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Lord Young of Norwood Green: As the noble Baroness knows from our many exchanges on the apprenticeships Bill-what a pleasure to meet her again-last year was a record year for adult apprenticeships. There were about 27,000. We will not reach that figure this year, but we will still see a significant number of adult apprenticeships. We want to ensure that we get extra value for money from colleges and to encourage the most efficient. As she will know, we are very focused
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The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead): My Lords, first, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, on his election as leader of UKIP. I thought that his reported offer to liquidate his party in exchange for a deal with the Conservatives showed a rather original approach to party leadership. The Answer to the noble Lord's Question is no.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for her comments. I have to tell your Lordships that the democratic process and the subsequent media attention have come as quite a shock to the system at my age, but I am, of course, enjoying it very much.
I fear that the Minister's Answer serves to confirm the gulf between the political class and the British people. How do the Government respond to the large and growing majority of voters who polls show very much want a referendum? Are they surprised at that demand now that the Lisbon treaty has removed the last vestiges of our national sovereignty and EU membership is costing us some £45 million per day in cash and hugely more when we add up the costs of overregulation, expensive food and so on? How can this country possibly afford this in our present circumstances?
Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: My Lords, far be it from me to cause further shocks to the noble Lord's system. Repetition of his hostility to our country's membership of the European Union does not add strength or wisdom to his arguments. The truth is that the United Kingdom derives great export, employment and investment advantages from our membership of the single market. Does the noble Lord wish to turn that clock back? Does he want to affect the jobs and the security situation that we enjoy because of our membership the European Union? Our country's environmental security, currently under discussion in Copenhagen, and our geopolitical interests are also best served by full and committed participation in the European Union. These and other realities mean that a referendum on continued membership is unjustified, unnecessary and, frankly, irrelevant to the interests and needs of the people of this country.
Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, would my noble friend agree that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, has shown today a standard of leadership that screams out to all other political parties that they do not have a great deal to worry about?
On a more serious note, would she give us her reflections on the voice of UKIP in the European Parliament when it was questioning the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, in her new role as European High Commissioner for Foreign Affairs? Does she think that it is of any benefit to this country to talk down a British politician who is fighting not only for a British, but also for a European, interest in Brussels in the high role that she has been given?
Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for raising those points. I am well aware of the comments made by the former leader of UKIP. I thought that they were so vile that they probably damaged him far more than our noble friend or anyone else. This House has every reason to know of the profound capabilities of the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, and will have every confidence in her ability to apply those qualities in her new role as High Representative.
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, we are all concerned that the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton of Upholland, who we all admired very much and who was an excellent Leader of the House, should have been caught up in this maelstrom of arguments following the Lisbon treaty being put into force. It is very worrying. I make clear that we are not interested in the ideas of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, in our referendum. I think that was the policy of the Liberal Democrats recently. Perhaps they would explain. We are concerned that we should not be outwitted, as we appear to have been, in dealings with the appointment of the new Commission. Surely what we need in London is a smarter Government in dealing with the French and the European Union, rather than the Government we have now.
Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: I do not think anyone can take away from the Government the fact that we have had a very good result in terms of the decisions that were taken after the Lisbon treaty came into force. The High Representative, the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, will have an extremely important task in streamlining the abilities of the European Union to deal with the increasingly complex foreign policy issues. The UK Government remain committed to our relationship with the European Union and that has to be in the interests of the British people.
Lord Dykes: My Lords, it is an eccentric state of affairs as the Minister has indicated. Has she noticed that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, probably qualifies for the Guinness Book of Recordsas being the only leader of a British political party to have caused a mass resignation crisis three days after taking over? Would she none the less also reflect that as so many senior Conservatives dislike Europe intensely perhaps the logical solution would be for a merger between UKIP and the Tories, but before the general election?
Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: I thank the noble Lord, and I cannot help noting that the cast-iron guarantee given by Mr Cameron seems to have somewhat evaporated and been lamely replaced by the pledge that democracy through Parliament will be replaced by democracy by plebiscite on European issues. That certainly cannot be in the interests of the British people. He quite rightly points out that there seem to be many issues on which there is considerable agreement between the UK Independence Party and the Conservative Party.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, with the leave of the House, my noble friend Lord Davies of Oldham will repeat the Statement entitled "Putting the Frontline First: Smarter Government" immediately after the debate. [Laughter.] Shall I repeat that? The Statement entitled "Putting the Frontline First: Smarter Government" will be repeated immediately after the debate in the name of Lord Sutherland of Houndwood.
