HC Deb 29 March 1990 vol 170 cc771-83

Amendments made: No. 3, in line 2, leave out second `and' and insert `; to enable the United Kingdom'. No. 4, in line 5, at end insert '; and to provide for the seizure, detention and forfeiture of drug trafficking money imported or exported in cash'.—[Mr. John Patten.]

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

10.13 pm
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

I have no wish to delay the House on this important Bill. I sometimes wonder whether, now that the House is televised, we should have a barometer of the cost of keeping the House running at this time of night and evaluate speeches in terms of the cash that it costs the taxpayer to pay for keeping the House running. That would probably have a good influence on our speeches.

It is important for us to make one or two points on Third Reading. First, the Government have—this is quite a change from usual—acceded to several requests that we made in Committee. That is a mark of the fact that the Bill received all-party support and, for a change, in Committee received a positive response from the Government. The tightening up of legislation, as represented by the new clauses, has been a result of the Government listening to the Opposition case which was made reasonably cogently in Committee. We are pleased to have the changes to the Bill and new clause 1 is of particular relevance and importance.

We have supported the Bill for the simple reason that it will help the forces of law and order in Britain to combat international criminality of every kind, whether it be drug traffickers, money launderers or violent gangsters. They are serious matters. If it allows us to accede to two important international conventions and makes it easier for the Government and for future Governments to chase international criminals wherever they may be and bring them to justice, this small Bill, which has all-party support, will be worth while.

However, we would have liked the Government to have taken a firmer line on one aspect. The Government still seem to believe that the City of London and, to some extent, the international banking community based in London, is a sort of gentleman's club with values and principles in accordance with which everyone acts.

We said in Committee, and we remind the House tonight, that completely unscrupulous forces are at work in the City of London and in the international banking community. I do not make that charge about every banking institution, nor even about most banking institutions, but the Government should wake up to the fact that a marginal group of people in the banking industry do not care from where the money comes or where it goes. The laundered money that keeps this wicked business going internationally is still moving round the City of London.

In the coming months, scandals about international involvement in money-laundering schemes in the City will come to light and the Government will have to come back to the House to take more measures to deal with them. I make that point in all seriousness. When that happens I hope that my remarks on Third Reading will be remembered.

When the Bank of England gave evidence to the Select Committee it was asked what measures it would introduce further to curb the ability of banks to launder international drug money, to which the Bank of England said that it did not have any positive ideas. The Select Committee said that that was not good enough and that it was the Government's job to tell the Bank of England that they knew what was going on, that they wanted it stopped and that they wanted the mechanisms by which that could be done to be introduced quickly. The Bill gave us the opportunity to tighten up even more on such trade, but it has not been taken.

I reiterate that the Opposition believe that in the near future scandals and revelations will make us take seriously what is going on in some institutions, albeit marginal ones. These are serious matters in terms of the amount of money involved and we shall have to take further steps to control those institutions.

As I said, if we had a barometer to show how much each speech cost, we might make shorter speeches. I do not intend to detain the House any longer on a Bill which has the Opposition's full support and which will lead to the apprenhension of more criminals and international drug traffickers.

10.19 pm
Sir John Wheeler (Westminster, North)

I, too am glad to give the new amendments to the Bill a very warm welcome. Like the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), I hope to be brief.

The new amendments will certainly help to bring the United Kingdom law into line with article 5 of the Vienna convention. The new amendments are most timely as the ministerial conference on drugs takes place in April, when I am sure that the United Kingdom intention to strengthen the law will he regarded as a welcome example by other countries and their delegates attending that conference.

My Select Committee is always pleased when its recommendations find currency in legislation so speedily. The House will know that the Home Affairs Select Committee reported on 8 November last year and I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister on his willingness to follow the Select Committee's recommendations and amend the Bill.

