HC Deb 18 July 2002 vol 389 cc505-7

Lords amendment: No. 6.

Mrs. McGuire

I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to consider Lords amendments Nos. 7, 8, 10, 14, 15, 31 to 33, 45, 46, 48, 52, 53, 67, 75 to 77, 79, 83, 84, 100 and 324.

Mrs. McGuire

This is a mixed group of Government amendments. Some of them are fine tuning, but as a whole they are important to the operation of the Bill.

Amendments Nos. 6 to 8, 10, 45, 46, 48, 75 to 77 and 79 deal with a technical problem affecting certain cases where a previous confiscation order has been made against the defendant. That will ensure that any benefit taken into account for the purposes of a previous confiscation order is also taken into account when the court comes to make a new order against the same person.

Amendments Nos. 14, 15, 52, 53, 83 and 84 respond to Opposition concerns about clause 19, which empowers the court to order the defendant to provide information.

First, we have inserted a protection against self-incrimination for defendants. Secondly, we have made it clear that a failure to comply with the court's order exposes the defendant to contempt proceedings. That is necessary because the court has an explicit power under the clause to draw adverse inferences from such a failure. In the absence of a clear statement to the contrary, that explicit power could be misconstrued as preventing the court from exercising its contempt powers. The amendments put it beyond doubt that that is not the case.

Amendment No. 31 would make hearsay evidence admissible in restraint proceedings in England and Wales. It is needed because hearsay is not normally admissible in the Crown court, and restraint proceedings rely heavily on it in practice. Amendments Nos. 32, 33 and 324 simply take note of the enactment of the Land Registration Act 2002. Amendment No. 67 would bring the legislative steer in clause 134 on the powers of the court and administrator in Scotland into line with those in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Amendment No. 100 is technical, and would bring clause 212, which relates to the protection of receivers in Northern Ireland, into line with its equivalents for the other two jurisdictions.

Mr. Hawkins

We welcome the Under-Secretary's acknowledgement of many matters that we raised in Committee. I also welcome her transformation from being a Whip, in which role she also helped the Committee. It is a shame that the hon. Members for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Harris) and for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson), who served on the Committee and claimed in the previous debate that the Opposition were trying to wreck the Bill, are no longer present to hear her acknowledge that the Government are responding to the constructive points that we made to improve the measure. At least her fellow Under-Secretary is here and, whatever he says, he knows in his heart that the time in Committee was well spent and that it improved the Bill.

We want to make two small points. First, I want to consider the new provision about hearsay evidence, which was not debated in Committee but was introduced by Lord Bassam of Brighton on 22 April 2002. As Lord Goodhart said: It is obvious that any introduction of hearsay evidence into criminal proceedings … where it was not available before is a matter that needs to he looked at very carefully. He went on to say that its introduction is solely in relation to restraint orders."— [Official Report, House of Lords, 22 April 2002; Vol. 634, c. 115.] He did not therefore object to it. Will the Under-Secretary confirm on the record that the Government do not intend the provision to be the thin end of any wedge, or plan to introduce new provisions to use hearsay when it has previously been inadmissible?

Will the Under-Secretary of State confirm that she and her officials will try to ensure that all those who try the cases that involve the new use of hearsay have specific extra training? We are considering a new approach, which, as the Government rightly said, broadens powers. I should be grateful if the Under-Secretary would confirm that the work of the Judicial Studies Board and the preparation of judges to deal with the novel factors will take account of that.

The Under-Secretary referred to another matter that I wanted to raise: the importance of the privilege not to self-incriminate. We welcome the Government's response to Opposition Members' anxieties in another place and in Committee about that.

The hon. Lady was right to say that our debates, which led to the Government amendments, greatly improved the Bill. We do not therefore oppose the amendments.

Mrs. McGuire

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. Although we have criticisms of the Opposition, much of the discussion in Committee was constructive and I am grateful to him for recognising that we responded to that.

I confirm that the provision on hearsay does not constitute the thin end of any wedge. It does not change the procedure and is simply a consequence of moving restraint from the High Court to the Crown court. Although I accept that introducing hearsay may he a new departure in some circumstances, we give a commitment to additional training. The Judicial Studies Board will ensure that that is done. In view of those assurances, I trust that we shall have consensus on the amendments.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 7 and 8 agreed to.

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