|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Bob Ainsworth: Surely the hon. Gentleman is aware that there has been recent case law, particularly in the case of Rezvi, that has upheld the use of the assumptions in confiscation and not just in drug money.
Mr. Johnson: I am grateful to the Minister for that important clarification. I am of course aware of it, but I have only to look around the Chamber tonight to see legal brains of the kind of rarity and skill that could easily use the Human Rights Act 1998 to frustrate the very purposes that we have been trying to advance day in, day out and week in, week out during our consideration of the Bill.
Mr. Davidson: Would it be helpful if I pointed out to the hon. Gentleman that although the McIntosh case was overturned by the Scottish Appeal Court, the conviction was finally upheld by the Privy Council?
Mr. Johnson: I am more than grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point, but I think that I have already addressed it. Nor am I sure whether what he says is accurate. In fact, I think that he is trying to spoil my conclusion by making things up on the spur of the moment.
Mr. Hawkins: My hon. Friend may have been confused by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson) talking about the Privy Council when he may have meant the House of Lords. Does my hon. Friend agree with the words of a distinguished former Member, Sir Alan Herbert, also a journalist and distinguished playwright? He said:
In conclusion, let the Bill be a subtle and relentless octopus, not a juggernaut which crushes the innocent and guilty alike. I think that we have done a good job in ensuring that and I hope that the other place will continue our work.
I want to make two brief points. The first is about the process. I speak as a new Member who was elected last June. Somewhat to my surprise, I have been impressed by the process and the way in which the Bill has proceeded. The main reason for that is that there was excellent input from all members of the Committee on which I was proud to serve. Everyone expressed their views freely and sincerely. I pay particular tribute to the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) who has worked extremely hard on the Bill. Today, I was amazed to see the hon. Gentleman lose his rag for the first time, when he was baited by Scottish National Members. I did not believe that that would ever happen, but he was pushed to that extent.
I have been impressed by the way that the Bill has proceeded. The measure is important and goes to the heart of what may be the major problem facing this country. I hope that, when Labour Members talked about the communities that they represent, Opposition Members learned more about those communities than they knew before the introduction of the Bill. I suspect that they have done so.
One continuing misapprehension about the Bill is that it contains no safeguards. I confess that I am a former lawyer so I instinctively followed some of the arguments made by Opposition Front-Bench Members. However, I have studied the Bill closely and it includes an extraordinary number of safeguards. Some of the drafting has not assisted in understanding the measure, but the Bill strikes the right balance. Balance is the key word. The hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) referred to tension. That is present throughout the Bill.
A strong voice has spoken from the Chamber and from the Committeea voice that represents people in the communities afflicted by the serious problems associated with drugs. As politicians we must speak out for those communities. The people who must listen to us are in the other placeespecially the lawyers who will regard the Bill in a certain way. I suffered from that disease in the past, but as a new politician I have learned that I have a responsibility to look at legislation differentlyin a way that reflects the problems and fears in the community that I represent. That voice will not be represented in the other place, but it is important that Members in that place hear from us about these grave matters and are assured that we have considered the Bill closely and that it must be taken forward.
The Bill is already having an effect. I am sure that my very hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson) will be delighted to know that two or three weeks ago the front page of the Law Society Gazette warned lawyers to be on their guard because the Proceeds of Crime Bill was on its way.
Annabelle Ewing: I join hon. Members in supporting the Bill's Third Reading. We were happy to join the Government in the Division Lobby to support them on various issues during the past two days. It is clear that strong measures are needed to tackle the serious problems associated with drugs and other organised crime, which have cast a blight on communities the length and breadth of Scotland and throughout the rest of the United Kingdom.
Before the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson) takes up his barracking again, I want to agree with him on the important issue of resources. It is all very well to create new agencies and powers forin Scotlandthe procurator fiscal service, the Crown Office and so forth and our police force, but if there are no resources the new powers are not worth the paper on which they are written. I hope that issue will be addressed.