During its visit to the United States last year the Committee was most impressed by the evidence from the officials of the various services concerned with drug trafficking and money laundering. The United States customs service argued persuasively that there was a serious loophole in British law, which enabled cash to be moved in and out of the United Kingdom. Evidence from the United Kingdom customs, the Metropolitan police and the national drugs intelligence unit confirmed that loophole.

For those reasons, the Select Committee made clear recommendations to make it illegal to import or export the proceeds of drug trafficking or other serious crimes and to allow customs officers to detain money entering or leaving the country if they knew or suspected that it arose from the proceeds of such crime.

I am glad, therefore, that the Government's new clauses seek to deal with those loopholes. We shall have to experience the exact way in which the legislation will be enforced, and it would be helpful if my right hon. Friend made some comment on that.

Tonight's proposals apply to the proceeds of drug trafficking and not to cash or money from other offences that can be seized within the United Kingdom under part VI of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. I invite my right hon. Friend to consider extending those provisions to non-drugs money laundering. I congratulate the Government on introducing the new clauses, which I warmly welcome.

10.22 pm
Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East)

I, too, congratulate the Minister on accepting the recommendations of the Home Affairs Select Committee. It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler), who is the Chairman of the Committee. The Committee's work on drugs and the evidence that we took, particularly in America because of the problems there, were extremely valuable in terms of our recommendations.

However, I want to sound a couple of notes of caution. The first concerns the relationship between the police and the customs service. In paragraphs 103 to 105 of our report, we emphasised the need for close co-operation between the police, the customs and the regional drug squads. It is extremely important that we monitor carefully the way in which those provisions operate.

I am concerned at the number of complaints that I have received from constituents about the way in which some customs officers operate. Constituents who go abroad wearing gold jewellery and return wearing the same gold jewellery are then told by customs officers that they had that jewellery made abroad, particularly in India or Pakistan. I hope that customs officers, having been given this new power, will exercise it particularly carefully.

I should like to bring to the Minister's attention the need to ensure that we place more emphasis on preventive work. The Bill is about international co-operation, but on its visit to America the Select Committee discovered that the American enforcement agencies made several mistakes, through no fault of their own, but simply because it was the first time that they had dealt with drugs such as crack. Our services made similar mistakes. The Minister and the hon. and learned Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor) have said that preventive work is being emphasised, but it is no good merely catching the international criminal and seizing the proceeds of his crime—we must work to ensure that demand reduction is a reality.

I have just returned from a brief visit to India. The governor of Gujarat, which, as I am sure hon. Members know, has a long coastline and a common border with Punjab, is concerned that the international drugs trade is increasing from that area. Gujarat would like assistance from the British Government. We can offer our expertise in dealing with such problems and the lessons that we learned from the mistakes made by the Americans. It would be useful if the Minister mentioned to the Minister for Overseas Development the need to provide aid to support Governments who are trying to stop the flow of drugs.

I should like to see more emphasis placed on exchange visits for police and customs officers to America and the sub-continent so that expertise, which is vital in the fight against the drugs trade, is developed.

I read the Committee's proceedings on the Bill with much interest. The Committee stage was quick, but it showed that hon. Members are committed to doing all that they can to stop the spread of this obnoxious international crime.

10.26 pm
Sir Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead and Highgate)

For some considerable time, the subject of drugs has been of much interest to the Council of Europe. On 29 January, a joint meeting of several committees in Strasbourg was addressed by Margaret Anstee, who is the director-general of the United Nations' office in Vienna and is in charge of the war against drugs. It was one of the most fascinating but terrifying meetings that I have attended. Coldly and dispassionately, she told us of the growing drugs problem, which stretches way beyond the bounds of what any rational person would have thought possible. It certainly persuaded the Council of Europe to do more than it had already done.

