Proceeds of Crime Bill

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The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take Government amendments Nos. 206 to 208.

Mr. Ainsworth: These technical amendments are designed to align clause 114 with clause 29. Amendment No. 205 provides that a reconsideration case, as set out in clauses 106, 107 and 108, may be pursued against a person who is unlawfully at large. Amendment No. 206 provides for a reconsideration of benefit cases under clause 109 where an order previously made may be pursued against a person who is unlawfully at large. Amendments Nos. 207 and 208 are consequential.

Mr. Grieve: I would be grateful for a little more clarification. I assumed that clause 114 allowed for recovery in Scotland against someone unlawfully at large. I assume that the only changes made to the wording are formal, not some change in the nature of the Scottish court's powers. Will the Minister confirm that we are not dealing with a profound amendment?

The Chairman: Order. It is helpful if the hon. Gentleman stands up, rather than leaning slightly forward.

Mr. Hawkins: I will certainly do so, Mr. McWilliam. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), but an additional point occurs to me. The word ''absconds'' appeared in the draft, but the previous group of amendments changed it to ''unlawfully at large'', so I am puzzled that the words ''unlawfully at large'' appeared in the original drafting in clause 114(3)(c) and (d), but the Government, in an attempt to make that balance with clause 29 in part 2, are removing the references to ''unlawfully at large''. That reveals that the phrase ''unlawfully at large'' was used in the original draft, even though it was not used previously, and the Government have now included it. That reinforces the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field), which concerned the difference between the meaning of ''absconds'' and that of ''unlawfully at large''.

Mr. Grieve: My hon. Friend may derive enlightenment from the explanatory notes. Before the Bill was drafted, no provision in Scottish legislation used the word, ''absconder''. Perhaps it was plucked out of English law and applied to Scotland. It was concluded that the word was unknown to Scottish law, whereas the phrase ''unlawfully at large'' was not.

Mr. Hawkins: My hon. Friend is right. I have read the explanatory notes, but my point is slightly different. The Government propose to remove the phrase ''unlawfully at large'' in clause 114(3)(d). My point was that the drafter of the Bill had already used the phrase ''unlawfully at large'', even though it was not in the part of the Bill affected by the previous group of amendments and is now being put back in, for the reasons that my hon. Friend mentioned. One wonders whether the Scottish concept of ''unlawfully at large'' is the same in law as ''absconding'' in English law.

Mr. Grieve: My hon. Friend may be making a good point, and we await enlightenment from the Minister. I suspect that the phrase ''unlawfully at large'' features in provisions that would otherwise be associated with the word ''abscond'', because the terminology features in Scottish law in respect of someone who does not answer bail.

Mr. Hawkins: My hon. Friend may well be right. It is unfortunate that we have temporarily lost the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael). When his absence was being bemoaned by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok, I noticed that another Scots lawyer on the Government Back Benches was shaking his head. The Minister may derive some support from the Scottish lawyers who are sitting behind him.

Mr. Ainsworth: The hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) said that his curiosity was outstripping his ability to analyse what I recognise as a complicated clause and complex amendments. I assure him that the terminology that continues to be used—after all the amendments—is ''unlawfully at large''. That is the terminology in Scotland. However, I can tell the hon. Member for Beaconsfield, in response to the substantive issue that he raised, that there is no difference whatever between its meaning and the meaning of the term that applies in England. Different Scottish terminology seems to apply in different parts of the country. Indeed, it has just been suggested to me that the meaning of the word ''abscond'' is more readily understood north of the border as ''doing a runnie''—I shall leave the hon. Gentleman to guess who passed me that note.

Mr. Johnson: I am sorry to revert to terminology, but can the Minister elucidate the difference north of the border between the meaning of the word ''thinks'' and the word ''believes'', because—

The Chairman: Order. We have dealt with that. We have already disposed of that issue on another group of amendments.

