My Lords, I am disappointed that the Government should treat Parliament in the way that they did last week when they added a massive amendment on Report. New Schedule 7, which my amendment relates to, consists of 23 pages of fresh legislation that is only tangentially related to the Bill. It is extremely technical and needs detailed discussion in Committee. That would have given the House a proper opportunity to hear representations from interested parties on the amendment. There was a mere one and a half hours of debate with six speakers, including the Minister and the two noble Lords from the Opposition Front Benches. This is no way to legislate. It is an insult to the democratic process. I personally regret that those on the Opposition Front Benches seem to have yielded to government pressure on the method that was used. I totally acquit the noble Lord, Lord West, on this action. The schedule was grafted on to his Bill and we all support his Bill, especially after the improvements which have already been made in your Lordships' House.
This sort of thing will not happen in the United States under President-elect Obama. Among his other great qualities, he is a brilliant constitutional lawyer and has a huge respect for constitutional proprieties. Indeed, I was told last night by one of his Democrat colleagues that he places the maintenance of the American constitution second only to his wife and children in his priorities.
Playing fast and loose with the constitution has been one of the major failings of the Bush Administration; it is also one of the major failings of this Government. What could and should the Government have done? To delay this Bill would not have been sensible. The obvious alternative would have been to introduce a separate Bill. Twenty-three pages of complicated legislation is quite enough for a separate Bill. It could then have been given whatever priority the Government's business managers thought appropriate.
What was the great rush? The Minister did not give a convincing explanation last week. He referred to a meeting of the Financial Action Task Force, a body which most people have never heard of. Those of us who serve on Sub-Committee F of the EU Select Committee, however, will learn a lot because we are about to embark on a detailed study of the problems of money laundering in relation to EU directives.
The noble Lord, Lord Myners, wanted the 34 members of FATF to take further preventive action on money laundering, terrorist financing and what the Minister described as proliferation financing. He never actually explained what that meant and the great majority of those I have asked in your Lordships' House have no idea what it means. It actually means finance which could be used to develop chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. It shows the attitude of the Treasury to your Lordships' House that it did not think it necessary to put a clear explanation of it in the Minister's speech last week.
I have now read the FATF statement on the
For a cosmetic advantage, the Government are prepared to steamroller this schedule through Parliament. I wish they would adopt that old Latin tag, esse quam vidire—to be rather than to seem to be. There are probably many imperfections in this hastily drafted schedule, and indeed the Minister has been seeking to correct some of them this afternoon. The one I am putting forward is on the powers of entry.
Earlier this year my noble friend Lord Selsdon took through his excellent Bill to limit the greatly extended use of powers of entry without warrant. It received its Third Reading in your Lordships' House on
"A 'local enforcement officer' means ... an officer of a local weights and measures authority".
I can imagine Mr Entry, a Suffolk County Council local enforcement officer, calling on my local butcher in Wickham Market and saying to him, "Mr Revett, I have not come to check the weight or shape of your excellent sausages this morning, but you have never revealed the secret formula which makes them so delicious and sought-after throughout East Anglia and beyond. Well, Mr Revett, some powerful people in Whitehall—I am not at liberty to mention their names, of course—have suggested that they might contain proliferation finance. I don't rightly know what that means, but I am afraid I am going to have to open up some of your sausages to determine whether there could be any truth in the allegation".
Let us improve the schedule in a small way by sweeping away paragraph 20 and leaving the Government with paragraph 21 which contains all the powers of entry they could possibly need, and probably many more. But at least they would have to use a magistrate to determine whether their desire for entry makes any sense under this law. I beg to move.