Margaret Anstee's talk prompted me to table a question to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, which she answered on 9 February. I asked whether we will be able to ratify the 1988 United Nations convention. It is extremely important that we do so as rapidly as possible.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler) said, a ministerial conference with a somewhat longer than necessary title—the world ministerial summit to reduce demand for drugs and to combat the cocaine trade—is being held in London on 9–11 April. My right hon. Friend the Minister knows that the Bill has received all-party support. The amendments that have been made tonight should command the full support of the other place. Does my right hon. Friend believe that it will be possible for Britain to ratify the convention before that conference takes place? It would be an enormous boost if we were able to do so, and a tribute to that dedicated servant of the United Nations, who is also a British subject.

10.28 pm
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

I want to consider the future operation of the legislation in the context of 1992. The aim of the Common Market, which is not recognised here, but is recognised in the Strasbourg Assembly, is for the complete removal of barriers. Reservations have been expressed in the Trevi group of Home Office Ministers, but there is pressure from the Common Market to remove customs barriers. There is a group known as the kangaroo group because it wants to leap over barriers. Prominent members of the Conservative party support the kangaroo group. [HON. MEMBERS: "Kangaroo group?"] It is a suggestion of leaping over barriers. I know that it seems a strange description to the House of Commons, but it is a sign of the dedication to federal solutions which looms large inside the Common Market.

There is no point in passing legislation—with which we agree—to attempt to control drug trafficking while there are pressures to dismantle the very apparatus that helps to control that trafficking. New clause I, which provides the power for customs officers to seize cash which is believed to be the proceeds of drug trafficking or to be intended for use in drug trafficking, will, of course, be rendered null and void if we are not allowed to give those powers to customs officers in traffic between ourselves and the other 11 member states.

It is a matter of grave concern. The Government's reservations to the Trevi group of Ministers have never been spelt out. I fear very much that the insidious power of federalism will lead to the diminution of important safeguards for our country. I have always taken the view, and expressed it in the Common Market Assembly, that the notion there that a strong barrier round the 12 is in some way a substitute for a number of barriers inside the Common Market is inadequate. A number of barriers around the member states are a far better deterrent than one big barrier.

I assure the House, without equivocation, that there is pressure for the single unitary customs union of the Common Market.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Waddington)

indicated dissent.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten)

indicated dissent.

Mr. Cryer

I see that the Secretary of State and the Minister of State are showing that they agree with maintaining barriers. I am pleased by that assurance, and I shall continue to seek such assurances whenever the subject is raised because it is important.

The seizure of even more dangerous items than drugs and associated facilities, such as the seizure of nuclear triggers by Customs and Excise yesterday—on which they are to be congratulated—is a sign that vigilance is required. I know that the triggers were destined for a country outside the Common Market, but the principle of surveillance and examination is the same and must be retained if the Bill is to be enacted properly.

10.33 pm
Mr. John Gorst (Hendon, North)

The Bill's intention, which is wholly laudable, is to enable the United Kingdom to co-operate with other countries. We shall co-operate especially by serving other countries' legal processes, by obtaining evidence and by facilitating the appearance of British witnesses at court hearings. Those are unexceptionable objectives, but the ends must always be in harmony with the means taken towards their achievement and the ends do not justify the means in this case.

I have a crucial question for my right hon. Friend the Minister which hinges on the meaning of the word "person" in paragraph 4 of schedule 1. The paragraph says: A person shall not be compelled to give in the proceedings any evidence which he could not be compelled to give … in … the United Kingdom". However, that provision would not apply unless the claim of the person was conceded by the court in the foreign country. Can a certain type of Crown servant in this country, perhaps a police officer, be compelled to give evidence or, perhaps more pertinently, can he be prevented from doing so?

The reason why I am concerned about that will become apparent if I describe what happened about three years ago in the case of Captain Simon Hayward, who was arrested on a drugs trafficking charge. That example will show that I am not voicing a simple theoretical concern.

