Proceeds of Crime Bill

[back to previous text]

Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley): I want to follow up what my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) said, and in particular his phrase ''the two sovereign Parliaments''. I am perplexed by the question of which Parliament is meant to be sovereign. We are told that under the Sewel motion, Ministers in Westminster are making law for the Scots on their behalf, and are changing the word ''may'' to the word ''must'' for them. If I understood correctly the Minister's answer to the good question asked by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, the Scots can, if they choose, change it back. Ministers may point out that there is no appetite for such a change, and say that no one in the Scottish Parliament wants to return discretion to the courts, but that they want to impose the mandatory procedure and follow the draconian approach to life that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok continually advocates.

Mr. Hawkins: My hon. Friend has made an important point. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland pointed out, in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield, that the discretionary regime was consistent with practice in the Scottish courts in related fields of law—until now. The change from ''may'' to ''must''—from discretionary to mandatory—was not foreshadowed by the Scottish Minister for Justice, so the Scottish Parliament has not yet debated it. Whatever Labour Members might say in Committee, we do not know whether the Scottish Parliament would want to change the wording back, to make it consistent with previous Scottish practice.

Mr. Johnson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that clear elucidation of what I was trying to say. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, with one thrust, detonated and exploded the weakness in the amendment.

Mr. Davidson: I rise to speak only because the hon. Gentleman referred to my ''draconian approach to life''. I do not take a draconian approach to life, but I do have a draconian approach to crime, particularly the crime that bedevils the lives of my constituents. My constituency is not full of insider-dealing taxpayers. Is the hon. Gentleman a turkey or a chicken? Is he a turkey that is going to vote for Christmas by opposing the amendment, or a chicken—

The Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman may ask that question, but I shall not allow the hon. Member for Henley to answer it.

Mr. Johnson: I speak for many people on this subject, and I take it unkindly that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok continually casts aspersions on our toughness on crime. We are interested in justice, constitutional propriety and common sense. It is obvious that today's debate about the Sewel motion does not make sense. We will amend the Bill on behalf of the Scots, but if they so choose, they can change it back. Some Scots, such as the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland who wants a discretionary regime, want to change it back. A future Scottish Parliament may want a discretionary regime, too. As I understand the position, it could override the will of Westminster, so what are we doing here? Why are we amending the Bill, when the Scots could change it back again?

Mr. Carmichael: The hon. Gentleman comes close to misrepresenting my position. I would not want to change back the measures for north of the border. I want a discretionary system throughout the United Kingdom, but the more important principle is that there should be uniformity.

Mr. Johnson: In the happy event of the Westminster Parliament restoring the discretionary position, the hon. Gentleman would want a discretionary regime in Scotland, too. Given the appetite for a discretionary regime in Scotland that was substantiated by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, the Scottish Parliament may in future want to vary the legislation. There would then be a ridiculous game of ping pong in which Westminster did one thing and the Scottish Parliament did another.

Mr. Carmichael: The possibility that the Scottish Parliament could change the Bill is theoretical. There could be legislation that had been passed here, but which would work only if it were changed. A further Sewel motion would be required to send it back to Westminster, which would not be needed if the Scottish Parliament had already decided to change the legislation. It is not ping pong; at worst, it is only ping.

Mr. Johnson: I am slightly dismayed that the hon. Gentleman has resiled from his argument and admitted defeat so readily. We are discussing an important constitutional ambiguity, and I would be grateful if the Minister would focus his laser-like brain on that, and tell the Committee where authority ultimately resides.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne): As an unashamed Englishman, I wish to raise another matter of principle. I used to feel some trepidation about stepping into Scottish issues, but I have noticed that during our previous 14 sittings, the Scottish members of the Committee have not hesitated to step into English matters.

Mr. Davidson rose—

Mr. Wilshire: I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman. He and others are anxious about what they regard as delays. Indeed, he has said that he wants to get the Bill on to the statute book rather than listen to Conservative Members. It was not my party that invited us to consider the Bill until early February, but the Government. I make no apologies for doing justice to the Bill and scrutinising it within the period set out by the Government. Delay is not a relevant issue.

Mr. Foulkes: I do not like saying this to the hon. Gentleman, but what he has said is not correct. The Government wanted to finish consideration of the Bill in Committee earlier, but we responded to the request of Opposition Members to extend its time in Committee. The hon. Gentleman should get his facts right.

Mr. Wilshire: My understanding was that the timetable was the Government's timetable, irrespective of what my colleagues and I thought about such matters.

The Chairman: Order. The Committee must not discuss the programme resolution again. Will hon. Members please stick to the amendment?

