent are not swept up in the process.

As the Minister said, there is more than one kind of innocent person. There are innocent people who are the victims of crime, about whom we rightly heard from the hon. Members for Glasgow, Anniesland (John Robertson) and for Glasgow, Pollok. Innocent third parties can be swept up unwittingly and unfairly by such heavy legislation unless there are safeguards to enable them to escape it legitimately.

There are also those who are guilty of negligence, who we do not want to treat the same as those who are guilty of deliberately seeking to launder money. Both are

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problems, but they are not on the same scale. We need to ensure that there are shields for the innocent and that the penalties for those who are guilty of lesser crimes are not the same as those for major crimes.

The hon. Member for Beaconsfield referred to the loss of the family home, which was discussed yesterday on Report. That brings me to the second tension that was evident during our proceedings in Committee: that between what happens north and south of the border. In the case of the family home, the Bill is very much Scotland 1, England 0, which cannot be right.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): Is that a full-time result?

Norman Baker: It is a half-time result, as the Bill is yet to go to the other place—but the score may stay that way. How can it be right for a spouse to lose her home if she lives in Berwick but not if she lives in Galashiels? That worries me.

Differences between legislation north and south of the border are inevitable. Indeed, I am a keen supporter of devolution, as are all my colleagues. We recognise and rejoice in the fact that there are differences north and south of the border, but I prefer the differences to occur in matters of policy and priority rather than in essential justice. The example of the loss of the home is a matter of essential justice. I regret that we have a different solution in Scotland from that in England.

There have of course been moves to eliminate such differences. As the Minister will remember, it was proposed that courts in Scotland have discretionary power to make confiscation orders although such power was mandatory in England and Wales. That has now been evened up—the wrong way, in my view. It is a pity that the evening up did not go the other way, with the Scottish model imported into England.

The third tension is between those who legislate—us—and those who interpret the law, namely the judiciary. As we have gone through the Bill, I have asked to what extent it is legitimate for Parliament to constrain the judiciary. Parliament has a right and a duty to legislate, and courts have a duty to interpret. The courts are an important backstop to ensure justice. In the past century, we find instances in which the courts have intervened to protect justice when Parliament has got it wrong; juries, too, have acted in that way. We can all think of cases that have led to changes in the law. The judiciary is an important feature of our democracy and it must be given the elbow room it needs to perform that function.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok made it plain in Committee that he does not trust the judges. His solution, without wanting to put it too crudely, was as far as possible to write them out of the script in terms of the scope available to them for interpretation. As he does not trust the judiciary in its current form, he wants judges to be servants of Parliament, but that is a dangerous road to take. I agree that there is a need for reform in the legal system, but that is an entirely different proposition from cutting them out of the script altogether.

That is one of the reasons why throughout proceedings on the Bill my colleagues and I have been keen to ensure that the judiciary is not written out of the script, and that judges are given the appropriate flexibility to interpret the law. That is why attempts were made to amend clause 6

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to give the courts greater flexibility of action. The clause starts: "The . . . Court must proceed". Many wanted to replace "must" with "may", and the Liberal Democrats suggested inserting "normally" after "must". On Report, a further attempt was made to qualify the provision and give the courts elbow room to act if they detected a real risk of injustice.

The Government were not keen on those amendments or on providing elbow room. I think that they should adopt a more relaxed attitude and realise that it is in their long-term interests not to constrain the judiciary too tightly, as they tend to do throughout the Bill. Their motives are of the best, but I conclude that ultimately the right balance has not been struck between the two elements.

The fourth tension is between the need—perceived and actual—for the far-reaching heavy measures in the Bill and the requirements of the European convention on human rights and the Human Rights Act 1998. I am happy to concede that Government Members are as keen on the Act as I am, and that they acknowledge that it was a big step forward and is an important part of this country's legislation. I am glad that the Minister referred to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, if only to disagree with it, because it shows that he recognises the importance of responding to the issues that the Committee raises.

Incidentally, the report with which the Minister disagrees was agreed by all members of that Committee representing all three main parties and both Houses of Parliament. That does not mean that the report is necessarily right, but there is a substantial body of opinion, which includes hon. Members present tonight, that the recommendation and the wording of the report were appropriate. There will always be tension, but it is important that the Government pay proper attention to what the Joint Committee on Human Rights says. The Government themselves created that important body and its words should be heeded.

I am not sure that the Minister entirely understood or accepted my point that there is an absolute requirement that each Bill introduced by the Government be consistent within itself with the Human Rights Act. On the front of the Bill was a statement that it is so consistent and that its provisions are compatible with convention rights. The Minister will remember that the Committee learned that the clause headed "Requirements for making of production order", originally clause 335, replicated provisions within the Drug Trafficking Act 1994, but without the Act's public interest protection provisions. The explanatory notes to the Bill said that that was because judges are required to act in a way that is compatible with the convention, and that the public interest protection provisions were therefore no longer necessary. That is a fundamental point. Those public interest protection clauses should have been included in the Bill, irrespective of the existence of the Human Rights Act.

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