PARLIAMENTARY DEBATES

HOUSE OF COMMONS

OFFICIAL REPORT

Third Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.

DRAFT DRUG TRAFFICKING OFFENCES ACT 1986 (DESIGNATED COUNTRIES AND TERRITORIES) ORDER 1990

Wednesday 16 May 1990

LONDON: HMSO

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The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Sir John Stradling Thomas

Ashton, Mr. Joseph (Bassetlaw)

Baker, Mr. Nicholas (Dorset, North)

Clelland, Mr. David (Tyne Bridge)

Evans, Mr. John (St. Helens, North)

Field, Mr. Frank (Birkenhead)

Hayward, Mr. Robert (Kingswood)

Howell, Mr. David (Guildford)

Irvine, Mr. Michael (Ipswich)

Janman, Mr. Tim (Thurrock)

Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey (Wealden)

Kirkhope, Mr. Timothy (Leeds, North East)

Leigh, Mr Edward (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

Macfarlane, Sir Neil (Sutton and Cheam)

MacKay, Mr. Andrew (Berkshire, East)

Maclennan, Mr. Robert (Caithness and Sutherland)

Parry, Mr. Robert (Liverpool, Riverside)

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

Sheerman, Mr. Barry (Huddersfield)

Mr. B. M. Hutton, Committee Clerk

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3 Third Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. Wednesday 16 May 1990

[SIR JOHN STRADLING THOMAS in the Chair]

DRAFT DRUG TRAFFICKING OFFENCES ACT 1986 (DESIGNATED COUNTRIES AND TERRITORIES) ORDER 1990

10.30 am

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten): I beg to move, That the Committee has considered the draft Drug Trafficking Offences Act 1986 (Designated Countries and Territories) Order 1990. It is a pleasure for us all, Sir John, to be meeting under the your watchful eye this morning. This statutory instrument marks another stage in the international battle against drug trading. We are grateful, especially to the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) who leads for the Opposition on the issue, for the all-party co-operation on a succession of measures in that respect in recent years. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman and to his colleagues for the considerable help that they gave, following careful discussion through the usual channels, in getting the Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Bill through to an Act so swiftly a few weeks ago. That shows that the House can cooperate closely, as I hope that the Committee will today, when there is a consensus between parties to do what we can to stop drug trafficking. We must ensure that people who are properly convicted in their own courts and who receive considerable benefits from drug trafficking are deprived of those benefits when such benefits are in Britain or if those people have been convicted in Britain and the benefits of their crimes are in another country. I draw the attention of the Committee to schedule 1 of the order, which lists the designated countries with which we have already made agreements. We shall soon reach an agreement with Saudi Arabia and hope to obtain a further agreement with Italy. As the months go by, we are developing a network of international agreements. Thanks to the Opposition's co-operation, we have been able to move swiftly and take a world lead. We are in the driving seat in bringing about international arrangements.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden): I was glad to hear that the list of designated countries is increasing and that further additions are expected shortly. We commend the zeal and enthusiasm of my right hon. Friend the Minister. Could he say why there are so few western European and European Community Countries on the list?

Mr. Patten: Yes, I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith) raised that issue. Over the past 100 years, British extradition laws, under the common law system, have been substantially different from those in western Europe which are based on Roman Law. In the Criminal Justice Act 1988, we were able for the first time to make a proper set of changes to our own extradition law to allow us to enter agreements and 4 arrangements with our western European Partners. Previous attempts to do that had faltered under the previous legislation—the Extradition Act 1870. Although we have had precious little co-operation, we enter the 1990s with a fresh legislative framework and will be able to move swiftly towards a series of bilateral and multilateral agreements. I have to go to Istanbul at the beginning of June to attend a conference of European Justice Ministers. I shall impress on my colleagues there the need to move as quickly as possible towards the establishment of a variety of bilateral conventions. However, I should like to see established a multilateral convention that involves all the Council of Europe countries, not just the European Community partners. I hope that that clear statement of Government intent satisfies my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden. The order quite rightly makes it possible for goods that have been ordered to be confiscated in one country to be delivered up in another country. Equally importantly, it also offers proper protection of the rights of the individual. An Example of that might be a case where a person whose conviction in country A has been upheld after appeal and whose goods in this country have been ordered to be confiscated. We would not simply take the production of a certificate from that country on the nod. First, the nature of the relevant parts of the agreements would allow the Home Office to resist any request for the payment of confiscation if that request were considered to be unfair. Secondly, if the case were to reach the courts here, the person in country A would have the right to appear or to be legally represented in our High Court to argue against the surrender of the confiscated goods. That is an example of double protection, not of double jeopardy. The order is well thought out and comprehensive, meeting the needs of justice and also protecting natural justice. I commend it to the Committee.