That this House notes with concern criticisms by the Chairman of the Police Federation of the powers contained in the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (References to Financial Investigators) (Amendment) Order 2009 (SI 2009/2707) laid before the House on 8 October and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to revoke the order. 31st Report, Session 2008-09, from the Merits Committee.
The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 is 300-odd pages long. At its Second Reading, its complexity and disorder were commented on adversely by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick. This complexity has made it more difficult to understand even than the constitution of the Holy Roman Empire in the early part of the 17th century; I know that as I have borrowed a history of the 30 Years' War from your Lordships' Library. My only regret in having made that comparison is that the late Earl Russell is no longer with us.
Section 68 states who may be financial investigators. They are defined as a police officer above superintendent and a customs officer above a certain grade-so far, so good. The third type was to be designated by the Secretary of State in statutory instrument. No one commented on this at Second Reading and the enabling clauses were passed undebated at both Committee and Report stages.
The powers of the financial investigators are wide and sweeping. I have no objection to that, even though the Joint Committee on Human Rights at that time thought that the seizure of criminal goods in the way in which the Act allows amounted to double punishment. However, the Government did not agree with that and passed the Act as it stands. The powers are admitted by the judiciary to be draconian and therefore should be used only to combat those serious criminals who organise drug smuggling or people smuggling. That was the stated objective at the time. It was not intended to include, as does the new list, those who dodge fares, those who fiddle pensions, those who are behind with their council tax or similar minor offenders.
It will be no good for the noble Lord, Lord Brett, to come to the Dispatch Box and read out a prepared piece of anodyne guff telling us that the powers will be used with discretion. They will not. The agencies are on to a slice of the money seized. The only time I have heard of such a thing before was when Bertie Wooster commented that Sir Roderick Glossop had had a slice of the fines that he imposed in the magistrates' court.
Too many cases of official heavy-handedness have already occurred in the near past and there has been no confidence in the siren calls of official restraint. In a case where a chemist made a false prescription claim involving £464, under the existing Act £212,000 was seized from him. Luckily, that was quashed on appeal. We have seen anti-terrorist powers used to question tourists photographing St Paul's. I believe that even the noble Lord, Lord West, was stopped under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act. We have seen local authorities using RIPA powers against people for putting rubbish into the wrong bins. We have seen these powers used against people for trying to send their children to the school that they want but which the local authority does not, against people for illegal fishing for eels in Poole harbour and against a punt operator in Cambridge for landing at the wrong place. Last, in this far from comprehensive list, one Stephen Clarke, who was standing near a manhole cover fiddling with his mobile telephone, was arrested. The police banged him up for two days, accusing him of taking photographs with a view to committing a terrorist offence. Happily, the magistrates acquitted him of any wrongdoing.
This general abuse of powers has increased and is increasing, but it has to be reduced, preferably to vanishing point. This statutory instrument repeals an earlier one passed last spring. That one added only Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and most to the number of financial investigators; this one rectifies the deficiency and the list now makes sure that Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all have the powers.
This abuse of executive power was drawn to my attention by the Times. No one had noticed it until then. The Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee also had its attention drawn to it by the Times. Therefore, we owe that newspaper a debt of gratitude for doing something that none of us parliamentarians noticed, which we should have done. The Merits Committee then complained, saying:
"More importantly however, it gives some agencies (Counter Fraud and Security Management Service; Department of Health; Department of Regional Development in Northern Ireland;
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The Home Office, in answering the lack of consultation complaint, said that as the powers had not been controversial it saw no need to consult those who had those powers under Section 68. Section 68 gives the Secretary of State the power to grant financial investigator powers to anyone he thinks fit. He should think long and hard before he doles them out. The Merits Committee also complained that the Government failed in the spirit of their own guidance.
The Law Society has written to the Home Office Minister, Mr Campbell, saying that it was of great concern to it to learn that these powers would no longer be restricted to serious organised criminal activity but instead would be able to be used against fare evaders, parking defaulters and bookmakers operating rigged betting rings. The Law Society said that it was even more concerned to learn of this change through the media and only after the statutory instrument had been passed by Parliament.
He could not be more right. There is a very serious principle involved here. The power of the state to seize people's goods or to lock them up should be granted only after a full debate in Parliament with Ministers of the Crown making a concrete case for it, not by sneaky hole-in-the-wall statutory instruments. This is what the Government have done and, I hasten to add, not for the first time. It is a disgrace. I wish only that I had been able to ask the House to pass a fatal Motion and not one only of an admonitory nature. I beg to move.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, we are most grateful to the noble Earl for bringing this matter before the House. My Liberal Democrat colleagues in the Commons prayed against this order, but there are different procedures there and the matter was therefore not debated. We should also thank the media, as the noble Earl said, specifically the Times. We may not always regard the media as our friends, but they are part of the scrutiny process.