In the criminal proceedings brought against Hayward in Sweden, the Swedish authorities sought to call two British police officers who were working at the time for the national drugs intelligence unit. They were to have given evidence on information that they had received from an unnamed criminal source in this country. However, the officers had visited Sweden earlier to collect intelligence. During their visit, they passed on certain police-to-police intelligence to the Swedes, and before they left the country, they lodged it with the Swedes in a signed memorandum. Thereafter, the British authorities received a request from Sweden asking for the officers to give evidence at Hayward's trial.

I am glad to say that the then head of the national drugs intelligence unit, Assistant Commissioner Colin Hewett, took a highly responsible attitude. He informed the Swedes that he was not prepared to allow his officers to give evidence, because it was clearly hearsay. Moreover, it was evidence that would not have been admissible in proceedings if they had been brought in this country. To put an end to it, Mr Hewett added that neither of his officers could vouch for the truth and accuracy of their information.

Notwithstanding that, the Swedish authorities were still able to use the intelligence handed to them by the two officers. They merely informed the Swedish court that the officers would have said what was in their statements had they been called. As a consequence of those events, I am glad to say that the previous Home Secretary was sufficiently disturbed by what had happened to order an inquiry by the chief inspector of constabulary, which resulted in new guidelines for the police.

However, when my right hon. Friend the Minister of State replies to the point about schedule I, can he tell me whether the changes that have come about with new advice to the police are reflected in the Bill, or can such disquieting anomalies be repeated? With the advent of much closer co-operation in international crime today, everyone applauds efforts to facilitate international co-operation in the investigation and prosecution of international criminals. Equally, no one would wish to make provisions in this country, about the admissibility of evidence in another jurisdiction. However, are proper safeguards incorporated in this Bill? Will they enable abuses to be stemmed in Britain before they can be enacted in other countries over which we do not have control?

Does schedule I ensure that, before complying with a request for assistance, British courts will have to satisfy themselves that the witness from whom evidence is to be taken will only be providing evidence that would be admissible in our courts? Will the Home Secretary be able to get an agreement from a requesting state that the only evidence sought from witnesses from this country will be first-hand evidence and not, as happened in the Hayward case, second-hand evidence given by one person about what another witness might have said had that other witness turned up to give that evidence?

Furthermore, can my right hon. Friend assure me that the provisions of the Bill will not become a charter for unscrupulous criminals to make wholly unfounded and, in this country, inadmissible allegations in front of foreign courts with the blessing, so to speak, in ignorance, of our own British courts? If so, they will effectively be turning a blind eye to what may happen afterwards, outside their jurisdiction.

Allegations could then easily be made against an innocent individual in the hope that those allegations might be relayed to a third party, who could then give evidence with impunity under the protection of foreign jurisdiction. Unless we are vigilant, there could even be the temptation for the authorities, on an international scale, to steer international prosecutions to those countries that are none too choosy about their methods, as long as they get convictions.

I should like my right hon. Friend to assure me that that will not be possible and that the Bill contains provisions to ensure that it cannot happen.

10.40 pm
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Some time ago it became apparent to the Government and to the Prime Minister in particular that they should do something about drugs. We all know that in this modern world the drugs problem has grown at a tremendous pace in some countries. In America, with a population of 200-odd million, the problem has grown much faster than here in Britain. It is now feared that the situation obtaining in America could occur on these shores; so it became a political issue.

Although I understand the motives behind it, I believe that the Bill is little more than cosmetic. I have no doubt that the Minister of State will explain all those good motives but, for the life of me, I cannot see how this kind of cosmetic can play a significant part, although I should like to think that it could.

I was talking to someone recently about the American situation. Its drugs problem has grown at a geometric rate. That person came over here only last week. He had retired after working in a college and was 60-odd years of age. When I asked him what the drugs problem was like, he said that as many as 30 per cent. of young people were on hard drugs. I asked him what was happening about that. He said, "Politicians stand up and make a lot of noise about doing something about it."

