Criminal Justice and Police Bill

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Mr. Heald: We are obviously at an early stage in the Bill, although it is being pushed through at breakneck pace. Will the Minister find time to discuss the matter personally with the CBI?

Mr. Clarke: I am happy to give that commitment. I intended to do so in any case, following the hon. Gentleman's earlier remarks. It is a reasonable request. I shall elaborate further in a moment.

Amendments Nos. 140 to 158 would reduce the benefits of the clause by removing the reference to a disclosure provision from the list of provisions to be amended. The amendments would impose barriers to sharing information for any and all forms of crime and would leave in place an array of similar but differently worded information disclosure provisions, which would allow anomalies to continue. New schedule 1 would also reduce the benefits of the clause by preventing its operation in relation to the 13 listed provisions, so it is not the best way to operate.

Mr. Hughes: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Clarke: I will give way before I finish, but I want to make some progress first.

I have already given a commitment to consult the CBI personally, hopefully before Report, though the time scales will be tight. We are always happy to discuss specific matters that cause difficulty to British industry. There has been consultation, including meetings with the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. If that is viewed as inadequate or it is felt that the Government have not understood the various concerns, I would be pleased to discuss them further.

Before giving way to the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey, I remind him of ``Microcosmographica Academica'' produced in Cambridge by Professor James Cornford in 1899. It invented the principle of unright time, according to which there was never a right time for doing anything, so nothing was ever done. I understand the point about Christmas trees, but the idea has not been plucked out for some eye-catching reason: it flows out of last year's PIU report. I urge the hon. Gentleman not to cut off his legislative nose to spite his face if he feels that the provisions are not necessary to strengthen the fight against organised crime. I also urge him not to vote against them on the basis of the principle of unright time: he should evaluate the clause on its merits.

Mr. Hughes: On the last point, we are concerned about the breadth and the timeliness of the clause, to which I shall return later. Yesterday, the Government published the draft Proceeds of Crime Bill and a proper debate on international aspects of crime and its information flow is taking place. Might it not have been better to introduce legislation to deal with such matters together with the current provisions? Both considerations were in the pipeline, one just behind the other, and it would have been more logical to deal with them in a single piece of legislation. They should be considered together in the next legislative Session—whoever wins the next

Mr. Clarke: I understand that reasonable point, but the clause has a limited purpose: to resolve a series of uncertainties about the application of current law. It stands on its own. I accept that it could have been done in a more holistic way, but we must continue to improve the law from whatever stage we have reached. In dealing with some internationally organised criminal efforts—especially drug and people trafficking, money laundering and paedophilia—it is important to make progress in exchanging data as rapidly as possible. I urge the hon. Gentleman to examine the merits of the clause from that perspective, and I hope that Opposition Members will, on the basis of my assurances, reconsider and not press the amendments to a vote.

Mr. Blunt: Having heard the Minister's list of serious offences for which it is important to exchange information to bring international criminals to justice, his case might seem to be unanswerable. However, amendment No. 204 is not about that. When Parliament has decided what counts as a criminal offence here, the opportunity arises to disclose information from the United Kingdom to other overseas agencies that are conducting criminal investigations within their jurisdiction. The double test is entirely proper in those circumstances.

Information held by agencies of the UK will be given to other Governments who are pursuing criminal inquiries. If the offences are not crimes in the UK—because Parliament has not seen fit to make them so—why allow our information to pass to other countries in pursuit of overseas criminal investigations? I ask the Government to think again about the amendments. The double test is necessary to protect liberty, and the Minister's reassurances—that the provisions will apply only to serious inquiries about serious crimes in other territories—are inadequate. We do not know in advance what the inquiries will be, or whether other jurisdictions will use the powers of the state to pursue vindictive and determined prosecutions against individuals.

If we allow the Bill to impose a duty to disclose information about individuals in respect of matters that are not criminal offences in the UK, we are laying our citizens open to something that we should not permit. Unless cases involve actions that are criminal offences under our law—and are so regarded by Parliament—we should not allow disclosure of information willy-nilly to other international jurisdictions. Activities should be crimes both in our and in foreign jurisdictions before information is disclosed. That is surely not too high a threshold to meet.

Mr. Clarke: I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but does he not accept that under clause 46 the Secretary of State has a string of powers to decide when information should not be disclosed, which provides a significant safeguard against abuse?

Mr. Blunt: Those powers provide a significant safeguard so long as the Secretary of State is well intentioned and on top of his job. However, it would be much better if Parliament made the decisions. Parliament has decided whether particular activities are criminal and Parliament should ensure that information be disclosed in pursuit of a criminal investigation in the overseas territory only if it also amounts to a crime in the UK. That is all that the amendment is designed to do, so I hope that the Government will think again.