10.36 am

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield): I shall be brief. Never before have I been asked to co-operate in the speedy implementation of such an order for the reason that the spouse of one of the members of the Committee is about to deliver a child. That is an historic reason for asking the Committee to finish quickly, but there are other reasons for my delight in giving the order the Oppositions full support. As the Minister said, there is no party difference in the zeal with which we oppose the trafficking of drugs. We too want to stop the proceeds from that evil trade being salted away in a manner that makes even quite a long term in prison a reasonably profitable experience. The order will take its place in the framework of legislation that is designed to achieve that end. Most of my questions have already received partial answers, but I hope that the Minister will respond to several outstanding points. First, as the hon. Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) noted, one wonders why some European Community countries are not already included in the list. Although I am pleased that Spain, with its Costa del Crime reputation, is included, I should be grateful for the Minister's confirmation that a similar arrangement with France is progressing reasonably quickly. That is an important omission, although I am assured that many other countries will soon join the agreement. I stand ready 5 to accompany the Minister on his trip to Istanbul, if all-party support can stretch that far. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I am sure that other members of the Committee would be glad to volunteer. Even before our proceedings began this morning, I had been assured that natural justice would be protected. That question has been raised in connection with other, similar legislation. We did not want people to face a double jeopardy that would require them to overcome two types of hurdle. I am glad that the Minister has gone on record in confirming our belief in the belt and braces rightness of natural justice, which protects the right of a person to representation in a court in this country whatever happens in a foreign court. I am not a lawyer, but as an Opposition spokesman I constantly meet lawyers and I am becoming familiar with the mysterious acronyms and jargon that they use. Sometimes I have to bring them down to earth by saying, "Give me an illustration of the way that that would work." Can the Minister give the Committee a short hypothetical example? Let us suppose that a drug trafficker who is being pursued by Scotland Yard or a regional crime squad has taken refuge in Spain, with whom we have an agreement. If the drug trafficker has a lot of property in Spain and Swiss bank accounts and something else in Miami, how will this added legislative power help to bring him to justice?

10.41 am

Mr. John Patten: I am extremely grateful to the honourable Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) but, much as I would like his company on my ministerial visit to Instanbul, cash limits and problems of running costs in the Home Office prevent me from extending an invitation to him.

The Chairman: Order. There must be a limit on Turkish delights.

Mr. Patten: I beg your pardon, Sir John; I stand corrected and I apologise. I share the concern of the honourable Member for Huddersfield that some of our west European partners have not yet joined us in making agreements with other countries. I hope that they will soon do so. The honourable Gentleman referred to France. Generally, many of our European partners have been waiting to see whether a long-awaited European convention on the issue, which was drafted a long time ago and is still being discussed in Strasbourg, will remove the need for bilateral agreements. The Council of Europe is drafting an all-embracing multilateral convention that all countries can sign. Many countries are waiting for what may be a very long process to be brought to an end. Her Majesty's Goverment are not content with that approach; we are not prepared to sit and wait. We are enthusiastic exponents of the multilateral approach through the Council of Europe but, in the interim, which may be several years, we are bent on making as many bilateral agreements with individual countries as we can. That is the background to the honourable Gentleman's reference to France. We can reach a satisfactory agreement with any country only if our legislation is compatible and; I was feeling my way towards that point when I gave an earlier example. I am advised that France is in the process of introducing comprehensive legislation on confiscation, which it does not have at present. If France does not have the legislative 6 framework and mechanisms that would allow it to reach bilateral agreements with us on such issues, it certainly cannot accede to the future multilateral convention under the auspices of the Council of Europe. Sometimes, in the European context, we hide our light under a bushel. We should not do that. We are well ahead of the game of most other western European countries in our legal framework and in confiscating the assets of all serious crime not just drug-related crime. Without doubt, we are the European leaders. However, we shall pursue the matter with the French. We hope to negotiate with them as soon as their legislation is in place.

