Proceeds of Crime Bill

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Mr. Carmichael: I shall be brief, because the hon. Gentleman has said nothing with which I can disagree. The debate reminds me why I thought that life as a politician might be more agreeable than life as a lawyer. Parliament makes life unnecessarily complicated for lawyers.

The Minister must give some serious consideration between now and Report stage to the points made by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield about the separation of civil and criminal jurisdictions. I return to the plea about not lumping together the powers concerning confiscation or forfeiture on the one hand, and the investigation of crime on the other, because it unnecessarily confuses the matter and is unhelpful.

Mr. Ainsworth: With regard to letting the cat out of the bag, nobody should be under any illusions. We consulted people on the provisions in the Bill. Practitioners of the current scheme were part of that consultation and their views were taken into account, so to what extent did I let the cat out of the bag? There

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has been no representation from Customs officers to say, ''Wait a minute. We have certain powers at the border but we sometimes come across similar situations that are not at the border and we can't touch the stuff.''

Mr. Grieve: I did not make my comment pejoratively. The Minister has been honest and forthcoming with the Committee and has often had to suffer bombardment throughout the weeks that we have been sitting. I am grateful to him, but when he said, ''Well, that was their idea, and that's why we've put it in,'' it made me wonder whether the totality of the picture had been examined when the course of action was embarked on.

Mr. Ainsworth: The hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland want me to consider a major rewrite of the Bill. The hon. Gentleman knows that the logistics would be horrendous and the issues raised would be of concern to the Committee. As he has said, we would have to extend the two-day period considerably and there would be a great deal of bureaucracy.

The Assets Recovery Agency is meant to be an agency that provides the necessary expertise for serious investigations of civil recovery under chapter 2 and the expertise to back up the confiscation procedures. I have not the faintest idea about the size of the agency, but for it to be able not only to perform those functions but to take over from Customs and Excise and constables, I suggest to Opposition Members that we are talking about considerable growth in a new institution over and above that which is currently envisaged.

Customs and Excise currently operates the scheme. We would not be removing the police, as the hon. Gentleman recognises, from involvement in the procedures. As he says, they were brought in under previous Governments and that was extended by the current Government. The police operate antisocial behaviour orders, which are civil procedures, so we would not be separating out some great principle in moving to what he suggests.

We have a workable scheme. It is considered by the police and Customs officers to be extendable in a workable fashion. That is how the Bill is currently read and I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a commitment that I will consider a total rewrite of all responsibilities for the director of the agency.

Mr. Hawkins: Once again, as the Minister has fairly acknowledged, the Law Society of Scotland's drafts have opened an interesting debate. Despite his dismissive comment that he is not prepared to consider a complete rewrite of the Bill, I have no doubt that, having heard the debate, his officials will consider a rewrite and we may see a change of heart in due course.

Mr. Ainsworth: The hon. Gentleman is trying to foment rebellion.

10.45 am

Mr. Hawkins: I do not know whether I am inciting rebellion, but during my parliamentary career it has not been unknown for Ministers of both Labour and

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Conservative Governments to be dismissive about prospects for further change when on their feet but for there to be a subsequent change of heart.

The Minister should consider seriously the wise words of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland about how he decided to stand for Parliament because it made life more difficult for lawyers. That was also part of my motivation to stand. After wrestling with arcane statutory drafting in the courts while in practice at the Bar, I thought to myself that there must be a better way of doing things and perhaps I should get inside the system and try to improve the drafting to ensure that we have workable laws. I am sure that even the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok and I would unite to believe that we should have laws that actually work and hit the Mr. Bigs at whom we aim.

Mr. Davidson: It is astonishing that the hon. Members for Surrey Heath and for Orkney and Shetland admitted that they came to Parliament to make life easier for lawyers. Here is simple me, who came to Parliament to try to overthrow capitalism.

Mr. Hawkins: The hon. Gentleman may certainly have had a different motivation. We shall have to see which of us will be the more disappointed.

The Chairman: Order. Whether hon. Members came to Parliament to help lawyers or to get social justice, they should stick to the amendment.

Mr. Hawkins: The point that I make is that we want laws that work, which reinforces the point that was made by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland.

The Law Society of Scotland did the Committee a service by raising the serious point that the way in which the clause is drafted may not provide the most effective way of dealing with matters. Opposition Members think that the society may have come up with improvements. I am sure that the Government will consider the matter further.

I shall not press the amendments to a vote. There are Government amendments that draw on some of the spirit that the Law Society of Scotland got at. However, the procedure is not finished, and the Government may wish to consider further improvements on Report. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Hawkins: I beg to move amendment No. 414, in page 170, line 35, at end insert—

    '(4A) Before making an order under this section, the court must take into account any representations made to it by any person whom the court thinks is likely to be affected by the order.

    (4B) In making representations to the court under subsection (4A), any person whom the court thinks is likely to be affected by the order shall be entitled to appear before the court.'.

This is a matter of considerable substance. I do not move the amendment as a probing amendment, unlike the previous ones. Again, my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield, myself and other Conservative Members are indebted to the Law Society of Scotland for drafting the precise wording of the amendment.

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Again, we are worried about the possibility of the seizure of cash that may be entirely innocent. Other parts of the Bill make express provision to allow interested parties to make representations to the court. Clause 94 gives that power to those affected by the making of the confiscation order and clause 136 gives the power for the protection of a person who is affected by action taken by any administrator. Given the potential impact of the making of an order under this clause, a similar power to make representations should be incorporated.

I appreciate that the Government have tabled new clause 9, which relates specifically to victims. We will debate the new clause later, but the amendment provides a better way of paralleling what the Government have already included in clauses 94 and 136, and I cannot think of a good reason why there should not be a parallel power in this part of the Bill.

I am sure that the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland will, once again, give the Committee the benefit of his experience of how such matters are usually dealt with in Scotland.

The Minister might not be prepared immediately to accept the amendment, as drafted, but I hope that he will be willing to reconsider the serious point that I have raised—perhaps on Report, or in another place.

Mr. Ainsworth: The amendment would allow anyone who appears to be affected by the continued detention of the cash to make representations, in person, at the initial detention hearing, and at any subsequent hearing. As the Bill is currently drafted, those affected by a detention order must be given notice of it under subsection (8). We intend to make rules of court to the effect that such people must be notified of hearings—other than the initial one—and that they must have a right to be heard before the court. They will have the right to make representations at all hearings except the first one.

An exception is made for the first hearing because it is unlikely to be practicable for those affected by the detention of the cash to be notified in time for them to attend a hearing that must be held within 48 hours of the seizure. We agree that those affected by a detention order should have a right to make representations. That will be provided for—other than in respect of the initial hearing,

The hon. Gentleman and I have no substantive disagreement. I hope that he will accept that my proposals represent the right way to address the matter, and that, in the light of my assurances, he will withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Carmichael: The Minister's comments have some force, but I want him to explain why affected parties should be excluded from being present in person or represented at the initial hearing. It might be true that it would be difficult to notify such parties—that is often the case in interdict proceedings, for example—but if, through their own volition or otherwise, they are aware of the proceedings, I can see no reason why they should not be entitled to appear at the first hearing. The amendment would give them that entitlement, and that is sensible.

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