The United States of America is almost equivalent to the Common Market in terms of population. What is being said today is that, if we join those other western democracies, we can somehow or another wave a magic wand and control all the laundered money that is made from drugs. Do not get me wrong—I think that that is a sound idea, but I need to be convinced about how, in a free enterpreneurial society, such as is rammed down my throat by Tory Ministers every day, those freebooted entrepreneurs who do not believe in controls of any kind can control the drug money when they do not even know where it is coming from.

It is a bit odd that that massive contradiction has not crossed the mind of the Minister of State, who reckons to be such a logical thinker. He is well endowed in the classics and all the rest of it—

Mr. John Patten

That is a smear.

Mr. Skinner

I am trying to get the Minister deselected.

Let us face it: if the Prime Minister says that she does not believe in controls of any kind, but on another day she tells her Ministers, "We'll control the drug money flow," that is a total contradiction. Much as I should like to see that happen, it can be achieved only if the Government have control of the banks. If the Prime Minister is going to come along and say, "We have a big drugs problem; it is not as big as in America, but we are going to control it and stop the money, and the only way of doing it is by controlling the banks first"—

Mr. Greg Knight (Derby, North)

That is not in the Bill.

Mr. Skinner

The hon. Member, who, I understand, is prevented by convention from speaking, says that it is not in the Bill. I am not talking about what is not in the Bill; I am talking about what is in the Bill. As it is a weak, cosmetic Bill, it is incapable of doing all the wonderful things that it is supposed to do.

Then there is the question of the exchange rate mechanism of the EMS. Eventually the Government will decide to join the ERM. I want to make it abundantly clear that I shall vote against joining. I am not in favour of the free movement of capital and labour in the Common Market. Joining the exchange rate mechanism will not improve the lot of people who believe in collective action.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Order. This Bill does not say anything about the exchange rate mechanism. The hon. Gentleman knows very well that a Third Reading speech must be confined to the actual contents of the Bill.

Mr. Skinner

I do not want to teach grandmothers to suck eggs, but I have to point out that this Bill attempts to control the flow of money made in the business of drugs. The point that I am making is that this is a cosmetic exercise. Such control cannot be exercised in an entrepreneurial society. I hope, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you will accept the logical extension of that point.

If the supporters of this Bill travel further down the entrepreneurial road of money exchange in a greater Common Market, the ability to control drug money will be diminished. I understand that contradiction, as do some of my hon. Friends. It may be that some Conservative Members agree with me about the exchange rate mechanism. Do not let anyone tell me that loosening the bonds, allowing money to flow even more freely, will make it easier to control drug money. That is a total contradiction. Let nobody try to tell me that this Bill has no bearing on these matters.

If it is possible, in this fairyland society, to control the flow of drug money, why do the Prime Minister and the other Ministers tell us that credit cannot be controlled? The reason is that, with the lifting of exchange and other controls, money is flowing here, there and everywhere. Let nobody, at this time of the night, tell me that, if credit cannot be controlled without such high interest rates, it will be possible to control this drug money. We cannot buy what the Government are trying to sell.

If this Bill is passed, it will not harm anyone, but it will not bake any bread either. Let that be understood. Some time ago the Prime Minister said, "We've got to do something about drugs. We'll control the money." Suppose that some Tory financier is found to have laundered or used money made from drugs, even if he did not actually make it himself. Does anyone really believe that, if the trail led to a Cabinet Minister, or to the friend or husband or wife of a Cabinet Minister, it would be admitted that the money had come out of a laundered drug fund? Does anyone believe that this Government would slap on proper controls? No, that would not happen. The authorities in the United States could not do anything about Noriega's money, so they captured Noriega. They had to abandon the idea of controlling the flow of money. They had to do something physical.

It is not the first time that such a Bill has been introduced. The Bill is based on a knee-jerk reaction. The Government want to tell the nation that they are doing something about the problem—"We are all in favour of apple pie and motherhood and against sin, so we will introduce a Bill and tell the world that it will change everything." We all know that in a free, entrepreneurial society, where there are no controls, it is not possible to control the drug money. Let the Government get on with the Bill and get it carried in their quaint little way, but they should not expect anything serious to develop.

