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6.31 pm

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells): I do not want unnecessarily to disturb the tranquillity of the House on the eve of the Christmas recess and I certainly approach

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the matter from the perspective of a non-specialist—indeed, a non-lawyer. That makes two of us, as the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) claims to be a non-lawyer, and I believe him.

My interest has been aroused in recent weeks partly by the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. The Government, certainly initially, were far too dismissive of the opinion of those whom I respect, so a degree of vigilance is required when the criminal justice system and the liberties of our constituents are being discussed.

I am afraid that the Department's record on complying with the scrutiny needs of the House is poor and the matter of the European arrest warrant is little short of a disgrace. In the first debate on it, the Minister did not have the right documents; in the second, in a European Standing Committee, he was, to put it charitably, a little under-briefed. We have since received a clarifying letter on one matter, which was not accurately described.

For all those reasons, we are wise to pause, even though I understand that there have been discussions between the usual channels about how the matter should be dealt with. The normal position should be that criminal justice matters are considered during debates on primary legislation. I thought that we had established that during debates on the 2001 Act and that, following pressure from the Opposition and in another place, use of secondary legislation would be restricted to matters more directly related to the events of 11 September. Of course, the regulations considerably predate them and, as usual, deal with matters that go considerably beyond any imminent terrorist risk.

As the heart of the regulations appears to be the voluntary principle that the accused must assent to extradition, they are unlikely to apply to many suspects whom we hope will be apprehended following the air attacks in New York. I am therefore a little surprised that the matter is proceeding in this way, particularly as an extradition Bill is to come before the House next month. I understand that we have made at least a moral commitment to pass those matters into law by the end of the year, but, having waited so long and given that the appropriate vehicle is on the horizon, I should have preferred the matter to be argued out during consideration of primary legislation.

If we are concerned about the imminence of further terrorist activity, we ought to act more urgently on the complete mess that is the extradition system. I am still worried about the Soering case, which I understand represents a total block on our ability to extradite to a number of countries outside the European Union. I remind the House of the facts: a German national admitted to committing a murder in the United States, but could not be extradited from this country as the Strasbourg Court ruled that the state of Virginia would subject that individual to degrading or cruel treatment as the death penalty was on its statute book.

During debates on the 2001 Act, the Home Secretary was forced to introduce a wholly illiberal measure of indefinite detention without trial to bolt on to this terrible system a way out, so that we can at least detain some of the more dangerous suspects. The problem lies there

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rather than with passing in short order conventions dealing with extradition from one member state to another.

Jeremy Corbyn: Is not the right hon. Gentleman concerned that UK law and the European convention on the death penalty will be undermined if extradition is allowed to American states that practise the death penalty? Indeed, the death penalty would be reintroduced by subterfuge.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: No, I do not accept that interpretation. The Strasbourg Court is attempting to externalise our policies on the death penalty. That is a moral imperialism of which I disapprove. It is up to the United States to decide how it deals with criminals convicted under its legal system. I happen not to be in favour of the death penalty—that is my position for this country—but it is not right to use the European convention on human rights to impose a system outside the EU. That is a clumsy way to proceed, and it has led to the Home Secretary resorting to detention or internment as a way to deal with the problem. The suspects would be in this country, although they should be tried in other countries.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. The right hon. Gentleman is straying wide of what is a technical motion.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: I accept your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was seduced along that path by the blandishments of the hon. Member for Islington, North, who raised a valid point.

We are going for the wrong target and doing so rapidly when more urgent matters should be attended to. I have a number of specific questions about the regulations to put to the Minister. Will he say more about the apparent fact that individuals could be extradited for offences that are not crimes here? He may respond that the crimes in question must be connected with the suppression of terrorism,

That is a quotation from the convention. The definition is fairly wide, however. I can imagine crimes in other member states coming under that general heading, and the possibility of extradition for offences that we do not recognise here.

Here is another question for the Minister. Could a person be extradited from this country for a crime committed here? Usually, we understand extradition to mean returning an individual to the state where that individual is alleged to have committed an offence—returning the individual to the jurisdiction of the state concerned. It seems to me, however, that in some cases the crime could have been committed here and the individual could be extradited for it. That certainly obtained according to the terms of the European arrest warrant, as first drafted, and it led to considerable questioning and concern in another place. I realise that we are not discussing the European arrest warrant now, but I would like the Minister to comment.

My third question is this: could someone be extradited for an offence for which they had already been tried in absentia in the requesting state? That too was raised in connection with the European arrest warrant, but again I would like the Minister to comment.

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I understand that, by definition, the individual concerned must consent to the extradition, but may I ask the Minister a final question? Having given up the entitlement to specialty, could that person be put on trial on the receiving state for virtually any other crime? The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) understands that those other crimes would have to be subsidiary to the offence for which the person had been extradited, but that is a rather imprecise phrase, and I would like the Minister to say a little more.

I can imagine circumstances in which someone who had been extradited was put on trial for an almost entirely unrelated offence that, nevertheless, came under the general heading of drug trafficking, alleged terrorism or whatever. Will the Minister tell us whether there are any practical or even theoretical limits to the number of other crimes with which such people could be charged?

6.43 pm

The Minister for Criminal Justice, Sentencing and Law Reform (Mr. Keith Bradley): As a non-lawyer, I listened with great interest to the speeches of lawyers and non-lawyers alike. Although few Members spoke, quality made up for the lack of quantity. I shall answer as many questions as I can, and write to those whose questions I cannot answer: I shall ensure that they are given full details as soon as possible.

The hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) raised a number of points. I confirm that consent for a person who has voluntarily agreed to extradition will be given in writing. As for the question of the competent judicial authority, the United Kingdom will make a reservation to the effect that consent under article 7 can be given to any of the competent authorities in accordance with article 15, and is not limited to a judicial authority. The competent authorities are therefore those listed by the hon. Gentleman. The question of legal aid was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) as well as the Opposition. Fugitives will be allowed legal aid in the normal way, and the normal rules of legal aid will apply.

Article 10 of the 1996 convention, which was mentioned in connection with fines, protects a person who has been extradited from being dealt with in regard to an offence committed prior to his surrender. Obviously, however, an offence committed after his surrender will be a matter for the requesting state.

My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North asked about ministerial discretion. There will be no change to those arrangements. We are not talking here about the Terrorism Act 2000; we are talking about the Extradition Act 1989, and amendments to that Act. The 1989 Act will apply in the normal way. When we produce a new extradition Bill, my hon. Friend may have further thoughts.

Mr. Malins: Could the Minister at some stage drop me a note, if he cannot reply now, about a little concern I have about penalties in lieu of fines? In this country we say, "Pay a fine or go to prison." That may be the case in

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other countries. It would be helpful to know whether the phrase I used, "sleight of hand", could be brought into operation somehow.

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