I and my colleagues are very disappointed to note that new Labour Members voted against our amendment No. 229 tonight. It would have ensured that part 3 of the Bill, which went through substantial change in this House, would have been referred back to the Scots Parliament.
In the debate on Report, all parties agreed that there had been major changes to part 3 of the Bill. The Minister of State, Scotland Office, told the Scottish Affairs Select Committee on 7 November that, if substantial changes were made, there would be a political imperative to refer the matter back to the Scots Parliament. Those changes have been made, but new Labour Members tonight voted against that referral. That action must be regarded as indefensible, undemocratic and an attack on the very basis of the Scots Parliament. Scots Labour MPs, in particular, should be thoroughly ashamed of their conduct tonight.
My last point is that the Sewel motion issue clearly remains unresolved. In his comments over the past few days, the Minister of State repeatedly confused the Scots Parliament with the Scottish Executive. The issue needs to be resolved. The substantial number of votes that my party garnered from other parties in the Houseour amendment gained 172 votesshows that there is an imperative to resolve the matter properly, in a way that respects both the spirit of the Scotland Act 1998 and democracy in Scotland.
Mr. Carmichael: There were 39 sittings in Committee on this Bill, and we have spent two days on Report and Third Reading. One would have thought that everything would have been said by now but, remarkably, there remains something to add.
I turn first to the question of Sewel motions. That matter was touched on by the hon. Member for Perth (Annabelle Ewing) and by the Minister of State, Scotland Office in his earlier statement. The Minister's statement is to be welcomed. There is no manual for dealing with Scottish legislation going through Westminster in the post- devolution context, especially when it arrives here as a result of a Sewel motion. The experience has been instructive for me and for other hon. Members from Scotland who served on the Standing Committee.
There is a need to define the role of Scottish MPs, post devolution, in this House. I do not object to the Sewel process in principle, but there are aspects that need to be refined. It encourages a dialogue between Government and Executive that bypasses the important role that can be played by Parliament, both here and in Edinburgh. Those matters must be taken seriously.
For example, it was drawn to my attention that any subsequent amendment to the Bill passed by the Scottish Parliament will be capable of being struck down by a court if it is not found to be consistent with the terms of the Human Rights Act 1998. The principal Bill can be given only a certificate of human rights incompatibility, and a number of other, similar issues that will have to be addressed.
However, I and other hon. Memberssuch as the hon. Members for Wellingborough (Mr. Stinchcombe) and for Redcar (Vera Baird)did bring to the Committee's deliberations a certain amount of experience of the criminal justice system. We all approached the debate from the point of view that all the different constituent parts of the criminal justice systemthe judiciary, the prosecutors, defence solicitors, social workers, policedo an excellent job, often in very difficult circumstances. We only ever hear about the occasions when they get it wrong. We do not hear about the many occasions when they get it right and things go smoothly.
It is apparent, with all these constituent parts, some of which are conflicting, that a system of checks and balances has to be in place. Liberal Democrat Members remain concerned that a number of checks and balances are not present in the way that they might be. I am concerned that the Lord Advocate in Scotland now has yet another function to perform. I hope that the Scottish Executive will keep a close eye on the manner in which his functions, provided in part 5 of the Bill, are to be executed and that, if necessary, setting up a separate Scottish Assets Recovery Agency may be given serious consideration at a later date.
It is apparent that the days of the Lord Advocate as a Minister in the Scottish Executive are numbered. The number of functions that he has in terms of his prosecuting role and the additional responsibilities provided by the Bill must make that position more difficult to maintain. I say that as someone who has a great regard for the office of Lord Advocate. It is a very important one, but in this post-devolution age there should be no sacred cows. If the reform of an ancient office is necessary, so be it. Let us go ahead.
Liberal Democrat Members have accepted the need for the Bill. We accept that it is broadly good and wish it well. I shall watch its progress through the courts with great interest. It has been a pleasure and an honour, as a new Member of this House, particularly as a Scottish Member, to be part of these proceedings. We wish the Government well in their dealings with it in the other place.