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Ian Lucas (Wrexham): I believe that Lord Lloyd grossly overstated the position. This is the procedure whereby a court will determine whether property is seized on the balance of probabilities. I have dealt with the courts professionally in the past, and that is a determination, and a process, which occurs every day in the civil courts. I

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have acquired considerable respect for the hon. Gentleman over a long period, but he is over-egging the pudding.

Mr. Grieve: I listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman said, and I greatly respect him for his contribution during the Bill's passage. He and I, along with a number of Members who are present, have lived with the Bill for a long time—and, I think, will part company with it shortly. I merely say to all who participated that our scrutiny here was, in many ways, a model of its kind. Having said that, I can only refer the hon. Gentleman to what Lord Lloyd said in the other place. He presented an extremely persuasive argument, which ought to make the Government reflect that the legislation as drafted in respect of civil recovery might not comply with the Human Rights Act.

Lord Lloyd may be wrong. The Government must believe that he is wrong, or they would not have persisted. It is clearly a genuine belief, and I appreciate the Minister's position. Lord Lloyd, however, has a far more considerable legal brain than I have—and, I suspect, a better legal brain than any other Member of the House of Commons. His was not an individual view, but one backed by a number of their lordships—including, I noted, Lord Goldsmith's head of chambers. That may give the Government pause for thought, but the matter will be tested as and when the time comes.

In the meantime—the other place having deferred to the will of this House, according to constitutional convention—it remains for me only to thank the Minister for his courtesy during the passage of this long Bill, and to wish the legislation well. Time will tell whether the House, by failing to consider carefully what Lord Lloyd had to say, has shot itself in the foot. I hope that I am wrong, but as I have said there is much good in the Bill, and by making this addition we are undoubtedly improving it.

8 pm

Norman Baker: I can be brief on this amendment as, to a large degree, I echo the points made by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve). The amendment seems reasonably inconsequential. It reiterates a comment that the Minister made on a number of occasions throughout the Committee. I was personally in no doubt that the hierarchy to which he referred was in place. Indeed, I remember asking him about it at an early stage. My personal view, if it is not unconstitutional, is that the House of Lords has been bought off rather cheaply with this amendment. All credit to the Minister if that is what he has achieved. It is welcome so far as it goes but it just confirms what the Minister has already told us.

We were happy as a party to support Lord Lloyd's amendment in order to keep the ball in the air; there were issues to be considered. Had it come to the final decision, the amendment's impact may have gone too far for us. It may have weakened the legislation in a way that was beyond what was acceptable. However, it raised serious issues. The issue about human rights compliance is a genuine one. Doubtless the Minister has had advice on that from his officials and we will find out in due course whether any action will be taken and whether it will be successful. We wait to see what the outcome is.

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The amendment is welcome so far as it goes. No one could possibly object to it. It is motherhood and apple pie. It is perhaps a nice way to end the Bill. As this is probably the last time that I shall speak on the Bill, I thank the Minister for his contributions and good humour throughout its passage, if not on other occasions. I thank the hon. Member for Beaconsfield and his colleagues for their contributions, too.

Mr. Bob Ainsworth: We have been over the substantive issue before. Serious allegations about individuals are regularly made in civil recovery—that point was made by the Attorney-General in another place—so we do not accept Lord Lloyd's amendments, but I hope that this measure helps in the passage of the Bill. Again, I do not think that it is of huge significance, as the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) said. The Committee was assured that this was the intention, this was the hierarchy and these were the priorities that should be given in relation to the different powers in the Bill. We have now put that in the Bill. That makes it clear.

On timetabling, I was surprised by the comments of the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) because I think both he and I thought that we had allocated sufficient time to discuss the three Lords amendments. We then had two statements on that day. I think that I am not misrepresenting the position when I say that we both still thought that we had sufficient time. I do not think that anyone filibustered or wasted time last Thursday afternoon, yet we did not manage to get to that third important group of amendments.

That was not deliberate. I do not think that anyone meant to slight the other place in so doing. It shows—I hope that a degree of consensus is possible on this point—that if timetabling is to work, and I believe that there are great advantages to such procedures, great care and consideration need to be given as to how timetables are structured. In retrospect, if we had broken it down to ensure that the three substantive issues all received a degree of time, perhaps we would not have upset the Lords as we did. I hope that the hon. Gentleman agrees that it was not deliberate. We thought that we had allocated sufficient time, and I think that he did.

Mr. Grieve rose

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath) rose

Mr. Ainsworth: I will give way to either one of the hon. Gentlemen.

Mr. Hawkins: Will the Minister understand that while of course there was no deliberate filibustering on the matter—we accept entirely that there was a genuine attempt to debate it—one of the things that caused problems on that day, which he can discuss with Government business managers, was the fact that there were two statements that seriously cut into the time? When the original programme motion was discussed we were not anticipating that. I hope that he will take that message back clearly. His point about splitting the matter so that there is separate timetabling for all the important issues is helpful and could be taken forward.

Mr. Ainsworth: I acknowledge that point.

Mr. Grieve: I accept that as originally programmed there would have been ample time to debate the matter

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if there had not been the two statements. Once the two statements came in, we were faced with an impossible choice. I am sure that the Minister accepts that. To vote against the motion when the time came would have been to diminish the amount of time available. One simply had to hope for the best and hope that we could get through it. It was going to be touch and go. As it turned out, we did not get there, through no fault of anyone—sensible contributions were made on both sides of the House. It reflects the need for much greater flexibility if we are to do our job properly.

Mr. Ainsworth: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. The only thing that remains to be said is that no insult to another place was intended by anyone in the House. I congratulate the Opposition Whip on the way he exposed the problem to maximise the difficulty that we had in another place. I thank hon. Members for their courteous remarks about me and everyone else who served on the Bill. A lot of Members put a lot of effort into it. I appreciate that.

Lords amendment agreed to.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Order [28 June 2001],

Question agreed to.

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Police Reform Bill [Lords]

After Clause 4

Lords amendment: No. 2A to Commons amendment No. 2, after (1)(b), leave out paragraph (2) and insert—

8.6 pm

The Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety (Mr. John Denham): I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

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