Proceeds of Crime Bill

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Mr. Hawkins: Would not Sir Humphrey have been proud of this drafting?

Mr. Grieve: Yes. Draftsmen argue that they should provide the bare bones. The provision will obviously be embodied in a more practical order, but it will still have to be examined and I feel that duplication may be inevitable if comprehensibility is to be achieved. It is one thing to be referred to a section that is self-explanatory, but the reader is referred off to another section, which then refers him to another section, by which stage, the causal connection between one and the other will literally require the pages to be photocopied and put alongside each other. To my mind, that is not good drafting. Will the Minister consider making improvements? I realise that that will be difficult given that the Bill is already at this stage. Other clauses may demonstrate the problem, but clause 27 is the one on which it really hit me. The circularity of it could be altered, so will the Minister ask his officials to do something about it?

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Mr. Bob Ainsworth: What came to my mind was not that Sir Humphrey would be proud, but that we should be proud of the hon. Member for Beaconsfield for pursuing the parliamentary draftsman through the caverns of the legislation more effectively than Alice pursued the white rabbit. The effort that he appears to have put in is extraordinary, and I congratulate him on it.

The first amendment would prevent the Crown court from ordering a defendant to provide information at the revaluation hearings. The second would apply when the court of appeal proceeded under clause 6 following a prosecutor or director's appeal, and when the Crown court proceeded under clause 6 at the direction of the court of appeal. It would prevent both courts from having a statement of information from the prosecutor or director. It would also prevent the court from ordering the defendant to provide information at a hearing following a prosecutor or director's appeal.

Mr. Hawkins: I appreciate that the Minister is setting out the advice provided by his officials, but I do not think that it can be right. He suggests that the deletion of clause subsection (2)(d) would have dire consequences. As my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield pointed out, that paragraph is entirely circular. It simply states that

    ``section 19 applies as it applies in the circumstances mentioned in section 19(1)''.

If subsection (2)(d) were removed, clause 19 would still apply as it would still be part of the Bill. When we debated clause 19, we ordered that it stand part of the Bill, so it will apply, but clause 27(2)(d) adds nothing. It is simply a statement of the obvious and the circular. Removing it would have no dire consequences.

Mr. Ainsworth: I understand what the hon. Member for Beaconsfield said about the purpose of the amendment as an appeal for clarity, but we have had to consider what it means. The hon. Member for Surrey Heath challenges our view of what the amendment would do, but as the hon. Member for Beaconsfield has said that the amendment was merely an appeal for clarity, we are in danger of chasing ourselves down a few rabbit holes.

Mr. Grieve: My hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath may be right. He has a valid point when he says that other clauses still stand even if they are not specifically referred to. The point of referring to them is to aid clarity. I am not much clearer about what is intended—not by my amendment, which is probing as the Minister understands, but by the cross-reference and the lack of clarity that surrounds it. I was trying to highlight the fact that I was unsure of what the provision meant, because I could not follow the tormented and tortuous labyrinth that one must go through to arrive at an answer.

Mr. Ainsworth: The legislation is complicated. If the hon. Gentleman's only point is to pursue the draftsman for being incapable of doing his job and to suggest that he is more capable, there is no point of principle behind his remarks. Obviously, I want the legislation to be as clear as possible.

Mr. Stinchcombe: I wonder whether the hon. Members for Beaconsfield and for Surrey Heath are deliberately trying to confuse the Committee. Clause 27(2)(d) is not circular in its references to section 19 and 19(1), but is predicated on applications being made under clauses 20, 21 and 22. It incorporates the section 19 procedures into those applications.

Mr. Ainsworth: I accept the point made by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield that we may want to consider how the legislation could be drafted more clearly, but unless we can come up with ideas about how to make clear the purpose of the clause and make it easier to read, I see no reason why we should not use the current wording.

Mr. Grieve: My hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath may have a point, notwithstanding what the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Stinchcombe) says, but that was not the purpose of my intervention.

If it is difficult—not impossible, but difficult—for me, a lawyer, to follow the thread of the legislation, is it not time for the draftsman to consider whether he should restate in full the provisions of clause 19(1) that apply to this clause on information? Clearly, that would make the Bill longer, which is a disadvantage, but if the Bill is that difficult to follow, perhaps it should restate the earlier provisions. There is much repetition in the Bill. If you wanted, you could draw cross-references between all the clauses, but the whole Bill would be unintelligible.

