Criminal Justice and Police Bill

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Mr. Blunt: I want briefly to refer to a constituency case that came to my attention. A constituent was convicted of a similar offence, but his job required him to work largely overseas, as part of the motor racing industry. On the face of clause 35 as it now stands, there is absolutely no appeal once the order has been imposed. When my constituent came to see me, I was convinced that he had every intention of being a good citizen. He was extremely remorseful about what he had done. His employment and his future financial success for his family depended on his being able to travel, because that was the nature of the industry in which he worked. I should have hoped, if a travel restriction had been imposed on him in those circumstances, for the capacity for some form of appeal against the travel restriction order, so that he should have the ability to convince a court or the Secretary of State, or simply for some mechanism by which that travel restriction could be changed. If I am correct in believing that there is no way of altering a travel restriction order as it stands on the face of the Bill, would the Minister consider before Report whether there should be some appeal mechanism in such circumstances?

Mr. Simon Hughes: My hon. Friend the Member for Taunton and I support the Government's general public policy intention. There should be a tough regime to deal with people trafficking in drugs who use trafficking and travelling to supply, getting people into addiction and sustaining their addiction, and in doing so making large profits for themselves . We are signed up to the Government's agenda in that respect.

I should like to ask a question relating not to UK passport holders, but to non-UK passport holders. Do the Government propose, under the Bill or existing legislation, to take powers to deal with people who are not UK passport holders in terms of equally restricting their movements? I ask that question also in the context of the EU-wide discussions in which the Home Secretary has been taking part. There should be the power, at least within the EU, to ensure that someone who has been convicted of drug trafficking in the UK but who is, let us say, a Dutch, Spanish, Italian or Swedish national, is as liable to lose their rights as a UK passport holder. It is entirely unsatisfactory that someone who would be caught in another nation state and brought before its courts cannot be dealt with in an equally severe and rigorous manner in this country. How does the law stand in that respect? Are proposals on the table to ensure that there is a common EU-wide mechanism for dealing with drug traffickers? The issue may go beyond the EU, but it would be encouraging if we could at least get it working within the EU.

After the debate on this clause I shall have to leave the Committee. I should have liked to be here, but I have another commitment in the House. That does not undermine my commitment to getting this part of the Bill right, and my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton will fully look after our interests in that respect. I do not want my absence to be taken to mean a lack of interest in the next clauses.

Mr. Clarke: I entirely accept the hon. Gentleman's final remarks. I am aware of his commitment, and I assure him that if I am going to mention him in his absence I shall write to him beforehand.

With regard to appeal, according to clause 35(2)(a) and (b) it is a matter for the judge to decide how to deal with the situation. If they wish, the person concerned can appeal against that decision through the legal process. I understand the concerns of the motor racing constituent of the hon. Member for Reigate, but a pretty high test is involved. Orders are available only where the court imposes a sentence of imprisonment of four years or more for a drug trafficking offence. The threshold was chosen in accordance with sentencing guidelines issued by the Court of Appeal to distinguish serious cases. The individual would have to have been fairly seriously involved. I cannot see how we could raise the threshold much higher, but there will be a right to appeal against the sentence.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey asked about passports. A travel restriction order can be made whatever the nationality of the person concerned, and deportation is also an option. Passport confiscation is available in respect only of UK passports, because the passports of foreign nationals, whatever their domicile, remain the property of the issuing Government, not of Her Majesty's Government.

However, that does not weaken the force of the hon. Gentleman's remarks. He was right to say that we are working hard to get much better EU co-operation on international crime, especially drug trafficking and trafficking in people, and to ensure that the agencies concerned are much more focused on those problems. That is the significance of the work that we have been doing in the Justice and Home Affairs Council, which deals with such matters under the aegis of the EU. The Government can legitimately take some credit for trying to advance and accelerate the progress that is being made. I can confirm that EU Governments are engaged in active discussions about the issues that the hon. Gentleman mentioned.

Mr. Hughes: I am encouraged by the Minister's comments. Will he confirm whether it is the Government's objective to secure an EU-wide system that would allow either for penalties to be imposed, following consultation, on behalf of the legal system of one of the other countries, or for the automatic reference back of the foreign national in question by the relevant UK court, which would guarantee further consideration of the matter? I understand that double jeopardy issues may be involved. However, the objective should be to prevent someone from escaping justice in a particular EU national court, and to rein in the various forms of trafficking to which the Minister has referred.