10.49 pm
Mr. James Arbuthnot (Wanstead and Woodford)

When the Bill was published, concern was expressed in some quarters about its effect on tax offences in other countries. When my right hon. Friend the Minister of State heard about the concern, he dealt with it as we have come to expect of him—with promptitude and helpfulness. I express my gratitude to him for doing so.

10.50 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten)

The title of the Bill is the Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Bill. An equally apposite name might have been the Criminal Justice (Inter-party Co-operation) Bill. I think that almost all hon. Members are in favour of it, perhaps with the exception of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), who feels strongly about the matter; of course, I respect his strength of feeling. Apart from him, every hon. Member who has spoken in the House and in another place has done so warmly in favour of the principles of the Bill. I agree with the hon. Member for Bolsover that one cannot expect legislation to change human nature and to work wonders, but I think that this Bill will do many useful things.

Parliament has already been united in support of measures to combat the evils of drug trafficking and international crime. The Bill has been no exception. It is important that that should be so because the problems caused by international criminals, including drug traffickers, are very serious. It would be wrong if people who prey on society could feel that they had friends in any part of the House.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) and to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) for their support of the Bill, which has been scrutinised properly in Committee. I am also grateful for the advice that we received over some months from the Select Committee on Home Affairs, under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler). We have benefited much from that advice.

I am pleased that we were able to respond so quickly to the report of the Select Committee, to which my hon. Friend and others gave such distinguished service. The report was published on 8 November. With all-party co-operation, I do not think that we have done badly in managing to include some elements of the report in the Bill. We try as a Government to respond quickly and constructively to points made by Select Committees.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North about the loophole in the movement of cash connected with drugs. We have acted on it. However, he raised an issue that goes beyond the scope of the Bill and, indeed, the scope of my remarks on Third Reading if I am to stay within order—what we can do about the increasing amounts of cash derived from the proceeds of serious crime apart from drugs. The House will probably want to consider that matter over the next couple of years. It may be raised, although not necessarily by the Government, in a forthcoming criminal justice measure. I think that we are on a rolling frontier. I welcome the fact that hon. Members on both sides of the House are keen to develop ways of dealing with international crime, be it drugs or other serious crimes, which debauches the financial markets in the way to which the hon. Member for Bolsover referred.

Mr. Iain Mills (Meriden)

Will my right hon. Friend include in his comments the concern that has been expressed about industrial counterfeiting?

Mr. Patten

I know my hon. Friend's longstanding interest in that subject, a matter that we shall have to continue to consider in the Home Office and in the Department of Trade and Industry. I shall bear his point in mind.

The hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr Vaz), who served on the Select Committee on Home Affairs, spoke about Customs. I shall draw his remarks to my right hon. and learned Friend. Plans are already in hand to train and instruct Customs officers in the operation of the new provisions, and there are plans to give greater advice to the general travelling public.

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point about people who travel always wearing a gold chain and the problems that can arise. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Industry and Consumer Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr Forth), is always impeccably dressed and adorned. I will brook no criticism of his sartorial standards, including the chains he wears.

In dealing with the preventive point of the hon. Member for Leicester, East, I must not stray too far on Third Reading. I will draw his remarks to the attention of the Minister for Overseas Development in relation to the Gujarat coast. In the next three years, the United Kingdom's overseas aid for all drug-related purposes will be about £21 million.

Mr. Sheerman

My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East made a telling point. The Minister will recall that in Committee we discussed the training of Customs officers. Although my hon. Friends and I have given great support to the Bill, we have expressed concern about Customs officers who are ill-trained and who might pick on people taking cash through and hold that money. I appreciate that a new clause will allow interest to be paid on money that is held for some time, but we must consider the reputation of Customs officers in dealing with the people to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East referred, in terms of jewellery and so on.

