|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Baroness D'Souza: My thanks go to all noble Lords who have spoken in support of the amendments, but particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, because he is the original author of the amendments. I also repeat my thanks again to the Government but should like to emphasise the concerns that we all still have. We would very much like to take up the Minister's offer of discussing this at length. It would be nice if, during the Summer Recess, he and his officials could come up with an extremely skilful legal definition of those who are subject to the law-even those who are short-stayers, but necessarily deliberate short-stayers. It would be rather unfortunate if there were a definition which was still sufficiently loose for there to be yet more loopholes, however small they might be, as has been said by my noble friend Lord Hannay. It would be very nice if those loopholes could be closed once and for all. I thank the Minister and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: I speak also to Amendment 177F. I was intrigued to see a single clause dealing with conspiracy inserted into this extremely
7 July 2009 : Column 662
Acting on behalf of the Crown could cover an enormous range of people, possibly millions. I wonder why that has been inserted. I was informed that the clause has something to do with the security services, and that it is simply to allow 007 to do his business, but perhaps there is some other reason. I look forward to hearing an explanation from the Minister. I beg to move.
Lord Tunnicliffe: Amendment 177E would remove new subsection (16) of Section 1A of the Criminal Law Act 1977 inserted by Clause 60. Amendment 177F does the same for the Northern Ireland legislation. I have listened carefully to the concerns that the noble Lord expressed. First, I assure him that new subsection (16) does not create a new provision. It is a re-enactment of a provision in Section 1A of the Criminal Law Act 1977 which was inserted by the Criminal Justice (Terrorism and Conspiracy) Act 1998, and is repeated here for the convenience of drafting.
The provision that concerns the noble Lord is directed at specific actions that might have to be taken in the course of official duty. It is not its purpose to give civil servants, Ministers or anyone else complete freedom to break the law. As my ministerial colleague, Maria Eagle, highlighted in Committee in the other place, there is a range of circumstances in which technical breaches of the conspiracy provisions may arise. For example, the police or Customs might be planning an undercover operation involving the infiltration of an organised crime group engaged in drug smuggling or people trafficking. Obviously, there will be no question of prosecution in those circumstances. I believe that it is right to retain a specific protection for that in the 1977 Act, as its removal would hinder law enforcement agencies involved in dangerous undercover work.
I shall explain the purpose of the clause before turning in more detail to the concerns expressed by the noble Lord. The statutory position is a little complex. We seek by the introduction of Clause 60 to correct a small but significant anomaly in the law of England and Wales in relation to conspiracies to commit criminal offences within other parts of the United Kingdom. Under Section 1A of the 1977 Act, it is an offence to conspire to commit an offence in England and Wales or to commit an offence outside the United Kingdom.
However, it is not an offence, at present, to conspire in England and Wales to commit an offence in Scotland or Northern Ireland. That is the anomaly which we seek to address by the relatively simple measure in Clause 60. That would amend Section 1A(2) of the 1977 Act by replacing the words "the United Kingdom" with the words "England and Wales". The amendment will ensure that acts or events intended to take place outside England and Wales are covered, thus including acts in Scotland or Northern Ireland. The practical benefit of that provision will be to ensure that conspiracies
7 July 2009 : Column 663
That change will cover conspiracies in respect of all criminal offences. The Government consider that amending the law on conspiracy generally has the advantage of simplicity and of creating a coherent jurisdictional basis. In practice, it is most likely to be relevant in respect of complex cases such as those relating to serious organised crime or terrorism. The prosecutors in the various jurisdictions will determine between themselves in each case where it would be more appropriate to prosecute. There will also be a requirement for consent prior to prosecution, which will mirror that in place for proceedings under Section 1A of the Criminal Law Act. This is currently exercised by the Attorney-General.
The new subsection (16) about which the noble Lord is concerned is, as I have explained, a re-enactment of an existing provision in Section 1A of the 1977 Act, which was inserted by the 1998 Criminal Justice (Terrorism and Conspiracy) Act. I have already mentioned that technical breaches of the conspiracy laws might arise in a range of circumstances relating to the undercover work of the police and customs officers. Because of the importance of this work, the Government believe that it is right to retain this specific protection for the time being, so far as it is integral to the amendment that we are seeking to bring about in Clause 60. However, we accept that the exemption is very wide and raises complex and sensitive issues, which require fuller consideration than can be afforded to them in the context of this Bill. There will be an appropriate
7 July 2009 : Column 664
When the report is available, it is the Government's intention to consider fully the question of exemption from liability for those acting on behalf of, or holding office under, the Crown, in the context of the Law Commission's wider review and its recommendations. We will consider whether the existing provision remains the right one or, as seems more likely, whether things have moved on since Parliament enacted it in 1998. It appears from the concerns that have been raised both in this House and in the other place that a different formulation might be needed. As I have said, we will certainly look at this matter in depth in the light of the Law Commission's review. I hope that, with this assurance, the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: I am grateful to the Minister for his careful reply. I shall have to look at one or two cases that involve the importation of drugs into Scotland and conspiracies in England to see whether we can look at them again and do something about them. I accept his explanation, however, and I look forward to reading the report from the Law Commission in due course. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|