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Clause 94 - Making of order

Part of Proceeds of Crime Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:30 am on 6th December 2001.

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Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change) 9:30 am, 6th December 2001

That may be a point of principle, but it is completely different from the one that we are discussing at the moment. The hon. Gentleman has already referred to the fact that when we discussed the provisions in relation to England and Wales, I was clearly in favour of the courts having discretion. I remain of that view. It is necessary for the courts to have discretion in such matters.

Not only did we not demur on Second Reading, I specifically raised the point in an intervention on the Minister at the conclusion of the Second Reading debate, and during the course of the contribution made by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith. I think that I am right on this matter, and that others are profoundly wrong. If Ministers in the Scottish Parliament have been persuaded that no discretion should be given to the court, they too are wrong. However, we have had that debate, and I lost it. There is now a strong argument to be made for uniformity of provision throughout the United Kingdom; I make no bones about that.

I think that it was the hon. Member for Beaconsfield who, rightly, said that we should respect the wishes of the Scottish Parliament. I believe that he also used the phrase, ''institutional significance.'' If a fundamental point of institutional significance were at stake—if, for example, a decision about which court might deal with certain matters were involved, or a proposal for the creation of a new species of court, or judge—I would be prepared to tell the Scottish Parliament that we would look at the issue again. However, that is not what we are dealing with. We are dealing with whether a court has discretion. That is the sort of matter that arises almost routinely with regard to legislation, so we should not be prepared to die in a ditch for the sake of it.

I am in favour of the courts having discretion, but I have not decided how I will vote if the hon. Gentleman pushes the matter to a Division. I might abstain because, although I disagree with the broad thrust of his argument, I am not prepared to accept that the discretion of the court should be diminished.