There is one thing to be said for the order. It sets out in full-including the added organisations-a schedule of the organisations and their relevant purposes whose staff may be accredited as financial investigators. This is the sixth version of the list. The schedule seems to have gone from three pages in its original version in 2002 to the current 18 pages. I have not had time to count the individual organisations.
I have a number of questions for the Minister. I hope that he has received my e-mail asking these-he indicates that he has. Why is this order needed, a mere six months after the last order? Have any agencies requesting these powers ever been refused in their request? What is the relevant training, if that is the term used, required for accreditation? I am aware that it is training by the National Policing Improvement Agency, but I am concerned, as the House should be, to know its content, length and so on. What monitoring and reporting mechanisms are there, both to monitor the detail and to provide us all with the big picture?
It is significant that it was the chairman of the Police Federation who raised this issue. I suspect that he shares my view. Should not organisations such as Transport for London and local authorities be reliant on the traditional law enforcement agencies, notably the police, for things like the recovery of cash in summary proceedings? Before anybody accuses me of betraying my background, I have checked this out with the Local Government Association; I simply disagree with it about the extent of the powers. I am well aware that offenders can often be charged for a range of offences once they are picked up for an individual offence, but that does not seem to me to warrant what this order proposes. Search and seizure warrants in confiscation, money-laundering, civil recovery and detained cash investigations are serious matters on which to give so many organisations what are effectively law enforcement powers.
One of the agencies that now within the new remit is the Department for Regional Development in Northern Ireland. I mentioned this to my noble friend Lord Alderdice, who observed that currently this department is under the ministerial leadership of Conor Murphy of Sinn Fein. We seem to be unable to devolve policing and justice to the Northern Ireland Assembly, but we are granting these powers.
I do not suggest that crime is not serious. I accept that in some cases of serious crime powers of search and seizure can be effective. But who exercises the powers is, in our view, of fundamental importance. I do not want to be overly dramatic, but I could not help thinking that the extension of investigatory powers is a characteristic of totalitarian states of which in the past we have been rightly critical. It also occurs to me that such powers seem to have appealed to the worst in some individuals over the years, attracting the wrong people into particular services. Therefore, another question for the Minister is whether accreditation has ever been refused.
The noble Earl referred to the incremental extension of the powers. Along with bonuses and incentives, which he mentioned, that makes us uneasy. Of course agencies and organisations will want powers-this is why the local authorities want them-to carry out their jobs as effectively as possible. Consulting them and only them misses the point, as does the NPIA's verdict that they are suitable to be given the new
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I am sure that I could have found the answer to my final question somewhere. I was intrigued by paragraph 11 of the Explanatory Memorandum. We know that the powers are intended to deal with the Mr Bigs, but paragraph 11 tells us:
Lord Bowness: My Lords, I also thank my noble friend Lord Onslow for raising the matter. As members of the Joint Committee on Human Rights know, he is a strong advocate of the rights of individuals and the liberty of the subject. This order is the most recent in a line of orders under the Act which have progressively added to the different bodies that can apply to have financial investigators appointed for the purpose under the Act. As he and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, outlined, such investigators have considerable powers designed to recover the proceeds of crime.
I have no doubt that, on Second Reading on 25 March 2002, everybody in this House had in mind-as the Government had in mind-the recovery of large sums of money from major criminals. I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, is in his place. In his second paragraph in Hansard on that day, he said:
"The huge profits made from crime are often flaunted and give force to the old saying, 'Crime pays'. This causes deep offence to hard-working and law-abiding members of the community and it makes harmful role models for our young people. Above all, the proceeds of crime provide the working capital for future criminal enterprise. Recovering the money must therefore be an inherent part of our crime reduction strategy".
"Another problem is that many major criminal figures have become untouchable by prosecution and confiscation. They organise or finance the criminal activity of others and then profit from the results".-[Official Report, 25/3/02; cols. 12-13.]
The 2003 order which designated the first financial investigators referred to a number of different bodies, which have been added to over the years. Those bodies moved progressively away from the kind of crime that was in everybody's mind when the matter was discussed. The order made earlier this year was in similar form to that which we are discussing this afternoon, but it did not include local authorities, among others. One reason for the amended order appears to be to remedy that omission. It is interesting that the original order came in in May and this one was brought in in October. In May, we talked about adding financial investigators who were members of staff of the Serious Fraud Office, the Gambling Commission, Royal Mail and the Office of Fair Trading. By October, we wanted to add others, and it is extraordinary that this could happen in such a short space of time. As my noble friend has indicated, there is a danger that the legislation is used for purposes for which it was never intended.
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