Mr. Sheerman: To use aviation jargon, there is no ETA—estimated time of arrival—for that necessary legislation. I understand why the Minister cannot give an estimated date for France, but can he do so for Ireland? Why is Ireland not on the list?

Mr. Patten: I cannot help immediately, except to say that I will seek advice on the Irish situation. The French have the process in hand and although I cannot give a difinite ETA, I hope that their legislative process may be over within the next year or so. We can then begin to negotiate with them. With regard to the honourable Gentleman's point about natural justice, I hope that as he has heard what I had to say in my opening speech he will now agree that natural justice is fully protected by what will be a long-drawn-out procedure to ensure that confiscation is just. Next, let me give the hon. Gentleman an example of how the order will work. A request might be made through the Home Office to the central authority in Spain. We will establish a small unit in the Home Office to act as the central authority for receiving those requests, just as, at present, a small body of civil servants in the Home Office is the central authority for receiving requests for maintenance payments from people in France, Czechoslovakia, or Nigeria—to name but three countries with which we have maintenance agreements—to ensure that maintenance is sent back to women in this country. A request would be made by our central authority in the Home Office—we should be notified of the criminal's existence—to the equivalent in the Ministry of the Interior, or the Ministry of Justice, in Spain, Switzerland, the United States, or wherever, for the property in their respective jurisdiction to be restrained. That is stage one. While criminal proceedings are underway, we do not want the money to flip out of the relevant jurisdiction. Therefore, the first step is to obtain a restraining order, pending the outcome of the criminal proceedings. As soon as criminal proceedings and the committal stage begin in this country, our central authority would act quickly and say, "We believe that Mr. X or Mrs. Y has property in your country. A trial is pending and we wish those assets to be frozen." At the same time we should seek to put a restraint on assets owned by the accused in the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom. The example was given of someone having property here, in Spain and perhaps in Switzerland. We should try to freeze all three, pending trial, conviction, or freedom. When a confiscation order is made after the trial, the United Kingdom would seek enforcement of that against the assets abroad—we should have to approach each country involved—by recognition of the assets and by 7 enforcement. We hope that that system will be well in place before the end of the 1990s. I hope that that satisfies the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Sheerman: I carefully chose those three countries—Switzerland, the United States and Spain—because they are on the list. I am wondering about a parallel—not a very good one—with the Guinness court case. A great difficulty in some of the cases will be the expense involved in briefing counsel and paying for legal costs. Will freezing all assets leave a suspected person with the ability to pay defence costs, or has the Minister not considered that?

Mr. Patten: The rights of the individual would be protected in this country. Confiscation orders available under the Criminal Justice Act 1988, for example, protect the individual's rights to have the necessary assets for defence. They also protect the victim's needs for compensation. Only after that would the state be able to get its hands on the ill-gotten gains. We are trying to watch closely the legislative process in other legislatures, through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. We have a monitoring system to try 8 to determine which stage legislation has reached. I understand that the issue of confiscation is before a legal commission in Ireland and awaiting comments at present. It is difficult to predict what might happen to the recommendations before that legal commission or what conclusions it might reach. I hope that members of the Committee can agree to this order and allow my honourable Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr Leigh) to get to the hospital in time.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Committee has considered the draft Drug Trafficking Offences Act 1986 (Designated Countries and Territories) Order 1990.

Committee rose at ten minutes to Eleven o'clock.

THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:

Stradling, Thomas, Sir John (Chairman)

Baker, Mr. Nicholas

Hayward, Mr.

Irvine, Mr.

Johnson Smith, Sir G.

Leigh, Mr.

Patten, Mr. John

Sheerman, Mr.