Mr. Heald: We are concerned about the issue for several reasons. My hon. Friend the Member for Reigate made a good point. With almost every law, we could say that the Home Secretary could decide what information to give to foreign authorities and what was a crime. He could tell the police what to do and run the police force, and we could make this an authoritarian country like those in eastern Europe not so long ago.

11.15 am

Traditionally, however, we have liked Parliament to say what the laws are and to give people protections, and we have not liked the Executive to have too much discretion. I am not suggesting that the Home Secretary would act in an utterly illiberal way—although others might suggest that. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) has made remarks on the subject, but it is a fundamental principle that protections should be in law and that we should pass laws that give Ministers restricted powers.

Mr. Hawkins: My hon. Friend will recall that we both served on various Committees that considered criminal justice legislation in the previous Parliament. Was it not the case that Labour Back and, indeed, Front Benchers criticised the previous Conservative Home Secretary time after time, suggesting that he would be authoritarian and would be given too much power? Now that the Labour party is in government, there is a deafening silence from those on the Labour Benches when the present Home Secretary proposes far wider powers. In place of all the usual speeches in defence of organisations such as Liberty, there is silence.

Mr. Heald: That is true. The other point is that Labour Members used to make those speeches at far greater length than we are being allowed to do. As I have said before, there were 240 hours of debate on the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill. Even at an earlier stage of this Parliament, the Government were somewhat more liberal with time. In Committee on the Crime and Disorder Bill, there were 22 sittings for a Bill of 130 clauses. At the end, the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) said that it had been a marvellous example. He said:

    ``I . . . thank those who have been involved in the work of the usual channels to enable the Committee to deal with the Bill expeditiously without having to sit through the long hours of the night. That was a great disappointment to some hon. Members''.

He also said:

    ``It takes both sides of the Committee to achieve that standard of debate—

a very high standard—

    and Opposition Members have on several occasions proved passionate and persuasive advocates of causes that we might not have assumed that they would support.''—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 11 June 1998; c. 869-70.]

This Bill, however, is being guillotined, and we are being treated in an insulting way.

Mr. Gray: Has my hon. Friend noticed that, according to the amendment paper, we shall today give detailed scrutiny to 24 clauses, 41 Opposition amendments, 27 Government amendments, 13 new clauses and 9 Government new clauses, which cover 13 pages of detailed print? Does he agree that that is a disgrace and a travesty of proper parliamentary debate?

Mr. Heald: If we manage to do that, someone should give us a ``Jim'll Fix It'' badge, but that is nothing compared with the 50 clauses that we must get through on Thursday.

According to the CBI, clause 45 will permit the disclosure of enormous amounts of information to overseas authorities for criminal proceedings that relate to economic activity in the UK that is not criminal here. I will not go through the various Acts, because we do not have time, but the information that is given to the authorities under the Fair Trading Act 1973 is given on the strict terms that it can be disclosed only for certain purposes. The same is true under the Competition Act 1998. The point is that, under all those Acts, disclosure is limited to serious criminal investigations, perhaps into drug trafficking or money laundering. That is very different from anti-trust cases.

The American Webb-Pomerene Act on cartels provides a limited anti-trust exemption for the formation and operation of associations of otherwise competing businesses to engage in collective export sales. The exemption applies only to the export of goods, wares or merchandise, and does not apply to conduct that has an anti-competitive effect in the United States.

Cartels are treated with great reserve in Europe, especially the United Kingdom, and are specifically excluded from the 1998 US-EU agreement. The Bill as drafted would enable the Home Secretary to give information about Webb-Pomerene cartels to the United States authorities, despite the fact that everyone in Europe disagrees with the Americans on the issue.

I have already referred to the Pilkington case, in which a British company used its patents and know-how licensing agreements for the manufacture of flat glass using a proprietary process with several of its US licensees. That is perfectly permissible in UK and EU law—indeed, it is strongly approved of—yet the Department of Justice in the United States brought charges alleging anti-trust. There are many such examples, and there is anxiety that there is a political element to many of the decisions taken.

I quoted assistant Attorney-General Ann Bingaman, who made it clear that the primary goal in the anti-trust division of the Department of Justice is to open markets and to ensure that they are competitive for the benefit of American businesses and consumers.

We do not want to pander to the Americans and damage British businesses in the process, so I ask the Minister to think again. I am glad that he intends to meet the CBI. We will press the amendment to a Division, because we want to make the point forcefully.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 8.

Division No. 21]

Blunt, Mr. Crispin
Gray, Mr. James
Hawkins, Mr. Nick
Heald, Mr. Oliver
Hughes, Mr. Simon

Bailey, Mr. Adrian
Clark, Mr. Paul
Clarke, Mr. Charles
Grogan, Mr. John
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
McCabe, Mr. Stephen
Sutcliffe, Mr. Gerry
Thomas, Mr. Gareth R.

Question accordingly negatived.

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