Mr. Clarke: I shall not comment on the detail of the hon. Gentleman's question, because to be frank the relevant discussions are being conducted not by me but by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and by the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche). I am insufficiently familiar with the state of those discussions to comment on the Government's negotiating position in relation to that of other Governments. However, I can confirm that it is our policy goal to work properly in those ways, and I therefore hope that the clause can stand part of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 35 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Clarke: On a point of order, Mr. Gale. I hope that it is in order for me to correct the record in respect of a statement that I made on clause 34. In answer to an intervention from the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey during the stand part debate—and having taken advice on the hoof, as it were—I suggested that the burden of proof was criminal. However, my advisers have double-checked the matter and the offence in question is in fact civil, so the points that were made should reflect that fact, rather than the answer that I gave at the time.

The Chairman: Happily, that is not a point of order, but it is now a matter of record.

Clause 36 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 37

Revocation and suspension of a travel restriction order

Jackie Ballard: I beg to move amendment No. 163, in page 28, leave out line 35.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 164, in page 28, line 43, leave out subsection (2) and insert—

    `(2) The court shall revoke the order unless it considers it is necessary to prevent the offender from committing further similar offences'.

No. 165, in page 29, line 6, leave out `exceptional'.

No. 166, in page 29, line 7, leave out `on compassionate grounds'.

Jackie Ballard rose—

Hon. Members: Oh.

Jackie Ballard: It is no reflection on me that my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey has to leave the Committee at this precise moment.

The clause deals with the revocation and suspension of travel restriction orders. Both the wording of clause 35 and the Minister's response to amendments to it made it clear that the message to the courts is that travel restriction orders for drug traffickers are expected to be the norm rather than the exception. All of us want to eradicate drug trafficking and other forms of trafficking, but the issue is the duration of a travel restriction order and its impact on an offender's choices and life style on completion of a prison sentence.

Amendment No. 163 would delete the phrase

    ``after the end of the minimum period''.

If it were accepted, a first-time offender who received a four-year sentence—in this context, the minimum sentence—could apply for a revocation order before the two-year period was up, two years being the minimum period for which the travel restriction can be imposed.

Let us consider the first-time offender who is perhaps the na—ve mule to whom we referred earlier—I do not deny that in such a case an offence has none the less been committed—and who since release has led a blameless life for 18 months and secured a job involving overseas travel. If the amendment were accepted, in circumstances where imprisonment had proved successful in terms of rehabilitation it would be possible for that person to pursue their career by travelling overseas.

As it stands, subsection (2) makes it clear to the court that revocation is an exception to the rule. Again, that takes a pessimistic view of the rehabilitative role of a prison sentence. Such a view might reflect the reality of prison life, but it should not be reflected in the aims of the criminal justice system. Amendment No. 164, which would replace subsection (2) with a more positive wording, states:

    ``The court shall revoke the order unless it considers it is necessary to prevent the offender from committing further similar offences'.

Looking into my crystal ball, I can imagine that the Minister's response will be similar to his response to clause 35 in respect of a court's judging the likelihood of reoffending.

Amendment No. 165 clarifies the circumstances in which suspension can take place by removing the word ``exceptional''. I question how that word is defined. Let us imagine someone who has been served with a four-year travel restriction order, which would mean that he had been a serious offender, who is a United Kingdom citizen both of whose parents live in France—which is not so unusual these days, with free movement throughout the European Union—and who becomes seriously ill during those four years. The first time that the person goes to court to ask for a lifting of the travel restriction order, the court may say, ``Yes, this is an exceptional circumstance involving a seriously ill relative'', but on the second occasion, would that still be an exceptional circumstance? Would the Minister clarify that?

3.45 pm

Amendment No. 166 would remove the words ``on compassionate grounds'', because if they remain in the Bill, the court will feel that it can lift the restriction order only in the event of serious illness or death, not for work-related reasons. I fully accept that it would not be inclined to lift the restriction order for a holiday, but if as part of someone's work he was asked to attend a conference in Paris, for example, ``compassionate grounds'' would imply to the court that that was not something on which to exercise its discretion—normally, one considers compassion to relate to illness or death, rather than to professional work.

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