We have commented on the way in which the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Industry and Consumer Affairs likes gold jewellery. It is no joking matter when a Customs officer can say, without good reason, at any time to somebody coming through Customs with a large amount of money that it could be drugs money. We could be embarking on a dangerous precedent. The Select Committee had a better suggestion, which was declaration.

Mr Patten

I share the hon. Gentleman's concern for the proper training of Customs officers, men and women who sometimes have a difficult and sensitive task. I am happy to tell the House that plans for training, and for giving advice to the public, are well advanced. My answer to the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg) is that, alas, we are unlikely to be able to ratify in the time available, not because we do not want to do so but because for ratification we shall need equivalent provisions for Northern Ireland. That will have to be done by way of an Order in Council, which the Government intend to bring forward as soon as possible.

Sir Geoffrey Finsberg

Was it beyond the bounds of possibility for the drafting and introduction of that Northern Ireland instrument to have proceeded at the same time?

Mr. Patten

I am advised that even with the best endeavours it would not have been possible. I share my hon. Friend's disappointment. These matters are sometimes difficult, when we are translating provisions made on this to the other side of the water. I served as a junior Minister in the Northern Ireland Office and remember the complexity of translating the one to the other.

I do not know whether the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) found it unnerving to have the Home Secretary and I broadly agreeing with him. However, we did not say anything, so it is not on the record and will not affect his chances of reselection.

The anxieties of my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) on schedule I perhaps go much wider than most other anxieties that have been expressed. But they are proper anxieties and I welcome the fact that he made those points to the House this evening. They relate more generally to the use that can be made overseas of evidence taken in this country or obtained from people who have travelled from this country to act as witnesses. His points were connected with the case of Captain Simon Hayward, in which my hon. Friend has taken such a notable interest.

The Bill cannot affect the law on admissibility of evidence in another country. Unfortunately, we can do nothing in this jurisdiction about the law in another country. In the normal course of events, people from Britain who are asked to travel abroad to give evidence in criminal proceedings will probably have a reasonable idea of the ground that they will be expected to cover when they appear in court. If they conclude, for whatever reason, that they do not wish to give the evidence sought, nothing in the Bill will permit them to be compelled so to do. I pondered carefully on what my hon. Friend has said about the matter in the past. But that is about as far as it is possible for the Bill to go. If someone travels voluntarily to another country to give evidence, he or she will naturally become subject to that country's laws. If he fails to respond to what, under the law of the country, may be a perfectly legitimate question, he may render himself liable to be penalised, in exactly the same way as if someone came here to give evidence in our courts.

Mr. Gorst

At the heart of my right hon. Friend's reply is the problem of which countries we are dealing with. If the country has a legal system that we respect—I mention no country by name—the fears do not arise in practice. However, if we find in practice that certain countries are guilty of abuses, will it be possible to revise the arrangements with those countries?

Mr. Patten

My hon. Friend makes an important point. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and future Home Secretaries will have substantial powers of discretion over whether to admit requests for evidence or to allow prisoners to be sent, with their consent, to give evidence. After all, if someone came to give evidence in our courts, we would expect him to abide by our law. If he refused to answer a question for some reason which was not acceptable on our terms, it would be open to the court to take action for contempt. I stress again that none of this is affected in any way by the Bill.

However, I was affected by the kind remarks of my hon. Friend the Minister for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Arbuthnot). Several strong fears were put forward by the financial community. I tried to respond as swiftly as possible to make sure that the Bill satisfied the anxieties of the banking community and others in international accountancy and other contexts.

This is an important Bill. It will not in itself solve the problem of drug trafficking or international crime—it would be foolish to suggest that—but it will enhance our ability to co-operate with our friends and neighbours overseas in tackling these serious evils. As such, it is an important arrow in our legislative quiver.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed, with amendments.

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