Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Kingsland: The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, has spoken with his usual perspicacity on this issue. In this and related matters we have always walked arm in arm with him and today is no exception.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I commend the noble Lord for his brevity. I wish that I could respond similarly briefly by saying that we have always departed and therefore, for the reasons I have given on nine occasions, I do not wish to say more. I feel that that might disappoint the noble and learned Lord a little, although, if I had assent from around the rest of the Committee, I would be tempted to sit down.

The amendment concerns well travelled ground and it is an important issue. What the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, really says is that, in accepting that the nature of the information that we have is valuable and the intelligence use of it important, we should take the next step, and the next step is to use that intercept material to discharge the evidential burden that is placed in court on the prosecution to establish guilt. That is the next step which the noble and learned Lord says it is proper to take because others in other jurisdictions have done so.

In considering that next step, it is important to bear in mind the risks of so doing and to consider whether those risks outweigh the undoubted benefit that may flow from the use of intercept material in the court setting. Therefore, the purpose of the noble and learned Lord's amendment would appear to be to remove the statutory bar on intercept evidence to allow it to be used for certain serious crimes.

I do not suggest that the noble and learned Lord invites us to use this measure without moderation or in anything other than the most acute and appropriate case.
 
5 Apr 2005 : Column 628
 
But we have already made it clear that the "wins" in using intercept as evidence would be modest and short term and the potential "losses" could be catastrophic to our ability to act effectively against organised crime and terrorism.

The amendment does not take into account the unique nature of the relationship between our intelligence and law enforcement agencies, our judicial system, which combines an adversarial approach with human rights obligations—as set out in the European Convention on Human Rights and embodied in our Human Rights Act 1998; I know that some people do not have the affection and regard for the Human Rights Act that this Government have but we say that it is an important part of our framework—or the changes in technology which are about to alter fundamentally the entire communications arena.

The amendment provides no protections whatever to the capabilities which must be protected if we are to maintain our effectiveness in this area. As Sir Stephen Lander said in February:

We say that that is a powerful reason to exercise the discretion that we have on how these types of evidence should be used. It is important that we value and understand the impressive results that have been obtained through the use of intercept material and that we understand the protection that it would need in order to preserve it for future actions.

The question that the review considered was very much the one raised by the noble and learned Lord—that is, are we right in saying that the bar should stay where it is? The review into the use of intercept as evidence concluded that, although evidential use would result in an increase in prosecutions, such an increase would be modest and limited to those lower down the criminal hierarchy. That is because top criminal targets are particularly adept at ensuring that their communications are not compromised. In addition, there would be a number of serious risks that would jeopardise the close intelligence law enforcement relationship that has stood us in such good stead.

This is not a rushed judgment or a snap decision. The review commissioned by this Government has been the most thorough and extensive ever mounted, drawing on the expertise in all relevant areas of law and law enforcement, including prosecution and intelligence. The subject has been kept under almost continual review during the past 10 years. We shall continue to keep it under review. If we are satisfied that our response to terrorism and serious crime needs new powers, we shall work to ensure that we obtain new powers.

I am confident that if the House continues to be composed of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, and a number of others who have voiced this view, we
 
5 Apr 2005 : Column 629
 
shall return to this issue again and again. I assure noble Lords that we shall continue to keep an open mind and look at the issue in a way that makes sense. I invite the noble and learned Lord to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Lloyd of Berwick: I am afraid that the answer is as expected. The noble Baroness accepts that there is a benefit, as the review established. She says that that benefit is only short term, but she does not explain why it is only short term. She says that there are huge risks involved, but she does not explain what they are. She says that the Government have always been very keen on human rights, but this issue has nothing whatever to do with human rights. Things being as they are, and on the understanding that it will be returned again and again to the House—I undertake to bring it back again and again with the support of my former pupil sitting on the Liberal Democrat Benches—I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 57 agreed to.

Clause 58 [Offences to which this Chapter applies]:

Baroness Whitaker moved Amendment No. 63:


"( ) any offence under the Prevention of Corruption Acts 1889 to 1996 as amended by Part 12 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 (c. 24) or any offence at common law of bribery or corruption;"

The noble Baroness said: I can deal briefly with Amendment No. 63. Its purpose is simply to add to the list of those serious offences that the DPP may investigate those of corruption and bribery, including by UK nationals overseas. We have too long underestimated the seriousness of corruption offences. They do not figure significantly in police or Serious Fraud Office targets and the SFO seems too stretched to deal with them fully. My noble friend herself said in her closing speech at Second Reading, at col. 1197, that the SFO will receive specialist support from SOCA in respect of international corruption. These offences belong up there in the list with money laundering, evasion of duty and false accounting.

The OECD has just reported on the UK's compliance with the Anti-Bribery Convention, specifically recommending that more resource should be put to investigating bribery and corruption and commenting on the astonishing dearth of prosecutions. As the Commission for Africa, set up by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, indicates, millions of ordinary people in the poorest part of the world suffer because of corruption by rich country companies, including most certainly some based in the UK. I think that adding this offence to the list of those which can be investigated by the DPP in this Bill is the least we can do. I beg to move.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Dholakia: I support this amendment. The noble Baroness has a very good record in identifying issues of serious concern and this is one. If the
 
5 Apr 2005 : Column 630
 
Government genuinely believe in an ethical policy, I see no problem why this amendment cannot be incorporated in the Bill.

I was looking carefully at the purpose of Part 2 of the Bill which deals with investigations, prosecutions, proceedings and proceeds of crime. Clause 58 deals with offences as they apply to this chapter. I have looked at the Explanatory Notes of the Home Office in relation to these offences and that document says:

If those are the offences, what is wrong with incorporating bribery and corruption? They fit in within the overall circus.

Clause 58(2) and (3) confer on the Home Secretary and the Scottish Ministers the power to amend the list of offences by order through the affirmative resolution procedure. If that is the case, why do we not amend it at this stage rather than wait for the Home Secretary to make up his mind some time in the future? I support the amendment.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page