Mr. Wilshire: Yes, Mr. O'Brien, but a matter of principle needs to be raised. The fact that we are substantially rewriting the Bill means that when it was discussed on Second Reading, hon. Members were not debating the same Bill that we are now considering. I do not want to talk about the programme resolution, other than to say that we have been allowed only two sittings to deal with what was originally a minor and fairly technical part of the Bill. The point of principle that I want to establish—once only in the course of the debate—is that that has changed from a small technical part of the Bill to a fundamental rewrite. If my maths is any good, we have 129 amendments, 64 clause stand part debates, five new clauses and one schedule to discuss. That is 199 items to be discussed in 300 minutes. The Government are suggesting that we are capable, on behalf of the people of England, the United Kingdom or Scotland—I do not mind which—of doing justice to a fundamental rewrite with one and half minutes to discuss each item.

Mr. Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Wilshire: No, I will not.

That is a dreadful flouting of democracy, and it should have been done differently. The Government should have said that in view of the fact that they are rewriting the Bill, they would extend the time available to deal with the 199 items.

10 am

Mr. Foulkes: I shall deal with that point first. Not only was agreement reached on extension of the timetable, but the Opposition agreed the splits, and thus the idea that we would only have two sittings for part 3. I am afraid that what the hon. Gentleman says is entirely wrong.

Now I shall turn my laser-like brain to the two fundamental issues under consideration today. We are grateful to you, Mr. O'Brien, for allowing just one debate. The first issue is changing the word ''may'' to the word ''must''. I make no apology for tabling the amendments. It is the right thing to do. We are determined to crack down on criminals, and we are determined that drug dealers should have no hiding place. We are also determined to send a uniform message throughout the whole of the United Kingdom, as the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said. If Conservative Members are going to move against that, as they are threatening to do, they must take the consequences. The Government—with Liberal Democrat support, I hope—want to send a uniform message to drug dealers, money launderers and all criminals throughout every part of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Grieve: The Minister has returned to the wide argument that took place when we sought to amend the Bill in relation to England and Wales and include the discretionary principle. We stand by our view on that, which is wholly consistent with our approach. Although it is important to confiscate the assets of criminals, it is also important to maintain civil liberties.

Mr. Foulkes: We differ on that. We shall see whether a Division takes place.

The other point is how to operate Sewel motions. Some of the comments by Opposition Members, some of whom are no longer present, suggest that I may not have explained that properly. In response to the hon. Member for Beaconsfield, on Scots law and procedure, the role of the Lord Advocate, the peculiar systems of Scots law and its operation, and the prosecution service, the Bill treats Scotland differently from the rest of the United Kingdom. It respects the different structure of the legal system in Scotland, other aspects of which we shall discuss later.

On the specific change from ''may'' to ''must'' and how we deal with it, I was present in the Scottish Parliament when the Sewel motion was discussed. It is one of 24 Sewel motions that have been passed by the Parliament—we are developing the procedure and getting more used to it as time goes on. No one present on that occasion wanted a weaker regime. Those hon. Members who know Phil Gallie—I know him only too well, as he lives just down the road from me—will be aware that he is always calling for a tougher regime. Even the mild-mannered Lord James Douglas-Hamilton was calling for a tougher regime. Furthermore, the SNP spokesperson, although he had some concerns about Sewel motions, said that he wanted a tougher regime on drug dealers. That was absolutely clear.

Following that Sewel motion, the matter was discussed on Second Reading. Many hon. Members, notably my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok, said that the Government should consider a tougher regime. The Government are always told that they are control freaks and that they do not listen to what Back Benchers say. On this occasion, points were raised and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and I decided to examine whether we could do something to take account of the views that were expressed because worry appeared to be growing.

Consequently, I had discussions with the Minister for Justice, Jim Wallace, and the Deputy Minister for Justice, Iain Gray. I met the Lord Advocate in his chambers in Edinburgh and discussed the matter because I thought that the change was relatively substantial. Many changes have been discussed with respect to the Sewel motion. Every time we change a Bill's provisions in Committee, we cannot go back to Scottish Ministers, even, and it would not be correct to do so. As the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said, the purpose of a Sewel motion is to return the power to legislate to this Parliament. However, I thought that it was right to consult Scottish Ministers and allow them to consult their officials because the change was so major. Consequently, we tabled the amendments.

It was up to the Scottish Ministers to decide whether to make a statement or consult the Scottish Parliament. They decided, no doubt following consultation, that such a statement was not necessary. However, as the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland mentioned, if the Tories read the proceedings and knew, therefore, that I had had such discussions, the hon. Member for Beaconsfield must have been aware of that. As yet, I have received no protests or indications that the Tories in the Scottish Parliament are unhappy with the way in which we are proceeding. Indeed, they think quite the reverse.

The only people who have protested are Scottish National party Members, which is not because they disagree with the stronger and stricter regime but because they are nationalists and do not like devolution. They dislike the United Kingdom Parliament and want to break up Britain. By colluding with the SNP, the hon. Member for Beaconsfield is going down a very dangerous road.

Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 6 December 2001