The Chairman: Order. I have been trying to cross-reference the Bill throughout our proceedings.

Mr. Ainsworth: We could make the Bill twice as long but its intentions are clear from the current drafting. I do not know what more to say to the hon. Gentleman, who seems to be arguing merely that the Bill is too complicated. If he can tell us how to make it clearer, we will be happy to consider his proposals.

Mr. Grieve: I am slightly disappointed by the Minister's response because the Committee has a duty to try to achieve clarity, notwithstanding that this is a complex legal document. It is difficult to achieve clarity in clause 27. Subsection (2)(d) states:

    ``section 19 applies as it applies in the circumstances mentioned in section 19(1).''

However, clause 19(1) refers the reader to the provisions of clause 6, so why does the clause not cross-reference directly to the relevant provisions of clause 6? That simplification could be made without setting out in full the provisions of clause 6(3)(a) and (b). It is undesirable to send the reader off on a trail through the legislation, if it can be avoided.

I am not trying to score a cheap point against the draftsman. I never cease to be amazed at the quality of draftsmanship. Having seen drafting being done, and from my experience during the previous Parliament when I sat on the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, I am aware that drafting is a complex and difficult task that takes a great deal of training. Some people clearly enjoy the task, for which we should be grateful, and it requires a certain turn of mind to do it well. That is not a reason why we should blindly accept what has been offered; we can improve legislation only by highlighting areas where we think there might be difficulty and suggesting improvements. It is as simple as that. I happen to think that this is a particularly bad example—it might be better to described it as a good example—of such a labyrinth becoming excessive.

Subject to that, and with the hope that the Minister might care to discuss the matter with his officials, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 27 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 28

Defendant convicted or committed

Mr. Grieve: I beg to move amendment No. 111, in page 18, line 20, leave out `appropriate' and insert `just and reasonable'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 113, in page 19, line 12, leave out `appropriate' and insert `just and reasonable'.

Mr. Grieve: This is slightly more than a textual amendment.

Mr. Bob Ainsworth: It has more substance.

Mr. Grieve: Yes, it does. I must tell the Minister that one does not want to make lengthy points on clauses that not only appear to be innocuous but on which there is likely to be agreement. Nevertheless, although it is easy to tick off clauses because they look all right in the generality, it is often those clauses that later cause so much trouble. I am simply trying to do my job properly.

Clause 28 deals with defendants who are convicted or committed who have absconded. Subsection (2) sets out the circumstances in which the defendant is convicted or committed. Subsection (3) states:

    ``The second condition is that—

    (a) the prosecutor or the Director applies to the Crown Court to proceed under this section, and

    (b) the court believes it is appropriate for it to do so.''

I hope that the Minister will forgive me for saying so, but in my career at the Bar I have discovered that the word that features most frequently in a barrister's vocabulary is ``appropriate''. Indeed, to such an extent is that so that I have known wagers to be taken between barristers—first, on who will be the first to use the word ``appropriate'' or sometimes the word ``inappropriate'', and secondly on whether a barrister can get through a speech or submission without using either of those words.

Mr. Hawkins: I had not heard of that wager, but it occurs to me that it is rather similar to the word ``sustainable'' in new Labour's vocabulary.

[Mr. Stephen McCabe in the Chair]

Mr. Grieve: I suspect that my hon. Friend may have struck a sensitive spot. Other similar words feature in the vocabulary and become overused.

What does ``appropriate'' mean? The amendment suggests that we are asking the court to make an evaluation as to whether it is just and reasonable to proceed. The appropriateness or inappropriateness of a case is not a proper definition; it can refer to almost anything. What is its derivation, and why is it used? It may simply have featured in earlier legislation. Even if it does, that is not necessarily a reason to retain it if another phrase better meets the need.

A more fundamental concern is that proceedings when defendants abscond should take place only when it is just and reasonable that they should do so. That means that it would be in the interests of justice, if it is reasonable, and if the court has made an evaluation that, in so far as the defendant may be disadvantaged, it is justifiable that he should be so because of his conduct.

[Mr. John McWilliam in the Chair]

I am not sure that the word ``appropriate'' meets the case. If the Minister disagrees with me, I should like to know in what way he thinks that the word ``appropriate'' is better than the words ``just and reasonable'', because the issue does have an impact.

6.15 pm

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