Mr. Hawkins: On a point of order, Mr. McWilliam. The words ''thinks'' and ''believes'' both appear in clause 114. It is true that the previous group of amendments that dealt with the matter is behind us, but in a clause stand part debate, would it not be perfectly in order for my hon. Friend to explore that issue further with the Minister?

The Chairman: Order. This is not a clause stand part debate.

Mr. Hawkins: Indeed not, Mr. McWilliam.

The Chairman: We are dealing with narrow amendments here.

Mr. Hawkins: I understand that, Mr. McWilliam. I was raising a sort of point of order at this stage, to reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) that when we reach the stand part debate in a few moments, he will still have the opportunity to put his point to the Minister.

The Minister of State, Scotland Office (Mr. George Foulkes): Are there any fishermen in the hon. Gentleman's constituency?

The Chairman: Seated interventions are always out of order.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 206, in page 70, line 2, leave out 'sections 107, 108 and 109 do' and insert

    'section 109 does'.

No. 207, in page 70, line 4, leave out subsections (4) and (5).

No. 208, in page 70, line 9, leave out 'Sections 107, 108 and 109 have' and insert

    'Once the accused has ceased to be unlawfully at large section 109 has'.—[Mr. Bob Ainsworth.]

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Johnson: I am grateful to you for are allowing me to return to my perplexity about the difference between the meaning of the words ''thinks'' and ''believes'', Mr. McWilliam. As I understand it, ''believes'' is the proper locution north of the border. Will the Minister explain what ''believes'' means north of the border that it does not mean south of it? I would also like to ask why we in this House are making this revision on behalf of the Scots when they could perfectly well, if they chose, do it themselves. If they prefer to use the word—

Mr. Mark Field: I wonder whether this might have something to do with the facts that the Scots are such church-going folk. To paraphrase Descartes, ''I believe, therefore I am''.

Mr. Johnson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that important intervention, because it seems to me that if, for instance, one were to translate the Bill into French, one could perfectly well use the words ''je crois'' in either context. In Latin, one could use ''credo''—or, indeed, ''reor''—plus the accusative or the infinitive. In almost any other language known to me we would be able to find a word that could perfectly well do for both ''thinks'' and ''believes''. I am therefore in a state of complete perplexity as to exactly what the amendment seeks to produce north of the border, and I would be very grateful if the Minister could tell me.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne) rose—

The Chairman: Order. If the hon. Member wants to debate the difference between ''suivre'' and ''être'' he can do so, but not under this clause.

Mr. Wilshire: My hon. Friend sounds as if he is coming to the end of his peroration on this subject, so before he does, could he tell us what he believes the difference is, as well as asking the Minister for his opinion?

Mr. Johnson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for putting that further question. I just want to revert to the final question that I posed earlier to the Minister of State, Scotland Office; I do not believe that I had a reply—although it may now fall to the Under-Secretary to answer it. The question was: why are we in this House making a revision to what will be Scottish law, when the Scots could make it themselves? Not only that; they could themselves at some future date have the power to amend it. Who finally has the authority?

Mr. Bob Ainsworth: I think that we have stumbled upon something profound and potentially quite subversive. I hate to ruin the hon. Gentleman's philosophical argument about the potential difference between the way in which the Scots and the English think, and whether there is a more secular society here than exists north of the border.

I am informed that there has been a drafting decision to replace the word ''thinks'' with the word ''believes'' throughout the Bill. I would have thought that many hon. Members would be quite concerned about how deep that kind of subversion goes, and what other legislation it has crept into. Being a fairly secular-minded person myself, I am not at all sure that I am happy with it. We need to be aware that such things may be going on. Parliamentary counsel may be undermining us, while we know nothing about what is happening to our legislation.

Mr. Field: I fear that this may be a battle within the Government. It is obvious to me—new Labour thinks; old Labour believes.

Mr. Ainsworth: Touché.

That is the explanation: for whatever reason, someone has taken the decision to change the drafting of the Bill using the word ''believes'' rather than the word ''thinks''. Perhaps that person has old Labour rather than new Labour connections. We cannot say.

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